Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 35: The Three Temptations (Mt: 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), part 1
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 35: The Three Temptations (Mt: 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), part 1

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

As we recall, acquisitive mimetic desire leads to rivalry, conflict, and violence. The story of the Three Temptations illustrates how Jesus overcame acquisitive mimetic desire, preparing him for his ministry of love and peace.

In the desert, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days, which left Jesus physically weakened and more vulnerable to Satan’s enticements. Satan then offered Jesus bread, but Jesus rebuked Satan, quoting scripture (Deut 8:3), “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Mt. 4:4) This passage illustrates that our principle focus should be on God’s will—it is an even greater imperative than eating when hungry. An important implication of this, which will be a focus of future essays, is that we are called to trust in God.

Having tempted Jesus with food, Satan encouraged Jesus to test God by jumping from a pinnacle of the temple and forcing God to save him. This was a challenge to Jesus’ self-esteem in that Satan implied that God might not save Jesus. This, like a “dare,” was designed to tempt Jesus to prove his worth. Yielding to this temptation would have shown rivalry with Satan, because jumping from the pinnacle would have been motivated by a desire to impress Satan. Mimetic rivalry between Jesus and Satan would have then led to greater and greater “dares” in a power struggle between them. In addition, Jesus’ yielding to this temptation would have reflected rivalry with God, because compelling God to rescue Jesus would be tantamount to challenging God’s authority.

Finally, Satan appealed to the nearly universal human desire for power and control, offering Jesus all the kingdoms he could see from a high mountain if Jesus worshipped Satan. We gain a sense of mastery over death via power and control (see part 25 and 26). We believe that we can keep death at bay as long as we are “king of the hill.” Remarkably, referring to all the kingdoms of the world, Satan said, “All these I will give you.” (Mt 4:9) The Gospel does not deny that Satan owns these kingdoms, and indeed all human kingdoms are grounded on and maintained by the scapegoating mechanism. The “sacred order” that puts the king at its pinnacle derives from the scapegoating mechanism, and those who challenge this sacred order commit a taboo that is usually punished, often by death. (See Part 7.) Jesus’ kingdom would be very different. It would be grounded on love and forgiveness, not accusation and violence. Therefore, Jesus rejected this temptation, declaring “it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Mt 4:10)

We naturally want power and control, because we recognize our vulnerability to injury, infirmity, and even death. The king seems confident and in control, and people envy the king. However, the king’s invulnerability is an illusion. For one thing, the king is mortal. For another, in primal societies, the king purchases his power by selling his soul. The king must assume the satanic role of the accuser by scapegoating innocent people in order to avoid becoming a scapegoat himself whenever there is a drought, plague, military setback, or other crisis. Is this not what Joshua did in order to avoid blame for a humiliating military defeat (see Part 16)? In more developed societies, the scapegoating mechanism that maintains the king’s power is often harder to discern because it is more institutionalized, but I think it’s still there.

Jesus emphatically rejected the satanic, acquisitive mimetic desire for power. Jesus replied that we should serve God, from which our greatest satisfaction derives, rather than seeking to be served.

Go on to: Part 36: The Three Temptations, part 2
Return to: Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence Table of Contents
Return to: Christian Living Table of Contents