Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Matthew 4: The Temptation of Jesus

Jesus lives Israel's history.

The details of the story of Jesus in the wilderness brings together a series of details that all correspond to the wilderness wondering of Israel after the exodus from Egypt. These details are no coincidence. This is deliberate typology.

1) The Israelites are in the wilderness for 40 years. Moses goes without food on in the Sinai wilderness for 40 days. So does Jesus. Another interesting fact is that Jewish culture thought that the wilderness was a haunt for demons and evil spirits. To confront the devil in the wilderness is like facing him on his own turf, where ancient readers would anticipate him to be strongest.

2) In Deuteronomy  8:2-3, it is said that God brought Israel into the wilderness expressly to 'test' them (ek-peirazo), just like Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness and 'tested' by the devil (peirazo). Here there is a double parallel between both the driving force and the purpose behind it.

3) In the wilderness Israel often experiences hunger and complains about Moses and their God. Moses, in disobedience, even strikes a rock to get water. Jesus likewise experiences hunger by fasting, but he already knows the lesson the nation failed at in Deuteronomy 8:2-3.

4) In the wilderness God said that he will send the 'angel' of his presence ahead of the Israelites. There is a good argument that the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night is a manifestation of this 'angel of the Lord', which is nearly synonymous with God himself. Tradition also held that angels brought crowns to the Israelites when they were receiving the law at Mt. Sinai. Likewise, Jesus is attended by angels.

I've never been tempted to turn rocks into bread, or throw myself from a tower, or worship Satan. How then do these temptations help Jesus sympathize with my temptations? It is very clear that in this story Jesus is Israel. He challenges the same tests. He walks in their steps. He experiences their miracles. And most importantly, he passes the test. This is how the Book of Hebrews can confidently say our high priest understands our plight and is able to make intercession for us. The real question is 'how are my struggles similar to Israel's stuggles?' and 'what was God looking for in them that he also wants to see in me?' Time to break open the dusty Old Testament again.

Tune in tomorrow to find out why the gospels record this story differently...

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