The horrific events of September 11, 2001 have caused all those aware of them to wonder how long God will allow demonic forces and their human manifestation to continue to attack his creation. Our attention gravitates to questioning what would make anyone desire to wreak such destruction on his fellow man; and who could be guilty of such evil. While there have been far too many people in history who have planned and executed equally terrible events, I cannot image a more audaciously disrespectful example than we see in Satan's temptations of Jesus - very God himself.
Think with me, if you will, about the powerful emotions surrounding the story of these temptations recorded in the gospels ( Matt. 4, Mk. 1, Lk 4). You will be moved by our Lord's amazing restraint in the face of the greatest of all blasphemy - Satan proclaiming to be god. While Jesus could have instantly blasted the devil with everlasting fire, he chose only to respond verbally by quoting from scripture. Perhaps this account will help us appreciate God's control and his willingness to wait with imposing final justice until it suites his glory.
Jesus' First Temptation:
"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry." (Matt. 4:1-2). What an understatement! Can you imagine how one would feel after 40 days of nothing to eat or drink? "Hungry" - Jesus must have been close to death. "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 does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matt. 4:3-4).
Jesus often made reference to his current surroundings when responding to questions or challengers. In this instance, he was quoting part of (Deut. 8: 2-3:) "Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD."
Satan knew this scripture. He had heard the Torah read for thousands of years and he had been the one tempting the Israelites to grumble to Moses. Is it possible that Jesus came back to the very same place near Mt. Sinai where Moses (Ex 34, Deut 29) and Elijah (1Kg. 19) had fasted for 40 days also, the very place where He himself had given the Torah to Moses, the truth that will defeat Satan, the "every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."?
The Second Temptation:
the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand 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.'"
The highest point of the temple would have been the roof of temple proper, which housed the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant. The very place the Lord God had chosen to make his throne. This chilling scene makes us gasp as Satan quotes the Word of God to tempt the Son of God while standing above the presence of the Father, God. In quoting Psalm 91: 11-12, Satan also brazenly omits the phrase, "to guard you in all your ways".
Jesus could have squeezed Satan in his grasp and hurled him through the stones of the temple court below and beyond, but instead he brilliantly responds with these words: "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matt. 4: 7).
Jesus answers with words from (Deut. 6:16) which Satan would have instantly recognized as immediately following the most important words in Scripture, the Shema:
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is alone. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut. 6: 4-9).
"When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you-- a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant-- then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah. Be sure to keep the commands of the LORD your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the LORD's sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the LORD said. "In the future, when your son asks you, "What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?" tell him: "We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders-- great and terrible-- upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today." (Deut. 6:10 - 24).
The Third Temptation:
"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Satan blasphemes God's name once more by claiming to have dominion over the world and offering to "give" it back to him. Jesus uses other words from the Shema this time: "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Deut. 6:13) Jesus shows force in this response by commanding Satan to leave him. Now we can clearly see who actually holds the authority, as Satan has no choice but to obey the true King of the Universe.
It seems unimaginable the anyone could stand face to face with Jesus and say to him, "I am the King, not you" and live, yet this has happened. It seems unimaginable that people can board airplanes and fly them into buildings killing thousands of innocent people in the name of God, yet this has happened.
We are not the first to ask why God withholds his hand of judgment: David asks this in Psalm 74, "How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!" Jeremiah asks this too, "You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. Yet you know me, O LORD; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter!" (Jer. 12:1-3) Many have asked such questions and many more will continue to ask before we see an end to evil in the world.
Those who committed the acts of terror on September 11 and those who have done so before are currently experiencing first hand that God will not tolerate evil forever. Satan knows too, that he and all who follow him will experience in God's own time that Jesus means what he says and he is in control. Could any of us, had we possessed the power to destroy Satan, restrained ourselves to the extent that Jesus did?
God is so in control. Baruch ha Shem! Bless the Name! Let us exult him for ever!