The Testing of the Son of God

1200px-Temptations_of_Christ_(San_Marco)

The Gospel of Matthew along with the additional synoptic writers record the experience of Christ in the wilderness and his confrontation with the devil. This follows from his baptism and leads into the beginning of his public ministry. Here we see a three-point dialogical story between Jesus and the devil that takes place under the guidance of the Spirit (4:1) and a declaration of who Jesus is as the Son of God (3:17). The overall plot of the Devil is to drive a wedge in the relationship between Father and Son by testing him at the most opportune time. Within this narrative frame, there are structurally three parts that emphasize the centrality of scripture and its importance to the believer. Each temptation presents Jesus with a new level, a progression that gets more elaborate from the wilderness to the temple and finally the high mountaintop. The evil character has three names attached to him as, “devil,” “tempter” (v.3) and “Satan” (v.10) who will test the vocation of Jesus.

The first test comes at a time when Jesus has been fasting for forty days and nights. Jesus’ hunger becomes the occasion for Satan to enter and present his appeal to Jesus. The tempter presents the question with “If” as to deny the reality that Jesus is truly the son of God but on the possibility that what he possesses is truly his to own. The proposal to turn the stones into bread is not just so Jesus could demonstrate his authority and power over creation but by doing so would have yielded to the philosophy of materialism. The natural was put on display in the form of a stone that went against his own self-gratification yet the tempter made it known that a Son of God should never go hungry. The main point here that God is trying to make is on the reliability of spiritual nourishment rather than on the natural. How we are able to withstand such temptations is not based on our self-reliance towards materialism but on the satisfaction of serving under the sonship of Christ.

The reply from Jesus, “It is written,” is a remarkable and fundamental principle into how we are to respond when faced with varies temptations. We are not to be solely depended on the physicality of resources but on the reliability of scripture in its totality. Quoting from the book of Deuteronomy 8:3, the verse has a paradoxical connotation to it in connection with Matthews account. The word that comes from or through the mouth of God (4:4) may seem to indicate a deeper meaning than just a spoken word but from the underbelly of God’s sovereignty can we find assurance of hope. An interesting point when reading this section is the misuse and misinterpretation of scripture by Satan. The Scriptures have an objective givenness over against us and in theory, has the capacity to protect us from ourselves.[1]One question that comes to mind from this passage is was it necessary for the word of God to be written down? Jesus makes it a point to properly place the scripture in its context referring to the Old Testament as a source. It seems that second temple Judaism has found a necessity for the written word that pertains to the churches well-being; an existence where God is not bound by the scriptures but he has bound us to them.[2]

Jesus makes it a point to properly place the scripture in its context referring to the Old Testament as a source.

The second temptation brings Jesus to a new location by transportation or through a vision, either way, it’s a scenario that takes place on the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. Why would Satan bring Jesus to this specific place in the entire city? Again he uses the “If” statement to demote the status of the son of God and challenges once again his sonship. The temple here is not only a place where the presence of God dwelt but was a visible sign of protection and help for the Israelites. Quoting from Psalms 91, Satan suggests that help will be afforded to him as affirmed in scripture and due to the physical location of the temple. The attack on his relationship is put on the forefront as it relates to trusting in his Heavenly Fathers ability to preserve him from harm. The main point that Satan was trying to convey was to get Jesus to perform a spectacular miracle in a situation of need that threatened his life and to force the divine protection of God. This type of demand from God is not necessary for the establishment of Jesus’ credentials and to do otherwise would deconstruct the aspect of obedient servitude. To abide in the shelter of the most high doesn’t obligate us to commit foolish acts and expect to be saved, forcing God to intervene as if he is available to serve us first and then we may oblige.

Jesus again quotes scripture, not because of his unbelief in God’s promises but takes the position of using the written word in its proper context. Scripture begets scripture in being its own interpreter and avoids the kind of interpretation in which Satan adopts during these testing.[3]Notice that the method for Jesus doesn’t change but remains constant in validating the authority of scripture. The Deuteronomy text he quotes comes from a period were the Israelites demanded a miracle from Moses because of their situation of thirst in Massah. Just as they needed proof of God’s omnipotence, Jesus understood the providential care through honoring the Father in putting him to the test.

The final attempt again transports the two characters of this dialogue to the highest mountain top to scan all the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:8). The mountain was a place where individuals went to die (Deut. 34:5), see the vision (Deut. 3:27) or teach from (Matt 5:1). In this case, the scenario presented a promise of territory that wasn’t for the tempter to dispense of in the first place. The earth is the Lords (Ps. 24:1) and the choice of allegiance is put at the foot of Jesus. Notice how the tempter eliminates the phrase, “If you are the son of God” from his vocabulary this time around because of the nature of the temptation that deals with Idolatry. The worshipping of anything other than the true God would propose a switch from son to orphan. The kingdom of the world is offered as a gift from Satan, stands in antithesis to the kingdom of heaven as God’s gift.[4]When reading this in-the-text, the focus that Matthew was trying to get across is on who’s honor is of higher worth? Either serve Satan and rule the world, conforming to his ways or submit to the creator of the world even if the results end in your demise. This last act in the scene gives us a final periscope into how Christ, suffers, dies, hangs on a cross from the mountain only than to proclaim his rightful dominion over all the earth (Matt. 28:18).

The worshipping of anything other than the true God would propose a switch from son to orphan.

The answer in reply to Satan is clearly a resounding “Be Gone” that is vivid in the rejection of the proposition from Satan. The adversary has nothing left in his arsenal to thwart Jesus into submission. Again, Jesus quotes from the book of Deuteronomy in this climactic scene against the enemy and sets the tone for how we are to characterize ourselves before God. This same scene reply’s during Peters debacle (Matt. 16:23)  as he became a sort of mouthpiece for Satan. Matthew provides an open window into how one should conduct themselves when faced with temptation, by heeding to the authority and sufficiency of scripture as the one true means of freedom from sin. Each section of the dialogue between Jesus and Satan draws this same conclusion, that the one true God should alone be worshipped and to know him is made possible through the written word of God.

The dialogue has been terminated and Jesus dismisses Satan though he will return yet again at another suitable time that would result in the salvation of the world. One of the overriding functions of scripture is to bear witness to God and to the self-revelation of God in Christ, a revelation that is animated and effective by the same Spirit who led him in the wilderness.[5]The Gospel writer is trying to get his readers to understand that scripture is the preferred way of living a faith-filled life of obedience in Christ. Without a proper comprehension or appreciation for its words, will result in the tempter misinterpreting the beauty found in it. In the end, the angels ministered to the needs of Jesus, these same angels he would command (Matt. 4:6) and if necessary call on (Matt. 26:53). The nature of temptation is to separate us from our relationship with God and lead us down a path of spiritual confusion in our humanity. Just as Jesus was tempted in his humanity, we who walk in the Spirit are led into a wilderness experience that will ensure our preservation to the end.

 

 

Bibliography

            [1]Goldingay, John. Models for Scripture. Toronto: Clements Pub., 2004, 91.

            [2]Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publications, 1992, v1.57.

            [3]Goldingay, John. Models for Interpretation of Scripture. Toronto: Clements Pub., 2004, 162.

            [4]Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005, 167.

            [5]Green, Joel B. Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publ., 2010, 34.

One Comment Add yours

  1. John Blondo says:

    Thank you bro Will try to jump in during my travels

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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