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Lessons from the Garden of Eden7
Jesus in the Desert
The temptation of Jesus in the desert. What does this story tell us about the nature of Evil/Satan?
To begin with, the setting is in stark contrast to that of the story of the first temptation. That took place in a garden. This is set in a desert.
The desert temptation of Jesus is only the second mention of a person’s direct interaction with Satan in scripture. Because of this, it becomes even more significant in attempting to gain understanding as to the nature of evil.
According to the narrative, Satan gets right down to business. He presents Jesus with three challenges. “If you are the Son fo God,” prove it thusly. He then quotes scripture passages which serve to highlight or define qualities of the Son of God.
What’s going on here? What is he trying to do?
Satan’s challenges of Jesus are rooted in the one he previously placed before Eve. They are an attempt to raise doubt about personal worth. Though he was much more subtle in his approach with Eve, Satan is up front – in the face – with his challenge of Jesus. “If you are the Son of God….” He knows full well Jesus is the Son of God. What he’s trying to do is rile Jesus to “prove it.” By questioning what he already knows, he is attempting to get Jesus to openly demonstrate his status – but he is equally tricky in his wording of the challenge.
Satan’s wording is such that a wrong or impulsive answer would expose Jesus to the possibility of doubting himself and therefore having to prove who he is.
So, Satan isn’t really challenging Jesus but rather chiding Him. “What could it hurt? You are who you are – why not reap the perks? Show off a little!”
But his taunts have a barb attached. What he is also saying is: “Prove it to me.”
Were Jesus to take the bait, it would have indicated a moment of self-doubt. He would have succumbed to the temptation, to the need to demonstrate who He is. But He doesn’t fall for it.
Instead, He seizes upon the choice that eluded Eve. Jesus decides to rest on his Father’s words – take the higher ground. He responds to Satan’s words and not his challenge. Jesus’ response is steeped in the security of being-ness. He is who He is. There is no need for demonstration. There is nothing to prove. Period.
The actual nature of each temptation turns out to be irrelevant because they are irrelevant to Jesus. He has no interest in what Satan has to offer. He doesn’t even deal with each temptation per se, but dismisses them… with style, candor and security.
So, what does this second interchange tell us about the nature of Satan? Trickery is his key tool. and his purpose is to sow seeds of inadequacy. Any move on the part of Jesus to “demonstrate who you are” would have roots in inadequacy… and Jesus doesn’t go near that issue.
But let’s look at what Satan does, beyond what he says. When he challenges Jesus to fend off the hunger, he doesn’t conjure up an incredible feast and lay it out in front of Jesus. He challenges Jesus to use His power to turn a stone into bread.
This is significant. Why? Because it clearly exposes the limitations of Satan’s power and influence. To transform a rock into bread would require power over creation. Such power is not within the his grasp.
Though he later brags that everything in the world – the kingdoms of the world – are at his beck and call/under his control, he still does not have the power to physically transform anything. He cannot create by fiat. He cannot transform something into something else. Physical miracles? Not in his bag of tricks.
Satan is bound by the natural strictures of the physical universe. He must work within them. He is not above them, nor is he able to manipulate their physicality.
His only weapon is the manipulation of words and personal self image. Bottom line, his only power over creation is to manipulate humans into accepting and acting upon the belief in their own inadequacy. He is ultimately a one trick pony. But what a trick. His is the ability to mess with the minds of men. And he is damn good at it – 99.999999% effective. Only one Person has escaped his trap.