Matthew Chapter 4-1c

Matthew 4:1-11 - The Temptations Of Jesus

vv. 5-7 - The devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, called here, “the holy city.”  It is not by accident that Jerusalem is described this way.  It speaks of the special nature of the city in God’s revelatory economy.  It is a city upon a hill; a city set apart; a city holy to God.  It is the centre of his revelation in history; the place of the temple that defines his worship; the place of promise for the future kingdom.  It is a place where the devout gather to worship and therefor a place of the miraculous; a place where Christ could easily make his fame by a simple demonstration of power.

It is with a sense of irony that this is the place of the second great temptation of the second Adam.  The first was tempted in a place we could reasonably describe as more holy - at least more pure - than the “holy city.”  In parallel, there is no place on earth more spiritually secure than Jerusalem.  If there is any place where God’s presence is close, like the garden for the first Adam, it is here.  The irony is obvious.  The point is, no place is secure, no matter how holy.

Then, of course, Jesus is set on the pinnacle of the temple.  That is a place of power with clear overtones of spiritual power.  The pinnacle of the temple is the high place of the building of worship.  High places were known to be of spiritual significance.  They represented spiritual authority and power.  And no “high place” - no matter the geography - is more significant than the highest place of God’s temple.  It is a heady thought just to be there.  But knowing the spiritual significance adds to the drama of the temptation.  If Jesus bites he will come down miraculously from the highest of high places and immediately have earthly power to command people.

More than just a place of power, the temple was a place of expectation.  The prophecy of Malachi 3:1 lent itself to the belief that the Messiah would appear suddenly at the temple.  Clearly, Jesus throwing himself of the pinnacle of the temple and being miraculously borne up from any harm, settling on the ground, would be recognized by any studious Jew as a fulfillment of that prophecy.  It would just add to the credibility of the revelation and secure Jesus’ place as the Messiah among the devout.

An important note in the processes of the devil is that the devil does not appear to have any authority to throw Jesus off the temple to test him.  His only power seems to be to entice Jesus to throw himself off the temple. This is true in all temptations.  There is an element of appeal to some perceived gain by circumventing or destroying the word and will of God.  It appeals to our flesh.  It appeals to our desire to get a thing accomplished by our own perceived more expedient means.  Sin can never be said to be forced upon us.  Certainly there are circumstances and infirmities that incline us toward certain sins; certain ways in which we are weakened and vulnerable that were not our fault.  However, even in these there is always an act of will.  For once the Spirit of Christ is in us no temptation has seized us so powerfully as to be beyond escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).  There is always some way out.  So here, the devil has no power over Jesus’ will.  He only has the advantage of having him in a weakened state and the power to appeal to his mission of drawing men to himself, which Jesus could accomplish quickly (implied by the devil) by throwing himself down and having a miraculous rescue for all to see.  The word of Jesus coming would spread quickly and men would be drawn to him - so the devil means to convince Jesus.

In this temptation the devil goes a step further and uses Scripture against Jesus.  He has just been defeated in his first attempt to bring Jesus down by the use of Scripture, so he switches tactics to use this very means to support his lie.  So many lies and deceptions of the devil come from part truths.  Part truths are often used in our own minds to rationalize behaviour and justify our sin.  In this way our sin even seems biblical.  These are among the greatest deceptions because our demonic religious activity, steeped in sin, appears to have a biblical warrant.

The devil plays a simple game.  He conveniently leaves out the critical part of the text that allows him to pull Jesus, using Scripture, towards doing something sinful based on an apparent promise of God.  Unfortunately for the devil, Jesus knows the Scripture all too well and understands the deception.  He counters it with another Scripture that strikes, once again, at the heart of the lie.

The original Scripture is taken from Psalm 91:11-12.  It says,

11 For he will give his angels charge of you

to guard you in all your ways.

12 On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.

The clause the devil leaves out is, “to guard you in all your ways.”  The clear context of the Scripture is about guarding humans in the course of their obedient ways.  The prophetic Psalm speaks of the man who has drawn near to the Lord, having come under the banner of his protection through continual dwelling in the Lord’s shelter.  The minute Jesus would have responded to the devil’s prompting and thrown himself off the temple, he would have violated the very core value of the Psalm which offers the protections.  He would have come out from the “all your ways” that afforded the protection in the first place.  Phrases like, “because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him” make it clear that no independent action will afford the same protection.  It is is a causal clause.  Throwing Himself off the temple to prove a point would certainly not qualify as “cleaving to God in love.”

The core issue is one of the spirit towards God.  Will we cleave and trust, walking in obedience under the banner of God’s protection?  Or will we do things that put God’s patience, or kindness, or grace to the test?  If we put him to the test, we have no guarantee.  He might, in mercy, deliver us from time to time, understanding our weakness or infirmity.  But by no means can we deliberately go on sinning and expect to be afforded God’s protection.  So Jesus speaks back a Scripture that is properly used to define the circumstance and what the devil is trying to do.

Jesus says, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”  That is what the devil is trying to get him to do, using part truths from Scripture to do it.  So Jesus cuts the lie open and exposes it by properly using God’s word.  The victory is immediate.  Satan challenges him no further on this issue.  He just moves to his final attempt.

So it will often be.  We may often defeat the temptations of the devil by properly keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, rooted and grounded in his word, using his truth to pierce through lies.  It isn’t easy when our flesh is aroused to temptation.  So we must bring the truth early to the battle.  The moment we get engaged in the feelings aroused by the desire we are in trouble.  Jesus doesn’t hesitate.  He doesn’t mull it over.  He doesn’t contemplate the implications of what could be accomplished if he did throw Himself off the temple.  He quickly and decisively, with resolve, cuts through the lie and focuses on the truth and his call to worship God and serve him only.  And he wins!  So will we!