Ephrem the Syrian explains that Satan waits until Jesus is thirty to tempt him because it is only then that Jesus reveals himself to be the Messiah. We see an Adam typology and a Genesis background to the story, the parallel being with Adam cast out of paradise into the desert, whereas Christ, the new Adam, goes into the desert on our behalf, explains St Ambrose, who adds that he will come back from the wilderness of temptation to lead us to paradise.
Origen and St Cyril both note that the first temptation is the one by which Adam fell – the gluttony in eating that which he was bound not to eat. Jesus conquers by not eating the food with which Satan tempts him. As St Ambrose reminds us, Jesus, the Son of God Incarnate, the very Word of God, is the bread of life from Heaven whose body and blood will become real food for his people – and it is the heavenly bread, the Word of God, who defeats Satan.
Origen says that Satan’s second temptation is a reminder of his rule in the world. He has, St Cyril comments, taken this world by fraud, but now Christ has come he will have to restore it to its proper authority through the suffering and death of Jesus.
Ephrem notes the way in which Satan changes tack in his final temptation, but Jesus’ nature is unchanging. He offers him what Adam had been offered, wisdom and power, so he could become as God. But Jesus was God and he knew Satan for what he was, the first and greatest of the sinners. Satan studied only those passages from Scripture which suited him and twisted them to his own ends – as do all who follow him.
St Augustine, in one of his sermons, concludes by saying that when the Lord had suffered these threefold temptations, Satan departed, but only until his time came again, and this would happen at the Last Supper when he came to Judas who did, like Adam succumb. But on that occasion, Satan encompassed his own ultimate defeat as through the Cross and Resurrection, Christ set us all free.