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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Temptation of Christ.
Immediately after the inauguration of his ministry, Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil; and after enduring for forty days the general assault of Satan, he suffered three' special solicitations, which are recited in detail (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). (See JESUS CHRIST).
I. Particulars and Drift of the Trial. — In the first temptation the Redeemer is hungered, and when the devil bids him, if he be the Son of God, command that the stones may be made bread, there would seem to be no great sin in this use of divine power to overcome the pressing human want. Our Lord's answer is required to show us where the essence of the temptation lay. He takes the words of Moses to the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:3), which mean, not that men must dispense with bread and feed only on the study of the Divine Word, but that our meat and drink, our food and raiment, are all the work of the creating hand of God, and that a sense of dependence on God is the duty of man. He tells the tempter that as the sons of Israel standing in the wilderness were forced to humble themselves and to wait upon the hand of God for the bread from heaven which he gave them, so the Son of man, fainting in the wilderness from hunger, will be humble and will wait upon his Father in heaven for the Word that shall bring him food, and will not be hasty to deliver himself from that dependent state, but will wait patiently for the gifts of his goodness.
In the second temptation, it is not probable that they left the wilderness, but that Satan was allowed to suggest to our Lord's mind the place and the marvel that could be wrought there. They stood, it has been suggested, on the lofty porch that overhung the valley of Kedron, where the steep side of the valley was added to the height of the Temple (Josephus, Ant. 15:11, 5), and made a depth that the eye could scarcely have borne to look down upon. "Cast thyself down" perform in the holy city, in a public place, a wonder that will at once make all men confess that none but the Son of God could perform it. A passage from Psalms 91 is quoted to give a color to the argument. Our Lord replies by an allusion to another text that carries us back again to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness: "Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah" (Deuteronomy 6:16). Their conduct is more fully described by the psalmist as a tempting of God: They tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust; yea, they spake against God: they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold he smote the rock that the waters gushed out and the streams overflowed. Can he give bread also? Can he provide flesh for his people?" (Psalms 78). Just parallel was the temptation here. God has protected thee so far, brought thee up, put his seal upon thee by manifest proofs of his favor. Can he do this also? Can he send the angels to buoy thee up in thy descent? Can he make the air thick to sustain and the earth soft to receive thee? The appropriate answer is, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
In the third temptation it is not asserted that there is any mountain from which the eyes of common men can see the world and its kingdoms at once displayed; it was with the mental vision of One who knew all things that these kingdoms and their glory were seen. Satan has now begun to discover, if he knew not from the beginning, that One is here who can become the King over them all. He says, "All these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me." In Luke the words are fuller: "All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it;" but these words are the lie of the tempter, which he uses to mislead. "Thou art come to be great to be a King on the earth; but I am strong, and will resist thee. Thy followers shall be imprisoned and slain; some of them shall fall away through fear; others. shall forsake thy cause, loving this present world. Cast in thy lot with me; let thy kingdom be an earthly kingdom, only the greatest of all a kingdom such as the Jews seek to see established on the throne of David. Worship me by living as the children of this world live, and so honoring me in thy life then all shall be thine." The Lord knows that the tempter is right in foretelling such trials to him; but though clouds and darkness hang over the path of his ministry he must work the work of him that sent him, and not another work: he must worship God, and none other. "Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." As regards the order of the temptations, there are internal marks that the account of Matthew assigns them their historical order. Luke transposes the last two, for which various reasons are suggested by commentators (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).
The three temptations are addressed to the three forms in Which the disease of sin makes its appearance on the soul-to the solace of sense, and the love of praise, and the desire of gain (1 John 2:16); But there is one element common to them all-they are attempts to call up a willful and wayward spirit, in contrast to a patient self-denying one. (See TEMPT). The author of Ecce Homo, although he takes too subjective a view of the last temptation scene, has admirably developed the thought, as lying at the foundation of Christ's whole public demeanor, that he was constantly on his guard against the prevailing notion of an establishment of the Messiah's kingdom by force instead of the influence of love; and he well observes that the temptation to this course was one that must have presented itself at some time to the Redeemer's mind.
II. Credibility and Design of the Narrative. — That when our Lord retired to the interior part of the wilderness the enemy of mankind should present the most plausible temptation to our Redeemer, under these trying circumstances, is perfectly consistent with the malevolence of his character. The grand question is, Why was Satan suffered thus to insult the Son of God? Wherefore did the Redeemer suffer his state of retirement to be thus disturbed with the malicious suggestions of the fiend? It may be answered that herein (1) he gave an instance of his own condescension and humiliation, (2) he hereby proved his power over the tempter, (3) he set an example of firmness and virtue to his followers, and (4) he here affords consolation to his suffering people by showing not only that he himself was tempted, but is able to succor those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:13; Hebrews 4:15).
III. Historical Character of the Scene. — As the baptism of our Lord. cannot have been for him the token of repentance and intended reformation which it was for sinful men, so does our Lord's sinlessness affect the nature of his temptation, for it was the trial of one who could not possibly have fallen. This makes a complete conception of the temptation impossible for minds wherein temptation is always associated with the possibility of sin. But while we must be content with an incomplete conception, we must avoid the wrong conceptions that are often substituted for it. The popular view of this undoubted portion of our Savior's history is that it is a narrative of outward transactions; that our Savior, immediately after his baptism, was conducted by the Spirit into the wilderness-either the desolate and mountainous region now called Quarantania by the people of Palestine (Kitto, Phys. Hist. p. 39, 40), or the great desert of Arabia, mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:15; Deuteronomy 32:10; Hosea 13:5; Jeremiah 2:6, etc. — where the devil tempted him in person, appeared to him in a visible form, spoke to him in an audible voice, removed him to the summit "of an exceeding high mountain," and to the top of "a pinnacle of the Temple at Jerusalem;" whereas the view taken by many learned commentators, ancient and modern, is that it is the narrative of a vision, which was designed to "supply that ideal experience of temptation, or trial, which it was provided in the divine counsels for our Lord to receive previously to entering upon the actual trials and difficulties of his ministry" (Bishop Maltby, Sermons [Lond. 1822 ], 2, 276). Farmer also considers it a "divine vision," and endeavors with much learning and ingenuity to "illustrate the wise and benevolent intention of its various scenes as symbolical predictions and representations of the principal trials attending Christ's public ministry" (Inquiry into the Nature and Design of Christ's Temptation [Lond. 1776, 8vo], preface).
On behalf of the popular interpretation, it is urged that the accounts given by the evangelists convey no intimation that they refer to a vision; that the feeling of hunger could not have been merely ideal; that a vision of forty days' continuance is incredible; that Moses, who was a type of, Christ, saw no "visions," and that hence it may be concluded Christ did not; that it is highly probable there would be a personal conflict between Christ and Satan when the former entered on his ministry. Satan had ruined the first Adam, and might hope to prevail with the second (Trollope, Analecta [Lond. 1830], 1, 46). Why, too, say others, was our Lord taken up into a mountain to see a vision? As reasonably might Paul have taken the Corinthians into a mountain to "show them the more excellent way of charity" (1 Corinthians 12:31).
On the contrary side, it is rejoined that the evangelists do really describe the temptation as a vision. Matthew says, ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν ἔρημον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος; Mark, τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει; and Luke, ἤγετο ἐν τ ñ πνεύματι. Do these phrases mean no more than that Jesus went by the guidance or impulse of the Spirit to a particular locality.? Do they not rather import that Christ was brought into the wilderness under the full influence of the prophetic spirit making suitable revelations to his mind? With regard to the hunger, the prophets are represented as experiencing bodily sensations in their visions (Ezekiel 3:3; Revelation 10:10). Further arguments, derived from an unauthorized application of types, are precarious that the first Adam really had no personal encounter with Satan; that all the purposes of our Lord's temptation might be answered by a vision, for, whatever might be the mode, the effect was intended to be produced upon his mind and moral feelings, like Peter's vision concerning Cornelius, etc. (Acts 10:11-17); that commentators least given to speculate allow that the temptation during the first forty days was carried on by mental suggestion only, and that the visible part of the temptation began "when the tempter came to him" (Matthew 4:3; Luke 4:3; Scott, ad loc.); that with regard to Christ's being "taken up into an exceeding high mountain," Ezekiel says (Ezekiel 40:2), "in the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain," etc.; and that John says," he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:10). But certain direct arguments are also urged on the same side. Thus,' is it consistent with the sagacity and policy of the evil spirit to suppose that he appeared in his own proper person to our Lord uttering solicitations to evil? Was not this the readiest mode to frustrate his own intentions? Archbishop Seeker says, "certainly he did not appear what he was, for that would have entirely frustrated his intent" (Sermons, 2, 114).
Chandler says,. The devil appeared not as himself, for that would have frustrated the effect of his temptation" (Serm. 3,178). Seeker supposes that "Satan transformed himself into an angel of light;" but was it likely that he would put on this form in order to tempt our Lord to idolatry? (Matthew 4:9). Chandler thinks he appeared as "a good man;" but would it have served his purpose to appear as a good man promising universal dominion? The supposition that the devil disguised himself in any form might indeed constitute the temptation a trial of our Lord's understanding, but not of his heart. Besides, Christ is represented as addressing him as "Satan" (Matthew 4:10). It is further urged that the literal interpretation does but little honor to the Savior, whom it represents as carried or conducted "by the devil at his will," and therefore as accessory to his own temptation and danger; nor does it promote the consolation of his followers, none of whom could ever be similarly tempted. Our Lord indeed submitted to all the liabilities of the human condition; but do these involve the dominion of Satan over the body to the extent thus represented? The literal interpretation also attributes miraculous powers to the devil, who, though a spiritual being, is represented as becoming visible at pleasure, speaking in an audible voice, and conveying mankind where he pleases-miracles not inferior to what our Lord's preservation would have been had he cast himself headlong from the Temple. Suppose we even give up the old notion that "the devil hurried Christ through the air, and carried him from the wildernesss to the Temple" (Benson, Life of Christ, p. 35), and say, with-Doddridge and others, that "the devil took our Lord about with him as one person takes another to different places," yet how without a miracle shall we account for our Savior's admission to the exterior of the Temple, unless he first, indeed, obtained permission of the authorities, which is not recorded (comp. Josephus, Ant. 15:11; 3, 5; War, 5, 5).
The difficulty is solved by the supposition simply of a change in our Lord's perceptions. How can we further understand, except by the aid of a vision or a miracle, that the devil "showed our Lord all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them in a moment of time" (ἐν στίγμῇ χρόνου ), a phrase referring to the mathematical point, and meaning the most minute and indivisible portion of duration, that is, instantaneously; yet in this space of time, according to the literal interpretation, "the devil showed our Lord all the kingdoms of the world and all the glory of them," i.e. whatever relates to their magnificence, as imperial robes, crowns, thrones, palaces, courts, guards, armies, etc. Scott and Poddridge resort to the supposition of an "illusory show;" but it may be asked, if one of the temptations was conducted by such means, why not the other two? Macknight endeavors to explain "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them" as relating only to the land of promise (Harmony of the Gospels [Lond. 1822], p. 350, note).
Farmer conceives that no mountain in Palestine commands so extensive a prospect. It is a further difficulty attending the literal interpretation that Satan represents all the kingdoms of the world and their glory to be at his disposal; an assertion denied by our Lord, who simply rejects the offer. It may readily be conceived that it would answer all purposes that Jesus should seem to have the proposal in question made to him. It is next observed that many things are spoken of in Scripture as being done which were only done in vision. See the numerous instances collected by bishop Law (Considerations of the Theory of Religion [Lond. 1820], p. 85,86). The reader may refer to Genesis 32:30; Hosea 1:3; Jeremiah 13:25; Jeremiah 13:27; Ezekiel 3; Ezekiel 4:5. Paul calls his being "caught up into the third heaven and into Paradise" a vision and revelation of the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). It is plain from this instance in the case of Paul, and from that of Peter (Acts 12:7-9), who had already experienced visions (Acts 10:10, etc.), that neither of the apostles could at first distinguish visions-from impressions made on the senses. In further illustration it is urged that the prophets are often said to be carried about in visions (Ezekiel 8:1-10; Ezekiel 11:24-25; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 40:1-2). The phrase "by the spirit," etc., is said to be equivalent to "the hand of God," etc., among the prophets (1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 3:15; Ezekiel 1:3). A comparison of the parallel phrases in the Sept. of Ezekiel and in the evangelists, in regard to Christ's temptation, is thought to cast much light upon the subject; the phrase "the devil leaveth him" being equivalent to the phrase "the vision I had seen went up from me" (Ezekiel 11:24).
Another form of the above theory is that the presence of the tempter, the words spoken, etc., were merely conceptual, i.e. mental phenomena or impressions upon the Savior, similar to the suggestions ordinarily experienced by saints in temptations of peculiar vividness or pungency. This view is confuted by the following considerations:
1. The language ("came," "said," "taketh him," etc.) implies, if not a physical, certainly at least a visional presentation as distinct as if actual. Such expressions as "The word of the Lord came," urged as parallel, are not in point; for in these the subject presented being necessarily immaterial of itself, defines the presentation as being merely mental.
2. The comparison of our Savior's psychology in this case with that of common mortals is inapposite, since they, being fallen, are always, in some sense at least, tempted ab intra (James 1:14), whereas Jesus, being immaculate, could have no evil thoughts of his own surmising; nor could they arise in his mind except as directly suggested from some absolutely external source. And even supposing they could have occurred as an intellectual proposition to his mental perception, they must have instantly passed away without any of that vividness and pertinacity which the whole narration implies, unless they had been enforced and sustained by the personal solicitation of a palpable being and a formal conversation.
3. The parallel with the temptation of Adam in Paradise requires more than an imaginary scene. Some, indeed, have by a like process of interpretation taken the record of the Fall in Eden likewise out of the province of actual history; and it is difficult to see why one event is not as fit a subject for this eviscerating rationalism in hermeneutics as the other (see Townsend, Chronological Arrangement [Lond. 1828], 1, 92). In short, there must have been a substantial basis of fact in the case of our Savior to justify the marked character of the transaction as recorded by the evangelists.
We conclude, therefore, that all these suppositions set aside the historical testimony of the gospels; the temptation as there described arose not from the sinless mind of the Son of God, where, indeed, thoughts of evil could not have harbored, but from Satan, the enemy of the human race. Nor can it be supposed that this account is a mere parable, unless we assume that Matthew and Luke have wholly misunderstood their Master's meaning. The story is that of a fact, hard indeed to be understood, but not to be made easier by explanations such as would invalidate the only testimony on which it rests (Heubner, Practical Commentary on Matthew).
IV. Literature. — See, besides the works cited above, Bagot,-Temptation in the Wilderness (Lond. 1840); Hall, Sermons on Our Lord's Temptation (ibid. 1845); Dallas, Christ's Temptation (ibid. 1848); Krummacher, Christ in the Wilderness (from the Germr., 3d ed. ibid. 1852); Smith [T. T.], Temptation of Our Saviour (ibid. 1852); Monod,: Temptation of Christ (from the French, ibid. 1854); Macleod, Temptation of Our Lord (ibid. 1872); and the Am. Theol. Rev. July, 1861; Bost. Rev. March, 1863; also the monographs cited by Wolf, Curce in N.T. 1, 66; by Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 23; by Hase, Leben Jesu, p. 89; and by Mever, Commentary on Matthew 4 (Edinb. ed.), 1, 129.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Temptation of Christ.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/t/temptation-of-christ.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.