Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘“He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
And now Satan has his opportunity, at the start of Jesus’ ministry, to tempt Jesus away from his mission. Satan is crafty, deceitful and seductive, though he is not so stupid as to attempt to lie to Jesus. Satan has power. God did not imprison Satan or rein in his potential to do damage. Satan has authority on earth, and has the right to offer Jesus the temporal world (wouldn’t Jesus otherwise have rubbished the offer?).
Some denominations argue that Satan was not a real person, or that the battle in the wilderness was simply an internal struggle Jesus went through as he looked ahead to his public ministry. If the encounter with Satan was an internal affair, then we have to ask whether the angels attending Jesus were also an internal affair.
A popular image of Satan is of an ugly red creature with a pointy tail, and horns coming out of his forehead. It probably has its roots in his depiction in the book of Revelation as a dragon with an army of his angels. This image suits him well as he usually turns up in other disguises that people might not so quickly recognise.
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
If you can stomach the imagery, then I recommend chapters 12 and 13 of Revelation. We may learn much about angels from the way this fallen angel behaved.
How do you imagine Satan appeared to Jesus?
How does he appear today?
How does he lead the world astray?
Father God, I thank you for the higher authority of Jesus. Amen.