Prayer that Broke Satan's Kingdom
The Lord's Prayer and the Temptation on the Mount
The philosophers and wise men of the world are infamous for practicing the disreputable art of preaching what they have not done; from their ivory towers they would fain declare hollow precepts to the sub-creatures on the ground, but scarcely are they seen to be engaged in the struggle for a praiseworthy life. But it was ever our Lord's method to teach only those things which He had personally practiced and achieved during His sojourn on earth. Not once had He ever said anything in His teaching to the disciples but that which naturally flowed from a soul that was "perfected"1 by a virtuous life of constant effort and toil. When He taught them on the holy mountain to have mercy on others, He spoke from a wealth of personal instances in forgiving His neighbors who had undoubtedly wronged Him on sundry occasions. When He stooped to cleanse the disciples' feet during the Last Supper, it was not as an isolated bit of didactic drama, but a real and earnest act that reflected a lifetime of humble foot-washing and service to others during His former days in Nazareth. And after casting the demon out of the paralytic boy,2 His statement to the disciples, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting," was certainly not a mere theorem He had just discovered; but in all likelihood His mind was reaching back to those forty days in the wilderness, where by intense prayer and fasting He had cast out the father of demons.
There is one particular case of teaching our Lord gave to the disciples which especially urges us to search into its origins: the Lord's Prayer.3 St. Luke in his Gospel tells us that Jesus had just finished praying in a certain place, where a disciple had evidently been watching the majestic sight of the Son in full communion with His heavenly Father, and in whose heart was kindled the flame of holy envy which the church fathers so commonly describe as happening to a person who witnesses another soul in union with God. The disciple requests instruction in like prayer, and in response Jesus recited those precious words which have been the heart of Christian prayer until today. It is the best summation of all the most important doxologies and supplications man can offer; but where did our Lord find this divine compendium of prayer? When, why, and how did He (in our modern jargon) "develop" it? It is impossible to believe that He simply improvised in a moment a few lines which He considered beneficial to the disciples. Rather, as all other teaching He offered, it must have arisen from hidden depths, from the inner springs of that spiritual Life which would become the model for everyone who believes.
The seminal event which may have given rise to the main tenets of the Lord's Prayer, or at least sowed the seeds for its growth, was our Lord's forty day struggle in the wilderness.4 For every line in the prayer appears to reflect some incident or remark made during that momentous encounter between the Prince of Light and the Prince of Darkness. Christ's prayer in the desert no doubt extended ceaselessly throughout the entire period; but the eleven lines that comprise our prayer are a core distillation of that divine communion with the Father which accompanied our Lord through the long, strenuous days of desert solitude, and towards the end, the desperate attempt made by Satan to bring down our Lord in the hours of His utmost exhaustion.
For many centuries had the prince of this world held his sway over mankind, but it could not have been with a sense of security free from uneasy apprehensions. He doubtless knew of the prophecies that spoke of a mighty heel that would one day crush his head; of a new covenant which God was to make with His people; and of a deliverer who would rise with healing in His wings. Moreover, there were those Jewish rites and ceremonies that seemed to prefigure a great event disastrous to his reign. And it must have been with the darkest forebodings that he witnessed one Human who finally appeared stronger than himself and his satanic arts. For thirty full years Jesus had resisted all the seductions that led His human brethren into sin. And the gnawing anxieties within Satan's breast must have reached a heightened terror when, at the River Jordan, the heavens parted, God the Spirit descended upon Him, and the eternal voice spoke: "This is My beloved Son." The Son of God! But who could this mysterious Person be? In the wilderness Satan found his opportunity to put Christ to the severest test; and if He would not be overcome, then at least He might answer a few vital questions.
"The tempter came to Him and said, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread'" (Matthew 4:2). If you are the Son of God....The words of the baptismal scene at the Jordan are still ringing in Satan's ears. As St. Chrysostom points out, Satan was thrown into a wild perplexity by the contradictory events of the Epiphany, which displayed Christ as Son of God, and His hunger, which displayed Him as Son of Man. The devil at any rate wished to believe Jesus' Sonship as false, or to render it false by prevailing up on Christ to doubt it. Since, for Christ to doubt His Father's word would be virtually to renounce His Sonship, Satan sowed his seeds of doubt, as he successfully did with our parents in Eden—"Did God really say you must not eat of any tree in the garden"?5 Doubt has always been one of Satan's most insidious weapons against us, depriving us of the comfort of God's presence, His promises, and His word. Satan's challenge could be reworded, If God is really Your Father.... A precious Fatherhood! In Eden, Satan had temporarily stolen from us our original purity, joy, and wholeness, and now would he repeal our Divine Parentage? That would be the final blow to humanity, for Christ's response would in a moment chart the path of our eternal destiny. Before Jesus gave His response, there must have been some inner movement of the soul, and the feelings that likely passed over His divine heart would have been expressed in the words, My Father in heaven....holy is Your name! Ah, the words that were designed to inspire doubt in the Son of God would rather turn His thoughts lovingly to that eternal relationship, which must have been His chief joy. Is it any wonder that, in teaching the disciples, the first words of prayer should be, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name"?
...tell these stones to become bread. If Christ would not doubt His Father in thought, then working such a miracle would do so in action; for the forty days of fasting were not achieved by sheer physical exertion, but by an ecstatic rapture of prayer which bore Him through the period without giving thought to the body. The human physiology begins to gnaw at the mind even after 12 hours without food; but the Father with whom He communed would provide life and strength when bread did not. He was naturally the antitype of the Israelites' forty-year wandering in the desert, where they were being chastened and taught to depend not on bread alone, but on every one of God's words. How often must the petition have fallen from Jesus' lips, Give me today My true bread! And this experience in the desert He transfers over to our daily petition, "Give us this day our daily bread," which, in expressing it, we participate in Christ's spiritual struggle in the desert. The devil's shrewd suggestion was for Him to exert His divine power to immediately relieve the hunger, an implied distrust of heaven's support. But Jesus does not offer any counter-argument to Satan's suggestion—for he should never be argued with—but simply quotes from the book of Deuteronomy, and allows the Holy Bible's power to work its devastating effect on Satan's schemes.
Seeing that Christ was too strong for the temptation which had proved useful against most of humanity, the unyielding enemy quickly shifts to his next suggestion—the love of glory. By a mysterious method which it is futile for us to inquire into, the Lord is conveyed to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, and Satan compels Jesus to fling Himself into the air, for as the Jewish sages had affirmed, the Messiah would make his first appearance to Israel from the roof of the temple. What more glorious way to reveal Himself, then by gently gliding through the air like a dove, amidst the shouts and acclimations of the people? It was a further consideration that the Scriptures themselves seemed to prophesy such an event, implied the Accuser, when he quoted a Psalm which the Rabbis themselves believed would be fulfilled by the Messiah: "For He shall give His angels charge over you...Intheirhands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone," craftily omitting a key phrase, "...to keep you in all your ways."6
The deviousness of this second attack was much deeper than the previous, firstly because all that Satan said was in fact true—it was near the time that Jesus would reveal Himself to Israel; and secondly because it was adequately supported by Scripture—the angels would indeed bear Him on their wings were He to jump. The deception was in the will. From Christ's early childhood, Satan had undoubtedly observed that never had He done or said anything that was at variance with God's will. There was always the utmost concord between God's promptings and Jesus' acts; never had Jesus shown any remorse about an act that was done in opposition to, or in advance of, God's will. But now Satan presses Him to act on His own will—or rather that of Satan's—and perform a self-aggrandizing feat. The deed would not bring any glory to God but only to Himself.
...Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven! The perfect harmony between the will of the Father and Son that had endured in heaven from the beginning must now continue on earth. Although Satan was the master of cunning, yet was he utterly foolish to imagine that the will of the Father and Son could be broken, or the glory of the One pursued without the glory of the Other. Jesus immediately repels the dark proposal with a single line: It is written again, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God".7 To usurp the Father's glory for Himself was unthinkable, but to test or challenge the Father's will was a still more impossible prospect. Christ therefore quotes again a Deuteronomic passage, which referred to the Israelites' murmuring about their thirst in the desert and their provocative question: "Is the Lord among us or not?"8 Satan naturally saw it fitting that, as the Israelites of old put God to the test in the desert, so should Jesus. For if God was really with Him, He would dispatch the angels to rescue Him from the perilous descent.
As soon as the Lord dismissed the demonic suggestion, He would turn once again to that consoling and joy-giving prayer to God, which He was later to summarize for His disciples in a few brief words: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. For this would be one of the greatest methods of preventing the arch-enemy from driving a wedge into the relationship between God and the disciples. To always seek the Father's will, to desire always to please Him, is the shortest and most direct path to personal holiness.
In the first two temptations, Satan speaks nothing of himself and reveals nothing of his purposes, but instead probes and prods this mysterious Person, in order to ascertain the powers and privileges which His Sonship conferred, and if possible, to control them by his own schemes. However, having been foiled in these attempts, he drops the mask, appears as his diabolical self, and boldly claims homage from Christ. "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.'"9
This third temptation had a special adaptation to Christ's Person which Satan trusted would make it a powerful allurement; and as it was the last, so was it the most pernicious, of the three attacks.
The Jews knew of a universal kingdom that was to be set up in the days of the Messiah. From His earliest days as a child, Christ had heard the Scriptures foretell time and again the days when Israel's Deliverer would rule; and we can only imagine with what wonder and reverence the Boy Jesus pondered those ancient prophecies which spoke directly of Himself. But He equally knew that His Kingdom would not be gained by earthly methods or by easy inheritance, but rather by suffering and death. And Satan must have known, from his ability to quote the whole Holy Bible, the prophecies that predicted the toil and strife involved in his Rival's accession to the throne.
He decided to make a bold attempt. He would show Him all the world's kingdoms which had been his as the prince of this world, and he would give them over to Christ without a single blow being struck, without a single pain to endure. Satan was willing to peacefully hand his scepter to Christ, and bypass the immense struggle needed to inherit humanity, if only He would bow down to him. A reckless and blasphemous attempt, for who gave Satan these kingdoms to thus claim and give away? This last temptation was unique in that it included a bribe, like that presented to our first parents when they were beguiled into disobeying God with the appealing offer of divine knowledge. But the magnificent panorama presented before our Savior's eyes was more grand and glittering than Eden's fruit, the best Satan had to offer; and its acceptance would have meant our downfall. For to have taken Satan's gift would have immediately disqualified Jesus as the Messiah, as our spiritual Redeemer, and as Savior of the world—for though all worldly dominion and principalities might have been granted Him, all of that including Christ Himself would be subject to Satan, now given full power by Jesus' worship.
...Thy kingdom come. Jesus' eye refused to rest on the seducing spectacle, and no sooner was the temptation offered than it was immediately refused. And as Satan drops his mask, so does Christ address him directly: "Away with you, Satan! For it is written,'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"10 The rebuke causes Satan to immediately vanish "until an opportune time," that is, a future chance to sabotage Christ's kingdom. And he found it when the Lord announced His coming death and resurrection to the disciples. Satan somehow sensed that the events were directly linked to Christ's victory; and so he silently steals into Peter's bosom and attempts to dissuade Jesus from His purposes, whereupon He delivers another searing reprimand to the evil one: "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."11 Following every attempt to convince Jesus to abandon the Kingdom of God for His own earthly rule, we can imagine the Lord lifting His heart in sincere thanksgiving and declaring joyfully, "Your kingdom come..."
These three trials our Lord passed through cover in a symbolical way the whole range of temptations to which mankind is subjected. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."12 Yet, our Lord still needed to include that line in His prayer which He personally would never employ, but which the rest of humanity was in need of reciting; because though He overcame every temptation for us, we would still fail day by day: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." And then follow that supplication which is an precise echo of the temptation on the mount: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." It was the Spirit that drove Him into the wilderness to be tried;13 and although He is the Almighty, yet never would He intentionally cast Himself into harm's way. That brief interview with the evil one, that terrible presence encircling His pure conscience like dark clouds, must have been a most repugnant and contrary experience for our Lord. And he teaches us never to seek the same, but to daily request deliverance from such trials; but if they come, the victory is made available by His first triumph.
There are few incidents in the Holy Bible which afford us so much hope, so much victory, strength, and promise, as our Lord's temptation on the mountain. Every serious conflict which arises in the Christian's heart can find its counterpart in one of these three trials. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,14 are all here represented and overcome in the Gospel. What place is there then for excuse or complaint? We might bemoan our current circumstances, and the disagreeable straits through which our soul must pass just to survive; but if the Captain of our salvation needed to pass through such a grievous episode—and worse was still awaiting Him—then so must we. The Spirit that led Him into the wilderness will presently guide us through the desert of this world. The power to change stones to bread and feed His flesh; the glory of soaring from the temple's roof amidst the hails of the people; the kingdom pledged to Him if He would bow and worship—all enticing offers of the greatest of man's desires. But in the end Christ was victorious, and the devil vanquished; and with what joy must the sweet strains of praise have arisen to heaven from His holy lips as He prayed: "...for Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen!"
1 Heb 5:9
2 Mk 9
3 Mt 6; Lk 11
4 Mt 3; Lk 4
5 Gen 3:1
6 Ps 91:11, 12
7 Mt 4:7
8 Deut 6:16; Ex 17:7
9 Mt 4:8
10 Mt 4:10
11 Mt 8:32
12 Heb 4:15
13 Mt 4:1
14 1 Jn 2:16