Matthew’s second temptation of Christ:
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.
In Matthew, the second temptation is for Jesus to miraculously save himself from death by leaping from the top of the temple in Jerusalem and… flying?
In Luke, this is the final temptation. I think Luke appreciates the irony that in the very next story, after Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth, the congregation also wants to throw him off a high place! (See Luke 4:16-30)
“Leaping from the temple would prove to onlookers that Jesus was divine,” I’ve heard preachers say. “It would be an easy path to becoming the messiah.” I think that’s interesting but wrong. According to the stories, Jesus did all sorts of miraculous things. It wasn’t as if he lacked an audience or needed better PR.
From my perspective, there is nothing tempting or easy about falling from a high place. When I’ve stood near the edge of a cliff and looked over, the blood-deprived tingly feeling in my gut was my body’s quiet but firm way of saying “not today, buddy,”
I suspect this temptation had more to do with Jesus‘ certainty. Christians idolize the “leap of faith,” like leaving one’s home country to be a missionary. When we’re on a mission from God, says the dominant theology, nothing will stand in our way; success is inevitable, and proves that God loves us and that we’re important. If the Creator preserved Jesus from premature death, Jesus could carry out the rest of his ministry without any doubt. He’d never have to pray, “If possible, let this cup pass from me,” or “Why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus, in the wilderness, replies with a reference to Israel’s time in the wilderness, when they asked Moses to prove (again) that God was with them (Exodus 17:7). Jesus’ answer indicates that real faith isn’t so much about leaping and expecting God to catch you as it is about the slow plod through the desert, full of doubt and thirst.
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