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Jeff Gibbs on Invocabit (Lent 1)

by ToddPeperkorn ~ February 27th, 2009

The narrative of the divinely arranged temptation in the desert of Jesus, God’s Son, should be read in the closest possible connection with the preceding material, especially the baptismal account in 3:13–17. Just as the chapter break between 2:23 and 3:1 was misleading, so is the one here. Matthew simply writes: “And, look, there was a voice from heaven that was saying, ‘This one is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’ Then [????] Jesus was led up into the desert by the Spirit in order to be tempted by the slanderer” (3:17–4:1).

Both 3:13–17 and 4:1–11 display the Spirit of God, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, and the typological parallels between Jesus and OT Israel. This combination creates a tight context for interpretation. As the true Son, the nation of Israel reduced to one, Jesus receives John’s baptism as the representative and substitute for the people. He passes through the water and comes out as God’s Chosen One, and in this humble form he hears the Father’s pleasure. As the true Son, the nation reduced to one, Jesus is led into the desert, just as Israel of old was after its watery “baptism” and “adoption” through the Red Sea.13 Jesus enters the desert to play the role of champion for Israel. Israel was tested by God, but the sin of the people led them astray. In their place, it is God’s will that Jesus, the Son, be tempted, and so prove himself to be the one who will overcome Satan in the place of—and for the sake of—God’s people. As we attempt to display the theology of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, this “Jesus in the place of Israel” typology is the most important feature to keep in mind.14

The general structure of the verses is indicated clearly enough by the presence of three temptations, with the third temptation in the climactic position. Scholars seem almost instinctively to join 4:2 to 4:1 as part of an introduction or setting of the scene. I would argue, however, on two counts, that 4:2 properly belongs with 4:3–4 as part of the first temptation. First, the other temptations begin with a narrative statement that sets the stage for that incident and that is then followed by Satan’s address to Jesus. So, in 4:5, Satan takes Jesus along and stands him on the pinnacle of the temple, and then in 4:6, Satan speaks to him. A similar pattern occurs in 4:8–9. Therefore 4:2 sets the stage for the first temptation. Second, and more obviously, only the first temptation involves Jesus’ hunger. It is never mentioned again, and it plays no apparent role in the temptations for Jesus to throw himself down from the temple or to worship Satan. If this analysis of 4:2 is correct, then the structure of 4:1–11 lays out easily as follows:

1. Introduction: Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted (4:1).
2. The first temptation: “Command that these stones become bread” (4:2–4).
3. The second temptation: “Throw yourself down” from “the pinnacle of the temple” (4:5–7).
4. The third and climactic temptation: “Fall down and worship” the slanderer (4:8–10).
5. The conclusion: The slanderer leaves Jesus, and angels serve him (4:11).

After the conclusion, this commentary will offer some observations about the portrayal of Jesus as Victor over Satan in 4:1–11 as a whole.

[This is just a teaser. I really would encourage you to read the whole commentary section. This is from the Concordia Commentary volume on St. Matthew. -Peperkorn]

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