THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST: WHEN SATAN IS THE SMARTEST GUY IN THE ROOM
Time for some Satanic Bible study: Now, Post-Job, Satan doesn’t do much in the Bible until we get to the gospels and the temptation of Christ.
This story is one of my favorites. I see it as Satan injecting some much-needed common sense into the book. But it’s also where conventional readings start to scare me a little.
Read along: In Matthew 4 and Luke 4, Jesus is fasting in the desert, and the devil says, “If thou be the son of god, command this stone be made bread.”
Jesus replies quoting scripture: “Man shall not live on bread alone.” Which is, um, not a particularly helpful answer, Jesus.
Next, Satan challenges Jesus to jump off of the temple. “If thou be the son of god, cast thyself down,” he says, pointing out that angels will save him.
If angels caught me every time I fall I’d never stop. But again, Jesus throws the book at him (in this case, the Tanakh), quoting “You shall not put the lord your god to the test.”
Finally, the big one: The devil shows Jesus “the kingdoms of the earth” and promises, “All these things I will give if you fall down and worship me.”
This sounds like a pretty good offer. But Jesus doesn’t like what’s behind door number three either, and that’s the end of the conversation.
Weird story. What to make of it?
For my money, the temptation of Christ could be titled, “The devil asks some pretty good questions.”
Bible scholars will tell me I’m reading it all wrong, of course. But, look, imagine you’re the devil. (I do this all the time.) You meet the supposed son of god; naturally you ask for a few miracles. What else?
Notably, Jesus’ replies sound an awful lot like cop-outs. “I could, but I don’t want to,” is not a convincing story from the alleged messiah.
But I’ll admit, this is probably a shallow reading. I’m a Satanist, my Sunday school attendance was predictably light.
The problem is, when I turn to preachers to parse parables, what I hear is sometimes really freaky.
Take deceased Palo Alto pastor Ray Stedman. Stedman said that Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms only briefly because he was “afraid to let the Lord see the worthlessness of it.”
Read that again: The entire world, people and human works included, is allegedly “worthless,” in the Stedman estimation. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s, you know, the world.
Maybe this makes sense for a preacher with an anti-materialist agenda who’s just waiting on heaven. After all, the Book of Common Prayer says, “All that is in the world […] is not of the Father.”
But of course, the alternative to “the kingdoms of the earth” is death. Jesus goes off to die rather than take the offer. The message is: The world is worthless, death is salvation.
That’s…unsettling. If the Neo Nazi bad guy in a movie had that tattooed on his chest, you wouldn’t think twice.
I’m sure Ray Stedman was a nice guy. …actually, I’m not sure of that, I don’t have enough to work with. I’m not judging him personally, is all I’m saying.
But when I read the temptation of Christ, I read an amusing story about the devil giving Jesus a hard time.
A prominent pastor, on the other hand, reads the same story and gets almost nihilistic with it. And yet, mainstream society by and large considers me, the Satanist, more worrisome. This doesn’t add up.