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In Your Face, Satan!

The following paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the constraint that it be between 600 and 625 words.

Matthew 4:1–11

The Meaning of the Text

Jesus faced trials no less profound—indeed, many of them more profound—than any that we encounter, and he overcame them all. Beyond the ordinary trials of a life in ministry, he resisted temptations specific to his position as the God-man and new representative head of humanity. In the selfsame ways that Adam and Israel had failed when tempted, Jesus triumphed. The tempter who seduced Adam and Eve; who caused David, King of Israel, to stumble and bring ruin on God’s people; and who so often and skillfully led Israel after other gods could not turn Jesus from his divine mission. Jesus is indeed the Son of God.

Intratextual links

Matthew rather brilliantly structures his text so that each of Satan’s claims is countered both by Jesus’ immediate response and by validations of that response throughout the rest of the book. Satan tempted Jesus to draw on his power to provide bread for himself (verse 3); instead he drew on that power to provide bread for the thousands who followed him (Matthew 14:13–21, Matthew 15:32–39). Satan tempted Jesus to call on angels to minister to him as proof of his Sonship (verses 5–6); he chose instead to simply believe God, and angels did validate his calling, ministering to him immediately after Satan’s departure (verse 11) and proclaiming his resurrection (Matthew 28:2–8). Satan tempted him on a high mountain with authority over all the kingdoms of the world (verses 8–9); after his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed to his disciples—on a mountain, no less—“All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

Intratextual links

Matthew makes links (and is linked to in turn) by a number of other passages. Most obvious are the references to Jesus’ temptation in Mark and Luke; the former simply mentioning it and the latter covering much the same territory as Matthew (though, interestingly, in different order). Close behind are Jesus’ citations of Deuteronomy 6 and 8 in his response to Satan’s temptations.

Less obvious but still important are the allusions in the chapter: to the tempter (Genesis 3); to the need for bread in the wilderness (Exodus 16; and compare Deuteronomy 8:3—the very verse Jesus quotes in rebutting Satan); and to the “high mountain” that figures in various prominent moments in canonical history (c.f. Genesis 22, Exodus 25ff., 1 Kings 19).

The Significance of the Text

The author of Hebrews charts the course for us (see Hebrews 4): we can be confident that we have a high priest who sympathizes with us, one who is just like us—who has been tempted as we have been tempted, and stood firm to the end. We may therefore come to the throne of grace with confidence, and we ought to follow the example of our older brother and stand firm against temptation ourselves. Thus, the obvious significance of the text is twofold: we are called to look to Christ who stands, perfect, in our place, and we are called to follow Christ in resisting the evil one.

In addition, from Jesus’ response to Satan’s second temptation, Matthew makes a point particularly apropos for the modern interpreter. Not just any reading of Scripture will do, and even readings that respect their own context can go amiss. Each text must be understood in the context of the broader canonical context. Satan quotes the psalm in a way that is true to its immediate sense, including its quiet messianic overtones. Jesus’ rebuttal hinges on the regulative commands in the Torah that set the stage and provide both guides and boundaries for all revelation that follows in Scripture. Right interpretation of Scripture can be properly accomplished only in the context of the canon


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