Next to his war in Heaven, perhaps the most famous story about Satan is his temptation of Jesus. This is my reimagining of how it went down, featuring my take on Satan from Empathy for the Devil. Part two will be available next week!
The Accuser landed heavily in the sand, dust spraying out in a cloud as he furled his wings. He grimaced as the grime of the wilderness began to settle on his wings, though he had been here only moments. Then he caught sight of Jesus and he forgot the dust.
Jesus looked bad. The Accuser had marveled time and again at how ordinary Jesus seemed. He wasn’t particularly handsome. He wasn’t exactly ugly, either, as the humans measured such things. But no one would ever call him the ‘finest grape on the vine’. No, if anything, Jesus was… forgettable. Ordinary.
At least, he had been. Now he was skeletal. His beard had thinned and his body was all skin and bones. His cheeks sunk into his face and his eyes were ringed in black. He was starving to death.
The Accuser frowned to himself. This would be easier than he had anticipated. Food was one of the easiest ways to the hearts of men.
He walked toward Jesus, who turned to see who was approaching. When he saw the Accuser, he did not fall over or shrink back in terror as most humans did at the sight of him or his angelic brethren. Perhaps he was simply too tired.
“Jesus of Nazareth,” the Accuser addressed him.
Jesus smiled thinly. “In the flesh. You have me at a disadvantage.”
“I speak on behalf of The Name. It is said that you are His son.”
Jesus shrugged. “I am what I am.”
The Accuser marveled at his wit, even as exhausted as he was. “If you are the son of The Name, then why do you hunger? The Name put the stars in the sky and gathered the seas together that this land might be. Why not feed yourself? Summon quail that you might eat them.”
He saw hunger flash in Jesus’ eyes, knew the terrible grip it had on him. But Jesus closed his eyes and bowed his head. He did not speak.
After some minutes had passed, the Accuser mused aloud, “It was not far from here as my kind reckons these things, that your fathers cried out for bread. The Name had led them into the wilderness too. And like you, there was no end in sight. And when they cried out for food, The Name rained bread from the heavens to feed them.”
Jesus did not look up, but when he spoke, his voice hinted at a smile. “The way I heard it, they weren’t crying for bread, but to go back to Egypt. The Egyptians might have been slavers, but at least they had a hot meal every night. Better to eat as slaves than starve in freedom, they decided.”
“Is wanting a hot meal so bad? The Name doesn’t wish you to starve. Why would he send you out here into the wilderness and tell you not to eat? What possible point could that serve?”
Jesus was silent. After a time, the Accuser spoke again. “You don’t even have to cry out. You are The Name’s favored son. Command these stones to become bread. Eat your fill.”
Jesus frowned. “Before we left the wilderness, Moses reminded us of what our hunger teaches us. He said, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
“The Name sent me out here. The Name compelled me to fast. It is not for me to ask why, nor to question The Name’s command. I will be faithful.”
Though he was careful not to let it show, the Accuser was impressed. Few were the sons of Adam who refused their base desires. He changed tactics. “Your faith is commendable, Son of the Most High. Come with me. I have something to show you.”
With that, he unfurled his wings and flew with Jesus back to Jerusalem. He heard Jesus gasp in awe at the sight of the Temple. The Accuser called out as they descended, “Nothing quite like this view, even from atop the Mount of Olives!”
They landed atop the Temple, directly over the Holy of Holies. The white marble was warm in the sunlight, and the Accuser wandered to the edge of the roof, surveying the Temple complex spread below him. It was packed with worshippers, but at this height, their voices calling to one another mixed with the bleats, lows and chirps of the animals to create a pleasant din. The Accuser had to admit this was a beautiful sight – about as spectacular as humans got. For all Herod’s faults, the man had an eye for glory.
The Accuser looked back, noting that Jesus was slow to join him. He attributed that to the hunger – the carpenter’s son was well-acquainted with heights. The Accuser spread his hand over the Temple throng.
“You are the Messiah. Come to save them from Rome. How will you do it?”
Surprise flashed in Jesus’ eyes. He frowned and said nothing.
“Of course I know who you are, Jesus. My brother, Strength, led his hosts to announce your birth. Born in Bethlehem, to the line of David. Herod was right to fear you. You were born to rule the nations.
“But look at these people. You have lived among them three decades. Will they follower a carpenter, even if he is a true-born son of David? Not with the scandal that still clings to your mother. Gossip is only one of the many vices they love more than freedom.
“They are like the sheep. They will follow whomever has the biggest stick. Today that is Rome and their pupped, Caiaphas. They cower in fear under Rome’s boot, and their high priest assures them it is God’s will.”
Jesus looked not at the people, but at the Accuser. “You sound as though you do not care much for humanity.”
“They are The Name’s most precious creation, the crown jewel of all He created.” The Accuser tread carefully; Jesus was as perceptive as he’d imagined. “But they need a strong leader, one who can demonstrate he is mightier than Rome. They need a new Moses, one stronger even than Joshua. Fitting that he is your namesake.”
Jesus’s tone was unreadable. “Why did you bring me here, Accuser?”
“The Name intends for your Messianic mission to begin. We are here so you can begin.”
Jesus remained silent, his eyes fixed on the Accuser. The angel swept his arm over the courtyard again.
“Look at them, Jesus. Look.”
Jesus complied, turning his gaze to the shouting crowd. The Accuser came behind him, placed a hand gently on his shoulder, so that he could almost whisper in Jesus’ ear.
“I know you love them as your Father loves them. How could you not? But you know them as your Father knows them, too. You know they are fickle, faithless. They need something to believe in. Someone to believe in. Give them a reason to follow you.”
“What are you asking me?” Jesus did not turn, and compassion had warmed his tone.
“You are the Son of The Name. Surely you can do anything. Leap!”
“You want me to jump from the Temple?”
“It’s as good an idea as any. How does the song go?” The Accuser began humming, found the tune and sang softly, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’
“You are The Name’s only Son. He will not allow any harm to come to you. And when the crowds see you, lowered into the very courtyard of The Name’s own Temple by The Name’s own angels, they will rise up and follow you wherever you lead. They will love you.”
Jesus was silent for a long time. The Accuser stood back, letting his words worm their way into Jesus’ spirit. Ambition is intoxicating, especially when bathed in religiosity.
“Surely the Psalmist never meant his song to clash with God’s way.” Jesus turned back toward the Accuser.
The Accuser did not let his frustration show. “What do you mean?”
“Moses warned us, ‘You must not test The Name, your god.’ I do not know what my Father intends, but I know it is not this. It is not His way.”
Now the Accuser’s stolid mask nearly slipped. Jesus does not know? Is this the price of his humanity?
“Please reconsider, Son of the Most High. You do not know what you are committing yourself to.”
Jesus’ eyes were hard. “And what is that, Accuser?”
The Accuser stretched out his hand once more. “Come with me. I will show you.”
Read more about Satan in my book, Empathy for the Devil.
Empathy for the Devil releases on November 7. You can preorder it here.
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