‘In every passage of Scripture where thou findest the Majesty of God, thou also findest close by His Condescension (Humility). So it is written down in the Law [Deu_10:17, followed by Deu_10:18], repeated in the Prophets [Isa_57:15], and reiterated in the Hagiographa [Psa_68:4, followed by Psa_68:5].’ - Megill 31a.
Chapter I. The Temptation of Jesus.
(Mat_5:1-11; Mar_1:12, Mar_1:13; Luk_5:1-13)
The proclamation and inauguration of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ at such a time, and under such circumstances, was one of the great antitheses of history. With reverence be it said, it is only God Who would thus begin His Kingdom. A similar, even greater antithesis, was the commencement of the Ministry of Christ. From the Jordan to the wilderness with its wild beasts; from the devout acknowledgment of the Baptist, the consecration and filial prayer of Jesus, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the heard testimony of Heaven, to the utter forsakenness, the felt want and weakness of Jesus, and the assaults of the Devil - no contrast more startling could be conceived. And yet, as we think of it, what followed upon the Baptism, and that it so followed, was necessary, as regarded the Person of Jesus, His Work, and that which was to result from it.
Psychologically, and as regarded the Work of Jesus, even reverent negative Critics have perceived its higher need. That at His consecration to the Kingship of the Kingdom, Jesus should have become clearly conscious of all that it implied in a world of sin; that the Divine method by which that Kingdom should be established, should have been clearly brought out, and its reality tested; and that the King, as Representative and Founder of the Kingdom, should have encountered and defeated the representative, founder, and holder of the opposite power, ‘the prince of this world’ - these are thoughts which must arise in everyone who believes in any Mission of the Christ. Yet this only as, after the events, we have learned to know the character of that Mission, not as we might have preconceived it. We can understand, how a Life and Work such as that of Jesus, would commence with ‘the Temptation,’ but none other than His. Judaism never conceived such an idea; because it never conceived a Messiah like Jesus. It is quite true that long previous Biblical teaching, and even the psychological necessity of the case, must have pointed to temptation and victory as the condition of spiritual greatness. It could not have been otherwise in a world hostile to God, nor yet in man, whose conscious choice determines his position. No crown of victory without previous contest, and that proportionately to its brightness; no moral ideal without personal attainment and probation. The patriarchs had been tried and proved; so had Moses, and all the heroes of faith in Israel. And Rabbinic legend, enlarging upon the Biblical narratives, has much to tell of the original envy of the Angels; of the assaults of Satan upon Abraham, when about to offer up Isaac; of attempted resistance by the Angels to Israel’s reception of the Law; and of the final vain endeavour of Satan to take away the soul of Moses. Foolish, repulsive, and even blasphemous as some of these legends are, thus much at least clearly stood out, that spiritual trials must precede spiritual elevation. In their own language: ‘The Holy One, blessed be His Name, does not elevate a man to dignity till He has first tried and searched him; and if he stands in temptation, then He raises him to dignity.’
Thus far as regards man. But in reference to the Messiah there is not a hint of any temptation or assault by Satan. It is of such importance to mark this clearly at the outset of this wonderful history, that proof must be offered even at this stage. In whatever manner negative critics may seek to account for the introduction of Christ’s Temptation at the commencement of His Ministry, it cannot have been derived from Jewish legend. The ‘mythical’ interpretation of the Gospel-narratives breaks down in this almost more manifestly than in any other instance. So far from any idea obtaining that Satan was to assault the Messiah, in a well-known passage, which has been previously quoted, the Arch-enemy is represented as overwhelmed and falling on his face at sight of Him, and owning his complete defeat. On another point in this history we find the same inversion of thought current in Jewish legend. In the Commentary just referred to, the placing of Messiah on the pinnacle of the Temple, so far from being of Satanic temptation, is said to mark the hour of deliverance, of Messianic proclamation, and of Gentile voluntary submission. ‘Our Rabbis give this tradition: In the hour when King Messiah cometh, He standeth upon the roof of the Sanctuary, and proclaims to Israel, saying, Ye poor suffering), the time of your redemption draweth nigh. And if ye believe, rejoice in My Light, which is risen upon you... Isa_60:1... upon you only... Isa_60:2... In that hour will the Holy One, blessed be His Name, make the Light of the Messiah and of Israel to shine forth; and all shall come to the Light of the King Messiah and of Israel, as it is written... Isa_60:3... And they shall come and lick the dust from under the feet of the King Messiah, as it is written, Isa_49:23... And all shall come and fall on their faces before Messiah and before Israel, and say, We will be servants to Him and to Israel. And every one in Israel shall have 2,800 servants, as it is written, Zec_8:23.’ One more quotation from the same Commentary: ‘In that hour, the Holy One, blessed be His Name, exalts the Messiah to the heaven of heavens, and spreads over Him of the splendour of His glory because of the nations of the world, because of the wicked Persians. They say to Him, Ephraim, Messiah, our Righteousness, execute judgment upon them, and do to them what Thy soul desireth.’
In another respect these quotations are important. They show that such ideas were, indeed, present to the Jewish mind, but in a sense opposite to the Gospel-narratives. In other words, they were regarded as the rightful manifestation of Messiah’s dignity; whereas in the Evangelic record they are presented as the suggestions of Satan, and the Temptation of Christ. Thus the Messiah of Judaism is the Anti-Christ of the Gospels. But if the narrative cannot be traced to Rabbinic legend, may it not be, an adaptation of an Old Testament narrative, such as the account of the forty days’ fast or Moses on the mount, or of Elijah in the wilderness? Viewing the Old Testament in its unity, and the Messiah as the apex in the column of its history, we admit - or rather, we must expect - throughout points of correspondence between Moses, Elijah, and the Messiah. In fact, these may be described as marking the three stages in the history of the Covenant. Moses was its giver, Elijah its restorer, the Messiah its renewer and perfecter. And as such they all had, in a sense, a similar outward consecration for their work. But that neither Moses nor Elijah was assailed by the Devil, constitutes not the only, though a vital, difference between the fast of Moses and Elijah, and that of Jesus. Moses fasted in the middle, Elijah at the end, Jesus at the beginning of His ministry. Moses fasted in the Presence of God; Elijah alone; Jesus assaulted by the Devil. Moses had been called up by God; Elijah had gone forth in the bitterness of his own spirit; Jesus was driven by the Spirit. Moses failed after his forty days’ fast, when in indignation he cast the Tables of the Law from him; Elijah failed before his forty days’ fast; Jesus was assailed for forty days and endured the trial. Moses was angry against Israel; Elijah despaired of Israel; Jesus overcame for Israel.
Nor must we forget that to each the trial came not only in his human, but in his representative capacity - as giver, restorer, or perfecter of the Covenant. When Moses and Elijah failed, it was not only as individuals, but as giving or restoring the Covenant. And when Jesus conquered, it was not only as the Unfallen and Perfect Man, but as the Messiah. His Temptation and Victory have therefore a twofold aspect: the general human and the Messianic, and these two are closely connected. Hence we draw also this happy inference: in whatever Jesus overcame, we can overcome. Each victory which He has gained secures its fruits for us who are His disciples (and this alike objectively and subjectively). We walk in His foot-prints; we can ascend by the rock-hewn steps which His Agony has cut. He is the perfect man; and as each temptation marks a human assault (assault on humanity), so it also marks a human victory (of humanity). But He is also the Messiah; and alike the assault and the victory were of the Messiah. Thus, each victory of humanity becomes a victory for humanity; and so is fulfilled, in this respect also, that ancient hymn of royal victory, ‘Thou hast ascended on high; Thou hast led captivity captive; Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that Jehovah God Might dwell among them.’
But even so, there are other considerations necessarily preliminary to the study of one of the most important parts in the life of Christ. They concern these two questions, so closely connected that they can scarcely be kept quite apart: Is the Evangelic narrative to be regarded as the account of a real and outward event? And if so, how was it possible - or, in what sense can it be asserted - that Jesus Christ, set before us as the Son of God, was ‘tempted of the Devil’? All subsidiary questions run up into these two.
As regards the reality and outwardness of the temptation of Jesus, several suggestions may be set aside as unnatural, and ex post facto attempts to remove a felt difficulty. Renan’s frivolous conceit scarcely deserves serious notice, that Jesus went into the wilderness in order to imitate the Baptist and others, since such solitude was at the time regarded as a necessary preparation for great things. We equally dismiss as more reverent, but not better grounded, such suggestions as that an interview there with the deputies of the Sanhedrin, or with a Priest, or with a Pharisee, formed the historical basis of the Satanic Temptation; or that it was a vision, a dream, the rejection of the ideas of the time; or that it was a parabolic form in which Jesus afterwards presented to His disciples His conception of the Kingdom, and how they were to preach it. Of all such explanations it may be said, that the narrative does not warrant them, and that they would probably never have been suggested, if their authors had been able simply to accept the Evangelic history. But if so it would have been both better and wiser wholly to reject (as some have done) the authenticity of this, as of the whole early history of the Life of Christ, rather than transform what, if true, is so unspeakably grand into a series of modern platitudes. And yet (as Keim has felt) it seems impossible to deny, that such a transaction at the beginning of Christ’s Messianic Ministry is not only credible, but almost a necessity; and that such a transaction must have assumed the form of a contest with Satan. Besides, throughout the Gospels there is not only allusion to this first great conflict (so that it does not belong only to the early history of Christ’s Life), but constant reference to the power of Satan in the world, as a kingdom opposed to that of God, and of which the Devil is the King. And the reality of such a kingdom of evil no earnest mind would call in question, nor would it pronounce 'e1 priori against the personality of its king. Reasoning 'e1 priori, its credibility rests on the same kind of, only, perhaps, on more generally patent, evidence as that of the beneficent Author of all Good, so that - with reverence be it said - we have, apart from Holy Scripture, and, as regards one branch of the argument, as much evidence for believing in a personal Satan, as in a Personal God. Holding, therefore, by the reality of this transaction, and finding it equally impossible to trace it to Jewish legend, or to explain it by the coarse hypothesis of misunderstanding, exaggeration, and the like, this one question arises: Might it not have been a purely inward transaction, - or does the narrative present an account of what was objectively real?
At the outset, it is only truthful to state, that the distinction does not seem of quite so vital importance as it has appeared to some, who have used in regard to it the strongest language. On the other hand it must be admitted that the narrative, if naturally interpreted, suggests an outward and real event, not an inward transaction; that there is no other instance of ecstatic state or of vision recorded in the life of Jesus, and that (as Bishop Ellicott has shown), the special expressions used are all in accordance with the natural view. To this we add, that some of the objections raised - notably that of the impossibility of showing from one spot all the kingdoms of the world - cannot bear close investigation. For no rational interpretation would insist on the absolute literality of this statement, any more than on that of the survey of the whole extent of the land of Israel by Moses from Pisgah. All the requirements of the narrative would be met by supposing Jesus to have been placed on a very high mountain, whence south, the land of Judaea and far-off Edom; east, the swelling plains towards Euphrates; north, snow-capped Lebanon; and west, the cities of Herod, the coast of the Gentiles, and beyond, the wide sea dotted with sails, gave far-off prospect of the kingdoms of this world. To His piercing gaze all their grandeur would seem to unroll, and pass before Him like a moving scene, in which the sparkle of beauty and wealth dazzled the eye, the sheen of arms glittered in the far distance, the tramp of armed men, the hum of busy cities, and the sound of many voices fell on the ear like the far-off rush of the sea, while the restful harmony of thought, or the music of art, held and bewitched the senses - and all seemed to pour forth its fullness in tribute of homage at His feet in Whom all is perfect, and to Whom all belongs.
But in saying this we have already indicated that, in such circumstances, the boundary-line between the outward and the inward must have been both narrow and faint. Indeed, with Christ it can scarcely be conceived to have existed at such a moment. The past, the present, and the future must have been open before Him like a map unrolling. Shall we venture to say that such a vision was only inward, and not outwardly and objectively real? In truth we are using terms which have no application to Christ. If we may venture once more to speak in this wise of the Divine Being: With Him what we view as the opposite poles of subjective and objective are absolutely one. To go a step further: many even of our temptations are only (contrastedly) inward, for these two reasons, that they have their basis or else their point of contact within us, and that from the limitations of our bodily condition we do not see the enemy, nor can take active part in the scene around. But in both respects it was not so with the Christ. If this be so, the whole question seems almost irrelevant, and the distinction of outward and inward inapplicable to the present case. Or rather, we must keep by these two landmarks: First, it was not inward in the sense of being merely subjective; but it was all real - a real assault by a real Satan, really under these three forms, and it constituted a real Temptation to Christ. Secondly, it was not merely outward in the sense of being only a present assault by Satan; but it must have reached beyond the outward into the inward, and have had for its further object that of influencing the future Work of Christ, as it stood out before His Mind.
A still more difficult and solemn question is this: In what respect could Jesus Christ, the Perfect Sinless Man, the Son of God, have been tempted of the Devil? That He was so tempted is of the very essence of this narrative, confirmed throughout His after-life, and laid down as a fundamental principle in the teaching and faith of the Church. On the other hand, temptation without the inward correspondence of existent sin is not only unthinkable, so far as man is concerned but temptation without the possibility of sin seems unreal - a kind of Docetism. Yet the very passage of Holy Scripture in which Christ’s equality with us as regards all temptation is expressed, also emphatically excepts from it this one particular sin, not only in the sense that Christ actually did not sin, nor merely in this, that ‘our concupiscence’ had no part in His temptations, but emphatically in this also, that the notion of sin has to be wholly excluded from our thoughts of Christ’s temptations.
To obtain, if we can, a clearer understanding of this subject, two points must be kept in view. Christ’s was real, though unfallen Human Nature; and Christ’s Human was in inseparable union with His Divine Nature. We are not attempting to explain these mysteries, nor at present to vindicate them; we are only arguing from the standpoint of the Gospels and of Apostolic teaching, which proceeds on these premises - and proceeding on them, we are trying to understand the Temptation of Christ. Now it is clear, that human nature, that of Adam before his fall, was created both sinless and peccable. If Christ’s Human Nature was not like ours, but, morally, like that of Adam before his fall, then must it likewise have been both sinless and in itself peccable. We say, in itself - for there is a great difference between the statement that human nature, as Adam and Christ had it, was capable of sinning, and this other, that Christ was peccable. From the latter the Christian mind instinctively recoils, even as it is metaphysically impossible to imagine the Son of God peccable. Jesus voluntarily took upon Himself human nature with all its infirmities and weaknesses - but without the moral taint of the Fall: without sin. It was human nature, in itself capable of sinning, but not having sinned. If He was absolutely sinless, He must have been unfallen. The position of the first Adam was that of being capable of not sinning, not that of being incapable of sinning. The Second Adam also had a nature capable of not sinning, but not incapable of sinning. This explains the possibility of ‘temptation’ or assault upon Him, just as Adam could be tempted before there was in him any inward consensus to it. The first Adam would have been ‘perfected’ - or passed from the capability of not sinning to the incapability of sinning - by obedience. That ‘obedience’ - or absolute submission to the Will of God - was the grand outstanding characteristic of Christ’s work; but it was so, because He was not only the Unsinning, Unfallen Man, but also the Son of God. Because God was His Father, therefore He must be about His Business, which was to do the Will of His Father. With a peccable Human Nature He was impeccable; not because He obeyed, but being impeccable He so obeyed, because His Human was inseparably connected with His Divine Nature. To keep this Union of the two Natures out of view would be Nestorianism. To sum up: The Second Adam, morally unfallen, though voluntarily subject to all the conditions of our Nature, was, with a peccable Human Nature, absolutely impeccable as being also the Son of God - a peccable Nature, yet an impeccable Person: the God-Man, ‘tempted in regard to all (things) in like manner (as we), without (excepting) sin.’ All this sounds, after all, like the stammering of Divine words by a babe, and yet it may in some measure help us to understand the character of Christ’s first great Temptation.
Before proceeding, a few sentences are required in explanation of seeming differences in the Evangelic narration of the event. The historical part of John’s Gospel begins after the Temptation - that is, with the actual Ministry of Christ; since it was not within the purport of that work to detail the earlier history. That had been sufficiently done in the Synoptic Gospels. Impartial and serious critics will admit that these are in accord. For, if Mark only summarises, in his own brief manner, he supplies the two-fold notice that Jesus was ‘driven’ into the wilderness, ‘and was with the wild beasts,’ which is in fullest internal agreement with the detailed narratives of Matthew and Luke. The only noteworthy difference between these two is, that Matthew places the Temple-temptation before that of the world-kingdom, while Luke inverts this order, probably because his narrative was primarily intended for Gentile readers, to whose mind this might present itself as to them the true gradation of temptation. To Matthew we owe the notice, that after the Temptation ‘Angels came and ministered’ unto Jesus; to Luke, that the Tempter only ‘departed from Him for a season.’ To restate in order our former conclusions, Jesus had deliberately, of His own accord and of set firm purpose, gone to be baptized. That one grand outstanding fact of His early life, that He must be about His Father’s Business, had found its explanation when He knew that the Baptist’s cry, ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,’ was from God. His Father’s Business, then, was ‘the Kingdom of Heaven,’ and to it He consecrated Himself, so fulfilling all righteousness. But His ‘being about it’ was quite other than that of any Israelite, however devout, who came to Jordan. It was His consecration, not only to the Kingdom, but to the Kingship, in the anointing and permanent possession of the Holy Ghost, and in His proclamation from heaven. That Kingdom was His Father’s Business; its Kingship, the manner in which He was to be ‘about it.’ The next step was not, like the first, voluntary, and of preconceived purpose. Jesus went to Jordan; He was driven of the Spirit into the wilderness. Not, indeed, in the sense of His being unwilling to go, or having had other purpose, such as that of immediate return into Galilee, but in that of not being willing, of having no will or purpose in the matter, but being ‘led up,’ unconscious of its purpose, with irresistible force, by the Spirit. In that wilderness He had to test what He had learned, and to learn what He had tested. So would He have full proof for His Work of the What - His Call and Kingship - so would He see its How - the manner of it; so, also, would, from the outset, the final issue of His Work appear.
Again - banishing from our minds all thought of sin in connection with Christ’s Temptation, He is presented to us as the Second Adam, both as regarded Himself, and His relation to man. In these two respects, which, indeed, are one, He is now to be tried. Like the first, the Second Adam, sinless, is to be tempted, but under the existing conditions of the Fall: in the wilderness, not in Eden; not in the enjoyment of all good, but in the pressing want of all that is necessary for the sustenance of life, and in the felt weakness consequent upon it. For (unlike the first) the Second Adam was, in His Temptation, to be placed on an absolute equality with us, except as regarded sin. Yet even so, there must have been some point of inward connection to make the outward assault a temptation. It is here that opponents (such as Strauss and Keim) have strangely missed the mark, when objecting, either that the forty days’ fast was intrinsically unnecessary, or that the assaults of Satan were clumsy suggestions, incapable of being temptations to Jesus. He is ‘driven’ into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted. The history of humanity is taken up anew at the point where first the kingdom of Satan was founded, only under new conditions. It is not now a choice, but a contest, for Satan is the prince of this world. During the whole forty days of Christ’s stay in the wilderness His Temptation continued, though it only attained its high point at the last, when, after the long fast, He felt the weariness and weakness of hunger. As fasting occupies but a very subordinate, we might almost say a tolerated, place in the teaching of Jesus; and as, so far as we know, He exercised on no other occasion such ascetic practices, we are left to infer internal, as well as external, necessity for it in the present instance. The former is easily understood in His preoccupation; the latter must have had for its object to reduce Him to utmost outward weakness, by the depression of all the vital powers. We regard it as a psychological fact that, under such circumstances, of all mental faculties the memory alone is active, indeed, almost preternaturally active. During the preceding thirty-nine days the plan, or rather the future, of the Work to which He had been consecrated, must have been always before Him. In this respect, then, He must have been tempted. It is wholly impossible that He hesitated for a moment as to the means by which He was to establish the Kingdom of God. He could not have felt tempted to adopt carnal means, opposed to the nature of that Kingdom, and to the Will of God. The unchangeable convictions which He had already attained must have stood out before Him: that His Father’s business was the Kingdom of God; that He was furnished to it, not by outward weapons, but by the abiding Presence of the Spirit; above all, that absolute submission to the Will of God was the way to it, nay, itself the Kingdom of God. It will be observed, that it was on these very points that the final attack of the Enemy was directed in the utmost weakness of Jesus. But, on the other hand, the Tempter could not have failed to assault Him with considerations which He must have felt to be true. How could He hope, alone, and with such principles, to stand against Israel? He knew their views and feelings; and as, day by day, the sense of utter loneliness and forsakenness increasingly gathered around Him, in His increasing faintness and weakness, the seeming hopelessness of such a task as He had undertaken must have grown upon Him with almost overwhelming power. Alternately, the temptation to despair, presumption, or the cutting short of the contest in some decisive manner, must have presented itself to His mind, or rather have been presented to it by the Tempter.
And this was, indeed, the essence of His last three great temptations; which, as the whole contest, resolved themselves into the one question of absolute submission to the Will of God, which is the sum and substance of all obedience. If He submitted to it, it must be suffering, and only suffering - helpless, hopeless suffering to the bitter end; to the extinction of life, in the agonies of the Cross, as a malefactor; denounced, betrayed, rejected by His people; alone, in very God-forsakenness. And when thus beaten about by temptation, His powers reduced to the lowest ebb of faintness, all the more vividly would memory hold out the facts so well known, so keenly realised at that moment, in the almost, utter cessation of every other mental faculty: the scene lately enacted by the banks of Jordan, and the, two great expectations of His own people, that the Messiah was to head Israel from the Sanctuary of the Temple, and that all kingdoms of the world were to become subject to Him. Here, then, is the inward basis of the Temptation of Christ, in which the fast was not unnecessary, nor yet the special assaults of the Enemy either ‘clumsy suggestions,’ or unworthy of Jesus.
He is weary with the contest, faint with hunger, alone in wilderness. His voice falls on no sympathising ear; no voice reaches Him but that of the Tempter. There is nothing bracing, strengthening in this featureless, barren, stony wilderness - only the picture of desolateness, hopelessness, despair. He must, He will absolutely submit to the Will of God. But can this be the Will of God? One word of power, and the scene would be changed. Let Him despair of all men, of everything - He can do it. By His Will the Son of God, as the Tempter suggests - not, however, calling thereby in question His Sonship, but rather proceeding on its admitted reality - can change the stones into bread. He can do miracles - put an end to present want and question, and, as visibly the possessor of absolute miraculous power, the goal is reached! But this would really have been to change the idea of Old Testament miracle into the heathen conception of magic, which was absolute power inherent in an individual, without moral purpose. The moral purpose - the grand moral purpose in all that was of God - was absolute submission to the Will of God. His Spirit had driven Him into that wilderness. His circumstances were God-appointed; and where He so appoints them, He will support us in them, even as, in the failure of bread, He supported Israel by the manna. And Jesus absolutely submitted to that Will of God by continuing in His present circumstances. To have set himself free from what they implied, would have been despair of God, and rebellion. He does more than not succumb: He conquers. The Scriptural reference to a better life upon the Word of God marks more than the end of the contest; it marks the conquest of Satan. He emerges on the other side triumphant, with this expression of His assured conviction of the sufficiency of God.
It cannot be despair - and He cannot take up His Kingdom alone, in the exercise of mere power! Absolutely submitting to the Will of God, He must, and He can, absolutely trust Him. But if so, then let Him really trust Himself upon God, and make experiment - nay more, public demonstration - of it. If it be not despair of God, let it be presumption! He will not do the work alone! Then God-upborne, according to His promise, let the Son of God suddenly, from that height, descend and lead His people, and that not in any profane manner, but in the midst of the Sanctuary, where God was specially near, in sight of incensing priests and worshipping people. So also will the goal at once be reached.
The Spirit of God had driven Jesus into the wilderness; the spirit of the Devil now carried Him to Jerusalem. Jesus stands on the lofty pinnacle of the Tower, or of the Temple-porch, presumably that on which every day a Priest was stationed to watch, as the pale morning light passed over the hills of Judaea far off to Hebron, to announce it as the signal for offering the morning sacrifice. If we might indulge our imagination, the moment chosen would be just as the Priest had quitted that station. The first desert-temptation had been in the grey of breaking light, when to the faint and weary looker the stones of the wilderness seemed to take fantastic shapes, like the bread for which the faint body hungered. In the next temptation Jesus stands on the watch-post which the white-robed priest had just quitted. Fast the rosy morning-light, deepening into crimson, and edged with gold, is spreading over the land. In the Priests’ Court below Him the morning-sacrifice has been offered. The massive Temple-gates are slowly opening, and the blasts of the priests’ silver trumpets is summoning Israel to begin a new day by appearing before their Lord. Now then let Him descend, Heaven-borne, into the midst of priests and people. What shouts of acclamation would greet His appearance! What homage of worship would be His! The goal can at once be reached, and that at the head of believing Israel. Jesus is surveying the scene. By His side is the Tempter, watching the features that mark the working of the spirit within. And now he has whispered it. Jesus had overcome in the first temptation by simple, absolute trust. This was the time, and this the place to act upon this trust, even as the very Scriptures to which Jesus had appealed warranted. But so to have done would have been not trust - far less the heroism of faith - but presumption. The goal might indeed have been reached; but not the Divine goal, nor in God’s way - and, also often, Scripture itself explained and guarded the Divine promise by a preceding Divine command. And thus once more Jesus not only is not overcome, but He overcomes by absolute submission to the Will of God.
To submit to the Will of God! But is not this to acknowledge His authority, and the order and disposition which He has made of all things? Once more the scene changes. They have turned their back upon Jerusalem and the Temple. Behind are also all popular prejudices, narrow nationalism, and limitations. They no longer breathe the stifled air, thick with the perfume of incense. They have taken their flight into God’s wide world. There they stand on the top of some very high mountain. It is in the full blaze of sunlight that He now gazes upon a wondrous scene. Before Him rise, from out the cloud-land at the edge of the horizon, forms, figures, scenes - come words, sounds, harmonies. The world in all its glory, beauty, strength, majesty, is unveiled. Its work, its might, its greatness, its art, its thought, emerge into clear view. And still the horizon seems to widen as He gazes; and more and more, and beyond it still more and still brighter appears. It is a world quite other than that which the retiring Son of the retired Nazareth-home had ever seen, could ever have imagined, that opens its enlarging wonders. To us in the circumstances the temptation, which at first sight seems, so to speak, the clumsiest, would have been well nigh irresistible. In measure as our intellect was enlarged, our heart attuned to this world-melody, we would have gazed with bewitched wonderment on that sight, surrendered ourselves to the harmony of those sounds, and quenched the thirst of our soul with maddening draught. But passively sublime as it must have appeared to the Perfect Man, the God-Man - and to Him far more than to us from His infinitely deeper appreciation of, and wider sympathy with the good, the true, and the beautiful - He had already overcome. It was, indeed, not ‘worship,’ but homage which the Evil One claimed from Jesus, and that on the truly stated and apparently rational ground, that, in its present state, all this world ‘was delivered’ unto him, and he exercised the power of giving it to whom he would. But in this very fact lay the answer to the suggestion. High above this moving scene of glory and beauty arched the deep blue of God’s heaven, and brighter than the sun, which poured its light over the sheen and dazzle beneath, stood out the fact: ‘I must be about My Father’s business;’ above the din of far-off sounds rose the voice: ‘Thy Kingdom come!’ Was not all this the Devil’s to have and to give, because it was not the Father’s Kingdom, to which Jesus had consecrated Himself? What Satan sought was, ‘My kingdom come’ - a Satanic Messianic time, a Satanic Messiah; the final realisation of an empire of which his present possession was only temporary, caused by the alienation of man from God. To destroy all this: to destroy the works of the Devil, to abolish his kingdom, to set man free from his dominion, was the very object of Christ’s Mission. On the ruins of the past shall the new arise, in proportions of grandeur and beauty hitherto unseen, only gazed at afar by prophets’ rapt sight. It is to become the Kingdom of God; and Christ’s consecration to it is to be the corner-stone of its new Temple. Those scenes are to be transformed into one of higher worship; those sounds to mingle and melt into a melody of praise. An endless train, unnumbered multitudes from afar, are to bring their gifts, to pour their wealth, to consecrate their wisdom, to dedicate their beauty - to lay it all in lowly worship as humble offering at His feet: a world God-restored, God-dedicated, in which dwells God’s peace, over which rests God’s glory. It is to be the bringing of worship, not the crowning of rebellion, which is the Kingdom. And so Satan’s greatest becomes to Christ his coarsest temptation, which He casts from Him; and the words: ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve,’ which now receive their highest fulfilment, mark not only Satan’s defeat and Christ’s triumph, but the principle of His Kingdom - of all victory and all triumph.
Foiled, defeated, the Enemy has spread his dark pinions towards that far-off world of his, and covered it with their shadow. The sun no longer glows with melting heat; the mists have gathered or the edge of the horizon, and enwrapped the scene which has faded from view. And in the cool and shade that followed have the Angels come and ministered to His wants, both bodily and mental. He has refused to assert power; He has not yielded to despair; He would not fight and conquer alone in His own strength; and He has received power and refreshment, and Heaven’s company unnumbered in their ministry of worship. He would not yield to Jewish disdain; He did not pass from despair to presumption; and lo, after the contest, with no reward as its object, all is His. He would not have Satan’s vassals as His legions, and all Heaven’s hosts were at His command. It had been victory; it is now shout of triumphant praise. He Whom God had anointed by His Spirit had conquered by the Spirit; He whom Heaven’s Voice had proclaimed God’s beloved Son, in Whom He was well pleased, had proved such, and done His good pleasure.
They had been all overcome, these three temptations against submission to the Will of God, present, personal, and specifically Messianic. Yet all His life long there were echoes of them: of the first, in the suggestion of His brethren to show Himself; of the second, in the popular attempt to make Him a king, and perhaps also in what constituted the final idea of Judas Iscariot; of the third, as being most plainly Satanic, in the question of Pilate: ‘Art Thou then a king?’
The enemy ‘departed from Him’ - yet only ‘for a season.’ But this first contest and victory of Jesus decided all others to the last. These were, perhaps not as to the shaping of His Messianic plan, nor through memory of Jewish expectancy, yet still in substance the same contest about absolute obedience, absolute submission to the Will of God, which constitutes the Kingdom of God. And so also from first to last was this the victory: ‘Not My will, but Thine, be done.’ But as, in the first three petitions which He has taught us, Christ has enfolded us in the mantle of His royalty, so has He Who shared our nature and our temptations gone up with us, want-pressed, and temptation-stricken as we are, to the Mount of Temptation in the four human petitions which follow the first. And over us is spread, as the sheltering folds of His mantle, this as the outcome of His royal contest and glorious victory, ‘For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever!’