Temptations and their Purpose

The three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness have passed from being a biblical story into the realm of folklore. Movie producers have found them a fertile ground to create an image of Christ as a disturbed, almost madman who undergoes hallucinations. The temptations were recast in the movie, ‘Jesus of Montreal’ (1989) to feature a modern Jesus being tempted by a publicity agent, who seeing his charisma, tempted him with the offer that he could become a TV star, with cooking shows, books and on speaking circuits. The empty materialism offered was quickly unmasked by Jesus, refused and then overcome. And there are the vivid, sometimes lurid art works of the Middle Ages, of images of Jesus fighting off the Devil. All these miss the point.

He is tempted after his baptism to ‘battle harden’ him (a phrase the army uses), to prepare him for his ministry when he will be tempted to take the easy road and avoid the cross. Second, the response by Jesus to the temptations are instructive for us. He saw them for what they were and then justified his response by quoting Scripture three times. Note that each time he quoted from Deuteronomy – which recounts Israel’s experience of their wilderness temptations and the Lord’s instruction to them. Third, he draws upon the right Scripture for the right situation. Often when we face a problem, we use Scripture with the right motive, but with the wrong text resulting in theological confusion. Jesus had been trained in the use of God’s word and it protected him.

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