Dueling Midrash: Satan vs. Jesus in the Temptation in the Wilderness (Part 2)


Read the series.

(Psalm 2:7-9; Psalm 91:1; Matthew 4:5-7, 10)

In the last installment, we began to ponder the temptation of Jesus from the angle of rabbinic debate and midrash, Satan pitted against Jesus. We introduced this subject and looked at the first temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Today we will discuss Yeshua’s final two temptations. It is probable Jesus and Satan engaged in much more discussion than is recorded. We must remember that the Gospels are brief summaries.

Second Temptation: Jumping from the Pinnacle

Satan tempts Jesus to prove He is the Son of God. How? By throwing Himself from the pinnacle of the Temple (Matthew 4:5-7)! Here, the devil provides a midrash to justify his demand. He quotes from and applies Psalm 91 (vs. 11-12). Quoting a passage is merely quoting a passage, but applying a verse’s implications is central to the idea of midrash.

The Psalm itself offers unique protection because the “…one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.…” (Psalm 91:1). Certainly the incarnate Son of God would be included in that number!

Why would Jesus care whether Satan recognized His deity or not? Satan has used this “dare” tactic time and time again with great success upon others because it appeals to human pride. Since Satan’s downfall was likely surrendering to pride (1 Timothy 3:6) to the point of becoming God’s adversary, he may find it difficult to believe anyone—including God Himself—can resist pride’s lure.

Satan masked the lure to surrender to pride in theological terms, as per above. Perhaps this temptation was also justified Ala Malachi 3:1b, “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”

Was Satan tempting Yeshua to miraculously appear at the temple from above? Paul Wallace comments,

Jews as a whole believed that when the messiah was revealed it would be the very moment he rescued them. In other words, a complete unknown would suddenly come to the rescue.1

Whether the Malachi passage came into play or not, Yeshua does not debate with Satan whether the Father would protect Him. He responds with His own midrash, this time from Deuteronomy 6:16, “’You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.’” The last part, “’as you tested him at Meribah’” is not quoted in the synoptic summaries.2

At Massah, the people provoked and complained against God because they were thirsty, so God instructed Moses to strike the rock – and out gushed a generous supply of water (Exodus 17:1-7). Presuming upon God’s protection is making light of God and His promises. The difference between faith and presumption is the motive of the heart; presumption is centered around arrogance, something for which Satan is famous.3

Jesus refuses to be persuaded by Satan’s midrash by invoking an overriding Torah principle: refusal to put God to the test. Honoring God is more important than impressing others.

Third Temptation: Worshiping Satan to Bypass Misery

In the third temptation of Matthew’s Gospel, Satan leads Yeshua up to another high place and shows Him the glory of this world’s kingdoms. Because the world and the devil are allies against the kingdom of God, Satan offers Jesus rulership over the entire earth if He will but bow to Satan in worship. Intrinsic to the idea of worship is the idea of bowing down, vowing allegiance, and recognizing the divinity of the one worshiped. Worshiping our invisible God is appropriate and good, for only He is present everywhere, knows our thoughts before we do, and can do all things. Prayer is perhaps the purist form of worship; by praying, we acknowledge the deity of the One to whom we pray. This is why it is inappropriate to worship (or pray to) any other. We worship God Himself, whether Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.4

Satan, at this point, offers no recorded midrash for his desperate demand. We can imagine several areas of potential discussion and debate. Is it a given that Satan really and legitimately owns the kingdoms of this world to the point where he could turn them over to Jesus? Or is Satan merely a squatter on God’s property, feeling emboldened because of his alliance with human society?5

Satan is asking Yeshua to join the rebellion, once again tempting Him to act independently from the Father. This particular temptation’s lure was taking a short cut to avoid the agony of the cross. Jesus would rule under Satan’s shadow rather than representing the Father, if we understand Satan’s offer. The lure is especially strong when we consider the indescribably intense suffering of the cross. This weighed heavily upon Jesus as evidenced in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-26).6

Psalm 2:7-9 describes the time when Jesus will receive—in time—the kingdoms Satan offered Him. The Messiah King (Who is the Son) will claim His rightful position:

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Jesus responds to Satan’s desperate attempt to lure Jesus off target by dismissing further debate, for this last temptation had no justifiable basis in the Tanakh (Old Testament) at all. In Matthew 4:10 we read:

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Yeshua responds not just by quoting Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:13) in the LXX version.

Matthew 4:11 tells us Satan left for a while (thus clearly tempting Him on other occasions), and that angels ministered to Jesus after this ordeal (akin to Jesus’ experience at Gethsemane).

Jesus had prevailed and proved Himself the greater Rabbi!


1 Wallace, Paul. John’s Rabbi. Kindle Edition location 1151 of 3140.

2 In the Talmud, there is only one exception when it comes to putting God to the test: “…It is prohibited to test God in any way, except in this case of tithes, as it is stated: ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storeroom, that there may be food in My house, and test Me now by this, said the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing that there shall be more than sufficiency’” (Malachi 3:10). Source: Taanit 9a:3, quoted from sefaria.org/Deuteronomy.6.16?lang=bi&with=Talmud&lang2=en

3 The danger of arrogance—akin to that of the Evil One—is why a new convert may not serve as an elder: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).

4 For examples, see Rev. 19:10 and Acts 10:25-26

5 Satan, in fact, does have control of the world’s societies and does have his own kingdom. See Matthew 12:25-26, 2 Corinthians 4:4, and Ephesians 2:2. 1 John 5:19 summarizes it nicely: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

6 These temptations—even in Gethsemane—are temptations to divide the human nature of Jesus from His divine nature.

Ed Vasicek Bio

Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic but, during high school, Cicero (IL) Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute and served as pastor for many years at Highland Park Church, where he is now pastor emeritus. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has published over 1,000 columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers which are available at edvasicek.com. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul's Teachings.