PassageIn the previous chapter Jesus was baptized. Now, full of the Holy Spirit, he goes into the wilderness for forty days, where he is “tempted by the devil” (verse 2 (ESV)). At the end of the forty days—during which he has eaten nothing—Jesus is understandably hungry, so the devil suggests to Jesus that if he’s the Son of God, he can command a stone to become bread, so that he can eat. Jesus, however, cites Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV), and says that man doesn’t live by bread alone.
The devil then shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, and tells Jesus that he can have authority over them—for the devil has been allowed to grant that to whomever he will—if Jesus will worship the devil. However, Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:13 (ESV) and 1 Samuel 7:3 (ESV), saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God,and him only shall you serve.”
Since Jesus keeps quoting Scripture, I guess the devil decides to play at that game too: he takes Jesus to the top of the temple and suggests that he throw himself off of it, since there are scriptures supporting such an action:
for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (verses 10–11 (ESV))These are quotes from Psalm 91 (ESV). Jesus, however, has a different interpretation of Scripture, and cites Deuteronomy 6:16 (ESV), “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
After this the devil leaves Jesus “until an opportune time” (verse 13 (ESV)).
After this, Jesus returns to Galilee, in the power of the Spirit, to teach in the synagogues, and a report goes around to all the surrounding country and people in the synagogues glorify him. But then he goes to Nazareth, where he grew up, and does the same thing: in the synagogue, he reads from Isaiah 61:
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,Jesus then hands the scroll back to the attendant, and sits down, and everyone in the synagogue has their eyes fixed on him. He says to them, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (verse 21 (ESV)). At this point, they are still speaking well of him, and marveling at his gracious words, but they are also saying, “isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus knows what they’re thinking, though, and answers both the immediate question, and a bigger question:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(verses 17–19 (ESV))
And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (verses 23–27 (ESV))At this point, Jesus loses the crowd. They’re no longer marveling at his words, instead they’re “filled with wrath” (verse 28 (ESV)), to the point that they attempt to bring him to the nearest cliff to throw him off. However, he simply passes through them and goes on his way.
ThoughtsIt should be noted what is meant by Jesus “being tempted,” because, unfortunately, there are two meanings for that word, one of which is more active and one of which is more passive. In this passage, Jesus being tempted is something that is externally happening to him; the devil is telling Jesus, “you should turn this bread into stone, you should worship me, you should through yourself off of the temple,” but Jesus himself is not actually actively tempted to do these things. There’s a very big difference between the devil telling Jesus, “you should turn this stone into bread,” and Jesus thinking to himself, “man, I’d really love to turn that stone into bread.” The former is what is happening in this passage, the latter is not. It’s an important distinction because Jesus never, at any point in his life, sinned—not in thought, not in word, and not in deed.
I’m not sure how fully I understand the concept of Jesus being tempted by the devil. I am tending to take this literally, meaning that the being named “the devil”—the Greek word can also be translated to satan or Satan—was tempting Jesus with words. I do notice, however, that the text says that Jesus was tempted by “the devil,” not “the Devil” or “The Devil.” If it was the specific person we call Satan, I would expect this to be a proper noun, but the translators didn’t seem to think the Greek was worded in that way. (And a quick check of the NIV, KJV, and NKJV all put it the same way: Jesus was tempted by/of “the devil.”) In the ESV Study Bible notes for Matthew 4:1, they say that because of the word “the,” it means that it’s the one being, “the devil,” as opposed to “a devil.” So they’re definitely interpreting it that way for their analysis.
Aside from that particular question, though, what I really don’t get is what the devil’s end game was, here. Did he actually expect the Son of God to worship him—or did he not understand who Jesus really was?
Also interesting is the devil’s interpretation of Psalm 91; this is a Psalm talking about the fact that a believer can trust in God, even in hard times. The devil tries to push that a little—or a lot—further, claiming that, according to this Psalm, Jesus can simply leap off of the temple and God will prevent him from coming to harm. This is a good reminder that we should also avoid doing the same thing; there are a number of places in Scriptures that talk about the believer being able to trust in God, that God will answer prayer, etc., and it is very tempting, even for modern day Christians, to translate that into a health and wealth religion: believe in God, and He will make you rich and prevent you from ever getting sick or being sad—and if that doesn’t happen, it probably just means you didn’t have enough faith. There are a lot of verses that can be taken out of context to support a belief like that, but taken in view of the entire Bible, it’s not actually supportable. That exact scenario is playing out here: the devil tells Jesus that this particular verse says that God will take care of him, whereas Jesus has a better grasp of the entire Scriptures, and gets to the real heart of the matter: don’t put God to the test. It is interesting, however, the order in which the devil brings his temptations to Jesus:
- Why don’t you turn this stone into bread, so that you can have something to eat?
- Why don’t you worship me, so that you can rule over all of the kingdoms of the world?
- Why don’t you jump off the temple, and let the angels carry you softly to the ground?
As for Jesus being rejected in his hometown, it’s worth noting that it’s more than just the rejection of people who are too familiar with him to take him seriously—though that is happening too—it’s a rejection of the entire idea that the Jews are the exclusive people of God. Not only is that going to be changing—God’s focus is now getting much larger than just the Israelites—but Jesus is pointing out that even under the old covenant, God’s view sometimes went beyond the Israelites. The people in Nazareth’s synagogue have no problem with Jesus, until he tells them that the Jews aren’t the exclusive recipients of God’s favour, and that, at times, God has actually chosen to help non-Jews instead of Jews. At that point, they get filled with murderous rage. What is being challenged here, however, is not their religion or their Scriptures, it’s their interpretation of their religion and their Scriptures. Jesus is pointing out instances from their past, called out in their own Scriptures, that they simply don’t want to hear, because it’s not how they like to think. It’s a point that all of God’s people should occasionally ask themselves, at any point in history: Is there anything we believe that’s more cultural than Scriptural? Is there anything in the Bible that would offend us today, because we’ve built up our own beliefs on some point that we don’t want to give up? It’s sometimes very difficult to remove ourselves from our current culture and think in those ways—and when we are confronted with such beliefs, we can easily react just as angrily as the folks in Jesus’ synagogue.