The Temptation of Jesus (Mt 4)
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.“
4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.‘”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple
6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,‘ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.‘”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.‘”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.“
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.‘”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (ESV)
Jesus. A human alone in the desert. The question of why we at all can know something about these desert experiences is secondary. For me, it is obvious that Jesus told his disciples how he was led into temptation. But nothing starts on its own or is directed by the devil. Behind all or better said above all stands God, who let us not be attempted over our powers. “And lead us not into temptation“ we pray with Jesus in the “Lord’s Prayer“. The devil is only a background actor and is only God’s “ape” (Luther).
Have I to “believe“ in a devil – how terrible – to understand that story? Does the whole story become implausible because of the figure of the devil and has to be banished into the realm of fairy tales and myths, because one cannot believe in a devil with tail and horns? But don’t underestimate fairy tales and myths! Since ancient times they have told us about the fight between good and evil and make visible in a figurative language, what is going on internally in our psyche. And so it is here with Jesus. It’s not about appearance or material, which can be touched but about inner mental states.
Jesus struggles at the beginning of his public action in the desert for his own identity – between self-doubts and omnipotence fantasies – and experiences these doubts as temptations of the devil.
Who am I? Am I really the Son of God? Why don’t I take it easy and turn these stones into bread? Than I wouldn’t be hungry any longer. If I am really the Son of God, God will take care about me, when I jump down into the abyss. His fantasies of fasting are mirroring to him like in a Fata Morgana the realms of this world and what is in them. Everything what the heart desires: Power, success, eating and drinking, sex. The glory of this world consumed in measureless contortion becomes to a devil’s work.
As a critical human of the postmodernism I’d like to ask a question, which actually is beside the point. Had Jesus as Son of God really could turn the stones into bread? What is it here really all about? Presumed Jesus had attempted to turn the stones into bread, aside the figure of the devil, because he was hungry, and it didn’t work? The stones would have remained stones? Does it depend on miracles and magic and that Jesus can walk across water and can calm a storm whether Jesus is God’s Son? Was the actual temptation for Jesus, that he was tempted in a moment of weakness and doubts at the end of his long fasting to have to prove to himself to be the Son of God?
What is Jesus for you? A kind of supernatural Superman who can fly? A Neo, who isn’t subject to the conditions of the Matrix? Jesus doesn’t succumb to the temptation of the devil to have to prove himself as Son of God. Just in this his relation to the Father is shown. It is so naturally, that there are just can’t be any proofs in the material world. This causality, so if you are the Son of God, then… totally fails to describe the relation between Jesus and his father.
The devil tries to encircle Jesus from two sides, by demanding on the one hand a proof of Jesus, that he is the Son of God, on the other hand by wanting to provoke an interference of God that shall confirm Jesus’ sonship. But the relation between Jesus and God is and always will be a mystery. What will come of it, we see in the next three years. To those who have eyes to see and hearts which are alive, the love between Father and Son is unfolded into this world. The others murder him.
What does the physical hunger already mean to Jesus! There is a hunger which no bread can satiate, which all the glory of the whole world itself can’t still. Who is searching for salvation in the material world fails and runs astray. Jesus, who knows God like nobody else – “Father“ – experienced just through the time of loneliness in the desert the quality of God’s presence. How can there bread or the whole glory of the world be fulfillment to him? How can bread still our psychic hunger for God? How can the glory of the whole world, which mirrors God’s glory, be a substitute for God? Now we understand why Jesus was led by God into the desert. Now we also understand why we are led into “the desert“. That we look through the world of things and recognize God. (Volker Schunck, Identity)