Editor's Note: Clarion will be posting Michael Hardin's 20-episode series (excerpted from What the Facebook? vol. 1) on The Satan as a weekly release, each Thursday. CLICK HERE for the full pdf or kindle document.
(19) Jesus and the satan
I mentioned Jeffrey B. Gibson’s book The Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity yesterday and I am half-tempted (pun intended) to turn this post into a lengthy book review. It is a fantastic resource for anyone who will be teaching and preaching on this topic.
When it comes to the character of the satan, Dr Gibson says the exact same thing I have been asserting in my posts, namely that Jesus was tested to use violence, that that was the content of Jesus’ testing. This dovetails quite brilliantly with Rene Girard’s insights in I See Satan Falling Like Lightning where the ‘satan’ is a metonym for the violent structuring of the victimage mechanism.
Dr Gibson says,
“The figure whom Mark designates as the perpetrator of Jesus’ wilderness temptation, whether called Satan or one of a host of other names, was not an ‘unknown quantity’. On the contrary, in Mark’s time and in the thought world in which Mark and his audience took part, Satan’s identity and the activities characteristic of him were both closely circumscribed and widely known. He was regarded primarily as the Accuser, or more specifically, the Evil Adversary, and this in two ways. First, as one who stood in opposition to God, seeking to frustrate God’s work by leading his elect astray and destroying the relationship between God and men. Second, as one whose primary activity was the proving of the faith and steadfastness, not of men in general, but of the pious.”
The question before us has always been the ‘nature’ of the satanic. I have been suggesting in these posts that we need to demythologize the devil. In other words, we need to see that the satan is not a person (as we are used to conceiving of persons) but rather a human originated principle of structuring community based upon the use of deadly violence (scapegoating). The devil is a ‘murderer.’
In the accounts of the testing of Jesus, Jesus is accosted by the satanic principle to use violence as the promised deliverer of Israel, to use power to throw out the Roman oppressors and restore Israel’s former fortune and glory. The accounts of Jesus’ testing all revolve around this theme (whether after the baptism, at Caesarea Philippi or in Gethsemane, and one may add, in the demand for a ‘sign’). If, as Girard asserts, violence is the way we humans form and maintain social relationships, then the ministry of Jesus is all about deconstructing our relationship to violence and victimization.
In the testing of Jesus, God took a huge risk. If Jesus failed in his test(s), then humanity would have been forever doomed to a cycle of retributive violence and constant apocalypse. Jesus, time and again, refused the path of the militant warrior, calling out instead for reconciliation, forgiveness and peace. This alone was God’s way, the way of his mission and message.
In his tests, Jesus confronted the possibility of his own dark side, the possibility of using violence as a solution to social crises. It was this possibility that he rejected time and again. As a metonym for scapegoating violence, Jesus overcoming of the satan has huge implications for Christians today in how they treat those whom society would use to reconstitute itself: immigrants, the LGBT community, persons of other faiths, the homeless, the poor, people of color, etc. Inasmuch as we do to the “least” of these we do to Jesus. This, and this alone, is the criterion by which we determine our relation to Jesus. Will we resist the satanic in our own thoughts and actions? Will we stand with the victims of our cultures? Will we, like Jesus, say no to power that is coercive or manipulative? Will we like Jesus renounce violence?
Imagine if all Christians everywhere were to do this. Imagine if all Christians everywhere took the side of the poor, the downtrodden, the alienated. Then we might just see the deceptions of the satan crumble before our very eyes and the reign of God brought to earth.