1:12-13 Then the Spirit sent him out at once into the desert, and there he remained for forty days while Satan tempted him. During this time no one was with him but wild animals, and only the angels were there to care for him.”
“Forty days,” of course, is one of those phrases that sounds more specific than it is. “Somewhere between a couple weeks and a couple months,” then. But this is more or less parallel to forty years of Exodus; Jesus has just been given title to the Promised Land, but he needs to spend some time wandering in the wilderness on the way. Since the Jews under Moses got uppity, kvetched and came close to mutiny, Jesus gets tempted by Satan.
Since Jesus has just been awarded a potential death sentence, he’s got very practical reasons for leaving civilization awhile. We don’t know how conspicuous his anointing was. There’s the example in 2 Kings 9: “Then Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets and said to him: ‘Gird up your loins, and take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Tamoth-gilead. And when you arrive, look there for Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi, and go in and bid him rise from among his fellows, and lead him to an inner chamber. Then take the flask of oil, and pour it on his head, and say: “Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.” Then open the door and flee; do not tarry.’ ” This happens; Jehu then dashes out to massacre the former king and his family and all available supporters. Although Jehu’s situation and response were quite different, Jesus too could have been anointed secretly, even in private.
There is no specific list of temptations in this (probably) first gospel. Perhaps Jesus recounted the experience in the course of his ethical teachings, to be eventually incorporated into “Q”, and hence into Matthew and Luke. Since he is not shown explicitly fasting here, but like Moses depending on God for his sustenance, this would fit with what he says in Matthew, to not be concerned about what we’ll have to eat, drink, or wear, and how.
Perhaps not. There are plenty of literary and theological explications, of why Satan would choose these particular temptations; we can’t assume however that they are any more authentic than the appropriate speeches that historians customarily composed for prominent figures. Napoleon’s General Cambrone was asked to surrender at Waterloo, for example, and was quoted as saying, “The Old Guard dies but never surrenders,” while according to Hemingway he answered simply, “Merde!” (Known at “le mot de Cambrone” among polite Frenchmen of Hemingway’s day.)
John Yoder in _The Politics of Jesus_ said: “All the options laid before Jesus by the tempter are ways of being king.” But Yoder was assuming that Jesus shared in God’s omnipotence, and could feed multitudes as often as and whenever he chose. Becoming a wholesale dispensor of manna would have brought Jesus a following, but not one of much use against Roman soldiers. It would put him into an awkward intellectual position: preaching “Food, drink, and clothing are of little importance,” to an audience hanging around waiting to be fed. To a modern Christian, it suggests some stereotypical secular charity, meeting people’s physical needs while offering nothing whatsoever for their presumed spiritual hungers. It makes a nice religious-sounding criticism of the so-called “Welfare State” ideal (which was certainly more Christian than the current system of malign neglect.) Mainly, it does not seem to have been what God ordered.
The other two alternatives seem like opposites. One would have involved a foolhardy form of “trust,” going immediately to the Temple in Jerusalem to claim his kingship directly (“cast himself down from the top”), trusting God to save him from the consequences. But this was not what Jesus was led to do. That would have been acting on the idea of “Trust in God”–but without consulting God about it, which would have constituted “testing God” rather than acknowledging God as a living reality with ideas of his own.
The other would have been to accept Satan’s help. This could mean any of several things.
One, to “work within the system” by seeking Roman approval. Could the Romans have accepted a new client king? Probably yes; the Herodians were not Jewish, which made their rule illegitimate in many people’s eyes. The trouble was, there was an inherent conflict between Roman interests and those of the local population. And the Roman commercial economy was incompatible with the demands of the Torah. So “working with” both God and Caesar was out of the question.
Two, to use “Satan’s methods.” It may not technically violate the Golden Rule for warriors to kill each another, both sides willing to fight–but it is not love by any plausible definition. God’s rule allows for war, even uses war, but can’t be based on war. Previous rulers of Israel had swords and soldiers; David had been “a man of blood,” an effective one at that. But while David would ask the Lord, “Should I go up?” to a fight, his successors would count the swords on either side and make their own decisions. Dependence on military force leads inexorably towards worship of military force.
Three, then, would be any effort to rule by “one’s own power”–not just by military calculation, but by putting faith in any use of personal cunning or wisdom (of which Jesus had an abundance!)
Jesus could not rule by a heedless “faith” in God, nor by faith in his personal powers, nor by any “balance” between the two. He would need to use all the powers he’d been given and to also depend utterly upon God; only God could make this either possible or worthwhile.