Today we read Matthew Chapter 4 and the recounting of the temptation of Jesus. Often the question arises, how can Jesus, who is God, be tempted?
Some light can be shed on this question if we understand that the word used in Greek for “temptation” can also be understood as “testing”. This conveys the same import as temptation without the negative moral connotations. It is beneficial to pray on both translations.
In general, Jesus temptation in the desert is a recapitulation of many of the events of salvation history. Jesus’ fasting for forty days and forty nights recalls, the forty days of rain in the story of Noah, the forty days Moses was on Mt. Sinai and the forty years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus.
In the first temptation the devil challenges Jesus to turn stones into bread. Recall, from our discussion in Genesis that bread is a big deal in the Bible. After the fall, one of Adam’s punishments was that he would have to labor to get bread from the ground. Here the devil is tempting Jesus to short circuit that punishment. In essence the devil is trying to get Jesus to deny his full humanity by not subjecting himself to the punishment God had placed on men. The devil seeks to get Jesus to break his communion with men. Of course, the great irony here is that Jesus will one day go onto multiply the loaves and the fishes, but not as an act of separation with men but as an act of compassion to feed the hungry masses. In 3 years’ time Jesus will turn bread into his body at the last supper. Consider the text that Jesus uses in response to the devil’s challenge.
One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
The depth of the meaning of this verse in the context of the New Testament is something only God could devise. Consider what this Old Testament verse means if the Eucharist is actually the Body and Blood of Jesus. Jesus, who is the incarnate Word, will manifest himself as bread. This will allow man to truly live eternally by consuming the Word.
In the second temptation the devil takes Jesus up to the parapet of the temple and challenges Him to throw Himself down and be rescued by Angels, thereby proving His divinity. This temptation recalls the many times Israel puts God to the test by sinning and being in constant need of rescue. Again we see how Jesus refuses to do this as a proof of his own glory but fulfills this challenge later, at the proper time, when he submits himself to crucifixion, lowering himself to allow physical harm and death.
In the third temptation, Jesus is taken to the top of a mountain and offered all the kingdom’s of the world if He will only worship the devil. First, notice that the world is the devil’s to give. It seems that satan has some degree of authority and dominion over the material world. Second, notice that Jesus is taken up on top of a mountain. In the Bible, important things take place on mountains. Abraham takes his son up a mountain. Moses goes up a mountain. The transfiguration takes place on a Mountain. Jesus is arrested on the Mount of Olives. He is crucified on a hill. Here the devil is trying to get Jesus to betray God by worshiping falsely. This is an antitype of the other events where men meet God on mountains. Again we see the proper fulfillment of this temptation when Jesus is raised up on Golgotha at his crucifixion. It is there that he performs the sacrificial act of salvation giving true worship to the Father but submitting completely and perfectly to His will.