Satan tempted Jesus a second time in Matthew 4:5-6 by trying to convince Him to throw Himself off the top of the Temple in Jerusalem. It may not sound like much of a temptation for you, though some thrill seeker with a parachute might try it out. Or perhaps someone suicidal might be tempted, but neither case existed with Jesus. Though it was a kind of “stunt”, since Jesus was not an “adrenaline junkie”, it did not appeal to Him for that reason.
There are two sides to this coin. On one hand there is Satan’s side. He had reason to tempt Jesus with this specific challenge. On the other hand is Jesus’ temptation. There was reason for Him to be tempted by this. Analysis of both sides of this conflict will develop appreciation for what happened and reveal insights into both parties.
First, notice the attack from Satan in Matthew 4:6:
“If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘HE SHALL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE OVER YOU,’ and,
‘IN THEIR HANDS THEY SHALL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU DASH YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’ “
In the first temptation, Satan did not use a Scripture. In this second one he learned his lesson, and perhaps was using a little sarcasm. “Oh, you believe that God will provide? Why don’t you prove it and throw yourself from the Temple? Let’s see if God will really provide for You! After all, He promised to protect you. And if you’re the Messiah, God will have no choice but to save your life.”
This seems like a reasonable interpretation when you look at the answer Jesus gave (Matthew 4:7).
Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, “YOU SHALL NOT TEMPT THE LORD YOUR GOD.” ‘
As Adam Clarke’s commentary points out, “How did they tempt him in Massah? They said, Is the Lord among us or not? Exodus 17:1-7.” (The response of Jesus is a direct reference to the context of Exodus 17:1-7.) And with His reply, Jesus showed us what was wrong with Satan’s temptation: It put demands upon God that He did not allow and put Him to the test. It was not a test of Jesus’ own faith that Satan offered, but a test for God–to see if He really will keep His promises. That was the problem Israel had, and the temptation Jesus faced. His response tells us that much. He saw through the temptation to the real issue underlying.
What If Jesus Jumped?
Surely our Father would be put in a difficult situation had Jesus jumped. (That’s not to suggest He could not handle the situation.) On one hand, this is the Messiah who would die for the world. Without Him, His eternal plan was wasted. On the other hand, miraculously saving Jesus would (among other things) call Jesus’ human nature into question.
It would indicate a unique hedge of protection around Jesus
If God miraculously saved Jesus from a jump from the Temple, this would indicate a hedge of protection unique to Jesus. (Incidentally, Satan once accused God of putting a hedge around someone–Job.) It seems only logical that if the Father would save Jesus from such a jump because He was too important to die, He would also prevent Jesus from dying because of sin. To do that, He would be forced to remove the ability for Jesus to succumb to temptation. If so, would Jesus even be human? What human being of right mind and age cannot sin?
Don’t read into this that I think Jesus sinned. He was the only person of accountable age and right mind that never sinned once in His lifetime. The point is that Jesus COULD have sinned had He chosen it and that He DID NOT SIN. This perfection was neither an accident nor divine protection. It was because He loved God and chose to obey in all things. But we must not make the mistake of assuming Jesus was not human and subject to the possibility of falling. Despite the opinions of some, those temptations were real. The possibility of sin was real.
These could not be called “temptations” if there was not something within them that was tempting. This was an extremely dangerous moment for all of humanity.
It would effectively taint the sacrifice of Christ, if not nullify it completely.
The sacrifice of Christ depended upon Him being a human that was perfectly sinless–one who endured the trials of temptation but never succumbed. If Jesus could NOT fall into the temptations He faced, then we can know that (1) They were not real temptations and (2) Jesus could not choose to be righteous. He would be like a robot, only able to do what He was programmed to do. That is not the human experience.
Temptations make humans suffer. Could you imagine God pretending to suffer in order to convince us to follow Him? That’s manipulation. That’s NOT God’s way!
For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18).
He suffered in temptation because it was fitting (Hebrews 2:10).
If Jesus jumped, the Father would either allow Jesus to die and destroy all of His plans and the work He did for the previous thousands of years, or He would save Jesus and nullify the sacrifice Jesus was going to make later. There could be a third alternative, of course. We are dealing with God, after all. He can do things we never imagined. But I hope this little exercise shows the reason this temptation would have been so important for Satan’s attack. Don’t underestimate the enemy. He knows what he is doing (unfortunately).
What Exactly Was Tempting About Jumping?
A doubting Jesus?
Some people suggest that Jesus was not confident that He was the Messiah and Satan was addressing that doubt. That’s not sensible. Jesus said and did nothing that would associate Him with the word “doubting”. Jesus did not doubt Himself. He had already heard God speak from Heaven saying, “You are My beloved Son.” There was no doubt in His mind God was there for Him.
An easy way out of difficult work
Perhaps it was simply because (if He jumped) everyone would see that He is the Messiah. It appealed to a common desire to avoid unnecessary effort. It was the “easy way out” temptation we often face.
They would see a cadre of angelic beings swoop down to rescue Him from the fall so that He would not even stump His toe when He came to the ground. Wouldn’t that make it easier for Him to prove Himself to others? Instead of laboring for several years walking from community to community performing miracles, He could in one swift motion show Himself to be the Messiah once for all! This seems to be a decent explanation. (Feel free to give me your thoughts in the comments below.)
Jesus Was More Than A Miracle Worker
Running with the idea that Jesus was possibly tempted to take a “shortcut” in His work, Jesus had to have a greater sense of purpose in order to resist the temptation. In fact, though Jesus did want to prove Himself to be the Messiah, His “proof” consisted of far more than miracles. And His life consisted of far more than doing fantastic deeds.
If Jesus only came to do grand miracles, it might have been enough to throw Himself off that roof. But then how would the other prophecies about His nature be fulfilled? For example, consider Matthew 4:13-16:
And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES: THE PEOPLE WHO SAT IN DARKNESS HAVE SEEN A GREAT LIGHT, AND UPON THOSE WHO SAT IN THE REGION AND SHADOW OF DEATH LIGHT HAS DAWNED.”
Jesus came to do far more than “incredible deeds”. He came to teach us what it means to love, to live a life of devotion to God, to offer yourself in service to others.
“Grander” Is Not Better
So many want to emphasize the great miracles of Jesus–the grand gestures and incredible power, but let us not forget that these were also done because He loved others, because He wanted to ease pain and suffering where He could. If it were simply a matter of throwing Himself off the Temple ledge, we would never see the heart of God and His compassion living through the many expressions of love Jesus provided.
In the end, it’s not the miracles that touch your heart after all. It’s the thoughtfulness, sacrifice, and love.
Would we not improve ourselves if this were also our focus? Instead of grand gestures and big events, let’s strive to live for God in the smaller, more mundane parts of life that really matter the most.
I’m glad Jesus did not misunderstand His journey and take shortcuts. I wish I could say I never took them either, but I can’t. May God help us find the strength to understand what really matters in life and to pursue it with all we have.