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Temptator Divinis, Part II

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The Divine Tempter, Part II
 In my previous post, I detailed three points of contact between the encounter of Eve with Satan in Genesis 3 and that of the Samaritan woman with Christ in John 4.  Those points of contact were: 1) The question of the goodness of God; 2) the claim to knowledge of the divine mind; and 3) the satisfaction of deepest desire.  In this post, we will see two final points of contact between these two accounts: First, the nature of the created order and second, the ongoing mission to expand the kingdom of God around the globe.
 The Nature of the Created Order
 First of all then, consider the form of the temptation in Genesis 3:1–7.  We discover in the very first verse that the serpent addresses the woman: “He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say…?’”(Gen. 3:1).   In this simple confrontation we see the complete reversal of the created order.  God had previously established Adam as the guardian and keeper of the garden and, by extension, the rest of creation (Gen. 2:15).  Eve was a derivative being (Gen. 2:21–23).  She was dignified in her own right but subject to the man, both as her husband and as her senior priest, as it were.  The beasts (as part of the created order) were to be subject to mankind as a species (Gen. 1:28).  So the divinely-sanctioned order of authority originated with God himself, flowing by means of his self-disclosure to humanity (within which, the husband was to exercise authority over his wife) and humanity was then to exercise authority over creation, including, but not limited to, the animal kingdom.  With one fell swoop, the diabolical snake reverses this order.  He (in the guise of a member of the animal kingdom) assumes authority over humanity by presuming to inform and instruct the woman.  He gives Eve, as a wife, pride of place over her husband by addressing her exclusively (apparently in her husband’s very presence, as witnessed by Genesis 3:6).  Finally, the content of his conversation with the woman is his counsel to pass judgment on the revelation of God.  By the end of the first verse of this account, the devil has entirely perverted the ordained authority structure.  This perversion of divine intent is calcified upon the failure of Adam and Eve to resist the serpent’s temptation.
 The Ongoing Mission to Expand the Kingdom of God Around the Globe
 Second, it is important here to recall part of Adam and Eve’s original mission in the Garden.  They were entrusted with the task of expanding the kingdom of God around the globe.  G. K. Beale, in The Temple and the Church’s Mission, has demonstrated that, given the temple imagery in Eden, Adam should also be thought of as the ordained priest of the “garden-temple,” part of whose mission was to expand the boundaries of that temple.  The sin of the first couple has dire consequences for this mission.  As a result of their rebellion, their innocence is defiled (Gen. 3:7), they are “defrocked” as priests (Gen. 3:21) and expelled from the garden-temple (Gen. 3:24).  It is not ironic that the “defrocking” of the first priest-king consists precisely in being given a “frock.”  It is another sad commentary on the effects of sin: it is only as a result of the lost innocence of the Fall that nakedness becomes profane rather than sacred.  They thus fail in their mission to expand the boundaries of God’s temple around the globe.
 The Nature of the Created Order.    
          As he does in the cases of the first three points of contact between the encounter in Eden and the encounter in Samaria, Jesus here also sets himself to undo the brokenness introduced into the world through the devices of the devil.  First, Jesus addresses himself to the perversion of the created order, with a view towards repairing that which had been broken in perpetuity as a result of the serpent’s first interaction with Adam and Eve.  Consider the following exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman: “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’  The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’” (Jn. 4:16-18)  Whatever else might be happening here, one thing is apparent: the proper creation order of a husband and wife, united together under God, is not being observed.  This woman, far from being subject to the authority of her husband has so lived as to have five different husbands.  Far from living in subjection to the law of God, she is now living engaged in a life of fornication with a man.  The order prescribed by God in creation is in disarray.
            The Lord does not highlight this disarray in order to cause the woman to wallow in guilt and despair, however.  His motive is salvific: his accusation is calculated to produce repentance and faith.  Additionally, his motive is restorative: he desires to reestablish the creation order of God.  He does this in the verses that follow by calling her into a relationship with God built upon “spirit and truth.”  It is, perhaps, instructive to us that Jesus does not set about his restorative mission to the woman by explaining to her the biblical position on adultery and fornication and attempting to persuade her of the error of her ways.  Rather, he transitions immediately into a presentation of the grace of God offered through himself as the Messiah.  The divine tempter is a gospel preacher, not a moralistic crusader!
 The Ongoing Mission to Expand the Kingdom of God Around the Globe
 Finally, Christ identifies himself as the one who will accomplish the mission abandoned by Adam of establishing a world-wide temple by expanding the boundaries of Eden around the globe.  Christ will perform that of which Adam proved incapable; he will triumph where Adam failed.  The Samaritan woman interjects with a theological question: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (Jn. 4:20).  Her own motivations in asking this question aside, she raised an issue which Jesus does not see as nongermane to the discussion.  Situated as they were near the Samaritan city of Sychar in the shadow of Mount Gerizim, upon which the Samaritans had once built a temple of their own claiming it as the proper location for worship of God, the question of the location of the true temple was a pertinent one.  It was an issue that was pressing to Samaritans and Jews alike.  Jesus, for his part, responds to the question very seriously:
 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn. 4:21–24)
 Christ effectively abolishes both Jerusalem and Gerizim as sites of the true temple.  Instead, he insists that the time has come (“…the hour is coming, and is now here…”) for true worshipers to worship God in the Holy Spirit.  This seems to be the best understanding of the repeated phrase, “in spirit and truth,” given both the identity of the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel as the “Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13) and the contextual emphasis on the Holy Spirit (4:13–14 cf. 3:5–8).  The true temple then is not primarily a physical location but a state of submission to and indwelling by the Holy Spirit of God.  This nuance seems to confuse the woman for she then says, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things” (Jn. 4:25).  That is to say, “When Messiah comes, he will explain just how we are to accomplish this ‘worship in spirit and truth.’”  And Christ victoriously responds: “I who speak to you am he” (Jn. 4:26).  Jesus Christ is the Messiah, who explains, discloses, exegetes not only the mind of God but also how one is to worship God in the Holy Spirit.  Not only this, but it is through this Messiah that the Holy Spirit proceeds into his people (cf. 4:14).  Thus, if one insisted on locating the true temple in a physical location, that location would be wherever Jesus is.  According to John 2:19–21, he is the true temple (another important theme in John’s Gospel).
            Given G.K. Beale’s work on the synthesis of temple and Garden imagery in Scripture, it is only a small step to conclude that in identifying himself as the true temple and abolishing the physical boundaries of temple worship (“…neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father….”), Jesus is also identifying himself as the one who fulfills Adam’s original mandate to expand the boundaries of Eden around the globe.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate priest-king who accomplishes what the first couple failed to do as a result of their giving into the diabolic tempter.
 Jesus Christ offers himself as the correction to all the errors promulgated as a result of the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan.  He is the antidote to the devil’s poison.  He forces all of the ills back into Pandora’s Box and settles all of his infinite weight comfortably on top.  Several implications can be immediately drawn.
            The first implication of this understanding of the divine tempter is purely Christological.  In this encounter, Jesus Christ demonstrates himself to be perfectly suited to countering the lies of Satan.  He is eminently capable of defeating sin and reversing its effects in the lives of his people.  He is stronger than the serpent.  He is the one prophesied to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).  He performs this act of extermination throughout his earthly ministry, not least here in John 4.  He is the Messiah that we and the Samaritan woman so desperately need.
            The second implication of Christ’s identity as the divine tempter is that we should drastically redefine the way we think about any particular temptation that is presented to us.  Rather than seeing sin as the only option that really vies for our attention or dresses itself up to appeal to us, while holiness remains its shabby self, waiting forlornly to be pursued in a monumental effort of will, we must realize that holiness too, incarnated for us in Christ, is infinitely beautiful, desirable and tempting.  Grasping this truth will be a powerful weapon in the battle against sin.  This leads to our final consideration.
            A third implication of the reality of Christ’s role as divine tempter is that since Jesus thus offers himself as a divine alternative to the diabolic snake, we would do well to take him up on his offer.  He stands offering the living water that truly satisfies desire, as over against the serpent, feebly holding out a fruit with empty promises of an impossible and ultimately undesirable destiny.  He is the divine tempter and it is life itself to give in to him.
  1. Tim Bredamus says:

    Thanks again, brother! This is an excellent contrast you’ve drawn here. Praise the Lord for graciously sending the “Divine Tempter” to us. I particularly appreciated as well what you had to say about Christ’s restorative rather than punitive approach to the woman at the well.

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