"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil" Thus begins the account of a cosmic battle of wills unique in all the history of the world.
Jesus spoke at great length, in private, to His disciples about His encounter with Satan. The accounts of both Matthew and Luke, together with Mark's one paragraph establishing the time of the event Gust before the beginning of His ministry and just after His baptism), prove that Christ discussed this momumental struggle with them in detail. Obviously, there were important lessons to be learned. In this struggle, Jesus was qualifying to take over rulership of all the governments of the world — and He had to defeat the present world ruler at his own game, according to his own rules, on his own battlefield. It was to be the supreme battle, and the enemy had all the weapons.
Battle of the Ages
Previously named Lucifer ("shining star of the dawn," or "light-bringer"), this great being had formerly been an archangel and a personality extremely close to the God family. Jesus said, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18). Jesus was there, and took part in an earlier battle with Lucifer (Isa. 14: Ezek. 28) which had literally convulsed the heavens, rent the earth, exploded stars and planets, and filled space with the junk of a gargantuan, titanic battle. Anyone who wants to take the Bible literally as an actual communication to man from outer space — from God — would see the results of Satan's rebellion and battle against God in the panorama of universal destruction that is evident in the bleak, crater-pocked face of the moon, the desolate, lifeless waste of Mars, the impenetrable Venusian atmosphere, the billions of asteroids, meteors, and comets, all the space dust and gas. The whole universe bears testimony to this primal war in space that defies human imagination. Satan had been confined to the earth — been "chained" by God's decree in a state called "hell" (Greek tartaroo) in II Peter 2:4 — but was allowed to hold sway over the earth. Satan was a prince reigning over total destruction when that Person who was later to become God in the flesh came upon the scene as outlined in the first chapter of Genesis. Once, the earth had teemed with billions of creatures. The atmosphere was completely different from today — almost universally tropical, with no polar ice caps, and with abundant, thick, luxuriant foliage providing both food and shelter for billions of creatures. Lucifer was originally given the earth as his responsibility, but the Bible says he tried to use earth as a base for his attempt to overthrow God from His throne. He failed, and, as John wrote, his "tail" (cometlike?) drew a third part of the "stars of heaven" (a common biblical symbol for angels) and "cast them to the earth" (read Rev. 12:3-9). The total destruction of the earth's surface was the result, and the massive burial of whole continents teeming with plant and animal life — multiple billions of creatures — resulted in the storage of fossil energy for the use of man countless thousands of years yet in the future. If scientists believe the earth to be 4 ½ billion years old, there is no quarrel with Scripture — even 10 billion years does not contradict the biblical record.
Of Cherubs, Serpents, and Dragons
John's twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse (meaning "to reveal," not "to destroy") is a quick summary of the whole time period which includes the conception of God's plan for His Church, Satan's rebellion and earth's destruction, Satan's attempt to destroy Christ through Herod's decree to kill all the children, and Satan's personal encounter with Jesus in the wilderness. "And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne" (Rev. 12:3-5, RSV). Jesus knew what Satan looked like — both in an earlier, beautiful state, and in a later, more grotesque and ugly condition. He is called a "serpent" and a "dragon," as well as "the cherub that covereth" in the Bible. When the prophet Ezekiel saw the strange creatures covering God's throne (Ezek. 1) he knew that they were cherubs. Most people believe cherubs appear as naked babes with cupid's bows and arrows. Few realize that cherubs appeared to men in ancient times; that some of them were known from the time of Adam until Noah as the guardians of the garden of Eden. When God placed two cherubim with "flaming swords" there to guard the way to the tree of life, they remained there from that day until the destruction of Eden in the Flood. Remember, that means about one-sixth of all recorded history — a considerable time! Cherubim were able to manifest themselves as lions, oxen, men, and eagles — or as an aggregate of all four. These huge spirit creatures were preserved in stone as the "winged bulls of Bashan" on ancient Assyrian kings' palaces. In 1975 a wooden bull with a man's head overlaid in gold was recovered from ruins of a great ancient Syrian civilization believed to be contemporaneous with ancient Sumeria. Search the great museums of Britain, France, Germany, and Egypt, and you will see hundreds of examples of the worship of "the host of the heavens" as gods in the form of men with eagles' heads (common in the inscriptions of ancient Egypt, and in Egyptian tombs), winged bulls featuring the heads of men and lions' claws, and other assorted mixtures of these four. The tales of the children of Noah, all of whom had seen those cherubim, repeated down through time gave rise to the mythologies about winged dragons, flying serpents whose mouths breathed fire, which guarded mysterious castles filled with fabulously valuable treasures at the top of craggy mountains. Giants and their mythical treasures, St. George and the Dragon, the winged flying serpent which was worshiped by the Incas and Aztecs (Quetzalcoatl, meaning "flying serpent") — these are all mythological tales endlessly repeated and embellished, stemming from human encounters with cherubim. When God told Moses to decorate the interior of the tabernacle in the wilderness with "cherubim," Moses didn't ask God, "What do they look like?" He knew, especially since. he had come from a background of the royal courts of Egypt.
The Real Satan
Jesus knew exactly what to expect when He encountered Satan. He knew Satan didn't appear as a funny, mischievous man in a weird red body stocking complete with pointed ears, a spear-tipped tail, and a trident in hand. He knew Satan could appear as a man, or as a cherub, or as a winged flying serpent. What is a "dragon," after all, but a "winged flying serpent"? When the devil appeared to Adam and Eve, they weren't at all startled to see a strange-looking creature having serpentine, dragon-like form (but probably standing upright, like a tyrannosaurus) speak to them in audible voice, for they had no standard of comparison. The fact that God, using serpents as a type of Satan, cursed the serpent and from that time decreed he was to crawl on his belly in the dust of the earth strongly indicates there were serpentine creatures that stood upright prior to that time. Jesus knew that He was meeting one of the most powerful spirit beings in the universe; He knew that He would have to stand the test of the most appealing, magnetic, powerful personality on earth; that He was going to match wits with one of the vilest, most subtle, most clever, most cunning, and superbly (if pervertedly) intelligent creatures in the universe! He knew that humanly, of Himself, He didn't have the strength and will to overcome a spirit being of such power. He would need superhuman strength, spiritual strength from a righteous source, and the very help of the Father Himself, as well as the power of friendly angels, in order to prevail. That's why He fasted for so long! The Bible says Christ "learned by the things which He suffered," and Christ intended to come to prove that weaknesses can be overcome with enough help from God!
The Confrontation Begins
Read the account of Jesus' confrontation with Satan just prior to the beginning of His ministry. The story is revealed in the fourth chapter of the book of Matthew. "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil" (Matt. 4:1). When Jesus was "led up of the Spirit" it is obvious that He had been, by His "sixth sense" of awareness of the spirit world, in such close communication with His heavenly Father through prayer that He knew that it was time for this great confrontation — the supreme battle of wills between the fallen archangel Lucifer and the One who was coming to unseat this Satan and qualify to be the world ruler. (Perhaps Christ had received either a very vivid dream, a vision, or even heard an audible voice from an angel. Or He might have just "sensed" it was time.) Jesus, with His brilliant mind and the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit "without measure," no doubt knew the Scriptures as no man before or since! He was, after all, the "Word personified," as it were, and so was very thoroughly aware of the biblical examples of fasting just prior to a great crisis or a great event. He knew that Moses had fasted 40 days and 40 nights prior to receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. He knew about Elijah's 40 days and 40 nights of fasting, and knew this would also be required of Him in order to utterly divest Himself of any reliance whatsoever upon any material crutch, upon any remote temptation to depend upon a false feeling of "self-reliance." In this weakened state, after having spent countless hours in deep and soul-searching prayer, He would be equipped to withstand the worst temptations Satan the devil could throw at Him.
Not by Bread Alone
The account in Matthew says, "And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred." The word "hungred" in context implies much more than just "hungry," the way it may appear to us. It is very doubtful that any living human being today could have the willpower and self-control, together with the physical stamina and strength, to endure a full 40-day and 40-night fast. Jesus was nearly at the point of death: He had almost starved by the time Satan the devil came to Him and hurled every conceivable temptation His way. After the initial temptation of trying to get Jesus to obey his whims by converting stones into bread, Jesus made one of His most important pronouncements (and a statement that is almost universally misunderstood by millions of professing Christians today who would rather live by some, and not every word of God). Jesus said to Satan, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
Then Satan began to probe to find if there was any ego there, any vanity, selfishness, or desire for power or self-importance. Finally Jesus gave a command, and the devil was forced to obey! "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" (verse 10). Now read the next verse! "Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him." What does "ministering" mean? What would you do if a person who was very dearly beloved to you were discovered in an emaciated, starving state, in a condition of almost complete physical and mental exhaustion? Remember, these "angels" did not appear like little pink-cheeked bare babies with bows and arrows, but as mature, kindly, competent, and swiftly efficient men! From the times the One who became Jesus Christ of Nazareth — who was the God of the Old Testament — appeared to human beings Himself (He wrestled in the dust of the earth with Jacob, sat in the shade of Abraham's tent on the plains of Mamre, talked to Moses from a cloud on Mount Sinai) and from the other accounts in the Old Testament of angelic appearances, you can learn that angels always appeared to human beings as men! The two men who were the objects of the perverse lusts of the citizens of Sodom, and who had to drag Lot and his family out of the city just prior to its destruction, were angels, manifesting themselves as strong, human men. Jesus was no doubt slumped to the ground or seated with His head in His hands following this exhausting encounter when a strong arm encircled His shoulder and a deep resonant voice said, "Here, take a sip of this." When you "minister" to a person in this state of exhaustion, you will no doubt provide warmth in the form of blankets and a place to lie down, and give sparing amounts of something appropriate like beef broth or some other richly nutritious and easily digestible food. When needed, angels, who were always around Jesus in unseen spirit form, would manifest themselves as human beings, and give Jesus even the necessary physical sustenance and protection. He was constantly attuned to that "other dimension" of the heavenly presence of His Father and the righteous angels. So in the greatest spiritual battle ever fought, a battle that was absolutely necessary in the plan of God, the captain of our salvation qualified to take over rulership of this earth from the devil himself. (Another excerpt from The Real Jesus will be coming next month.)