After Jesus got baptized by John the Baptist, the Spirit led him to the wilderness where he fasted forty days and nights. And he felt hungry. Being fully human, therefore, Jesus suffered like us humans. He became lower than the angels like us humans.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.Hebrews 2:9
At this moment, the Devil, Satan appeared to confront him with three temptations. Who is this Satan? He could be the manifestation of the symbolic, archetypical human desire that we all possess one way or another. These three were labeled as follows:
- Stones into bread
- A Pinnacle of the Temple
- A High Mountain
1. Stones into bread
The first temptation is as follows:
And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.Matthew 4:3-4
The Devil told Jesus as the son of God to turn stones into bread to satisfy the hunger. At a glance, it would look like a miracle that Jesus could demonstrate. Probably he could, as he turned even water into wine.
When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.John 2:9-11
It is, however, not only a miracle, but what we humans could naturally do. Figuratively, our civilization is the result of a series of turning stones into bread. Our material prosperity is the products of various minerals and fossil sources – stones.
Out of these stones, we have developed our civilization to the extent that it would even impact the planet earth. Satan knew that we humans (as the son of God) could turn stones into bread. And we have done so.
Bread is indispensable for our lives. We can’t live without it. It symbolizes our civilization. We must not deny its indispensability. It also implies our ambivalence – the dilemma of environmentalism.
The ultimate solution to save the planet earth, after all, is that we humans vanish from the earth. Our civilization is one of the primary reasons to threaten its sustainability. At the same time, we are also saying we have to protect the planet to save our civilization on earth.
Facing environmental issues, it seems as if we act like a schizophrenic self-love and self-hatred. Are we the friends or enemies of the planet? If we can turn stones into bread for our own sake, then what is wrong with such power we possess?
Jesus answered to the Devil as follows:
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.Matthew 4:4
Jesus did not deny the need of bread, that is, our dependence on civilization. What he meant was the truth that the bread was not the only source of our lives.
There must be another source not merely for our physical survival but more for our spiritual survival – the source for Life.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.John 1:3-4
Every word from the mouth of God is the source of our spiritual survival and of Life. What is this source on earth?
Bread is for our living. Like our civilization in human history, this primary value is the more, the better. The more we develop, the more we seek. And the more we find, the more we grow. It is the cycle of continuous pursuit and development.
This value should be significant by itself as we have achieved unprecedented progress and prosperity. It could be, however, destructive if we don’t use it correctly.
Anything excessive is always harmful.
With the power of turning stones into bread, what would our ego do? Perhaps, we would never stop using it until and unless consuming all stones and eating up the entire bread – until and unless nothing remains.
God knew our selfish nature. That is why He provided manna for people in the wilderness in such a way that they could never store it. They received manna from God only for the day’s survival. They couldn’t do anything about it. It was their total dependency on God – our surrender to God. They had no power at all, which was the complete opposite of the way we can turn stones into bread.
And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating. And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them. And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted.Exodus 16:18-21
Most of the time, we tend to rely on ourselves only – our power and miracle alone. Relying on ourselves, we focus on turning stones into bread and forget about another, more fundamental source of Life.
Making bread out of stones this way is not sustainable at all. In the end, we would destroy ourselves by losing both stones and pieces of bread, and both ourselves and God Himself.
Thus, Jesus told the Devil, Satan there must be another fundamental source of Life, which is every word from the mouth of God. Without bread, our living does not last. More fundamentally, however, without the words of God, our Life does not last at all. Our Life is the Way, the Truth, and Being.
2. A Pinnacle of the Temple
After hearing the answer of Jesus, therefore, the Devil challenged him with the second temptation. It also symbolizes the ignorance and conflict of ourselves:
Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.Matthew 4:5-6
Even if we understand the sheer importance of the words of God, most of the time, we are not 100% sure if these are the fundamental source of our Life, Being, the Way, and the Truth.
Can His words protect us even from our physical danger? Can we survive physically with His words alone? With these questions, the Devil (our inner selfish nature) would lead us to a so-called category error.
Again, we need to emphasize this part. We need the stones turning into bread for our living. As mentioned, this is the basis of our civilization. Jesus did not deny this necessity. It would be, however, problematic only when we reply on it alone without realizing another fundamental source for Life, Being, the Way, and the Truth.
On the other hand, if we rely on the words of God alone for our living, that is also a category error. We should call it sorcery, magic, or superstition. It is our effort to control and manipulate God for our own sake.
It is the same as the Devil’s second challenge to Jesus. If the words of God are the fundamental source, then, as the Devil (our selfish nature) asked ourselves, why don’t we jump from the high place? Perhaps God or His angels would catch and save us.
Our civilization (the effort of turning stones to bread for a living) consists of various trades. We negotiate and control one another for our living, which, however, must never be the relationship with God, even with the angels. We must not make any trades with God. That is why Jesus was mad at people in the temple for their sales and marketing activities:
And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.John 2:13-16
Our faith for God is never conditional. It is our pure trust and complete surrender. In it, there is no room at all for testing God if He could protect and save us or not. As it is for our Life – Being, the Way, and the Truth, it must be beyond all conditions and prerequisites. By itself, it requires nothing. It could be Tao for Lao Tzu, Oneness for Plotinus, Emptiness for the Heart Sutra, or the Categorical Imperative for Kant.
So, Jesus answered to the Devil as follows:
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.Matthew 4:7
Why do we tempt God? It is because we want to ensure His existence. Does God exist or not? Put it bluntly; it is one of the typical questions of our category error if not stupid.
Only if and when we can understand the impossibility of proving His existence by our ontological and epistemological efforts, then paradoxically enough, we can see His Existence. That is why Kierkegaard said, “subjectivity is truth and truth is subjectivity.” Even God Himself answered to Moses:
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.Exodus 3:14
And Jesus calls himself as follows:
Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.John 8:58
If we know that, we no longer have to tempt Him. We no longer need to prove His existence because of His Existence.
Who is God? The answer is: God is that God is.
3. A High Mountain
Now, knowing God is unconditional, even transcending such unconditionality, the Devil challenged Jesus with the third temptation. That is to say, our selfish nature talked ourselves with this third doubt.
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.Matthew 4:8-9
If God is that God is unconditionally even transcending such unconditionality, then with our subtle sense of His omnipresence and omnipotence, perhaps we don’t feel and see God outside anymore. We don’t seek Him outside anymore. We are part of the universe; therefore, we are the universe. With it, the subject and object duality of the I-Thou relationship has diminished. We see God within. God sees us within.
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.Luke 17:21
With this sense of non-duality, the danger of our selfish nature is the emergence of various false-teachers and prophets. They deceptively believe and proclaim they are the messengers of God, even worse, they think they’re gods.
God created us in His image. Perhaps because of that, our self-consciousness would have such danger as identifying ourselves as gods to control everything and everyone. Worshipping the Devil means this third temptation that we worship ourselves as our gods. In this false sense, there is no room at all for our humility and repentance as sinners.
When Jesus started his mission, the very first words he uttered were as follows:
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.Matthew 4:17
While the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and it is indeed within us, nevertheless or because of that, Jesus emphasized, we must repent ourselves at the very first place.
Without repentance, nothing could start. Without understanding the danger of our self-consciousness that separated us from God and made us left the Garden of Eden, we could never see God that God is, but we would stay in the darkness without knowing the true Light.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not… He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not… But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.John 1:5,10,12-14
Lastly, Jesus answered to the Devil, Satan as follows:
Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.Matthew 4:10
As Jesus said, we have to get away from our false consciousness that Satan controls. Our I-Thou relation is so intimate; at the same time, paradoxically enough, because of this intimacy, there is an infinite gap between I and Thou. It is only God’s love that can love us perfectly. All that we can do is to worship Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, even if our love is so limited, even if we are so sinful without His love.
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.Matthew 22:36-40
That is why, even in Hesychasm, Jesus Prayer is so essential yet straightforward.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
These three temptations that the Devil challenged Jesus were indeed the manifestation of our selfish nature. We are always talking to ourselves in the way that the Devil, Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. We are still facing these temptations in every area of our lives, from the environmental issues to the daily commercial activities to intimate human relations. So, we pray hard, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” until the Devil, Satan leaves and the angles minister us, seeing them in our hearts.
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.Matthew 4:11