According to the Bible, the devil presented before Jesus three ‘opportunities’ or temptations.
- Keep people happy with food or material possessions and they’ll worship you.
- Give miracles to people and they’ll worship you.
- You will have political power over the whole world if you accept the devil as your master
You can read the Biblical account of the temptations in Mathew 4 or Luke 4. What I have presented above is a very brief summary in my own interpretation of the Biblical episode. Let me continue my interpretation of the temptations.
At the outset, I’d like to clarify that I don’t believe in devils any more than gods. I believe there are certain lessons that we can extract from religious books, in spite of the devils and other incredible characters. I must also add that Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov has influenced my interpretation of the Temptations, particularly certain views of Ivan Karamazov.
The first temptation teaches that if people are to worship you, they should be kept at the lowest levels of existence. Food, wealth, material comforts, physical pleasures, etc belong to that realm. Don’t let people rise much above them.
Jesus’ answer to the devil is: “Man does not live by bread alone.” Today Jesus would have said, “Man does not live by wealth alone.” What Jesus wanted was to raise the people to a level far above food, pleasures, etc. To the level of the spirit. To the level of higher knowledge and understanding, the plain of self-actualisation. That is what he meant when he said, “The kingdom of god is within you.” It’s only natural that the devil wanted to prevent such a teaching from spreading. It’s only natural again, perhaps, that the devil succeeded and Jesus was crucified.
In the second temptation, the devil asked Jesus to perform a miracle in order to impress the masses. Ivan Karamazov’s Grand Inquisitor says, “man seeks not so much God as the miraculous.” God-realisation is nothing other than self-realisation. God is merely a symbol as much as the devil. God is a symbol of the perfection that man is capable of striving after. The devil is the symbol of all the baseness that keeps man from rising toward Godhood. Man does not want to rise toward Godhood because that is an arduous challenge. It is much easier to exist in the lower levels of being. Man needs gods and religions to help him make certain conquests at those lower levels of existence. For example, man would be mighty pleased if some god could perform a miracle and heal him of his illness, or help him win a lottery, or help him pass an examination… Miracles – that’s the essence of religion for quite a lot of believers. Give that and thus prevent man from seeking to conquer the cliffs of self-realisation. That was the second temptation.
In the final temptation, Jesus is taken to the top of a high mountain from where he can see vast areas of lands or “kingdoms”. The devil promises him political power over those lands if he falls down and worships the devil. There’s some terrible irony here. Political power and spiritual power are antitheses, according to this Biblical passage. For political power, you worship the devil; for spiritual power, you worship god!
Jesus was trying to establish “the kingdom of heaven” on the earth, and not any political kingdom. The kingdom of heaven in which each individual will rise to his highest potential –spiritual potential rather than political or material achievements. Obviously such a teaching is against the interests of those who would wish to establish their political powers among people. That is why Jesus had to be killed. Jesus was killed so that people would not be taught to rise any higher than that’s desired by the ‘political’ leaders.
What were the charges levelled against Jesus? He was accused of being a heretical teacher, false prophet, seducer of the people, and blasphemer – all religious crimes. Whose interests would be most affected by such ‘crimes’? The religious leaders’. It was the Jewish religious leaders who wanted to have Jesus eliminated.
In Dostoevsky’s novel [The Brothers Karamazov], it is a cardinal of the Church who tells Jesus: “… tomorrow Thou shalt see that obedient flock who at a sign from me will hasten to heap up the hot cinders about the pile on which I shall burn Thee for coming to hinder us [the leaders of the Church]. For if anyone has ever deserved our fires, it is Thou. Tomorrow I shall burn Thee.”
This Good Friday, Jesus will be consigned to the cross once again. On Easter Sunday he will be resurrected. So that he can be crucified next Good Friday. For preserving the interests of the Churches. Between this Easter and the next Good Friday, the crucified Christ rather than the risen Christ will reign supreme in the sanctum of churches. A dead god is more pliable than a living one!