Tundrac was terrified. He didn’t want to admit it, and around his own captains and troops he blustered and bullied and scowled at every slight infraction of his discipline, but he was scared. Nobody minded, they were all scared.
The Evil One had returned from the Desert and he was not happy. Tundrac had hosted his Master once before and knew enough to keep out of his way and obey instantly any command thrown his way. But he had never seen him in such a towering rage before. Lucifer was normally cold and calculating and devious beyond subtlety. He devised strategies within strategies, plans within plans so that one never knew exactly where one stood.
It was bad enough that he had arrived unannounced so quickly after the baptism of Jesus. Tundrac had sent the report off to Rome, but even he didn’t expect such an immediate response. Now Lucifer had returned from the desert and he was angry, and when he was angry, he was coldly dangerous, his undisguised power simmering beneath the surface threatening to erupt in unthinkable terror and pain.
The troops waited, quivering and twitching with nervousness, ready to respond to his every command. But the Evil Presence simply sat and brooded on the great stone hearth in the throne room of the palace while fear immobilized the demonic forces for a time.
The desert was a wasteland not fit for animals much less man, but, of course, that was the point. It was a place where one went to commune with God in fasting and prayer in preparation for an important spiritual ministry. It was a place of battle against the excess and weakness of the flesh, a statement of dependence on God for the very sustenance of life. It was a battle within, between the needs and desires of the flesh and the priority of practical faith.
Ever since the Isra´elites journeyed through the desert to the Promised Land, prophets have gone to the desert to hear God and return in power. God spoke to Mosheh on a mountain in the desert and there He enacted his covenant with the people in a place where they were entirely dependent on Him. In the desert they learned – or did not learn – faith and dependence on God for all things.
Gabriel knew that Jesus was following an ancient spiritual pathway into the desert. This man was a new Adam, a new Isra´el and would, on their behalf, retrace the path of destruction backwards into time. On behalf of Isra´el, on behalf of Adam and his race, he would face the temptations they had faced, only on a deeper and much more difficult level, and he would overcome.
It would start in the desert and it would end in the garden, Gabriel knew. He and his troops were ready to move in at a moment’s notice, if they were needed.
For forty days Jesus walked through the desert, traveling and wandering as did the Isra´elites for forty years. He knew hunger and he knew thirst, although Adonai Elohim provided springs to flow where there should be no springs. But food he did not eat.
He would be vulnerable in his weakness and his spirit would be laid bare to the inspection of the Evil One.
It was a dangerous moment and Gabriel was concerned.
The Devil followed him, watching him closely, but he made no move towards him until the forty days were almost completed. He knew how weak the human body was and forty days without food would make it weaker still. He had learned patience over the centuries in his practice of the art of temptation.
Still, there was something else that caused him to hesitate. He was confused by Jesus, unsure of who and what he was. He had heard the stories but he had to make his own judgment on the matter and it was not easy.
He had heard the childhood reports that indicated that he was exceptional. The few attempts to infiltrate his life and build strongholds for future exploitation had failed. It was standard procedure to build bitterness, resentment and selfishness and, if possible, facilitate some emotional or physical trauma to be used at a later date. But they had not been able to get a foothold in the life of this child. They had attributed it to the strong angelic protection around him since his birth.
That in itself was an indication that God had special plans for this child. Perhaps he would become a prophet like his cousin Yochanan. But in Yochanan they had a foothold, however small it was. With Jesus it was like a brick wall beyond which they could not penetrate. Perhaps he really was the Maschiach that the people hoped for.
It could very well be. It would explain a lot. Lucifer believed it to be so but he was not worried, just cautious.
The Maschiach was supposed to be a warrior king who would defeat the enemies of Isra´el and so return them to the glory days of King David. The Devil had no problem with war. He thrived on war, and didn’t particularly care who won. They could all be controlled. They could all be turned to his purposes with time.
As long as he could get a foothold. He had done it with David himself, and his son Solomon. It was a question of technique and patience. Let them have their early days of self-righteous glory. He had laid his foundation in the hearts of men at the beginning of time and he would reap his evil fruit with patience.
He didn’t care much whether or not Jesus was the Maschiach, he just wanted to know whether he could get a foothold in his life, and, if not, why not. Could he really be the Son of God, as some of his own captains already believed? The voice from Heaven had declared it so, but Lucifer had to make sure for himself whether this was his ancient enemy in the flesh.
In the flesh!
He couldn’t believe it! His evil nature quickened at the thought. Was this an opportunity of a lifetime or a hidden danger so great that his own head might roll? Would his enemy take the kind of risk necessary to become one of these pitiful creatures, and why? What purpose would it serve?
He knew the prophecies concerning the Maschiach well enough. He knew that there were two schools of thought. One saw him as a warrior-king and the other as a suffering servant. The first was plain enough but the idea of a suffering servant made him uneasy. He didn’t understand it.
He shook his head irritably, and snorted in disgust. He hated not knowing what was going on, but he could smell the danger.
Well, first things first. He must take the measure of this man who claims to be the Son of God and find a way to infiltrate his heart.
Lucifer looked around at the forbidding hills with satisfaction. This was his domain, the domain of death and wasteland, of hunger and thirst. The domain of temptation. He was the strongman here, and the protective cover of heaven had retreated. He was being given a free hand, and he would take advantage of it. He knew how he would begin.
He remembered the havoc he had created in that tribe of Semitic nomads that had become a nation in the desert when God had brought them out of Egypt. Lucifer had turned a near disaster in Egypt into a wonderful victory in the desert. Within a few years of liberation from Egypt, he had them worshiping him through the golden calf. When they were ready to enter the Promised Land he had created such doubt and fear among the ranks that a whole generation had perished in the desert under the judgment of God. He had kept them complaining and bitter and full of doubts in the face of daily miraculous provision. It had been a wonderful time of revenge, destroying the people that God had wanted for his own.
It was there that he had learned his lesson, not to depend too much on human empires to subjugate the world. They took years to build but could be overturned in days if the right person came along. His true power lay in the hearts of men. As long as he had a foothold there, the enemy could never defeat him. He would always have authority and power so long as there were descendants of Adam upon the earth.
He turned his attention back to Jesus. The time had come to show himself and to make his move, though he suspected the truth about this man already.
One thing at a time.
Gabriel was thankful for spiritual eyes that could see long distances as if they were near by. As the personal servant of his holy master, he was instructed to watch closely for the moment he could fly to his side to give him human sustenance. He was forbidden to interfere, but once the battle was decided he could move in.
So he watched closely every meandering step that Jesus took, a black cloud keeping pace, always the same distance behind him, like an evil shadow, waiting to make his presence known.
Then Gabriel saw it, a closing of the gap. He grimaced with the impatience of not being able to interfere, but he held himself still as Lucifer took upon himself human form and began his inquisition. Gabriel heard the words as if they were beside him, having a pleasant chat in the fierce heat of the summer sun.
The Devil slid up next to Jesus, rubbing his hands with nervous tension, like a Jewish tailor selling his wares. Jesus must have known he was there but he said nothing. Lucifer coughed slightly to get his attention and then decided to get on with it.
“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.”
That should be easy enough. Show me some of your majestic power to prove who you are. You’ve got to be hungry, I’m sure. Will I be able to get a foothold through this body of flesh that you’ve taken upon yourself? Do you have it well under control or is there a weakness there?
The children of Isra´el failed this temptation miserably in the desert. They complained constantly about provision and comfort and bodily needs. Even Eve had been reduced in the garden to the simple desire to eat the apple because it looked appetizing. All the rest of the fruit of the garden, God’s abundant provision, was not enough. She wanted more, because it looked good to eat, even if it was forbidden.
Let’s see if this man is any better.
Jesus arched an eyebrow in his direction as if to say, what have I to prove to you? But Jesus knew that there was only one way to destroy the power of temptation and take away its’ authority. He could not defeat the Devil with a burst of his glory and power. He must defeat him as a man, as a son of Isra´el, as the Son of God in the flesh. He must bind the strongman in his own domain, if his ministry was to be effective.
This was a power encounter of the most obvious kind. An encounter known to the hearts of men in every generation. A battle between faith and doubt in the care of God for his people on the most practical of levels.
In the beginning, the tempter had planted the seed of doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve concerning the word of God. God’s will regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil had been clear and unequivocal. But doubt had taken hold and they had let go of the one thing that could save them – faith in the word of God. They no longer believed that God’s intentions for them were good, that he had their best interests at heart. The accuser had thrown a cloud of doubt over the relationship of love they had with the Father, and so they had fallen.
Jesus had no doubt about his Father. He had faith in his word, that it was sufficient for him in every circumstance. The needs of the body would be supplied by him at the right time. Now was the time for fasting and prayer, not eating. He would not use the spiritual power that had been given to him for his own needs.
Jesus replied, “Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The answer was no answer and yet it was the right answer and that’s what worried the Devil the most. Was it possible that Jesus knew the secret of overcoming temptation? That would mean. . .
No, it was too early for firm conclusions. He would try another direction. Jesus was not the only one who could quote scripture.
The Devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down; for Scripture says:
He will put you in his angels’ charge,
and they will support you on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.”
Gabriel was immediately concerned. His orders didn’t cover this eventuality. Was he supposed to rush in to protect his master if he chooses to throw himself from the Temple?
He waited for an answer from the Presence within him but he received silence instead. Uneasy though he was, he determined to obey his orders and not interfere.
But he was ready all the same.
Jesus remembered the children of Isra´el at Massah in the desert. They were suffering from thirst and started to grumble and complain against Mosheh and against Yahweh. After all that they had seen and heard, after every demonstration of care and love that God had shown for the people, still they did not understand.
What kind of God did they think He was? That he would bring them out of Egypt with a mighty hand only to let them die a cruel death of parched throats and empty bellies in the desert? They tested Adonai Elohim, demanding His help as if He were reluctant or tardy in His providence. They tested Adonai Elohim, wondering in their hearts whether Yahweh was with them or not.
Just like at the beginning, Jesus thought, the Evil One tries to cast doubt on the good intentions of the Father.
What had that father of lies told them at the beginning? That God was keeping the knowledge of good and evil to himself so that the man and woman would not become like gods?
The deceit in that statement was so thick, Jesus thought, that man had been choking on it ever since.
The Devil had told the truth but not the whole truth. They would be like God, most certainly, but they would not survive it. And at the heart of the deception, he had made God look selfish, uninterested in their further development, hoarding some good thing for himself alone. Was God really with them – was he on their side or not? And so they tested God’s goodness toward them, doubting his love and thereby falling under the power of the Evil One.
Jesus had no need to test God’s love and care for him. He knew his Father and his Father knew him. It was enough. It would always be enough.
Jesus said to him, “Scripture also says: You must not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The Devil was frustrated. He could not get a foothold, not even a crack and he was beginning to think that he would lose this battle and he had never lost a battle – not once, not against any human – unless there was interference from above. Here there was no interference. He was sure of it. Obviously, this man was more than a man.
Somehow the link with Adam had been broken. The Devil had no authority in him, no power over him and it rankled on his soul. How could it be that this man was exempt, unless he was in reality the Son of God, the Voice, the Word that he had known so well eons ago in another place?
There was no more time for subtlety. Obviously he was the Maschiach. Probably he was the Son of God, though it made no sense!
A helpless frustration swept over him but he firmly kept his emotions in check. He would have to think this through in more detail later. Why was Jesus here? When would he make his move upon the enemies of his people? Would he go directly to Yerushalayim and assert his authority? Would he be interested in a shortcut, an alliance of sorts, instead of an outright war?
And it would have to be an outright war, Lucifer thought grimly. If he could not get a foothold in this man, then he could not control him and there would be a battle the likes of which the world has never seen. The Devil knew that he would lose in the end, but he would go down kicking and scratching to the last and he would take every one of these precious humans that God seemed to love so much with him. He would destroy and burn everything and everyone and his enemy would be left with nothing! Nothing!!
The thought of piercing the heart of God with his plan of total destruction filled Satan with an evil, triumphant joy. He could do it, too, for he had the authority over these human vermin. Even if he lost, he would win because in the end what he really wanted was to hurt God, to hurt him deeply. His hate was ready to choke him with passion but he fought it down.
He would try one last approach. A direct approach. An alliance.
Taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single moment and their splendor. “I will give you all these,” he said, “if you fall at my feet and worship me.”
He knew it was foolish. He didn’t really expect him to agree. But no one could doubt that the kingdoms of the earth were under his authority. The only way he would surrender them was under these terms. Jesus could be the Maschiach but he would have to remain under his control. If he could not get a foothold in his life, Jesus could simply choose to align himself with him by his own decision, as Adam and Eve had done at the beginning.
It was ridiculous to be so direct, but Satan knew that the battle had begun anyway. It was surrender or die! Now there would be war in the heavenly places!
Jesus knew something that the Devil had not yet had the time to figure out. On the one hand, the temptation was no temptation at all and easily discarded. Jesus had no intention of bowing the knee to the Evil One. Certainly Isra´el had built alliances with other nations against God’s will, uncertain of Divine protection. Certainly Isra´el had worshiped other gods, even in the desert with the golden calf at the very foot of the Mountain of God. Certainly Adam and Eve, right at the very beginning of time had created an unholy alliance with the Evil One.
But Jesus had no intention of following in their footsteps. He would set a new path as the new Isra´el, the new Adam, and the people of the earth would learn to follow him.
On the other hand, Jesus also knew that this path, this invitation to open warfare would lead to his death, a death more horrible than his holy soul could contemplate. He did not yet know all the details of his Father’s plan for it would be revealed to him at the appropriate time, but already his spirit quailed at the thought of the path his Father had chosen for him.
This last temptation had not been entirely Lucifer’s own idea. It was too brash, too direct for this Master of Deception. There was another force at work, inquiring, asking whether the Son wanted to follow a different path than the one God had decreed for him.
But the answer was no! NO!
He would follow his Father into the jaws of Hell itself if that was His will. And suddenly, Jesus knew it would be so. The fires of Hell awaited him, and his soul shuddered at the thought. As quickly as it had happened, Jesus brought his emotions under control once again.
Then Jesus replied, “Be off, Satan!” his voice harsher than he had intended, revealing something of his inner thoughts. “For Scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.”
The Devil wondered at this revelation, this raw emotion in the rebuke of Jesus and saw the seeds, the possibility, of a temptation that might have some affect on him.
What was wrong with him? It was a simple answer, an obvious answer. Why was he so emotional about it?
He had to give this some serious thought! What was he up to? There was more to this than meets the eye, and Lucifer was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Then Lucifer left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.
The word had gotten out. Not that there was any doubt really, but it had been confirmed. This man, Jesus, was dangerous! He was the Son of the Living God, and the demons trembled to think of it. They had no desire to be thrown into the abyss before the appointed time.
What would he do? Obviously war had begun and they would have to fight or die! Surrender was no option in this battle. They expected the hosts of heaven to swoop down on them at any moment and scatter their forces to the four winds. The troops were nervous and wary with anticipation of something that simply did not happen.
It was quiet. There was no trumpet call to arms, no blinding light to herald their coming. Nothing. The waiting became heavier and heavier with uncertainty while the demonic forces waited for their Evil Master to come out of the Palace and tell them what to do. But there was only a dark and forbidding silence.
The Devil was no fool and he took his time to think it all through carefully. He knew there would be no immediate attack. There was something else going on here that went deeper than anything he had anticipated.
He had to think!
It had something to do with the upcoming battle between the forces of evil and the forces of heaven. But it would not be a frontal attack, there was no point! It was a foregone conclusion that he would lose a direct attack on his domain, but his enemy would also lose this precious race of humans he was so keen on getting. If it were a matter of force of strength, the battle would have been over long ago. No, his enemy wanted to destroy him without losing his people in the process. That was the key.
Now that he knew who he was dealing with, Lucifer had to figure out what the plan of attack would be. His ancient enemy had become a man. That was a fact. Why did he not just take on the form of a man, as he had done before when visiting Avraham or Joshua? It was simple enough.
Even the Devil could penetrate into the world of flesh and bone for a short while, especially if he could take over an existing host. But Jesus had been born a baby, and had grown up as any other child.
Wasted years! What was the point!? Why hadn’t he been taken care of immediately, while he was still young and vulnerable?
“Aaagghh!” He would have to teach Tundrac a lesson for that failure.
He calmed himself and returned to his brooding. Why had Jesus hesitated? Well, it wasn´t a hesitation exactly, more like a thought, an unexpected thought when all he had to say was “No.” As if the alternative to his suggestion was painful to bear. Almost as if the two choices had to be clarified and the right choice chosen with reluctance, against his own desire.
Ah, desire! There was a word worthy of the language of temptation.
The game of temptation had become routine of late. Once the Great Deception had been accomplished at the beginning of time, the rest was easy. With their natures already compromised, their natures already prone to sin and self, temptation simply built itself upon evil desire and the demonic forces would drag off their prey with little resistance. Most of this he left in the hands of subordinates.
For some of his special forces, the Devil had taught them the art of temptation built upon the few desires left in humans that were, in themselves, good. This was where the true artist, the true craftsman of deception displayed himself. To take a good desire and turn it, instead, into something evil was great sport. But in truth, it too was becoming tiresome to Lucifer.
He remembered when temptation had been young and pure and deliciously deceitful. He remembered when he had tempted the hosts of heaven one by one and drew a third of them away to his side. Each one a temptation of a sinless being created with that wonderful ability to choose the bad over the good. Created with desire, which in itself is not evil but could be turned to evil.
Desire that finds any object for its passion other than God Himself, he could use, and God Himself had created it. It was God’s Achilles heel and the Devil had discovered it and exploited it mercilessly.
The original temptation of those two pitiful creatures of the dust was like that. Sinless creatures with the ability to choose.
It had been so easy. Satan laughed out loud at the thought, the laughter a strange evil music that frightened the captains and princes who waited in attendance for his every wish.
And now he would have the opportunity again!
Now things were becoming clearer. Why was he so surprised? Of course, this Maschiach, the Son of God, would have no connection with the original sin of Adam. Of course he would be without sin. It would be his job to find the Achilles heel of this long-awaited Savior and dig his teeth in deeply. Jesus had a passion for God, he trusted the love of his Father, but there was something he did not desire at all, something he hated with equal passion. What was it?
Lucifer was restless to get moving. His direction was set. He knew that he had a little time to work with yet, but not much. He needed to bring other assets to bear quickly in the human realm. He would have Tiberius send another procurator, someone with an iron fist, someone he could use if and when necessary. Perhaps that young, arrogant Pontius Pilate could be sent to Palestine to keep an eye on the Jews.
He would have to return to Rome, set things in motion and then quickly return. This is where the final battle would be fought. This is where the danger was. So this was where he would be, ready and waiting for his opportunity to strike like a serpent in the grass. He smiled. He liked the metaphor. It had worked once, it would work again.
Lucifer gave his orders with unquestionable authority and with a flurry of dark wings he was gone.
The Temptations of the Cross by Bert Amsing
Copyright 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.