Have you ever been reading your Bible and stopped to think, “Woah. I wonder what that was like.”
As part of our fall Bible study, I’d been reading about the Temptation of Christ in the desert. I had that ho-hum feeling I sometimes get that makes me say, “Oh, yeah. I know this one. Three temptations, three scriptural refutations. Check!”
You can roll your eyes at me if you want. I’m rolling my eyes at myself.
Thankfully, my study questions slowed me down, and as I was reading, the scene started to take shape in my mind.
Jesus had just been baptized.
“And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17).
It seems like there should have been a reception with cake and a certificate of baptism, but instead of cake, the Spirit led Jesus to a fast:
“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” (Matthew 4:1).
Jesus was starving to death in the desert, and the devil invited him to do some crazy cliff jumping with no harness to see if God would really do what he promised. Would God “command his angels concerning [Jesus]” so that he wouldn’t suffer harm.
It occurred to me that Jesus was already suffering harm. He was hungry, lonely, and tired, and the devil was taking jabs, “Didn’t your Father say he’d command his angels….” And quite frankly, that’s exactly what God had said:
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.Psalm 91:11-12
But for 40 days, God hadn’t command his angels to prevent harm, and his Son, with whom he was well pleased, languished in the desert.
I started to wonder what kind of pleading was going on in the throne room of God.
Were angels begging for permission to rescue their King?
Were they waiting for a command?
Was God pained to watch this torture unfold on earth?
Did God have to command his angels to stay put?
What kind of divine restraint was required to allow this to continue?
Our Bible study group discussed the story. We noticed how brazenly the devil taunted Jesus in his vulnerable state. We saw how Jesus used God’s word to talk back to the devil and maintained his authority to command the devil to leave him alone. Then we came to the last verse:
“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him” (Matthew 4:11).
God did what he’d promised. He commanded his angels to attend to Jesus at just the right time.
One woman in our group said, “I wonder what that was like.” I’d been wondering too, so I wrote the scene as I imagined it might have happened.
I hope you enjoy it, but more than that, I hope you’ll notice that suffering isn’t always a result of personal sin, and that God will do what he’s promised at just the right time.
Gabriel stood with his hand hovering over the hilt of his sword. He stared through a nearly imperceptible veil separating the throne room of God from the Judean wilderness. From Gabriel’s side, the veil was as transparent as crystal. Nothing obstructed his view.
Gabriel’s Creator, the King he had served from the moment he’d been formed, lay curled at the bottom of a desert ravine, near death. His eyes were sunken and closed, and Gabriel thought he could have passed for a dead man. Gabriel knew better. The time had not yet come.
He turned to Almighty and asked, “Now?”
A voice like rushing waters came from the throne, “Not quite yet.”
They both stared through the thin veil, separating heaven from earth. The King’s lips were cracked and quivering, but Gabriel knew those faint movements weren’t the twitches of a starving man. They were the silent prayers of a Son to his Father. Even as the King prayed, droplets of blood appeared in the cracks of his lips.
Gabriel picked up a jar made of such pure gold that its body was translucent. He dipped it in the River of Life and let it fill.
Michael approached Gabriel at the veil. Together they watched as a dark figure bent over their crumpled King. The King’s eyes flickered open. The dark figure stumbled backward, tripping on a stone. He kicked the stone, and it rolled to a stop near the King’s head. He laughed and taunted.
Gabriel and Michael drew their swords and glanced back at the Almighty, watching for a nod or the lifting of a divine finger.
The weakened King spoke from the earth, but his words echoed in the throne room, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Gabriel and Michael listened for that word of command to proceed, but none came.
Instead, the throne room began to rumble, and thumping wings stirred the air as angels fell into line behind Michael and Gabriel. Leaves on the Tree of Life rustled, but none fell. Fragrance from its fruit and blossoms floated on the breeze and overpowered the lingering stench of deception wafting in from the desert.
The King had pushed himself up to a sitting position, and the hosts of heaven sighed relief to know he was still alive. The dark figure flew to the top of a mountain, and Gabriel heard him shout, “Throw yourself down! Didn’t your Father say he would command his angels concerning you? You won’t even strike your foot against a stone if your Father tells the truth!”
Michael and Gabriel lunged toward the thin veil at the mention of their angelic order, thinking it was time. Wings thrummed behind them, ready to attend to the King. The veil ruffled in the breeze like a curtain in the wind. Just a breath from the Father and the veil would part.
Gabriel watched the Father, his face creased with focused attention toward his Son. The throne nearly vibrated with power demanding to be released, but the Father restrained his mighty hand for the moment.
The dark figure thrust his own hands under the King’s arms and forced him to stand. The King was dizzy and stumbled to one side as though he may fall, Gabriel reached toward the veil that he might catch him, but a voice like rushing waters restrained him, “Just a moment, Gabriel.”
Gabriel drew back his hand. The veil was hot.
Just as the King had steadied himself, the dark figure whispered, “Bow and worship me.”
Heaven erupted with a rhythmic fervor, and the winged army behind Gabriel chanted, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole Earth is full of his glory!”
The wind of their wings was fierce, whipping Gabriel’s tunic around his feet. The Tree of Life neither bent nor swayed, but the wing-whipped gusts lifted its branches higher, exposing its beautiful fruit. Gabriel longed to pluck a basketful for the King, but for now, the King’s “food” was to do the will of God and endure this test. The time for feasting would come later.
The King stood, staggered, then as though drawing strength from the other side of the invisible veil, he raised his hoarse voice and commanded, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only!'”
Then, like thunder rumbling from the throne came the command, “Go!”
The veil parted just as the King began to fall, and Gabriel and Michael flew to steady him. They each caught an arm so he wouldn’t strike his head or foot against the desert stones.
Throngs of angels rushed through the parted veil, winged attendants finally uncaged. They encircled the King, surrounding him with a protective perimeter, seven angels deep. Gabriel and Michael helped him sit, and the King leaned back against a large rock that seemed fitted to his back. Gabriel offered the golden jar, and the King drank. A few swallows, and he began to choke and cough. Gabriel lowered the jar. The King wiped his mouth with his sleeve and whispered, “A little more.” Gabriel lifted the jar again.
From within the wall of angels came the attendants. One unfurled a linen sheet over the desert floor and invited Jesus to lay or sit upon it, whichever was most comfortable for him. Another brought a basket of bread and a jar of olive oil. One took out a loaf, tore off the end, and dipped it in the oil. She reached into the basket again and drew out a pinch of salt, which she sprinkled on the oil-soaked bread.
She knelt, bowed her head, and held it out to her King.
Gabriel and Michael stood beside the seated King as the angels attended him, meeting his needs. There was a cloth and basin to wash his face and tattered robe and wine and oil to salve wounds the desert had inflicted.
Gabriel marveled as color and strength returned to the King. The angels had walked him back from the precipice overlooking the valley of death. It wouldn’t be the last time the King would have to peer into that dark chasm. Next time, Gabriel knew, they would not be summoned to break the fall.