The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
passage of Scripture where thou findest the Majesty of God, thou also findest
close by His Condescension (Humility). So it is written down in the Law [Deut.
x. 17, followed by verse 18], repeated in the Prophets [Is. lvii. 15], and
reiterated in the Hagiographa [Ps. lxviii. 4, followed by verse 5].' - Megill
THE TEMPTATION OF JESUS
(St. Matthew 4:1-11; St. Mark 1:12,13; St.
The proclamation and inauguration of the 'Kingdom of Heaven' at
such a time, and under such circumstances, was one of the great antitheses
of history. With reverence be it said, it is only God Who would thus begin His
Kingdom. A similar, even greater antithesis, was the commencement of the
Ministry of Christ. From the Jordan to the wilderness with its wild Beasts;
from the devout acknowledgment of the Baptist, the consecration and filial
prayer of Jesus, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the heard testimony of
Heaven, to the utter foresakeness, the felt want and weakness of Jesus, and the
assaults of the Devil - no contrast more startling could be conceived. And yet,
as we think of it, what followed upon the Baptism, and that it so followed, was
necessary, as regarded the Person of Jesus, His Work, and that which was to
result from it.
Psychologically, and as regarded the Work of Jesus, even
reverent negative Critics1
have perceived its higher need. That at His consecration to the Kingship of the
Kingdom, Jesus should have become clearly conscious of all that it implied in a
world of sin; that the Divine method by which that Kingdom should be
established, should have been clearly brought out, and its reality tested; and
that the King, as Representative and Founder of the Kingdom, should have
encountered and defeated the representative, founder, and holder of the
opposite power, 'the prince of this world' - these are thoughts which must
arise in everyone who believes in any Mission of the Christ. Yet this only as,
after the events, we have learned to know the character of that Mission, not as
we might have preconceived it. We can understand, how a Life and Work such as
that of Jesus, would commence with 'the Temptation,' but none other than His.
Judaism never conceived such an idea; because it never conceived a Messiah like
Jesus. It is quite true that long previous Biblical teaching, and even the
psychological necessity of the case, must have pointed to temptation and victory
as the condition of spiritual greatness. It could not have been otherwise in a
world hostile to God, nor yet in man, whose conscious choice determines his
position. No crown of victory without previous contest, and that
proportionately to its brightness; no moral ideal without personal attainment
and probation. The patriarchs had been tried and proved; so had Moses, and all
the heroes of faith in Israel. And Rabbinic legend, enlarging upon the Biblical
narratives, has much to tell of the original envy of the Angels; of the
assaults of Satan upon Abraham, when about to offer up Isaac; of attempted
resistance by the Angels to Israel's reception of the Law; and of the final
vain endeavour of Satan to take away the soul of Moses.2
Foolish, repulsive, and even blasphemous as some of these legends are, thus
much at least clearly stood out, that spiritual trials must precede spiritual
elevation. In their own language: 'The Holy One, blessed be His Name, does not
elevate a man to dignity till He has first tried and searched him; and if he
stands in temptation, then He raises him to dignity.'3
1. No other terms would correctly describe the book of Keim to which I specially
refer. How widely it differs, not only from the superficial trivialities of a Renan, but from the stale arguments of Strauss, or the picturesque inaccuracies
of a Hausrath, no serious student need be told. Perhaps on that ground it is only the more dangerous.
2. On the temptations of Abraham see Book of Jubilees, ch. xvii.; Sanh. 89 b (and differently but not less blasphemously in Pirké de R. Elies. 31); Pirké de
R. Elies. 26, 31, 32 (where also about Satan's temptation of Sarah, who dies in consequence of his tidings); Ab. de R. N. 33; Ber. R. 32, 56; Yalkut, i. c. 98,
p. 28 b; and Tanchuma, where the story is related with most repulsive details. As to Moses, see for example Shabb. 89 a; and especially the truly horrible story of the death of Moses in Debar R. 11 (ed. Warsh. iii. p.
22 a and b). But I am not aware of any temptation of Moses by Satan.
3. Bemidb. R. 15, ed. Warsh. vol. iv. p. 63 a, lines 5 and 4 from bottom.
Thus far as regards man. But in reference to the Messiah there
is not a hint of any temptation or assault by Satan. It is of such importance
to mark this clearly at the outset of this wonderful history, that proof must
be offered even at this stage. In whatever manner negative critics may seek to
account for the introduction of Christ's Temptation at the commencement of His
Ministry, it cannot have been derived from Jewish legend. The 'mythical'
interpretation of the Gospel-narratives breaks down in this almost more
manifestly than in any other instance.4
So far from any idea obtaining that Satan was to assault the Messiah, in a
well-known passage, which has been previously quoted,5
the Arch-enemy is represented as overwhelmed and falling on his face at sight
of Him, and owning his complete defeat.6
On another point in this history we find the same inversion of thought current
in Jewish legend. In the Commentary just referred to,7
the placing of Messiah on the pinnacle of the Temple, so far from being of
Satanic temptation, is said to mark the hour of deliverance, of Messianic
proclamation, and of Gentile voluntary submission. 'Our Rabbis give this
tradition: In the hour when King Messiah cometh, He standeth upon the roof of
the Sanctuary, and proclaims to Israel, saying, Ye poor (suffering), the time
of your redemption draweth nigh. And if ye believe, rejoice in My Light, which
is risen upon you . . . . . Is. lx. 1. . . . . upon you only . . . . Is. lx. 2.
. . . . In that hour will the Holy One, blessed be His Name, make the Light of
the Messiah and of Israel to shine forth; and all shall come to the Light of
the King Messiah and of Israel, as it is written ..... Is. lx. 3. . . . . And
they shall come and lick the dust from under the feet of the King Messiah, as
it is written, Is. xlix. 23. . . . . . And all shall come and fall on their
faces before Messiah and before Israel, and say, We will be servants to Him and
to Israel. And every one in Israel shall have 2,800 servants,8
as it is written, Zech. viii. 23.' One more quotation from the same Commentary:9
'In that hour, the Holy One, blessed be His Name, exalts the Messiah to the
heaven of heavens, and spreads over Him of the splendour of His glory because
of the nations of the world, because of the wicked Persians. They say to Him,
Ephraim, Messiah, our Righteousness, execute judgment upon them, and do to them
what Thy soul desireth.'
4. Thus Gfrörer can only hope that some Jewish parallelism may yet be discovered
(!); while Keim suggests, of course without a title of evidence,
additions by the early Jewish Christians. But whence and why
these imaginary additions?
5. Yalkut on Is. ix. 1, vol. ii. p. 56.
6. Keim (Jesu von Naz. i. b, p. 564) seems not to have perused the whole passage, and, quoting it at second-hand, has misapplied it. The passage (Yalkut
on Is. lx. 1) has been given before.
7. u. s. col. d.
8. The number is thus reached: as there are seventy nations, and ten
of each are to take hold on each of the four corners of a Jew's garment, we have 70 x 10 x 4 =2,800.
9. u.s. 11 lines further down.
In another respect these quotations are important. They show
that such ideas were, indeed, present to the Jewish mind, but in a sense
opposite to the Gospel-narratives. In other words, they were regarded as the
rightful manifestation of Messiah's dignity; whereas in the Evangelic record
they are presented as the suggestions of Satan, and the Temptation of Christ.
Thus the Messiah of Judaism is the Anti-Christ of the Gospels. But if the
narrative cannot be traced to Rabbinic legend, may it not be an adaptation of
an Old Testament narrative, such as the account of the forty days' fast of
Moses on the mount, or of Elijah in the wilderness? Viewing the Old Testament
in its unity, and the Messiah as the apex in the column of its history, we
admit - or rather, we must expect - throughout points of correspondence between
Moses, Elijah, and the Messiah. In fact, these may be described as marking the
three stages in the history of the Covenant. Moses was its giver, Elijah its
restorer, the Messiah its renewer and perfecter. And as such they all had, in a
sense, a similar outward consecration for their work. But that neither Moses
nor Elijah was assailed by the Devil, constitutes not the only, though a vital,
difference between the fast of Moses and Elijah, and that of Jesus. Moses
fasted in the middle, Elijah at the Presence of God;10
Elijah alone; Jesus assaulted by the Devil. Moses had been called up by God;
Elijah had gone forth in the bitterness of his own spirit; Jesus was driven by
the Spirit. Moses failed after his forty days' fast, when in indignation he cast
the Tables of the Law from him; Elijah failed before his forty days' fast;
Jesus was assailed for forty days and endured the trial. Moses was angry
against Israel; Elijah despaired of Israel; Jesus overcame for Israel.
10. The Rabbis have it, that a man must accommodate himself to the ways of the place where he is. When Moses was on the Mount he lived of 'the bread of the Torah' (Shem. R. 47).
Nor must we forget that to each the trial came not only in his
human, but in his representative capacity - as giver, restorer, or perfecter of
the Covenant. When Moses and Elijah failed, it was not only as individuals, but
as giving or restoring the Covenant. And when Jesus conquered, it was not only
as the Unfallen and Perfect Man, but as the Messiah. His Temptation and Victory
have therefore a twofold aspect: the general human and the Messianic, and these
two are closely connected. Hence we draw also this happy inference: in whatever
Jesus overcame, we can overcome. Each victory which He has gained secures its
fruits for us who are His disciples (and this alike objectively and
subjectively). We walk in His foot-prints; we can ascend by the rock-hewn steps
which His Agony has cut. He is the perfect man; and as each temptation marks a
human assault (assault on humanity), so it also marks a human victory (of
humanity). But He is also the Messiah; and alike the assault and the victory
were of the Messiah. Thus, each victory of humanity becomes a victory for
humanity; and so is fulfilled, in this respect also, that ancient hymn of royal
victory, 'Thou hast ascended on high; Thou hast led captivity captive; Thou
hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that Jehovah God,
might dwell among them.'1112
11. Ps. lxviii. 18.
12. The quotation in Eph. iv. 8 resembles the rendering of the Targum (see Delitzsch Comm. ü. d. Psalter, vol. i. p. 503).
But even so, there are other considerations necessarily
preliminary to the study of one of the most important parts in the life of
Christ. They concern these two questions, so closely connected that they can
scarcely be kept quite apart: Is the Evangelic narrative to be regarded as the
account of a real and outward event? And if so, how was it
possible - or, in what sense can it be asserted - that Jesus Christ, set before
us as the Son of God, was 'tempted of the Devil?' All subsidiary questions run
up into these two.
As regards the reality and outwardness of the
temptation of Jesus, several suggestions may be set aside as unnatural, and ex
post facto attempts to remove a felt difficulty. Renan's frivolous
conceit scarcely deserves serious notice, that Jesus went into the wilderness
in order to imitate the Baptist and others, since such solitude was at the time
regarded as a necessary preparation for great things. We equally dismiss as
more reverent, but not better grounded, such suggestions as that an interview
there with the deputies of the Sanhedrin, or with a Priest, or with a Pharisee,
formed the historical basis of the Satanic Temptation; or that it was a vision,
a dream, the reflection of the ideas of the time; or that it was a parabolic
form in which Jesus afterwards presented to His disciples His conception of the
Kingdom, and how they were to preach it.13
Of all such explanations it may be said, that the narrative does not warrant
them, and that they would probably never have been suggested, if their authors
had been able simply to accept the Evangelic history. But if so it would have
been both better and wiser wholly to reject (as some have done) the
authenticity of this, as of the whole early history of the Life of Christ,
rather than transform what, if true, is so unspeakably grand into a series of
modern platitudes. And yet (as Keim has felt) it seems impossible to
deny, that such a transaction at the beginning of Christ's Messianic Ministry
is not only credible, but almost a necessity; and that such a transaction must
have assumed the form of a contest with Satan. Besides, throughout the Gospels
there is not only allusion to this first great conflict (so that it does not
belong only to the early history of Christ's Life), but constant reference to
the power of Satan in the world, as a kingdom opposed to that of God, and of
which the Devil is the King.14
And the reality of such a kingdom of evil no earnest mind would call in
question, nor would it pronounce ŕ priori against the personality of its
king. Reasoning ŕ priori, its credibility rests on the same kind of,
only, perhaps, on more generally patent, evidence as that of the beneficent
Author of all Good, so that - with reverence be it said - we have, apart from
Holy Scripture, and, as regards one branch of the argument, as much evidence
for believing in a personal Satan, as in a Personal God. Holding, therefore, by
the reality of this transaction, and finding it equally impossible to trace it
to Jewish legend, or to explain it by the coarse hypothesis of
misunderstanding, exaggeration, and the like, this one question arises: Might
it not have been a purely inward transaction, - or does the narrative present
an account of what was objectively real?
13. We refrain from naming the individual writers who have broached these and other equally untenable hypotheses.
14. The former notably in St. Matt. xii. 25-28; St. Luke xi. 17 &c. The import of this, as looking back upon the history of the Temptation, has not always been
sufficiently recognised. In regard to Satan and his power many passages will occur to the reader, such as St. Matt. vi. 13; xii. 22; xiii. 19, 25, 39; xxvi. 41; St. Luke x. 18; xxii. 3, 28, 31; St. John viii. 44; xii. 31; xiii. 27; xiv. 30; xvi. 11.
At the outset, it is only truthful to state, that the
distinction does not seem of quite so vital importance as it has appeared to
some, who have used in regard to it the strongest language.15
On the other hand it must be admitted that the narrative, if naturally
interpreted, suggests an outward and real event, not an inward transaction;16
that there is no other instance of ecstatic state or of vision recorded in the
life of Jesus, and that (as Bishop Ellicott has shown),17
the special expressions used are all in accordance with the natural view. To
this we add, that some of the objections raised - notably that of the impossibility
of showing from one spot all the kingdoms of the world - cannot
bear close investigation. For no rational interpretation would insist on the
absolute literality of this statement, any more than on that of the survey of
the whole extent of the land of Israel by Moses from Pisgah.1819
All the requirements of the narrative would be met by supposing Jesus to have
been placed on a very high mountain, whence south, the land of Judća and
far-off Edom; east, the swelling plains towards Euphrates; north, snow-capped
Lebanon; and west, the cities of Herod, the coast of the Gentiles, and beyond,
the wide sea dotted with sails, gave far-off prospect of the kingdoms of this
world. To His piercing gaze all their grandeur would seem to unroll, and pass
before Him like a moving scene, in which the sparkle of beauty and wealth
dazzled the eye, the sheen of arms glittered in the far distance, the tramp of
armed men, the hum of busy cities, and the sound of many voices fell on the ear
like the far-off rush of the sea, while the restful harmony of thought, or the
music of art, held and bewitched the senses - and all seemed to pour forth its
fullness in tribute of homage at His feet in Whom all is perfect, and to Whom
15. So Bishop Ellicott, Histor. Lectures, p. 111.
16. Professor Godet's views on this subject are very far from satisfactory, whether exegetically or dogmatically. Happily, they fall far short of the notion of any internal solicitation to sin in the case of Jesus, which Bishop Ellicott so justly denounces in strongest language.
17. U.s. p. 110, note 2.
18. Deut. xxxiv. 1-3.
19. According to Siphré (ed. Friedmann p. 149 a and b), God showed to
Moses Israel in its happiness, wars, and misfortunes; the whole world from the Day of Creation to that of the Resurrection; Paradise, and Gehenna.
But in saying this we have already indicated that, in such
circumstances, the boundary-line between the outward and the inward must have
been both narrow and faint. Indeed, with Christ it can scarcely be conceived to
have existed at such a moment. The past, the present, and the future must have
been open before Him like a map unrolling. Shall we venture to say that such a
vision was only inward, and not outwardly and objectively real? In truth we are
using terms which have no application to Christ. If we may venture once more to
speak in this wise of the Divine Being: With Him what we view as the opposite
poles of subjective and objective are absolutely one. To go a step further:
many even of our temptations are only (contrastedly) inward, for these
two reasons, that they have their basis or else their point of contact within
us, and that from the limitations of our bodily condition we do not see the
enemy, nor can take active part in the scene around. But in both respects it
was not so with the Christ. If this be so, the whole question seems almost
irrelevant, and the distinction of outward and inward
inapplicable to the present case. Or rather, we must keep by these two
landmarks: First, it was not inward in the sense of being merely subjective;
but it was all real - a real assault by a real Satan, really under these
three forms, and it constituted a real Temptation to Christ. Secondly, it was
not merely outward in the sense of being only a present assault by Satan; but
it must have reached beyond the outward into the inward, and have had for its
further object that of influencing the future Work of Christ, as it stood out
before His Mind.
A still more difficult and solemn question is this: In what
respect could Jesus Christ, the Perfect Sinless Man, the Son of God, have been
tempted of the Devil? That He was so tempted is of the very essence of this
narrative, confirmed throughout His after-life, and laid down as a fundamental
principle in the teaching and faith of the Church.20
On the other hand, temptation without the inward correspondence of existent sin
is not only unthinkable, so far as man is concerned,21
but temptation without the possibility of sin seems unreal - a kind of
Docetism.22 Yet the
very passage of Holy Scripture in which Christ's equality with us as regards
all temptation is expressed, also emphatically excepts from it this one
not only in the sense that Christ actually did not sin, nor merely in this,
that 'our concupiscence'24
had no part in His temptations, but emphatically in this also, that the notion
of sin has to be wholly excluded from our thoughts of Christ's temptations.25
20. Heb. iv. 15.
21. St. James i. 14.
22. The heresy which represents the Body of Christ as only apparent, not real.
23. Hebr. iv. 15.
24. St. James i. 14.
25. Comp. Riehm, Lehrbegr. d. Hebr. Br. P. 364. But I cannot agree with the views which this learned
theologian expresses. Indeed, it seems to me that he does not meet the real difficulties of the question; on the contrary, rather aggravates them. They lie in this: How could One Who
(according to Riehm) stood on the same level with us in regard to all temptations have been exempt from sin?
To obtain, if we can, a clearer understanding of this subject,
two points must be kept in view. Christ's was real, though unfallen Human
Nature; and Christ's Human was in inseparable union with His Divine Nature. We
are not attempting to explain these mysteries, nor at present to vindicate
them; we are only arguing from the standpoint of the Gospels and of Apostolic teaching,
which proceeds on these premisses - and proceeding on them, we are trying to
understand the Temptation of Christ. Now it is clear, that human nature, that
of Adam before his fall, was created both sinless and peccable. If Christ's
Human Nature was not like ours, but, morally, like that of Adam before his
fall, then must it likewise have been both sinless and in itself peccable. We
say, in itself, for there is a great difference between the statement that
human nature, as Adam and Christ had it, was capable of sinning, and this
other, that Christ was peccable. From the latter the Christian mind
instinctively recoils, even as it is metaphysically impossible to imagine the
Son of God peccable. Jesus voluntarily took upon Himself human nature with all
its infirmities and weaknesses - but without the moral taint of the Fall:
without sin. It was human nature, in itself capable of sinning, but not having
sinned. If He was absolutely sinless, He must have been unfallen. The position
of the first Adam was that of being capable of not sinning, not that of being
incapable of sinning. The Second Adam also had a nature capable of not sinning,
but not incapable of sinning. This explains the possibility of 'temptation' or
assault upon Him, just as Adam could be tempted before there was in him any
inward consensus to it.26
The first Adam would have been 'perfected' - or passed from the capability of
not sinning to the incapability of sinning - by obedience. That 'obedience' -
or absolute submission to the Will of God - was the grand outstanding
characteristic of Christ's work; but it was so, because He was not only the
Unsinning, Unfallen Man, but also the Son of God. Because God was His Father,
therefore He must be about His Business, which was to do the Will of His Father.
With a peccable Human Nature He was impeccable; not because He obeyed, but
being impeccable He so obeyed, because His Human was inseparably connected with
His Divine Nature. To keep this Union of the two Natures out of view would be
To sum up: The Second Adam, morally unfallen, though voluntarily subject to all
the conditions of our Nature, was, with a peccable Human Nature, absolutely
impeccable as being also the Son of God - a peccable Nature, yet an impeccable
Person: the God-Man, 'tempted in regard to all (things) in like manner (as we),
without (excepting) sin.'
26. The latter was already sin. Yet 'temptation' means more than mere 'assault.' There may be conditional mental assensus without moral consensus - and so temptation without sin. See p. 301, note.
27. The heresy which unduly separated the two Natures.
All this sounds, after all, like the stammering of Divine words
by a babe, and yet it may in some measure help us to understand the character
of Christ's first great Temptation.
Before proceeding, a few sentences are required in explanation
of seeming differences in the Evangelic narration of the event. The historical
part of St. John's Gospel begins after the Temptation - that is, with the
actual Ministry of Christ; since it was not within the purport of that work to
detail the earlier history. That had been sufficiently done in the Synoptic
Gospels. Impartial and serious critics will admit that these are in accord.
For, if St. Mark only summarises, in his own brief manner, he supplies the
two-fold notice that Jesus was 'driven' into the wilderness, 'and was with the
wild beasts,' which is in fullest internal agreement with the detailed
narratives of St. Matthew and St. Luke. The only noteworthy difference between
these two is, that St. Matthew places the Temple-temptation before that of the
world-kingdom, while St. Luke inverts this order, probably because his
narrative was primarily intended for Gentile readers, to whose mind this might
present itself as to them the true gradation of temptation. To St. Matthew we
owe the notice, that after Temptation 'Angels came and ministered' unto Jesus;
to St. Luke, that the Tempter only 'departed from Him for a season.'
To restate in order our former conclusions, Jesus had
deliberately, of His own accord and of set firm purpose, gone to be baptized.
That one grand outstanding fact of His early life, that He must be about His
Father's Business, had found its explanation when He knew that the Baptist's
cry, 'the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,' was from God. His Father's Business,
then, was 'the Kingdom of Heaven,' and to it He consecrated Himself, so
fulfilling all righteousness. But His 'being about it' was quite other than
that of any Israelite, however devout, who came to Jordan. It was His consecration,
not only to the Kingdom, but to the Kingship, in the anointing and permanent
possession of the Holy Ghost, and in His proclamation from heaven. That Kingdom
was His Father's Business; its Kingship, the manner in which He was to be
'about it.' The next step was not, like the first, voluntary, and of
preconceived purpose. Jesus went to Jordan; He was driven of the Spirit into
the wilderness. Not, indeed, in the sense of His being unwilling to go,28
or having had other purpose, such as that of immediate return into Galilee, but
in that of not being willing, of having no will or purpose in the matter, but
being 'led up,' unconscious of its purpose, with irresistible force, by the
Spirit. In that wilderness He had to test what He had learned, and to learn
what He had tested. So would He have full proof for His Work of the What
- His Call and Kingship; so would He see its How - the manner of it; so,
also, would, from the outset, the final issue of His Work appear.
28. This is evident even from the terms used by St. Matthew (anhcqh) and St. Luke (hgeto).
I cannot agree with Godet, that Jesus would have been inclined to return to Galilee and begin teaching. Jesus had no inclination save this - to do the Will of His Father. And yet the expression 'driven' used by St. Mark seems to imply some human shrinking on His part - at least at the outset.
Again - banishing from our minds all thought of sin in
connection with Christ's Temptation,29
He is presented to us as the Second Adam, both as regarded Himself, and His
relation to man. In these two respects, which, indeed, are one, He is now to be
tried. Like the first, the Second Adam, sinless, is to be tempted, but under
the existing conditions of the Fall: in the wilderness, not in Eden; not in the
enjoyment of all good, but in the pressing want of all that is necessary for
the sustenance of life, and in the felt weakness consequent upon it. For
(unlike the first) the Second Adam was, in His Temptation, to be placed on an
absolute equality with us, except as regarded sin. Yet even so, there must have
been some point of inward connection to make the outward assault a temptation.
It is here that opponents (such as Strauss and Keim) have
strangely missed the mark, when objecting, either that the forty days' fast was
intrinsically unnecessary, or that the assaults of Satan were clumsy
suggestions, incapable of being temptations to Jesus. He is 'driven' into the
wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted.30
The history of humanity is taken up anew at the point where first the kingdom
of Satan was founded, only under new conditions. It is not now a choice, but a
contest, for Satan is the prince of this world. During the whole forty days of
Christ's stay in the wilderness His Temptation continued, though it only
attained its high point at the last, when, after the long fast, He felt the
weariness and weakness of hunger. As fasting occupies but a very subordinate,
we might almost say a tolerated, place in the teaching of Jesus; and as, so far
as we know, He exercised on no other occasion such ascetic practices, we are
left to infer internal, as well as external, necessity for it in the present
instance. The former is easily understood in His pre-occupation; the latter
must have had for its object to reduce Him to utmost outward weakness, by the
depression of all the vital powers. We regard it as a psychological fact that,
under such circumstances, of all mental faculties the memory alone is active,
indeed, almost preternaturally active. During the preceding thirty-nine days
the plan, or rather the future, of the Work to which He had been consecrated,
must have been always before Him. In this respect, then, He must have been
tempted. It is wholly impossible that He hesitated for a moment as to the means
by which He was to establish the Kingdom of God. He could not have felt tempted
to adopt carnal means, opposed to the nature of that Kingdom, and to the Will of
God. The unchangeable convictions which He had already attained must have stood
out before Him: that His Father's business was the Kingdom of God; that He was
furnished to it, not by outward weapons, but by the abiding Presence of the
Spirit; above all, that absolute submission to the Will of God was the way to
it, nay, itself the Kingdom of God. It will be observed, that it was on these
very points that the final attack of the Enemy was directed in the utmost
weakness of Jesus. But, on the other hand, the Tempter could not have failed to
assault Him with considerations which He must have felt to be true. How could
He hope, alone, and with such principles, to stand against Israel? He knew
their views and feelings; and as, day by day, the sense of utter loneliness and
forsakenness increasingly gathered around Him, in His increasing faintness and
weakness, the seeming hopelessness of such a task as He had undertaken must
have grown upon Him with almost overwhelming power.31
Alternately, the temptation to despair, presumption, or the cutting short of
the contest in some decisive manner, must have presented itself to His mind, or
rather have been presented to it by the Tempter.
29. Heb. iv. 15.
30. The place of the Temptation could not, of course, have been the traditional 'Quarantania,' but must have been near Bethabara. See also Stanley's Sinai and Palestine, p. 308.
31. It was this which would make the 'assault' a 'temptation' by vividly setting before the mind the reality and rationality of these considerations - a mental assensus
- without implying any inward consensus to the manner in which the Enemy proposed to have them set aside.
And this was, indeed, the essence of His last three great
temptations; which, as the whole contest, resolved themselves into the one
question of absolute submission to the Will of God,32
which is the sum and substance of all obedience. If He submitted to it, it must
be suffering, and only suffering - helpless, hopeless suffering to the bitter end;
to the extinction of life, in the agonies of the Cross, as a male-factor;
denounced, betrayed, rejected by His people; alone, in very God-forsakenness.
And when thus beaten about by temptation, His powers reduced to the lowest ebb
of faintness, all the more vividly would memory hold out the facts so well
known, so keenly realised at that moment, in the almost utter cessation of
every other mental faculty:33
the scene lately enacted by the banks of Jordan, and the two great expectations
of His own people, that the Messiah was to head Israel from the Sanctuary of
the Temple, and that all kingdoms of the world were to become subject to Him.
Here, then, is the inward basis of the Temptation of Christ, in which the fast
was not unnecessary, nor yet the special assaults of the Enemy either 'clumsy
suggestions,' or unworthy of Jesus.
32. All the assaults of Satan were really directed against Christ's absolute submission to the Will of God, which was His Perfectness. Hence, by every one of these temptations, as Weiss says in regard to the first, 'rüttelt er an Seiner Volkommenheit.'
33. I regard the memory as affording the basis for the Temptation. What was so vividly in Christ's memory at that moment, that was flashed before Him as in a mirror under the dazzling light of temptation.
He is weary with the contest, faint with hunger, alone in that
wilderness. His voice falls on no sympathising ear; no voice reaches Him but
that of the Tempter. There is nothing bracing, strengthening in this
featureless, barren, stony wilderness - only the picture of desolateness,
hopelessness, despair. He must, He will absolutely submit to the Will of God.
But can this be the Will of God? One word of power, and the scene would be changed.
Let Him despair of all men, of everything - He can do it. By His Will
the Son of God, as the Tempter suggests - not, however, calling thereby in
question His Sonship, but rather proceeding on its admitted reality34
- can change the stones into bread. He can do miracles - put an end to present
want and question, and, as visibly the possessor of absolute miraculous power,
the goal is reached! But this would really have been to change the idea of Old
Testament miracle into the heathen conception of magic, which was absolute
power inherent in an individual, without moral purpose. The moral purpose - the
grand moral purpose in all that was of God - was absolute submission to the
Will of God. His Spirit had driven Him into that wilderness. His circumstances
were God-appointed; and where He so appoints them, He will support us in them,
even as, in the failure of bread, He supported Israel by the manna.3536
And Jesus absolutely submitted to that Will of God by continuing in His present
circumstances. To have set himself free from what they implied, would have been
despair of God, and rebellion. He does more than not succumb: He
conquers. The Scriptural reference to a better life upon the Word of God marks
more than the end of the contest; it marks the conquest of Satan. He
emerges on the other side triumphant, with this expression of His assured
conviction of the sufficiency of God.
34. Satan's 'if' was rather a taunt than a doubt. Nor could it have been intended to call in question His ability to do miracles. Doubt on that point would already have been a fall.
35. Deut. viii 3.
36. The supply of the manna was only an exemplification and application of the general principle, that man really lives by the Word of God.
It cannot be despair - and He cannot take up His Kingdom alone,
in the exercise of mere power! Absolutely submitting to the Will of God, He
must, and He can, absolutely trust Him. But if so, then let Him really trust
Himself upon God, and make experiment, nay more, public demonstration - of it.
If it be not despair of God, let it be presumption! He will not do the
work alone! Then God-upborne, according to His promise, let the Son of God
suddenly, from that height, descend and head His people, and that not in any
profane manner, but in the midst of the Sanctuary, where God was specially
near, in sight of incensing priests and worshipping people. So also will the
goal at once be reached.
The Spirit of God had driven Jesus into the wilderness; the
spirit of the Devil now carried Him to Jerusalem. Jesus stands on the lofty
pinnacle of the Tower, or of the Temple-porch,37
presumably that on which every day a Priest was stationed to watch, as the pale
morning light passed over the hills of Judća far off to Hebron, to announce it
as the signal for offering the morning sacrifice.38
If we might indulge our imagination, the moment chosen would be just as the
Priest had quitted that station. The first desert-temptation had been in the
grey of breaking light, when to the faint and weary looker the stones of the
wilderness seemed to take fantastic shapes, like the bread for which the faint
body hungered. In the next temptation Jesus stands on the watch-post which the
white-robed priest had just quitted. Fast the rosy morning-light, deepening
into crimson, and edged with gold, is spreading over the land. In the Priests'
Court below Him the morning-sacrifice has been offered. The massive
Temple-gates are slowly opening, and the blasts of the priests' silver trumpets
is summoning Israel to begin a new day by appearing before their Lord. Now then
let Him descend, Heaven-borne, into the midst of priests and people. What
shouts of acclamation would greet His appearance! What homage of worship would
be His! The goal can at once be reached, and that at the head of believing
Israel. Jesus is surveying the scene. By His side is the Tempter, watching the
features that mark the working of the spirit within. And now he has whispered
it. Jesus had overcome in the first temptation by simple, absolute trust. This
was the time, and this the place to act upon this trust, even as the very
Scriptures to which Jesus had appealed warranted. But so to have done would
have been not trust - far less the heroism of faith - but presumption.
The goal might indeed have been reached; but not the Divine goal, nor in God's
way - and, as so often, Scripture itself explained and guarded the Divine
promise by a preceding Divine command.39
And thus once more Jesus not only is not overcome, but He overcomes by absolute
submission to the Will of God.
37. It cannot be regarded as certain, that the pterugion
tou ierou was, as commentators generally suppose, the Tower at the
southeastern angle of the Temple Cloisters, where the Royal (southern) and
Solomon's (the eastern) Porch met, and whence the view into the Kedron Valley beneath was to the stupendous depth of 450 feet. Would this angle be called 'a
wing' (pterugion)? Nor can I
agree with Delitzsch, that it was the 'roof' of the Sanctuary, where indeed there would scarcely have been standing-room. It certainly formed the watch-post of the Priest. Possibly it may have been the extreme corner of the 'wing-like' porch, or ulam, which led into the Sanctuary. Thence a Priest could easily have communicated with his brethren in the court beneath. To this there is, however, the objection that in that case it should have been tounaou. At p. 244, the ordinary view of this locality has been taken.
39. Bengel: 'Scriptura per Scripturam interpretanda et concilianda.' This is also a
Rabbinic canon. The Rabbis frequently insist on the duty of not exposing
oneself to danger, in presumptuous expectation of miraculous deliverance. It is a curious saying: Do not stand over against an ox when he comes from the fodder; Satan jumps out from between his horns. (Pes. 112 b.) David had been presumptuous in Ps. xxvi. 2 - and failed. (Sanh. 107 a.) But the most apt illustration is this: On one occasion the child of a Rabbi was asked
by R. Jochanan to quote a verse. The child quoted Deut. xiv. 22, at the same time propounding the question, why the second clause virtually repeated the
first. The Rabbi replied, 'To teach us that the giving of tithes maketh rich.' 'How do you know it?' asked the child. 'By experience,' answered the Rabbi. 'But,' said the child, 'such experiment is not lawful, since we are not to tempt the Lord our God.' (See the very curious book of Rabbi So oweyczgk, Die Bibel, d. Talm. u. d. Evang. p. 132.).
To submit to the Will of God! But is not this to acknowledge
His authority, and the order and disposition which He has made of all things?
Once more the scene changes. They have turned their back upon Jerusalem and the
Temple. Behind are also all popular prejudices, narrow nationalism, and
limitations. They no longer breathe the stifled air, thick with the perfume of
incense. They have taken their flight into God's wide world. There they stand
on the top of some very high mountain. It is in the full blaze of sunlight that
He now gazes upon a wondrous scene. Before Him rise, from out the cloud-land at
the edge of the horizon, forms, figures, scenes -- come words, sounds,
harmonies. The world in all its glory, beauty, strength, majesty, is unveiled.
Its work, its might, its greatness, its art, its thought, emerge into clear
view. And still the horizon seems to widen as He gazes; and more and more, and
beyond it still more and still brighter appears. It is a world quite other than
that which the retiring Son of the retired Nazareth-home had ever seen, could
ever have imagined, that opens its enlarging wonders. To us in the
circumstances the temptation, which at first sight seems, so to speak, the
clumsiest, would have been well nigh irresistible. In measure as our intellect
was enlarged, our heart attuned to this world-melody, we would have gazed with
bewitched wonderment on that sight, surrendered ourselves to the harmony of
those sounds, and quenched the thirst of our soul with maddening draught. But
passively sublime as it must have appeared to the Perfect Man, the God-Man -
and to Him far more than to us from His infinitely deeper appreciation of, and
wider sympathy with the good, and true, and the beautiful - He had already
overcome. It was, indeed, not 'worship,' but homage which the Evil One claimed
from Jesus, and that on the truly stated and apparently rational ground, that,
in its present state, all this world 'was delivered' unto him, and he exercised
the power of giving it to whom he would. But in this very fact lay the answer
to the suggestion. High above this moving scene of glory and beauty arched the
deep blue of God's heaven, and brighter than the sun, which poured its light
over the sheen and dazzle beneath, stood out the fact: 'I must be about My
Father's business;' above the din of far-off sounds rose the voice: 'Thy
Kingdom come!' Was not all this the Devil's to have and to give, because it was
not the Father's Kingdom, to which Jesus had consecrated Himself? What Satan
sought was, 'My kingdom come' - a Satanic Messianic time, a Satanic Messiah;
the final realisation of an empire of which his present possession was only
temporary, caused by the alienation of man from God. To destroy all this: to
destroy the works of the Devil, to abolish his kingdom, to set man free from
his dominion, was the very object of Christ's Mission. On the ruins of the past
shall the new arise, in proportions of grandeur and beauty hitherto unseen,
only gazed at afar by prophets' rapt sight. It is to become the Kingdom of God;
and Christ's consecration to it is to be the corner-stone of its new Temple.
Those scenes are to be transformed into one of higher worship; those sounds to
mingle and melt into a melody of praise. An endless train, unnumbered
multitudes from afar, are to bring their gifts, to pour their wealth, to
consecrate their wisdom, to dedicate their beauty, to lay it all in lowly
worship as humble offering at His feet: a world God-restored, God-dedicated, in
which dwells God's peace, over which rests God's glory. It is to be the
bringing of worship, not the crowning of rebellion, which is the Kingdom.
And so Satan's greatest becomes to Christ his coarsest temptation,40
which He casts from Him; and the words: 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God,
and Him only shalt thou serve,' which now receive their highest fulfilment,
mark not only Satan's defeat and Christ's triumph, but the principle of His
Kingdom - of all victory and all triumph.
40. Sin always intensifies in the coarseness of its assaults.
Foiled, defeated, the Enemy has spread his dark pinions towards
that far-off world of his, and covered it with their shadow. The sun no longer
glows with melting heat; the mists have gathered or the edge of the horizon,
and enwrapped the scene which has faded from view. And in the cool and shade
that followed have the Angels41
come and ministered to His wants, both bodily and mental. He has refused to
assert power; He has not yielded to despair; He would not fight and conquer
alone in His own strength; and He has received power and refreshment, and
Heaven's company unnumbered in their ministry of worship. He would not yield to
Jewish dream; He did not pass from despair to presumption; and lo, after the
contest, with no reward as its object, all is His. He would not have Satan's
vassals as His legions, and all Heaven's hosts are at His command. It had been
victory; it is now shout of triumphant praise. He Whom God had anointed by His Spirit
had conquered by the Spirit; He Whom Heaven's Voice had proclaimed God's
beloved Son, in Whom He was well pleased, had proved such, and done His good
They had been all overcome, these three temptations against
submission to the Will of God, present, personal, and specifically Messianic.
Yet all His life long there were echoes of them: of the first, in the
suggestion of His brethren to show Himself;42
of the second, in the popular attempt to make Him a king, and perhaps also in
what constituted the final idea of Judas Iscariot; of the third, as being most
plainly Satanic, in the question of Pilate: 'Art Thou then a King?'
42. St. John vii. 3-5.
The enemy 'departed from Him' - yet only 'for a season.' But
this first contest and victory of Jesus decided all others to the last. These
were, perhaps not as to the shaping of His Messianic plan, nor through memory
of Jewish expectancy, yet still in substance the same contest about absolute
obedience, absolute submission to the Will of God, which constitutes the
Kingdom of God. And so also from first to last was this the victory: 'Not My
will, but Thine, be done.' But as, in the first three petitions which He has
taught us, Christ has enfolded us in the mantle of His royalty, so has He Who
shared our nature and our temptations gone up with us, want-pressed, sin-laden,
and temptation-stricken as we are, to the Mount of Temptation in the four human
petitions which follow the first. And over us is spread, as the sheltering
folds of His mantle, this as the outcome of His royal contest and glorious
victory, 'For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and
43. This quotation of the Doxology leaves, of course, the critical question undetermined, whether the words were part of the 'Lord's Prayer' in its original form.