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Temptation of Jesus

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Title: Temptation of Jesus  
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Subject: Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke, Babylon 5 influences, John Sheridan (Babylon 5), Epiphany (holiday), Life of Jesus in the New Testament, Get Behind Me Satan, Matthew 4, Baptism of Jesus, Christ in the Desert
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Temptation of Jesus

The temptation of Christ is detailed in the Gospels of Matthew,[1] Mark,[2] and Luke.[3] According to these texts, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judaean Desert. During this time, the devil appeared to Jesus and tempted him. Jesus having refused each temptation, the devil departed and angels came and brought nourishment to Jesus.

Mark's account is very brief, merely noting the event. Matthew and Luke describe the temptations by recounting the details of the conversations between Jesus and the devil. Since the elements that are in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark are mostly pairs of quotations rather than detailed narration, many scholars believe these extra details originate in the Q Document. Notably, this story is not found in the Gospel of John.

Literary genre

Is it a parable?

Discussion of the literary genre includes whether what is represented is a history, a parable, a myth, or compound of various genres. This relates to the "reality" of the encounter.[4] Sometimes the temptation narrative is taken as a parable, reading that Jesus in his ministry told this narrative to audiences relating his inner experience in the form of a parable.[5] Or it is autobiographical,[6] regarding what sort of Messiah Jesus intended to be.[7] Writers including William Barclay have pointed to the fact that there is "no mountain high enough in all the world to see the whole world" as indication of the non-literal nature of the event, and that the narrative portrays what was going on inside Jesus' mind,[8] and the possibility of a non-literal devil.[9] The debate on the literality of the temptations goes back at least to the discussion of George Benson (d.1762) and Hugh Farmer.[10]

Use of Old Testament references

The account of Matthew uses language from the Old Testament. The imagery of a conflict between an earlier "Jesus" and "the devil" would be familiar to Matthew's contemporary readers, recalling the vision of a conflict between Satan and the

Content of the Matthew and Luke narratives

In Luke's and Matthew's accounts, the order of the three temptations, and the timing (within or at the end of the 40 days) differs. Matthew, Luke and Mark make clear that the Spirit has led Jesus into the desert. Mark does not provide details, but in Matthew and Luke the devil tempts Jesus to:

  • Make bread out of stones to relieve his own hunger
  • Free himself from a pinnacle by jumping and relying on angels to break his fall. The narrative of both Luke and Matthew has the devil quote Psalm 91:11-12 to show that God had promised this assistance, although the devil implies that the passage may be used to justify presumptuous acts, while the Psalm only promises that God will deliver those who trust and abide in Him.
  • Worship the devil in return for all the kingdoms of the world. Luke has the devil explicitly claim this authority had previously been handed to himself, the devil.

Fasting traditionally presaged a great spiritual struggle.[19] Elijah and Moses in the Old Testament fasted 40 days and nights, and so Jesus doing the same invites comparison to these events. At the time, 40 was less a specific number and more a general expression for any large figure.[20] Fasting may not mean a complete abstinence from food; consequently, Jesus may have been surviving on the sparse food that could be obtained in the desert.[21][22]

Each temptation takes place in a different setting.

1. Stones to bread

The temptation of making bread out of stones occurs in the same desert setting where Jesus had been fasting. Alexander Jones[23] reports that the wilderness mentioned here has since the fifth century been believed to be the rocky and uninhabited area between Jerusalem and Jericho, with a spot on Mount Quarantania traditionally being considered the exact location. The desert was seen as outside the bounds of society and as the home of demons such as Azazel (Leviticus 16:10). Some have read this reference to the wilderness as a comparison to Adam in the Garden of Eden, implying that Jesus was a new Adam (cf Book of Romans 5) . However scholars like Gundry reject this idea, stating that nowhere does Matthew's text imply such a comparison, but rather the desert is more likely an allusion to the wilderness through which the Israelites wandered during the Exodus, and more specifically to Moses.[22] Jesus replies, "It is written: 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"[24]

2. Pinnacle of the Temple

Most Christians consider that holy city refers unquestionably to Jerusalem and the temple to which the pinnacle belongs is thus identified as the Temple in Jerusalem. Gospel of Matthew refers to "the temple" 17 times without ever adding "in Jerusalem". That Luke's version of the story clearly identifies the location as Jerusalem may be due to Theophilus's unfamiliarity with Judaism.[25]

What is meant by the word traditionally translated as pinnacle is not entirely clear since the Greek diminutive form pterugion ("little wing") is not extant in other architectural contexts.[26] Though the form pterux ("large wing") is used for the point of a building by Pollianus,[27] Schweizer feels that little tower or parapet would be more accurate, and the New Jerusalem Bible does use the translation "parapet". The only surviving Jewish parallel to the temptation uses the standard word šbyt "roof" not "wing": "Our Rabbis related that in the hour when the Messiah shall be revealed he shall come and stand on the roof (šbyt) of the temple." (Peshiqta Rabbati 62 c-d)[28] The term is preserved as "wing" in Syriac translations of the Greek.[29]

Robert H. Gundry (1994) lists three sites at the Jerusalem temple that would fit this description:[22]

  • On the top of the temple's main tower, above the sanctuary proper, some 180 feet above ground, the location that artists and others using the traditional translation generally set the story.
  • Atop the lintel of the main gateway into the temple, the most prominent position where the pair could easily have been seen.[30]
  • A tower on the southeast corner of the outer wall that looks down into the Kidron Valley. In later Christian tradition this is the tower from which James the brother of Jesus was said by Hegesippus to have been thrown by way of execution - contradicting the earlier account of Josephus who says the death was by stoning.[31]

"If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone." (Psalms 91:12.

Once more, Jesus maintained his integrity and responded by quoting scripture, saying, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'" (Matthew 4:7) from Deuteronomy 6:16.

3. Mountain

For the final temptation, the devil takes Jesus to a high place, which Matthew explicitly identifies as a very high mountain, where all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. Interpretations of this are as follows:

  • John Calvin supported the view that the devil took Jesus to a vision of a high place where he could see the entire world, and the Geneva Bible translates the passage in this way.
  • kingdoms could be a reference to power rather than geography.
  • all the kingdoms at the time of Jesus covered only a comparatively small region; therefore, they could all be seen from one high location. However the tribes on the Americas and Australia wouldn't fit this idea.
  • Satan flew Jesus to a mountain top and from there flew him around the entire world. Jesus normally walked from place to place.
  • The mountain is not literal if the whole temptations only occur in the mind's eye of Jesus. For example if the Gospel accounts record this mind's eye view, as related in parable form, to the disciples at some point during the ministry.[32]

Satan says to Jesus: “All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.”[33]

Jesus replies "Get away, Satan! It is written: 'The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.'"[34](referencing Deuteronomy 10:20)

Ministered to by angels

Once the temptations are over, the narrative has the devil depart and Jesus being looked after by angels. In the original Greek of Matthew, "devil left him" was in the historic present tense, indicating a lack of permanence, i.e. that the devil would later return to further tempt Jesus (which Luke spells out explicitly). While both Mark and Matthew mention the angels, Luke does not, and Matthew seems once again here to be making parallels with Elijah,[35] who was fed by ravens. The word minister/served is often interpreted as the angels feeding Jesus, and traditionally artists have depicted the scene as Jesus being presented with a feast, a detailed description of it even appearing in Paradise Regained. This ending to the temptation narrative may be a common literary device of using a feast scene to emphasize a happy ending,[20] or it may be proof that Jesus never lost his faith in God during the temptations.[23] In the War Scroll found at Qumran, angels are described as forming an army to battle evil, which is somewhat at odds with most interpretations of the portrayal of angels here, but it could indicate that the angels in the passage should instead be interpreted as ministering to Jesus by driving off the devil. After forty days and nights of no food, Jesus needed sustenance and once the temptations had ceased, miraculous aid was at hand. God kept his promise to take care of Jesus.

Temptations of Christ in Gospel of Mark

The Mark account is very brief. Most of the Mark account is found also in the Matthew and Luke versions, with the exception of "with the wild animals."

Temptations of Christ in Gospel of John

The story of the Temptation is one of the notable omissions in the Gospel of John. However some readers have identified parallels inside John which indicate that the author of John may have been familiar with the Temptation narratives in some form.[36]

  • Stones into Bread → John 6:26,31 to make bread in the wilderness.
  • Jump down from the temple → John 2:18 to perform a Messianic sign in the temple.
  • Kingdoms of the World → John 6:15 to take the kingdom by force.

Christian Interpretations

Exactly what the devil was trying to achieve by these temptations has been open to debate. The traditional view is that the devil on each occasion is trying to make Jesus commit a particular sin — avarice by offering power over the kingdoms of the world, gluttony by suggesting a way to relieve Jesus' hunger, and hubris by suggesting that Jesus jump and rely on angels to break his fall. But Jones argues that labeling someone a glutton after a fast because of the temptation of food is a hyperbole.

Another view popular for a time (for example, see Dostoyevsky's The Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov) was that the devil wasn't so much tempting Jesus as presenting him with the different options he could take to be a Messiah, and making him choose one. Evangelicals point to the word usually translated as tempt as being more accurately translated as test, i.e. that the devil was testing Jesus' understanding of his role rather than trying to lure him to sin.[21] Rejected options under this interpretation are:

  • Someone who alleviates physical hardships, as manifested by miraculously feeding himself when hungry
  • A magician and miracle worker who wins converts by spectacular acts, as manifested by surviving a jump from a high pinnacle. That the devil places Jesus in a very public location, rather than the numerous high pinnacles in the desert, gives credence to this view.
  • A political liberator from the oppression of the Romans, as manifested by having power over the kingdoms of the world

Another view, popularized by the book The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, suggests that the three temptations of Jesus foreshadow the three points in his ministry where political temptations were the greatest:

  • right after the miracle of the loaves and fish was performed, when the hungry crowds wanted to make him king;
  • when he cleansed the Temple, at which time he had already secured enough political and moral support from the crowds to start a political movement; and
  • the night at Gethsemane when he played with the idea of calling on twelve legions of angels to stop his arrest - he could have initiated a holy war had he chosen to.

There remains the question of the validity of the temptations offered to Jesus. As the Son of God, he would be able to attain any of these desires without the aid of the Devil. He was, in essence, being tempted with offers that he already had in his hand. However, Hebrews 4:15 states that Jesus is one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. The author of the book of Hebrews clearly purports that Jesus was tempted in the same way as other men (i.e., without supernatural powers). Granted this scriptural passage, it only makes sense that Jesus was required to pass these tests before God without relying on powers that other men do not have.

In the temptations, according to Benedict XVI, Satan seeks to draw Jesus from a messianism of self-sacrifice to a messianism of power: "in this period of "wilderness"... Jesus is exposed to danger and is assaulted by the temptation and seduction of the Evil One, who proposes a different messianic path to him, far from God's plan because it passes through power, success and domination rather than the total gift of himself on the Cross. This is the alternative: a messianism of power, of success, or a messianism of love, of the gift of self"[37]

A resulting conclusion of noting similarities of the two events, including the description of the event within Psalms 105 and 106, such as, "In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test,"[38] the reason for Jesus' temptation was that the Lamb of God was taking on the sins of the forefathers of Israel who had rebelled against him when he led them with his Holy Spirit through the desert, and, as John the Baptist did in the desert around the same time to prepare the way for him, show everyone the path of righteousness so we all would repent and understand.[39] He did all of this so that the "lost sheep of Israel" and later, all people,[40] would believe in him and know him, the good Shepherd who saves[41] from condemnation and death[42] by laying down his life for his sheep, those who come to him to learn from him,[43] who hear his voice and know him,[44] that they would have eternal life in him[45] and be able to call on the Name of the Lord and have the Lord be their Righteousness and Salvation,[46] Immanuel[47] forever.[48]

The Temptation of Christ in art, literature, and film

The temptation of Christ has been a frequent subject in the art and literature of Christian cultures. It is largely the subject of John Milton's four-book epic, Paradise Regained. Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Grand Inquisitor, part of the novel The Brothers Karamazov, features an extended treatment of the temptation of Christ. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar has brief references to Christ being tempted by mortal pleasures and Stephen Schwartz devotes a scene to it in Godspell. A stanza on the poem "O Operário em Construção" ("The Building Operary"), by Vinícius de Moraes, alludes to the temptation as well. In W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, the narrator uses the gospel of Matthew to introduce his own ending in which Jesus accepts death on the cross "for greater love hath no man" while the devil laughs in glee, knowing full well that man will reject this redemption and commit evil in spite of, if not because of this great sacrifice. Lastly, the film Jesus of Montreal has a parallel scene where the actor playing Jesus is taken to the top of a skyscraper and offered lucrative contracts by a lawyer if he will serve him.

The temptation of Christ in the desert is shown in the following films: The Gospel According to Matthew (Italy 1964, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini), The Greatest Story Ever Told (USA 1965, George Stevens) and The Last Temptation of Christ (USA 1987, Martin Scorsese).

See also


External links

  • Catholic Encyclopedia: Temptation of Christ
  • Temptation of Christ (a Muslim interpretation)
Temptation of Christ
Preceded by
Baptism of Jesus
New Testament
Succeeded by
Wedding at Cana

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