Here we are at the final temptation that the devil directly attacks Jesus with (I say directly, because next week I’m going to look at the more subtle attacks and temptations we can face).
Let’s begin with the text:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (cf. Luke 4:9-12)
There’s quite a few things wrapped up in these few short verses. For a start, the devil took Jesus to the “holy city” (ie. Jerusalem) – but whether this was in body or in spirit, we just don’t know and can’t say for certain; maybe it was in a similar way to how Philip was transported in Acts 8:39. Intrigued by this though, I decided to look up a few details to see just how far they travelled (however it happened).
Jesus was baptised by John in the river Jordan, and according to Mark, the Spirit “immediately” drove Jesus into the wilderness from there (Mark 1:9, 12). According to Google maps (and more likely, Church tradition), the spot where he was baptised is close to Jericho. Directly next to this area is the Judaean Desert, which would be the wilderness where Jesus spent his time. On the other side of this desert is Jerusalem, which is about 27 miles away from the spot by the Jordan where the baptism took place. I’ve put together a quick map so you can get a better idea of locations:
Anyway, I digress slightly. The point being, is that where Jesus was and where he was taken was not exactly just around the corner! Coupled with the fact that the devil took Jesus up to the pinnacle of the Temple, this was quite a journey. Now the other thing to pull out of this passage is that the word “pinnacle” here doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as we might think of today: the top most point of something. Otherwise Jesus would be standing on the spikes of the roof!
No, in this case the pinnacle means a specific wing on the top most side of the temple, most likely being Herod's royal portico which was overhanging the ravine of Kedron, at the valley of Hinnom. Now this point was so high up, and the drop below so deep, that even the first century historian Josephus makes mention of this. He wrote that, “if any one looked down from the top of the battlements, or down both those altitudes, he would be giddy”! Other commentaries say that this wing or porch was about 350 feet above the valley – so that ought to give some context about what the devil was asking of Jesus.
So by this point, Satan has really amped up his game. Jesus has refuted him twice now with Scripture, and so instead, the devil takes him somewhere dangerous and then uses Scripture as part of his temptation as though to try and use Jesus’ weapon against him.
This is similar to what Paul writes about the devil in 2 Cor 11:14 when he says that even Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light”. We must be ever vigilant and discerning so that we may not get tricked by misapplied and twisted Scripture. Paul again, in his wisdom, when writing to Timothy also instructed him in these things when he said to study and know the Word of God to “rightly [explain] the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). If we are immersed in the Scriptures and know them inside and out, then when things get misquoted or twisted to be applied in situations where the original context doesn’t allow, we will know it and not be led astray.
This is exactly what the devil tries with Jesus. He may be quoting Scripture, but he’s using it wrong. In this passage we see that the devil quotes from Psalm 91:11-12 but with one main difference – he misses out the second half of the sentence in verse 11. Let’s look at it in full (I’ve bolded the section which is omitted by Satan):
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
Now that we can see it in full, it should be more apparent why Jesus rejected this as a valid reason to prove his Messiahship and to put God to the test. The Psalm may be explaining that God protects us, and in that we can trust, but it’s saying that He protects us in all of our ways; that is, in the general going about of life. This doesn’t cover us purposely putting our life in danger by jumping off a building and saying “God will protect me!”. It’s akin to people misquoting Paul when he says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) and trying to jump out of a window to fly. Doing “all things” doesn’t mean we can just summon up super-powers in the same way that Jesus couldn’t expect God to send angels to catch him if he willfully jumped off the pinnacle of the temple!
But I do believe we get a glimpse at where this angelic protection would have been applicable to Jesus during his arrest. We see in Matthew 26:53 that in Jesus' rebuke of Peter, he says that he could ask the Father and have "more than twelve legions of angels" come to his aid. The only reason he didn't is because Jesus knew the path and plan God had for him, and the arrest was a part of it so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled.
Jesus knew the Scriptures perfectly (because he was the incarnate Word of God), and could refute even an argument based on Scripture to try and tempt him to prove his power and authority. This is why we must be avid students of the Bible and really strive to know it as fully as possible, so that when temptation or false teachers come along in the guise of being “biblically based”, we can spot it a mile off and not fall into the trap! Test the spirits (1 John 4:1) as John writes and pray for the discernment that the Holy Spirit gives (1 Corinthians 12:10) so we can go forth in the full armour of God under the protection that God actually promised us (Ephesians 6:10-18).
- Josephus: Antiquities, 15.11,5 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-15.html#b19)
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