Lectionary Year A
February 17, 2002
Matthew 4:1-11

Step IV: Context

A. Primitive Christianity

(JFC) The Gospel parallels begin similarly to Matthew 4. However, Mark omits any parallels to verses 3-11a in our text and Luke changes some orders and has an interruption between verses 10 and 11 of our text. The voice from heaven in Matthew 3:17 identifies Jesus as God's Son. Faithful Peacemakers are to be called "Sons of God" according to Matthew 5:9. And, in Matthew 27:40, Jesus is called "God's Son" where He refuses to throw Himself down from the cross. The sixth petition in the Lord's Prayer gives us a "request for God's protection against temptation", Matthew 5:13, Kittel's TDNT asserts. And, James 1:13f assures us that God never authors temptation. Still, early Christians lived in a culture that believed in the Devil, similar to Dante's Divine Comedy's "Inferno" which lets every age so believe since medieval times. The personality of the Devil must have fascinated members of every era. They frequently read and/or heard about him and the New Testament occasionally describes his antics, e.g., John 12:31, 16:11, II Corinthians 4:4 and I John 5:19. He is likened to an evil in Matthew 13:39 and to sinners of the first order in Matthew 25:41 and I John3:8. He is to be avoided, Ephesians 4:27 and 6:11 and resisted, James 4:7. Still, the Devil is odefeated by Christ and His dealing with the personified evil, Luke 4:13, 11:21ff, Mark 3:27 and I John 3:8, especially. Worshipping God only (Matthew 4:10b and c) gets early encouragement in Romans 3:28 and Galatians 5:6b. In I Thessalonians 3:5, Paul fears the temptor might have dissuaded the Thessalonians from the faith development Paul had initiated there. Peter, in Acts 15:10, speaks unfavorably of putting God to the test, as does verse 7 of our text at hand.

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(JFC) Moses was in the wilderness/on the mountain forty days and nights and fasting to get the Ten Commandments, according to Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 9:9. Genesis 3's account of the serpent's tempting Adam and Eve seems to proceed in three stages, similar to Matthew 4:1-11(?), according to the footnotes in the NRSV: it "insinuates doubt (verses 1-3), increases as suspicion is cast on God's motive (verses 4f) and becomes irresistible when the couple senses the possibility of freedom (verse 6)." Job 1 and 2 find the Devil/Satan/the Accuser discussing with God the faith of the title character, etc. The "Son of God" designation might have begun way back as early as Psalm 2:7. Hungering seems to bring about humbleness, according to Deuteronomy 8:3, in which context, Israel is called God's son/child/children (as in Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1) and it gives us the quote for verse 4 of our text. Perhaps the manna in Sinai's wilderness (Exodus 16:15-36) gets recalled by the bread the Devil wants in verse 3 of the text at hand. Deuteronomy 8:2f gives the Old Testament setting of Jesus' response to the first temptation. Jerusalem is referred to as "the holy city" in Isaiah 52:1 and Daniel 9:24 and in Ezekiel's (chapter 8) Temple Vision, and there we get a picture similar to our text's fifth verse. In verse 6 of our text (the Devil) quotes Psalm 91:11f and Deuteronomy 6:16, LXX, "with its significant reference to Exodus 17:7", says the Anchor Bible. Daniel 3:28 commends the angels for caring for those who worship their own God only/alone. Psalm 91:11 says God's angels will care for those in difficulties. Deuteronomy 6:10-15 describes the Promised Land Israel anticipates getting and verse 16 of that chapter forbids putting God to the test. In Deuteronomy 34, God shows Moses all the lands visible from Mount Nebo before he dies without going into the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 5:6-9, 6:13 and 10:20 order worshiping God only. Angels care for servants of God in I Kings 19:5, Isaiah 63:9, Daniel 6:22 and many places elsewhere as well.

As in Matthew 4:8, the second century CE II Baruch 76:3, picturing the view of the promise for eternal life, God describes "the end times" after departing this world not to death but to "go up to the top of this mountain, and all the countries of this earth will pass before you, as well as the likeness of the inhabited world, and the top of the mountains, and the depths of the valleys, and the depths of the seas, and the number of rivers, so that you may see that which you leave and wither you go. This will happen after forty days." Here, we get an even more alluring panorama than the Devil describes in tempting Jesus.

C. Hellenistic World

(JFC) These Greek intellectuals might enjoy contemplating and discussing the scene of Jesus and the Devil in conversations of such significance as this pericope presents. The challenges of the latter (the Devil) could certainly provoke them to wonder about and/or speculate, re: the meanings of their contest and/or the maintaining of the high standards by the former (Jesus). They might even find themselves tempted by the offers the Devil makes to Jesus. Of course, they would surely support the worshipping of the one God alone/only. And, the angels' care of Jesus upon the Devil's leaving surely could appeal to their hopes for high ethics and hopeful conclusions to such contests hardly unlike they might imagine life's realities might possibly provide.

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