The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (which, if you have ever been to Palestine, you know is really a desert) is an exceedingly symbolic passage. I say this because it takes the form of a sort of dialogue between the devil and Jesus, and each of the three issues on which Satan tempts Jesus is highly loaded, in an almost allegorical sense.
"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." (v. 1)
This could be overlooked as a connecting sentence into the next section, but I claim it has more importance than that. Three points can be made:
1. Jesus was led by the Spirit, which means, God took him to be tempted. We will see that elsewhere in the New Testament, God promises to never give a temptation that we could not resist, but here we can clearly see that God still takes us into temptation.
2. Jesus was led into the wilderness, that is, Jesus was alone - almost. Although Jesus was not with any other person, the Spirit was there with him, and obviously, the devil will appear soon. This makes it clear that whether or not Jesus resists the temptations, he will do it for the sake of God alone, not because other people are there urging him to be a good person. He could succumb, and if he did, then nobody would know. Hence, this temptation is distilled in that no other factors come into play.
3. Jesus was led to be tempted, in other words, Jesus can be tempted too! And since Jesus has no sin, we must then infer that being tempted is not in itself sinful. This is more of a pastoral note, since we can often find ourselves guilty for having a wayward desire. We will see in the passage that Jesus never shows signs of giving in, or being troubled, and so I would contend that a real want for something illicit is indicative of sinfulness, yet still I affirm that it is not itself sin.
"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,
'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"" (vv. 3-4)
We have just seen God "christen" Jesus as Son of God, and this time in the wilderness is going to test that. The first test is one of relieving suffering, of earthly indulgence. The devil essentially asks Jesus "since you're the Son of God, you could totally just make those stones into bread, and eat, and so fill your belly. Food is not bad, is it?" Jesus response follows as if it were said to what I take to the devil's words, and he essentially replies: "No, because although food is good, it is not enough. Man cannot live by only this earthly food, but instead by what flows from the mouth of God" We could misinterpret that to mean that we could subside only by means of reading the Scriptures, but from the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible (my commentary on which you can find here), the words of God are endowed with a special meaning, because unlike the words of any creature, when God utters a word, things are made. So Jesus is not saying "I shan't eat food, because I can live off reading the Bible", but instead "I shan't succumb to my desire to make my own solution to hunger, because I must live of what proceeds from God."
""If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for
it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you
up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written,
'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (vv. 6-7)
This is an interesting one, because upon reading it, I find myself thinking "Jesus is saying 'do not make falsifiable claims about God,'" but that reading is anachronistic and theologically poor. Yet understanding this passage has profound pastoral importance - for instance, if a priest says to you, "go to Iraq to share the gospel, God will protect you, because you are his child" (I use Iraq because I imagine it has a fairly hostile attitude towards Christian things), should you respond "Do not put the Lord your God to the test"? There seems to be something terribly wrong with that. Maybe it is because throwing oneself onto rocks is not in any sense "for" God, whereas my scenario is. I put forward that what is characteristic about this is that here, Satan asks Jesus to do something that is really only expressing the attitude "do this for me", and Jesus responds by saying "I act unconditionally - I do not say "do this for me", as if I was testing God." So we certainly may have boldness that comes only from the knowledge of God's care and protection - but not because we demand things for the sake of demanding them. That would be equivalent to testing God.
"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, "All these
I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you,
Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
Part of the irony of the previous temptation is that Satan is doing exactly what he knows not to: he is testing the Son of God, seeing if he really is God's Son. This last temptation does away with the formula "If you are the Son of God...", and in one last attempt to subdue Jesus, offers him absolutely everything of desirable nature in the world. Anybody that has been educated in the past five hundred or so years knows that there is no possible way in which one can go up a mountain and see all the kingdoms of the world - at best, you can observe half the planet, from an infinitely tall mountain. Perhaps all the kingdoms are conveniently placed on one hemisphere, and the rest of the world has civilizations which are not kingdoms, but such a reading seems completely bankrupt theologically.Still, the point is clear that Jesus is offered anything and everything he could possibly want in the whole world - if he would only renounces all he actually does want, not of this world. So true to his Sonship, Jesus says "no!, I will worship only the Lord!" This is an expression of the virtue of religion.
These temptations, though important in their own right, have higher meanings also. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes "Matthew and Luke recount three temptations of Jesus that reflect the inner struggle over his own particular mission and, at the same time, address the question as to what truly mattes in human life." It is also exceedingly important to see that these three show the underlying temptation to trust anything other than God himself.
In the scheme of the book of Matthew, however, probably the most important thing is how this mirrors "Jesus as the true Israel". This has been hinted at in quoting Hosea ("out of Egypt I called my son"), and here we see how where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. In this way, Jesus, the true Son, comes out of his 40 day period spotless, and ready to begin his ministry, just as Israel was meant to do after the 40 years in the wilderness.
 Jesus of Nazareth, page 28.
 Israel doubted God's providence (Exodus 16:3), put God to the test (Exodus 17:1) and abandoned God for idolatry (Exodus 32).