There’s a tendency to think when New Testament (NT) writers quote the Old Testament (OT) that they’re using a verse because it captures what they want to say but the context of the OT verse is unimportant. The HUGE problem with that thinking though is many times the reason the verse is quoted is BECAUSE of its context. Let me give you a simple example from Ephesians 4. Paul is talking about Jesus distributing spiritual gifts: 7 Each one of us has been given a gift through Christ. 8 That is why it says, “When He (Jesus) ascended on high (referring to The Ascension), He…gave gifts to His people.” Then it goes on to say Jesus gifted some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (v. 11).
When it talks about Jesus ascending on high and giving gifts to men, Psalm 68:18 is being quoted, which David wrote after he brought the ark into Jerusalem. It was a time of real celebration (especially when considering how it went the first time David tried to bring in the ark). After it was done, David gave gifts to his people: 2 Samuel 6:19 Then David gave all the people…a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins. David was the king and at this tremendous occasion he gave gifts to his people; therefore, Paul quoted Psalm 68:18 because of its context and wonderful parallel: Jesus is our King, and after His ascension – a tremendous occasion – He gave gifts to His people.
We’re going through Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness on Sunday mornings and when the devil asks Jesus to turn a stone into bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It’s best to look at Jesus’ response as the tip of the iceberg; here’s a tremendous amount going on behind Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. It looks back to Israel’s failure(s) in the wilderness when they were tested for 40 years contrasting that testing with Jesus’ testing in the wilderness for 40 days.
The main point is this: the context of the verse Jesus quoted to the devil (Deut 8:3) is vitally important to appreciating why Jesus responded the way He did. It wouldn’t be too much to say one of the only ways we can really understand and appreciate the NT is to be familiar with the OT. Some people say, “Oh, I just focus on the NT.” Focusing on the NT is great, but if you don’t understand the OT, you’re not really going to understand the NT.
If you’d like to hear more about Jesus’ response and the parallel between Jesus in the wilderness and Israel in the wilderness, here’s the sermon I preached on Jesus’ response to the devil’s temptation, including application we can learn from the Lord about dealing with temptation ourselves: Luke 4:4 Responding to Temptation.