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Browse, read and study through articles adapted from previously published First Fruits of Zion magazines and journals.

Category: The Life of Messiah

The Messiah Tempted

Tags:  Day of Atonement, fasting, temptation, Yom Kippur

D. Thomas Lancaster

And while Abraham was proceeding along toward Mount Moriah with Isaac, "Satan came towards him and said to him, 'Would you allow me to have a word with you?'" (b.Sanhedrin 89b)

After His immersion in the Jordan, Yeshua left the water and went out into the Judean wilderness west of Jericho; it was a dry and waterless place. There He fasted forty days. From those heights, He could clearly see the Jordan River and the plains of Moab where Moses had delivered the words of the book of Deuteronomy to all Israel. Perhaps the Master meditated upon the words of Deuteronomy throughout His fast, preparing for His showdown with the devil.

The Forty Days

Yeshua's forty-day fast is a reflection of Moses' forty-day fast on Mount Sinai. Messiah, the ultimate redeemer, comes in the pattern of Moses, the first redeemer. More than that, the forty-day fast and confrontation with the adversary may be an allusion to the forty days of repentance that precede the Day of Atonement.

The Jewish tradition of forty days of repentance beginning on the first day of the sixth month, the month of Elul, are observed in remembrance of Moses' second sojourn on Mount Sinai. After the sin of the golden calf, Moses returned to Sinai and was "...there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water" (Exodus 34:28). Meanwhile, Israel was camped below the mountain in a state of mournful repentance.

The annual forty days of repentance before the Day of Atonement relive this story from the Torah. It is customary for the extra-pious in Judaism to periodically fast and recite prayers of repentance throughout these forty days in preparation for the Day of Atonement.

It seems unlikely that we can date this particular custom to the days of the Master with any confidence, nor can we assume that the story of the temptation actually happened during the forty days before the Day of Atonement. Nevertheless, the imagery of the temptation story and the forty days of repentance share several features.

In Jewish tradition, these forty days are regarded as the allotted time to examine one's life, identify one's shortcoming and to make repentance in preparation for the Day of Atonement.1 It seems significant, then, that the story of Yeshua's forty days begins with John the Immerser's call for repentance and the Master's immersion in the Jordan River. After Yeshua emerged from the water, Mark tells us, "Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness" (Mark 1:12).

The traditional forty days of repentance conclude on the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting. Moreover, the Day of Atonement is regarded as a day for dealing with the adversary and his accusations. The liturgies for the Day of Atonement are filled with references to a legal showdown between God and the devil. In the Temple ritual for the Day of Atonement, the scapegoat for Azazel (the name of a fallen angel in some early apocalyptic sources) is led out into the wilderness and shoved over a cliff--an annual ritual celebrating the defeat of evil.2

While Yeshua fasted in the Judean wilderness, He was probably between Jerusalem and Jericho, the very place that tradition says the Azazel scapegoat was thrown down. The imagery of the forty days of repentance--which culminate in a Day of Atonement-style, wilderness, fast-day showdown with a fallen angel--seem to be connected to the story of the temptations. At any rate, while fasting in the Judean wilderness, Yeshua encountered the prince of darkness himself.

Messianic Temptations

Other temptation stories are found in extra-biblical Jewish literature. One of the most famous is the story of the temptation of Abraham. In that story, the adversary confronted Abraham (and Isaac) with three temptations to try to break his resolve to obey God though sacrificing Isaac.3

As in the story of Yeshua's temptation, the adversary quotes Scripture to Abraham to try to dissuade him, but Abraham counters by quoting Scripture back. The story of the temptation of Yeshua seems to follow that story. Just as the enemy's objective in the Abraham legend is to thwart the will of God by stopping the sacrifice of Isaac, so too in the Gospel story his objective is to break the obedience of Yeshua and to keep him from fulfilling His path of suffering and death.

The temptations Yeshua faced in the wilderness are not the sort of temptations you and I face on a daily basis. We find ourselves tempted by (and giving in to) much more mundane temptations. Even if we were starving to death, we would never be tempted to turn stones into bread because that is beyond our ability to do so. Instead of the common foils of human beings, the temptations of Yeshua are of a peculiar, messianic nature. They are the types of things only an anointed messiah might be tempted to do. They are shortcuts to messianic recognition and power.

Bread from Stones

It seems that part of the messianic job description is to bring a miraculous provision of food. Just as Moses called upon God for the miracle of the manna, people expected Messiah to perform a similar miracle of provision. The following traditional teaching illustrates this point:

Rabbi Berekiah said in the name of Rabbi Isaac, "As the first redeemer [Moses] was, so shall the latter Redeemer [Messiah] be...Just as the first redeemer caused the manna to come down, as it is written [in Exodus 16:4], "Behold, I will rain down bread from heaven for you," so too will the latter Redeemer cause manna to come down, as it is stated [in Psalm 72:16], "May he be as a rich cornfield in the land." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:28)

Miraculous provision of bread was a messianic expectation. By tempting Yeshua to turn stones to bread, the adversary was tempting Him to take a shortcut to revealing His messianic power. More than that, he was tempting Yeshua to use that power toward selfish ends.

Yeshua stands the test. He counters the devil's temptation with the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, "It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4). The Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 8:3 actually uses the definite article, "the man shall not live on bread alone." Perhaps Yeshua saw the term "the man" as a messianic reference. It is similar to His favorite title for Himself: The Son of Man. Later in His ministry, Yeshua performs bread miracles on His own terms when He divides the loaves and feeds the multitudes.

Miraculous Salvation

Yeshua had some notion of where His destiny would lead Him. He foresaw the cross looming on the horizon. He saw His coming mortal death. The tempter urged Him to reveal His messianic identity by defying a mortal death through leaping off the highest point of the Temple, thereby demanding God's divine intervention and proving to everyone that He was the Son of God.

Such an amazing leap would have been witnessed by most of Jerusalem and provided for Yeshua a shortcut to messianic fame. More poignantly, it would have defied human mortality. In essence, it is the temptation to avoid death. In response, Yeshua quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 saying, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" (Matthew 4:7).

Medieval Torah commentator David Kimchi understood the commandment of Deuteronomy 6:16 as a prohibition on exposing oneself to mortal danger with the expectation that God would perform a miracle to save one's life.4 Yeshua's response is similar to the axiom cited in the Talmud:

A person should never intentionally put himself in a place of danger assuming that God will perform a miracle for him, for perhaps no miracle will be performed for him. (b.Shabbat 32a)

Had the Master accepted the temptation to reveal His messianic identity and power by invoking a divine, untouchable status through the public miracle of leaping from the Temple parapet, He would not have been able to fulfill His destiny of suffering and death. Only after His submission to suffering and death was He given the death-defying and untouchable-immortal status that reveals His messianic identity.

Ironically, nearly forty years after Yeshua stood on the Temple parapet with the adversary, His younger brother, Yaakov HaTzadik (James the Righteous), was thrown down from that same height for refusing to deny Yeshua's messianic identity. Miraculously, he was unharmed.5

All the Kingdoms of the World and Their Splendor

The third messianic temptation of Yeshua was to take a shortcut to world domination. In addition to miraculous provisions of bread and miraculous salvation, the messianic job description includes dominion and power over all the kingdoms of the world. Note that the devil had possession of these to offer Him. If the Adversary was not in possession of the kingdoms of the world, he could not have legitimately offered them to Yeshua, and it would not have been an actual temptation. "He said to Him, 'All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me'" (Matthew 4:9).

The third test was the most difficult of the three. It was an amazing opportunity. It had the potential of bypassing the cross, the destruction of Jerusalem, 2000 years of exile, the untold suffering of the Jewish people, the Holocaust and all that we endure to this day.

Yeshua could have brought the whole redemption to a quick and final completion, sparing all Israel and millions of human souls, had He only been willing to oblige the enemy that one time for that one moment.

And, once again, the Master withstood the test. He responded with the words of Deuteronomy, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only" (Matthew 4:10). Yeshua was not willing to take any shortcuts to redemption. All kingdoms will be His, but it will happen according to the Father's will and within the limits of Torah.

Subsequent to His resurrection and exaltation, the Master has been given the title of authority over the nations, kingdoms and peoples of the world. He told His disciples, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18).

This statement provides Yeshua's final answer to the adversary's third temptation. By virtue of His exaltation through His death and resurrection, He has wrested the authority over all kingdoms out of the devil's hands. When the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed in its fullness on earth, Messiah's authority over all nations and kingdoms will be made manifest.

The Devil Left Him

Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Matthew 4:11).

Yeshua did not resort to shouting matches or charismatic-style spiritual warfare. Instead, He met each of the adversary's temptations squarely with an appeal to Torah. Fortunately, He had never heard of the theology that claims that the Torah is done away with. If He had, what weapons would He have employed against the enemy?

The same is true for us. Without the absolutes of God's Torah, we all stand vulnerable to the subjective and shifting suggestions of the tempter. Only when we affirm the eternal validity of Torah are we able to call evil wrong and good right.


1. See article on page 14 of this issue for an overview of the significance of the month of Elul.
2. Leviticus 16. See Torah Club Volume Two: Shadows of the Messiah on Leviticus 16 for more about the Azazel symbolism.
3. See b.Sanhedrin 89b and Torah Club Volume Two: Shadows of the Messiah on Genesis 22.
4. Kimchi's commentary on 1 Samuel 16:2.
5. Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History Book 2.

Adapted from Messiah Magazine #97. © 2015 First Fruits of Zion. All rights reserved. We encourage you to share this material with your friends for further personal study. However, this material may not be republished, in print, electronically, or any other form without our prior permission.