Following Jesus: Faith, Obedience And Perseverance

Don Garlington


There are many ways in which Christianity may be defined. But the perspective of the Gospels in particular is that being a Christian means following Jesus. The same Gospels are unanimous that Jesus' own experience of the Spirit during “the days of his flesh” (Heb 5:7) was attended by servanthood, self-denial, suffering and a perseverance consisting in fidelity to the course set before him by his father. In short, Jesus is portrayed as the obedient man of faith par excellence. That Jesus is represented by the New Testament generally as a man of faith need not be doubted, especially in view of the burgeoning of recent scholarship devoted to this proposition.[1] While the idea can be found throughout the New Testament, we shall concentrate on the merger of perspectives evidenced by the Letter to the Hebrews and the wilderness testing narratives of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Afterward we shall consider how Jesus, the man of covenant faithfulness, was vindicated for his obedience and then view the believer in his relation to Christ’s own faithful obedience.

I. Jesus, The Man Of Faith, In Hebrews

The Letter to the Hebrews embodies a christology of faithful obedience. Speaking of Jesus, the writer is emphatic that “although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (5:8-9). This remarkable statement of the obedience of Christ is to be read against the backdrop of Hebrews 3-4, in which the author draws upon the wilderness tradition of Israel. In brief, if the Christian must make his trek through the wilderness, as Israel of old, he can do so with the assurance that his Lord has already passed that way and is now seated in the presence of God. It is he who beckons to his people to follow him through the wilderness of this world and will finally cause them to inherit the promised sabbath rest. He is the “inaugurator and consummator” of their salvation (2:10; 12:2).

In various ways, the author presents Christ as the man of faith throughout the body of his epistle; and as he begins to draw his “word of exhortation” to a close, he invokes none other than the example of this Jesus, who did not shrink back from his own ordeal of wilderness testing but rather completed his course. It is he who is to be emulated by the beleaguered readers of this epistle.

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.

  “For yet a little while,
  and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry;
  but my righteous one shall live by faith,
  and if he shrinks back,
  my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls (10:32-39).

The core of the writer’s encouragement to perseverance is his quotation of Hab 2:4. As is characteristic of his practice, the citation is taken from the Septuagint (LXX). The remarkable factor is that Greek text followed by him differs from the Masoretic Text (MT) of the Hebrew. This may be accounted for by the fact that the LXX at this point follows a different Hebrew text than that preserved by the Masoretic tradition, or it may be a reflection of theological tendencies at work in the LXX (cf. the LXX of Isa 53:11). In any event, this writer has chosen to make a point from the LXX. Whereas the MT has in view the faithfulness of the righteous Israelite who faces the impending Chaldean invasion (“the righteous shall live by his faith(fulness)”), the LXX contains a messianic prophecy (“the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith”).[2] By the first century, the phrase “the coming one” had become a stereotypical way of speaking of the Messiah (cf. Matt 3:11; Luke 7:19), possibly by way of LXX influence. Thus, the LXX, as endorsed by the writer, speaks of Israel’s Messiah as one who would not shrink back from the trial of faith but would live by his faith(fulness) (= Hebrew emunah). Unmistakably, his reference is to Jesus, who bore the covenant curses of Deuteronomy and rose again to bring the covenant blessings of Deuteronomy to his people, thus effecting the climax of the covenant.[3]

II. Jesus, The Man Of Faith, Tested In The Wilderness

A. The Place: The Wilderness

Each of the Synoptic Gospels sets the temptations in the wilderness, making that locale not merely the geographical site of the stories but their ideological framework.[4] At least three points of relevance can be singled out.

1. The Wilderness and the Red Sea

Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, within the salvation-historical symbolism of the Gospels, forms the latter-day counterpart of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea at the onset of the exodus. Thus, Jesus transverses the Jordan and then, like Israel, spends a period of time in the wilderness. God is now ready to fulfill his word of promise concerning the new exodus on which his people would embark; and it is Jesus, another Moses, who leads the way, on whom the Spirit has been placed (Isa 63:10-14). Davies/Allison suggest that this is intimated by Matthew’s notice that Jesus was “led up”: “just as God led Israel out of Egypt and through the waters and into the desert (Num 20.5; 1 Bas 12.6; Ps 80.1 LXX; etc.), so does the Spirit of God lead Jesus into the desert after he is baptized.”[5]

2. The Wilderness as the Place of God’s Coming Deliverance

A paradigmatic text is Hos 2:14-23. The wilderness, according to the prophet, was the place of Israel’s original sonship, where God had loved his people. Yet because they had forsaken Yahweh their Father, a renewal of the exodus into the desert was necessary for the restoration of Israel’s status as the son of God. In this new exodus, the beginning of God’s eschatological act, God’s power and help would be experienced again in a renewed trek into the wilderness.

3. Jesus’ Testing as the Son of God

“Son of God” is a phrase loaded with significance in the Bible and in post-biblical Judaism.[6] While we cannot begin to explore its depths in this study, we can mention at least three areas in which it features in the temptation narratives.

(1) Israel the Son of God

To the student of the Old Testament and post-biblical Judaism, the sonship of Israel is one of the commonplaces of Jewish self-definition—and for good reason: “The theme ‘Son of God’ was deeply rooted in the traditional religious ideology of Israel. It was a favourite variant of the election and covenant themes and indeed in the late Jewish period these three were virtually inseparable; for many centuries Israel had been accustomed to thinking of itself as a chosen people, and as God’s covenant people and as God’s son.”[7] For Jesus, then, to undertake the role of Israel, God’s son, meant ipso facto the assumption of the son’s education in the desert: he enters the wilderness to learn the lessons which Israel should have learned there.

Since Deuteronomy particularly focuses on the testing factor, it is natural enough that the replies of Jesus to Satan are all derived from this book. In fact, the passages quoted by him function as an index to his self-perceived relation to Israel.[8] Consequently, in Deuteronomy and the Gospel temptation stories is to be found a pattern of sonship articulated in terms of ideal Israel. Therefore, Jesus’ obedience must be affirmed and sustained in the wilderness, “the precise place where Israel’s rebellion had brought death and alienation, in order that the new Israel of God may be constituted.”[9]

(2) Adam the Son of God

As we shall see presently, the wilderness has some very definite links with Adam. The stage for Christ’s temptations as the Adamic son is set in two ways: (1) Matthew and Luke both connect him with Adam in their baptismal accounts, by virtue of the complex of new creation ideas surrounding that event.[10] (2) Luke inserts his genealogy of Jesus between the baptism and the temptations, thereby merging the very phrase “Son of God” with Adam (3:38).[11]

Thus, in his exposure to the assaults of Satan, Jesus is Adam as well as Israel. Indeed, Israel’s sonship is modeled on Adam’s,[12] since God is the Creator/Father in both instances. And it is just the wilderness which forges a link between the two, because it represents a piece of reverse imagery, especially with Mark’s mention of the “the wild beasts” (1:13). Opinion on the proper location of the animals is frequently divided between the paradise and wilderness settings. However, we agree with a number of interpreters that the Gospels glance at both the beasts in Adam’s mandate to rule the earth (Gen 1:26-28) and in their association with satanic powers (Ps 22:11-21; Ezek 34:5, 8, 25; Luke 10:19), thus forming an integral part of the chaos which threatens to (re)impose itself on the ordered world (e.g., Job 5:22; Ezek 5:17; 14:21; T. Ben. 5:2; T. Naph. 8:4; T. Iss. 7:7).

On the one hand, the wilderness symbolizes chaos and judgment and is associated with demonic activity[13]—the antitheses of the beauty and blessing of Eden. In fact, in the Old Testament generally, blessing is associated with Eden-like land, i.e., inhabited and cultivated, while the wilderness is the place of the curse.[14] Jesus, therefore, like Adam, is tested, but under the worst of conditions, not the best. As emblematized by the wilderness, he labors under all the disadvantages brought on the creation by the first Adam. The argument gains in plausibility if Mark’s notice that the Spirit “expelled” Jesus into the desert is an allusion to Gen 3:23-24, Adam’s expulsion from the Garden back to the dust from which he had been taken.

Yet, on the other, Mark’s notice of the beasts cannot be limited to Israel in the wilderness, because paradise and wilderness in biblical theology are contiguous: what Adam was unable to do in the Garden, i.e., have dominion over the beasts of the field, Christ does in the wilderness; it is he who turns the wilderness back into a paradise.[15] Guelich maintains that Jesus was living peacefully with the animals, a relationship found only at creation (Gen 1:28; 2:19-20) and expected in the age of salvation, the new creation (Isa 11:6-9; 65:17-25; Hos 2:18; 2 Apoc. Bar. 73:6). “Thus Jesus’ peaceful coexistence ‘with the wild animals’ boldly declares the presence of the age of salvation when God’s deliverance would come in the wilderness and harmony would be established within creation according to the promise, especially of Isaiah (11.6-9; 65.17-25).”[16] He further remarks that both Adam and Christ were tempted while living at peace with the animals (Gen 1:28; 2:19-20; Mark 1:13b; cf. Apoc. Mos. 10:2-4); but while Satan’s victory over the first Adam led to enmity and fear within creation (e.g., Ps 91:11-13; Apoc. Mos. 10:1-11:4; Adam and Eve 37-38; cf. Testament of Naphtali 8), these are removed by the triumph of the other Adam, who reconciles the creation to itself.

Of relevance also is Daniel’s Son of Man (Daniel 7), an Adam-like figure who defeats the beast-like kingdoms hostile to the kingdom of God.[17] In addition, Psalm 91, which features in the second temptation, promises the one who trusts in God: “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot” (v. 13; cf. Job 5:23). Interpreted messianically, the Psalm takes up the promise of Gen 3.15 and paves the way for Jesus the Christ, who defeats the Devil initially in the desert, climactically at the cross and ultimately at his second coming (Rom 16:20).

(3) The Son of David the Son of God

The identification of Jesus as David’s Son, the heir of the nations, will emerge from the ensuing exposition. Suffice it to say here that the declaration of the heavenly voice at his baptism, “Thou art my son,” is a reflection of Ps 2:8, as it ties into a larger complex of Old Testament teaching on sonship and messiahship. It is in the Psalms in particular that the Israelite (Davidic) king was considered to be the son of God[18] (an indication of the intersection of Jesus’ Davidic sonship and his Adamic sonship). As we shall see, Satan’s challenge to Jesus to bow down before him in order to possess the kingdoms of the world is a direct assault on his inherent right as the Davidic Son to command the obedience of the peoples (Gen 49:10; Num 24:17-24; Ps 2:9).

B. The Time: Forty Days and Forty Nights

Apart from the fact that the figure of forty years in Scripture and Jewish tradition is frequently associated with hardship, affliction, or punishment,[19] it is commonly recognized that the number 40 has several links with the wilderness. (1) Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wanderings. Especially significant is Deut 8.2: “And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not.”[20] Cf. Deut 13:3; Judg 2:22; 3:1, 4; 2 Chr 32:31; Jdt 8:12-27. (2) Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exod 24:18; 34:28; Deut 9:9-18). (3) Elijah’s 40 day trip through the wilderness to Mt. Horeb (1 Kgs 19:8, 15). In the case of Moses and Elijah particularly, writes Mauser, “the forty days concentrate into one focal period the essence of their ministry, the innermost quality of their mission is revealed in them in a figurative symbol.”[21] The common ground between the two is the law: Moses was the law-giver, while Elijah called Israel back to the law away from idols.

C. The Conflict Between Jesus and Satan

1. The Fundamental Perspective: The Testing of God’s Son

The Gospels all portray Jesus’ experience in the wilderness as a “testing” or “temptation,” alternate ways of rendering the verbs nasah (Hebrew) and peiriazô (Greek). In fact, it is both at the same time: the terms have to do with “testing” when God stands in the forefront and with “temptation” when an evil force such as the Devil is more prominent. Accordingly, the combination of the Spirit’s leading of Jesus and the enticements of the Devil give the verb a double connotation here.[22] However, as Davies/Allison remind us, Deut 8:2 is paradigmatic: “As God once tested Israel in the wilderness (Exod 20:20), so now does the Spirit lead Jesus into the desert in order that he might face the ordeal with Satan: the confrontation is initiated by God.”[23] It is by means of the “temptations” that God is “testing” his Son.

The several temptation narratives can thus be reduced to Jesus’ identification with Israel, whose role of sonship in salvation history is now concentrated in him who is the Son and the Beloved. Hence, “the heart of the temptation is to be found in an attempt to induce Jesus to be unfaithful to a pattern of Sonship conceived in terms of the relationship between ideal Israel and the divine Father.”[24]

Yet even the covenant with Israel is not fully comprehensible apart from the prior testing of Adam in paradise. Though it is obviously true that Deuteronomy 6-8 forms the basis of the dialogues between Jesus and Satan, the testing motif begins in Eden and is repeated several times before Israel’s formation as a nation, most conspicuously in the case of Abraham. In the beginning, it was Adam, God’s partner in the creation covenant, who was charged with the mandate of subduing the earth and was promised, at least by implication, a reward at the end of his task (the “sabbath rest” of Gen 2:1-3; Heb 4:9). He, however, repudiated his formation as God’s image and chose the way of self-determination and idolatry. Rather than inherit “all the kingdoms of the earth” by obedience to God, he sought to become as God by compliance with “the Tempter.” It is precisely Adam’s error which the Devil wishes Jesus to repeat: the temptations are Satan’s endeavor to induce Jesus to renounce his vocation as the obedient Son.

An important qualification is in order, however. Matthew in particular represents Jesus as more than Israel and Adam, God’s Son, image, and covenant partner; he is, in point of fact, a divine person to be worshipped in his own right and approached with reverence. One indication is that in relating the demand of Satan that Jesus “fall down” and “worship” him (4:9), Matthew draws on the same combination of terms which he has already predicated of the infant Jesus, the very one who received the adoration of the Magi (2:11).[25] For another, in keeping with his characteristic usage, Matthew draws on the verb “approach,” which conveys an attitude of homage.[26] The Tempter thus approaches Jesus in this pregnant sense for the purpose of enticing him.[27] Significantly, the combination of “tempt” (periazô) and “approach” (proserchomai) occurs in other places in Matthew (and Mark) to describe the antagonism of the Pharisees and Sadducees: it is they who continue throughout the public ministry what Satan initiated in the wilderness (see, e.g., Matt 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35; Mark 10:2).[28] Matthew, as the other Evangelists, pictures the Jewish leaders as the instruments of the Devil in his on-going attack on Jesus: they, as their ancestors (Ps 78:18), in satanic fashion put to the test the Lord their God.

2. The Order of the Temptations

Matthew and Luke differ in their order of the second and third temptations. It is normally assumed that Luke has reversed Matthew’s order to make Jerusalem the place of the climactic test, in accordance with the temple theme of Luke-Acts.[29] Yet, while the temple is certainly important in Luke’s writings, Donaldson has shown that Matthew’s sequence is not necessarily original. In fact, he suggests that a more natural progression in a Palestinian setting would be desert-mountain-temple. Moreover, as we shall see presently, the temple—the focal point of Jewish national and religious life—arguably ranks above the other settings. Thus, Luke’s most dramatic temptation has in view divine aid for the Son of God in the capital city.[30]

Nevertheless, Matthew’s order, which is (arbitrarily) being followed here, has a significance of its own. Several scholars contend that his arrangement reproduces in inverse order Jesus’ quotations of Deut 8:3; 6:16, 13, so that the First Gospel is seen to follow the sequence of events in Exodus: the provision of manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16), the testing at Massah (Exodus 17), and the worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32).[31] Furthermore, Gerhardsson, followed by Gundry, surmises that all three lead back to Deut 6:5, according to which the Israelite was to love Yahweh with all his heart, soul, and might.[32] If indeed Deut 6:5 is the bedrock of Jesus’ replies to Satan, then the issue before our Lord was none other than the total consecration of his person to the God of Israel and his refusal to settle for anything less than Yahweh the Creator and covenant Lord as the object of his worship.

Moreover, in Matthew, an upward spatial progression is evident: Jesus is first “led up” from the Jordan into the wilderness, then placed on the pinnacle of the temple and finally taken to “a very high mountain.” This progression, remark Davies/Allison, corresponds to the dramatic tension which comes to a climax with the third temptation.[33] Donaldson has further demonstrated that Matthew is as theologically motivated as Luke in his arrangement of the temptations, inasmuch as the former purposes a correspondence between the final temptation and the closing scene of the Gospel, for which the mountain setting is one of the main links.[34]

3. The Connection of the Three Places of Testing

Again Donaldson is helpful. He shows that each of the settings—wilderness, temple, mountain—was a place where eschatological events were expected to occur.[35]

As to the wilderness, a consistent feature of the Prophets is the anticipation that Israel would be led once more through the desert on a new exodus. That the final act of divine deliverance would come from the desert was firmly entrenched in first-century Judaism.[36] For one thing, there was the very existence of the Qumran community, which retreated in the desert to be tested as the original exodus generation, “during the dominion of Belial” (1QS 1:18),[37] awaiting The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, at the advent of the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel (CD B 11), whose way was being prepared by the sect, in fulfillment of Isa 40:3-5. For another, various anti-Roman revolutionary movements originated in the wilderness. Apart from the notices in Matt 24:26; Acts 21:38, Josephus, in his account of the siege of Jerusalem, relates that when the temple had gone up in flames, the surviving insurgents requested to be allowed to retreat into the desert (J. W. 6.351), the motivation being that in the wilderness the final messianic deliverance must surely take place, thereby turning the debacle into victory. In other passages in his history, the wilderness is the place where the messianic (in his view, false) prophets repaired to rally their forces against Rome (J. W. 2.258-33; Ant. 20.97, 169-72).[38] In some measure at least, this hope was founded on passages such as Deut 32:7-14 (esp. v. 10).

In the case of the temple and the mountain, especially when the latter is interpreted as Mt. Zion (see below), it almost goes without saying that these occupy a position of particular prominence in the Old Testament and in Jewish eschatological expectation.[39] One extrabiblical indicator is that the messianic figures at the time of the Jewish revolt (in the Josephus passages cited immediately above) promised “signs of deliverance” to be performed at the temple.

4. First Temptation: Stones into Bread

Both Matthew (4:2) and Luke (4:2) relate that Jesus went without food for forty days (and nights). The number forty, again, is reminiscent of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, but also of Moses’ forty days of fasting before his reception of the law (Exod 34:28; Deut 9:9-18).[40] But apart from the theological associations, it is at the end of the forty days, when Jesus’ hunger was at its most intense and when he was most vulnerable, that “the Tempter came” (Matthew) and said, “If you are the Son of God….”

The clause, “if you are the Son of God,” assumes that such is the case: Jesus’ sonship is the presupposition of the temptations, as established at the baptismal scene, where he is declared to be the Son by the heavenly voice. Gundry is correct that Satan does not tempt Jesus to doubt his divine sonship, but to presume on it in self-serving ways that would lead him disobediently from the path of the cross.[41] While the last temptation is the most blatant instance, all of Satan’s efforts are designed to seduce Jesus to use his sonship in a way inconsistent with his God-ordained mission—indeed, with the very nature of sonship itself. D. A. Carson points out that the same taunt, “If you are the Son of God,” is hurled at Jesus on the cross, when for him to have left the cross would have annulled the purpose of his coming.[42]

Jesus’ sonship again displays a twofold association. One is Adam, the first “son of God” (Luke 3:38) to be tested by Yahweh, with Satan as the instigator of his temptation. It is possible that the recurrent notices that Satan “said” to Jesus allude to Gen 3:1, 4: as the Tempter insinuated to Eve (and Adam) that God had not spoken truly, so he intimates the same to Jesus and proposes that his sonship can and ought to be asserted defiantly—in Adamic fashion—by turning stones into loaves. The other is Israel, who is admonished in Deut 8:5: “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” Jesus, in other words, reprises the role of the covenant people (cf. Isa 42:6; 50:1-11); and, as we shall see momentarily, it was precisely Israel’s grumbling about food which occasioned its infidelity.

Satan’s appeal to food resembles his tactic in the Garden, but is intensified by the fact that Jesus is solicited when, humanly speaking, he was most vulnerable and might most plausibly use his powers in an act of self-assertion. Adam, though not really hungry, made the fruit of the tree a vehicle for declaring his independence of his Maker—and it is precisely in this vein that the Devil wishes Jesus to express his sonship, i.e., he should behave like the first Adam in an assertion of autonomy, using food as the warrant of his rebellion; he should take the initiative in providing for his needs rather than wait on the Father to do so.

Later, Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness is verbalized by nothing other than the demand for food (Ps 78:17-20). Numbers 11 is adamant that Israel’s dissatisfaction with the manna was tantamount to its rejection of the Lord himself, who was in its midst (v. 20); his hand, the people thought, was shortened, so that his word of promise could not come to pass (v. 23). Psalm 78 confirms that the children of Israel “had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power” (v. 22): “in spite of his wonders, they did not believe” (v. 32). Ps 106:13-14 is to the same effect.

The impact of the temptation is that Jesus, like Adam first and Israel later, has a justifiable grievance against God and ought, therefore, to voice his complaint by “murmuring” (Exodus 16; Numbers 11) and then, in an act of insubordination, himself provide the basic necessity of life—bread. Satan, in other words, seeks to make Jesus groundlessly anxious about his physical needs and thus provoke him to demand the food which he craves (Ps 78:18). In short, the Devil’s aim is a repetition of the apostasy of Adam and Israel respectively: he wants to break Jesus’ perfect trust in his Father’s good care and thereby alter the course of salvation-history.[43]

Jesus rejoins with the words of Deut 8:3b: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God.” As always, the context, Deut 8:1-10, must be taken into account, particularly v. 2: “And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not.” Here are the three elements underlying the temptation narratives as a whole: the number forty, the wilderness, and testing. In addition, v. 3a mentions hunger, and v. 5 speaks of Israel’s sonship. In his own person, then, Jesus recapitulates Israel. It is he who remembers all the way which Yahweh has led (v. 2) and that he has provided all his people’s needs as indisputable proof of his care (v. 4). He is thus content to live by “every word which proceeds from the mouth of God,” i.e., God’s interpretation of reality, as opposed to that of Satan. Only when this lesson is learned is one entitled to be called “the Son of God.”

5. Second Temptation: God’s Protection of His Son

In the movement from the first temptation to the second, Jesus is taken out of the wilderness to the Holy City. The significance of this temptation centers around at least two factors.

(1) Luke makes the proposed leap from the temple the climactic episode of his narrative: Jesus is made to face death in Jerusalem.[44] At the same time, he is informed that there is an alternative, i.e., the ministry of angels to save him. Consequently, Satan would have Jesus resort to divine intervention to deliver him from death altogether.[45] However, Luke is clear that Jerusalem is the place of his death (9:51; 13:32-33): he must eventually undergo death in the capital city as one of the prophets (13:33), in fulfillment of God’s plan (24:26, 46; cf. Matt 26:54); the cross is inevitable. If we may adapt an insight of J. A. T. Robinson,[46] Satan wants Jesus to deny the very relationship which constituted him the Son of God, viz., the relationship of faith—the faith which trusted that God would deliver him from the pangs of death (Ps 16:8-11; Acts 2:24-36).

(2) The site of the temptation is the temple, the symbol of God’s presence with Israel and the most conspicuous emblem that this nation is his people. The temple, in short, was the organizing centre of Jewish life and “a theological symbol of tremendous emotive power.”[47] Moreover, the geographical complex of Jerusalem and the temple has a significance of its own.[48] The Holy City was located in the highlands of Israel, with Mt. Zion as its loftiest point and the temple as the most imposing building in the land (cf. Josephus, Ant. 15.412 [11.5]; Ep. Arist. 83-84). To this we may add that, according to Ezek 5:5; 38:12; Jub. 8:12, 19; 1 Enoch 26:1; Sib. Or. 5:250, Jerusalem was conceived of as the “center of the nations, with countries round about her,” the “navel of the earth,” whose inhabitants “dwell at the center of the earth.” Thus, when Jesus stands on the pinnacle of the temple, he is, theologically speaking anyway, precisely at the center of the world.[49] It is from this point that the Messiah most naturally would claim the nations as his own and rule them with a rod of iron (Gen 49:10; Num 24:17-24; Ps 2:9), beginning with the overthrow of the Romans (cf. Pss. Sol. 17:22-25, 30-32).[50] Satan’s intention is that Jesus should make an impressive entrance onto the stage of Israelite history, enabling him to rally around himself those “zealous for the law” (1 Macc 2:27).

The Devil quotes a portion of Psalm 91, vv. 11-12, the whole of which celebrates God’s fatherly care of those who trust in him. Whether or not the subtlety of the quotation lies in the omission of the words “in all your ways” (11b), the Psalm does promise divine protection in all one’s ways. Nevertheless, as A. A. Anderson explains, the Psalmist takes it for granted that “all these ways” are in accord with the divine will and purpose.[51] When this is understood, Satan’s proposal that Jesus throw himself from the temple bears no resemblance to the intention of the Psalm; it is, in fact, a misapplication and, therefore, a distortion of the Scriptures.

Ultimately, Psalm 91 is messianic, and Satan cannot be unaware of it. So, his intention is that Jesus the Davidic Son should force his Father to vindicate him in a way other than that of his own appointment—the resurrection following the cross.[52] There is in this regard an irony in Satan’s use of the Psalm, because immediately following the portion quoted by him there is the assurance: “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot” (v. 13). It is precisely at the cross that Christ bruises the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15; cf. Rom 16:20)!

The reply, from Deut 6:16, “you shall not tempt the Lord your God,” is not intended to call into question Psalm 91, but rather the Devil’s application of it. One should trust in God, but there are occasions on which the appeal to such a text is nothing less than putting God himself to the test; such “manipulative bribery” (Carson) turns justifiable reliance on the Lord’s protection into blindness and presumption. The quote comes from Moses’ warning for Israel not to repeat their sin at Massah, when they demanded water from the rock (Exod 17:1-7; cf. Num 20:2-9): if it was wrong for Israel the son of God to demand miraculous confirmation of the Father’s care, so it would be for Jesus the Son to demand the same. Jesus, therefore, will not repeat the example of the fathers by testing God.[53] As ever, it is the cross to which Jesus must finally submit. As intimated above, the death scene at the temple corresponds to that in Jerusalem at the climax of the passion week: not only is Jesus determined not to tempt God, he is ready to lose his life in obedience to the Father.

6. Third Temptation: The Kingdoms of the World

In keeping with his mountain motif, the First Evangelist mentions that Satan took Jesus to “a very high mountain,” while Luke is silent about this. Matthew thus continues to pursue his Jesus-Moses/Jesus-Adam/Jesus-Son of God agenda.

(1) As to Moses, Deut 3:27; 34:1-4 describe the panoramic view of the promised land shown him on Mt. Nebo, from which he could see the earth in every direction. The language-parallels between Matthew and Deuteronomy are especially evident from the LXX,[54] to which may be added, quite strikingly, 2 Apoc. Bar. 76:3-4; 1 Enoch 26; 87:3-4. As Yahweh showed all the land of Canaan (and the earth) to Moses, the Devil shows and promises the entire world to Jesus, if he will worship him. The “showing” in question is not simply visual perception, because, in its biblical setting, seeing is possessing.[55]

(2) With regard to Adam, we encounter early in Genesis (2:10-14) and later in Ezekiel (28:13-16; cf. 1 Enoch 24; 87:3; Jub. 4:26) the idea that the Garden of Eden was located on a mountain.[56] Thus, from the mountain of paradise, Adam was able, so to speak, to gaze upon the kingdoms of the world and see the domain destined to be his under God.[57] For Jesus, however, the mountain is that of the wilderness, the mountain of testing and temptation. From this mountain Satan seeks to have Jesus renounce God’s prior lordship over the creation in favor of himself, the “god of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2),[58] who has been granted the prerogative to bestow “all this authority,” i.e., world leadership and the accompanying wealth of the nations, on whomever he desires (Luke 4:6; cf. 1 John 5:19; T. Job 8:1-3; 16:2).

(3) Arguably, the most prominent association with the mountain is that of “the Son of God.” Several scholars have proposed that the mountain is specifically Mt. Zion, as confirmed by Ps 2:6-8.[59] They point out that the ultimate source of Satan’s acknowledgment, “if you are the Son of God,” is Ps 2:7, as echoed by the heavenly voice at the baptism, and also that the verse’s declaration, “Thou art my Son,” is followed immediately by the promise of world sovereignty to the scion of David. In fact, Satan’s promise, “all this I will give you, corresponds directly to the king’s pledge of the same: “Ask of me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance.” The site of the temptation, Donaldson concludes, is “the place of the enthronement of the Son—and thus, because of the messianic interpretation of Ps 2, against a background of eschatological Zion, the place where the world-throne would be established.”[60]

The placement of Jesus on the mountain of temptation, where he refuses to acknowledge the Devil’s “authority,” is deliberately juxtaposed to the mountain of “the great commission,” on which he will finally claim that all “authority” in heaven and on earth has been granted to him (Matt 28:16). It is noteworthy that the irony of the situation is intensified by the fact that even before the commission Jesus is represented as one who teaches with inherent “authority” (Matt 7:28-29). Therefore, he repudiates Satan’s “authority” in view of the lasting dominion to be his as a result of willing obedience to God (which in principle he already possesses).

Jesus’ rebuff of Satan is embodied in the words of Deut 6:13: the demand placed on Israel that Yahweh only is to be worshipped. Since he only is one, he is to be loved with all one’s heart, soul, and might (v. 4), a reflection on the golden calf incident of Exodus 32: Jesus thus relives the same attraction to idolatry to which the nation characteristically succumbed, while remaining the faithful Son. Rather than a place of apostasy, as was so of Israel, the desert for him is the place of fidelity to God. He is to have glory (e.g., Matt 16:27; 17:1-8 and pars.; 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; Mark 14:62), but—especially if we allow the Johannine perspective (John 12:28; 13:31-32; 17:1-26)—the glory is to be through and as a result of the cross. This is where the Synoptic Gethsemane narratives (as paralleled by John 12:27-33; 14:30-31; cf. Heb 5:7) function to demonstrate that the glory of Jesus cannot be divorced from the via dolorosa.

As noted above, in relating Satan’s demand that Jesus “fall down” and “worship” him, Matthew alludes to Jesus as the recipient of the adoration of the Magi. The irony of the third temptation, therefore, is that the one who himself ought to be worshipped is told to worship the being who wrongfully received the service of Adam in Eden. Satan, in other words, wishes Jesus to deny himself.

III. Christ Vindicated For His Faithfulness

Perhaps the greatest irony of history is the crucifixion of Israel’s Messiah as an outlaw to the covenant. By definition, the Davidic king was the representative of Yahweh and the embodiment of his righteousness. Yet as startling as it must have been, Paul, in Gal 3:14, consigns his Messiah to the curse which befell the apostate of Deut 21:23 (cf. Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). J. D. G. Dunn thinks it plausible that Deut 21:23 was used in Jewish sectarian polemic against the early Christian claim that the crucified Jesus was Messiah. If so, he continues, Paul’s ingenuity is shown by the fact that he does not dispute the charge, but turns it to his own ends: “For him the crucial factor was that the curse denoted a status outside the covenant, ‘expelled from the people of God’.” Because the cursed criminal was a defilement of the land of inheritance, the curses of Deuteronomy 27 and 28 not only involved the withdrawal of covenant blessing, but climax in being put outside the promised land to live among Gentiles. “To affirm that the crucified Jesus was cursed by God, therefore, was tantamount to saying that he had been put outside the covenant, outside the people of God.”[61]

It is the death of Jesus within the framework of covenant curse and renewal (à la Deuteronomy 27-30) which J. M. Scott and N. T. Wright have most helpfully applied to the atonement. As Wright phrases it, Gal 3:13 in particular is not an isolated explanation of the cross or a proof text for justification by faith, or anything so atomistic. It is, rather, in his words, “the sharp expression of a theme which occupies Paul throughout the chapter: the fact that in the cross of Jesus, the Messiah, the curse of exile itself reached its height, and was dealt with once and for all, so that the blessing of covenant renewal might flow out the other side, as God always intended.” The interpretation gains in plausibility by the observation that at least some Jews of Paul’s era believed that Israel was still under the curse of the exile inasmuch as the prophecies of her restoration had not been fulfilled in the expected manner. Paul thus views the cross of Jesus as the climax of the covenant curses and the commencement of Israel’s restoration. In this capacity, Jesus is Israel’s ‘redeeming representative.” “He is Israel, going down to death under the curse of the law, and going through that curse to the new covenant life beyond.”[62]

This means that the resurrection is God’s vindication of his Son (Rom 1:4; 1 Tim 3:16 [note in the latter the verb dikaioô, Paul’s normal verb for “justification”/“vindication”]). The resurrection, says Dunn, signified “God’s acceptance of the ‘outsider’, the cursed law-breaker, the Gentile sinner,”[63] all of which Jesus became when he was “made sin” for us (2 Cor 5:21). And if his death meant bearing the curses of the covenant, his resurrection was the procurement of the blessings of the covenant—principally life in the presence of God forever.

IV. The Testing Of The Christian

The whole of the above exposition has labored to establish that the temptations of our Lord are among the most significant indicators of the uniqueness of his person and work. Within the pages of the Old Testament and in the history of the Jewish race, there are many notable instances of people and communities who were exposed to trial, testing, and temptation. Yet none of them, for the authors of the New Testament, are ultimately of any avail, because all without exception are seen as the forerunners of the Coming One, who alone is the zenith of salvation history and the consummation of God’s plan for the ages.

Nevertheless, we come now to consider that even though his temptations are specifically messianic in that he is the Messiah, they are no different in kind to those which have always beset the people of God and always will throughout the course of “this present evil age.”[64] First of all, his temptations are the very ones placed before Israel in the wilderness, consonant with the fact that, in their original setting, the various portions of the book of Deuteronomy quoted by Jesus were addressed to the covenant community of Israel.

Second, there are the assertions of Heb 2:14-18 and 4:15: Jesus has been made like his brethren in every respect and has suffered in that he was tempted, being tested in every point as we. While the author’s assertion goes beyond the temptations in the desert, it certainly includes them. If we may hear Calvin:

The Son of God willingly underwent the temptations with which we are now dealing, and met the Devil in a set trial of strength, that by His victory He might win us the triumph…. Surely it was for this cause that the Son of God suffered to be tempted, that He might intervene for us, whenever Satan brings any trial of temptation across our path. So we do not read of His being tempted, when He was running His own life at home, but when He had to enter on the career of the Redeemer, then he entered the lists in the name of His whole church. But if Christ was tempted as the Representative of all the faithful, we should realize that the temptations that strike us are not fortuitous, or the turn of Satan’s whim, without God’s permission, but that the Spirit of God presides in all our trials, that our faith may be the better tried. So we may take sure hope, that God, who is the supreme Master of the ring, will not be unmindful of us, or fail to succor our weakness, as He sees we are unequal to them.[65]

Most pointedly, in the third place, there is John’s compendious appraisal of “all that is in the world,” i.e., “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15-16). Notwithstanding the reservations of some commentators,[66] it is these three categories, as we shall argue, which sum up the enticement to idolatry placed before Adam and Eve in the Garden and are repeated in the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.

John exhorts his readers to love neither the world nor the things in the world, because if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (v. 15). V. 16 then picks up “the things in the world” and turns the phrase into “all that is in the world,” which he specifies as two desires—those of “the flesh” and of “the eyes”—and one boast—that stemming from “life.” “The world,” comprised of all these entities, is thus set forth as the enemy of the believer. As Stephen Smalley calls to mind, the term “world” in the writings of John bears two basic senses: (1) the created universe or life on earth; (2) human society, controlled by the power of evil, organized in opposition to God.[67] The latter is certainly the meaning here. Therefore, John’s warning is against “worldliness” in a very specific sense: “a determination to be anchored to a society which by nature does not know God, and is inclined to reject him.”[68] It is none other than the world which lies in the clutches of the Evil One (5:19)—and it is just this basic perspective on the ownership of the world by “the god of this world” which opens up the underlying architecture of the apostle’s admonition not to be allured by the components of “all that is in the world.”

The first is “the desire of the flesh.” “Flesh” is not intended in the generic (Pauline) sense of human nature as fallen, weak, and vulnerable.[69] At the same time, it is not to be restricted to matters sensual, though in the first-century (not to mention the twentieth-century) context it certainly does cover sexual sins of various sorts. Rather, the “desire” or “appetite” of the flesh pertains to the corporeal dimension of man’s being: this is desire occasioned by our bodily existence,[70] which in itself is neither sinful nor idolatrous.

It is precisely “the appetite of the flesh,” thus defined, to which Satan appealed in the Garden as he discerned Eve’s awareness that the fruit of the tree was “good for food” (Gen 3:6). Because food is necessary to live, the Tempter proposed that the first human couple should, in direct defiance of God’s command (Gen 2:16-17; 3:3), not hesitate to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, notwithstanding all the other trees in the Garden. We are not surprised, then, when the Devil repeats the same maneuver in the wilderness. As observed above, Satan proposes that Jesus should exercise his sonship in an Adamic manner by using the food he craved as the opportunity for asserting his autonomy of the Father.

The first temptation resembles the one that occurred in Eden. It deals with food and uses food to awaken distrust of God and of God’s word. What succeeded in Eden, in the land of plenty, failed in the destitute wilderness. What succeeded in the case of Adam and Eve who were well-fed, failed in the case of Jesus who was in great hunger. The temptation assailed Jesus from his human side; he resisted it, not by means of his divinity, but as a man, with his trust in God’s Word. By doing it in this way he enables us today to follow his example. All true sons may follow this “son.”[71]

With such an example before them, John wishes his “little children” to avoid the example set in Eden by refusing, as their Lord, to let bodily needs and appetites—as God-given and legitimate as they are in themselves—dictate the agenda of life. In short, even such things as these are not the meaning of life: the creature must not be confused with the Creator (Rom 1:25).

The second is “the desire of the eyes.” This likewise corresponds to Eve’s perception of the tree: it was “a delight to the eyes.” Here the focus shifts from the “bare necessities” of life to those things which make life an enjoyment: the aesthetic, artistic, and creative dimensions of human existence. As confirmed by Matt 5:28, however, this category overlaps with the first, because the various cravings of the body are so often called forth by sight. In this light, it is not accidental, particularly given Luke’s order of the temptations, that Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Luke 4:6; Matt 4:8). The “glory of the world” comprises much more than its provision of essential human need; it comprehends all those aspects of culture, art, science, education, communications, transportation, etc., which make “the world” such an impressive and imposing entity.[72] It is such “glory” which constantly beckons to all humanity; and because the Christian does not live in a vacuum, John’s concern is that his churches not fall into the age-old trap of the Civitas Terrata (the “earthly city”).

Finally, there is “the pride of life.” The word translated “pride” connotes boasting. Smalley considers that such boasting is groundless, while Marshall thinks that John contemplates a braggadocio which exaggerates what it possesses in order to impress others.[73] But such is not really—or at least necessarily—the case, because this is the pride which derives from life and is the result of accomplishment and status. Confirmation is had by once more glancing back to Eden. Eve could discern that the tree would “make one wise.” Given the comprehensive import of wisdom in the Bible, the point is that she and Adam would be endowed with both knowledge of the world and the ability to apply their knowledge in the concrete realities of life.[74] Of course, the problem was that they forgot that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 1:7, et passim; Job 28:28), a factor underscored in Israel’s Wisdom tradition by its insistence that wisdom entails the repudiation of idolatry.[75] Thus, what the Devil offers is a “crooked wisdom.”

While the parallel is not as exact as some would wish, Jesus’ temptation on the pinnacle of the temple exhibits the principle of “the pride of life.” Although we cannot go into any real detail, the pride in question is readily understandable in terms of Israel’s “boasting” in the law and in the God of the law (Rom 2:17, 23).[76] Various Jewish documents bear witness to the nation’s self-perceived superiority over other peoples as the exalted and glorified people of God.[77] Hence, for Jesus to throw himself from the temple in an effort to attract those “zealous for the law” is the epitome of “the pride of life” and the most outstanding example of a Satan-inspired usurpation of worldly power.

Within the milieu of John’s epistles, his imperative that his readers not repeat the sin of Adam (and Israel) in seeking such power (“authority”) is understandable. To be sure, very few would attain to positions of prominence in secular or even Christian society. Nevertheless, the temptation is always present to think of oneself more highly than one ought (Rom 12:3) and seek to promote what seems to be a godly course of action, which effectively is a form of self-idolatry.[78] In John’s third letter (vv. 9-10), a conspicuous example is brought to the fore in the person of Diatrophes. Diatrophes, no doubt, was a man of ability; but apart from his gifts, “he assumed a position of leadership in his congregation because of an egocentric lust for power, which he had confused with zeal for the gospel.”[79]

To summarize, if the case presented here is correct, John clarifies for the church the three aspects of the one problem of idolatry. Derek Kidner has seen the connection of 1 John 2:16 with the lures placed before Eve in the Garden. As he comments on Eve’s appreciation of the beauty of the forbidden tree: “God allows the forbidden its full appeal. The pattern of sin runs right through the act, for Eve listened to a creature instead of the Creator, followed her impressions against her instructions, and made self-fulfilment her goal. This prospect of material, aesthetic and mental enrichment…seemed to add up to life itself; the world still offers it (1 Jn. 2:16).”[80] This is the very worship of the creature against which John warns as he concludes his epistle: “Little Children, keep yourselves from idols” (5:21). These three prongs of idolatry constitute “all that is in the world” and define the “world” itself as that place whose actual object of worship is the Evil One (5:19).

However, we stress once more the indispensability of Christ’s obedience in the realization of our own obedience. It is not Abraham, Job, Moses, or any other of his predecessors to whom the New Testament looks in grounding the obedience of the latter-day people of God. It is, rather, the unique obedience of this unique person which ensures that his church will not succumb to the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, or the pride of life. In a nutshell, since Christ has overcome the Evil one, the Christian can too (1 John 2:13-14).[81] “It is within this context,” writes Kelly, “that we may acquire a fuller understanding of the temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan.”[82] “As the executant of God’s purpose,” Robinson adds, “his end could not be other than the great end God had appointed for the universe—the fashioning of sons to himself in free and loving obedience.”[83]

At his baptism, Jesus received the Spirit, who drove him into the wilderness and guided him throughout his ordeal; he was full of the Spirit and the first man of the Spirit (Luke 4:1, 14). Yet he was not, in the final analysis, baptized in the Spirit as a private person. Rather, his endowment with the Spirit was in order that we might be equipped with the same Spirit who guides and helps us through the wilderness of this world; to this end believers themselves are “filled with the Spirit” (e.g., Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24; Eph 5:18; cf. Acts 18:25; Rom 12:11) and “led by the Spirit” (Rom 8:14).

Again the author of Hebrews makes the perseverance of Christ the mainstay of his argument for continuance in the Christian way: “For in that he himself has suffered, being tempted, he is able to help all those who are tempted.” And prominent in Hebrew’s “word of exhortation” is the writer’s employment of the wilderness tradition (especially in chapters 3 and 4).[84] Keeping in mind that the wilderness is not so much a locality on the map of the Middle East as “the place of God’s mighty acts, significant for all believers of all times and places,”[85] it follows that it is a place of both danger and divine help.[86] The trek through the wilderness imposes on the new Israel, as on the old, a life beset with difficulties and problems, in which only the most basic of human needs are supplied. It is an existence fraught with problems, which no one can survive who is not determined to persevere until the end. And perseverance hinges to no small degree on one’s sense of dependence of God.

This is characteristic of the way in which Yahweh helps his people in the wilderness—from day to day. Israel is not permitted to live in security lest she forget that she is utterly dependent on her God. She receives daily bread, and a daily portion only, from the hand of God. God’s help does not miraculously change the wilderness into a paradise; the desert situation cannot be forgotten, not even for one day…. Throughout their wanderings, throughout those years, Israel has to be content with the bread of the wilderness. There is a promise of a better land ahead, a land flowing with milk and honey, but as long as the way through the wilderness lasts God’s help has the form of daily rations of simple food.[87]

Because God’s help is provided in and through the wilderness, not as a removal from it, the wilderness, especially in the Prophets, becomes the place where God’s people return to him for grace (Hos 6:1-2),[88] with the hope that ultimately the desert will be turned into a garden paradise (Isa 51:3; cf. 35; 41:17-20). “Thus, the wilderness becomes the image of a spiritual condition and the miraculous watering of the parched land, a figure of the Spirit which restores life in man.”[89]

In view of all this, the testing of Christ, which both inaugurates the testing of his people and guarantees their success in it, is another way of speaking of the Christian warfare. As Robinson observes, the old Israel passed through the wilderness, but failed to respond in the way required. The world, then, had to be redeemed by the new Israel repeating that divinely ordained pattern, but this time giving the answer it had been chosen to make. In modern terms, he says, we might call this “Operation Salvation.”

For this reason he [God] selected and trained a special task force. On the first attempt [i.e., in the case of the old Israel] the plan had met with only very partial success, owing to failures and desertions within the ranks of the picked troops themselves. However, the plan of operation was not discarded. What was required was a body of men, or even one man, sufficiently dedicated to sacrifice himself in seeing it through victoriously to the end. The concern of the Church was, first, to proclaim that Jesus, as the true representative of God’s people, had in fact carried out and completed that operation without failure, and, secondly, to call its members to repeat the pattern in their own lives.[90]

If we ask, Why is such a period of testing necessary?, the answer must be that it is the wilderness which serves to purify God’s chosen instruments and to bring home to them the meaning, privileges, and responsibilities of a relationship which rests on grace and faith alone (2 Cor 12:9).[91] It is none other than the cathartic of the wilderness which proves if we will reciprocate in the covenant relationship by loving and serving God for his sake and his sake alone, as children respond to a Father. The wilderness establishes if we remember all the way which the Lord our God has led us, testing us to know what is in our heart, whether we will keep his commandments or not (Deut 8:2). As Brad Young puts it, “Faith is remembering. When one recalls the mighty acts of God in the past, one builds faith for present needs.”[92]

V. The Christian’s Vindication

Space will not permit anything like a full-scale discussion of the vindication of the believer. Suffice it to say that the very language of eschatological justification/vindication is found in Matt 12:37 (“for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned) and Rom 2:13 (“For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified”). In both texts there is envisaged a final judgment before which all must stand, either to be condemned or vindicated. I have discussed Rom 2:13 in detail elsewhere.[93] To quote the summary of that study:

In Rom 2:13, Paul proposes that there is a phase of justification yet to transpire: it is the “doers of the law” (Christians), rather than the “hearers of the law” (Israel), who will be vindicated. “Doing the law,” however, is not to be defined as “works-righteousness” or unaided human achievement; it is, rather, “the obedience of faith,” i.e., continuance in the Creator/creature relationship as articulated by Paul’s christological gospel. It is in Christ that one becomes a “doer of the law;” and the Christian’s loving obedience to God is nothing other than the extension to him/her of the righteousness of Christ himself. It could not be otherwise, because salvation for the apostle is God’s gift from beginning to end (e.g., Rom 5:15-17; 6:22-23; Eph 2:8-10).[94]

Within the broader purview of the issues discussed in this study, the gist of the matter is that believer follows the pattern of his Lord. Jesus underwent his wilderness experience, his time of testing to prove his obedience to the Father, after which he was vindicated as the obedient one (1 Tim 3:16). Likewise, the Christian, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, is currently in the wilderness. He must run the race set before him, looking to Jesus the inaugurator and consummator of his faith. Once he has fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith, there is crown of righteousness which the Lord will grant him on that Day, because he has love his appearing (2 Tim 4:8). It is surely significant Rom 8:31-34 draws upon the Servant Song of Isaiah 50, where the Servant is quite sure that Yahweh will vindicate him against the accusations of his enemies. Set in a context of final judgment, Paul applies to words not to Christ directly but to Christians. Paul takes the cry of the Servant from the Servant’s own mouth and places it in the mouth of the believer, who awaits his own final vindication by Yahweh. In Christ, we have become the obedient servants of God who will be justified before the entire universe in the great Day.







[1]A convenient source of information is provided by I. G. Wallis, The Faith of Jesus Christ in Early Christian Traditions (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1995). In recent days, the older thesis that Paul’s Greek phrase pistis Iêsou Chrisou (literally “faith of Jesus Christ) articulates the covenant faithfulness of Christ himself has been championed by numerous scholars (see Wallis’ bibliography). While I do not accept this interpretation of the actual words, pistis Iêsou Chrisou, the idea of Christ’s covenant fidelity in Paul is undoubtedly true, especially in light of Gal 3:13-14; 1 Tim 3:16 (discussed below).

[2]See A. T. Hanson, Studies in Paul’s Technique and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 42-45.

[3]This “climax of the covenant” or “return from exile” motif factors very largely in New Testament studies today. Outstanding contributions to the theme have been made by N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991, 137-56; id., The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991); id., Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996); James M. Scott, “Paul’s Use of the Deuteronomic Tradition,” Journal of Biblical Literature 112 (1993), 645-65; id., “‘For As Many as Are of Works of the Law Are under a Curse’ (Galatians 3.10),” Paul and the Scriptures of Israel (eds. C. A. Evans and J. A. Sanders; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 187-221; id., ed., Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Conceptions (Leiden: Brill, 1997); C. Marvin Pate, Communities of the Last Days: The Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament and the Story of Israel (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000); id., The Reverse of the Curse: Paul, Wisdom, and the Law (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2000).

[4]See W. R. Stegner, “Wilderness and Testing in the Scrolls and in Matthew 4:1-11,” Biblical Research 12 (1967), 18-27, who shows that the wilderness is a more of a concept than a place, a concept which is always correlated with the motif of trial, testing, and temptation. Cf. W. Marxsen, Mark the Evangelist: Studies on the Redaction History of the Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1969), 26-28; U. W. Mauser, Christ in the Wilderness: The Wilderness Theme in the Second Gospel and its Basis in the Biblical Tradition (SBT 1/39; London: SCM, 1963), 14.

[5]W. D. Davies and D. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 1.354.

[6]See, e.g., B. Byrne, ‘Sons of God’—‘Seed of Abraham’: A Study in the Idea of the Sonship of God of All Christians in Paul against the Jewish Background (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1979), 9-78; E. Lövestam, Son and Saviour: A Study of Acts 13,32-37. With an Appendix: ‘Son of God’ in the Synoptic Gospels (Lund: Gleerup, 1961), 88-112; M. Hengel, The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Christianity (London: SCM, 1976), 41-56; S. Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (New York: Schocken, 1961), 46-64; G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (3 vols.; Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1927-30), 2.201-11; H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrash (6 vols.; Munich: C. H. Beck, 1924-28, 1956), 1.219-20, 392-96; 3.15-22. 1.219-20, 392-96; 3.15-22.

[7]B. Gerhardsson, The Testing of God’s Son (Matt 4:1-11 & Par): An analysis of an Early Christian Midrash (Lund: Gleerup, 1966), 21 (italics mine).

[8]See R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament: His Application of Old Testament Passages to Himself and His Mission (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1971), 53.

[9]W. L. Lane, The Gospel according to Mark (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 59. Cf. D. Hill, The Gospel of Matthew (New Century Bible; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1972), 99.

[10]These are too complex to discuss here. See, among many, C. K. Barrett, The Holy Spirit and the Gospel Tradition (London: SPCK, 1947), 25-45; J. D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (London: SCM, 1970), 23-37.

[11]See G. H. P. Thompson, “Called-Proved-Obedient. A Study in the Baptism and Temptation Narratives of Matthew and Luke,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 11 (1960), 8; L. Goppelt, Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 97-98.

[12]Ps 80:17 calls Israel “the man of your right hand.” The phrase “the man” recalls the same in the LXX of Genesis 1-3, where it refers to Adam.

[13]Isa 13:21; 34:14; Matt 12:43; Luke 8:29; 11:24; Rev 18:2; cf. Mark 5:5. See G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 vols.; eds. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-76), 2.657; E. Best, The Temptation and the Passion: The Markan Soteriology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 5; Mauser, Wilderness, 100-1; Marxsen, Mark, 47; Strack/Billerbeck, Kommentar, 4.515-16; H. A. Kelly, “The Devil in the Desert,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 26 (1964), 194-95.

[14]See further J. Pedersen, Israel, Its Life and Culture (2 vols.; London/Copenhagen: Geoffrey Cumberlege/Povl Branner, 1946), 453-70; U. W. Mauser, Christ in the Wilderness: The Wilderness Theme in the Second Gospel and its Basis in the Biblical Tradition (London: SCM, 1963), 37, n. 2; Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.354; Lane, Mark, 61.

[15]See E. Fascher, “Jesus und die Tiere,” Theologische Literaturzeitung 90 (1965), 561-70; W. A. Schulze, “Der Heilige und die wilden Tiere: Zur Exegese von Mc. 1,13b,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 46 (1955), 280-83; A. Feuillet, “Le récit Lucanien de la tentation (Lc 4,1-13),” Biblica 40 (1959), 617-28; P. Pokorny, “The Temptation Stories and Their Intention,” New Testament Studies 20 (1973-74), 120-22; Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.356-57; R. A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26 (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1989), 38; C. S. Mann, Mark (Anchor Bible 27; Garden City: Doubleday, 1986), 203-4; Goppelt, Typos, 98; Best, Temptation, 8; J. Jeremias, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1.141; id., Theology, 69-70; Barrett, Spirit, 49-50; J. T. Milik, Ten Years Discovery in the Wilderness of Judea (London: SCM, 1959), 115.

[16]Guelich, Mark, 39. Cf. W. Grundmann, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 7.796-97; Milik, Discovery, 115.

[17]On the equation of “Son of Man” with “Son of God,” see S. Kim, “The ‘Son of Man’” as the Son of God (Tübingen: Mohr, 1983).

[18]See J. H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms (London: SCM, 1976), 146-49.

[19]See Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.358-59.

[20]The denial of the connection with Israel by, e.g., Kittel (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 2.658) and Best (Temptation, 5-6) neglects the symbolic significance of the number forty as well as the typological links between Jesus and Israel throughout the Gospels. That Jesus’ forty days is not Israel’s forty years is not really important, because the Gospels tie into a complex of exodus/wilderness imagery which does not really depend on a strictly one-for-one correspondence between the respective elements. Typology is normally “looser” than many are willing to allow: what is important is the conviction that there is an overall consistency of divine activity in salvation history, whereby God’s acts in the Old Testament set in motion a rhythmic pattern which is brought to a climax in the New Testament. As J. Dupont puts it, the parallelism consists not simply in words but in the situations of Israel and Jesus respectively (“L’arrier-fond biblique du récit des tentations de Jesus,” New Testament Studies 3 [1956-57], 289). Besides, there is the Old Testament principle that days correspond to years (Num 14:34; Ezek 4:5). Cf. Gerhardsson, Testing, 42-43.

[21]Mauser, Wilderness, 99.

[22]Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.360; Barrett, Spirit, 51; R. H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 55.

[23]Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.360.

[24]T. L. Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985), 91. In addition, see Lövestam, Son, 94-101.

[25]Gundry, Matthew, 58. G. Theissen, The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 206-21, has argued that Jesus’ prostration of himself in exchange for the kingdoms of the world reflects the absolutist claims most notably of Caligula, who not only introduced the hated practice of prostration before himself as a god, but also asserted his authority to bestow and remove kingdoms. For Theissen the temptation stories are modeled on this act of self-humiliation before the emperor, to which the Jews took particular exception inasmuch as it clashed with their monotheistic convictions (cf. Philo Legat. 116-17, 352-53). Hence, the underlying motivation of the narratives is to encourage Christians to follow the example of Jesus by not “falling down” before the imperial claimants to deity. Without following Theissen’s whole reconstruction, his data support our thesis in that the first Christians were to resist the worship of idols in any form, because Jesus is to be worshipped: he, not Caesar, is God.

[26]Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.360; Gundry, Matthew, 55. Cf. especially 17:7 and 28:18, where the transfigured and resurrected Jesus is approached.

[27]On Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as the Lord God tested by Satan, see S. Brown, Apostasy and Perseverance in the Theology of Luke (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1969), 18-19 (esp. n. 59).

[28]See Best, Temptation, 7; Gundry, Matthew, 55; Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.355; W. Wilkens, “Die Versuchung Jesu nach Matthäus,” New Testament Studies 28 (1982), 481-82.

[29]Thus, e.g., J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (Anchor Bible 28; 2 vols.; Garden City: Doubleday, 1981), 1.507. On the Temple/Jerusalem motif in Luke, see J. B. Chance, Jerusalem, Temple, and the New Age in Luke-Acts (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1988); P. F. Esler, Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 131-63.

[30]Donaldson, Mountain, 89-90.

[31]Gundry, Matthew, 56; Donaldson, Mountain, 89; Stegner, “Wilderness,” 27.

[32]Gerhardsson, Testing, 76-79; Gundry, Matthew, 56.

[33]Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.352.

[34]Donaldson, Mountain, 101-4.

[35]Ibid., 96.

[36]The Jewish materials are surveyed by Mauser, Wilderness, 53-61; J. A. Kirk, “The Messianic Role of Jesus and the Temptation Narrative. A Contemporary Perspective,” Evangelical Quarterly 44 (1972), 16-21; J. Jeremias, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 4.848-73; 862; M. Hengel, The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod I until 70 A.D. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989), 249-55.

[37]See Stegner, “Wilderness; “Milik, Discovery, 115-16. If the sect is at all in the background of the temptations, Thompson would be right that Jesus is represented as the truly obedient Israelite in contrast to the former’s peculiar claims (“Called,” 8).

[38]Cf. Hengel, Zealots, 255.

[39]See Donaldson, Mountain, 62-70, 73-76.

[40]A number of scholars, while acknowledging that Jesus stands in for Israel, are unconvinced that Matthew has consciously depicted him in Moses-like terms, (e.g., W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966], 45-48). However, all the Gospels draw on a broad conceptual framework in which Moses and Israel are virtually one and the same. Moses is the covenant mediator and, therefore, embodies in himself the people as well as the Torah, both of which were to become “pillars” of Second-Temple Judaism. In addition, as we have seen, the forty days of fasting finds a point of contact with Elijah, significant because the Synoptic transfiguration accounts are to the effect that Jesus replaces both Moses and Elijah (= the law and the prophets).

[41]Gundry, Matthew, 55. Cf. E. E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke (New Century Bible; 2nd ed.; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1974), 94.

[42]D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 8.113.

[43]Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.362.

[44]J. Nolland, Luke 1-9:20 (Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, 1989), 181.

[45]In Matthew, the same point is made in 26:53. Moreover, at the crucifixion, the Jewish leaders mockingly call for Jesus to come down from the cross and save himself, since he said “I am the Son of God” (Matt 27:39-43).

[46]J. A. T. Robinson, “The Temptations,” in Twelve New Testament Studies (London: SCM, 1962), 56.

[47]J. D. G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and Their Significance for the Character of Christianity (London/Philadelphia: SCM/Trinity Press International, 1991), 33. On the importance of the temple for first-century Judaism, see ibid., 31-35 (cf. pp. 37-74); Donaldson, Mountain, 51-83; Chance, Jerusalem, 5-33; E. Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (rev. and ed. Geza Vermes, et al.; 4 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1973-87 [index]); S. Safrai, “The Temple,” in The Jewish People in the First Century: Historical Geography, Political History, Social, Cultural and Religious Life and Institutions (eds. S. Safrai, et al.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 2.865-907; E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 77-90 (cf. pp. 61-76).

[48]Davies/Allison point out that in 11QT 45-47 Jerusalem is but an extension of the temple (Matthew 1.365). Dunn shows that the whole land of Palestine, another of the “pillars” of Second-Temple Judaism, was focused in the temple (Partings, 31-35).

[49]Cf. Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.365, who relate a rabbinic tradition that the temple was the highest point on earth. See further Donaldson, Mountain, 59-61.

[50]See Kirk, “Role,” 91-95.

[51]A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms (New Century Bible; 2 vols.; London/Grand Rapids: Marshall, Morgan & Scott/Eerdmans, 1972), 2.659.

[52]See Donaldson, Mountain, 100-3.

[53]Num 14:22; Ps 78:17-20, 40-42, 56-57; 95:8-11; 106:6-7; Heb 3:7-11; Abot 5.4. See further Gerhardsson, Testing, 28-31.

[54]See Dupont, “arriere-fond,” 296-98.

[55]D. Daube, Studies in Biblical Law (New York: KTAV, 1969), 24-39; Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.370-71. In Gen 13:14-15, as taken up by 1QapHab 21, God shows the land to Abraham which would be his possession.

[56]See Davies/Allison, Matthew 1.422-23; G. Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (2nd ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), 79.

[57]In Apocalypse of Abraham 20-32 (esp. 20-23), Abraham is cast in the Adam-role and is made to look upon glories of the age to come.

[58]In the background is Deut 12:1-14, which warns Israel against the idolatrous sacrifices of the Canaanites, conducted on the “high mountains.” In Deut 32:17; Ps 106:37-39; 1 Enoch 99:7, idolatry and demon worship are joined. We recall as well that Abraham was tested on a mountain (Genesis 22; Apocalypse of Abraham 12-13).

[59]K. H. Rengstorf, “Old and New Testament Traces of a Formula of the Judean Royal Ritual,” NovT 5 (1962), 241; P. Doble, “The Temptations,” Expository Times 72 (1960), 92; Donaldson, Mountain, 94-95; Lövestam, Son, 100.

[60]Donaldson, Mountain, 95. He presents as corroborative evidence the expectation that the eschatological Zion would be a lofty site (Isa 2:2; Mic 4:1), a mountain high enough that the pilgrimage of the Jewish exiles and the nations could be seen (Bar 4:36-37; 5:1-9; Pss. Sol. 11:1-3). Also, the phrase “high mountain,” which crops up in Jewish apocalyptic literature (e.g., 4 Ezra 13:6), is in the Old Testament connected with Zion as the cosmic/eschatological mountain of the final consummation (see the LXX of Isa 40:9; Ezek 17:22; 20:40; 34:14; 40:2).

[61]J. D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians (Black’s New Testament Commentary; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 178.

[62]Wright, Climax, 141, 151-52 (italics his). See the discussions of ibid., pp. 141-56; J. M. Scott, “‘For As Many as Are of Works of the Law,” 217-221.

[63]Dunn, Galatians, 178 (italics mine).

[64]“In tempting Jesus, he [Satan] only acts as he does towards all” (Davies/Allison, Matthew, 1.355). Cf. Matt 6.13; 26.41. Contra Brown, Apostasy, 17.

[65]J. Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke (eds. D. W. Torrance and T. F. Torrance; 3 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 1.135-36.

[66]E.g., S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3, John (Word Biblical Commentary; Waco: Word, 1984), 85; I. H. Marshall, The Epistles of John (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 146; J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; London: Tyndale, 1964), 100-01. Each complains that the parallels are not exact enough to warrant a comparison of 1 John 2:15-16 with the temptations in the Garden and later in the wilderness. However, the resemblances, I would maintain, are more precise than these writers are willing to allow, especially since each “desire” is a form of idolatry (1 John 5:21).

[67]Smalley, 1 John, 81.


[69]E.g., ibid., 84; Marshall, Epistles, 144-45.

[70]The construction hê epithumia tês sarkos, as is so with all the categories of v. 16, is subjective genitive: this is the desire of which the flesh is the source or agent.

[71]Lenski, Matthew, 147.

[72]Cf. A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 274-87.

[73]Smalley, 1 John, 85; Marshall, Epistles, 145.

[74]See G. Von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972), esp. 113-37.

[75]Ibid., 177-85.

[76]See my “Burden Bearing and the Recovery of Offending Christians (Galatians 6:1-5),” Trinity Journal ns 12 (1991), 79-80.

[77]See throughout my ‘The Obedience of Faith’: A Pauline Phrase in Historical Context (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1991), esp. 210, 216-27, 261.

[78]Cf. my “Burden Bearing,” 176-79.

[79]Smalley, 1 John, 92 (italics mine). Cf. my “Burden Bearing,” 151-52.

[80]D. Kidner, Genesis (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1967), 68. Cf. Von Rad, Genesis, 90.

[81]The case for seeing a connection between 1 John 2:16 and the testing of Christ is strengthened by the relation of vv. 13-14, which speak of overcoming of the Evil One, to vv. 15-16, which specify the “nets” employed by the Evil One in his attempted entrapment of Christians.

[82]Kelly, “Devil,” 220.

[83]Robinson, “Temptations,” 53.

[84]See E. Käsemann, The Wandering People of God: An Investigation of the Letter to the Hebrews (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984); Mauser, Wilderness, 72-74.

[85]Mauser, Wilderness, 14.

[86]Ibid., 21-23.

[87]Ibid., 22.

[88]Ibid., 44-52.

[89]Ibid., 52.

[90]Robinson, “Temptations,” 59-60.

[91]Ibid., 60.

[92]B. Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee Among Christians, Jews, and Gentiles (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997), 117.

[93]D. Garlington, Faith, Obedience, and Perseverance: Aspects of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1994), chap. 3.

[94]Ibid., 71.