The Meaning and Function of OT Citations in Matthew's Temptation Narrative

The Meaning and Function of OT Citations in Matthew's Temptation Narrative

Jonathan W. L.O.

Although Matthew's Temptation Narrative contains valuable lessons for the Christian life in regard to avoiding temptation, I have argued that it is primarily a Christological text. Its purpose is to inform the reader about Jesus in relation to the themes broader in the Gospel (eg Jesus and the Law, Jesus as the Teacher, Jesus in relation to Israel, etc.). I identified two specific functions of Matthew's depiction of Jesus' use of the OT: (1) to establish a Jesus-Israel typology, and (2) to reinforce the portrayal of Jesus as the Teacher of Israel par excellence.

First, the original contexts of the citations, as well as the larger context of Deuteronomy 6-8 enable the readers to clearly see the similarities between Jesus and Israel's wilderness situation, as well as the contrasts in their responses to temptation. In addition to the other typologies that may exist in the Gospel of Matthew (eg Jesus and Moses, Jesus and David, etc.), "Jesus and Israel" is also an appropriate and significant typology. Through the concept of corporate solidarity, the parallels between Jesus' temptations and Israel's wilderness experience (Disobedience in the Wilderness of Sin, Testing God at Massah, and the Golden Calf Incident), and relating the Temptation Narrative with Jesus' baptism, I have demonstrated that Matthew presents Jesus as the true “Son of God” who emerges victorious out from the wilderness, approved and ready to do God's work.

Second, Jesus' use of the OT not only endorses the authority of the Law, but also embodies what the Law emphasizes: loyalty to God, especially in the face of uncertainty and adversity. Jesus' use of the OT contributes to his worth as the only one authorized Teacher of Israel. Not only does Jesus quote Scripture knowledgeably and skillfully, his actions are consistent with his use of Scripture, unlike his Jewish opponents in the Gospel of Matthew, the scribal elite who do not practice what they teach. And unlike the Pharisees and scribes, who practice their righteousness to be seen by others, Jesus reveals the authenticity of his righteousness through obedient acts of self-denial and trust in the wilderness. In the same way that Jesus is the Son of God, not only because God conferred to him a title but because he was also faithful to that calling, he is Israel's one teacher because he is qualified for and deserving of such a task. The Temptation Narrative demonstrates that Jesus, who represents Israel in identity and mission, is truly the Son of God, “the Beloved one in whom God is well pleased” (Mt 3:17), not just in name but also in essence and praxis.

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