The EMBODIMENT of Scripture
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ “ 5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ “ 9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ “ 12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
In the second part of this three-part Lenten series, the focus will be on the cryptic interchange between Jesus and the devil, specifically relating to the quoting of scripture back and forth. What exactly was the point of that and what can we possibly learn? In this devotion, we will see that Jesus spoke the Word and that the Word spoke of Jesus.
1. JESUS SPOKE THE WORD.
Fascinating, this interplay between good and evil. Considering the crucial nature of this cosmic battle, one might think Jesus would have instead tapped more fully into his divine nature and zapped the devil right off the face of the earth. But he didn’t, and he wouldn’t, because that would have short-circuited his mission which would inevitably lead him towards the cross; thereby sealing the redemption of creation and mankind.
Instead, Jesus simply quoted scripture. Three times he quoted the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:13, and 6:16) to thwart the devil’s attacks. Strange as it seems on the surface, of all the potential debate tactics that could have been used, this turned out to actually be the most powerful and efficient; it did the trick. As the Apostle Paul writes, the sword of the spirit is indeed the Word of God (Eph 6:17). So like any instrument or weapon, to be most effective, it must be most properly comprehended and wielded.
Something very interesting to note in all of this is that the enemy knows the scriptures too; very well indeed. This is obvious from the fact that he also quotes scripture back at Jesus, but something is missing: Though the adversary knew the scriptures, he didn’t “know” (in the fullest worshipful sense) the God of the scriptures; the God who would complete his redemptive plan out of love for his people. The New Testament (Jas 2:19) informs us that even the demons “believe” (and shudder) so there is evidently quite a difference between intellectual assent to theological doctrine and deep heartfelt worshipful faith. Out there in the lonely wilderness, we get a quick snapshot of that distinction.
About Jesus: Jesus knows the scriptures, he understands them, and his conversations and teachings are infused with them. He is so saturated with the Old Testament scriptures that he drips them, so to speak, whenever he opens his mouth. This specific phrase used three times in our narrative, “it is written” (to refer back to the Old Testament scriptures), is used by Jesus 63 times directly in the New Testament. 63 times!
This is a large relative percentage of what the Bible has recorded him as saying! And not only that, there are many more times Jesus referenced (and inferenced) the scriptures without prefacing with that specific three word phrase.
It needs to be reminded that our Lord held a very high view of scripture. Let’s allow the full-orbed consequences of that to sink in deeply.
In our present day, there’s a movement towards emphasizing only the “red letter” words of Jesus; downplaying the history of the gospels and Acts, minimizing the teaching of the apostles, and especially discarding the reliability and relevance of the Old Testament. But that wasn’t Jesus’ approach at all. He taught as if the Old Testament scriptures (“Law and Prophets”, “Law and Writings”, even “Moses and Elijah”, being synecdoches; a part standing for the entire whole) were both reliable and authoritative. He built and based his life, works, and teachings on that certainty. [More on this in a moment].
If this was not true, if the divine Son had not thought the Old Covenant scriptures to be reliable and authoritative, we could only deduce that his numerous references to the Old Testament were then insincere and even deceitfully manipulative, making Jesus out to be quite a deceiver, even a liar; thereby not a perfect teacher, not a perfect savior without sin, and therefore not a redeemer. But we know much better.
About the enemy: It’s not just Jesus quoting scripture in this narrative; the Satan does it as well. And this isn’t the first time either. Think back: We’ve heard the devil quoting scripture before, and in doing so, twisting it to mean something OTHER than what God had intended (Genesis 3:1-7). Back in the Garden of Eden, earlier in Genesis 2, the Father had created the perfect paradise and set only one rule for the first man and woman: “…you must not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die”. When the devil, in the form of a serpent, came to tempt, his approach was crafty as he provoked with his sly twists in order to heighten doubt about what God might have meant in that (presumably, to them, unfair and unreasonable) rule.
“Did God really say you would surely die”? We can almost imagine the private dialog playing out where the skeptic/mocker/tempter played on Adam and Eve’s human emotions. “Maybe the serpent is correct” Adam and Eve might have said privately to one another, “If Father was really a God of love, he wouldn’t hold back from us anything… he’d certainly let us follow ALL our innate desires and allow us to eat of ALL the trees including THAT one”.
Satan used that weak moment to coerce; to lead them in erroneously believing that there was some mistake in their interpretation or understanding of God’s Word to them. And so it went. And so it goes. And so it still goes, even today.
Sometimes just a slight word change or spoken inflection can cast major doubt, and if we don’t know the full context of the redemptive story of God in Jesus or the smaller grammatical-historical contexts (along with etymology) within the texts themselves, we find ourselves adrift on a sea of confusion, doubt, and potential misunderstanding.
2. THE WORD SPOKE OF JESUS.
It can be said that Jesus held a “high view” of scripture. To more fully understand this, let’s think back to the narrative in Luke 24 where Jesus walked along the Road to Emmaus. The newly risen (and unrecognized) Christ was walking with two disciples (one named Cleopas1) and in essence gave them a compacted Master’s level “Messianic Survey of the Old Testament” course as he explained how all those scriptures in the Old Testament were about HIM.
The Bible isn’t about “us” (or even about “them”); It’s all about HIM.
Everything in the scriptures is about Jesus. From the Old Covenant ceremonial laws describing priestly duties and innocent sacrificial lambs, from the prophetic foreshadowings of the prophets about the coming Messiah, on to Wisdom literature speaking of the embodiment of wisdom and knowledge. From the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Passover lambs of the exile, the manna bread in the desert, the tabernacle, the temple, and all the symbolism and typology we discover in Adam, Noah, Abraham (with Isaac), Moses, Jonah, Boaz, David, Nehemiah, etc, etc, etc. It’s not about us. It’s all about HIM.
To take it a step further, we realize it comes around full circle when we recognize that Jesus spoke the Word that spoke of Jesus. Think about his first recorded homily in the synagogue “Today this scripture IS fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21) along with the Road to Emmaus narrative (Lk 24) and many more examples.
The apostles recognized this much more clearly afterwards. In fact, the Apostle John launches his entire gospel biography of Jesus by writing first verse first chapter that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Jesus Christ: The Embodiment of the Word.
Jesus himself not only held a very high view of scripture and frequently spoke and taught it to his hearers (followers and detractors alike), but he himself was and is the very embodiment of the Old and New Testament scriptures himself. We catch a strong glimpse of this concept in this sword fight battle of words out in the desert.
Watch this short YouTube clip for an animated quick summary on this topic. It’s a MUST WATCH 🙂
Other parts in this series:
Previously: Part 1: The Empowerment of Approval (What was the nourishing “food” that Jesus feasted on during his 40 days of fasting, and how does this help us see his relationship, and ours, to the Father?)
Next: Part 3: The Embracing of Calling (There is one thing lacking between all that Jesus had then, and all he would have after the cross, and that makes all the difference; to him and to us!)
POSTSCRIPT: The reader can clearly see I’ve taken a high view of scripture in this devotional. Two thoughts for later development: (1) I do not subscribe to a literalist hermeneutic, but rather view scripture through the lens of historical-grammatical-cultural context, genre, and big picture Christological typology. (2) If or when “perceived” problems or contradictions arise, I most properly interpret/understand that potentially difficult text by weighing it in light of other more clear relevant texts, that along with the big picture redemptive story of God in Christ. Personally, I find Prof. Darrell Bock’s chapter on “precision” –vs- “accuracy” (for instance, the very words of Jesus –vs- the voice of Jesus)2 to be far more convincing than Prof. Bart Ehrman’s skepticism in this regard. But all that for some other posted musing down the road.
1 Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans 2006) is a fantastic treatment on eyewitness accounts related to the biblical gospels. He handles the reason why the one Cleopas (out of two) disciples on the Road to Emmaus is named and the other is not, as well as many other important details and examples of eyewitness testimonies.
2Darrell Bock’s Chapter on Precision and Accuracy in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Crossway 2012). A very helpful treatment especially when we are dealing in this series of devotionals on three synoptic narratives that each deviate from the others, but all three written by gospel writers with differing purposes and some more concerned with “words” -vs- “voice” in the texts.