5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, 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 shall give His angels charge over You,’
‘In their hands they shall bear You up,
Lest you dash Your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
In his controversial (but bestselling) novel “The Last Temptation of Christ,” author Nikos Kazantzakis portrays the last moments of Jesus Christ as He dies upon the Cross. There, Satan comes to our Lord and shows Him a vision of what His life could still be like if He were to lay aside His purpose and come down from the Cross and live a normal human life. In the vision that takes up the bulk of the novel, Jesus avoids His calling to ministry, takes up His father Joseph’s carpentry business, gets married, has a family, and generally tries NOT to be the Jesus that the apostles think He ought to be. In the end of the vision, it is fiery Judas Iscariot who reminds Jesus that He is meant to die, at which point our Savior breaks from the vision to say No to Satan. “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.” (Matthew 27:50)
The temptation that Mr. Kazantzakis envisioned was that Jesus might save Himself and avoid the bitter cup of His crucifixion.
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
Of course, although Mr. Kazantzakis saw this is as the LAST temptation of our Lord, it was also like the FIRST time Jesus was tempted. (Matthew 4:1-11) There in the desert, having fasted for forty days, our Lord was tempted by the devil to give up the purpose for His life. First, Satan proposed that Jesus might exercise His divine power to simply feed Himself. (Matthew 4:3) By tempting Jesus to do something so simple as making bread from stones, Satan tried to lead Jesus away from living a human life of suffering and temptation, to lead our Lord away from death itself–and thus also away from resurrection. But the only bread that mattered to Jesus was the Word of God, the will of the Father fulfilled in the life of His Son. Rather than making new bread from nothing, Jesus denied Satan and went forward to allow the “bread” of His own body to be broken for all of humanity.
Having failed in getting our Lord to reassume His glory, Satan next tempted Jesus to save Himself from destruction. Jesus would revisit that temptation several times.
22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”
Matthew 26: 39
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Satan planted the seed of that temptation back at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Look at the scene where Satan takes Jesus: the pinnacle of the temple. This temple was a “den of thieves,” as Jesus Himself was later to declare. (Matthew 21:13) This temple was the home of Jesus’ accusers, the place where plots against the Son of God were hatched and paid for. And yet, even were Jesus to cast Himself down from that place of iniquity, He would still need to die, for that was His purpose.
52 But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
53 Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?
54 How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”
Despite the great love which the Father felt for His Son, the Lord our God also had a purpose for Jesus’ life and death–namely, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. God’s love for the world was so great that His purposes would not be thwarted by Satan’s temptation to let His Son live.
39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads
40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Jesus WOULD come down from that cross and raise up the temple of His body once again. (John 2:18-22) He would be saved from death, but more importantly, by allowing Himself to die and be resurrected, He would save US from death. Satan proposed a completely selfish salvation, one that would save only Jesus Himself. But Jesus came to live for SELFLESS salvation.
Over and over, the Lord’s enemies would mock Him by saying “If You are the Son of God” and “If He is the King of Israel” and “If You are the Christ,” and yet they didn’t understand those names, those titles for our Savior. If they had understood the prophets, those epithets for our Lord would have made sense to them.
3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Satan understood the purpose for Jesus’ life, knew that this Man in the desert was the very Lamb of God sent to bear the iniquities of the world. And that scared Satan, for he knew that his reign on the earth–a reign begun in the garden of Eden–was soon to end. Satan knew that if he didn’t stop Jesus from dying, then the devil’s rule over men would be subverted back to God’s will. Men would be saved from the very sins that Satan led them to commit! And so Satan tried to tempt God to save His Son. For all that Satan knew about the Word of God, he plainly did not understand the LOVE of God.
14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
15 “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 “With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”
The salvation spoken of in David’s psalm is not the salvation of oneself, not the selfish exalting of one’s own life above others. No, David speaks of the salvation of the faithful, the salvation of those who love the Lord. The only condition for our salvation is repentance and faith, and those come from our love for the Lord our God. The first and greatest commandment is that we should love the Lord with all our heart and mind and soul–i.e. with all our being, with all our integrity of purpose and faith, with all that is within us and without us, with all that we can muster from the depths of our own spirit, with all that we understand about His great love and faithfulness toward us. If we so love the Lord, then, yes, He will save us. But more importantly, if we so love the Lord, then we will be bound to His will–even unto death.
10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.
11 “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
12 “Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”
We who love the Lord must not love our lives any more than Jesus did. Although tempted to indulge ourselves, tempted to save ourselves, we must live as Jesus lived: wholly bound to the will and glory of God. We will overcome “the accuser of our brethren”–Satan–by loving God more than we love our own lives.
If we would love the Lord God as Jesus does, then we must follow God’s will and purpose for our lives, seeking always to know Him better through studying His Word, through worship, through prayer, and, just as Jesus did, through fasting. If we would know the Father that way, then we would more easily live our lives by His standards and by His desires for us. We would not be led astray by Satan’s temptations to lead a “normal” human life–one bound by worldly concerns and desire–but to live an extraordinary, abundant, eternal life full of the joy of the Lord.
As we reflect upon the temptation of our Lord, let us reflect on our own temptations. Let us take a step back from our own lives and view them more critically, assessing the true worth of the things that we think are important. Let us ask ourselves if we love our lives more than we love our Lord. It is not an easy task, nor one for the faint-hearted or new in the faith, but it is a sign of our own spiritual maturity that we can examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith or if we are still in the world. Satan tempted our Lord to save Himself rather than all of us. Knowing that Jesus instead chose to save all of us and sacrifice Himself, how then ought we to live?
Holy Father God, I pray only to love You so much that I am bound to Your will. I wish to love You with all that I am, loving You more than life itself, because I know that in not loving my life, I shall gain eternal life through Christ Jesus Your Son, who gave His life as a ransom for many–including me. Amen.