Temptations of Jesus

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Immediately after the account of the baptism of the lord, the three Synoptic Gospels narrate the temptations of Jesus by the devil (Mt 4.111; Mk 1.1213; Lk4.113). These temptations are connected with the proclamation of the divine sonship and messianic dignity of Jesus (Mt 3.17). From the setting given this event, the Evangelists imply that the time is at the very beginning of our Lord's public life. The place, called "the desert," is commonly understood to be the barren highland of Judea to the west of the Dead Sea and the lower Jordan. Tradition has identified the actual location with Jebel Qaran al, "the Mountain of Forty Days," three miles northwest of Jericho.

Allusions to the Old Testament. The Evangelists see a link between the coming down of the Spirit during the baptism of Jesus and the impulse of the same Spirit, driving Christ into the desert. As at creation, the spirit of God brooded over the chaotic mass to bring forth order and life and light, so now the Holy Spirit impelled the Life and the Light of men to begin His work of bringing order out of the spiritual chaos of sin. The devil tempted the first Adam, to conquer him; now he is to tempt the second Adam and be conquered by Him. Another link is to be seen in the voice of God proclaiming Jesus to be His beloved Son, and the voice of the devil insinuating a doubt concerning the dignity of Jesus: "if thou art the Son of God."

Matthew and Luke point out that Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert. The length of time recalls the 40 years of the Israelites in the desert (cf. Nm 14.2635), where they were put to the test and failed [cf. Ps 94 (95), 811]. As Moses fasted for 40 days on Mount Sinai to inaugurate

the Old Covenant (Ex 34.28), so Christ, the new Moses, began His mission of establishing the New Covenant by His fast of 40 days.

Nature of the Temptations. Mark does not give any details on the temptations, but implies that they were continuous. Matthew and Luke recorded three individual attempts by the devil to turn Christ away from the will of His Father and from the accomplishment of His messianic mission. Whether the devil appeared externally cannot be determined; the Evangelists in narrating the temptations are concerned with their nature, not with the accidental features that might have accompanied them. So too, no conclusion can be drawn regarding the movements to Jerusalem or to a high mountain. This may simply be the literary device used by the Evangelists to describe the temptations. The same may be true of the temptations themselves. Biblical form criticism of this event has led some scholars to see a midrashic style here (see midrash). In view of this, Matthew and Luke would be paralleling the temptations of the old Israel with those of the new Israel, namely, Christ (cf. Mt 4.14 with Dt8.3; Mt 4.57 with Dt 1.4146; 6.16; Mt 4.810 with Dt5.9; 6.13; 9.721).

In the recording of the three temptations, Matthew and Luke agree in all three, but the order of the second and third is changed. Luke, whose interest in Christ moving toward Jerusalem is manifest in his Gospel, puts in the last place the temptation in which the devil takes our Lord to the pinnacle of the temple. In the first temptation the devil seems to take his cue from the words of God concerning the sonship of Christ. If Christ is the Son of God, He should have the power to satisfy His hunger, as God had satisfied the hunger of the Israelites, God's sons in the Old Testament (Ex 4.2223; Os 11.1). The answer (citing Dt 8.3) points out that God's sons are to live, not by bread, but by God's will. The next temptation (second in Matthew, third in Luke) is based on use of Scripture [Ps 90 (91).1112]: since God always protects the just man, He will certainly protect His Son, if He were to cast Himself from the pinnacle of the temple. The means to manifest the divine protection involved presumption, as our Lord points out (citing Dt 6.16). The last one (third in Matthew, second in Luke) is blunt and to the point. The devil assumes the role of God; all the kingdoms of the world are his to give at his price, devil worship. Christ's answer is preemptory and final: Begone, Satan! God alone is to be worshipped (Dt 6.13). The essence of Christ's temptations consisted in the devil's attempt to allure Him into accepting the popular but false idea of the Messiah as an earthly king who would bring world dominion to Israel.

Christ's victory was complete; yet as Luke remarks, the devil "departed from him for a while." He would return, especially at the hour of darkness (Lk 22.53). Matthew and Mark note the presence of angels ministering to Him, a sign of His dignity as well as His victory.

Bibliography: j. m. vostÉ, De baptismo, tentatione, et transfiguratione Jesu (Rome 1934). h. j. vogels, "Die Versuchungen Jesu," Biblische Zeitschrift 17 (1926) 238255. a. kadiČ, "Monumentum messianicum tentationum Christi," Verbum Domini 18 (1938) 9396, 126128, 151160. p. doncoeur, "La Tentation de Jésus au désert," Études 239 (Paris 1934) 517. h. p. houghton, "On the Temptations of Christ and Zarathushtra," Anglican Theological Review 26 (1944) 166175.

[g. h. guyot]