dianoigo blog

Saturday 21 December 2013

The devil's offer of the world to Jesus

This is the second part of a trilogy on the wilderness temptation narrative recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. More specifically the series is examining the third temptation (second in Luke's ordering) and evaluating the Christadelphian view that the temptations were an internal struggle in Jesus' mind, with ho diabolos (the devil) being a personification of the evil inclination (in Hebrew, the yetzer hara). The previous installment looked at the setting of this temptation. Now we will examine the devil's offer to Jesus. In this case we will follow Luke's account because it offers more detail:
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:5-8 NRSV)
A key feature of the Lucan narrative that must be explained is the devil's claim to exercise power over the kingdoms of the world and give it to whomever he pleases. Under the Christadelphian interpretation this statement comes from the personified yetzer hara, representing the dark side of Jesus' thought process which is opposed to the will of God. It is attempting to persuade Jesus to take a wrong course of action. If this is really what this passage conveys, it does so in very odd language.

We discussed in the previous post how a figurative dialogue between a person and a personification is quite foreign to the genre of the Gospels. Yet even if we allow the possibility of internal temptations being narrated in this way, it makes little sense for the personified yetzer hara to base its offer on a grandiose claim to temporal power. Notice that the other two temptations begin, "If you are the Son of God..." and thus use Jesus' privileged status as their jumping-off point. Why does the narrative deviate from that formula in this case? An appeal to Jesus' Messianic prerogative would be even more persuasive here. If this temptation consists of an urge from within to usurp temporal political power, it might have been phrased something like this:
"If you are the Son of God, march into Jerusalem and declare yourself king, for that is your right, as it is written, ‘Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom.’"
Instead, the tempter makes no reference to Jesus' right to rule but instead asserts his own! Christadelphians need to provide an explanation for why the introductory formula is so different for this temptation. Furthermore, if this dialogue is strictly internal and involves no third party, then what does "I give it to anyone I please" mean? To whom might Jesus' yetzer hara even hypothetically give authority over the kingdoms of the world other than himself?

It is apparent, then, that the way the devil phrases his offer to Jesus in Luke's account presents serious difficulties for the Christadelphian view. However, Christadelphians have suggested that to be a temptation must be plausible in order to truly tempt,NUM1 and a claim to absolute political power from a fallen angel is not plausible. Let us then assume for the sake of argument that ho diabolos in this passage is an angelic being, and assess the plausibility of the claim and offer he made to Jesus.

We may first observe that, within the narrative, it is not necessarily the case that Jesus was aware from the beginning who his interlocutor was. Elsewhere in the New Testament we read that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), so it is not impossible that the devil presented himself to Jesus as an angel. The devil does not introduce himself to Jesus; it is the narrator who makes the reader of the Gospel aware who the tempter was. In Matthew's account, after the final temptation Jesus says, "Away with you, Satan!" which makes it possible that the offer of illicit political power and the demand for worship gave away the tempter's identity. However, this is only a conjecture, and perhaps not a likely one given Jesus' remarkable powers of discernment (Matt. 9:4; Luke 9:47; John 1:48; 2:24; 6:64).

If we judge that Jesus knew who stood before him, would this then render the temptation a "sham" as Christadelphian writer Thomas Williams put it?2 Scholars have identified the devil's statement in Luke 4:6 as an allusion to God’s claims in Jeremiah 34(27E):5 LXX and Daniel 4:31LXX, and as such “Luke pictures Satan as usurping God’s prerogative to confer authority on whomever God wishes.”3 Does this mean the devil's offer was implausible? Yamazaki-Ransom provides useful insights on this point:
“In the Lukan temptation narrative, Satan claims to be the lord of the world. Is he telling the truth? The answer is both yes and no. On the one hand, although Satan is not a reliable character in the narrative, the implied reader is expected to take Satan’s claim at face value. First, Jesus does not deny Satan’s claim. Second, Paul later describes his ministry as opening the eyes of the people ‘so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power (exousia) of Satan to God’ (Acts 26.18). This assumes the reality of Satan’s exousia over people, although it is undermined by God through Paul’s ministry. Thus Satan’s power over the world is a real, not an illusory, one. On the other hand, as was just shown, he is not the true lord who deserves worship. For Luke the true Lord is God and Jesus, but not Satan. Thus Satan’s lordship over the world is a real but illegitimate one, one that is to be dismantled. The reality of diabolic authority over the world, and Jesus’ refusal to receive this authority from Satan, has great significance in Luke’s narrative.”4
Indeed, there are numerous New Testament passages which state or imply that the devil or Satan possesses power. Importantly, some of these texts are in Luke's writings (Luke 10:19; Acts 26:18). In John's Gospel, Jesus himself refers to the devil as "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11),5 and in John's first epistle he writes that "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19).6 Paul too describes Satan as a powerful ruler (Eph. 2:2; 6:11-12). Finally, in Revelation the dragon (symbolic of the devil) gives power and authority to the beast (symbolic of an earthly empire) (Rev. 13:2 cf. 12:9). In this last case the devil's power is explicitly political in nature.7 Hence, as one commentator writes concerning the devil's claim to Jesus, “In a way clearly parallel to the scenario painted in Revelation 13, we discover that the world of humanity is actually ruled by the devil.”8

Where did this notion of the devil possessing political power come from? Behind it lies "the idea of angelic beings ruling over earthly kingdoms" which "has a long tradition, both before and after the New Testament."9 Several Old Testament texts develop this idea, most notably Daniel 10, and while it is not prominent in the New Testament, it is found in Revelation 12-17 and may be presupposed in other New Testament texts such as Luke 10:1, Acts 16:9, 1 Cor. 4:9, 6:3 and 1 Tim. 3:16.10

Therefore, far from being preposterous we find that the devil's claim here is consistent with the overall testimony of the New Testament. The devil did have some basis for claiming to wield great political power, and as such his offer to confer this power on Jesus in exchange for worship was at least plausible. It is to this demand for worship that we shall turn our attention in the next post.

1 See the entry on the temptations of Jesus in the Wrested Scripture resource at http://www.wrestedscriptures.com/b07satan/matthew4v1-11.html
2 Williams, Thomas. The Devil: His Origin and End. See under The Devil that Tempted Christ at http://www.republic-christadelphians.org/files/The_Devil_-_His_Origin_and_End.htm
3 Carroll, John T. 2012. Luke: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press, p. 103.
4 Yamazaki-Ransom, Kazuhiko. 2010. The Roman Empire in Luke’s Narrative. Continuum, pp. 95-96.
5 For an important study of this title in John, see Kovacs, Judith L. 1995. "Now shall the Ruler of this world be driven out": Jesus' death as cosmic battle in John 12:20-36. Journal of Biblical Literature 114(2): 227-247.
6 That 'the evil one', 'the devil' and 'Satan' are synonyms can be seen by comparing the three parallel accounts of the parable of the sower in Matt. 13:19, Mark 4:15 and Luke 8:12; cf. Matt. 13:38-39. That John also uses the term in this way is apparent from comparing the similar language in 1 John 3:12 and John 8:44.
7 See comments in Morris, Leon. 1988. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary. Eerdmans, p. 113.
8 Green, Joel B. 1997. The Gospel of Luke. Eerdmans, p. 194.
9 Yamazaki-Ransom. op. cit., p. 93.
10 Wink, Walter. 1984. Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament. Fortress Press, pp. 34-35.

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