Jesus’ Temptation: A Reflection on Matthew’s Use of Old Testament Theology and Imagery -- By: Andrew Schmutzer
ATJ vol 40 p. 15
Jesus’ Temptation: A Reflection on Matthew’s Use of Old Testament Theology and Imagery
Jesus’ temptation in Matt. 4:1–11 was far more than an isolated event of three tests. At one level, it was a challenge to His entire redemptive mission. Yet internally, Matthew’s construction of the account is utterly drenched in OT theological themes, imagery, and dialogue that reverberates with the words and events of an entire nation tested to its core. Israel’s testing was their opportunity to enact their loyalty to God’s Covenant. Similarly, Jesus’ temptation threatened to derail His obedience to His Father. Image and theology, history and mission all converge in this text.
It is one thing to understand what was at stake, but exactly why Matthew weaves so many OT images and themes into this drama deserves another look. Jesus recognized the devil’s tests as redemptive distortions, unacceptable detours from His kingdom mission.1
The victorious Son achieved what the national son did not—using unique biblical texts and sites. Jesus’ temptation was not only determinative for His service, but the devil’s tactics themselves were cut from the rich fabric of Israel’s historical experiences with YHWH.
THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST AND ITS OT THEMES (Matt. 4:1–11)
ATJ vol 40 p. 16
Metaphorically speaking, the OT often functions as the “theological dictionary” of the NT, animating its message. The biblical writers used specific genres, terms, topographical symbols, and a host of rich images to communicate to their audience.2 John the Baptist’s preaching was no different, capitalizing on the peoples’ familiarity with OT themes in his stinging call to repentance (3:1–12; cf. 4:17).3 In Matthew’s account, the temptation of Jesus is intimately tied to the language of John’s baptism scene.4 A study of Jesus’ temptation cannot overlook some vital connections.
The ‘Elijah’ Ministry of John the Baptist
As a person, John is presented as “Elijah-like” since John offers a renewal to Israel (cf. 1 Kgs. 18:21).5 His preaching was the final prophetic installment of covenant renewal (
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