In other words, just who is "satan" or "the devil."?
This event unfolds during Jesus' fast of forty days and nights. Jesus was hungry:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (Matt. 4:1-2)
The text introduces "satan" as "the tempter" - translated from the Greek word πειράζω (peirazō) meaning "to try, make trial of, test" according to the lexicon:
The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." (Matt. 4:3)
Jesus responded by describing our identity as spiritual and our relationship with the Supreme Being:
“It is written : ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4)
But next we find that "the tempter" - the "devil" - now takes Jesus to "the holy city" - apparently Jerusalem:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. (Matt. 4:5)
And then he tempts him with another possibility:
"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.'" (Matt. 4:6)
Jesus responded to this latest temptation:
“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt 4:7)
And this is precisely what "the tempter" is asking of Jesus - to put God to the test. And what is putting God "to the test" mean? We'll discuss this below.
Next "the devil" takes Jesus to another place and tempts him with another possibility:
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." (Matt. 4:8-9)
So we must ask: Who is this person who can not only tempt Jesus with turning stones to food, but can take him many miles away to Jerusalem and then also take him to a mountain top to show him "all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor"?
Who has this kind of power of transport? And who has the power to give someone "all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor"?
Who has "all this" to give to Jesus?
Ecclesiastical institutions and their teachers tell us that "the devil" or "satan" is a person who has somehow gotten out of God's control and is now going around tempting people. They also teach that all the suffering in the world is caused by "the devil" or "satan." That he has somehow gotten out of control and now he is going around messing things up for us and God.
This is a ridiculous teaching. It makes absolutely no sense to say that there is the existence of a Supreme Being - who is all-powerful - yet someone has gotten out of His control. As if God cannot control His creation.
This concept is actually an atheist concept: Because if someone has gotten out of God's control then there is no ultimate God: There is no Supreme Being that is in complete control.
This is hypocrisy. To say there is a God but God lost control over part of His creation is simply nonsense.
The reality is that there is a Supreme Being and He never loses control. There is never anyone out of His ultimate authority and control.
This would mean that such a "tempter" or "devil" or "satan" is ultimately within God's control.
And this means that all the temptations that we are presented are ultimately taking place with God's authority and permission.
In fact, the Supreme Being arranged temptation.
And the reality is that temptation - as many other difficult concepts have been - is being symbolized or rather, personified, in order to simplify a concept that may be difficult for some to understand.
Yes, Jesus and most of the other prophets utilized symbolism and analogies to describe teaching subjects. Jesus also used many parables in addition to symbolism, and he described that these were used to not only explain, but also to hide certain elements of the Truth from those who are not ready to hear the plain Truth:
"This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand." (Matt. 13:13)
The reality is that temptation has been personified in order to encapsulate the notion of choice. Each of us has the choice to love and serve the Supreme Being or love and serve ourselves.
Yes, we each have the choice to be God-centered or self-centered.
This is ultimately the choice we were all given by the Supreme Being as He created us. God created each of us to love Him and serve Him. But love requires freedom. We cannot be forced to love someone.
So the Supreme Being created each of us with the option to love Him or love ourselves.
The option of self-centeredness requires us to not only make a choice: It requires us to firmly make that choice. To emphatically resist those elements of self-centeredness.
And in order to make the choice not to love Him complete, the Supreme Being created the physical world and these physical bodies.
This physical world was created for those of us who chose not to love Him to play out our self-centeredness without having to see Him.
Why would He make the choice complete? Because only this will allow us to make a real choice to love Him out of freedom. The option of not loving Him has to be real and it has to be executable. What is the benefit of having choice if we have no way of exercising one of the options?
So the Supreme Being created this dimension - the physical world - in order for us to exercise our choice not to love and serve Him.
And these physical bodies are the vehicles that we use to access the physical world. These bodies are not us - they are vehicles we utilize temporarily. They are like a car a person gets in and drives for awhile. After a few decades they die and we move on.
Yes, we are spiritual in essence. Not these physical bodies. But our spiritual identity and the Supreme Being are hidden from the perception of the physical body and mind. Why?
To give us the complete freedom to exercise our desire not to love and serve God. If God was ever-present to our physical eyes and mind as He is in the spiritual realm then how could we play out our fantasies to be independent from Him and seek out our personal pleasure, fame and glory?
We couldn't. If we were faced with His presence we'd be unable to ignore Him.
We might compare this to how parents will give a child their own bedroom. While they own the house and have complete control over the house including the bedroom, they give the child their own room so the child can have some privacy and not have to have their parents looking over their shoulders all the time.
But this privacy is only perceived. The parents can go into the room anytime they want. They can look through all the kid's stuff as they want. But they may not because they want to teach the child respect. They may respect the child's privacy as part of their raising of the child.
Just as the child is given their own room and the perception of privacy, the Supreme Being has given each of us the physical world and this physical body and mind to act out our self-centered desires. The perception of privacy from Him gives us the freedom to choose as we want, without having Him "in our face" so to speak.
After all, how could we make an objective choice to love God if we couldn't get away from Him?
And just like the child's bedroom is always within the control of the parents, the Supreme Being is always in control over the physical world. He just set up things so that the world seems independent from Him, and yet still feeds back to each of us the consequences of our various choices.
And this is why there is suffering in the world. It is not because some guy (devil or satan) got out of control. It is because God designed the physical world to produce precise consequences for our activities. When we do something good, there is a good consequence, and when we do something that harms another, we get harmed in return.
This consequence system is designed to teach us, just as the best way of parenting has been shown to be consequence training rather than physical discipline.
So while the physical world is set up by God to allow us the freedom to choose, it also teaches us. Why? Because our innate identity is spiritual - and our innate behavior is loving. So the physical world has been designed to point us towards our innate spiritual nature.
But it still gives us the ultimate freedom to choose whether we want to love and serve God or love and serve ourselves. This is God's perfect design.
As such, the physical world continually gives us the choice, through temptation. Temptation is set up as a blend between the mind and the senses. The senses, through nerve conduction and neurotransmitters, feed the mind physical attractions. And the mind concocts designs for us to try to enjoy those attractions. The combination of these sensual attractions and the mind's concoctions create the temptations that pull us into the physical world's net.
And this net of the physical world keeps pulling at us - constantly giving us the choice of remaining away from the Supreme Being. This, as stated in Matt. 4:3, is what a test is: A choice.
Yes, we can certainly personify this system - as it has been personified by ancient teachers. And it is not incorrect to say that the Supreme Being has others help Him manage things. Yes, the Supreme Being has many servants and those who don't serve Him - who help maintain the physical world from different aspects.
For example, there have been many cruel leaders in the past who treated their subjects with painful consequences. Where was God in these circumstances? Was God not around when millions of Jews were persecuted by German leaders? Was He not around when millions were slaughtered and raped by African overlords? Did He lose control during these times as ecclesiastical institutions like to teach?
Certainly not. None of these evil leaders are God's challengers. None of them are out of God's control. Yes, each abused the power they were given by virtue of their own consequences, and they will each have to suffer the consequences of their actions, just as their actions executed the consequences of others' previous actions.
What we do not understand about these circumstances is that first, we are not these physical bodies. They are temporary vehicles. The "pain" we feel when they are damaged are nerve impulses to our brains. Just as the driver of a car is not harmed when the car breaks down, the spiritual person within is not harmed when the body is harmed or killed.
We might compare this to a video game. The video game icon we identify with might be shot or even killed, but we are not shot or killed. We simply turn off the game and walk away from the computer. In the same way, the spirit-person leaves the physical body when it dies.
So these experiences that produce pain within the physical body are merely teaching opportunities, just as being shot in a video game can teach us.
The bottom line is that the physical world - the physical senses and the mind - were set up perfectly to offer us temptations that allow us to exercise our freedom to not love God.
And the symbolism used in the event that played out between Jesus and "satan" portrays that freedom of choice precisely. It illustrates how Jesus was given the choice to exercise his self-centeredness, by being offered the notion of seeking wealth, power and fame within the physical world.
But he did not choose those. He chose to love and serve the Supreme Being - and "worship" Him - rather than "testing" God.
This is the teaching purpose of this event portrayed using personification and symbolism. We each have this choice to make: we can love and serve ourselves by chasing the various concoctions of our mind as fed by the senses - and executed through the chase for wealth, fame and power.
Or we can love and serve the Supreme Being. We have the choice.
This is the lesson provided by this event, and this is the sum and substance of the real teachings of Jesus. Jesus came to deliver to us this message that if we make the choice to love and serve the Supreme Being as our Best Friend and Soul Mate, we will be fulfilled, simply because this is our innate spiritual nature.
This is why Jesus stated clearly:
"‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’"