February 26, 2012 Length: 49:15
As we begin the Lenten fast, Fr.Tom reflects on the 40 days Christ spent in the desert being tempted by Satan. Learn how some churches actually promise things that Christ rejected in the desert.
In the synoptic gospels, that is, the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, it is recorded that immediately following Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness 40 days, tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him. That I just read from St. Mark’s gospel. That’s all it says in Mark. It says that Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. When he came up out of the water immediately he saw the heavens opened, the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven: “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well-pleased.” Then it’s written the Spirit—the Holy Spirit—immediately drove him out into the desert place, into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for 40 days, tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him.
Then St. Mark simply continues. It’s a very short, stark gospel. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ ” Now Matthew and Luke also mentioned Jesus being tempted by God in the desert, in the wilderness, but it’s much more extensive. Bu t the two narratives are slightly different. I think it’s good for us simply to read them. In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, at the end of the baptismal narrative where God says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased,” the text continues. This is Matthew.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted 40 days and 40 nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took him to the holy city—(that’s Jerusalem)—and set him on the pinnacle of the Temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written: He will give his angels charge of you, and: On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written: You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
Now again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and he said to him, “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan, for it is written: You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
Then it continues.
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew from Galilee, and, leaving Nazareth, he went and dwelt in Capernaum, by the sea in the city, in the territory of Zebulon and Naphthali, that what was spoken by the Prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: The land of Zebulon, the land of Naphthali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.
Then it says:
From that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
So you have the baptism, the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the desert place and the devil tempting him with these three temptations. The Luke narrative is almost identical to Matthew except that the order of the temptations is reversed. Let’s just read it all, because it’s good for us to hear it. In Luke’s narrative, you have the baptism, which ends again with the voice of God the Father saying, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well-pleased.” But then in Luke’s gospel you have the very long genealogy of Jesus that begins with Jesus and goes all the way back to Adam, whom everyone is begotten of; then it says Adam. In the RSV, it ends with Adam the son of God, but actually if you read the text as it’s written it would say that Jesus was the Son as supposed of Joseph, who was of Eli, who was of Matthias, who was of Levi, and then it ends: Adam, who was of God. The term “son of” each time is actually not there in the text; it just says “was from” or “of,” and then it lists the name, and Adam of course is “of” or “from God,” because he’s created by God in the story.
Now in the fourth chapter of Luke, this is how the temptation narrative is told.
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit (filled with the Holy Spirit), returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit for 40 days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. He ate nothing in those days, and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone.” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you then will worship me, it shall be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written: You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
Then in Luke’s narrative the third temptation is that the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, sat him on the pinnacle of the Temple and said to him:
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you, and on their foot they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” And Jesus answered him, “It is said: You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Now notice in Luke that the second and third temptations are in reverse order from Matthew, and then notice also at the end that it says: “When the devil had ended every temptation”—there are three that are mentioned, but it says “every”—“he departed from him”—the devil departed from Jesus—“until an opportune time.” That probably means when he could have another time to attack him. Then the Luke gospel continues:
Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, a report concerning him went out throughout the surrounding country, and he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
Then Luke’s gospel continues in its own unique way.
What we want to do now is to reflect a bit on the fact that Jesus was tempted and tested and that he was exactly tempted and tested immediately after baptism, that it took place in a desert area, and that these were the three temptations that Satan, the devil, came to Jesus with. So the first thing we want to see is that Jesus, as a man, in his humanity, was really tempted. He was tested; he was tried. That term, peirasmon, in the verb form, it means not only tempted, like tempted, I don’t know, to steal a cookie, or tempted to commit adultery or something, but it has the meaning also of being tested, being put to the test, of being tried. Here the Scripture teaching is very clear that, well, to quote Job, the whole life of a person on this earth is a test. From the beginning of humanity, it was a test. According to the biblical story, Adam and Eve were tested from the beginning. Did they love God? Did they trust God? Were they ready to follow God? Were they ready to follow their own way? Were they ready to hear the temptations of the wisdom of this world and of Satan himself?
Human beings have to confront that, and we have to be victorious over that. We have to really be tested by the actual trial, the actual test, to see whether we will trust God or not, that we will live by God’s commandments, by God’s way, whether we really love God. Because like Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.” So everything is a test. Of course, the temptation is to follow our own will or to follow the suggestions of the wisdom of this world. That’s what the serpent stands for in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, or even Satan himself, the devil, the evil spirits, the dark spirits. Is that what we want, or do we want the Holy Spirit, the good Spirit of God who can destroy all the evil spirits that are necessarily going to attack creatures?
Here, if human beings are made in the image and likeness of God for everlasting life, then the human beings have to be confronted by the devil, they have to confront evil, they have to confront and be confronted with every temptation and be victorious over it, by obedience and love for God, by the power of God, by the Holy Spirit. There’s just no way around this. It’s impossible to be a human being on earth and not to be tested. You’ve got to be tested in order to be human. You’ve got to be tested in order to be saved. You’ve got to be tested to show what you really believe and who you really are and what you’re made of and what you want. There is no other way.
In the holy Scripture, in the New Testament, the teaching is made very clearly, particularly in the letter to the Hebrews, that Jesus, although he was a Son and the Son of God, and although he was the One, as it says in the opening lines of the letter, the One who is appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also God created the ages, the One who is the reflection of the very glory of God, who is the exact Image of the Father’s Person, the Father’s Nature, who opposed the universe by the word of his power—this Jesus, in his humanity, has to go through all of these things, as the New Adam, as the real Adam. He also must be confronted by the devil, confront the devil, and be victorious, not like Adam who was not victorious, but who was triumphed over. Jesus has to come to triumph. As we know, that very word, “savior” or “salvation,” it means the one who triumphs, the one who conquers, the one who is victorious.
Now what it says in this letter to the Hebrews is the following. It says very clearly in the letter to the Hebrews, in the second chapter, for example, the 14th verse, it says:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself (that is, God’s Son) likewise partook of the same nature—(It says the same seed in Hebrew, the same humanity that we have.)—that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and to deliver all of those who [through] fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.
So it said Jesus had to become human and he had to become like us in every respect in order to destroy the power of death which is the devil.
In the first letter of John it says very clearly: the reason for the appearance of the Son of God was to destroy the works of the devil. So this letter to the Hebrews, again it says:
Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. (Then it says specifically:) For, because he himself has suffered and been tempted (or tested, tried), he is able to help those who are tempted (who are tested, who are tried).
Virtually the very same sentence is written in the fourth chapter of the same letter to the Hebrews. You see, here it says:
For because he himself has suffered and been tempted (or tested), he is able to help those who are tested (who are tempted).
Now in the fourth chapter, again the 14th verse, ironically, it says this:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus, the Son of God—let us hold fast our confession (a confession of our faith). For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses (“sympathize” means “co-suffer,” to suffer with our weaknesses), but one who in every respect has been tested (or tempted) as we are, yet without sin.
So it says we have this high priest, God’s own Son, who is himself beset with weakness, it says in the fifth chapter, who himself learned obedience through what he suffered. It also says in that very same chapter that he went through all of these things so that he can be with us in our trial, in our testing, our temptations. So you have these words, wonderful words, that he in every respect has been tested or tempted as we are, yet without sin, yet with yielding to that temptation or that trial.
When it says in the letter to the Hebrews that he was tempted in every single way as we are, that is of course a kind of a general statement, meaning that, just as we are tested and tempted, so is he. But when it says in every way, it doesn’t mean literally in the details of every way, because every human being’s life is different, and what constitutes temptations for some people may not be very great trials or temptations for others. I think you could sum this up by saying that the devil and the trials of this world are somehow tailor-made and suited to each one of us, so what our propensities to evil are, what our predispositions are, what our fears are, what our anxieties are, what our passions and lusts and desires are, by the actual conditions of our humanity, those are the areas in which the devil tempts us.
For example—I don’t know—in some sense we are tempted even more by our gifts than our weaknesses. I mean, no one would feel that they are particularly tested by being weak, although they have to bear their weaknesses, but if someone is strong, they may be tested to use their strength for evil purposes. Not everybody has the same kind of thing. Some people are, let’s say, more sexually lustful than others. Some people are more intellectually curious. Some people are more power-hungry. Some people might be more caught on—I don’t know—food and drink. Some people may be more tempted—I don’t know—by money than other people. Some people don’t seem to care much about money; other people are terribly so. Some people seem to be really tested by sexual stuff.
So when it says that Jesus was tested in every way, it doesn’t mean that he was—I don’t know—tempted to look at internet porn or something. There was no internet porn when he was there. You couldn’t say that he was tempted to—I don’t know—eat a box of chocolate candies or something. He probably didn’t know much about chocolate; I don’t think he did anyway. So you can’t say, well, he’s always tested in every single detailed way, no, but he’s tested and tempted in the way that is appropriate to his own Person in the world. So I think what we would want to say and what we would have to say is that Jesus of Nazareth, whose calling was to be the Messiah, the messianic King, and that meant whose calling was to be crucified, to suffer, to give his life over unto death for the sake of re-creating the whole creation and saving all of humanity, the main, most ferocious temptation to him would be not to do that, to reject his calling. You might even say that’s the most ferocious temptation for each one of us: not to be who we are, not to accept the life that we have, not to accept what God wants from us, to want to do it some other way, to want to do it in our own way. Those are the huge temptations.
You might say that Jesus, whose calling was to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, that he had in his humanity, which is really—again, we want to insist on this—exactly like ours—once he becomes human and has the human soul, the human mind, the human place, the human nationality, the human family, the human condition—all of those are the conditions and the realities within which he is then actually being tempted by the devil. So the devil has to test him, and he has to be victorious.
We can ask the question also, this: Why would the Scriptures say that the Holy Spirit drove him into the desert in order to be tempted by the devil before he begins his public ministry as the Messiah, the messianic Teacher and Prophet, and ultimately the messianic High Priest and the messianic Lord and Son of God and King? Well, some scholars and holy Fathers see that here you have a kind of fulfillment of the pattern that we find already in the Old Testament. When the people of Israel were led out of Egypt, they had to cross the water, and then they found themselves in the desert, and they wandered around the desert for forty years, and they were tested in the desert, tempted, tried, to see if they really trusted God, really believed in God, and really were ready to be God’s people.
The idea is, the teaching is, that Jesus, as the ultimate Savior, the perfect human being, the perfect Jew, the Savior of Israel, the King of Israel—after he goes through the baptismal water, he finds himself in the desert, and then he has to face the demons. He has to accept the condition in which God has put him. He has to trust God in it and to know God will keep him in it, and he has to not try to—how can you say?—he has to not fall away and go back, so to speak. For example, in the Old Testament, when the people came out from Egypt and were led across the sea and found themselves in the desert, they were tempted and tested to not trust God. They said, “Oh, why don’t we go back? At least in Egypt we ate. What did we get out here for? We’re only out here to perish. God is going to let us die,” and all this kind of thing.
It’s the same thing, in a sense, with Jesus, fulfilled according to the particular manners of his messianic life. But he had to go into that desert place. Here it was definitely a biblical teaching that the evil spirits and the dark spirits, they inhabited the waste areas. They were in deserts; they were where there was no water, where there was no food, where there [were] no animals, where it was hot, where it was filled with beasts, where it was filled with all kinds of predatory animals—lions and so on—who could destroy you. The desert is a kind of symbolic place of danger, of emptiness, of godlessness, of where the demons actually reign.
That’s why, by the way, Christian monks and nuns go to live in the desert. That’s why the early Christian monks went out into the Egyptian desert or into the Palestinian desert, fleeing all the comforts of civilization and water and all those things and went out there to win that territory back from the demons, where the demons lived, so to speak; that was the symbolic understanding, because it was so empty, so barren, so forsaken, that only the demons would be out there. And they went out there exactly to confront them and to overcome them. They went out there to fight with the demons. That’s what the monks and the nuns did. And John the Baptist was raised in the desert also, where the demons were, and he ate only locust plants and wild honey, and he lived a very ascetical life, being prepared to participate in this victory of God over all of the evil spirits and ultimately over Satan himself.
So Jesus has to go through that all. Once he’s baptized and he shows that he is God’s Son, shows that he is the Christ with the Holy Spirit dwelling upon him, that same Spirit says: Okay, now you begin your ministry by having a face-to-face confrontation with Satan, with the devil. And the devil is going to show—he’s going to reveal his hand, so to speak, how he is going to tempt you, and you’re going to see what are the temptations very peculiar to the One who is the Messiah, the one who is God’s Son.
Here we can say, and the Russian writer Dostoevsky said this, that those temptations that the devil dreamed up for Jesus… And notice how he begins each time quoting the Bible. He quotes the Scripture to Jesus; it’s kind of a Scripture battle that Jesus is having with the devil in these temptations. But you can say, and the Russian writer Dostoevsky said, that these temptations that the devil dreamed up for Jesus, they’re kind of tailor-made for the Messiah, for the messianic King. They’re the kind of thing that you would say that… You might put it this way, I mean; it’s a little bit bold, but that the Christ might be tempted to fall for. Why? Because the Christ came to save the world and he had to do that by being crucified, and he had to leave people free to follow him by faith, and then they had to be willing to obey him and to be crucified together with him in order to be redeemed by him and to have his salvation work in their life.
So the temptation is, so to speak—and I think it’s a good way to put it—to by-pass the cross, to have a salvation without a cross, to have a Messiah without a cross, to have a human life without a cross; to rob people’s freedom and then the Messiah would come and just give everybody what they would want from God, that he would satisfy all their subhuman needs, so to speak, that just belong to the flesh and belong to the fallen world, and make people happy. You might even put it that way. The demons tempt Jesus to say: Listen, what you’re bringing is too hard; it is too much. People can’t stand it. They don’t want freedom, they don’t want to take up a cross, they don’t want to obey God, they don’t want to love. What they really want is someone to take care of them, [for] God just to give them what they want and make them happy, and make them happy in this world.
As again the Russian writer Dostoevsky said… He did this in the novel, The Brothers Karamazov, in the little story within the novel, The Brothers Karamazov, called “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.” And I would beg every auditor, every listener to Ancient Faith Radio, to read the novel, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I would even suggest that you read in English, you read the translation done by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Larissa is a graduate of St. Vladimir’s, by the way; she was at the seminary when I worked there. They are prize-winning translators from the Russian language.
But if you don’t want to or you cannot or it’s beyond you to read the entire novel, The Brothers Karamazov, which is very long, almost 800 pages, just get the book and read the chapter called “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.” It’s a legend that Ivan Karamazov makes up and discusses with his believing brother, Alyosha Karamazov. It’s a very, very great novel, but this “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” many people, like Konstantin Mochulsky, the great Dostoevskyian scholar, Russian Orthodox Christian, he said that that was the epitome of Dostoevsky’s insight into human life, that the ultimate revelation of the reality of things, so to speak, relative to God and to human beings, is found in that story, “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.”
So that’s where, in that story, Dostoevsky discusses the temptations of Jesus by Satan in the desert. I’ve read a lot of interpretations about these temptations and where they’re from, but in my opinion probably still Dostoevsky hits the nail on the head probably better than anybody. What he says in interpreting this, he says this: People don’t really want to be free. They want to be told what to do. They want God to tell them what to do, and they want God to show them miracles and mysteries, and they want God to have authority over them, and they want God to give them bread and to make them humanly happy, and they’re ready to surrender everything to have that. So, according to Dostoevsky, these three temptations that the devil gives to Jesus in the wilderness, they’re the most treacherous temptations that you can give to any human being, and certainly to any religious human being, certainly the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Son in human flesh. This would be where the whole center of the whole matter is.
You can say that what the devil is doing with Jesus there is saying to him: Don’t be the Messiah the way you’re supposed to be. Don’t do it that way. It’s not going to work. It’s too much. The people don’t want it. The people want to be comforted. They want to name it and claim it. They want to tell God what to do. They want God to satisfy their needs and their desires as they define them. Basically, first of all, they want bread. They want to eat. So, if you’re really a good guy and if you’re really wanting to be good to the people and you really love the people, what you will do is supply them with bread. Give them bread to eat.
So the first temptation, both in Matthew and in Luke is the temptation to change the stones into bread. The devil says to Jesus in these temptations, in this very first temptation, he said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to be loaves of bread.” Show a miracle. First of all, show a miracle, show your power. And then show your power by satisfying human need. People are hungry; make the stones into loaves of bread. But Jesus answers the devil by quoting Scripture. He said, “It is written”—it’s in Deuteronomy—“man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Of course, Jesus will say in St. John’s gospel that the real bread of life is the word of God, that people can eat and eat and drink and drink and die and go to hell. Of course, it’s the teaching of Jesus himself that if people are hungry and if they’re poor and if they’re needy, you have to supply them with bread and feed them, but you can’t only supply them with bread. Even when the people follow Jesus only to get bread, in the sixth chapter of St. John’s gospel, he said, “Labor not for the food that perishes. I am the bread of life.”
Of course, the Russian writer Berdyaev, who also has a book about Dostoevsky and the Grand Inquisitor which is worth reading, he said: Bread for myself is a material problem; bread for my neighbor is a spiritual problem. So if somebody’s really hungry and has no food, you have to feed them. “I was hungry; you gave me food.” But if you simply say to the person, “Life is only about food, it’s only about drink, it’s only about possessions, it’s only about clothing, it’s only about property, it’s only about vacations in Florida,” or something, that then is to destroy a human being. That is to kill a human being as made in the image and likeness of God, to be a divine son of God for all eternity, to be a child of God. So the big temptation here is to take something good—bread, food—and to make it everything, and to do so by a miracle.
Here the teaching also is people like miracles. They want God to perform miracles all the time. Did you ever notice how, even in the Orthodox Church, people who are interested in spirituality, the more miracles, the better, and the wilder the miracles are, the better? They love this literature about, you know, monks and others who make all these miracles and they do all these miraculous things and so on, and that’s what really turns people on—but it’s not about miracles; it’s about the love of God, it’s about truth, it’s about wisdom, it’s about freedom, because you can even become a miracle junkie. All you want is miracles all the time. It’s just like you can become a food addict; all you want to do is eat all the time. Or you can become, I don’t know, a possession addict, like these people on TV you see who hoard all kinds of things and so on.
So the devil tries to get Jesus to fall into that trap. He said: People will love you, they’ll follow you, if you just give them bread and make them happy and show them by miraculous power. But that is a treacherous, treacherous temptation. Dostoevsky even says the devil chose the three greatest, most treacherous temptations that could possibly confront a human being, even God’s own Son in human flesh who has come to save the world by giving truth to people, the truth that makes them free, and delivering them from their enslavement to food and drink and possessions and property and earthly power and miracles and all kinds of things like that.
Then the temptations continue. I’ll just use the Matthew order. In Matthew, the second temptation is the devil. He takes Jesus to Jerusalem, puts him on the pinnacle of the Temple, and says, “If you’re the Son of God, throw yourself down. Then God will catch you. The angels will”—it’s the psalm that he’s quoting—“The angels will have charge over you. They will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” And Jesus answers again, quoting the Scripture; I believe it’s Deuteronomy again, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” You don’t put God to the test. You don’t jump off a roof and say to God, “Catch me.” That’s asinine; that’s blasphemous, even. God will protect you, but you don’t pick up serpents in order to prove, or drink poison so that God would do a miracle and show all this mysterious power and authority that God has.
Life is not about miracles, it’s not about mysteries, it’s not about authority. In fact, bread and authority and miracle, or miracle and mystery and authority, that’s what people want. And the authority is “We’ll tell you what to do. Just follow me. Here, take out your notebook; I’ll tell you what to do.” A lot of people want that, too. They even go to gerontas and elders in order to give up their freedom. They want to find some holy man who will tell them everything to do—what to eat, what to drink, where to walk, when to sleep, when to go to the bathroom—so that they don’t have to use their own freedom and their own insight and their own spirit for those things. They want someone else to take over their life, again Dostoevsky says, because freedom is just too hard to bear. God expects too much from us, you know. Why doesn’t he just tell us what to do? So he says we should just tell him what to do. So: tell the people you’re going to protect them; you’re going to make them happy; you’re going to make them safe; you’re going to keep them from the enemies; you’re going to drive out the enemies, as long as they obey you, you’ll make everything go nice for them in this world.
Then of course the third great temptation is the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain, shows him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and said, “These things all belong to me, and I’ll give them all to you if you worship me.” In other words, don’t worship God; worship mammon. Don’t seek the kingdom; seek the life in this world, seek earthly happiness. Let everything be nice until you die at an old age at a golf course in Florida or something, and everything will be perfectly nice. Not at all! But if you want that, then you’re worshiping the devil. So the devil says: I’ll give you all these things if you will just fall down and worship me.
Then Jesus again quotes the Torah of Moses: “Begone, Satan, for it is written: You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him. So to show power, to show authority, to make miracles, to give bread. That’s what people want—and the devil tempts Jesus to give it to them, and then they’ll follow you, they’ll bow down before you, they’ll worship you because you give the bread, you give the miracle, you show the mystery, you show the authority, you have the power, and they can just become like slaves. They become slaves of God, not sons of God, bonded slaves, giving up our humanity to God himself, who allegedly made us in his own image and likeness, where freedom is the main quality of being made in the image and likeness of God: to know the truth and to love freely and to give oneself freely, in obedience freely, and not as a slave.
Now, Dostoevsky even went a step further. He said many Christian churches—and he quoted the Roman Catholic Church, but I think it applies to all of us—we can accept exactly the temptations of the devil and give them to people in the name of Jesus. And in the story of the Grand Inquisitor, the believing brother tells the atheistic brother, “Brother, what you are doing is accepting the temptations of the demon. You’re in the hands of the devil when you say that you should just give people bread and mysteries and miracles and authorities and powers and rule their lives for them. No, you’re in the hands of your devil; you’re not with God.” Then the Inquisitor in the story says, “We’ve improved on Jesus. People can’t handle what Jesus wants from them. We do better. And guess what—we even do it in Christ’s name.”
So in the name of Christ, who rejected these temptations, Christian churches accept these temptations and try to bring people to come into them exactly for the reasons that Jesus rejected when he was 40 days and 40 nights fasting and praying in the desert and then faced the devil and overcame him. In other words, Christians can capitulate to the demonic temptations that Jesus the Messiah himself rejected in the wilderness. We could say to people, “Come to church and your life will be better! Come to church and God will give you a good job! Worship God and miracles will happen in your life! If you’re sick you’re going to be healed!” and so on. “You don’t have to suffer anything! God will make your life go well! You don’t even have to think, because we’ll tell you everything what to do. We’ll tell you how to behave. We’ll tell you where to go, what to eat, what to drink. We’ll take care of all of this for you. We’ll even provide the eat and the drink, and we’ll do it all in the name of God.”
Well, that is just totally demonic. That would be completely capitulation to the temptations that Jesus was confronted with by the demons after he was baptized in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. Isn’t that amazing? It’s something so scary that you almost don’t even want to think about it, because what the devil is tempting Jesus to do doesn’t look so bad. I mean, come on: giving people bread, doing miracles, showing your power by jumping off roofs and being saved, having all of the kingdoms of the world given to you—what’s so wrong? Isn’t that very nice to have? Well, it’s demonic.
The Lord Jesus said: If you seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness, all that you need in this life will be given to you, and the crosses that you need you will be given, and the suffering that you have to endure you will endure, and the temptations and the trials that you have to bear will also be given to you through which only you can enter the kingdom of God. It’s a very clear teaching of Scripture. St. Paul said it in the book of Acts: you cannot enter God’s kingdom except through affliction.
St. Anthony the Great, who really confronted the devil for years out in the desert of Egypt, he said this temptation of the devil—and he knew very, very well those demonic temptations—he said in his Sayings this. He said a truly wise person, a godly person, knows the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, true and false, beautiful and ugly, and clings with all his strength to what is good, true, beautiful, and [right] no matter how much he suffers and is persecuted for it—and he will be—and he clings to what is good and true and beautiful, he takes responsibility in freedom for his own behavior and stands before God, and, St. Anthony said, he expects to be tested and tempted and tried to his very last breath. Then St. Anthony said in his Sayings: for without temptation, no one can be saved. Without affliction and temptation, no one enters the kingdom of God; there is no other way. Without affliction and living for God alone and not living for mammon or living for mysteries or authorities or religious powers or miracles—until you give all that up, you’re not with God.
And the Messiah himself had to give all that up. He showed that he had power. He showed that he could spread a table in the wilderness. He did provide bread in the wilderness for the hungry people. But he said it’s not about that. He said it’s ultimately not about that. He did many mighty works and signs, although Scripture never uses the word “miracle.” And he showed that he had authority, even over unclean spirits. He had authority over the winds and the sky and so on. But ultimately Jesus himself, to save the world, gives all that up, so to speak. He shows that he has it, and then he says: it’s not about that. It’s about living with God and becoming deified through truth and love and wisdom and kindness and charity. That’s what it’s about. It’s about freedom. It’s about having the dignity, the glorious liberty of the children of God, as St. Paul said. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about being a slave or enslaved to this kind of earthly things, and even expecting God to give them to you. That is simply insane. That is demonic. That is of the devil.
And so Jesus had to face that. And being the Messiah he had to face it. To put it again as we did earlier, you can summarize these temptations as the devil tempting Jesus not to be a crucified Messiah. Yeah. He’s tempting Jesus not to bring people the kingdom of God that lasts forever in truth and in freedom and in wisdom and in glory and in beauty, but simply to satisfy people’s earthly needs and to enslave them by powerful and authoritative acts and to show them miracles and to thrill them and to make them be interested in all that stuff which has nothing to do with glorifying God and becoming a saint and a holy person. It does not. It does not, and that’s the great temptation.
And that is even the great temptations of religions generally, and of Christianity and of the Church in particular. That even the leaders of the Church could invite people to come to church in order to get what the devil was asking Jesus to give them, which Jesus refused to do, which Jesus himself refused to do. So these are the meanings of these temptations of Jesus.
Then we believe, ancient Christians, Orthodox Christians believe, that since Jesus is victorious over the devil, he doesn’t accept these temptations, he goes to the cross, he destroys death, he destroys the power of Satan, he destroys the worship of mammon, he destroys those who are enslaved to miracles and authorities and laws and bread and food and all kinds of earthly things. He destroys all that, and he sets us free. He liberates us from the power of the devil and allows us to become children and sons of God. That’s what he does.
Now, the teaching is: We can do that and we must do that, in and through him. We must be tested, too. We must resist the temptations of the devil also, whatever those temptations are in our particular life. It’s interesting: the devil didn’t tempt Jesus to, I don’t know, lust after Mary Magdalene or something. Probably Jesus was never even tempted too much by lusting. He was so loving and so on. But there was a test to say: If you really loved these people, you’ll give them authoritative teachings, you’ll give them miracles, and you’ll give them bread, and you’ll satisfy their earthly needs, and you’ll free them from their suffering, and they’ll follow you like lambs and like slaves, and won’t that be wonderful? Well, it will not be wonderful. It’ll be hell, basically; that’s what it will be.
So this is what we see in these temptations of Jesus. And it says in Scripture that he had to go through them. He had to face them. He had to be victorious over them. You might even say the last temptation of Jesus, so to speak, the opportune time, when the devil returns, as it says in Luke, was at the time of the Passion, because he prays to God, “If it’s possible, let this cup pass from me. I can call out legions of angels and destroy the whole Roman Empire.” When they bring out the swords to fight against the people, Jesus says, “Put that sword back. You pick up the sword, you perish by the sword. Don’t you think I can’t call legions of angels and take care of this by power if I wanted to? But if I did, the world would not be saved and we would all be in the devil’s hands.”
So Jesus has to be crucified, and so do we. He’s got to be obedient to the Father completely and so do we. He’s got to love and obey God and so do we, and not the demons. He’s got to overcome the very subtle temptations of the demons, and the Church itself has to overcome the subtle temptations of demons, not to actually create a so-called Christian or religious life which is the exact thing that Jesus rejected when he was on earth. So that last final moment of Jesus in the garden, where he says, “Not my will but your will be done… I could do these things.” He could easily come down from the cross. As Dostoevsky said, not only was he tempted in the garden, to say, “I don’t want to suffer, and I’m going to call God’s power and destroy all these people,” but when the soldier says to him when he’s being crucified, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Jesus could’ve come down from the cross. He could’ve shown power at that point. He could’ve showed his authority at that point. He could’ve come down from the cross and, I don’t know, changed some stones into bread and gave them to the soldier and say, “See how good I am?” But then we would be in the hands of the devil and not in the hands of God. Then really the devil would be triumphant. So we cannot come down from the cross.
I have a good friend, Fr. Paul Lazar, who always used to say to me, “Don’t come down from the cross, Fr. Tom. Don’t come down from the cross. Let’s not come down from the cross!” Because the minute we come down from the cross, we’re in the hands of the devil. Then everything isn’t what it is any more: the Church isn’t, worship isn’t. People will come to church just to get the stuff from God that the devil wanted Jesus to give them, and they don’t want what God really gives, namely, everlasting life, freedom, truth, love, dignity, nobility, divine sonship.
So we must flee all of these temptations, and we all have them in our own way. The devil can even tell us: Have good sex and you’ll be happy. Get the good job and you’ll be happy. Find, I don’t know what, the right business, and you’ll be happy. Well, what does that happy mean? What does the happy mean? Does it mean to be satisfied by demonic things and to be robbed of our divine dignity and to be separated from God Almighty himself? who promises all of these things to us as we need them, and we receive them from his hands, but not as ends in themselves, not as what we exist for, not as those things in which our life consists, because Jesus says our life does not consist in what we eat, what we drink, what we wear. This is what the devil wants us to believe, and he wants the churches to peddle that very same teaching, and if they do, then they’re in the hands of the devil and not servants of the God Almighty and they are certainly not followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, who resisted these temptations from the moment he was baptized until the moment he died in fulfillment of his baptism, on the cross, for the sake of the life of the world.
So this is it. This is part of the Gospel. The Messiah must be tested and so must we. He was victorious, and we must be victorious in him. And we must not change the Gospel. We must not improve on it, so to speak, and we must not end up teaching in the name of God what the devil would have us do. That is the meaning of all of this, and how beautiful it is that the Lord Jesus was victorious and that we could be victorious over the devil in him.