What can the temptations of Jesus tells us about what the Jews expected of him?

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(Last Updated On: September 10, 2016)

For hundreds of years the people of , the waited in great anticipation for the coming of the to deliver them from their enemies. expected Jesus to be a liberator of his people, just like Moses delivered from out of Egypt.

Please see my other article: The relationship between Jesus temptations and ours

Expectations of the Jews of the Messiah

The Jews (Israelites) had great expectations of their coming Messiah or ; both Messiah and Christ mean the same thing, the anointed one. Messiah is Hebrew while Christ is Greek. The can best be understood by the expectation in Judaism of what the messiah will be like and will do when He arrives on the scene, yes they were as much as symbolic as they were real temptations. Throughout history the temptations of Jesus can be understood as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life; however, they can also be interpreted as what the Jews in Palestine had expected of the Messiah, what kind of Messiah they were looking for?

Another word that can be used to substitute for temptations are test and these were used to prove or demonstrate Jesus qualification as our savior. Just like the Israelites who had to walk in the wilderness for 40 years was divine (Deuteronomy 8: 2), is the same way Jesus testing was divinely done.

Whereas the first Adam (see 1 Corinthians 15:45) failed his temptation and thus plugged the world into sin-Genesis 3, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, proved to be faithful and became the Savior of the world. It was very important that Jesus be tested/tempted as the Children of Israel was and as we are so that He could become our “merciful and faithful high priest”-Heb 2:17, and thus be “able to help those who are tempted”-Heb 2: 15. Jesus became a model for all of us today who face numerous temptations on a daily basis.

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Significant of Jesus Temptations

As stated above, each of Jesus temptations was very symbolic and thus represented the kind of messiah the Jews were looking for or thought He would be, this explains one reason why he was rejected by the people of His day as the Anointed One, even after His death. It must be understood that the people had their own expectations of who the messiah would be and what he would do through the many books available to them in their day (though mostly misunderstood), just like we now have the bible they too had their form of the ‘bible’. Similarly, their everyday situation helped to shape their concepts of the coming Messiah. There concept of who he was and would be was so severe that even his own family and friends misunderstood him and the role he was playing. For example his disciples who walked, slept, talked and eat with him for over 3 years before He was to depart this earth asked him if He’ll at this time restore the kingdom of Israel-Acts 2: 6.

The , of whom who betrayed him was a part of, believed in ushering the Messiah through wars and soon talks of revolution lead by the Messiah was on everyone’s lips. Similarly, economic unrest among the people caused great tension as the people was tired of the suffering and the starvation. While many people rage war against Rome, for example Judas of Galilee who plotted to overthrow the government, many waited for the intervention of God, convicted in their mind that when the situation became intolerable then God will intervene like He did in Egypt by sending the Messiah to bring in a kingdom that would overthrow the Roman government and bring in economic prosperity, political freedom and peace; they would have a king to rule over them like David.

A careful look at the economic, political, and religious aspect of the world of Jesus shows that the time was just right for the Messiah to rise up and lead the people out of ‘slavery’ like Moses did thousands of years before. As the people under the Roman rule burdens increased, the people hope for the Messiah to come on the scene grew stronger. These factors no doubt create a tense and expectant atmosphere as the economic need and political tension mixed with their religious hope was there festering for many generations. Now let’s talk a little about the significance of his temptation in the wilderness:

  1. Jesus first temptation by the devil was to turn stones into bread. Jesus was just coming off forty days of fasting in the wilderness without food and probably without water; he was starving. The devil’s temptation to turn these rocks before him came at just the moment when he was at his lowest end. This prospect was therefore very appealing; after-all He was hungry and had the power to do so. This first temptation was symbolic of the economic type of Messiah the people were expecting; therefore it was the temptation to become an economic Messiah. Remember Jesus was in an environment where he became accustomed to the hardship and suffering the people were facing; mothers going to their bed without anything to give to their children, high taxation which was a burden to the people etc was a good reason for Jesus to use his power to deliver his people from under their economic hardship, after-all he’s able to as seen when he fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and two fishes-Mt 14:16-21. Jesus, a man of compassion, was moved by the physical needs of the people and was thus tempted to use his Messianic office to bring relief to the people.

Jesus however did not get pulled into the physical needs of his people or allow the situation to distract him from his mission of being the savior of the whole world as he knew that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from out of the mouth of God-Deut 8: 3. Though moved by their , Jesus knew that the only thing that will keep us and usher us into was living by . Jesus knew that when temptation pushed us against the wall or locked us into a box, only the word of God will help us. Jesus knew that when we feel like we are pressed beyond measure and feel like just throwing the towel, only the word of God will be sufficient for us, not food. We too can follow Jesus example hear by saying to the devil “…It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out the mouth of God”-Mt 4:4 when he comes to you trying to get you to sell out your God for economic gain.

 

The Zealots, of whom Judas who betrayed him was a part of, believed in ushering the Messiah through wars and soon talks of revolution lead by the Messiah was on everyone’s lips. Similarly, economic unrest among the people caused great tension as the people was tired of the suffering and the starvation…. many waited for the intervention of God, convicted in their mind that when the situation became intolerable then God will intervene like He did in Egypt by sending the Messiah to bring in a kingdom that would overthrow the Roman government and bring in economic prosperity, political freedom and peace; they would have a king to rule over them like David.

  1. When we past one test its good for us to know that another one is coming. After Jesus rejected the first temptation he was taken up to a pinnacle of the temple and asked to jumped if he was the Son of God, notice the devil was not questioning if Jesus was the Son of God but was playing on his emotion by trying to get him to use his supernatural power for his own personal gain, after-all who wouldn’t be tempted to use their ability for fame and power, like some of us today who uses our talent to gain the worlds love and money. This temptation by the devil was a test for Jesus to become a miracle worker to impress the crowds.

Although he worked few miracles among the people this was not his whole mission but was just a small part of it. The devil however wanted him to use his miracles as his sole mission, no doubt to distract the people from the sole purpose of their life which is to serve God and keep his words. Many persons in Judaism were expecting the Messiah to dazzle his followers with miracles on a grand scale and at the same time stunning his enemies into awed submission.

Jesus however knew that miracles only had a temporary effect (as seen throughout his as some of the same people who shouted hosanna blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord and who had seen his miracles soon started shouting crucify him and probably even spot upon him). Jesus knew that the people needed something much more permanent and life-saving, not a supernatural magician. Jesus therefore rejected this temptation.

  1. No doubt the devil must have been thinking now that since he failed to get Jesus to sin in the two previous test, he no doubt will not fail in the final test for the period, after all man from the beginning of creation starting with Adam and Eve thirst for power. He therefore took Jesus up into an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdom of the world, promising him to give it all to him if he would just worship him. The devil wanted Jesus to become a political Messiah by using supernatural means to conquer the kingdoms of the world. He also wanted Jesus to compromise with him. This was probably the greatest test that Jesus had to face at the outset of his ministry as for many years the people were looking for a Messiah to come and take them from under the yoke of the Romans, like God did in Egypt. The people were eagerly awaiting a military hero that would come and destroy his enemies and bring about the Kingdom of God. Many people, the Zealots, eager to bring in the revolution by using violence. As seen, at various times in his ministry Jesus had to hide himself from the people as they wanted to make him king and start the revolution. Judas perhaps betrayed Jesus as a way to push his hand to take his position as King and Israel leader out of their bondage. Jesus knew that he could not make a league with the devil and used his means of doing God’s work. Jesus understood that any movement or power gain through physical force or stepping on another’s foot will ultimately fail and is destructed-James 4:1-3; 1 Peter 3:9-11.

Please see my other article: The relationship between Jesus temptations and ours

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