Immediately after his baptism by John, Jesus is reported to have gone into another part of the wilderness to spend time in prayer and meditation. Mark simply states that he went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for forty days. This is all he says about it and one supposes that his readers were already acquainted with some oral tradition of Jesus' disappearence from pulic view at the very beginning of his ministry since Mark does not supply details of what "tempted by Satan" means. Matthew and Luke elaborate on this, and their story of The Temptation of Christ is designed to show that, from the very beginning, Jesus had no intention whatsoever of being the messiah that Israel expected but rather a universal saviour. The story is polemical and didactic rather than historical. The original actual motive for his disappearence has been covered over by a theological motive. He confronts and overcomes Satan within himself so that at the end of the gospel tale he might confront and overcome a cosmic Satan on the cross.

The story of the Temptation has no value to Jews in the presen-tation of a Jewish Jesus but it is nevertheless instructive as a Christ ian religious polemic against Jewish messianic expectations. This story as well as that of The Good Samaritan, has been designed to show the supplanting of Jews and Judaism by the Church.

Jesus goes into the desert and fasts. Satan (the Christian es-chatalogical Satan, not the political one) appears to him and tempts him with three tests in order for Jesus to prove that he is the messiah

Satan asks Jesus to turn the stones of the desert into bread, to which Jesus responds that physical food alone is insufficient for human beings but that one should also seek spiritual sustenance.

Next Satan brings Jesus to the roof of the Temple, asking him to throw himself off, thereby demonstrating his invulnerability. Jesus answers that it is not fitting to tempt G-d to do miracles.

Lastly Satan tells Jesus that if he will worship him, he will give him dominance over all the nations of the world. Jesus answers that only G-d may be worshipped.

Satan, seeing that he has been bested, leaves Jesus. Immediately angels appear to minister to him.

The real significance of this story seems to be lost on most people but clearly it is a refutation of the Jewish idea of what a messiah must do. Turning stones into bread is symbolic of the messish's supplying the worlds immediate wants and needs. NO one goes hungry or needy in the messianic age. Casting himself off a tall building, or throwing himself into any dangerous arena, confident that G-d will not allow any harm to come to his Annointed One is a hallmark of messiahship. The messiah must show that emerges victorious and unscathed, fighting G-d's battles. Lastly, assuming dominion over all the nations of the world is the messiah's ultimate task, thereby unifying mankind into an Eden race, prepared to serve G-d and be His people.

The New Testament authors here have Jesus, at the very beginning of his career, emphatically reject the very signs that mark the Jewish messiah. These signs are brandished by Satan. But this Satan is already "the devil" of Christianity, not the demonic force behind the enemies of G-d as pictured in Judaism. Jesus cannot accept what the Satan in Rome already possesses. For the Roman emperor indeed supplied the people with bread, he was victorious in battle and invincible, and he held mastery over the nations of the earth. In this, he displayed the attributes of G-d's Annointed in a sort of blasphemous parody which filled the Jews with anger and frustration. The Christian messaih ust not com- pete for these things. His kingdom is "not of this world".

Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness, equal to the time that Moses spent on Mount Sinai. He is, in effect, presented by the evangelists as the new Moses of a new dispensation. The stories about Jesus in the New Testament have been Christologized. They are not history but theology. Yet they contain history beneath the surface because they are based on an historical tradition about Jesus and his early Jewish following. Sometimes we can make out the original truths they conceal; at other times, the New Testament authors and editors have done their job of Christianizing Jesus and his story too well, and the history behind the RELIGIOUS story remains obscured forever.

Perhaps the historical Jesus DID retire in isolation after his contact with John the Baptizer. There are other stories in the gospels that tell of Jesus retreating into the desert on various occaisions, either to conceal himself or to renew himself. Perhaps this story alludes to his period of preparation when he became ready to break from John and launch his own ministry. For upon his return from the desert, he emerged to initiate his message to his people.

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