Tag Archives: Matthew 4

Matthew 4: 18-25 Snagging the Fishers for Humanity and Spreading the Kingdom

Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-1311)

Matthew 4: 18-25

Parallel Mark 1: 16-20, Luke 5: 1-11; John 1: 35-51

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

The kingdom of heaven may have established a foothold in Capernaum, but now that kingdom and its representative will begin its infiltration of the surrounding region of Galilee. Jesus will go out and actively begin selecting those who will participate in fishing for people and begin to drive out the forces of sickness and demonic possession that have kept the people in the darkness. Matthew condenses the call of his first disciples and the initial acts of healing and casting out of demons into a short space to bring us to Jesus’ teaching on the mountain but this scene is necessary to set the scene for this extended teaching and the crowds that are coming to hear him.

Capernaum is on the north bank of the Sea of Galilee, so Jesus would not have to move far to find fishermen along the bank of the sea. Even though Jesus may not need to move far in seeking these first followers the action of a teacher going and seeking students is unusual in a culture where a Rabbi would set up a school and disciples would seek out the teacher. Yet, the initiative will rest with Jesus in the call, and when others seek Jesus out as potential disciples (Matthew 8: 19-22) they will learn this is a difficult, if not impossible task. We do not know how long Jesus has been in Capernaum proclaiming the kingdom of heaven or if the four fishermen knew him prior to being called but these fishermen will serve as a model of responding faithfully to Jesus’ call. There is resonance with the call that Jesus extends to the disciples and the call of Abram in Genesis 12 where God calls Abram to leave their kindred, their fathers house and go to a land that God will show them. Yet, initially, the disciples will not leave their country, but they will leave behind their vocations and family.

The fishermen are often portrayed as ‘poor fishermen’ but there is no indication that they were poor or that what they were leaving behind was not a stable and sustainable existence. Probably the closest analogy to our time would be small business owners who have enough invested in their business to have a boat and nets, food to eat and homes to live in, money to pay the taxes on the fish they catch and the ability to transport (and process) caught fish for sale. This was a family enterprise that relied upon family members upholding their part of the work of fishing, mending nets, maintaining boats, and selling their catch and the removal of sons from their positions in the family business would have presented a challenge for the remaining family members. Yet, Peter and Andrew and James and John all go when called, leaving their families, their business and their way of life behind. The boats may still be there, and they may still at times fish, but their primary fishing will be kingdom related rather than profit related.

Against the background of the use of fishing metaphors in the scriptures we see the imagery of fishing being used for the regathering of Israel.

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.
I am now sending for many fishermen, says the LORD, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. Jeremiah 16: 14-16 

How one reads this portion of Jeremiah can be tricky. It can be read, as Richard B. Hays reads it by pulling on the verses that immediately follow what I have quoted above, “the “fishermen” whom God is summoning are agents of judgment, hauling people in so that God can “repay their iniquity and their sin.”” (Hays, 2016, p. 24). Jeremiah 16 is about a new beginning, but only after judgment and exile. I read this portion of Jeremiah 16 as an ingathering of the people after the prophesied judgment. Fishing imagery can be used in terms of judgment (see for example Amos 4: 1-2) but I do believe the theme of gathering in the dispersed people is behind the scriptural resonance here.

The disciples leave their boat and follow, they respond faithfully and these ‘little faith ones’ will become models of what being a disciple of Jesus is for future generations of followers. Jesus has shown the initiative, issued the call and these four men have responded. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say in Discipleship, “Discipleship is not a human offer. The call alone justifies it.” (DBWE 4: 63) Jesus, for Matthew and the disciple, is no ordinary rabbi or teacher. Although these four disciples probably do not recognize the significance of the one calling them, Matthew has been trying to get us to hear through his various uses of scriptural quotation and resonance the that Jesus is more than just a herald of the kingdom of heaven. The disciples in Jesus’ time and of all times will have to puzzle about the identity and significance of Jesus during their following but like the ‘little faith ones’ called from their fishing boats we are also called to look for the inbreaking signs of the kingdom of heaven as we travel through the world.

Jesus moves, teaches and acts as Matthew prepares us for the first concentrated block of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Mark’s gospel will focus on what Jesus does, but Matthew wants those who are disciples to gather with the crowd to hear Jesus teach. Yet, Jesus and the kingdom of heaven are also known by what Jesus does. His fame spreads by his teaching and his healing and exorcisms. The inbreaking kingdom of heaven casts out sickness, disease, pain, the demon possessed, and those broken in mind or body. Jesus’ power overcomes all these barriers to the people realizing the wholeness and healing of the kingdom of heaven. His fame is said to spread throughout Syria, one of the reasons some interpreters believe Matthew’s gospel was written in Syria, but it may also be the shining of the light in Galilee to the nations, the Gentiles. It may also be a part of the theme of the ingathering of Israel which is already occurring from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond the Jordan and this may be the early catch of God’s fishermen beginning to gather the dispersed people out of the land of the north.

Authority and power rest with Jesus: authority to heal and make whole and the authority to teach in the synagogues and soon on the mountain. The crowds are beginning to gather, the initial fishers of humanity have been called and the kingdom of heaven has been announced and embodied. Matthew has set the groundwork for us to hear the Sermon on the Mount, for Jesus to teach us what being it will mean to be a covenant to the people and a light to the nations. Perhaps we, like the fishermen have been snared. Perhaps we, like the sick, diseased, broken or possessed have been healed and seen the kingdom of heaven’s work in our lives. We are now prepared to go up with the disciples to listen as Jesus talks both to us and the rest of the crowd.

Matthew 4: 12-17 The Kingdom’s Foothold

Capernaum as see from lake Tiberius photo by Tango7174 November 13, 2012 shared under Creative Commons 4.0

Matthew 4: 12-17

Parallel Mark 1: 14-15, Luke 4: 14-15

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles —16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

When John is arrested Matthew narrates that Jesus withdrew or departed (Greek anechoreo) to Galilee, a place where Jesus’ father Joseph brought the child and his mother for safety earlier. Matthew uses this word for withdrawing or departing much more than the other gospels (Mark and Luke use is twice, Matthew uses it ten times)[1] and it is the same word that describes Joseph’s action to remove Jesus and Mary to Egypt to escape the threat of Herod and Archelaus Matthew 2. The kingdom of heaven may be drawing near but it is not meeting the political threats of Herod or Rome on their own terms, Jesus will not reign in a manner consistent with the peace through military power practiced by Rome and its client states. Even though Jesus withdraws to Galilee from the wilderness of the Jordan he withdraws into the territory of Herod Antipas, who arrested John, and makes his base of operations precisely in this territory. Unlike an earlier time where Joseph’s departure with Jesus and Mary moves away from the threat of Herod, here Jesus withdrawing ironically brings him closer to the immediate threat.

Matthew quickly moves us away from Nazareth, where Jesus lived after returning from Egypt and where his family home may have remained and makes his home in Capernaum. Unlike Mark, where Jesus comes to Capernaum but never settles or has a home (Jesus being continually on the way is a Markan theme) Matthew makes Capernaum the home base for the mission of Jesus. Matthew does not portray Jesus as a homeless wanderer but instead puts him in a social class like the fishermen and tradespeople he would interact with. On the one hand this movement to Capernaum separates his home from the home of Mary and Joseph and sets him off on his own. On the other hand, the location is significant to Matthew as well and the next quotation of scripture highlights this importance.

The quotation is from Isaiah 9: 1-2, which is below in its larger context in Isaiah 9, this may be very familiar to Christians who are used to hearing this reading on Christmas Eve.

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9: 1-7 (Highlighted portion quoted in Matthew)

Isaiah 9 originally comes from a time where the Assyrian empire is expanding and Northern Israel will be conquered and absorbed by this empire, while Judah retains some measure of independence. Galilee and Samaria were associated with Israel (the tribes other than Judah and Benjamin) which no longer retain their distinctive identity after the Assyrian conquest in 721 BCE. Yet, this passage in Isaiah points to a hope for not only Judah (or Judea) but for all of Israel, even the Israel that has been lost and scattered among the nations. The great light emerges in the place where there had been darkness, where Samaria and Galilee had been isolated from the remnant of Judah. For Matthew, Jesus’ act of establishing his base of operations in Capernaum has a broader theological significance of being the long hoped for member of the Davidic line who can bring about the reconstitution of all of Israel.

The title Galilee of the gentiles (or nations-the Greek term ethnos means both, and Gentiles in general are the non-Jewish people) also points to the inclusive nature of the hope of both Isaiah and Matthew. Throughout Matthew’s gospel we will see Gentiles play significant roles as illustrating what faith looks like. Two figures (the Canaanite woman and the Centurion) will show a faith that is not seen in Israel or in the disciples. From the genealogy and the magi, we have already seen the way non-Jewish people were joined to the story of Jesus and how they often embodied a righteousness that was greater than their Jewish counterparts in the story. The choice of location not only points to the reconstitution of Israel but also to the nations also being the recipients of this light which comes in the darkness.

Ruins of 4th Century synagogue, Photo by David Shankbone shared under Creative Commons 4.0

Ruins of Housing during Roman times in Capernaum, Photo by David Shankbone shared under Creative Commons 4.0

Established with a base of operations in Capernaum, Jesus begins the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. As mentioned in the discussion of Matthew 3: 2, Jesus’ proclamation is explicitly linked to the proclamation of John the Baptist. Both are calling for repentance and announcing the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. John and Jesus share a common message but a different relationship or role within that message. John may be the herald that announces the kingdom of heaven’s approach and be the Elijah preparing the way, but Jesus will be the long-awaited Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. To use the rhythm of John’s gospel, John the Baptist’s authority and role have now decreased, but Jesus’ authority shall grow continually. Jesus not only announces the advent of the kingdom of heaven but will embody the kingdom of heaven’s encroachment on the kingdom of the world and the conquest over the one who claims dominion over these kingdoms.

While Jesus will later send his followers, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10: 6) and not to the Gentiles, their testimony will be a testimony to governors and kings and the Gentiles (Matthew 10:18). Within the vocational understanding of Israel, they were to be a treasured possession of God, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19: 5-6) and they were called to be a light to the nations for the sake of the Lord. What happens in Galilee or Samaria or Judea is not intended to remain there but to be in the words of the servant song in Isaiah 42:

I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. Isaiah 42: 6-7

Matthew want to quickly bring us to the point where Jesus is teaching his disciples and forming them into a group that can be a covenant to the people, a light to the nations. Jesus in his actions is not merely about the reconstitution of Israel, but something larger is occurring that will affect the nations as well. The advent of the kingdom of heaven will not merely bring about a return to the nostalgic idea of a united Israel under a Davidic king but will instead impact the kingdoms of the world. The people who once lived in lands of deep darkness—on them light has shined. Or to use the poetic language of John’s prologue:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1: 5

This light will soon instruct his followers on what it means to be ‘the light of the world’ and how they are to “let their light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14-15) But for now the light for Israel and the nations has begun to emanate from Capernaum and the kingdom of heaven has established its foothold in the land of the lost tribes of Israel.

[1] Matthew 2: 14, 19-22; 4:12; 10:23; 12: 14-21; 14:13; 15:21; it is also used for the magi withdrawing in 2: 12-13. M. Eugene Boring highlights this in (NIB 8:167)

Matthew 4: 1-11 The Temptation in the Wilderness

Ivan Kramskoy, Christ in the Desert (1872)

Matthew 4: 1-11

Parallel Mark 1: 12-13, Luke 4: 1-13

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 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, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 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.'”

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Even though a chapter division is introduced between the baptism scene at the end of chapter three and the temptation at the beginning of chapter four these scenes are connected. Within liturgical churches the perceived separation between these scenes is heightened by the traditional reading of the baptism scene after the end of the Christmas season and the temptation scene several weeks later during the first Sunday in Lent. Matthew and Luke share a common telling of this scene (although Luke modifies the order we find in Matthew probably due to Luke’s focus on the temple as being central to the narration of Jesus’ story) both keeping the placement in the narrative with Mark but adding the content of the temptation Jesus undergoes.

Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, a softening of the language we find in Mark where Jesus is literally ‘thrown’ into the wilderness (using the same term that Mark uses for casting out of demons). Throughout this temptation we are linked to the baptism by the location, the wilderness, the action of the Spirit of God and the continuity of the title used throughout the two scenes, Son of God. Previously the wilderness provided a place of revelation where the Spirit of God and the voice from heaven pronounce Jesus’ identity now it provides a place where Jesus’ identity is challenged. The wilderness will be a place of divine guidance, care and revelation but it is also a place of deprivation, isolation and challenge. Yet, this temptation seems to be if not divinely orchestrated at least an intentionality of movement by the Spirit of God and Jesus. It is a place where danger and revelation will hold hands, to use O. Wesley Allen’s phrase. (Allen, 2013, p. 39) Yet, there is also an element of, for a time, being isolated by God and entering into the suffering of that isolation as the wilderness of temptation becomes a place where the kingdom of heaven’s advent is both prepared for and resisted.

The forty days and forty nights in the wilderness that Jesus fasts prior to the temptation is frequently noted in paralleling the forty years that the people of Israel spend in the wilderness, a time where the people transition from being the slaves of Egypt to the people of the LORD the God of Israel. While the sojourn of the people of Israel is a time of divine guidance, care (providing food and water throughout their journey) and revelation (both the giving of the law and the creation of the tabernacle) and Jesus being identified with Israel is one of the accents within the identity that Jesus will bear there is also a close tying to the story of Moses in this scene. While Moses is not tested by the devil in the manner, we hear in Jesus story he has two forty-day periods on Mount Sinai where he receives the law (see Exodus 24: 18) and intercedes for the people after the incident of the Golden Calf. The intercession for the people after the Golden Calf is like the language of this scene:

He was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. (Exodus 34:28)

Not only is he receiving the law to bring to the people, a parallel we will soon see in the sermon on the mount, but it is also during this forty days on Mount Sinai where Moses goes to make atonement for the people. Jesus, we learned in Matthew 1: 21 is one who will save the people from their sins. I believe this scene want us to hear an echo of Moses going up Mount Sinai to intercede for the people, Moses will say,

“Alas, the people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now only forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written.”  Exodus 32: 31-32)

This scene in Exodus (Exodus 32-34) is a scene where God reveals God’s glory to Moses, where the covenant between God and Israel is renewed and God chooses to dwell among the people again. One of the links we may be encouraged to see here is a time where Jesus also initiates a time of fasting to restore the relationship between God and the people of God.

With all these connections and links to various images from the scriptures it can become a little overwhelming as we wonder: Who is Jesus? Is he God with us? David? Moses? Israel? Son of God? The Son of Man? The Christ? And ultimately Matthew feels we need all these titles and linkages to attempt to convey the fullness of who Jesus is and what his story means for those who hear it. Matthew is willing to use the rich language of the scriptures he inherits to attempt to paint his portrait of Jesus for the church to learn from and to follow. In the previous chapter I mentioned two great scriptural rivers that flow into the deep sea that is Matthews gospel (Isaiah specifically and the prophets in general along with the Psalms specifically and wisdom literature in general) but now I want to highlight a third river that flows through the landscape, one that has provided nourishment and hope and now as it reaches its goal in the gospel will be also be a part of the advent of the kingdom of heaven, the law (or Torah). As mentioned above, Jesus is one who becomes linked with Moses and the law in the Sermon on the Mount, but it is also worth noting here because the three quotations that Jesus makes during the temptation all come from the law, specifically the book of Deuteronomy.

Perhaps before we can begin the actual scene of temptation, we need to discuss the antagonist in the scene who is called tempter, devil and Satan. We view the world differently than our ancestors in the time of Matthew and we often don’t see our world as inhabited by devils and demons the way we find in the gospels. Philosopher Charles Taylor uses the language of the porous self in the earlier enchanted world to talk about this reality, where the porous self is vulnerable to spirits, demons and cosmic forces and these forces (both good and evil) actively inhabit the world and possess people within it. With evil forces active in the enchanted world affiliation with a power that could triumph over these forces was an important part of life, and for those within the sphere of Christianity and Judaism that force was God. In Taylor’s language:

Perhaps the clearest sign of the transformation in our world is that today many people look back to the world of the porous self with nostalgia. As though the creation of a thick emotional boundary between us and the cosmos were now lived as a loss. The aim is to try to recover some measure of this lost feeling. So people go to the movies about the uncanny in order to experience a frisson[1]. Our peasant ancestors would have thought us insane. You can’t get a frisson from what is really in fact terrifying you. (Taylor, 2007, p. 38)

That people believed in evil forces being personified in the devil and demons during the time of Matthew is not controversial, the controversy is how we as ones living in the disenchanted world we have inherited from modernity can talk about the devil and the demonic. One approach is taken creatively by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters where he ascribes the disenchanted world to the action of the devilish forces themselves. As the fictional devil Screwtape writes to a devil who is still learning how to manipulate humans:

Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe is us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics. (Lewis, 2017, p. 203)

Others may attribute social, psychological, or cultural reasons to explain the belief of the devilish and demonic forces in the gospel. The rational bias of the enlightenment encourages us to live within a world separated from the spiritual world or devils and angels, but I refuse to excise from the gospels the critical forces on opposing sides of the kingdom of heaven. Personally, I am all to aware of the persistence of evil in the world in ways that go beyond rational explanations of systemic evil or other modern explanations. Even though I may have never encountered evil personified in either the devil or a demon I am inclined to walk between the two options that C.S. Lewis states at the beginning of the Screwtape Letters: I neither disbelieve their existence nor do I exercise an unhealthy interest in them. (Lewis, 2017, p. 183)

The Spirit has led Jesus to a place where he is to be tempted, and there is an intentionality to this scene as the kingdom of heaven is brought into conflict with one who claims to be able to give all the kingdoms of the world. This conflict sets the stage for everything afterwards, this is the moment when we realize that the tempter is unable to tempt the one who has come to confront him and that the devil is powerless in the presence of the Son of God. The devil’s power here may appear incredible, but ultimately it derives its strength from those he is able to tempt into allegiance to him. Jesus shows us how to read scripture in a way that resists temptation and delivers us from the evil one, Jesus perhaps is led into temptation to show us how the law (Torah) helps us resist the promises of the devil. Yet, perhaps this scene also binds the strongman (see Matthew 12: 29) for immediately after this scene Jesus will announce the kingdom of heaven is at hand, demons will recognize him for who he is (Matthew 8: 28-31) and the forces that have bound people whether demonic or illness will be overcome.

The first temptation, turning stones to bread, begins with the situation of the forty days of fasting and the hunger that Jesus experiences. Jesus’ answer pulls on Deuteronomy 8: 2-3:

Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

The fundamental issues throughout the temptation: Who is the God who Jesus will serve? Who provides what is needed? And what will Jesus’ title Son of God mean for the way he conducts himself? Jesus again takes on the role of Israel being tested not only by the devil but also demonstrating his obedience to God, being humble and keeping the commandments. The harkening back to this scene in Deuteronomy reminds the hearer with scripture tuned ears that God is the one able to provide bread in the wilderness, and while Jesus will later multiply loaves and fishes, ultimately God is the one who provides what is needed. Jesus enters this space of divine silence and devilish temptation awaiting the word that comes from the mouth of the LORD, and perhaps, to use imagery from the gospel of John, he is that word spoken to the devilish temptation.

Consistent throughout all the temptation is also the challenge of the way Jesus inhabits the title Son of God. Like the serpent in the garden of Eden he attempts to lure the one into believing that God would not deny that which is desirable to one who could be like God. Yet, unlike Eve and Adam, Jesus is not swayed by these words and will not be the Son of God by anyone else’s terms.  Much like the mocking tone of “You are the Christ” sung by King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar there is a mocking of the way Jesus chooses to embody being the Son of God in Satan’s challenge.

The second temptation introduces a movement away from the wilderness to Jerusalem at the pinnacle of the temple. The proximity to holy space or the ability to quote scripture does not guarantee that one will read scripture correctly, as later conflicts within the temple will demonstrate. Here even the devil in this space uses scripture but uses it incorrectly. The quoted verses are from Psalm 91: 11-12, and as we heard previously the Psalms is one of the major texts that Matthew will use to talk about who Jesus is, but here even the devil can use the Psalms to talk about who he believes Jesus should be. The implied challenge for Jesus is to demonstrate his trust in God and demonstrate that trust through expecting God to rescue Jesus amid trouble. The angels will wait on Jesus after the temptation, but here they are absent, here in this place of temptation (even though they are at the pinnacle of the temple) the divine voice is silenced by the tempter’s words and even scripture is used as the devil’s tool. Yet, Jesus continues to demonstrate a way of reading scripture that models for Israel and the church how to resist temptation. Again, Jesus responds from the law (Torah) and again Deuteronomy speaks:

Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. Deuteronomy 6:17

The testing at Massah refers to Exodus 17 where the people quarreled with Moses and demanded water, Massah is means test so there is a play on words within this verse in Deuteronomy. Jesus continues to embody what Israel was meant to be by refusing to test God even amid temptation. This temptation also echoes at the cross when Jesus is taunted, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27: 40)

The final temptation takes place on a high mountain, typically a location of revelation for Matthew, but now the revealer is the tempter claiming dominion over all the kingdoms of the world and offering them to Jesus if he will worship him. Jesus is invited to claim power but at the cost of his identity, no longer is the title, “If you are the Son of God” used because to worship the devil would be abandon that identity. Perhaps within this temptation is the close association of earthly power with those anointed to be kings, which also is the context of Psalm 2 which echoes in the baptismal scene in the previous chapter.

I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Psalm 2: 7-9

Jesus is offered here the ends of the earth as a possession and the nations as a heritage, but the one offering is not the LORD, but instead the tempter. Many people will expect Jesus to model his life on those who claim worldly power, but the kingdom of heaven will be different, just like the nation of Israel was to be different than Egypt of Babylon or Rome. Even Peter will later rebuke Jesus when he talks about undergoing suffering and being killed and receive similar words, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” Matthew 16: 23.

Jesus answers the devils by referencing Deuteronomy 10: 20,

You shall fear the LORD you God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear.

This also refers to the first commandment (Exodus 20: 1-6, Deuteronomy 6: 6-10) where the people are to have no other gods and to worship on the LORD their God. In combination with this quotation Jesus also dismisses the devil. Jesus says, “Away with you, Satan” and the devil leaves. Jesus casts him out like he will later do with the demons. When the devil departs the angels arrive and wait on him. Somehow the devil’s presence made the angelic presence unavailable. Jesus had to enter this space to cast Satan out of it. The tempter has been thwarted, the strong man who claims power over the nations has been bound and the angels minister to Jesus as we approach the announcement of the kingdom of heaven’s arrival.

[1] A frisson is a sudden feeling of excitement or thrill


Images for Transfiguration Sunday, Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday of Lent

Forgot to get Transfiguration Sunday, this year from Matthew’s Gospel, out so it is a combined post with a lot of images:

Transfiguration Sunday

The initial reading is Moses being called up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the design of the Tabernacle, etc. I found what I think is a really different image of Moses that reflects the multiple roles he constantly had to do in his time leading the people of Israel.

Moses by Victorvictori, permission granted by author through WikiCommons

Moses by Victorvictori, permission granted by author through WikiCommons

And now on to a few of the plethora of images of the Transfiguration:

Transfiguration by artjones@deviantart.com

Transfiguration by artjones@deviantart.com


Giovanni Bellini, Transfiguration of Christ (1487-1495)

Giovanni Bellini, Transfiguration of Christ (1487-1495)


The Saviour's Transfiguration, an early 15th century icon attributed to Theophanes the Greek

The Saviour’s Transfiguration, an early 15th century icon attributed to Theophanes the Greek

Transfiguration by Raphael, (1518-1520)

Transfiguration by Raphael, (1518-1520)

Ash Wednesday

There are a lot of images of black crosses and ashes out there, for imagery this time I’m focusing on Psalm 51 which the opening line attributes to David after he is confronted by the Prophet Nathan after he had go in to Bathsheba

Bathsheba by Artemisia Gentileschi (1636)

Bathsheba by Artemisia Gentileschi (1636)


Pieter Lastman, King David Handing the Letter to Uriah (1611)

Pieter Lastman, King David Handing the Letter to Uriah (1619)

James Tissot, Nathan Rebukes David (1896-1902)

James Tissot, Nathan Rebukes David (1896-1902)


Palma Giovane, Prophet Nathan ermahnt Konig David (1622)

Palma Giovane, Prophet Nathan ermahnt Konig David (1622)

First Sunday of Lent

Two really rich pictoral readings, the Genesis narrative of Adam and Eve and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Matthew’s full temptation narrative

First a couple select images of the Adam and Eve story I found interesting,

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by Dr. Lidia Kozenitzky (2009) Image made available by artist through WikiCommons

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by Dr. Lidia Kozenitzky (2009) Image made available by artist through WikiCommons

William Blake, Adam and Eve (1808)

William Blake, Adam and Eve (1808)


The Fall of Man by Lucas Cranach (1530)

The Fall of Man by Lucas Cranach (1530)

And the Temptation, where in Matthew there are the three distinct temptations

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, Christ in the Desert (1872)

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, Christ in the Desert (1872)

There are multiple artists who have done representations of the three temptations, like William Blake or Peter Paul Reubens, I’m going to just show James Tissot’s interpretation:

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot


James Tissot, Jesus Carried to teh Pinnacle of the Temple

James Tissot, Jesus Carried to the Pinnacle of the Temple


James Tissot, Jesus Transported by a Spirit up to a High Mountain

James Tissot, Jesus Transported by a Spirit up to a High Mountain


James Tissot, Jesus Ministered to by the Angels (1886-1894)

James Tissot, Jesus Ministered to by the Angels (1886-1894),