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The Second Temptation

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Recently, I was reading Matthew's account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The first and third temptations are a bit easier to comprehend. The devil tempts Jesus to turn rocks into bread (first temptation) and to inherit all worldly riches (third temptation). I think we can all relate to physical drives like hunger and the selfish desires for power and possessions. The second temptation is a bit more nuanced.

"Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" - Matthew 4:5-6

What do you think is the temptation here? Let's add some context by looking at Psalm 91--the source of the devil's quotation. Psalm 91 is a wonderful celebration of trust in God. It speaks of God as a shelter, a refuge, a fortress, a deliverer, and a shield. Whereas the first exchange tempted Jesus in his weakness (hunger), the second temptation focuses on his strength (His trust and faith in God the Father). Essentially, the devil is tempting Jesus with pride and the true sincerity of his faith. The devil wants Jesus to turn trusting into testing. He might as well be saying "Prove your faith to me."

But you might wonder, "if Jesus had real faith, he could've jumped knowing that the angels would protect him, right?" That is a tricky part that reveals the devil's deceptiveness. The context of Psalm 91 is about trusting God and living in His protection. Abiding with God each day as you "go about all your ways" (the verse the devil skips) is quite unlike jumping off a high peak. Besides, the shield that God offers is not protection from hardship or death in this life but of divine wrath. It's a psalm about salvation. Jesus sees through the trick--the devil has taken scripture out of context.

I find it interesting that Jesus doesn't respond by quoting the next line from Psalm 91: "the serpent you will trample underfoot," but instead cuts to the heart of the matter: "Jesus said to him, 'Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Matthew 4:7). Testing God reveals doubt, not faith. God is not our servant; we are called to serve him.

Brian Causey, Teleios Board Member

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