Testing: angels

temptation_of_christ5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, 6 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 ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”

Command the angels…In a wilderness filled with stones and rocks, no special mention is needed about place or details of the place. But the next two tests “transport” Jesus to a new location.  While much has been made in attempts to make the “transport” physical, the pericope works just as well as a vision. What “high mountain” (v.8) exists where one can see all the kingdoms of the world? Does one need to leave the wilderness to see the Jerusalem Temple? Ezekiel remained in Babylon will being “transported” to Jerusalem (Ezek 8:1-3, 11:24). We should remember that Jesus is led [up] by the Spirit to be tested. One need not worry about which mountain or which parapet of the Temple

The devil again draws on the assumed privileges of the “Son of God.”  If Jesus can quote Scripture, then the devil will use God’s word. Satan delves into Ps 91(vv. 11a, 12) to suggest that Jesus should throw himself off the temple (Mt 4:6a). After all, the psalmist promised that angels would take charge over God’s faithful people to keep them from harm. Psalm 91 is one of many psalms that appears to promise the faithful believer complete freedom from harm. Here the promises appear to apply to a monarch who has just escaped violent death and is still exposed to future danger.  Even within the context of the psalms’ worldview, there is no justification for inciting God by deliberately putting oneself in harm’s way, demanding that he come to rescue.

France (1985, 104) notes that “As Son of God, he could surely claim with absolute confidence the physical protection which God promises in Psalm 91:11–12 (and throughout that Psalm) to those who trust him. So why not try it by forcing God’s hand (and thus silence any lingering doubts about his relationship with God)? But this would be to tempt God … as Israel did in the wilderness at Massah (Deut. 6:16), when they ‘put the LORD to the proof by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” ’ (Exod. 17:2–7). The Son of God can live only in a relationship of trust which needs no test. Christians perplexed by the apparently thin line between ‘the prayer of faith’ and ‘putting God to the test’ should note that the devil’s suggestion was of an artificially created crisis, not of trusting God in the situations which result from obedient service.”


Notes

Matthew 4:5 devil: here Matthew does use the Greek daibolos. holy city: given the Temple, it clearly refers to Jerusalem – a fact Luke 4:9 makes clear. parapet: pterygion – this is actually a quite obscure word whose lit. meaning is “small wing.”  It is not known elsewhere as a particular part of any building.  All that is clear is that it is at a high point from which there is a precipitous drop.  The suggested parts of the Temple are: (1) a protruding rampart corner of the temple square, e.g., the southeast corner, which protrudes high over the Kidron Valley, (2) the roof pinnacle of the “royal hall” at the south end of the temple square (mentioned in Josephus Ant. xv.412 emphasizes its dizzying height), (3) a gate structure with a three-cornered, wing-like design, (4) a balcony on the outer side of the temple wall, or possibly (5) the roof of the temple building. It is not possible to determine the exact location. (EDNT)

Sources

  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthewin The New Interpreter’s Bible,  VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) 161-66
  • T. France, The Gospel of Matthewin the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007) 124-36
  • T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentaryin the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris  (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 101-5

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)

Scripture – The New American Bible available on-line at http://www.usccb.org/

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