The world seems so real. In engaging it our five senses testify to its tangible veracity; constantly compelling us to embrace the notion that ‘this world ‘is all there is. Now, of all the tempter’s nefarious deceptions, the exclusivity reality of the material world is perhaps the most ubiquitous. In it, Satan advances the notion that everything we ‘truly’ encounter is solely attributable to our material existence; materiality is all there is and all we can ever truly know. Moreover, should we in a momentary lapse, find ourselves entertaining a belief in something beyond, it is forcefully discredited by the prevailing culture as mere fantasy. Much like the myth of Santa Claus, any idea of an eternal reality beyond this present world is explained away in terms of an idealised projection of the human imagination— something ultimately unreal!
Furthermore, the deception of the exclusive reality of the material world is a multi-headed monster. It is a deception that is as comfortable in theoretical philosophy as it is in the local shopping mall. From the sophisticated philosophy of Emmanuel Kant, which divides reality by positing two realms of human experience; to basic practical religious ideologies such as ‘being too heavenly minded for any earthly use’; to the advertising campaigns of Coca Cola–the exclusive reality of the material world represents a threat of colossal proportions, continually assaulting the human quest to encounter authentic life beyond this existence.
Kant’s philosophy is a potent example of the mind games behind it. He posits that human perception operates in two dimensions. Firstly, the phenomenal represents existence as it is for me—how I experience the world. Secondly, the noumenal represents existence as it really is— the reality that I may know ‘about’, but never truly know! I may experience the sun rising, but how can I know that it really is; what is really happening? Because I, the knowing subject, am trapped in an existence of my own interpretation, the objectively real, although conceivable to my mind, is ultimately unobtainable. Therefore, reality beyond human perception is unreachable because the knower is always compelled to embrace the experience of the world through the lens of the self—a world created by me, for me!
Now, don’t feel bad if you think Kant’s philosophy is complex; it is really designed for those with social engineering in mind. I have simply included it here to remind you that this temptation has multiple levels of complexity.
Notwithstanding the clever philosophies running in the background of our everyday consciousness, Satan’s biggest weapon in his front line assault is good old fashioned covetousness—human desire. He loves to fill people’s lives up with so many material things and the desire for more and more, such that they don’t have time to consider God or the eternal consequences of life. Through relentless streams of marketing strategies, Satan inflames the latent human propensity for material acquisition; entrapping unwitting his victims by convincing them to embrace the manifold forms of retail therapy—producing that good feeling you get when a new ‘thing’ is bought. It becomes an addiction, so convincing that the addict sees no point in looking for satisfaction beyond this material existence.
Of course, once people become enamoured by the material, they soon become ignorant of the spiritual, the eternal, and the divine. They become ignorant of the things that are of the greatest importance. But this ignorance is more deeply ingrained than you might imagine. Satan creates a constant state of material anxiety by increasing temptation beyond the capacity for acquisition. Thus, when those material things are not gained, the material addict is forced into financial debt to obtain ‘the fix’. Then they have to work harder to pay off the debt, getting so caught up in working to feed the addiction that consumes their life, that there is simply no time or space in which to think about and act on the demands of God–even if they are considered theoretically true.
Yes, even Christians, who should know better, get caught up in this; many never having time enough to realize that the existence they are embracing is actually transitory, temporal, and flawed, and that the reality of eternity is rushing toward them at an alarming pace.
You see, in using these strategies, the enemy is constantly seeking to break any real link between what might be perceived as divine/eternal and the material existence that the human senses engage on a daily basis. He is content, so long as people don’t make any necessary connection between this world and the divine realities that impinge on it. All that matters to him is that humans, especially Christians, become so inured with this present material existence that they don’t allow any thought of anything beyond it to actually change how they live—even if they believe in God. In short, he wants them to become practical atheists.
That this is a specific deception of Satan is clearly revealed in Holy Scripture, being brought into sharp relief through the Gospel’s account of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert. A temptation designed to derail Jesus and his eternal destiny, prior to undertaking his public ministry in Galilee.
Temptation was always on Jesus agenda, in fact, an element of Jesus’ mission involved a necessary time of testing. So, he is led into the desert for 40 days to prove his worth as Messiah—to be tested and tempted. God’s ‘first son’ Israel (the nation) was tested for 40 years in the wilderness following the exile from Egypt; Jesus as God’s ‘second’ chosen representative and the prospective redeemer of humanity, would also undergo such testing. Would he fail to trust his father and give into his material appetites, as the ancient Israelites did, or would he prove faithful and trust God’s supernatural provision, despite the compulsion of his dire circumstances?
Of course, Satan waited till Jesus was at his weakest; the very point at which he would be most prone to temptation. So, at the end of the 40 day trial the tempter appeared to the beleaguered Jesus, believing that in this moment of utter weakness he would capitulate to the desperate cravings of the human flesh as God’s former ‘son’ had done. Indeed, Satan believed Jesus would allow the exclusive reality of the material to take precedent over a belief in the divine and God’s provision, ultimately compromising the mission to establish God’s eternal kingdom.
The temptation came in three waves; and it involved three subtle deceptions.
The first temptation involved a challenge to turn stones into bread; tempting Jesus to use his power to stop trusting God, take matters into his own hands and satisfy his immediate material needs. The corresponding deception being this: Attend to your material appetites when you have the power to do so—seek first your material needs and let God’s kingdom worry about itself. But Jesus saw through it. Yes, he had the power, but chose to seek his first God’s kingdom and trust in God’s timely provision. Jesus believed his heavenly father would meet his every need when it was ‘truly’ needed. For him, his most necessary food was to do God’s will: “It is written, Man does not live by bread alone.” Luke 4:4(NIV) Trusting God and doing his will is more necessary for human existence than striving to satisfy material appetites.
Alright then, Jesus can trust God to provide food, but could he wait to receive the promised kingdom? The second temptation appealed to the impatient ego. It represented an offer by Satan of lordship over all the kingdoms of earth— ultimate significance.
Here Satan presents a grand vision before Jesus, dominion over the entire world and a chance to be lord over the entire material realm. Satan was hoping that his weakened constitution would blind him to the deception. It did not. Jesus knew that Satan only had transitory dominion of the world, he also knew that this world order was destined to be transformed by God’s Kingdom, and more importantly he knew that exclusive worship of his heavenly father was the key to appropriating this kingdom. He replied, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ Luke 4: 8 (NIV) Jesus focus remained clear, the allurement of this transitory world faded when the vision of God’s eternal kingdom, prompted by God’s Word, came to mind.
Satan made one final attempt. This time, knowing Jesus’ reliance of God’s Word, he quoted Holy Scripture, appearing to give credibility to his challenge. This time he was challenging Jesus to prove his divine power, to demonstrate his lordship over the forces of this natural world by throwing himself off the temple and allowing the angels to rescue him. Satan said, “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully…” Luke 4:10 (NIV) Seeing though it, Jesus knew that such a spectacle would dishonour God. Jesus’ power over nature would be demonstrated in due time, but only in alignment with his heavenly father’s purposes. Fulfilling God’s will, at the appropriate time, was far more important than seeking popular approval. Jesus knew temporal praise was of little worth in God’s eternal kingdom; he kept his eyes firmly on the approval of God.
Through the account of the temptation of Christ, profound truths are revealed. Satan, in every instance attempts to reduce the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ role in it, to a crass material venture. He seeks to make Jesus ministry and life all about the here and now; the gratification of one’s immediate bodily appetites; the elevation of the self to short term worldly glory; and the appeal to popular approval through gestures of power.
Not only did Jesus resist, but in so doing, revealed a manifestly eternal and divine dimension to human life in the world—a life that is not conditioned by materiality but by divine eternality. Jesus revealed a reality in which God always provides for his children’s material needs if they seek his kingdom first; a reality that gives hope of an eternal glory that far outweighs any glory this world can offer, and a reality where God’s approval is worth far more than the approval of the crowd. Proof that Jesus’ decisions were right, was validated by the angels coming to minister to his bodily needs (Matt 4:11). Those who trust in God’s eternal kingdom, who look to the resource of his supernatural power, will never fail to procure his divine provision. They will always prove the reality of eternality.
What does Jesus’ overcoming of Satan’s temptation ultimately prove, then? As radical as it may seem to our natural perceptions, it proves that the material world we encounter and the rules we are tempted to live by in it, are not final and absolute. It proves the divine power that creates and sustains this world is available to meet all the needs (material or otherwise) of those who are willing to seek first his kingdom. God is real, his power is real, and his kingdom is real; and not just real in our imagination—ultimately real. Moreover, it proves that this is a reality that demands a response. A response of no longer living under the fearful limitations of this materialistic deception, a response that demands a life of faith in a God who meets the every need of those who trust him (material, emotional, relational etc), a response that embraces hope in an eternal destiny, and a response of a life empowered by joy.
As real as it seems, and contrary to everything you may naturally think, feel, or believe, the glittering promises of this material world are ultimately lies. How can we know? Well, the same way Jesus knew. He relied on God’s Word when the temptation came: he knew it and trusted it. You can only know what a lie is when you have the truth to compare it with.Want to know what is real, true, and ultimate? Let the truth of the Bible saturate your mind. I mean actually read it, meditate on it, memorize it: Not just a devotional verse every couple of days, but get into it; maybe a New Testament book or section of Proverbs. Take time, make time, and let God’s truth inform you of what is real, what is true, and what is ultimate. I guarantee it will be the best time you ever spend.