We read that Jesus was tempted by by the devil in Mt 4. What’s remarkable about this episode is that it is clear that Jesus aced the test. Moreover, He defeated the devil simply as a man, through merely human righteousness; thus, St. Thomas writes: “Christ resisted these temptations by quoting the authority of the Law, not by enforcing His power, ‘so as to give more honor to His human nature and a greater punishment to His adversary, since the foe of the human race was vanquished, not as by God, but as by man.'” (ST, III, 41, 4)

So that was peanuts for Jesus. But His passion was a different thing entirely. We can get an idea of His anguish from the agony in the garden: “After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ [And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.]” (Lk 22:41-44)

His second temptation then was to escape death: “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53) The fear and sorrow came from his human nature but involved the divine nature: Jesus’ humanity had to have submitted and surrendered to His divinity — and the Father’s. As a man, he sought to live; as man-God, he accepted that “all this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled.” (Mt 26:56)

There is no mention of such intensity of feeling or spiritual perilousness of the situation regarding the devil’s temptation. This second temptation was clearly far more serious.

Finally, St. Thomas writes that during His passion Christ endured practically all manner of suffering, and the “pain of Christ’s passion was greater than all other pains.” (ST, III, 46, 5/6) That was now not the devil’s intent but the Father’s. What the Father wanted was to tempt Jesus with hating mankind. He did all He could to provoke in His Son the feelings of rage, contempt, and hatred for men for the monstrous crime they were committing against Him. The third temptation was addressed not to the man Jesus but explicitly to Him as God. It was the temptation of infinite and perfect God the Son. There was no “quoting the authority of the Law” this time to breezily dispose of the matter.

Yet there is no sign whatsoever that the Son ever fell prey to this temptation. His last words to the thief were, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That is the glory that now belongs to the Son as distinct from the glory of the other two persons of the Trinity: that He loved us despite the horror of our sin against Him personally (as now the vine) then and sins we presently commit against each other (as now the branches).


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