Now the standard assumption (particularly among the unchurched, but also among believers) is that the devil thought he was spoiling God’s plans by getting Jesus arrested, kangaroo trialed and crucified. After all, with the Son of God dead, how could God bring about His kingdom on earth?
Fitting into this view would be the notion that the devil was piqued and carried a grudge after failing to tempt Jesus over to the dark side during ‘the temptation of Jesus’ (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13). “Why, if Jesus won’t side with the me, I’ll see that He won’t be able to side with anybody!” All very The Empire Strikes Back, no?
But here’s the thing. Go back to that passage of Scripture. Before the devil tries to convince Jesus to side with him, he tries to get Jesus to use His divine authority for His own ends – perhaps because this would ‘hook’ Jesus onto the feeling of power and control. What does the devil do to try and justify Jesus using those powers?
That’s right – the devil quotes Scripture!
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
This is a quote of Psalm 91:11-12 (but notice the devil doesn’t continue with verse 13, which mentions trampling the serpent – perhaps a parallel of Genesis 3:15? The devil must be a high roller to cite such a risky passage!)
Thus it is clear that the devil knows the Scripture (the Old Testament) well enough to be able to craft his strategy to tempt Jesus. And the Scripture is all about God’s plan to redeem mankind through the Messiah (Luke 24:25-27). Wouldn’t the devil then also be fully aware that the Messiah would have to suffer and die in order to save the fallen world? (Read that portion of Luke!)
Let’s take a look at Matthew 16:21-23:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
The usual explanation of the above is that Peter was being presumptuous to think he knew better than Jesus what the Messiah would go through. But might Jesus’ fierce rebuke also be telling? Did the devil influence Peter in order to try and persuade Jesus away from the road to Golgotha?
In fact, two films conjecture this sort of scenario.
First is The Passion of the Christ, which opens with Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemene. His heart troubled because of all the suffering He knows He will have to endure, suddenly a shady figure appears and lets slither a serpent – indicating that the figure is supposed to be the devil. Jesus seems to deliberate for a moment, but then responds by literally crushing the serpent’s head ala Genesis 3:15, thus rejecting the devil’s offer.
Then, all the way at the end of the film, Jesus breathes His last breath on the cross, and the devil is shown screaming in impotent rage at heaven. Hence the offer at the start of the film was likely an easy way out of the suffering of the cross.
Clearly, this non-canonical artistic insertion is meant to show that the devil was trying to tempt Jesus away from the cross one last time, and when Jesus finally did die on the cross, the devil was keenly aware of the breaking of the power of sin.
The other film is the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ. While it was heavily criticized for portraying Jesus in a manner considered highly insulting by Christians, here I’m focusing on its major plot twist.
The film imagines what would have happened if Jesus did not accept the cross, but rather married Mary Magdalene and retired to a quiet, happy life. (Well, Mary at first, then other women simultaneously too – see why it’s considered controversial?)
But much later, an aged Jesus regrets His selfish choice. As He cries out to the Father in regret, suddenly He is back on the cross – it was all a dream incurred by the physical exhaustion of crucifixion (and a very last attempt at temptation by the devil, hence the film title). Jesus had overcome the temptation to escape the cross.
Thus we see that the film also strongly suggests that the devil’s goal is to prevent Jesus from sacrificing Himself.
(On a side note, see my post on how Jesus showed incredible restraint throughout His arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion – He could have invoked His boundless power at any time, but consciously allowed Himself to be killed.)
And that’s my view on the matter. Tell me what you think.