Today I’m thinking of the story of Jesus experiencing temptation in the desert (or “wilderness”), following his baptism by John. The story is told in quite some detail in the Gospels of Matthew (Mt 4:1-11) and Luke (Lk 4:1-13) and is mentioned in passing in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:12-3). Both Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus came face-to-face with the devil and had a conversation with him. There were three temptations. Jesus had been fasting, so, first, in both accounts, the devil was quoted as saying that he wanted Him to turn stones into bread so that He would have something to eat. Jesus refused. For the second temptation according to Matthew (but the third according to Luke), the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and told Him to jump off, that God’s angels would protect Him so that He would not injure himself. Jesus again refused, saying that it is wrong to tempt “the Lord, your God.” The third according to Matthew (second according to Luke) the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain where the view was magnificent. The devil said that all the land that He sees can be His if He would worship him. At that, according to Matthew, Jesus seemed angered. He said “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve.’”
My first thought here is this: Did Satan really take human form and really speak with Jesus face-to-face? I would say “maybe, but maybe not” because that is not what Satan does when WE are tempted. When you and I are tempted to commit sin, we don’t see Satan as a human being staring at us. In our case, His temptation is a thought that causes us to have a conversation with ourselves. We might say to ourselves, “I think I am going to commit adultery now. I know it is seriously wrong, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway.” We don’t have the devil in front of us in the form of a human being, so we can’t say to him that it is wrong to tempt us like that. We don’t have him staring at us so that we can say “I love the Lord, my God, and it is Him that I serve.” We can’t tell him to “get away” because he is not there in human form.
What we can say, though, is that Satan is putting the thought into our head. He has that power. He “prowls about the world seeking the ruin of souls” as the prayer to St. Michael states. He seeks the ruin of souls by putting temptations into our heads in the form of thoughts. Too often we respond with another thought: “Yes, Satan, this will give me pleasure, so I will go ahead and do it. I knows it is seriously wrong, but I don’t care.” That is when we get into serious trouble. What we need to do is combat the thought with this thought: “No, I will not do this. It is a serious wrong. It offends the Lord, my God.” Go ahead and say it out loud if it helps: “The Lord, my God, shall I worship and Him alone will I serve.”
I think that Jesus’ temptations may also have been thoughts put into his head by Satan. Jesus was God incarnated. He was a man with a human nature. He was God come to earth experiencing the human condition, to suffer and die, for our sins. His prayer in the Garden of Olives demonstrated his humanity: “Let this cup pass from me, yet not as I will but yours be done.” In the garden, He was shown to indeed a man like us and He seemed stressed beyond belief with what was about to happen to Him. So stressed that His sweat became like drops of blood. He experienced temptations to sin like we do. He experienced suffering and death, just like we do. The good news is that he also had a divine nature along with his human nature and, as the Son of God, He saved us from our sins through this horrible suffering and death.