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“Do Not Lead Us into Temptation, But Deliver us from Evil”

9 May, 2008

The sixth and final petition of the model of prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, like the third and fifth petitions, has two parts. The two parts or halves of the fifth petition, for example, work together in a complimentary way: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors’. In the sixth petition, however, the two halves work together, but in opposition: leading us into temptation versus — on the contrary — delivering us from evil. Jesus teaches us to ask our heavenly Father not to do the first, and to do the second.

The first thing we should consider is that we have a translation decision to make — is it deliver us from “evil” or “the evil one (i.e. Satan)”? It’s the same Greek word (poneros) either way, and we have to use context to determine which it is. In fact, Matthew uses this word in a variety of ways, not only ‘evil’ and ‘evil one’, but ‘bad’, ‘sick’, and so on. How should we translate here (cf. 4:1, 3; 13:19; 16:1f.; 19:3f.; 22:18, 35; 26:41)? This question also ties in really well to the overall meaning of the first half of the petition.

The most immediate context for this petition, because of its mention of temptation, is clearly the temptation of Jesus by Satan which he has just overcome in order to enter into his ministry of proclamation of the coming kingdom (ch. 4). The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness ‘to be tempted’ by the ‘devil’ (v. 1), who is then called the ‘tempter’ (v. 3). This suggests that ‘the tempter’ is in view here, and that we should translate poneros as ‘the evil one’. On the other hand, throughout the rest of Matthew, Jesus is ‘tested’ by various religious leaders in a similar way (again, it’s the same word in Greek). In ch. 16, they ask for a sign in order to ‘test’ or ‘tempt’ him — and Jesus rebukes them like he had earlier rebuked the devil (vv. 1-4). There are similar exchanges in chs. 19 and 22. Matthew clearly paints the religious leaders as allies of the devil in their similar attitude and approach to Jesus as ‘tempters’, and I think this suggests that we should probably go with the majority of English translations, “Deliver us from evil”. This has nothing to do with denying the reality or role of Satan, but it recognizes that for Matthew, ‘evil’ in the sense of moral rebellion against God is inseperably connected both with the one he names the devil, the tempter, the evil one, as well as everyone and everything that displays the same attributes: rejecting Jesus, his claims and his work, his Spirit, his Kingdom and his Father.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the broader meaning of evil as ‘sinful rebellion and its consequences’, is seen in the only other time Matthew uses the word for ‘deliver’, which like so many other key words and phrases in the Lord’s Prayer, ties into the final days of Jesus’ ministry:

And those who passed by [Jesus on the cross] derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

This is Jesus’ final temptation, when those whom he came to save tempted him with belief if he would just come down, stop all this tremendous suffering, and prove who he really was. The words of the religious leaders are the most cutting: if the God in whom you trust, the God whom you claim as Father, loves you, then let him deliver you from this evil. And the crazy thing is, he did trust in God and God was really his Father who did ‘desire’ him, but he didn’t come down and he wasn’t delivered.

And at this point I think we see the most fundamental message of the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, in light of the Gospel as a whole: Jesus simultaneously teaches us to ask our gracious heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation and to deliver us from evil, and points us to himself as the one who was led into temptation, so that we may not be, and was not delivered from evil, so that we may be.

Jesus was “led into temptation”, and tempted in every way that we are, and to the maximum, by Satan himself, yet was without sin. ‘Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted’ (Heb 2:18). He is thus our sympathetic great high priest,

who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15-16)

Although not tempted by God himself (Jas 1:13), Jesus was led into Satan’s temptation by the Spirit on our behalf, so that he could succeed where we have failed and still fail, and suffer for our failures that we may forever enjoy the riches of his success. Jesus helps and strengthens us in this through the Spirit whom he has given us. This is exactly what the disciples’ failure to watch and pray in Gethsemane shows: ‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’ (Matt 26:41).

In the same way, we can only pray “Deliver us from evil” with confidence in the one who was entirely delivered over to evil for our salvation, and conquered evil and its consequences through the cross and the grave and the empty tomb. Precisely because Jesus did not given in to the temptations from Satan or anyone else, he proved hismself the Son of God and King of the Jews. Because he did not ‘save himself’ but gave himself for us, he is truly the only one who is able to save completely. ‘Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted’ (Heb 12:3).

This prayerful confidence in Christ and not in ourselves for deliverance is what the Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 127) stresses when it talks about the meaning of the sixth petition:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment, and besides, our deadly enemies, the devil, the world, and our own flesh [i.e. sinful nature], assail us without ceasing, be pleased to preserve and strengthen us by the power of your Holy Spirit, that we may make firm stand against them and not be overcome in this spiritual warfare, until finally complete victory is ours.

As a final note, although it’s pretty clear from the manuscript evidence that the traditional ending to the Lord’s Prayer (“For yours is the kingdom…”) is not actually original to Matthew, many of us still use it (although I’d never say we have to), and I don’t think that’s a problem as long as we see it as our fitting ending and response to our praying this Prayer, instead of Jesus’ own words and teaching concerning this Prayer. In other words, it’s not the Bible text, but it’s still good theology. Again, the Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 128-29) offers a great paraphrase of this wrap-up of the Lord’s Prayer:

For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, that is, all this we ask of you, because as our King, having power over all things, you are willing and able to give us all good; and that thereby not we, but your holy name may be glorified forever.

Amen means: so shall it truly and surely be. For my prayer is much more certainly heard of God than I feel in my heart that I desire these things of him.

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