Here’s a question:
Is Jesus really the son of God?
That was Satan’s question in the temptation of Christ, especially as recorded in Matthew’s gospel.
There’s really no more important question to get right, to find the answer to. So boil the kettle, get comfy and come with me on a journey through Matthew’s record of Jesus in the wilderness and Satan’s temptation of him.
What we find out together may surprise you:)
Before we really go into the content of Satan’s questions and Christ’s responses, we must take into account the elephant in the room here. What I mean is, is that this passage finds itself in a context awash with paradoxes, some obvious and some not so obvious. Let’s deal first with the obvious one.
Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Running through both Jewish and new Testament thought is this constant tension between a devil that is totally hostile to God and his kingdom in every way and yet is at the same time complicit in the carrying out of God’s plans. A Classic example is of course Job whom is afflicted by an ‘accuser’; or ‘opponent’ that was sent by God.
Here, the original word that is translated as ‘tempter’ also frequently elsewhere means to test with no negative connotation. It is correctly called the ‘temptation of Christ’ in that Satan is trying to induce Jesus to break the very unity of the trinity.
However, it could also be correctly called the ‘testing of Jesus’ in a positive sense as the whole thing takes place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and therefore according to God’s purposes.
Ohh, but we only like to think that God’s purposes in life = non-stop luxury and comfort right?
How about this dude Satan?
The Church in general has always made one of two mistakes with Satan; the conservative side almost pretends that he doesn’t exist, while the hyper Pentecostal side blames him for everything. We are all situated somewhere between those two points.
But one thing is for sure, it is biblicaly neither completely one nor completely the other. This poses the question; what if some of our greatest trials and tribulations are actually at least allowed by God, and we don’t know why?
We get a lot of mileage out of saying to others who are going through a wilderness experience ‘trust God.’ But that phrase means nothing if we do not know why we can trust God.
Here’s why by the way: Because in Christ, God found out what it was like to wait on himself. In Christ, God, steps over to the other side of the fence and in what is a completely new experience for him, as a human man forced to go through the experience of having to just trust in an invisible being.
…you know, just in case no one had actually said it to you.
We can make it through the wilderness only because Christ has first
2. To the Jews.
This text immediately follows Matthew 3:16-17 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,1 with whom I am well pleased.”
So, this extra special relationship with God the Father has just been authorative declared at Christ’s baptism and it is now under scrutiny. I imagine that Matthew himself would have considered this to be one of the most important points in his gospel. You don’t have to do much reading to find that Matthew is widely regarded as the gospel, written by a Jew for the Jews.
Like Paul later on, Matthews’s heart was burdened by the Jewish nation’s extensive and chosen ignorance of Jesus’ divine significance. Thus the claim that is under scrutiny in this story is also the same motivation for Matthew writing his gospel.
Therefore, Jesus is presented as confirming his Sonship, where Israel failed to prove theirs; in the wilderness. We read on; Matthew 4:2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished…….I’ll bet he was.
The number forty echoes the forty years of Israel in the desert where Deuteronomy 8:2 2 the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. And Jesus is about to face all the tests where Israel failed, he is to prove that he is the true Son how? By keeping God’s commandments.
So now the story is set, but you cannot have a truly triumphant hero without a truly brilliant and powerful villain. (Did I mention I love comic books?)
I think that the best action movies are always the ones that have the best villains. One example would be the movie ‘Dark Knight.’ Heath Ledger’s portrayal of evil in his character the Joker was so brilliant and scary that it made the ending of the movie that much more profound. It was people’s love and value for one another that finally defeated him, not a fistfight.
It is the same here, Satan knows how Jesus will refuse to give in to breaking the Father’s law so:
He phrases his questions in such a way that if Jesus refuses to do what Satan asks, he simultaneously fails to answer Satan’s question and thus fails to prove that he is the Son of God.
Either answer will necessarily be incomplete. If Jesus says yes to Satan he demonstrates the sovereignty of his divine power but splinters the bond of love that exists in trinity. On the other hand, if he refuses, he remains obedient but his power appears too hamstrung by Satan’s wisdom.
Jesus is faced then not only with the challenge to remain obedient, but also outmanoeuvre Satan’s craftiness and prove his sonship once and for all. The genius of Satan’s inquiries end up serving to reveal Christ’s unparalleled divine wisdom in his answers to the same.
3. Feed yourself!
All of this is made even more amazing by the fact that Jesus was utterly famished after 5 to six weeks of not eating anything. We continue through the story; Matthew 4:3 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
I wonder if we fully appreciate the level of temptation that Jesus is under. It is not only beneath the dignity of a such an exulted figure as Christ, to suffer hunger, but also unnecessary since he has the means and power to create food out of thin air.
Because of Christ’s situation, a simple loaf of bread carries enough appeal that it is seen as a tool of Satan in his attempt to rupture the Trinity.
I wonder if that doesn’t happen to us. I know that I get used to having pretty much everything that I need or want when want it that it becomes really hard to say no to some things, and sometimes become a source of temptation and, sometimes failure.
I like the words of Calvin; “Now the forms of temptations are indeed many and varied. For wicked conceptions of the mind, provoking us to transgress the law are things not evil of their own nature yet which become temptations through the devil’s devices, when they are so thrust before our eyes that by their appearance we are drawn away or turn aside form God.”
No matter what wilderness we’re in, Jesus has been there before to the fullest extent. How tempting it would have been to answer Satan’s question ‘if you are the Son of God’ with a mighty and tremendous show of power? But it’s so important for us he didn’t.
This would not be the only time Jesus would hear such a gripe. “Luke 23:39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
That Christ would have to face (and be tempted) with his own power inherent in his identity was the will of the Father. For our sake.
It’s only recently occurred to me that he is worthy of all power. Not least because he is the only one who can be trusted with it.
Hungry for more? Click on part 2.