The Temptations of Christ-Part Four

1] Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. [2] And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry. [3] And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. [4] Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. [5] Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple,

[6] And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone. [7] Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. [8] Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, [9] And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. [10] Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve.

Matthew 4: 1-10

Go here to read part one of our Lenten examination of the temptation of Christ by Satan, here to read part two and here to read part three. With his first two temptations having been rejected, Satan was perhaps in a momentary quandary about what to try next.  One can almost visualize a Satanic smile as he determined the next temptation.

Most Jews assumed that the Messiah, the Son of David, would come to establish the liberty of Israel and to reign as King.  Josephus, writing about events occurring some three and a half decades after Christ’s crucifixion stated that this belief lead to the great Jewish revolt against Rome:  But their chief inducement to go to war was a equivocal oracle also found in their sacred writings, announcing that at that time a man from their country would become the ruler of the world. 

One of Christ’s Apostles may have been a member of the Zealots, one of whose slogans was Dominion Belongs to God Alone.  The Gospels say almost nothing about Simon the Zealot, so it is unclear as to whether he was a member of the Zealot party, or simply zealous.  That of course has not stopped speculation about him and the relationship, if any, of Christ with the Zealots.

Under occupation by a pagan power, Judea was always teetering on the edge of revolt, as Christ, and Satan, well knew, and the image of the Messiah coming in power and glory to restore the kingdom of Israel by force was irresistible.

Beyond Israel, Christ came at a time of rising empires:  Rome, Parthia, Eastern Han dynasty in China were all manifestations of a drive to centralization as old city states, kingdoms and principalities were transformed by becoming parts of huge cosmopolitan empires.  Tiny backwaters like Galilee and Judea were being left behind, eventually fated, so it seemed, to become amalgamated and lost into the mass of the great empire they belonged to.

And so it was that Satan set the scene of his final temptation of Christ, taking Him up to a high mountain and displaying before Him the powers of the Earth, and their glory.  Today, it is fashionable to look askance at the entire concept of glory, however old phrases like “The Glory That Was Greece and the Grandeur That Was Rome” reflected an underlying reality.  The Roman Poet Horace, who died when Christ was a boy, wrote:

How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country:
Death pursues the man who flees,
spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs
Of battle-shy youths.

The sentiments of Horace are deeply out of fashion since World War I, and Wilfrid Owen, who died fighting bravely in the British Army just before the War ended, spoke for a new cynical age, after the mass slaughters of the Great War:


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest  
To children ardentfor some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

However,  while Christ was here on Earth, most people would have agreed with these sentiments that Lord Macaulay put into the mouth of the Roman hero Horatius:


     Then out spake brave Horatius,
          The Captain of the Gate:
     “To every man upon this earth
          Death cometh soon or late.
     And how can man die better
          Than facing fearful odds,
     For the ashes of his fathers,
          And the temples of his gods,


     “And for the tender mother
          Who dandled him to rest,
     And for the wife who nurses
          His baby at her breast,
     And for the holy maidens
          Who feed the eternal flame,
     To save them from false Sextus
          That wrought the deed of shame?


     “Haul down the bridge, Sir Consul,
          With all the speed ye may;
     I, with two more to help me,
          Will hold the foe in play.
     In yon strait path a thousand
          May well be stopped by three.
     Now who will stand on either hand,
          And keep the bridge with me?”


     Then out spake Spurius Lartius;
          A Ramnian proud was he:
     “Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
          And keep the bridge with thee.”
     And out spake strong Herminius;
          Of Titian blood was he:
     “I will abide on thy left side,
          And keep the bridge with thee.”


     “Horatius,” quoth the Consul,
          “As thou sayest, so let it be.”
     And straight against that great array
          Forth went the dauntless Three.
     For Romans in Rome’s quarrel
          Spared neither land nor gold,
     Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
          In the brave days of old.

Thus Satan was offering Christ at one swoop the fulfillment of the Messianic expectations of most Jews and Earthly power and glory that would make his message easy for Gentiles to accept.  Next week we will further examine this last temptation and the response of Christ to it.

More to explorer

One Comment

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: