Lead Us Not Into Temptation – Matthew 6:13: The Actual Meaning
This line of the Lord’s Prayer does not mean, “Don’t let us be tempted.” but rather “do not let us yield to temptation.” Craig Blomberg draws attention to a similar saying in Mark 14:38, “pray that you do not come under temptation” (Blomberg, Matthew, 120). Temptation is a fact of being human and is unavoidable for the disciple of Jesus. For example, in James calls trials “tests of faith” and considers them occasions for joy because they produce steadfastness which leads to maturity (James 1:2-4). For James, the result of being steadfast in suffering is a “perfect” faith, one that is complete and lacking nothing. James is not teaching his readers they can achieve perfection since he is clear humans struggle. But he is also clear people can mature and overcome specific sins.
There is an important translation issue in this verse. First, the Greek word normally translated “evil” covers a wide semantic range, as does the Hebrew and Aramaic word which Jesus likely originally used. The word πονηρός (ponēros) can refer to something which is poor quality or physically unhealthy, but also to something which is degenerate and wicked. A person who has poor vision, for example, has “bad eyes.” This does not mean their eyes are morally degenerate, only that they do not function properly. So this could be translated “bad thing” or “evil thing.”
Second, the Greek phrase in Matthew 6:13 is ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ (apo tou ponērou) and can be translated either as “from evil” or “the evil one.” In the first case, the prayer is to be rescued from bad things which happen in this world, in the second case it is a prayer to be delivered from the power of the tempter himself. This would refer to Satan and the dark spiritual forces of this world.
Both observations are important decisions to make at the translation level since there is quite a difference between “rescue us from bad things happening to us” and “rescue is from the power of the devil.” Should the disciple of Jesus expect that God will rescue them from every bad thing that might happen to the in this life? This is highly unlikely since he has already warned his followers they will face persecution. The disciples are the poor ones who hunger and thirst, they are the ones who will be persecuted and falsely accused for all sorts of evil because of their stand for Jesus.
It seems better that this is a prayer to be rescued from the dark spiritual forces that are active in the world. Jesus prays in John 17:15 that God the Father would protect his disciples “from the evil one.” In Ephesians 6:10 Paul says the believer does not wrestle against flesh and blood, but rather against dark and sinister forces of evil. In 2 Thessalonians 3:3 Paul says “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
In the context of Jesus’ ministry, the trials that the disciples faced were very real threats to their lives – they were going to be arrested and likely beaten by both their friends (the Jews of the Synagogues) and their enemies (the Romans, eventually). In Mark 14:38, Jesus is talking about a trail which might result in apostasy, a denial of faith. We might describe this as a “crisis of faith,” a difficulty which is so severe that the believer may be tempted to reject his faith, to deny the Lord and, in a sense, return to a state of unbelief.
There is a strong indication that Jesus believes his disciples will pass through the time of trial, and be restored after the resurrection. This is also found in contemporary Jewish literature as well, that the one who fears the Lord will be rescued in their time of trial. Sirach 33:1 says “No evil will befall the one who fears the Lord, but in trials such a one will be rescued again and again.”
The disciple of Jesus should expect trials and temptations. There is no way to avoid them. In fact, trials and temptations are an indication the true disciple of Jesus is living out their faith, they are coming to the attention of an evil society which seeks to suppress them.
If this is correct, there is a serious contrast with some strains of Christianity which teaches the real disciple of Jesus will always be happy and healthy, or that any trial in one’s life is the result of sin. This is not at all what Jesus or Paul taught! The disciple of Jesus will still struggle with a failing body; they will endure pain and death. The disciple of Christ will still face the economic disaster of a lost job through no fault of their own. They will still face the heartbreak of rebellious children or a faithless spouse. These are not punishments for sin, but the sort of things all people face because the world is a fallen place. It is a lie to tell people their lives will be perfect if they aspect Jesus as savior. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount the true follower can expect all sorts of hardships and will suffer persecution for their faith.
This first appeared on: https://readingacts.com/