The Unholy Three - Part 2

The Fall of Adam & Eve is the most famous temptation in the Bible, well known to all. To knowing Christians though, there is another temptation narrative that is equally well known: Christ's temptation in the wilderness.

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him. (Mt 4:1-11)

First, let's explore parallels between this story and that of Gen 2-3.

Next, we can clearly see the famous three temptations at work. Jesus is first tempted by pleasure - to appease His hunger and break His fast. Like Eden, the particular pleasure used is food. Next He is tempted to power, that is, to demonstrate his divine power by commanding the angels. Finally, He is tempted to greed, to own the whole world! Interesting in this last item is that all things in the world apparantly belong to Satan and they are his to give. In addition to the victimizing aspect of greed, there is also a spiritual aspect in that the excess of things we have were given us by the Devil, which is tied to worship of him. Very interesting.

Next, of small importance but interesting nevertheless, is Satan's quotation of Scripture. The context is temptation to power and the particular power is that over the angels, and Satan is an angel. He quotes from Ps 91:11-12. The entire psalm is a song of secure trust in the Lord, knowing that He will protect us from the evils of the world. The following v.13 refers specifically to vipers and serpents, those symbols of the Devil. Why would he choose this text out of the entire bible, this text that emphasizes the Lord's domnation over the Devil? A very interesting choice and food for thought.

More interesting, though, is Jesus' scriptural replies to each temptation. To the temptation to pleasure, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This is taken from Dt 8:3:

2 And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. (Dt 8:2-3)

Jesus only partially quotes from Dt 8:3; he doesn't mention the part about manna. The context of the quote, though, is regarding the manna which fed the Israelites in the wilderness. We know that manna is an Old Testament type of the Eucharist; why did Jesus omit this contextual portion of the quote? It is actually common in the New Testament to quote only a portion of an OT text and expect the reader to remember the entire context from which the quote is drawn. The purpose of this technique is to bring a large context from the OT into the NT text in a concise way. Here, we must accept the context of Jesus' quote: the Israelites were tested by eating manna, which we understand to be the Eucharist (cf. Ps 78:23-25; 1 Cor 10:1-4). What does this reply of Jesus mean, then? By omitting the part about manna/Eucharist, Jesus is purposely emphasizing that part. What is the answer to temptation? The Sacraments! I argue that Jesus is teaching us about the power of sacramental grace, that it is our secret weapon against temptation.

With the temptation to assert His power, Jesus replies, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’.” This is again from Deuteronomy:

16 You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. (Dt 6:16)

This time, the context is Massah. What happened at Massah? We turn to Exodus:

1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Reph?idim; but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the Lord to the proof?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah[a] and Mer?ibah,[b] because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the Lord to the proof by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex 17:1-7)

The context of Massah was water from the rock. Following St. Paul’s teaching on this text, “…the Rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:4)." Here we have the image of water flowing from Christ, water which kept the Israelites alive in the wilderness (i.e., keeps us alive during life in the world). Again, this is sacramental imagery where the flowing waters symbolize grace flowing from Christ, water being the substance of baptism, the proto-sacrament.

To the third temptation, that of avarice, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy yet again, saying, ” You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Again, this a partial quote:

17 You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve him, and swear by his name. (Dt 6:17)

This text is from a larger passage exhorting the Israelites to worship only the one true God and to avoid false gods. Of interest is the missing bit from Jesus’ quote: “and swear by his name.” This is the essential element of worship, both in ancient Israel and in Christianity. It is the establishment of the covenant oath. The covenant is that declaration by God that makes us His kin, His children, members of His own family. In ancient Israel, one would establish a covenant by swearing the covenant oath. This is still done today at weddings, where bride and groom enter into a covenantal relationship which transforms their relationship into a family. The essential part of the wedding ceremony is swearing of the vows. The wedding results in the couple taking a common family name. Hence, when we swear the covenantal oath with God, we swear upon His family name, because it is the name we take. Moses commanded the Israelites to serve only the Lord and to swear by his name – to keep their covenant with the Lord alone.

In Christianity, we still do this. The latin word, sacramentum means “oath.” Our seven sacraments are the seven oaths we swear to God, sealing our covenant relationship with Him. Every sacrament invokes the family name, the name of the Trinity: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Why seven? In Hebrew, the word for oath is sheva, which literally means “seven.” When speaking of swearing a covenant oath to another, the Hebrew applies an idiom that literally means, I seven myself to you. I will discuss covenants and the number seven in another post.

In summary, Jesus is tempted by each of the three temptations. In each case, he responds to the tempter, quoting Deuteronomy and calling attention to contexts that, to a Christian, are sacramental types. Jesus would seem to be defending Himself from temptation by the sacraments, teaching us to do the same.