Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.Matthew 4:8-9
The devil has taken Christ to a high place overlooking all the kingdoms of the earth. What is the tempter setting before Christ? He is showing off all the glory, wealth, power, and splendor of the world. He promises to give all this to Christ — provided he is worshiped. We may be surprised by this claim and even slightly amused. What was the devil thinking? He’s speaking to God! However, if we dig deeper, we find that Satan was unaware of Christ’s divinity. St. John Chrysostom explains the devil’s ignorance thus:
Just as the devil blinds all men, so now he is, invisibly, blinded by Christ. After forty days he sees one Who hungers; and throughout forty days he has not formed an idea of who it is that now hungers. When he inclined to think He is not the Son of God, he did not consider that that Mighty Champion would condescend to the things that are lowly.St. John Chrysostom, Opus Imperfectum
The devil is blinded to Christ’s Divinity, not considering that the Son of God would lower himself to a state of suffering, and he tries now to tempt Christ, not as God, but as a mere man.
Still, it seems very unlikely that the devil could hope to succeed by tempting an obviously holy man with worldly rule over all the earth’s kingdoms. But what if Christ was tempted not with avarice, greed, and the pleasures of the world, but with the good he could accomplish by uniting all political and worldly power to his kingdom? Perhaps the devil’s promise is to give Christ the hearts of the world’s inhabitants, thus providing a way to avoid the cross. The entire world would hail Him as their savior, just in a way far more complete than would happen at the entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In exchange, the tempter asked for one thing: His submission to Satan, the prince of the world.
Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.Matthew 4:10-11
The temptation to use earthly or political power to secure the faith has arisen time after time in the Church’s history, and time and again the Church has risked being suffocated under the weight of power. The fight for the independence of Christ’s Church, the fight to keep from combining Jesus’ Kingdom with any worldly kingdom, is one that the Church has fought in every age and century. Joining faith to earthly politics comes at a great cost: Christ’s Kingdom would become the servant of a finite, worldly power and must bow before its wishes.
At the end of Christ’s trial, Pilate presents the people with a choice. One of the prisoners shall be released; will they have Jesus, or Barabbas? In order to fully understand the significance of this choice, we must discover who Barabbas really was. Pope Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth, writes:
It is usually the words of John’s Gospel that come to mind here: “Barabbas was a robber” (Jn 18:40). But the Greek word for “robber” had acquired a specific meaning in the political situation that obtained at the time in Palestine. It had become a synonym for “resistance fighter.” Barabbas had taken part in an uprising (cf. Mk 15:7), and furthermore—in that context—had been accused or murder (cf. Luke 23:19, 25). When Matthew remarks that Barabbas was “a notorious prisoner” (Mt 27:16), this is evidence that he was one of the prominent resistance fighters, in fact probably the actual leader of that particular uprising.Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth
Origen, a Father of the Church, provides us with another interesting detail. Up until the third century, many manuscripts of the Gospels referred to the man in question as “Jesus Barabbas”—“Jesus son of the father.” Barabbas figures here as a sort of alter ego of Jesus, who makes the same claim but understands it in a completely different way. So the choice is between a Messiah who leads an armed struggle, promises freedom and a kingdom of one’s own, and this mysterious Jesus who proclaims that losing oneself is the way to life. Is it any wonder that the crowds prefer Barabbas?Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth
Barabbas as a messiah figure links back to what we can learn from the third temptation of Christ, namely that when its members want the Church to join itself too closely to worldly power, it falls into the temptation of creating the savior we think we want: a messiah that will fix the world’s problems and take his place ruling over the entire earth. We are choosing Barabbas. Like the crowds that shouted for Christ to be crucified, we can find ourselves preferring the resistance fighter messiah to the true Messiah, Christ, Head of the Church and Savior of the world. This is a real temptation for us. We must resist this temptation as Christ did, professing our willingness to serve and adore God alone.
– St. Louis de Montfort, Pray for us!
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth. 2007. Translated by Adrian J. Walker, Ignatius Press, 2008.
Thanks, I’ve been really enjoying your posts about the temptations of Christ! The last part about the early translation “Jesus Barabbas” was interesting. The parallel between Christ’s mission and Barabbas’ is especially thought provoking.
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