Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, “If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, ‘He shall give his angels charge concerning thee:’ and, ‘On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.'”
Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, “Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:5-7).
Satan was not able to get Jesus to “bite” at the temptation of turning stones into bread and to satisfy His great hunger (Matthew 4:1-4, Luke 4:1-4). Next, according to Matthew’s Gospel (the last temptation in Luke’s, Luke 4:9-12), Satan transports Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple for the next temptation.
The temptation this time is for Jesus to again “prove” that He is who He says He is. Satan challenges Him to throw Himself down, for, if He is the Son of God, then the promise of Psalm 91:11-12 would be true regarding Him. After all, it is thus written in the Scriptures!
We have no reason to doubt that the Scripture is true. If Jesus had decided to take up Satan’s challenge and would have cast Himself down, the angels would have protected Him.
Yet Jesus does not take up Satan’s challenge but reminds him of another Scripture that is written– you shall not put the LORD your God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16). Jesus has already demonstrated His confidence in the Father and Source of His sustenance (cf. Matthew 4:1-4); He now makes it evident that testing that Source is unseemly. He does not have to perform the action to know or to make demonstration that He is the Son of God. He can be confident in His trust in God without such a trial.
Furthermore, the location also plays a role in this. The Temple was not just a large building; it was also the center of Jewish life. There would have been, no doubt, thousands of Jews present who would have likely seen these events played out. While God’s power would have been displayed, it would all be for show, without any substantive benefit or teaching moment. People would have spoken about Jesus in terms of a freak or some kind of stuntman. Worse would be if some were to get it into their heads that He was the Messiah according to their understanding of the Messiah when He had not yet taught about the true nature of the Kingdom!
It is important to note the role of Scripture in this temptation. Satan quotes Scripture against Jesus, and this goes to show that Scripture can be used for malicious purposes and to distract from the greatest good. Jesus’ response demonstrates powerfully that the Bible is not designed merely to be a proof-text for our desires. Just because God has promised to protect the Messiah does not mean that the Messiah needs to test out that promise!
Thus, while we all can agree that quoting Scripture is good, a bad point is not somehow made good because some Scripture has been forced to fit into it. One statement of Scripture may, at times, need to be understood in terms of another Scripture so that the text remains consistent and God’s true will is properly discerned. And let no one be deceived into thinking that the Evil One does not know Scripture or how to use and abuse it!
There is much to gain from the substance of the temptation. Humans have an innate impulse to believe all things by experimentation or observation. It is much more challenging for humans to trust without testing, as evidenced by Thomas (John 20:24-25). This remains true to this day. Humans are always pushing at the edges of knowledge, endurance, and capability. There tends to be an ethic of “if we can, we should,” without necessarily thinking about the implications of what we are doing.
Therefore, there would be the natural, human impulse in Jesus to cast Himself off, just to see what would happen. Many thrillseekers would love to have the opportunity to jump off of large buildings, experience the rush, and know that they would be caught before they fell!
But Jesus reminds the Devil– and ourselves– that we should not put the Lord to the test. Who are we to test God? We are the clay, after all, and He is the Potter (Romans 9:20-21). He has already provided us with life– this creation and the promise of eternity (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Romans 6:23). He has given of His Son and stands willing to give us all things– if we ask in faith (cf. Romans 8:32, James 1:5-8).
And yet we make a bargain. We will say that we will believe in God if He does x or y. If we are believers, we decide that we will re-commit to God if He answers our prayers in the way we expect Him to answer them. We are willing to step out in faith but only after we have a “sign” or some guaranty of what we are about to accomplish.
This is putting God to the test. Perhaps God will answer us in our folly and ignorance; perhaps He will not. A non-answer does not make Him any less God, or, for that matter, any less good.
Instead, we must have confidence in God like Jesus did. We should trust that the Lord will protect us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves if we are His. Even if we die, our souls are in His hands. Thus, we should be willing to believe no matter what. We should commit to God no matter what. We ought to step out in faith no matter what. God has proven His faithfulness and we have no reason to doubt His promises.
The only reason we have to doubt His promises is that impulse to test and examine, and we must understand that we do not need to test God. Instead, let us trust in His goodness and seek His will!
Ethan R. Longhenry