IN the outset of the public career of Jesus stands the remarkable incident of the Temptation. The authority obviously is the account given of it by Himself to the disciples; and we are told that "without a parable spake He not to them ". How far the details partake of the nature of parable, intended to make transcendental truth intelligible to the simple fishermen, we cannot precisely tell, and no man ought to dogmatise.
But no one doubts—no one can doubt—as to the essential truth that lies under the narrative.
Jesus had begun His life ignorant of His nature and His destiny, an unthinking infant. He had "grown in wisdom and stature". He had gradually attained, in thirty years of education, in work and in thought, to a clear conception of His mission, of the career that lay before Him and its ultimate issue. Such a career can be entered on only by one who has fully weighed it all, and counted the cost, and voluntarily, deliberately, with his eyes open, taken on him the burden of that great and terrible life and death.
During that period in which Jesus was contemplating in the solitude of the desert the life that lay before Him, an alternative presented itself to His mind, and engaged His attention for a time, and exercised a certain attraction on Him, but was decisively rejected. He was tempted to swerve from the career which He had chosen; but His firm resolve proved superior to the temptation.
Jesus afterwards related the story to His followers in such language as they could understand. It is surely alien to His nature to suppose that He imparted this narrative to them in order to show how infinitely superior He was to the temptations that beset ordinary men, and how far the motives which appealed to them were from exercising any attraction on Him. An incident narrated in that spirit could only show that He stood far aloof from the difficulties and trials of common men.
Surely the purpose is plain in that story. Jesus felt the force of temptation, and it needed a distinct effort of will and resolution for Him to resist it. He was placed in a position where a real choice between alternative courses had to be made.
Those who were placed very near Him and in actual contact with His immediate followers, recognised that truth. As the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has said, "He Himself hath suffered being tempted": He "hath been in all points tempted like as we are" and hence He "can be touched with the feeling of our weaknesses".
Nor can it be imagined that this was the first and only time when Jesus felt the attraction of some other possible career in life Temptation does not come only once to a man; nor did it come only once to the Son of Man. But to every man of strong character there comes the last temptation—when the alternative which has been attracting him away from his true career is decisively rejected, and ceases for ever to tempt him. A great step in the development of his character is then achieved. Other difficulties may and will beset him, but that one weakness at least has been transformed into strength.
This final Temptation is the one which has been recorded for us at the opening of the career of Jesus. As the Greek poet Simonides has said: "It is hard to show oneself a good man"; and this remarkable narrative reveals to us that the same difficulty which besets all men had to be surmounted by Jesus. It was not without a struggle—a process of temptation and the resisting of temptation—that He finally chose the good and refused the less good.
But observe the character of that Temptation. The motives which had some power over His mind were not such as appeal to a vulgar or an uneducated and slow nature: they were of the higher type, likely to fascinate a noble, generous, ardent intellect, which had thought deeply and aimed high, a mind of the really educated type.
It was the sense of power, the aspiration to do something great and to achieve some remarkable exhibition of moral or intellectual ascendency, that the Tempter appealed to. Even the mere physical craving for food after a long fast was presented before the mind of Jesus as an opportunity of exercising His power over nature.
In the Temptation the devil taketh Him unto an exceeding high mountain and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Only the dullest and most witless of critics will make the objection that it is impossible to see all the kingdoms of the world from any mountain. The man whose temptation came in this form was one to whom the wide prospect of a great stretch of country was inspiring and creative, revealing far more than the eye beholds, lifting the mind on the wings of imagination to a far-reaching outlook over history and time, and suggesting a vision of the authority and glory of a world-wide empire.
In the whole narrative, as most readers probably will agree, the detail which most clearly partakes of the nature of parable is the promise which the Tempter held out on the summit of the mountain: "All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me". The career of ambition and worldly power is metaphorically expressed as the worship of Satan; but to the disciples, ignorant and simple as they were, that career had to be presented in a flash of description and condemnation, such as would cut its way into their minds.
The man who was tempted by those suggestions and methods was one who had thought much. He had surveyed in imagination all the kingdoms of the world; and the view of the mighty opportunities open to surpassing intellect and high aims had occupied His mind and exercised a certain fascination over it. To that fascination the Tempter appealed; and Jesus deliberately and finally chose a spiritual kingdom and the power of truth. He had considered the world and its facts; and He had estimated all things at their true and eternal value.
How then had He gained this wide outlook over the kingdoms of the world? The more one knows of the dull, narrow, insensate nature of the Oriental peasant, the more must one wonder at the breadth and ardour of mind that is revealed in the Temptation, and the more eagerly must one try to imagine the influences which had educated that unique personality.
As one reads the biography of Jesus, one cannot fail to be struck with the effect that seems to have been exercised on His mind and nature by the wide prospect from a lofty elevation. Try to cut out the mountain scenes from His life. How much poorer would the Gospels be.
It was on a mountain at dawn of day that He chose from among His disciples twelve, whom also He named Apostles, "that He might send them forth to preach and to have authority ".
When He was in Jerusalem, His life was divided between the Mount of Olives and the Temple. The Temple was the focus of Hebrew life and religious feeling: the Mount of Olives was the one point close to Jerusalem where He could find a wide prospect and a quiet moment to enjoy the recuperative influences of nature. Every day He was teaching in the Temple, but after the day's work He always retired to the Mount. When on His last journey He approached Jerusalem from the east, and came in sight of it, as He crossed the shoulder of the Mount, the sudden prospect of that marvellous view over the city drew from Him His lamentation over the terrible fate that should soon befall it.
His most characteristic discourse was the sermon on another mountain, beside the Sea of Galilee.
The Transfiguration took place on a mountain summit.
It was on a mountain in Galilee that the final instructions were given to the Apostles to go into all the world, and make disciples of all the nations.
And similarly,. in the present case, the climax of His temptation lay in the vision of worldly power that was suggested by the view from "an exceeding high mountain". The climax is spoiled in the order of Luke's narrative, in which this temptation is put second in order of the three; and we must beyond a doubt prefer the order of the temptations as Matthew describes them.
In the career of Christ the last scene is a suitable balance to the first. The crisis of the first turned on the survey of worldly power and glory from a mountain top. The climax of the last is the mission of the Apostles from the Galilean mountain to enter into possession of the whole world. In the correspondence of the two scenes there is that perfect propriety which characterises the whole of the biography of Jesus: the arrangement, so entirely natural and unstudied, has the perfection of consummate art.
Passages like these press on us the idea that a notable side to the character of Jesus lay in His poetic and imaginative susceptibility to the influences of natural scenery. This susceptibility did not take the form merely of a liking for the picturesque, which seems to be rather a fashionable idol of the modern mind than a deep-seated craving of the human spirit. It was the suggestiveness of a wide prospect, the stimulation of the mind accompanying the outlook from a point of vantage, which moved the nature of Jesus, and was probably a strong influence in determining His education.
Surely there is no one among us who has grown up without experiencing the apparent quickening of the pulse, the stronger beating of the heart, the exaltation to a higher plane of feeling, that affect one as he looks over some of the striking prospects in our own land, where historical associations and natural beauty unite to quicken one's patriotism and ennoble one's nature.
That experience in all of us I presume as a point to start from.
I shall not recite an essay on schools and educational methods in ancient Palestine. Information on those subjects is accessible in the biblical encyclopaedias and the histories of that period. A man's education lies not in what is common to all, but in what is special to himself. It lies in the use which he resolves to make of the opportunities which the law of his nation or the custom of society or the generosity of some benefactor opens to him.
When sometimes a day-dream or a vision seems to offer a momentary glimpse into the education of Christ, one thinks of Him on a lofty eminence. Such a dream I will venture to relate to you.