The temptation of Jesus occurs in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13. The account in Mark is a very brief notice of the “test/temptation” between a tempter and Jesus. Matthew and Luke have three tests/temptations. Matthew has three locations—wilderness, temple and mountain. The order of the last two temptations is different in Matthew and Luke. Matthew ends his story with the issue of authority that Matthew will return to at the end of his Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20) when Jesus is said to speak of his authority and commissions the disciples.
The use of the Old Testament quotes in the exchange between the tempter and Jesus brings to mind a series of relationships that deepen the impact of this encounter. Notice that the tempter (three different names are given for the tempter) resorts to quoting Psalm 91:11-12. Almost like the tempter is saying, “I can quote scripture, too!” Each of Jesus scriptural quotes come from Deuteronomy 6:1-8:20 which of course begins with the famous passage quoted in Jewish worship (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), the Shema. In Deuteronomy Moses is addressing the Israelites just prior to their entrance into Canaan from the forty days in the wilderness. In fact Deuteronomy 8:2, 16 refer explicitly to God’s testing.
This leads to an important recognition that what is spoken about in Jesus encounter with the “dark side” holds elements of both a test and a temptation. As one commentator said,
“In so far as the devil is portrayed as trying to induce Jesus to act against the will of God, “tempt” is the right meaning, but the same verb frequently means to “test” with no pejorative connotation. Its other uses in Matthew are of human subjects who come to Jesus with hard questions hoping to catch him out or expose him (Matthew 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35); the meaning is in each case pejorative, but the questions involved are not “temptations” to do wrong, but dialogue challenges from Jesus’ enemies.”
The test/temptation offers things to Jesus that anyone would desire (bread, a safety net, and power). But Jesus recognizes that he must be obedient to God as humble servant not by asserting himself. Jesus confirms his messianic role not by asserting his power but by following the Great Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”( Deuteronomy 6:5).
Our tests/temptations in the 21st century are not the same Jesus faced but our discipleship will be measured by the same standard in service and suffering. As we begin Lent 2014 we seek the space for the obedience we hear of in Jesus life and death.
*The picture is entitled The Temptation of Christ on the Mount. It was done by Duccio di Buoninsegna around 1308-1311. It is a panel from the Maesta Altarpiece of Siena, Italy. It is currently in the Frick Collection in New York City. Little is known about the artist.