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. Be sure to read Part One here!
Jesus and the Accuser landed once more high on a mountain. Jesus shivered in the cold, so the Accuser unfurled his wings so they encompassed Jesus.
“My apologies. Humans are not made for these heights. Stay close to me and you will be safe.”
Jesus, his eyes were wide with wonder, complied without compliant.
“Do you know what awaits you, Messiah?”
Jesus tore his gaze from the vista spread before him and looked directly at the Accuser. “I do not.”
“What game do you play? The Messiah is to be king, but you are a carpenter.”
It wasn’t just his hunger. The Accuser saw the weight of Jesus’ doubts heavy on his shoulders. But he said only, “My father is faithful.”
The Accuser smiled. “Indeed, Jesus. Is that not why The Name has sent me to you?”
Jesus looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“It was wise of The Name to give you humble beginnings. The people will love you. They will sense that you know them as their kings and prefects don’t.
“But the Messiah must be king. And, forgive me, Jesus, but you are not prepared to take this world for The Name. Let me show you.”
The Accuser pointed down the mountain and Jesus could see a Roman man slouched on a bench. Jesus guessed he was past forty. Though he seemed to be relaxing, he gave the air of a snake coiled to strike. The room was stark in the Roman way, but Jesus’ experienced eye recognized this was a man of great wealth.
The Accuser explained, “This is Lucius Aelius Sejanus. A born soldier, he has climbed the Roman ranks. When Tiberius tired of Roman politics, he stepped away, leaving his good friend Sejanus to rule in all but name.
“Now that Tiberius’ mother, Livia Drusilla has died, Sejanus is making his play for the throne. While the legions crucify their enemies abroad, Sejanus is removing those who oppose him quietly, carefully. He is among the craftiest of Roman men, and were he more careful, he would be Emperor within the year.
“But he is prideful, as clever men are. He forgets that, while Tiberius tired of politics, he is not bad at the game. He is the son of Livia Drusilla, adopted son of Augustus himself. Even now, Tiberius weaves webs and lays traps to snare Sejanus. He will fall.
“Though Tiberius is crafty, he made the fatal Roman mistake: looking weak. His schemes will likely bring down Sejanus; his reputation is doomed no matter what. Will there be more chaos? Or will the enemies massing at their boarders unite the squabbling Senators?
“Tiberius craved power, but found it to be unsatisfying. Now he seeks to abandon the throne he took. But power is like water, rushing in to fill any holes it finds. Tiberius makes Rome weak.”
The scene shifted. Now, Jesus saw a dark-skinned man on a golden throne. The contrast with the Roman way was sharp – everything was gilded, the throne adorned with animals and plants, the king himself – for that is obviously what he was – draped in heavy, opulent robes. A slave stood behind him, far enough in the shadows as to go unnoticed. He held the crown, heavy with jewels, ready to set it on his master’s head before the day’s audiences began.
“Speaking of Rome’s enemies, this is Arsaces of Parthia, the twenty-eighth of his name, called the King of kings and Lord of lords. Before ascending the throne, he was Artabanus, the third of his name.
“He sits uneasy on his throne – his predecessors have been deposed one after another. He is someone’s cousin or grandchild; it hardly matters to the Parthians. They like him for his lust for battle – he was raised among the nomadic tribes to the east.
“Arsaces sees visions of Parthia’s former glory. He imagines himself to be greater than the Caesars. He is not, Jesus. He will try, as have so many before him. His only hope is that Rome falls to infighting over Tiberius’ legacy. But he does not see this. He is arrogant to a fault, blinded by ambition. This makes him weak.”
The scene shifted again, this time to the Vandals and Visigoths to Rome’s North. Then again to the Franks, the Alamanni and Saxons far to the West.
In the South, Jesus saw the kingdom of Kush. “Kush has fought Rome and lost on more than one occasion. Her people are weary of war, willing to serve with the illusion of freedom, to embrace Rome’s peace if it is the only peace they can have.”
Village after village filled with peoples whose skin was dark as the night, speaking languages Jesus had never heard even in cosmopolitan Sepphoris. Nation after nation of proud kings, fearsome warriors, indecipherable politics. And each one, the Accuser named, explained, revealed hidden weaknesses.
Far to the East, Jesus saw Emperor Guangwu. “He is a proud son of the Han dynasty. He has only recently slain a usurper and proclaimed himself emperor. He now faces his kinsmen, who have equal claim to the throne as he does. He is fearsome, but his position is precarious.”
The Accuser placed a hand on Jesus’ shoulder. And now let us cross the great sea. Jesus’ eyes widened as he the ocean passed beneath him and a new continent spread beneath them.
A huge city sprawled around them, a network of streets flanked by huge buildings. The vision brought them to a wide plaza flaked by palaces, small buildings that seemed to be temples, and a large pyramid behind them. Every surface was covered with bright murals depicting stories Jesus ached to learn. Ahead, a wide roadway called to Jesus’ mind the Roman forums.
“Welcome to Teotihuacan,” the Accuser announced, his voice struggling not at all with the strange syllables. This is the greatest city in this land. Behind us stands the Pyramid of the Moon. Ahead of us stretches the Avenue of the Dead. It is an auspicious day for this people. Let us follow them.”
Jesus was too amazed to argue. He merely followed the Accuser as they descended the plaza, coming to the back of a great parade. Jesus noticed that none of the short, dark-skinned people took note of them.
“This is still a vision?” He asked the Accuser.
The Accuser shushed him. “Don’t miss the Pyramid of the Sun.”
Jesus could not have missed the massive building rising to his left. Instinctually, Jesus took in the construction with the eyes of a builder. The jagged top indicated it was incomplete, and if it was a pyramid as the Accuser claimed, then it would be nearly double the size of the Pyramid of the Moon when finished.
Cries of fear tore his gaze from the ascending pyramid to the parade. At the head of the parade, Jesus could discern men and women calling out, their hands bound behind them. Though he could not understand them, he saw they were begging.
“They are to be sacrificed to Quetzalcoatl, the great winged serpent. Can you save them, Messiah?”
Jesus’ head snapped toward the Accuser, his eyes hard behind a veil of tears. His voice was hard. “Do you value their lives so little?”
Now the Accuser hardened his own voice. “I do not jest, Son of The Name. Answer me truthfully. Can you save them? Do you know who rules this city? Do you comprehend the lines of power that stretch from this great city across the lands, the cracks in the alliances you might exploit to conquer them that you might tear this temple down? No. You do not even know their tongue, or where this land may be found, or the ship that might carry you here.
“This earth is filled with peoples and powers and you are but a carpenter. Though your own people might love you – might, I remind you, these nations will care nothing for you or for the one who made them.
“I can give them to you. I can teach you, guide you. I will tell you their weaknesses, guide you in how you might exploit their vices and manipulate their virtues.”
Jesus was silent. He watched as the priests led the soldiers, sacrifices and worshippers into the Temple. Finally, the Accuser continued. “You can bring light to these barbarians.”
Jesus spoke softly now, his voice heavy with the weight of all he had seen. “You call them barbarians. A Roman word. As though these sacrifices are not of a kind with Roman crosses. What does it matter if they are sacrificed to a feathered serpent or to the glory of a Caesar? It is power exploited, Accuser.”
Now Jesus faced him again. “And you would have me rule as one worse than the Caesars, worse than these Gentile kings. You offer to set me up as the king above all kings. But I will not be this sort of king. Moses warned us that The Name alone is God, that we are to worship only Him.”
“How will you save them, Messiah?” The Accuser saw he was losing Jesus. “How will you rule? With a kiss of greeting? With good will? Did not your namesake, Joshua, drive the Canaanites from the land? Did not your father David battle the Philistines with the help of The Name? Let me show you how to be king. Follow my way and you will save the world.”
“I cannot follow your way. I will not.” Jesus was stone; the Accuser saw he would not be moved.
“Take me back, Accuser. Leave me in peace.”
The Accuser spread his wings once more and took flight. Jesus would find himself back in the wilderness. The Accuser made his way Heaven-ward. He had failed, and an Audience was approaching. He had to prepare his report.
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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