And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,For forty days now, Jesus had fasted from food, just as Moses and Elijah had once done. People often fast when they face something extraordinary. Moses had no desire for food when He came face to face with God (Exodus 34:28), nor did Elijah when he was in the midst of an extraordinary event (1 Kings 19:8). The same can be said of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness.
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
During those days, Jesus faced one of the greatest trials of his life, lesser only than His trial in Gethsemane. In either of these great trials, can you imagine Jesus casually taking a break to have a snack? The thought, of course, is absurd. Can you really imagine Jesus, at one moment, sweating blood and crying out, "Let this cup pass from me!" and then, in the next moment, taking a break to eat a fish sandwich?
There are times when food does not come to mind, when the thought of it is disgusting. Such was the case for Jesus' forty days in the wilderness. We can imagine Jesus, now, on the last of these forty days frail and weak— his humanness on full display. Satan appears to the hungry Christ, saying, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread".
Four thousand years ago, the first Adam fell. He gave into temptation and ate what was forbidden. Now, four thousand years later, Satan tries to push the Second Adam into the same trap. "Go ahead," says Satan, "Eat. Be satisfied. Why hunger any longer? Think of the power you have! The authority you have! If you really are the Son of God, then bring an end to your misery."
This brings up a challenging question. Why was it wrong for Jesus to turn stones into bread? The other two temptations make sense. There is something intrinsically evil about them. But what is so bad about eating?
Was it inherently wrong for Jesus to eat? The answer, I think, must be no. But if this is the case, why was it wrong for Jesus to eat as the devil wanted Him to eat? Was there something inherently wrong about turning bread to stones? The answer to this question, I think, is— in this situation at least— yes.
The clue to why this was the case can be found in the passage from which Jesus quotes. The phrase, "man shall not live by bread alone," is taken from a speech delivered by Moses to the people of Israel. Here is the full context of the quote:
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. (Deuteronomy 8:3-6)If Jesus had turned the stones into bread, then He would have stopped depending on His Father to provide for Him. It was not yet time for miracles. It was not the time to put His divinity on display. Now was the time for Jesus' humanness. Now was the time of His trial— the time to be tempted just as we are, yet without sin.
Notice that in Moses' speech from Deuteronomy, he mentions that Israel was in the wilderness forty years. So too Christ was in the wilderness for forty days. It's almost as if Matthew wants us to see Christ in this passage from Exodus. Just as Matthew has already explained that Jesus fulfilled prophecies by experiencing both exodus and exile (Matthew 2:15, 16-18), here too we see Christ experiencing Israel's time in the wilderness. Here in this great hour of trial, Jesus is completely dependent on His Father. Unlike Israel, He doesn't complain. He doesn't whine and long for the good food of Egypt. Instead, Christ is obedient to His Father, waiting patiently for the manna to fall from Heaven.