The Temptation of Christ and the Inauguration of His Ministry
Now here's one heck of an example of challenge and response! Previously, Matthew has been building up Jesus' ascribed honor as divine before climaxing with Yahweh's affirmation of it after His baptism. Such a ludicrously high honor, however, could not and did not remain uncontested in the first century. The first recorded instance of a challenge to Jesus' honor comes from none other than Satan himself. As a preliminary note, many translations say that Jesus was "tempted". This isn't the best translation of the Greek word here (πειράζω, peirazō) which means to test, scrutinize, or put on trial. What's being scrutinized or tested here is Jesus' honor.Matthew 41 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered. 3 And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5 Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and saith unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God. 8 Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9 and he said unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. 11 Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
Notice the way in which the Devil explicitly undermines the ascribed honor of Jesus: "If you really are the Son of God...." As I've mentioned several times before, a favorite tactic of a challenger in the social game of riposte is to call the lineage of the recipient into question. In this case, the Devil sarcastically questions Jesus' divine honor that has been established just a few verses before.
Now, here's an important point to keep in mind - if Jesus responded in His own words and under His own authority, He would have lost this honor challenge miserably and before a supernatural audience. In the Biblical world, your honor comes from your father, and any honorable son knows this. To try to rise above your father or to blaze your own trail would have brought shame not only upon yourself, but on your father and your entire family. Therefore, notice how Jesus responds. Jesus replies by quoting His Daddy.
"It is written..."
Yes, it is written and the words recorded come from the Father as told in Jewish Scriptures, specifically Deuteronomy 8:3 -
The Devil persists, and Jesus fires back Deuteronomy 6:16. Finally, the Devil demands that Jesus prostrate Himself before him (remember that such a bodily posture acknowledges a very great honor rating differential between two people), and Jesus defiantly quotes Deuteronomy 10:20. The honor challenge is thereby concluded. Jesus successfully defended His (and His Father's) status and the Devil is made to look like a first-rate shameful moron, forced to retreat with his tail between his legs. Admittedly, it should be remembered that an audience is required for a person to gain in standing (remember that the definition of honor is a claim of worth that is socially acknowledged). In this story, Jesus was alone. Yes, Jesus most definitely retained His honor before a supernatural audience in attendance; but the Matthew's implication is that the reader upon reading this story will tacitly be the audience needed for Jesus to praised on a human level.Deuteronomy 8:3And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live.
Once more, Matthew argues that Jesus' ministry is a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, meaning that Jesus is God-ordained and honorable.Matthew 412 Now when he heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali: 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, 15 The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16 The people that sat in darkness Saw a great light, And to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, To them did light spring up. 17 From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 18 And walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. 19 And he saith unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20 And they straightway left the nets, and followed him. 21 And going on from thence he saw two other brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. 22 And they straightway left the boat and their father, and followed him.
An interesting thing to note about this passage that is often overlooked is that Jesus was almost certainly a student of John the Baptist. Notice that Jesus only struck out on His own after John's arrest, and even after that, Jesus begins His ministry by repeating John's message: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." In any case, this is also an example of the ancients' perception of limited good. Honor, like all other goods tangible and intangible, was thought to be in finite supply. Therefore, if one person gained in honor, it had to mean that someone lost some of theirs. As it relates to this story, John the Baptist's role as teacher has ended and Jesus has taken up the mantle. This means that John's honor must decrease in order for Jesus' to increase, a fact that John explicitly notes here:
Lastly, it's of note that when Jesus calls His disciples, they immediately respond. This shows Christ's authority as a teacher, and authority, as Bruce Malina tells us, is one of the key components of one's honor.John 3:29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.
The chapter ends with Jesus starting His teaching and healing ministry, both of which would increase Jesus' acquired honor rating. Jesus' reputation begins to grow and spread, and the ever-present mark of the Father's approval is the supernatural healings and exorcisms. Jesus' following as a teacher is apparently multitudinous therefore, as Matthew would like the reader to understand, Jesus should be given the high honors due to a great teacher.Matthew 423 And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people. 24 And the report of him went forth into all Syria: and they brought unto him all that were sick, holden with divers diseases and torments, possessed with demons, and epileptic, and palsied; and he healed them. 25 And there followed him great multitudes from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judaea and from beyond the Jordan.
So in summary, we've seen the following:
- Jesus ascribed honor is first contested by the Devil, in the first recorded example of Jesus engaging in challenge and response. Jesus wins by quoting His Father from whom His honor comes.
- Matthew again emphasizes the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies.
- Jesus demonstrates his honor as a great teacher by his huge following
- The Patron-God of Israel is shown to approve of Jesus' audacious claims by the miraculous healings performed by Him.
- Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: FORTRESS PRESS, 2003).
- Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, 3rd ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001)
- Richard Rohrbaugh, Honor and Shame: Core Values in the Biblical World. NOTE: This is a DVD recording of a lecture given by Dr. Rohrbaugh, previously acquired by the Biblical Archaeological Society; but has since been removed from the store.