“All of these I will give you”

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Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)

For much of church history—and down to the present day—Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness has raised questions regarding the peccability of the God-man: could Jesus have sinned? Can God be tempted? The focus has thus been on the interplay between the divine and human in Christ.

But despite the utility of such questions, they do not represent the Evangelists’ concerns. As many scholars now recognize, the rhetorical purpose of the temptation narrative lies in its relationship with Israel’s Exodus experience; by both allusion and quotation the temptation narrative evokes Israel’s sojourn through the wilderness. What Matthew and Luke intend to demonstrate through this story then is that Jesus has undergone a new Exodus of sorts: in his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation Jesus has relived Israel’s founding myth. Not only has he relived it, he has succeeded where Israel failed. Whereas Israel abandoned God in the wilderness of Sinai, Jesus remained loyal to the point of death in his own wildernesses, both beyond the Jordan and in Jerusalem. In this way Jesus redeemed Israel’s story. He fulfilled the Law not just by obedience to its regulations but by faithfully acting out its central narrative. In short, the temptation lays bares an underlying typology between Israel and Christ.

For the most part this typological connection serves as little more than a datum in our theologies of atonement: truly Jesus fulfilled the Law and thus made propitiation for sin. Or as explained by Mann and Albright: “For Jesus, the Son, the same struggle of conscience [as that experienced by Israel] had to be met, and the dominion of sin could be broken, and its captives freed, only in submission to the Father’s will” (Matthew, 37).

Yet much more can be said. The parable of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness does not merely address humanity’s spiritual enslavement to and spiritual redemption from sin; as if earthly realities could be separated from spiritual ones. Rather, the temptation also speaks to the material experience and concrete future of the early churches, the new Israel of God. The parable of the temptation encapsulates not just the work of Jesus, but also the pathos and destiny of the churches as they wandered as strangers in hostile and all-devouring pagan lands.


A new Exodus and a new Conquest?

A more expansive picture emerges as the typological pieces are put into place. A few probable allusions should therefore be mentioned.

  1. The baptism of Jesus which immediately precedes the temptation evokes Israel’s crossing of the waters at the Red Sea. God’s Son enters the waters of death and is drawn out into the testing grounds of the wilderness (cf. Exodus 4:22-23).
  2. As the ringleader of the rogue divine council, the Devil stands in for those pagan deities whom Israel worshiped in the wilderness (Exodus 32, Numbers 25). Jewish tradition identified these gods as demons (Deuteronomy 32:17, 1 Cor 10:20) and Satan as their king (Mark 3:22, Revelation 16:13-14, Matthew 25:41).
  3. The kingdoms which the Devil claims as his own correspond to the pagan nations of Canaan. Though Israel inherited this land for a time on account of God’s promises to the Patriarchs, Israel served the gods of the Canaanites and were thus sent into exile, their Davidic kingdom toppled.

With these three connections recognized, the new Exodus typology in Matthew is secure and sweeping. Jesus relives not only Israel’s wilderness experience, but also their redemption through the sea.

Though many would stop there, an inheritance/conquest motif also appears in the testing of Christ (point 3). By the end of Matthew’s narrative Jesus will announce that he has received “all authority on earth” and that from heaven he stands ready to judge the nations and inaugurate his kingdom over them (Matthew 25:31-46, cf. 24:29-31). The kingdoms which God will now commandeer, however, are not a federation of Canaanites, but the nations of the pagan Greco-Roman world—the nations ruled by the Devil through the agency of Babylon, the city of Rome (Revelation 17-18). Satan’s idolatrous enslavement of these nations will be undone by God’s newly installed king.


Beside representing the new Exodus/Conquest typology at the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry, the temptation narrative also characterizes early Christian experience, praxis, and hope. The temptation is as much about the work of Jesus as it is about the work of the early churches.

Experience

Like Jesus, the churches that awaited Christ’s full possession of the nations voluntarily occupied a liminal space within the pagan Greco-Roman world. They too suffered want and temptation in hostile lands before entering into their inheritance. They too were exiles and wanderers upon the earth (1 Peter 2:11, Hebrews 11:32-40).

Praxis

Like Jesus, the early churches submitted to God rather than to the Devil and his pagan systems. They chose to become vulnerable to such systems as they awaited the revelation of the kingdom. They emulated Jesus in the wilderness as a new and faithful Israel. They would inherit the Promised Land only through fidelity to God.

Hope

The early churches believed they would “inherit the earth” just as Jesus had inherited the earth at his heavenly exaltation (Matthew 5:5, 28:18, Revelation 2:26-27, cf. LXX Genesis 15:7, Deuteronomy 26:1). As I have argued elsewhere, this hope was realized in the collapse and conversion of the arbiter of the known world, the Roman empire. Though these Christians did not inherit the kingdoms of the earth on the Devil’s terms, they inherited the kingdoms nonetheless. Over the brutal pagan kingdoms of the Greco-Roman world God established a new Israel, the kingdom of God. Within the structures of Christendom God would, for a time, vindicate his people and teach the nations his ways.

20 thoughts on ““All of these I will give you”

  1. Alex, your last sentence about “structures of Christendom” concerns me. Within The Kingdom of God there will be future differentiation-see Mt. 13.41. In fact, the three parables of mustard seed, weeds, and yeast of Mt. 13.24-43 speak about a massive organization of mixed peoples (un-redeemed and redeemed) and even a haven of demon-influenced individuals (wild birds roosting in the mustard tree).
    On the contrary, what Jesus is building is an organism that knows Him personally. This organism is a building in heaven which is now partially built and made up of living stones who have died and gone to heaven (departed saints).
    I don’t think you want to discount a strategy of an enemy within. The threat is both external and internal.
    I think you are right on about typology of Israel and Jesus.

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    1. Thanks for this. As you might be aware, a central theme of mine is that the kingdom of God language (at least as Jesus understood it) was fulfilled in the overturning of the pagan world (as much as the world was known back then). God would judge this pagan system and install rulers who bowed the knee and confessed Jesus as Lord to the glory of God the Father. This was a kind of new conquest. There is of course still the final judgement and the recreation of heaven and earth in our future.

      I agree there was future differentiation in the process of establishing the kingdom: unfaithful Israel was judged as were the Greeks and Romans who held onto the to their idols. I see the differentiation/judgement as something that happened at the establishment of the kingdom—not at some point afterwards. Though you have a good point here since Christ “will remove evildoers from his kingdom.”

      As for an enemy within, I agree there have always been enemies within the people of God. Christendom wasn’t by any means perfect. But I see it as an instrument through which God protected his people and spread the knowledge of God among the nations—not dissimilar to David and Solomon’s Israel.

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  2. Alex, great overview.
    It also strikes me that the deal Satan offers to Jesus is, at least implicitly, the deal he’s offered to Israel as a whole, and the leadership in general has acquiesced to that deal. They’ve gotten their power, authority, comfort, security, riches, reputation, etc. by playing by the Devil’s rules. They’ve adopted the values of oppressors even before they were conquered, and in Jesus’ day, they’re maintaining their station by running off those same values and, to a degree, getting comfortable with the powers that be (notable exceptions exist, granted).

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  3. I think that’s right as well. At least, the Herodians and the priests have gotten the kingdom of Israel by submitting (unfaithfully?) to Satan’s instrument, Rome.

    What do you think are the central complaints Jesus had against these Jews who conspired with the pagans? They obviously weren’t willing to suffer for the Law or for the news of the coming kingdom. But what law in particular? What made them so unrighteous?

    Perhaps the feeding narratives sum up one of the big issues best: Israel was like sheep without a shepherd. But what exactly did that mean to Jesus? They didn’t provide the people with bread? I don’t know.

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    1. I think “shepherding failure” is a pretty good way to sum it up, actually. Ezekiel 34 is very appropriate, here.

      Looking for clues directly in the gospels, a few instances stand out like the unwillingness to help the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath, the law of Corban being used to avoid taking care of parents, and the excursus of Matthew 23 which includes the infamous, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

      I think the things Jesus was doing for the people were the things he expected the leadership to have been doing all along, but instead they had turned the situation (and even the Law) to their own advantage rather than ministering to Israel in her plight.

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      1. Those particular condemnations are directed at Pharisees. Though they claimed to follow Torah well, Jesus didn’t think so. Jesus’ reasons for animosity toward them is the clearest.

        But against the Herodians; the lawlessness of Herod comes to mind—killing the innocents and a prophet to protect his reign, taking an unlawful wife, leaving the people without a shepherd. Perhaps being a puppet king?

        Against the priests and the Temple there is obviously Jesus’ action in the Temple. They are a den of thieves (stealing from the peasantry through the cult?). I’m not quite sure how Jesus expected the Temple to be run though.

        And an unanswered question in the background is What kind of cooperation with the Romans was acceptable to Jesus? If the way of the cross is any indication, it seems Jesus wanted Israelites to die rather than do evil at the behest of Rome.

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  4. Hrm. For some reason, I can’t reply directly to your reply. Maybe WordPress has a nesting limit.

    Those are certainly ambiguous things. John the Baptist gives a little more data, but not really enough to make a well-defined case. He responds very unfavorably to both Pharisees and Sadducees (the latter group enjoying more of the power/wealth side of things – there’s archaeological evidence that Sadducees modified their housing to more closely resemble Herod’s, who himself was trying to conform to Roman styles) stating that they are branches not bearing good fruit who will fall in the judgement, but he doesn’t tell us exactly what the issues with them are.

    And then, of course, the thing about Herod’s wife.

    I’ve wondered if part of the animus wasn’t the amount of control Rome had with these people/institutions. Herod is an Idumean installation. Caiphus got his position because Annas was removed by a Roman proconsul, and he seems to have had a fairly cozy relationship both with Sadducees and the Romans.

    As far as what level of cooperation was permissible, I’m interested in your comment tying the way of the cross to dying rather than doing evil in Rome’s name. Could you elaborate on that?

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    1. I understand the way of the cross as one Jewish program among a few—each meant to restore a Davidic kingdom and/or bring about the end of age and the beginning of the new one. Zealots attempted to bring this about by force. Pharisees awaited God’s vindication of Israel on account of their renewed Torah observance.

      The way of the cross was not too different from this Pharisaical model—God would bring about the kingdom on account of his people’s fidelity. But Cruciform fidelity looked a little different in comparison. It focused on renunciation of all worldly possessions and relationships; a willingness to pronounce doom on a wicked age (both Jewish and Pagan) and thus take on the social status of a slave, a despised travelling prophet, or a persecuted cult. This is especially clear among the Greek Christians who exited pagan society to live on the margins of that society. They often lost friends, family, and social standing in order to do so.

      But as far as the very first Jewish-Christians go, they might be likened to the Essenes who exited Second Temple Judaism to live on the margins of what they understood to be an compromised Jewish society. So I suppose the difference between the Pharisees and the Jewish-Christians is that the Pharisees were more willing to work with and within the current Jewish system. Christians announced a coming judgement on both regimes (Jewish and Pagan) and willingly suffered the costs.

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