The 3 Challenges

Some people subscribe to The Law Of Three when discussing Scripture. If it was said three times, they say, then it’s confirmed.

I’m not sure that I fully agree with that. Not that I’ve studied the concept in any depth, but there’s at least one denomination that holds that people should be baptized in Jesus’ Name only, because we read at least three times that that was how the Apostles did it in the early church. But Jesus tells us once that we should baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19). How many times does Jesus need to say it before we decide that it’s true?

I’m not trying to start a sectarian war, here: just sayin’.

And that being said, there is an interesting triple-play that book-ends Jesus’ Ministry on earth.

temptation-in-wilderness1-1024x768Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down, for it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest [at any time] you dash your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’

— Matthew 4:3-7

And the next time the tempter tries to snare Jesus, he claims he can give Him the whole world if He will just bow down to him. But something’s missing.

If you are the Son of God …

I think I’ve written about this before: that Jesus never responds to that challenge. Saying something like, “But I am the Son of God!” would have opened the door to even the remotest possibility that He wasn’t the Son of God. His response is only to say what is written in the Word of God.

But as we see, the devil only tries that tactic twice. If you subscribe to the Law of Three, it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And eventually, it does.


“Golgotha” Edvard Munch (1900)

And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

— Matthew 27:39-40 (emphasis added)

There it is. And once again, Jesus responds to this third challenge with Scripture.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”

— Matthew 27:46-47

Really? That’s the first line of Psalm 22, and Jesus is drawing our attention to the fact that the entire scene had been prophesied. That Psalm details very graphically Jesus’ state on the Cross: His physical appearance, His feelings, the crowd, mocking and scorning Him. And it finishes by telling us what’s to come.

All the ends of the world / Shall remember and turn to the Lord,

And all the families of the nations / Shall worship before You

For the kingdom is the Lord’s / And He rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth / Shall eat and worship.

All those who go down to the dust / Shall bow before Him

Even he who cannot keep himself alive.

A posterity shall serve Him. / It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation.

They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born,

That He has done this.

— Psalm 22:27-31

The Third Challenge: and the response pretty much settles things.

This is a device Jesus uses often, making a passing reference to Scripture and expecting people to fill in the blanks and catch the meaning. We do it ourselves, when we say things like, “Well, as they say, ‘Time and tide’ …” and expect people know the rest. When Jesus describes the Last Days, He says, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” (Luke 17:37) That may seem out of place, but I believe it’s a veiled reference to Job 39:27-30, where God is describing to Job and his friends that He is in charge and things will happen when He intends them to happen.