The issue of Matthew’s use of Old Testament Scriptures (in the form of direct quotations as well as allusions) is a vast and complex study. This is true not only for “untutored” students of the Bible, but for scholars as well.1 Given the space constraints with this paper, it seems appropriate to narrow the focus down to one particular case study; namely, the temptation of Jesus in the desert, as recounted in Matt 4.1-11. This passage seems particularly appropriate, since the use of Scripture here is in the forms of both allusion and quotation, and since it is a key point in revealing Matthew’s conception of salvation-history.2
More specifically, this paper aims to deal with Matthew’s presentation of Jesus fulfilling Scriptures both by allusion and by Christ’s own quotations from Deuteronomy when he is tempted by Satan. It is the argument of this paper that these Old Testament references in Matthew’s gospel give insight into, and help develop, the larger Matthean motif of Jesus being the (antitypical) fulfilment of Israel’s history.3 Time will first be taken to examine the context surrounding the temptation account in Matthew so as to analyze the larger themes in the narrative. Secondly, the specific temptations themselves will be studied to show the precise parallelism which Matthew presents between Jesus and Israel in the desert and how Jesus is portrayed as the fulfilment of all the Pentateuch—not just the Prophets.
Jesus’ Use of Scripture in His Temptation
Contextual Observations—Jesus Fulfilling Israel’s History
There are many events in Matthew’s gospel which precede Jesus’ temptation, but yet give much insight into a major theme being drawn upon within the temptation narrative itself. This theme has been variously described as a “new Israel / Exodus” motif,4 or a “new Moses” motif.5 As he is seemingly always able to do, Carson suggests that it is possible to take the best of both worlds, and—while subtly perceiving the Moses motif—one would do best to understand Jesus’ citation of Scriptures in these temptations “in terms of Israel-Christ typology.”6 In this way Christ may truly be preserved in Matthew’s view as the true Moses, as well as the true Israel: Jesus is the fulfilment of all that came before him. Thus Carson can conclude that “we must rid ourselves of conceptions of fulfillment which are too narrow. Jesus fulfills the entire Old Testament—the Law and the Prophets—in many ways.”7 To see both themes present is the best solution, to be sure, since the vast amount of data for either argument can, for the most part, be used for both arguments. And the richness of fulfilment in Christ should not in any way be minimized wherever it is at all valid.
There are no less than four events from the immediate context in Matthew which must be taken into account before one may interpret Jesus’ temptation aright. The first is Joseph and Mary’s flight to Egypt (Matt 2.13-15). In Matthean theology of fulfilment, this associates Jesus with the people of God, since Hosea records that the “son of God” would be called out of Egypt; which in its original context, definitely referred to the nation of Israel and no other.
The second event to be considered is the “slaughter of the innocents” (Matt 2.16-18). Zaspel argues that the “slaughter of the children (is) significant” here because it matches up Christ’s life and birth-years with Moses,8 but the text Matthew quotes from Jeremiah seems to tie Jesus’ life in with the “filling-up of Israel’s story” theme more predominantly. That being said, Zaspel’s point must be allowed to stand that “the wording of 2.20 (‘for they are dead which sought the young child’s life’) is strikingly reminiscent of Exodus 4.19,”9 thus allowing for the continuation of the “new Moses” theme as well. Even if nothing else could be shown conclusively, these two events definitely serve to confirm in the mind of the reader that the true “Son of God” had to have all the genuine experiences of the “son of God” spoken of in the Old Testament. In other words, Jesus is described as living out the history of Israel.
The third event to be noted is that which occurs in the verses immediately preceding the temptation: the baptism of Jesus (Matt 3.13-17). After being baptized, Jesus has the Spirit of God descend on him, while the Father declares from heaven that Jesus is, in fact, his (true) Son. This serves to validate Matthew’s declaration that Jesus would take on the exclusive title of “Son of God” (cf. 2.15), and it also continues to lay the foundation for the temptations which will come from Satan’s voice (contra the voice of God here at his baptism).10 Christ is portrayed as the one who takes on the story of Israel and develops it “as the One who gives meaning to all who went before Him.”11 It is immediately following this event that Jesus is “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4.1).12 It is important to see in the flow of thought that the baptism narrative immediately precedes Jesus’ fast and wandering in the desert for a time. This is precisely parallel to Israel’s journey through the Red Sea, and then temptations to not trust God, to put God to the test, and to worship other gods.
Before actually focusing attention specifically on the temptations, however, one more event should be considered, and that is the Sermon on the Mount, which immediately follows the temptations in Matthew’s construction. This is significant for both fulfilment themes discussed thus far. In the Sermon on the Mount, the portrayal of Christ as the new Moses, however, must be allowed the place of prominence.
The whole narrative in both cases (Exodus and Matthew) proceeds in the same direction: childhood, exodus through the Red Sea/baptism in the Jordan, wilderness temptation, mountain, law. … In fact, the language of the mountain scene, in which Jesus ascends and descends (5:1, anabainō + eis to horos; 8:1, katabainō + de autou apo horous) is virtually identical to the Septuagint description of Moses at Sinai (Exod. 19:3, 12, 13, 14; 24:12, 13, 18, etc.; 34:29).13
It is essential to have this contextual framework in place in order to properly understand the picture of Christ that is being given in the temptation account of Matthew 4.1-11. In these verses we see that Jesus himself must continue to fulfil / fill-up the meaning of all of Israel’s history, which has prophesied of him. The temptation narrative is cast against the background of the story of Israel: Will the Son of God be victorious where the son of God has failed?
The Temptations of Christ—Fulfilling the Destiny of the Son of God
In contrast to the Sermon on the Mount where the main comparison is between Jesus and Moses, the temptations of Christ have to do with Jesus as the true Son of God and fulfilment of Israel almost to the exclusivity of the other theme. Davies states flatly that “Jesus is to be regarded in relation to the people of Israel, not with Moses as such” (in this section).15 This “mingling” of themes even within a close context tends to give that much more credence to the “balanced approach” advocated by Carson in all his works on this topic. As France argues, Jesus’ continual quoting from one small passage in all three cases “suggests that (this particular) passage was especially in Jesus’ mind at the time, as a prefiguration of his own experience. He was learning the lessons which God had intended Israel to learn in the desert.”16
A. The First Temptation and Response.
Prior to Satan’s coming to tempt Jesus, we are told that he has fasted for forty days and nights in the wilderness, which continues the parallel between his experience and that of Israel.17 Given the declaration from heaven (“This is my beloved Son”) in the immediate context, there can be no doubt that Satan attempts to tempt Jesus in a similar manner to how he tempted Adam. Thus he calls into question what God has made clear: “If you are the Son of God,” then you should prove it. Now as it is commonly known,
the Messianic Age, among other things, was expected to reproduce the characteristics of the time of Moses, which had been marked by the gift of manna, and Jesus, who is at the same time Messiah and New Moses, is here tempted by Satan to reproduce the miracle of the giving of the manna by turning stones into bread.18
This temptation should not be downplayed, as we are apt to do.
The poignancy of this question is lost upon most of us, for we have generally escaped the pinch of want, but for Jesus it plumbed the depths of reality. Himself the son of a poor laboring man, living among a people who were for the most part rather intimate with hunger, he knew full well that human existence was literally a hand-to-mouth affair.20
Jesus responds to the first temptation, however, by quoting Scripture. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”21 In the context of the passage which Jesus cites, Israel had wandered in the desert for forty years as punishment from God, so that he might humble them and know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commandments or not—whether they would depend on him wholly to provide what they needed, as he desired, or whether they would turn to their own complaints or rely on their own abilities to provide for themselves.22
In this passage Jesus makes it absolutely clear on whom he depends. He has wandered in the desert for forty days, and is now learning humility, being tested so that all would know what is in his heart—and he depends on God alone, like the True Son of God should. Christ succeeds where Israel failed before him.
B. The Second Temptation and Response.
Rather than simply using the events fresh in Jesus’ mind to tempt him again, Satan adjusts his attack and tempts Christ with a combination of Scripture (truth) and falsehood. Again, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written…” and Satan quotes an Old Testament passage which rightly refers to the Messiah (though only by secondary referent).23 Here it is as if Satan is saying, “If you are so sure in the Word of God, and if you fully rely on him as you say, make God fulfil his promise.”
When Jesus responds to the second temptation, he shows that he is not persuaded at all, and corrects Satan’s twisting of Scripture, by quoting his own. Jesus quotes again from Deuteronomy (what Israel was to have learned in the wilderness, he must know), and a passage very close to the one he has already cited. This time he quotes Deut 6.16, making it clear that God is not to be tested. As it has been pointed out, it is not hesitation or lack of trust in God’s protection that makes Jesus refuse to jump from the pinnacle of the temple, but rather, he knows that Scripture teaches those who are faithful will not demand or use any kind of “manipulative bribery” to get from God want they want.24
The passage which Jesus quotes is completed by the phrase “… as you tested him at Massah,” (which itself means “testing”) referring to the people’s rebellion against God when they had no water after being delivered out of Egypt.25 When all the historical details are put in place, it can be seen that “for both Israel and Jesus, demanding miraculous protection as proof of God’s care was wrong; the appropriate attitude is trust and obedience.”26 Once again, the Son of God must fulfil all that is commanded by God where the son of God had hitherto failed.
C. The Third Temptation and Response.
The third temptation of Jesus is—in keeping with the fulfilment of Israel’s story motif—also a temptation into which the Israelites had fallen in the wilderness. While there is no direct quotation of Scripture here in Satan’s temptation, both he and Jesus plainly know that the Messiah is to rule over all the earth eventually.27 Much of the temptation here, then, lies in the potential of side-stepping the cross. In Satan’s temptation, Jesus would be able to enjoy ruling all the kingdoms of the world “in their splendour” without ever having to remove their sin and suffer for their souls.28 He could (Satan suggests) achieve the sovereignty his seeks “apart from the way of the cross.”29
Jesus’ response, again, is to quote Scripture from what Israel had been commanded in the desert (Deut 6.13): “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Of course, this is the lesson that Israel had never learned, and this is the reason they needed a Saviour; this is why Christ did in fact have to come and suffer. Jesus’ flat out rejection of worshipping anything other than God himself provides a stark contrast with Israel, and leaves no doubt as to his own true Sonship.
In conclusion, there are no fewer than two main thoughts which must be expounded. To be certain, there are more, but within the scope of this paper these two must be highlighted.
A. The Authority of Scripture.
Gramatically, in Matthew’s temptation account, when Jesus quotes the Old Testament, he simply uses the word gegraptai. In his discussion on the weight of the various formulae used by New Testament authors when quoting the Old Testament, B.B. Warfield says that “the significance of these formulas is perhaps most manifest where they stand alone as the bare adduction of authority without any indication of any kind whence the citation is derived.”30 In other words, Jesus intentionally leaves off any indication as to where and when who said what, but rather makes the simple claim, “It is written.” In doing so, he makes it clear that for him it is sufficient that it is written, and whatever is written is absolutely authoritative and beyond questioning or exception. For the one who has not come to abolish the Law and Prophets, but to fulfil them (Matt 5.17-20), it is of utmost importance for Jesus to live in “humble submission to Scripture” 31 in order to fulfil them in the fullest possible sense of that word.
B. Jesus’ Self-Perception—A Knowledge of His Place in Redemptive History.
While it is clear that Jesus knows he is the “Son of God,” as the voice had just declared from heaven, he also knows where he stands in the line of redemptive-history. As Carson states, “Jesus does not conceive of his life and ministry in terms of opposition to the Old Testament, but in terms of bringing to fruition that towards which it points. Thus, the Law and the Prophets…find their valid continuity in terms of their outworking in Jesus.”32
This is especially revealed in this passage, dealing with Christ’s temptations for several reasons. If we see Jesus as the fulfilment of all that the Law and Prophets looked forward to here, then that is determinate in many ways for the rest of our understanding of who Christ is, for here he is revealed in a very particular way:
It is to be noticed here, if anywhere, we are in touch with the true self-estimation of Jesus. The narrative can hardly have come from anyone except himself, and it shows him not in public debate, but alone with the tempter. His use of Deuteronomy here is, therefore, no mere teaching device, but reflects his own basic conception of his status and ministry. And it is in typological terms: he not only wished to be seen, but saw himself, as Israel, tested and taught in the desert as God’s ‘son’ Israel had been.33
In other words, the temptation of Jesus, alone in the desert reveals to us, not how Jesus teaches us to understand him, but how he in fact sees himself.34 And when Jesus sees himself, he acknowledges that he is the fulfilment of Israel, the true Son of God toward whom all things have been pointing up until that moment in redemptive-history. He himself is the climax and the fulfilment of the plot. In short, “‘The history of Israel is taken up by him and carried to its fulfillment.’ The antitype, as always, is greater than the type. Old Testament Israel had failed; Jesus must succeed.”35 And we praise him that he did!
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew. NAC. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.
Carson, D.A. and John D. Woodbridge, eds. Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.
Carson, D.A. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5-10. Grand Rapids: Global Christian Publishers, 2001.
Carson, D.A. “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the NIV, v.8. Frank Gæbelein, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.
Davies, W.D. The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.
Donaldson, Terence L. Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1985.
France, R.T. Jesus and the Old Testament. London: Tyndale Press, 1971.
France, R.T. Matthew. TNTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.
France, R.T. Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989.
Garlington, Don B. “Jesus, the Unique Son of God: Tested and Faithful.” Bibliotheca Sacra, 151.603 (1994), 284-308.
Gundry, Robert H. The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel, with Special Reference to the Messianic Hope. Leiden: Brill, 1975.
Hagner, Donald A. Matthew. 2 vols. WBC. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1972.
Keener, Craig S. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Liefeld, Walter L. “Luke” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the NIV, v.8. Frank Gæbelein, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. PNTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.
Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.
Storms, Sam. “The Hermeneutics of Eschatology.” Online article available from: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article.asp?id=391.
Taylor, Arch. B., Jr. “Decision in the Desert: The Temptation of Jesus, in the Light of Deuteronomy.” Interpretation, 14.3 (1960), 300-309.
Taylor, N.H. “The Temptation of Jesus on the Mountain: A Palestinian Christian Polemic Against Agrippa I.” JSNT, 83.1 (2001), 27-49.
Thielman, Frank. Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970.
Wells, Tom and Fred Zaspel. New Covenant Theology. Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2002.
Williamson, Lamar. “Matthew 4:1-11.” Interpretation, 38.1 (1984), 51-55.
Zaspel, Fred. “New Covenant Theology and the Mosaic Law: A Theological and Exegetical Analysis of Matthew 5:17-20.” Online article available from the Biblical Studies website: http://www.biblicalstudies.com/bstudy/hermenutics/new_c_law.htm.
Zaspel, Fred. “The Theology of Fulfillment.” Online article available from the Biblical Studies website: http://www.biblicalstudies.com/bstudy/eschatology/fulfllnt1.htm.
1 D.A. Carson, “Matthew” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, v.8, Frank Gæbelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 27. Carson explains, “Untutored Christians are prone to think of prophecy and fulfillment as something not very different from straightforward propositional prediction and fulfillment. A close reading of the NT reveals that prophecy is more complex than that.” While expecting simplicity and finding complexity may be the problem for those “untutored,” arriving at conclusions which bring any sort of consensus is the problem for scholars: “Such problems have been extensively studied with very little agreement.”
2 This passage is particularly illuminating as it has a parallel in Luke 4.1-13 to which it may be compared. In the comparison of the two passages, Matthew’s emphases become apparent. Carson (“Matthew”, 111), notes that Luke “inserts his genealogy between the two (baptism and temptation), suggesting a contrast between Adam, who though tested in the bliss of Eden yet fell, and Jesus, who was tested in the hardships of the wilderness, yet triumphed.” In this way, Luke’s contrast (Christ versus Adam) is different than the theme in Matthew’s mind (Christ as the fulfilment of Israel’s story) as it will be shown. The slight differences in chronology of the temptation are probably tied to these thematic differences as well. As Moisés Silva notes, not only is chronology not the most important thing in these passages, but neither one of the authors appear to be attempting to make a case for their own chronology. For these reasons (and the others he discusses), the differences in these synoptic accounts do not call the authority or inspiration of either account into question (cf. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, eds., Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], 110-112). Both the differing theological emphases and the intentionally differing chronologies are brought together well by N.H. Taylor: “Good reasons for their respective orders can be discerned in the theology of each evangelist. Luke brings his narrative to a climax in the Temple, reflecting his eschatology and salvation-history. Matthew, on the other hand, attributes particular significance to the mountain as a place of revelation…” (from “The Temptation of Jesus on the Mountain: A Palestinian Christian Polemic Against Agrippa I,” JSNT, 83.1 , 33). Donaldson (Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology [Sheffield, Eng.: JSOT Press, 1985], 203-205) agrees that different motifs are being presented, but argues strongly for a distinctly Matthean salvation-history being presented in these very temptations. In further defence of the selection of this text as representative, Carson speaks of Christ’s own use of Scriptures in Matthew’s recounting and posits that this text, particularly indicates “the way he perceived his own relation to Israel” (“Matthew”, 111).
3 Though this is the focus of this paper, it must not be assumed that this is the only function of Matthew’s citations of Scripture which are complex and variegated. What can be clearly seen, however, is that an understanding Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as the antitypical fulfilment of Israel’s story is essential for interpreting this pericope aright, as this paper intends to show.
4 Cf. R.T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1971), 50-53; and especially W.D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 45-48. Both of these authors argue that there is very little by way of “new Moses” imagery, but most definitely a strong connection with Christ and Israel.
5 Fred Zaspel, for example, in all his works argues for the “new Moses” motif, which seems to make sense in the context immediately following, where Jesus functions as the new Moses, re-issuing God’s Law (ie. the Sermon on the Mount in ch. 5). Zaspel argues for a new Moses theme exclusively. Cf. Fred Zaspel, “New Covenant Theology and the Mosaic Law: A Theological and Exegetical Analysis of Matthew 5:17-20” and “The Theology of Fulfillment.” Cf. Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain, 92-93; also, Thielman, Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 91-93.
6 Carson, “Matthew,” 111. This is contra John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 162, who says that Israel typology is “not the key to an understanding of the temptations.” The arguments provided in the rest of the paper will argue for the importance of understanding the Israel-Christ typology.
8 Zaspel, “The Theology of Fulfillment.” Along the same lines, Thielman lists no less than five direct parallels between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus in the first two chapters of Matthew alone (Theology of the New Testament, 91-92).
9 Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel, New Covenant Theology (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2002), 93. Compare Matt 2.20 “τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου” and Exodus 4.19 in the LXX “τεθνηκασιν γαρ παντες οι ζητουντες σου την ψυχην”.
10 Donaldson, (Jesus on the Mountain, 91-92) states, “The temptation is certainly not that Jesus should doubt the fact of his Sonship. Nor is its central thrust that Jesus should adopt another pattern of messiahship, even though current Jewish messianic expectations stand in the background of Satan’s appeals. Rather, the heart of the temptation is to be found in an attempt to induce Jesus to be unfaithful to a pattern of Sonship conceived in terms of the relationship between ideal Israel and the divine Father. It is a temptation away from Sonship, rather than towards any specific pattern of messianism.” Sonship here, then, is ultimately tied up not with ontological categories which could never be denied, but rather, with the work and the will of the Father, and the Son’s obedience to him.
12 Matt 4.1. Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
17 So Carson, “Matthew”, 112. It is perhaps significant to note, as Keener does (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], 136), that even here the symbolism / identification is split between Israel’s forty year wandering and Moses’ forty day fast there (Ex 24.18; 34.28; Dt 9.9, 11, 18, 25; 10.10). Cf. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 72.
19 As Carson notes (“Matthew”, 112), the ei + indicative construction of the temptation “does not so much challenge his sonship as assume it to build a doubtful imperative. … Sonship of the living God, he suggested, surely means Jesus has the power and right to satisfy his own needs.” Morris adds to this thought, however, saying “while yet the ‘if’ suggests a little doubt: it might be well to bring some proof of this. Jesus’ special position is implied in the Son of God; that Son should be able to do a small thing like make stones into bread” (Gospel According to Matthew, 73).
22 Carson, (“Matthew”, 112): “Jesus’ fast of forty days and nights reflected Israel’s forty-year wandering (Deut 8:2). Both Israel’s and Jesus’ hunger taught a lesson (Deut 8:3); both spent time in the desert preparatory to their respective tasks. … The main point is that both ‘sons’ were tested by God’s design.”
27 Donaldson rightly, it seems, notes that Satan draws the basis of underlying assertion in this temptation from Ps 2.6-8, where the “son of God” is given absolute sovereignty (Jesus on the Mountain, 91).
34 Likewise, Carson: “The account could only have come from Jesus, given to his disciples perhaps after Caesarea Philippi. Therefore it gives an important glimpse into Jesus’ self-perception as the Son of God, and, judging by the Scripture he quotes, the way he perceived his own relation to Israel” (“Matthew”, 111). This pericope is of double importance, then, as it links Matthew’s use of Old Testament Scriptures and his fulfilment themes back to another source: not Q, but Christ himself!