Verse 25. This verse is immediately connected with the fifth chapter, and should not be separated from it.
"Great multitudes" - This, even according to the Jews, was one proof of the days of the Messiah: for they acknowledged that in his time there should be a great famine of the word of God; and thus they understood Amos, Am viii. 11. Behold, the days come-that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread-but of hearing the words of the Lord. And as the Messiah was to dispense this word, the bread of life, hence they believed that vast multitudes from all parts should be gathered together to him. See Schoettgenius on this place.
"Decapolis" - A small country, situated between Syria and Galilee of the nations. It was called Decapolis, dekapoliv, from deka, ten, and poliv, a city, because it contained only ten cities; the metropolis, and most ancient of which, was Damascus.
"From beyond Jordan." - Or, from the side of Jordan. Probably this was the country which was occupied anciently by the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh; for the country of Decapolis lay on both sides of the river Jordan. See Numbers xxxii. 5, 33.
THE account of our Lord's temptation, as given by the evangelist, is acknowledged on all hands to be extremely difficult. Two modes of interpretation have been generally resorted to, in order to make the whole plain and intelligible: viz. the literal and allegorical. In all cases, where it can possibly apply, I prefer the first: the latter should never be used, unless obviously indicated in the text itself; or so imperiously necessary that no other mode of interpretation can possibly apply. In the preceding observations, I have taken up the subject in a literal point of view; and it is hoped that most of the difficulties in the relation have been removed, or obviated, by this plan. An ingenious correspondent has favoured me with some observations on the subject, which have much more than the merit of novelty to recommend them. I shall give an abstract of some of the most striking; and leave the whole to the reader's farther consideration.
The thoughts in this communication proceed on this ground: "These temptations were addressed to Christ as a public person, and respected his conduct in the execution of his ministry; and are reported to his Church as a forcible and practical instruction, concerning the proper method of promoting the kingdom of God upon earth. They are warnings against those Satanic illusions, by which the servants of Christ are liable to be hindered in their great work, and even stopped in the prosecution of it.
"As our Lord had, at his baptism, been declared to be the SON of God, i.e. the promised Messiah, this was probably well known to Satan, who did not mean to insinuate any thing to the contrary, when he endeavoured to engage him to put forth an act of that power which he possessed as the Messiah. The mysterious union of the Divine with the human nature, in our Lord's state of humiliation, Satan might think possible to be broken; and therefore endeavoured, in the first temptation, Command these stones to be made bread, to induce our Lord to put forth a separate, independent act of power; which our Lord repelled, by showing his intimate union with the Divine will, which he was come to fulfill-Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Thus showing, as he did on another occasion, that it was his meat and drink to do the will of his Father.
"2. The ground of the temptation was then changed; and the fulfillment of the Divine will, in the completion of a prophetic promise, was made the ostensible object of the next attack. Cast thyself down-for it is WRITTEN, He will give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, &c. This our Lord repelled with-Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God-as Satan had designed to induce him to seek this public miraculous confirmation of God's peculiar care over him, as the promised Messiah, of his being which, according to the hypothesis above, Satan had no doubt. Moses, being appointed to a great and important work, needed miraculous signs to strengthen his faith; but the sacred humanity of our blessed Lord needed them not; nor did his wisdom judge that such a sign from heaven was essential to the instruction of the people.
"3. The last temptation was the most subtle and the most powerful-All these will I give unto thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. To inherit all nations, had been repeatedly declared to be the birthright of the Messiah. His right to universal empire could not be controverted; nor could Satan presume to make the investiture. What, then, was his purpose? Satan had hitherto opposed, and that with considerable success, the kingdom of God upon earth; and what he appears to propose here, were terms of peace, and an honourable retreat. The worship which he exacted was an act of homage, in return for his cession of that ascendancy which, through the sin of man, he had obtained in the world. Having long established his rule among men, it was not at first to be expected that he would resign it without a combat: but the purpose of this last temptation appears to be an offer to decline any farther contest; and, yet more, if his terms were accepted, apparently to engage his influence to promote the kingdom of the Messiah. And as the condition of this proposed alliance, he required, not Divine worship, but such an act of homage as implied amity and obligation; and if this construction be allowed, he may be supposed to have enforced the necessity of the measure, by every suggestion of the consequences of a refusal. The sufferings which would inevitably result from a provoked opposition, which would render the victory, though certain to Christ himself, dearly bought; added to which, the conflict he was prepared to carry on through succeeding ages, in which all his subtlety and powers should be employed to hinder the progress of Christ's cause in the earth, and that with a considerable degree of anticipated success. Here the devil seems to propose to make over to Christ the power and influence he possessed in this world, on condition that he would enter into terms of peace with him; and the inducement offered was, that thereby our Lord should escape those sufferings, both in his own person, and in that of his adherents, which a provoked contest would ensure. And we may suppose that a similar temptation lies hid in the desires excited even in some of the servants of Christ, who may feel themselves often induced to employ worldly influence and power for the promotion of his kingdom, even though, in so doing, an apparent communion of Christ and Belial is the result: for it will be found that neither worldly riches, nor power, can be employed in the service of Christ, till, like the spoils taken in war, Deuteronomy xxxi. 21-23, they have passed through the fire and water, as, without a Divine purification, they are not fit to be employed in the service of God and his Church.
"Hence we may conclude, that the first temptation had for its professed object, 1st, our Lord's personal relief and comfort, through the inducement of performing a separate and independent act of power.-The second temptation professed to have in view his public acknowledgment by the people, as the MESSIAH: for, should they see him work such a miracle as throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple without receiving any hurt, they would be led instantly to acknowledge his Divine mission; and the evil of this temptation may be explained, as seeking to secure the success of his mission by other means than those which, as the Messiah, he had received from the Father. Compare John xiv. 31. The third temptation was a subtle attempt to induce Christ to acknowledge Satan as an ally, in the establishment of his kingdom." E. M. B.
The above is the substance of the ingenious theory of my correspondent, which may be considered as a third mode of interpretation, partaking equally of the allegoric and literal. I still, however, think, that the nearer we keep to the letter in all such difficult cases, the more tenable is our ground, especially where the subject itself does not obviously require the allegorical mode of interpretation. Among many things worthy of remark in the preceding theory the following deserves most attention: That Satan is ever ready to tempt the governors and ministers of the Christian Church to suppose that worldly means, human policy, secular interest and influence, are all essentially necessary for the support and extension of that kingdom which is not of this world! Such persons can never long preserve hallowed hands: they bring the world into the Church; endeavour to sanctify the bad means they use, by the good end they aim at; and often, in the prosecution of their object, by means which are not of God's devising, are driven into straits and difficulties, and to extricate themselves, tell lies for God's sake. This human policy is from beneath-God will neither sanction nor bless it. It has been the bane of true religion in all ages of the world; and, in every country where the cause of Christianity has been established, such schemers and plotters in the Church of God are as dangerous to its interests as a plague is to the health of society. The governors and ministers of the Christian Church should keep themselves pure, and ever do God's work in his own way. If the slothful servant should be cast out of the vineyard, he that corrupts the good seed of the Divine field, or sows tares among the wheat, should be considered as an enemy to righteousness, and be expelled from the sacred pale as one who closes in with the temptation-"All these things (the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them) will I give unto THEE, if thou wilt fall down and worship ME." However necessary the Church may be to the state, and the state to the Church, as some people argue, yet the latter is never in so much danger as when the former smiles upon it.