Why is the order of the Lord’s temptations different in Luke to that in Matthew?
Each of the four evangelists presents the same Christ but in a different light. What shines out in Matthew is His regal glory as Israel’s Messiah and King; by contrast the stress given by Mark emphasises His perfect service as Jehovah’s Servant; Luke, the Gentile, is very wide in scope, highlighting the charm and grace of His impeccable manhood; John presents Him as God manifest in flesh. Hence what is recorded, the words used in the account of each incident, and the order of the incidents themselves, are determined by how each writer, under the inspirational control of the Holy Spirit, presents the Lord.
This is strikingly evident in regard to the temptations. Matthew and Luke both give details of the temptations (Matt. 4: 1–11, Luke 4: 1–13), Mark mentions them (Mark 1: 12, 13) but John does not record them at all. Their inclusion by John would have been entirely out of place in a gospel that stresses His deity, “For God cannot be tempted by evil things” (James 1: 13).
In each of the three synoptic gospels the temptations follow the divine declaration from heaven that Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Hence the Devil’s approach: “If thou be Son of God…” (Matt. 4: 3, 6, Luke 4: 3, 9). God allowed Satan to test the Lord, not to ensure that He was perfect in every way (God knew that already), but to show you and me His perfection––a perfection suited to every aspect of His manhood. Thus when Matthew introduces the scene he says that Jesus “was carried up” into the wilderness––words suited to match the royal dignity of the King. Yet how different is Mark’s description of the same action: “the Spirit drives him out into the wilderness” but in perfect harmony with his presentation of Jesus as the lowly servant. Servants are driven, not carried. Yet neither Matthew’s nor Mark’s choice of words would have suited the Man of Luke’s gospel. Accordingly we read that Jesus “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” A perfect man always subject to the divine will!
Before considering the different orders in Matthew and Luke, one should comment on the lack of detail in Mark’s record. In Mark we have what the Lord did stressed, rather than what He said. Thus it is Mark alone who records “He does all things well” (Mark 7: 37). The leading characteristic of any servant is what he does, not what he says. Hence the Lord’s verbal confrontation with the Devil is entirely absent in a gospel marked by brevity and rapidity of both style and action. “Straightway” is a characteristic word, and the writer’s frequent use of the present rather than the past tense all enhance the urgency and speed required of servants.
Now to answer the question! Matthew’s order is historical; Luke’s order is moral. These different orders suit the particular object of each writer. Both Matthew and Luke give the temptation arising from the Lord’s hunger first place. Matthew follows it with the word “Then” which is an expression of time order. No such word is used anywhere in Luke’s account of the temptations. Luke instead links each temptation with the conjunction “And” which does not indicate historical order. As the second temptation as given by Matthew takes place on the temple and thus the third temptation has to be the one regarding the kingdoms of the world, a second use of “Then” is unnecessary. Defeated for the third time, Satan is commanded “Get thee away” and forced to obey, Matthew records “Then the devil leaves him”. The word “Then” clearly showing that this temptation is the final one. Hence as Matthew’s Gospel presents Jesus as King, it is most fitting that Satan’s final temptation should be that concerning the kingdoms of the world.
To understand Luke’s order one must remember that the first man was tempted by Satan in Eden on three points: “And the woman saw that the tree was good for food––”the lust of the flesh, “and that it was a pleasure for the eyes––”the lust of the eyes, “and the tree was to be desired to give intelligence––”the pride of life (Gen3: 6, see 1 John 2: 16). The first man fell. The second man was tempted on exactly these three grounds as well (and that in a wilderness, not in a place of delight) and did not fall. Thus we have the lust of the flesh (the temptation regarding satisfaction of hunger), the lust of the eyes (the temptation regarding being shown all the kingdoms of the world) and the pride of life (the temptation regarding being secured from hurt by angelic intervention). This moral order is entirely suited to Luke’s presentation.