A dramatic battle takes place in Matthew 4:1-11. The forces of hell assembled to overpower the Force of Heaven. Jesus’ ministry had barely begun when he stepped on to a battle field following a 40 day fast. But what better time for Satan to attack? To derail Jesus’ ministry now would secure Satan’s eternal hold on every human soul.
But that battle would not go his way. The Victor clearly demonstrated he is the Savior of the world.
C.F.W. Walther, a giant among Lutheran theologians in the late 1800s, offers these comments on the temptation of Jesus.
The battle scene
An exceedingly wonderful battle is explained to us in our Gospel today. Shortly before, when Christ was baptized, the heavens opened up above him as if they wanted to descend upon the earth. Immediately after his baptism, hell opened up under Christ and rushed upon him with all its power.
The Son of God in almighty power had once cast Satan out of heaven, but here on earth, he let himself be attacked by him, let himself be led around, sneered at, and ridiculed.
The sword of the Spirit
He did not conquer Satan, as he very well could have, by one word of his omnipotence, but by the written Word of God. He who is the eternal Light battled with the spirit of darkness, the eternal Truth with the spirit of lies, the Most Holy with the spirit of impurity, the King of heaven with the powerless prisoner of hell.
The Son of God allowed himself to be placed on the pinnacle of the temple and permitted the tempter to demand that he worship him.
What a wonderful battle!…
A battle for our souls
If Christ had not wanted it, Satan would not have appeared before him, tempted him, and attacked him. But Christ here did not fight for himself. Instead, he fought as surety, as a third party, as a substitute for the entire human race.
By sin, all people sold themselves to Satan, becoming servants and subjects of his kingdom. Therefore, when Christ wanted to redeem men and save them, he came, as the true owner of all people’s souls, to conquer Satan, to destroy his kingdom, to remove his plunder from him, to free us from his dark power, and to lead us through the kingdom of grace into the kingdom of eternal glory.
The opening battle toward Easter's ultimate victory
Christ did this mainly by his bloody death of atonement on the cross for all the sins of the world. By this, the head of the snake was totally crushed and all people were completely redeemed.
The battle with Satan described in our text was the beginning. It was the first engagement that had to be fought by the Prince of our salvation to trample Satan under his feet and to deal the first deadly wounds to him. It was the first defeat the hellish army had to experience to show them that the Stronger One had now come.