The Three Last Temptations

The Three Last Temptations

Fasting and Temptation of Jesus.

(The Gospel History, Section 17)

And Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan; and straightway the Spirit driveth him forth into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan; and he was with the wild beasts. And he did eat nothing in those days: and when they were completed, he hungered. And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command this stone that it become bread. And Jesus answered unto him, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Again the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, in a moment of time; and he said unto him, To thee will I give all these things, and the authority, and the glory of them: for it hath been delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If therefore thou wilt fall down and worship before me, it shall all be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Then the devil taketh him to the holy city and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence; for it is written,

He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to guard thee:
And on their hands they shall bear thee up,
Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.

And Jesus answering said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

And when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from him for a season, and behold the angels came and ministered unto him.

The Three Last Temptations

(The Saviour of the World, Vol I Book II Poem VIII)

Was it thus for forty days and forty nights?
We may not know, no measure have to mete
That long Titanic conflict for the race.
Flesh-worn and spirit-weary, each assault
Left our divine Protagonist, all a Man;
Assault o’ertook assault with never pause;
The foe, who wore not flesh, knew no fatigue:
Continual frustrating of wisest orderings,
Continual blasting of green shoots of hope,
Continual searching out new points of approach,
Continual plainings of an o’ertaxed frame—
All to begin again when all was ended,—
This Armageddon fought for human-kind
Outlasted every battle men have fought
Since time began; outdid them all in anguish.
And we, poor souls, who follow, rank and file,
Endure the conflict for our Captain’s sake,
Knowing the victory ours, for He hath fought.

Now, when the Forty Days were at an end,
Three cunning last assaults prepared the foe,—
Counting on Weariness to yield the field,
Dulness of Hunger, Exhaustion’s little wit
And little strength for conflict. These we know;
These three temptations meet our human case—
The very three that found out Eve in the Garden.
“’Tis good for food,”—“Yea, hath God said?”—“As gods”:
Lust of the flesh, and pride, and lust of power,
By these men fall: temptations craftily
Devised to assail these three—how seldom fail!
And do all three come always? Are assaults
Incessant for a period, then a pause?

“See here be stones shaped each like small browned loaf:—
And why not loaves? Thou art the Son of God,
And at Thy bidding substance at the first
Took shape and properties: what worthier use
For that Thy hand hath made than feed the Maker?
Command these stones; they shall be bread to sustain
Thy famished flesh!”

But never for His use

Did Christ command those servants of His eye—
Health, Strength, and Nourishment, Success and Ease,—
“Man shall not live by bread alone,” His answer,
“But by each word that issues from God’s mouth.”
Silenced, the Accuser pondered a new thing:—
“Shall words sustain—mere breath support a life?”
The word, the breath of God, he knew was life;
A spirit, he might gauge this spirit-law.

If not for Himself, for others, sure the Christ,
Brought low by fasting and long conflict, might
Yet succumb, yield the prize of all the world:
“See, from this summit, how the nations spread
Glorious in riches, might, and better wealth
Of teeming human souls; for these Thou carest,
For these wouldst bear all pangs, for these wouldst die:
But wherefore die? How shall Thy dying profit?
The people worship triumph, not defeat;
What is’t to them that One should die for them
A mean, inglorious death? Nay, live for them;
Take on Thee royal pomp; spread bounties wide
As the sun’s light, and cordial as his warmth;
Reign Thou in righteousness, and abundant peace
Shall bless the nations, zealous for Thy law!
But worship me in this thing, let me guide
The first steps of Thy course, Saviour of men,
And well I’ll labour to advance Thy cause!
For pride of life, success, authority,
And glory of the world, Thou knowest right well
To me have been delivered; to whom I will
I give; from whom, withhold; but worship me,
And all these shall be thine—a world to save!”

But never specious lie, fallacious truth,
Distorted yet the vision of the Man,
Not wilful and not proud, nor seeking aught
But service of men, unmeasured, infinite;
In obedience, His stronghold; there is a Word
Shall clear illusive mists: “Satan, go hence,”
Jesus answered to him, “for it is written,
Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God; Him only
Shalt thou serve.” What room for other service,
Obeisance to the false to attain the true,
A short and easy way to save the world?
This sought not Christ:—“Lo, I am willing,” saith He.

One cunning last assault Apollyon made;
He, the proud spirit, knew the ways of pride;
Thought that he knew pride ruled in every breast;
Believed Almighty God in very pride
Had cast him, rebel, from high seats of heaven.
Out to the holy city he led Him forth,
Set Him on high on pinnacle of the temple,
That high place whence men ask for signs from God;—
“Thou art the God that answereth our call,
Do Thou this thing that we demand of Thee!”
That place of pride where men would rule, not serve:—
“Compel this people’s faith,” saith he to Christ,
“Cast Thyself down before the gazing crowd
And reach the ground from giddy height, unharmed,
Unruffled by a hair; for it is writ”
(He, too, the Scriptures knoweth), “He shall give
His angels charge concerning Thee, to guard,
And in their hands to bear Thee up, lest haply
Thou dash Thy foot against a stone:—if, sooth,
Thou be the very Son of God! What man
Dare then lift eyelid to oppose Thy work,
Accredited of High God by open sign?”
And Jesus answered, heedless of beguilings,
Nor amending quoted word with “in Thy ways”
(What angel guardianship for runagates?)—
Jesus gave answer straight-aimed at th’ offence—
’Tis not for man, not for the Son, to challenge
His God on this or on the other issue,
Man’s part to follow way prepared of God.—
And Jesus, answering, said to him, “’Tis written
Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”

With that,

The Devil had completed all temptations
And departed from Him—for a season, mark!
Then, wistful, watching angels came and ministered,
Restored the weary spirit, exhausted frame,
Of that spent Warrior, Captain of God’s hosts.

Did angelic pæans fill the heavens once more
For this, the Second Act in our Redemption,
As for the First, accomplished in Bethlehem?
The Conqueror bore scars, and mortal fear
(For He was mortal) of anguish in resisting,
Through days and weeks, attack upon attack,
Flesh failing, spirit fainting, yet no pause
In urgency of temptation! Our Great High Priest
Learned in the wilderness what men endure
Who resist the devil for dear sake of Christ.
Henceforth, His watchfullest care, His tenderest words
Most pitiful, were for His own when He,
Who knows the spirit’s conflicts, saw approach
To disciple, unaware, the assailing Devil.

What fragments gather we for our distress?
Apollyon is another, not ourself;
The heart takes courage against foe without:
There is some Word of God which every thrust
Will parry, so, it ne’er be made again:
The conflict is incessant, lasteth long:
The foe our armour trieth at each point:
Watch, must we; he is specious, knowing how
Through avenue of our good to lead his evil:
His temptings have a period, a set time,
When he must raise the siege, an hold we out:
Then angels come and minister to us—
Nigh beaten, wearied, sore at every point—
The tender comfortings of God, the cheer
Of brothers who hold up our hands in prayer:
A vanquished enemy annoys our march;
A foe to be lightly turned, an knew we how:
Ours but the perils of a foughten field,
But unwary stragglers from the line of march
Are harried by that vigilant enemy.

But He is pitiful to all poor souls:
As tender mother stretches forth her arms
To save her falling infant, so doth He,
Our watchful Saviour, stretch out word of help,
And bids us pray,—He who was led of the Spirit
To wilderness to be tempted of the Devil,—
“Our Father, lead us not into temptation!”
Thus far was our salvation there accomplished,
That never feeble soul shall cry aloud—
“Father, deliver me from the Evil One!”
But straightway comes deliverance from that peril.
Knowing right well how weakened frame invites
The inroads of the foe, Christ bids us pray
That we be not an hungered:—“Give us this day,
And day by day, for every day our bread!”
Oft as we fall, for we shall fall, “Forgive!”
Be these four all His gatherings in the waste?—
Whom we shall worship—“Hallowed be Thy name!”
The subjecting of every wilful motion
Of restive human heart—“Thy will be done!”
The loyalty begot of conflict sore—
“Thy kingdom come, O God, to me and all men,
The righteous rule we may not disobey!”—
These trophies of that Field of Forty Days
He gathers in one sheaf of prayer, “Our Father”;
And bids us, “When ye pray, say” thus and thus.

Glory to the Father, who hath given the Son,
And to the Son, who for mankind endured
For forty days temptation in the Wild;
And to the Spirit, who gives strength to men,
That they may, in their turn, resist the Devil!


St. Luke iv. 1-13.
St. Matthew iv. 1-11.
St. Mark i. 12, 13.