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IN the first .place, there arises the question as to the meaning of the several temptations. This has, as is well known, been made the theme of frequent discussion. And yet the opinions even of the most recent commentators differ so widely, that it may well repay our trouble if we submit this point to a more minute investigation.

The temptation which both Matthew and Luke agree in giving as the first, consists in the call addressed to Jesus to 266 change stones into bread. Now it is self-evident that such a temptation, if it were to have any meaning, could only be made under certain conditions. Manifestly the person to whom it was addressed must, on the one hand, have been so constituted that he could feel a want of food, which at that moment could not be gratified in any ordinary way; and again, he must have been one who was supposed to possess the power of satisfying that want in an extraordinary and miraculous manner. Now, to the former of these conditions, the intimation of the evangelist, that Jesus was then an hungered, and that He was in the desert, where the ordinary means of support were wanting, exactly corresponds; the latter, again, we find in the opening words of the temptation, ‘If Thou be the Son of God,’ which at once bespeak a personality possessed of supernatural powers. Hence this temptation may be represented as follows: it was an attempt to persuade a person endowed with miraculous power, to use that power for the purpose of satisfying his bodily wants; and the point against which this attempt was directed, was the urgent physical need which he was at the time suffering. It is obvious that the need which the miraculous power was to supply was that of the person tempted; for though it has been remarked340340   Pfeiffer, die Versuchung des Herrn in the Deutschen Zeitschrift, 1851, No. XXII. p. 177. that this is not expressly stated, yet this omission is of no importance,—a matter so self-evident requiring no mention, and being sufficiently implied by the previous allusion to the fact that Jesus was an hungered. For whose wants could even Jesus have wrought a miracle at this juncture but for His own? Is it replied, For those of the members of His kingdom, or of the needy multitude in general? There were as yet no members of His kingdom, and neither a smaller or greater number of people were just now at hand. Besides, if the temptation had related to such 267a supply, our Lord did not remain faithful to the principle with which He repelled it, for the Gospel history narrates several instances in which He relieved the temporal necessities of the people in a miraculous manner.

We now proceed to a closer inquiry as to the manner in which Jesus met the proposal. We may anticipate that His answer will throw some light upon the nature of the temptation itself. But here we are met by several conflicting opinions. The retort of Jesus is expressed in words taken from Deut. viii. 3: ‘Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.’ The majority of commentators understand the meaning of these words to be this: The preservation of the life of man is not necessarily connected with the ordinary means of subsistence, but it can be sustained without bread by the word, i.e. commandment, that proceeds from the mouth of God, in an extraordinary way, as the Israelites were sustained by manna in the wilderness.341341   See Neander in his Life of Christ, fifth ed. p. 115. This explanation does certainly correspond with the meaning of the words as they occur in Deuteronomy, taken along with their context. Yet we have good ground for asking whether we are restricted to this meaning alone when the words are reproduced by Jesus Christ: There can be no doubt that Jesus and His apostles often made use of passages of the Old Testament in a freer and a spiritual sense,—that they frequently gave them a more general application, and raised them altogether into a higher sphere. And there is reason enough to suppose that this is the case in the passage before us.

In the explanation usually given, a special import is attached to the fact that Jesus was requested to make in a miraculous manner, not any kind of food, but only bread, for the satisfaction of His hunger. But this is clearly incorrect. 268The question is not as to His appeasing His hunger by means of bread in particular, but as to His doing so by any means, and as to His employing miraculous agency for that purpose. Among the various kinds of food by which this might have been effected, bread is mentioned, partly as being the most general and symbolical of all other nourishment, and partly on account of the resemblance of loaves to the stones which were to be transformed into bread. The antithesis is certainly not between bread and any other means of supporting life, but between it and the word of God; in other words, between the means of bodily nourishment (actual bread) and the means of spiritual nourishment (every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; in other words, the bread of life). Again, the words, ‘not by bread alone,’ in that higher application of them as used by our Lord to repel the temptation now presented to Him, are not to be understood of bread merely as bread, but of bodily nourishment, as that to which man is not to be exclusively referred for the maintenance of life, in opposition to that which imparts spiritual life. Thus, when Jesus is asked by the tempter to make His power to do miracles available for supplying His physical wants, to use the higher, God-given faculty in the service of mere human self-gratification, He replies, in a spirit of freedom and self-denial which triumphs over the merely sensible want: No; for there is a higher life which is not upheld by any outward nourishment, but which lives by all that comes from the mouth of God. In these words He says essentially the same thing which He afterwards expressed thus: ‘My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.’342342   John iv. 34.

The temptation which in St. Luke occupies the third place, is—more correctly, as there can be no doubt—placed second in St. Matthew. This, as well as the former, has been 269variously explained. This temptation consisted in a summons addressed to Christ to cast Himself from the pinnacle of the temple, and, like the first, is based upon the assumption of a peculiar personality in Jesus in other words, it presupposes that the Tempted was, as the ‘Son of God,’—the Sent of God,—under the special care and protection of Jehovah. Many have supposed that Jesus was here asked to perform an epideiktical miracle,—a show miracle. In favour of this view there is adduced not only the character of the miracle demanded, which is something quite exorbitant, but the fact that the contemporaries of Jesus did actually require from Him, in corroboration of His Divine mission, signs from Heaven. We must, however, decidedly reject this interpretation, although we formerly held it to be the correct one.343343   Compare on this subject Kohlschütter in the bibl. Studien der sächs. Geistlichkeit, ii. 75, 76. In the first place, it is clear that, in order to an epideiktical miracle, spectators who should be sensibly overpowered by the manifestation were indispensable, whereas throughout the whole scene we do not read of any one being present. There is, also, another consideration to be borne in mind: when the tempter calls upon Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple because God would protect Him by His angels, it is not so much to the wonder-working power of Jesus Himself that he appeals, as to the miraculous help of God. His proposition is not that Jesus should perform some unheard-of miracle, but that He should expose Himself to an evident danger. If in this temptation also the chief stress is placed upon the employment of miraculous power, there would, since this formed the turning-point of the first temptation, be nothing really new in it, but a mere repetition, though in an aggravated form. But this view of the temptation is best refuted by the passages from Scripture employed on the occasion, whether that by which the tempter supported 270his demand,344344   Ps. xci. 11, 12. or that by which the Saviour repelled it.345345   Deut. vi. 16. The former contains not a trace of allusion to any popular approbation to be gained by the performance of a miracle, but solely to the Divine protection, under which the Beloved of Jehovah stood. The latter gives not even a remote hint of the impropriety of a miracle for such a purpose, but only points out how impious it would be to tempt God by throwing one’s self needlessly in the way of danger.

The enticing element in this temptation was the idea of calling forth the Divine protection,—of proving whether God would preserve His anointed Son in circumstances of most imminent danger, and that a danger which did not come in the simple, God-appointed path of duty, but was arbitrarily and vaingloriously incurred.346346   This is essentially the view of Neander; but he mingles with it, in what seems to me an unfitting manner, the notion of an epideiktical miracle. Leben Jesu, pp. 116, 117. There can be no doubt that a temptation like this has a certain charm for men who feel penetrated with a consciousness that they have a special mission to perform; and many a one whom an idea like this has blinded, has precipitated himself from very exalted pinnacles into the abyss of perdition. Thus the attempt might well be made with Jesus,—who, though pre-eminently the Sent of God, was yet truly man,—to test whether the thought of putting the Divine protection to the utmost proof had any attraction for Him; and this attempt constitutes the second temptation. In it we have vividly brought before us the contrast between a true and sound confidence in God, by virtue of which even one who is conscious of a Divine mission will walk in none but ways of God’s appointment, and that rash presumption, by which a man is misled, while invoking the Divine protection, to rush into self-chosen danger.

We have now to speak of the third temptation. This is 271rightly put last by St. Matthew, for it obviously forms the climax of the whole, and in it the tempter appears in an undisguised form. The devil calls upon the Saviour to worship him, and promises that, if He does so, he will give Him all the kingdoms of the world. The temptation here has been generally held to consist in the invitation to found an earthly kingdom,—an external theocracy, instead of the true inner kingdom of God which Christ had come to establish. But another view has also been maintained. It has been said that the question whether the kingdom to be founded should be an earthly and external, or a heavenly and spiritual one, is not introduced into the temptation; that, on the contrary, the seductive element really lay in the fact that, for the acquirement of a sway which might in itself be good, a bad means, a submission to Satan, a doing homage to him, was to be employed.347347   Bleek in a Ms. communication. This exposition is correct, if we are to confine our view to the words spoken by Satan. But this we cannot do: we must contemplate these words in the connection in which they stand, and under the supposition from which they are spoken. Immediately before, we read that Satan had shown our Lord the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Now, to go no further than this expression, the ‘glory’ of the kingdoms of the world which he showed, of itself points to a kingdom, not of self-denying love, but of splendid dominion, and thus to a mere outward kingdom. Besides, Satan appears here as the prince of the world,348348   Κοσμοκράτωρ. See John viii. 44, xii. 31; Eph. ii. 2, 6, 12; and other passages. and offers to transfer to Christ his sovereignty over it. Now such a kingdom as he could possess349349   Luke iv. 6. and offer, must from its very nature have been a merely earthly, external, ungodly kingdom. A sovereignty received from Satan could only be one opposed 272to the dominion of the true kingdom of God; and he who could desire such a sovereignty must have been willing to enter into a league with the devil, and render him homage. In the idea of worshipping the devil, viewed in itself, there could be nothing alluring, nothing tempting; and if the evangelical record brings prominently forward the proposed homage of our Lord to Satan, it can only be because there was something to be obtained by this homage which might prove attractive and ensnaring; and this was the world-dominion which was in this way to be attained.

The dominion of the world is thus the great object here presented by the devil, but at the same time he states what is the only way whereby it could be gained. And the way is unquestionably bad, for it is by subjection to the prince of the world. And in rejecting it, which He does by a reference to the great truth, that to God alone, the Lord of all, are homage and worship due, Jesus at the same time renounces the object which could only thus be arrived at. We see, then, that in this temptation a kingdom of outward glory is offered to Jesus, as to One, who must in the fullest sense be regarded as destined to be a king. And the whole turns upon the antagonism between a kingdom of the world which could be set up only by the use of worldly means, and the kingdom of God which could be founded only by the total rejection of such means, by the pure worship of God alone.

If we now briefly sum up what has been said, we shall find that in the three temptations the following alternatives were presented. In the first, the use of supernatural gifts for the purposes of sensuous self-love; or a complete entrance upon a life of self-denial, which expects support and strength from God alone. In the second, a presumptuous reliance upon Divine assistance, which, in the consciousness of a special mission, enters upon self-chosen paths of danger; or a pious confiding in God, which shuns all devious, God-tempting 273courses, and meekly follows in the prescribed paths of duty. In the third, the acquisition of worldly might and glory by means of the world and its prince; or contempt both of this end and the means by which it must be won, for the sake of living only for the service of God, and the establishment of His kingdom.

Having thus determined the meaning of the three temptations, the question now arises as to whom they concern. It may be thought that this is quite a superfluous question, as it is so clearly and emphatically stated that it was Jesus who was the object of the devil’s assaults. Yet some have thought otherwise. Some have taken exception to the possibility of Jesus being tempted at all, others to the particular form of temptation recorded in the Gospel. Consequently they have regarded the alternatives expressed above, as intended to form merely a symbolical representation of the fundamental. principles of His kingdom,350350   Pfeiffer especially refers the temptation to the kingdom of the Lord, and the mode of its establishment (Deutschen Zeitschrift 1851, No. XXII.). He makes the three temptations to be: (1) The temptation to satisfy the sensible wants of men, and thus to obtain authority and dominion among them; (2) To set up a kingdom of caprice, of lawlessness and licence; (3) To establish a sovereignty of merely external power. or of certain maxims essential to the usefulness of its members in general, and of the apostles in particular. Now there is a certain amount of truth in this view, inasmuch as whatever belongs to the Founder of the kingdom of God has a typical character, and intimately concerns all its members. But the principal validity and import of the temptation was in reference to Him who was its Founder. If in our treatment of the temptation we pass Him by, and apply the whole immediately to His kingdom and its members, we manifestly put a forced interpretation upon the narrative, and violate the natural sense, not only of this portion of the history of Christ, but also of the whole apostolic Christology.


It being thus apparent that it was Jesus Himself who was the subject of the temptation, the next question that arises is: Was it chiefly as the Messiah, or as a man, that He was tempted? And here, too, opinions are divided. There are still, in the present day, writers who think that the proposals made to Jesus were temptations of a general human character.351351   So Rink, Deutsche Zeitschrift, 1851, No. XXXVI. p. 293. He thinks that the more generally the temptations are viewed, the more truly and deeply will the idea involved therein be manifested; and in fact he regards them, in the most general way possible, as the temptations of ‘the lust of the flesh,’ ‘the pride of life, and the lust of the eye.’ But it is manifest that these temptations presuppose in the Person tempted a very peculiar character and destiny,—a Person destined and endowed to be the Founder of the kingdom of God. But if there can remain no doubt in the minds of the unprejudiced that the temptation of Jesus was the testing of the Messiah, it is quite as certain—as we have already shown352352   See above, pp. 134 and 135.—that there could have been no real and actual temptations unless addressed at the same time to His human nature. Both sides of His nature must be regarded as concerned in it, if we are to reach a full view of the truth.353353   While Rink insists upon receiving the temptation in this general manner, Laufs, on the other hand (in the Stud. und Kritik. 1853, 2, pp. 355-386), brings forward too exclusively its Messianic aspect. Giving in this sense an original view of the several temptations, he finds in the first (the changing of stones into bread) the false Messianic notions which obtained among the Jews; in the second (the sway of the world), the false idea of a Messiah in the heathen sense, which was based on the expected alliance of the Messiah with, the Roman power; in the third (casting Himself from the temple), the notion entertained that the Messiah’s work must begin, in spite of all dangers, at the temple, the theocratic centre of the nation,—and therefore in the midst of the scribes, Pharisees, and priestly officials,—that the capital being thus subjugated, the whole land might be conquered with one blow. This view, in spite of its ingenuity, is too far removed from the literal interpretation of the Gospel narrative (especially the answers of our Lord), and by far too artificial, to be entertained.

Although it was to Jesus Himself that the temptation 275immediately and chiefly referred, its bearings are not confined to Him. For He is not an isolated individual, but the type of His kingdom and its members: hence this narrative has a more general and typical significance. Considered as a testing of the Messiah, the temptation must be of importance for the kingdom of Messiah, and typical for its members. The principles which the Founder of the kingdom of God opposed to the assaults of the devil, are also the principles of His kingdom, and maxims for the guidance of its members. And these we have seen to be self-denial and devotion to the service of God, and a life sustained by the word of His mouth; a confidence in God which renounces all arbitrary self-will and presumption, and walks in ways appointed by Him; and an unconditional devotion to the service of God, labouring in His strength for the interests of His true kingdom,—a kingdom which is to unfold itself from within.

But since Christ could be tempted as Messiah only in so far as He could be tempted as a man, we must own that this history of His temptation has in it something also of a more general character, and that it must be regarded as typical of the temptations by which men are commonly assailed. Only, there is a distinction to be drawn here. In the case of Jesus, the temptations addressed to Him presuppose certain peculiar personal qualities: the first is based upon His power of working miracles; the second, upon His Divine mission; the third, upon His destination to supremacy. Now these are no common human qualities. Still the first temptation can only be regarded as a common, a universal human temptation, if for the power to do miracles we substitute those God-given faculties which every man possesses, and which every man may either turn to purposes of selfishness and self-love, or use in the service of a higher life. The second temptation can apply more particularly, only to that 276smaller circle to whom, by reason of great mental endowments or a high position in life, a peculiar mission has been assigned. The third temptation also has a special application only to the very small number who are called to a position of sovereignty. And yet even these two last temptations have a more general application, inasmuch as the sinful inclinations of every man offer—though in other forms—some point assailable to their attack, by means of which he may be led into the sin of tempting God, or cherishing a lust of earthly rule. With regard to the principles put forth by Jesus in opposition to the tempter, it is evident that these are of universal application.

We have thus, by an examination of the several temptations in detail, obtained a starting-point for the exposition of the narrative regarded as a whole. Let us, then, proceed to this latter consideration.

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