Why Does Jesus Say We "Shall Not Live on Bread Alone"?

Justin Torres
Christianity.com Contributing Writer
Why Does Jesus Say We "Shall Not Live on Bread Alone"?

In Matthew 4:4 Jesus, while being tempted by the devil, rebukes him by saying "‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Why did Jesus reply with this? He is actually quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, reminding the devil that we are to obey God, walk humbly before him, and rely on him. Combating the need to satisfy the flesh.

But is that where it ends? Not at all! This story goes deeper than most people are willing to dig. 

If uncovering hidden gems excites you, then stay with me because we are going to dive into the meaning of this verse.

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What Does It Mean That "Man Does Not Live on Bread Alone?"

man does not live on bread alone

When Jesus was tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread Jesus responded “Man cannot live by bread alone.” But was he speaking literally?

It’s well known that bread is the most widely consumed food in the world. It’s an important source of essential carbohydrates for daily energy. But if it is so important, why would Jesus say man cannot live on it alone?

Because Jesus is speaking beyond the needs of the human body. He is referring to the needs of a human being as a whole. Consisting of a body, soul, and spirit.

“Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person” (Genesis 2:7).

You see, from the above verse, we are more than just material beings. What made us come alive was the life God breathed into us. Since our source of life is from God, bread (or physical food) alone isn’t enough to sustain us.

We need more than food. We need the very word of God as our life-giving source.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

What we should understand is that the devil wanted Jesus to satisfy his flesh. If the devil could strengthen the flesh, he knows it will weaken the spirit.

Jesus understood that the flesh does not profit. His response shows us that it is the spirit that matters. His words are spirit and life. As we live by physical food to sustain our bodies, we are called to also sustain our spirits with the word of God.

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What Is the Context of Matthew 4?

man in the desert

Imagine being in a desert fasting for 40 days without food. How hungry and thirsty would you be? Imagine the fatigue you would experience. For many of us, under these circumstances, we wouldn’t make the best decisions.

Jesus on the other hand was fulfilling a purpose greater than himself. Let’s take a closer look:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And 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 comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:1-4).

The first thing we need to know is that he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit had a purpose behind this.

Let’s compare Matthew 4 with Deuteronomy 8:

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

Notice the similarities?  The Israelites were led by God into the wilderness and they endured for 40 years. During those 40 years, God provided for them but he allowed them to endure for a few reasons:

  • That they would be humbled
  • To test what was in their heart to know if they would obey God
  • They were going to enter their promised land

Jesus in Matthew 4 is an image and fulfillment of this very event!

Jesus endures 40 days of fasting in the wilderness and the devil comes to tempt him to keep him from obeying God but fails. The Spirit led him there to be tested and endure to fulfill what the Israelites could not fulfill – making him our perfect redeemer.

Since Jesus endured, he exercised authority when he rebuked the devil.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Kyle Cottrell

Where Else Does Jesus Talk about Bread?

Communion next to an open Bible

Throughout the gospel of John, we see other instances of Jesus using bread as an example of life. He uses this to speak of himself and his words as the life-giving source that we are to live by. Let’s look at a few favorites:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:35)

“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27).

“Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:32-35).

Jesus' teachings, given to us through the Word of God, is food for our souls.

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How Can We Apply This Verse to Our Everyday Lives?

Person with folded hands on top of a Bible

Biblical application is crucial to our Christian walk. For us to apply this verse, we need to treat what Jesus said as literal.

As you would hunger for food and wouldn’t ignore your cravings, the same is to be done for our spirit. Immersing ourselves in God’s word daily is the key to spiritual growth.

Here’s what living on the word of God looks like:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22).

Living on God’s word produces the character that Jesus intends for us to have.

In this short story, Jesus goes beyond human thinking. He shows us that life is more than the physical body. What we should take away from this is to always pursue the things that will benefit the spirit. 

Having our physical needs met is important and should not be ignored, but the same is true for the spirit. I encourage you today to seek God with all of your heart. When you do, you will find him.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Pamela D McAdams

Justin Torres is the founder of unlockingscripture.com. He is a dedicated teacher of God's Word with a passion for spiritual growth in the body of Christ. His passion for Bible studies has led him to author his book Child Of The Most High and many online articles. Justin and his wife have one son, and both serve in King of Glory Ministries in South Florida where they live.