Christ's First Words

Christ's earliest words in the NT were spoken to the Devil in response to his temptations in the desert. They provide the keys to his entire teaching. These words are  provocative, because unlike almost all of Christ’s words in the Gospel, these words are recorded, but they were not witnessed by anyone. How did they survive?  There is only one explanation: Christ made a point of telling his followers the story. Of all the things he must of thought and did when he was alone, this is the only story (along with his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane) that he felt should be passed down despite the fact there were no witnesses.

Why? Let us look his words in response to temptation to find out.

When tempted with bread, he said:

Mat 4:4 It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

We start with the temptation to get stuck on the physical. This is the beginning for Christ’s use of bread as the metaphor for the physical realm and physical needs. It is also the start of his theme connecting the cycles the physical, intellectual, emotional, and the spiritual, where the physical is just one step in the cycle that leads from spirit to spirit. In the Gospels,  unlike several ancient religions that influenced early Christianity (notably Zoroastrianism) portrayed the physical as bad and the spiritual as evil, but Christ doesn’t do that. Notice he doesn’t say that men live by the spirit alone. For Christ, the temptation is always getting stuck on the physical and not seeing physical needs as part of a whole that includes the spirit.

Mat 4:7 It is written again, You shall not test the Lord thy God.

From the physical, Christ moves to our emotional needs, which is the realm of relationships, and the temptation of wanting recognition. Christ is tempted to prove his place in the world, the importance of his relationship to God. Here, Christ describes the nature of reality: we cannot test God because the purpose of the world, the purpose of the cycle of needs, is to test and perfect us.  We will never find absolute proof for anything: we must choose what we believe and how we act. We are made free because God, that is, the spirit is hidden from us. Our relationships, even with other people, are never certain. Our relationships motivate us, giving us emotional reasons to act, but Christ always contrasts the social justification of relationships, that is our need for recognition from others, with the spiritual justification which must be taken on faith.

Mat 4:10Be gone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’

From the emotional, we move to the intellectual needs. Wealth and power are the symbols that Christ uses consistently for intellectual success, the sticking point our intellectual journey toward spirit. In this line, Christ tells us the purpose of life: to fulfill God’s special purpose for us.  This is specifically contrasted in this temptation with all the worldly wealth.  The three parts of this temptation, physical needs, emotional needs, and intellectual needs become the enduring theme of Christ’s message, where we must progress from the spiritual to the physical, emotional, and intellectual to return again to spirit.