Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 4:5-11; MARK 1:13; LUKE 4:5-13
5. Then the devil taketh 313 him into the holy city, and placeth him on the pinnacle 314 of the temple, 6. And saith to him, If thou art the Son of God, throw thyself down: for it is written, He will command his angels concerning thee, and they will carry thee in their hands, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7. Jesus said to him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8. Again, the devil taketh him to a very high mountain, and pointeth out to him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9. And saith to him, All these things I will give thee, if, falling down, thou shalt adore me. 10. Then Jesus saith to him, Depart, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and him alone thou shalt worship. 11. Then the devil leaveth him, and lo, angels approached, and waited on him.
13. And angels waited on him.
5. And the devil conducted him to a high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment. 6. And the devil saith to him, I will give thee this universal power, and the glory of them: for they have been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. 7. If, therefore, bowing down before me, thou shalt worship, all things shall be thine. 8. And Jesus answering said to him, Go behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and him alone thou shalt worship. 9. And he led him to Jerusalem, and placed him on a parapet of the temple, and said to him, If thou art the Son of God, throw thyself down hence: 10. For it is written, that he will command his angels concerning thee, that they may preserve thee: 11. And that they will support thee with their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. 12. And he answering said to him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 13. And all the temptation having been finished, the devil departed from him for a time.
Matthew 4:5. Then the devil taketh him. It is not of great importance, that Luke’s narrative makes that temptation to be the second, which Matthew places as the third: for it was not the intention of the Evangelists to arrange the history in such a manner, as to preserve on all occasions, the exact order of time, but to draw up an abridged narrative of the events, so as to present, as in a mirror or picture, those things which are most necessary to be known concerning Christ. Let it suffice for us to know that Christ was tempted in three ways. The question, which of these contests was the second, and which was the third, need not give us much trouble or uneasiness. In the exposition, I shall follow the text of Matthew.
Christ is said to have been placed on the pinnacle of the temple. It is asked, was he actually carried to this elevated spot, or was it done in vision? There are many, who obstinately assert, that the body was really and actually conveyed: for they consider it to be unworthy of Christ, that he should be supposed to be liable to the delusions of Satan. But it is easy to dispose of that objection. There is no absurdity in supposing, that this took place by the permission of God and the voluntary subjection of Christ; provided we hold that within, — that is, in his mind and souls, — he suffered no delusion. What is next added, that all the kingdoms of the world were placed in the view of Christ, — as well as what Luke relates, that he was carried to a great distance in one moment, — agrees better with the idea of a vision, than with any other supposition. In a matter that is doubtful, and where ignorance brings no risk, I choose rather to suspend my judgment, than to furnish contentious people with an occasion of debate. It is also possible, that the second temptation did not follow the first, nor the third the second, in immediate succession, but that some interval of time elapsed. This is even more probable, though the words of Luke might lead to the conclusion, that there was no long interval: for he says, that Christ obtained repose for a time.
But the main question for our consideration is, what was Satan’s object in this kind of temptation? That will be best determined, as I have lately hinted, by our Lord’s reply to Satan. To meet the stratagem of the enemy, and to repel his attack, Christ interposes, as a shield, these words: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Hence it is evident, that the stratagems of the enemy were intended to induce Christ to exalt himself unduly, and to rise, in a daring manner, against God. Satan had formerly attempted to drive Christ to despair, because he was destitute of food, and of the ordinary means of life. Now, he exhorts him to indulge a foolish and vain confidences, — to neglect the means which are in his powers, — to throw himself, without necessity, into manifest danger, — and, as we might say, to overleap all bounds. As it is not proper for us to be discouraged, when we are pressed by “the want of all things,” (De 28:57,) but to rely with confidence on God, neither are we at liberty to raise our crests, or ascend higher than God permits us. The design of Satan, we have now ascertained, was to induce Christ to make trial of his divinity, and to rise up, in foolish and wicked rashness, against God.
6. He will charge his angels concerning thee. We must observe this malice of Satan, in misapplying a quotation of Scripture, for the purpose of rendering life deadly to Christ, and of converting bread into poison. The same kind of stratagem he continues daily to employ; and the Son of God, who is the universal model of all the godly, chose to undergo this contest in his own person, that all may be industriously on their guard against being led, by a false application of Scripture, into the snares of Satan. And undoubtedly the Lord grants such a permission to our adversary, that we may not remain in indolent ease, but may be more careful to keep watch. Nor ought we to imitate the madness of those who throw away Scripture, as if it admitted of every kind of interpretation, because the devil misapplies it. For the same reason, we ought to abstain from food, to avoid the risk of being poisoned. Satan profanes the Word of God, and endeavors to torture it for our destruction. But it has been ordained by God for our salvation; and shall the purpose of God be frustrated, unless our indolence deprive his word of its saving effect?
We need not dispute long on these matters. Let us only inquire, what Christ enjoins on us by his example, which we ought to follow as a rule. When Satan wickedly tortures Scripture, does Christ give way to him? Does he allow him to seize and carry off the Scripture, with which he formerly armed himself? On the contrary, he quotes Scripture in his turn, and boldly refutes Satan’s wicked slander. Whenever Satan shall cover his deception by Scripture, and ungodly men shall labor to subvert our faith by the same means, let us borrow our armor exclusively from Scripture for the protection of our faith.
Though the promise, he will charge his angels concerning thee, (Ps 91:11,) relates to all believers, yet it belongs peculiarly to Christ, who is the Head of the whole Church, possesses authority over angels, and commits to them the charge of us. Satan is not wrong in proving from this passage, that angels have been given to Christ, to wait on him, to guard him, and to bear him on their hands. But the fallacy lies in this, that he assigns a wandering and uncertain course to that guardianship of angels, which is only promised to the children of God, when they keep themselves within their bounds, and walk in their ways. If there is any force in that expression, in all thy ways, (Ps 91:11,) the prophet’s meaning is wickedly corrupted and mutilated by Satan, when he applies it, in a violent and wild and confused manner, to extravagant and mistaken courses. God commands us to walk in our ways, and then declares that angels will be our guardians: Satan brings forward the guardianship of angels, for the purpose of advising Christ to put himself unnecessarily in danger, as if he would say: “If you expose yourself to death, contrary to the will of God, angels will protect your life.”
7. It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. The reply of Christ is most appropriate. There is no other way, in which we have a right to expect the assistance promised in that passage, than when believers humbly submit themselves to his guidance: for we cannot rely on his promises, without obeying his commandments. God is tempted in many ways: but in this passage, the word tempt denotes the neglect of those means which he puts into our hands. Those who leave the means which God recommends, and resolve to make trial of his power and might, act as absurdly as if one were to cut off a man’s arms and hands, and then order him to work. In short, whoever desires to make an experiment of the divine power, when there is no necessity for it, tempts God by subjecting his promises to an unfair trial.
8. The devil taketh him to a very high mountain. We must keep in mind, what I have already stated, that it was not owing to any weakness of Christ’s nature, but to a voluntary dispensation and permission, that Satan produced this effect upon his eyes. Again, while his senses were moved and powerfully affected by the glory of the kingdoms which was presented to them, no inward desire arose in his mind; whereas the lusts of the flesh, like wild beasts, are drawn, and hurry us along, to the objects which please us: for Christ had the same feelings with ourselves, but he had no irregular appetites. The kind of temptation here described was, that Christ should seek, in another manner than from God, the inheritance which he has promised to his children. And here the daring insolence of the devil is manifested, in robbing God of the government of the world, and claiming it for himself. All these things, says he, are mine, and it is only through me that they are obtained.
We have to contend every day with the same imposture: for every believer feels it in himself and it is still more clearly seen in the whole life of the ungodly. Though we are convinced, that all our support, and aid, and comfort, depend on the blessing of God, yet our senses allure and draw us away, to seek assistance from Satan, as if God alone were not enough. A considerable portion of mankind disbelieve the power and authority of God over the world, and imagine that every thing good is bestowed by Satan. For how comes it, that almost all resort to wicked contrivances, to robbery and to fraud, but because they ascribe to Satan what belongs to God, the power of enriching whom he pleases by his blessing? True, indeed, with the mouth they ask that God will give them daily bread, (Mt 6:11) but it is only with the mouth; for they make Satan the distributor of all the riches in the world.
10. Depart, Satan. Instead of this, Luke has, Depart behind me, Satan. There is no use for speculating about the phrase, behind me, which Christ addressed to Peter, Go behind me, (Mt 16:23,) as if the same words had not been addressed to Satan. Christ simply bids him go away; 315 and now proceeds with the same kind of defense as before, employing Scripture as a shield, not of reeds, but of brass. He quotes a passage from the law, that God alone is to be adored and worshipped, (Deut. 6:13, Deut. 10:20.) From the application of that passage, and from the circumstances in which it is introduced, it is easy to conclude what is the design of adoration of God, and in what it consists.
Papists deny that God only ought to be adored; and evade this and similar passages by sophistical arguments. Latria, (λατρεία,) they admit, is adoration, which ought to be given to God alone: but Dulia, (δουλεία,) is an inferior kind of adoration, which they bestow on dead men, and on their bones and statues. But Christ rejects this frivolous distinction, and claims for God alone προσκύνησις, worship; by which he warns us to attend more to the matter than to expressions, when we have to do with the worship of God.
Scripture enjoins us to worship God alone: we must inquire, for what end? If a man takes any thing from his glory, and ascribes it to creatures, this is a heinous profanation of divine worship. But it is very evident that this is done, when we go to creatures, to receive from them those good things, of which God desired to be acknowledged as the only Author. Now, as religion is strictly spiritual, and the outward acknowledgment of it relates to the body, so not only the inward worship, but also the outward manifestation of it, is due to God alone. 316
11. Then the devil leaveth him. Luke expresses more: when all the temptation had been finished. This means, that no truce or relaxation was granted to Christ, till he had been fully tried by every species of contest. He adds, that Christ was left for a season only. This is intended to inform us, that the rest of his life was not entirely free from temptations, but that God restrained the power of Satan, so that Christ was not unseasonably disturbed by him. In like manner, God usually acts towards all his people: for, after permitting them to be sharply tried, he abates, in some measure, the violence of the strife, that they may take breath for a little, and gather courage. What immediately follows, the angels waited on him, I understand as referring to comfort, that Christ might feel, that God the Father took care of him, and fortified him, by his powerful assistance, against Satan. For the very solitude might aggravate the dreariness of his condition, when he was deprived of the kind offices of men, and was with the wild beasts, — a circumstance which is expressly mentioned by Mark. And yet we must not suppose, that Christ was ever forsaken by the angels: but, in order to allow an opportunity for temptation, the grace of God, though it was present, was sometimes hidden from him, so far as respects the feeling of the flesh.
“Le transporte;” — “conveys him.”
“Il vent seulement le rejetter avec son conseil;” — “he wishes only to reject him with his advice.”
“Christ attribue aussi a Dieu seul l'adoration externe, que les Grecs appellent προσχύνησις: car il use de ce terme qui signifient proprement s'agenouiller ET prosterner par forme de service divin.” — “Christ ascribes also to God alone the external adoration, which the Greeks call προσχύνησις: for he employs this term, which signifies literally to kneel and bow down, in a form of divine service.”