<< Matthew 4: The Lord’s Temptations >>
THERE are some days when we are unhappy; when things go wrong and people seem unkind; even the sunshine and beautiful flowers and trees do not seem beautiful. We are unhappy, and the trouble is in ourselves. No matter what is around us, there are no bright happy thoughts and feelings in our minds. We are in a wilderness. At such times bad and selfish feelings come out from their hiding places like wild beasts. When the Lord was on earth He had unhappy days. He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He never did what was not good, and never said what was not true, but there were days when unhappy feelings came to Him, days when evil spirits tried with all their power to overcome Him. Then He was in the wilderness and with the wild beasts. We read of such a time of trial soon after the Lord was baptized by John.
This was not the only time of temptation in the Lord’s life. When it was ended, we read that the devil departed from Him for a season. And as we read the story of the Lord’s life we shall find that He spent nights in prayer, and that as long as He lived on earth there were times of trial greater than ever come to us. Besides what is told in the Gospels about the Lord’s Temptations, they are identified in other parts of the Scriptures; the Psalms of sorrow and the accounts of famines and of wars have this deeper meaning.
At the side of the Jordan valley, a mile to the north from the road by which we come down from Jerusalem, there is a stern barren cliff, very rough and wild. At its foot is a spring and the ruins of an old city, the Jericho of the Old-Testament, time. The cliff is stained and seamed and full of caves. Many hermits have lived in these caves, and some live there to-day; for there is an old tradition that the Lord was tempted in this mountain. We may well believe that in His temptation He turned aside among these bare and lonely hills. They would be a picture of His unhappy state of mind.
Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written,
He shall give his angels charge concerning thee:
And in their hands they shall bear thee up,
Lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.—Matthew IV. 1-11.
Author: William L. Worcester 1904
The Lord was in the wilderness >> Barren State of conflict
Forty days and forty nights >> Temptation
To make the stones His bread >> Temptation to be satisfied with a natural life rather than with living the Divine truth
In the the holy city, on the pinnacle of the temple >> Temptation to be puffed up with intellectual pride and to use the Divine truth for personal honor
The temptation on the exceeding high mountain >> The temptation of self-love and the desire to rule over others
The story of the three temptations following, is a representative account of the conflicts between tne evil influx received by the natural self, and the Divine Spirit, interpreted by the Word.
The first is the temptation of the barren reformatory state, when the understanding leads, to be content with truths alone, and the ascetic power of resistance ; ceasing the effort to sow the Divine seed and reap the harvest of love and good.
The second temptation —in Matthew, to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple is the temptation of weak human nature to demand that the Divine should give the good of regenerate holy states without doing its part in laying down the self-life. It is the temptation expressed in the words : ” If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me ; nevertheless, not My will but Thine be done.” Of this also He said : ” Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels ? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be ?”
The third, in the offer of all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, is the temptation to use His power for the exaltation of self, and not for the Divine work of subduing self. It is illustrated by the turbulence of the sea when the multitude, excited by the miracle of the loaves, would have made Him a King. And He came quietly walking upon the sea to represent the victory in such temptation.
They are classes of temptations endured not once for all, but throughout the regenerating life. The desire to be content with truth is distinctly youthful, but is not wholly overcome until good has absolute rule. The desire to be borne up in lofty states, without the labor of temptations, also begins early. Perhaps we have some expression of it in the attempt to do the Father’s work in the temple at the age of twelve ; when, nevertheless, whatever disappointment He may have felt, He went back to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, and was subject unto them. And so again, the desire for natural position and power does not first show itself late in life, though it may be late in wholly giving way.1
It is worthy of note that all the answers of the Lord are from the Book of Deuteronomy, though with reference to what has been described or said in Exodus ; 2 for the Book of Deuteronomy contains the Law as it appears at the close of the wilderness journey when the rule of love is at hand.
The ministry of angels when the devil left Him, is the reception of Divine things as evils are removed.
Thus began the Lord’s public ministry, when He was about thirty years of age, and perhaps in early February. For if we allow forty days for the temptations, then the journey to Cana and the sojourn of ” not many days” at Capernaum will bring us near the end of March, when ” the Jews (John V) Passover was at hand “ That Passover, with the first cleansing of the temple and the conversation with Nicodemus, was the beginning of the Judean ministry. It lasted apparently until January ; for when He left Judea and passed through Samaria, on the way to Galilee, it lacked only four months of harvest time. It had been a season of diligent teaching, the results of which, both friendly and unfriendly, were to appear later.
A few weeks follow of which no account is given, and then we hear again of a feast of the Jews,(John v.) and of another visit to Jerusalem, with more healing, and more preaching of the presence of the Heavenly Father in Him, which was the burden of the Judean message. But of all this, from the time of the temptations, Matthew tells us nothing. His mission is to tell of the giving of the Christian Law, and the application of the law to the plane of natural life, which is represented by Galilee. He takes up the story ” When Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison,” that is, in the second spring of His ministry, while still in Judea.
Then the Lord left Judea, and departed into Galilee. For the imprisonment of John by Herod meant that lustfulness so far controlled the world that it could no longer be openly taught that adultery was a sin against God. The moral law was no longer taught as the law of God ; though, from regard for appearances, it was preserved, and not yet wholly rejected, that the shameless love of evil might have full sway as happened later, when Herod beheaded John for Salome’s sake.
The basis for the presence of God in the lives of men was departing. And yet this must always be present, that man may be saved. Therefore the Lord Himself came into that Galilee which represents the plane of natural conduct, and Himself took up the teaching of the Divine presence in a life, as to thought and affection as well as in form, according to the Ten Commandments. In Nazareth He had attained that union of the Divine with the truth of life, from which He was to teach. Nazareth was in the tribe of Zebulon, which means such uniting together. But with the people of Nazareth there had been a different uniting of the love of evil with their false interpretations of the Scriptures. Not there could His teaching be received. So,” leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zebulon,” but in the domain of Naphtali. The life in Nazareth had been on the plane of thought and intent of good life. The life in Capernaum was upon the plane of act, and of conflict with evil. It was appropriate that this should be in Naphtali, for Naphtali means strugglings, or, spiritually, temptations. Capernaum perhaps means literally, the Village of Consolations a good name for His home in the time of strugglings.
Here by the borders of the sea, the confines of spiritual life in natural, the people which now had no idea of the presence of God in the life of men, ” saw great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up.” A few disciples who had been previously drawn to Him at the Baptism of John by the Jordan were now gathered together ; and with them, training them to the Divine service, He “went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”
Thus Matthew summarizes the opening of the ministry in Galilee. Certain typical instances of healing, typical of the effect of His teaching, and of His presence with men, are related in chronological order by Mark and Luke. But Matthew gathers first a summary of the teaching, and then exhibits the types of the effect of it. (Author: John Worchester, 1898. Matthew’s Gospel.)
- Possibly the reversing the order of the second and third in Luke means that Matthew’s third was the more external and easier to overcome Matthew, as in the Genealogies, giving the order of development of the natural human, and Luke that of the Divine development. Both call the tempter, “Satan,” in answer to the promise of the glory of the world implying that it was a false illusion, more external than the other.
- DEUTERONOMY viii. 3; vi. 13 (x. 20) ; vi. 16. EXODUS xvi. ;xvii. I ; xxxiv. 14.
Pictures: James Tissot —-Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum