Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. [Matthew 4:1-2 (NLT)]
In Scripture, the number forty often appeared in the context of preparation, judgment, or testing. The rain poured down upon Noah for forty days and nights. After spending forty years in Egypt and another forty as a shepherd, Moses twice spent forty days with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The Israelite scouts spent forty days exploring the land of Canaan and, because the people lost heart and rebelled at their report, they spent an extra forty years wandering the wilderness (one year for each day the men explored). Jonah warned Nineveh their destruction would take place in forty days, Ezekiel lay on his right side for forty days because of Judah’s sins and, before being slain by David, Goliath taunted Saul’s army for forty days.
The number forty has significance in the life of Jesus, as well. After His baptism by John, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of testing and, after His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days. Just because the number forty frequently appears in the context of trials, however, does not mean that forty is merely symbolic. Remembering that God is the One who chose the time, forty days probably means forty days.
Although people like David, John the Baptist, and Moses spent a time of testing in the wilderness, we wonder why Jesus, the son of God, would have to undergo a period of testing before beginning His ministry. Moreover, we wonder how Jesus, being God in flesh, could be tempted. Although both wholly God and wholly man, it was Jesus the man who grew, walked, talked, and was crucified for our sins, and it was Jesus the man who demonstrated His humanity by undergoing temptation. Obedience really isn’t obedience if disobedience is impossible and it’s impossible for our good God to sin. As God, Jesus couldn’t be tempted to sin but, as a man, He could. The sinless Lamb of God had to remain sinless, not as God, but as man and out of obedience to God the Father.
It’s how Jesus resisted temptation that is most telling. As God, he easily could have rebuked Satan and sent him scampering with a wave of His hand. As a man, however, Jesus relied on Scripture to defeat the evil one. God has provided us with His word as a way to withstand temptation. Of course, we have to know His word before we can use it against the enemy! I suppose we could spend the next forty days doing just that!