Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775‑1851)
The Temptation on the Pinnacle
Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper
212 x 160 mm
Tate Britain, London
The third and final temptation endured by Christ in the wilderness is when he is challenged by Satan to throw himself down from the highest pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Turner depicts the moment of Christ's triumph over Satan who can be seen hurling himself away from the scene in anger and frustration.
It prefigures the final victory on the Cross and the Resurrection
The scene by Turner is an illustration for Milton`s Paradise Regained Book IV and the climax of that work:
So saying he [Satan] caught him [Christ] up, and without wingOf Hippogrif bore through the Air sublimeOver the Wilderness and o're the Plain;Till underneath them fair Jerusalem,The holy City, lifted high her Towers, [ 545 ]And higher yet the glorious Temple rear'dHer pile, far off appearing like a MountOf Alablaster, top't with golden Spires:There on the highest Pinacle he setThe Son of God, and added thus in scorn: [ 550 ]There stand, if thou wilt stand; to stand uprightWill ask thee skill; I to thy Fathers houseHave brought thee, and highest plac't, highest is best,Now shew thy Progeny; if not to stand,Cast thy self down; safely if Son of God: [ 555 ]For it is written, He will give commandConcerning thee to his Angels, in thir handsThey shall up lift thee, lest at any timeThou chance to dash thy foot against a stone.To whom thus Jesus: also it is written, [ 560 ]Tempt not the Lord thy God; he said and stood.But Satan smitten with amazement fellAs when Earths Son Antæus (to compareSmall things with greatest) in Irassa stroveWith Joves Alcides and oft foil'd still rose, [ 565 ]Receiving from his mother Earth new strength,Fresh from his fall, and fiercer grapple joyn'd,Throttl'd at length in the Air, expir'd and fell;So after many a foil the Tempter proud,Renewing fresh assaults, amidst his pride [ 570 ]Fell whence he stood to see his Victor fall.And as that Theban Monster that propos'dHer riddle, and him, who solv'd it not, devour'd;That once found out and solv'd, for grief and spiteCast herself headlong from th' Ismenian steep, [ 575 ]So strook with dread and anguish fell the Fiend,And to his crew, that sat consulting, broughtJoyless tryumphals of his hop't success,Ruin, and desperation, and dismay,Who durst so proudly tempt the Son of God. [ 580 ]So Satan fell and strait a fiery GlobeOf Angels on full sail of wing flew nigh,Who on their plumy Vans receiv'd him softFrom his uneasie station, and upboreAs on a floating couch through the blithe Air, [ 585 ]Then in a flowry valley set him downOn a green bank, and set before him spredA table of Celestial Food, Divine,Ambrosial, Fruits fetcht from the tree of life,And from the fount of life Ambrosial drink, [ 590 ]That soon refresh'd him wearied, and repair'dWhat hunger, if aught hunger had impair'd,Or thirst, and as he fed, Angelic QuiresSung Heavenly Anthems of his victoryOver temptation and the Tempter proud.
The temptations of Christ in the desert are among the most mysterious passages in the Gospels
Saint Pope John Paul II in one of his catecheses on the subject said:
"Jesus knew that he was sent by the Father to establish God's kingdom in the world of humanity. On the one hand, for this purpose he accepted being tempted in order to take his proper place among sinners. He had already done this at the Jordan, in order to serve as a model for all (cf. St. Augustine, De Trinitate 4:13).
But on the other hand, by virtue of the Holy Spirit's anointing, he reached into the very roots of sin and defeated the one who is the "father of lies" (Jn 8:44). Thus he willingly went to face the temptations at the start of his ministry, complying with the Holy Spirit's impulse (cf. St. Augustine, De Trinitate 13:13).
One day when his mission was completed he would proclaim: "Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out" (Jn 12:31). On the eve of his passion he would repeat once again: "The ruler of the world is coming; but he has no power over me" (Jn 14:30); rather, "the ruler of this world has been condemned" (Jn 16:33).
The struggle against the "father of lies" who is the "ruler of this world," begun in the desert, will reach its climax on Golgotha. The victory will come about through the cross of the Redeemer."