Many people are familiar with Goethe’s famous play Faust. As the play unfolds, Doctor Faustus makes a pact with the Devil, who agrees to serve him with knowledge, youth, love, wealth, and magical power. At the end of this pact, however, his soul is to be carried off by Satan. While Faust has been performed on stage in plays and operas, the question still remains: did he repent of his sins or face the devil’s deadline by being condemned? Although many writers and composers portray the latter, some Christian artists feel that this was a struggle in which ultimately the Spirit of God overcame evil.
Since both outcomes are plausible, I stand with the Catechism of the Catholic Church: by confronting evil as Jesus did, goodness prevails.
In Luke 4: 1-13, Jesus, having been previously anointed by the Spirit as God’s Son, is now tested in the wilderness. This story is being told from the background of Deuteronomy 8:2ff, which narrates Israel’s testing in the wilderness for 40 years. The Israelites sadly failed the test by rebelling against God, thereby compromising their covenant commitment to Him.
Now it is Jesus’ turn to be tested by Satan and the Evil One appeals, not to any weakness of Jesus, but directly to his strengths: his compassion, his commitment to the Father, and his faith. The real temptation in all this is that the devil is offering Jesus a way to be Messiah without the cross. Through the power of the Spirit, Jesus, unlike Faust, is able to resist the tempting offer to secure a legitimate end through illegitimate means, through a misuse of his power. This was probably a temptation that Jesus had to resist for his entire earthly ministry.
At the end of the third temptation, when once again Satan has been resisted, we are told that, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.” That means Satan will be back. In Luke 22:3 the devil enters into Judas. As we move through the Gospel, power will often be used against Jesus, but he will never retaliate by misusing his own messianic power. While others, including his disciples, will flounder, he will remain faithful to his Father until the very end. That is why we live in Christian hope; we can rely on Jesus for our strength in the face of all temptations.