Tempted by the Devil
1. Then was Jesus led away into the wilderness by the Spirit, to be tempted by the Devil.
2. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He afterwards hungered.
3. And when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If Thou be the Son of God, say that these stones be made bread.”
4. But He answering said, “It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every saying that goes out through the mouth of God.”
5. Then the Devil takes Him into the holy city, and stands Him on a pinnacle of the temple;
6. And says to Him, “If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down; for it is written that He shall command His angels concerning Thee, and in [their] hands they shall take Thee up, lest Thou ever dash Thy foot against a stone.”
7. Jesus declared to him, “Again, it is written, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’”
8. Again, the Devil takes Him to an exceedingly high mountain, and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them;
9. And says to Him, “All these things I will give Thee, if, falling down, Thou wilt worship me.”
10. Then says Jesus unto him, “Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve’”.
11. Then the Devil leaves Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
The word “repent” means literally to change the way we think. 1
But there is a difference between changing the way we think and changing the way we feel. Understanding truth can produce a change of mind; but only a life according to that truth can produce a change of heart. It is necessary, therefore, and most appropriate that the next step in our spiritual development be a trial by fire — actual experiences in our life in which we have the opportunity to apply truth to our lives. And this is precisely what happens to Jesus as the narrative continues, for we read that Jesus is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness “to be tempted by the devil” (4:1).
Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness provide the basic model for how we are to meet and overcome every possible temptation. The devil tempts Jesus first on the level of His natural, bodily life — the level of the five senses. Knowing that Jesus is hungry after a forty-day fast, the devil says, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” However hungry He might be, Jesus will not do what the devil demands. Instead, He replies by quoting scripture: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (4:3; see also Deuteronomy 8:3).
The second temptation regards the spiritual plane of our minds, represented by a temple in the Holy City — a place of spiritual instruction. The devil now sets Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple and says to Him “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge concerning You. And in their hands they shall bear You up, lest You dash Your foot against a stone.’” (4:6; see also Psalm 91:11, 12).
It is to be noted that the devil himself can quote scripture — but for his own selfish purposes. Similarly, as we move from the natural to the spiritual level of our lives, we too can learn to quote scripture. In our early development, however, we are sometimes tempted to use scripture to promote our own selfish interests, to feel superior to others, and to become infatuated with our own intelligence. 2
We seem to be above others, secure in our self-intelligence, seated at “the pinnacle of the temple in the Holy City.”
One aspect of this form of self-intelligence is the belief that as long as we have faith, we can do whatever we want, for we are safe, secure, and “saved.” The danger of this false persuasion is represented by the devil suggesting that Jesus throw Himself down from the top of the temple. According to this kind of reasoning, if God has promised to protect us no matter what, then it really doesn’t matter what we do. Jesus, however, does not succumb to this second temptation. Instead, He again quotes scripture, this time saying, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” (4:7; Deuteronomy 6:16). Faith must not be separated from life. Mere faith, apart from a life according to it, cannot save us.
We should note here that while the first temptation regards the physical plane (the level of natural hunger) the second temptation regards the mental plane — the level of intellectual faith. But merely believing in God without living according to God’s order is not true faith. People under the influence of a powerful delusion, can begin to believe that they are free of earthly constraints. Captivated by their delusional thinking, they take foolish risks, even defying the laws of gravity and sometimes plunging into disaster and death.
But there are less dramatic, more subtle versions of this inclination towards faith alone. Believing that we are saved by our faith, and not by a life in accordance with faith, we may be tempted to live outside the order of God’s commandments; there is a temptation to believe that since we are already saved, and cannot lose our salvation, our actions do not matter.
This is an alluring idea. But it is not a part of God’s order. In Deuteronomy, where it is written, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God,” the very next verse reads, “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord, His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord that it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 6:17-18). 3
Taking foolish risks in the name of “faith” is really a denial of faith — not a testimony to faith. True faith is manifested in a life according to the commandments.
Unable to tempt Jesus at the physical or intellectual levels, the devil now proceeds to tempt Him at the highest level of all. This is suggested by the devil taking Jesus up onto an exceedingly high mountain. As a temple in the Holy City symbolizes the mental plane of our lives, involving matters of faith and belief, a mountain represents an even higher plane — the plane of our highest, and therefore inmost love to the Lord. 4
If Jesus will forsake this love, the devil promises to give Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. The only thing that Jesus will have to do is fall down and worship the devil.
This could be considered a tempting offer. After all, who wouldn’t want to possess the entire world, with all its kingdoms and all its glory? Honor, fame, and wealth! Power, prestige, and profit! All very alluring. But there is a catch: in order to obtain all of this, one must worship Satan instead of God.
Jesus is not fooled by Satan’s empty offer. First of all, the world does not, never did, and never will belong to Satan. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). So it is not Satan’s to give away anyway! Secondly, Jesus did not come to tyrannically rule over people, to make people slavishly serve Him, or even to force people to love Him. On the contrary, Jesus came to free people from all forms of tyranny, especially the tyranny of self-love which desires to rule over others — to be the ruler of all the kingdoms of the world.
Sometimes referred to as “the love of dominion” or simply the desire to have one’s own way, this “love of ruling” is an inner drive which destroys relationships and reduces people to being either the master or the slave. While we do not always recognize it as “the love of ruling,” it manifests as the desire to control what others love, think and do. Whether it be the relationship between an employer and an employee, a parent and a child, a teacher and a student, or a husband and wife, the covetous desire to control others and to make people do as we wish — when based on self-love rather than on mutual respect — is always destructive. 5
This then, is the third temptation with which Jesus is confronted. For Him it is the highest, most difficult temptation of all. From His Divine Power He could have easily ruled the world and forced all to love Him and keep His commandments. But this kind of external compulsion is antithetical to God’s love. This then, is the inner reason why Jesus chooses to resist this third and inmost temptation. God’s love for us, as manifested in Jesus, is so great that He even gives us the freedom to reject that love if we so choose. He will not force us to believe in Him, or to love Him, even though He knows that therein lies our greatest happiness. He will not succumb to the temptation to be the ruler of “all the kingdoms of the world,” nor does He desire to obtain “their glory.”
Instead He will forever preserve and protect our freedom to either reject or receive the blessings that flow from Him. 6
This is the reason that Jesus, again quoting scripture, rejects Satan’s offer, saying, “Away with you, Satan. For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve’” (4:10; see also Deuteronomy 6:13).
In each case, whether it is a temptation of the body (bread), mind (temple), or spirit (mountain), Jesus is able to resist the devil through employing the power of sacred scripture. While the devil uses scripture to justify evil, Jesus uses scripture to resist it. Each time Jesus is tempted, he responds with the words “It is written.” The devils of hell cannot resist the power of scripture. Temporarily defeated, they give up and depart, allowing angels to approach with consolation. Therefore we read, “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (4:11). 7
Through the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, we see the power of sacred scripture in overcoming temptation. This ordeal is a necessary and essential step in Jesus’ spiritual development. Baptized in the waters of truth, He immediately undergoes the fires of spiritual temptation. In this way, He gradually becomes one with the truth itself.
As for Jesus, so for us; temptation is an essential step on the path of our spiritual development. As we call upon and use the truth of sacred scripture in the combats of temptation, we make them our own, and these truths become a part of who we are. Through using truth from the letter of the Word, we open the way for the angels to flow in through those truths and minister to us: “Then the devil left Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him” (4:11).
Bringing the Word to the Gentiles
12. And Jesus, having heard that John was delivered up [into custody], departed into Galilee;
13. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is on the seacoast, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali,
14. That it might be fulfilled which was declared by Isaiah the prophet, saying,
15. “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
16. The people who sat in darkness saw great light; and to them that sat in the country and shadow of death, light has risen.”
17. From then Jesus began to preach, and to say, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of the heavens is near.”
18. And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers.
19. And He says to them, “Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
20. And straightway they left [their] nets and followed Him.
21. And advancing from thence, He saw two other brothers, James [the son] of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.
22. And straightway, leaving the ship and their father, they followed Him.
23. And Jesus went around all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every malady and every disease in the people.
24. And the report of Him went into the whole of Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, having different diseases and torments besetting [them], and the demon-possessed, and the lunatics, and those sick of the palsy; and He cured them.
25. And many crowds followed Him from Galilee, and Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and [from] across the Jordan.
Emerging from His temptations, Jesus is more deeply aware of the power of scripture. Having used it successfully during the three temptations in the wilderness, He realizes that it will be the primary means through which He will be able to save the human race. That, in fact, is his mission — nothing less than the salvation of the human race. And it is all the more urgent now, because John the Baptist (representing the literal truths of the Word) has been captured and put in prison. Therefore, Jesus resolves to carry on the work of John the Baptist, crying out, even as John did, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17).
Jesus’ actions now are swift and deliberate. There is no time to waste. He immediately gathers together His first disciples, saying “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (4:19). After gathering together His disciples, He travels throughout Galilee, teaching, preaching, and healing. “And as He journeyed, His fame increased, and people came to see Him, and hear Him, bringing with them people who were sick, and demon-possessed, and paralyzed. And Jesus healed them all” (4:24).
What is happening here, and how does this relate to the divine arrangement of these episodes? We need to remember that Jesus has just been baptized and then tempted in the wilderness. Not only did He learn the truth (symbolized by receiving the waters of baptism), but He immediately put it to use in overcoming three successive temptations. This symbolizes the great power that flows into us after we have learned the truth and used it to be victorious in temptation. In Jesus’ case, he uses this power to heal all manner of disease, and to do so instantly. In our case it is the power to love our neighbor as ourselves, to do good to others, and to serve them with no thought of selfish gain. To the extent that we do so, putting aside all selfish motivation, while believing that it is God alone who does good through us, we come into states of peace.
This is the peace, joy and the gladness of mind that is always available to us — and which we most perceptibly experience after a spiritual struggle. It is also noteworthy that Jesus does not begin his public ministry after his baptism. Rather, He begins His ministry after a series of grueling temptations. Something similar can take place in each of our lives. We, too, can become a healing presence for others — not because we have learned truth (baptism), but because we have brought that truth into our life, used it in the combats of temptation, and given the glory to God. Only then do we experience true inner peace. 8
But the process does not end there. It is quite natural to want to share that peace with others, and to find ways to do so. In Jesus’ case, He immediately goes to Galilee to begin His public ministry. We, too, will find ways to share our experience with others. After all, “we have seen a great light.” Though we may have been experiencing our own “shadow of death,” we also experienced the quiet inner joy that comes to those who are victorious in temptation.
The experience of such inner peace is too wonderful to keep to ourselves. Something deep within us desires to reach out to others so that the words of the prophet might be fulfilled, “The people which sat in darkness have seen a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light has sprung up (4:16; Isaiah 9:2).
1. From the Greek word μετανοέω (metanoeo) literally “meta” (above) and “noiea” (to think, understand, exercise the mind). Therefore, it refers to changing the way we think, thinking from above, or, thinking above the way we normally think.
2. Arcana Coelestia 10406: “When the literal sense of the Word is used in support of self-love and love of the world, people do not have any enlightenment from heaven. Instead they rely on their own intelligence…. They substantiate this by means of the literal sense of the Word, falsifying it by using it in a wrong way and interpreting it in a perverted manner.”
3. This passage is contained in the famous “Shema” from the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. It begins at verse four with the words “Hear [Shema]O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” It continues until verse 25, ending with the words “Then it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.” See Deuteronomy 6:4-25
4. Arcana Coelestia 1292: “In the Word, ‘mountains’ signify love or charity, because these are the highest, or, what is the same, the inmost things in worship.” See also Arcana Coelestia 795:4: “Get up on to the high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength’ (Isaiah 40:9). These words refer to worshipping the Lord in love and charity. And because these are inmost loves, they are also the highest.”
5. DLW 141: “The love which is at the head of all heavenly loves or to which all other heavenly loves are related is love toward the Lord. And the love which is at the head of all hellish loves or to which all other hellish loves are related is a love of ruling stemming from a love of self. These two loves are diametrically opposed to each other.”
6. Arcana Coelestia 6472: “The Lord does not compel a person to receive what flows in from Himself; but He leads in freedom, and so far as a person allows, through freedom He leads to good.”
7. True Christian Religion 224:3-4: “The Word has indescribable power… as soon as devils and satans catch a whiff of Divine truth, they immediately dive headlong into the depths, hurl themselves into caves, and seal the caves up so completely that not a crack is left open…. I could support this point with many pieces of evidence I have experienced in the spiritual world; but since these would stagger belief, I will forgo any listing of them here…. I will, however, make this assertion: A church that has Divine truths from the Lord has power over the hells. This is the church the Lord was talking about when he said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it’” (Matthew 16:18).
8. True Christian Religion 599: “In people’s struggles or temptations the Lord carries out an individual redemption, just as He did a total redemption when He was in the world. By struggles and temptations in the world the Lord glorified His Human, that is, He made it Divine. It is likewise now with people individually; when someone is subject to temptations, the Lord struggles for him, overcoming the spirits of hell who assail him; and after his temptation He glorifies him, that is, renders him spiritual. After His universal redemption, the Lord brought everything in heaven and in hell into a state of order. He does much the same with a person after temptation, for He brings into a state of order everything in him relating to heaven and the world. After the act of redemption the Lord established a new church; likewise too He establishes in a person what is to do with the church, and makes him a church at the level of the individual. After redemption the Lord granted peace to those who believed in Him; for He said: ‘I leave peace with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give it to you’ (John 14:27). Likewise, He grants to a person after temptation to feel peace, that is, gladness of mind and consolation. These facts show that the Lord is the Redeemer forever.”