THE TEMPTATION of Our Lord raises a whole series of questions which very often we don’t bother to answer though looking below the surface can be quite rewarding. Let us have a look.
The first question we perhaps ought to ask is: why did God allow Himself to be tempted at all? Most theologians agree that since temptation is an essential part of the human condition, for God not to have allowed for His Son to be tempted would have made Jesus less than human and the whole rationale behind the way in which our redemption was worked out meant that the Redeemer had to be “one of us”.
Which, presumably, means that Jesus could — in theory at least — have given in to any of those temptations. To have done so in the case of the first one — turning stones into bread — could hardly have been said to be sinful, at least per se. But when Satan in person comes to tempt you it is a fair bet that even doing something that is not itself sinful will rapidly lead him on to suggesting something that is!
A more intriguing question is whether Satan knew who it was he was trying to seduce. At least initially. It is extremely unlikely that God will have sent Satan an email quoting where and when and how mankind’s redemption was to happen. And even less likely that His internal communications were leaked! However it is highly likely that he knew fairly quickly that there was at least a new prophet on the scene and one who, according to his spies, apparently had God’s personal approval (Matthew 3.17, Mark 1.11, Luke 3.22).
Better take a closer look!
The first temptation is straightforward enough and on the face of it fairly harmless (aren’t they always?!). You are hungry; you are a prophet; can you turn stones into bread? “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”, is not the answer he was looking for. Who is this guy? Try again.
So the second temptation focuses more on the possibility that this is indeed “He who is to come” of whom it was said (Psalm 91) “[the angels] will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone”. Of course, if Satan had really, really known who he was dealing with he would have realised that He had no need of angels to stop him from hitting the ground, but then while we know Satan is crafty we never said he was all that bright! Remember he is only allowed to tempt us to the extent that God allows him to.
And Satan lets Jesus “off the hook” as it were by saying “if you are the Son of God ..” giving Our Lord the perfect escape route and He immediately quotes back at Satan, “Scripture also says ‘you must not put the Lord your God to the test.‘”
So far, not so lucky. But if this is the Son of God he has come to take away Satan’s kingdom. How, Satan doesn’t know. God, as I said, has not “cued him in” on what is in store but one thing is for sure and that is that He plans to take to Himself “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour” which is fine provided I can get Him to acknowledge me as top dog because that way I get them all and Him as well. (I did say he was crafty but not all that bright!)
So he tries the last throw of the dice. “You can have the lot! Just get down on your knees and worship me.” And now very quickly realised just who it was he was up against and retreated in confusion to have another think about things.
But though Satan has lost the war there are still skirmishes he can win. He may have lost the human race but there are still individuals that can be persuaded to sign up to his short-term gain which only turns into eternal nihilism. Lent is the ideal time to start making sure we aren’t among his conquests.