Evil may not necessarily be clear and obvious such as the Holocaust of World War II, the killing fields of Cambodia, or the appalling genocide in Bosnia. This is direct, obvious, and palpable evil. However, there is a more insidious evil which corrupts and enslaves the human soul in far greater numbers.
The first thing to understand is that the fallen angel known throughout recorded history as "Satan", "the Devil", or the "Father of Lies" (all terms are synonymous) is not a fictitious entity invented by man as a scapegoat for all that is wrong with the world, or as a character in horror movies. This fallen angel is an entity that has a very real and persuasive existence. Persuasive? Yes, very persuasive as may be seen from Matthew 4: vs 1. to 11.
1 Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
Two items of interest here, the first item is that Jesus knows that he is going to be tempted, and, furthermore deliberately puts himself in a physically weakened position. At this point Our Lord is tired and very hungry and receptive to temptation. Imagine how you would feel even if you had gone with minimal food for such a time. However, Jesus has chosen the battleground and sought this contest because he knows that he must personally defeat the Devil before his ministry can truly commence.
3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
At this point the tempter is only suggesting a small temptation, you can easily imagine it "Well, just change these stones into some bread and relieve your hunger. Thatís not going to do any harm, is it?"
4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
The Devil sees quite clearly that he is not going to get anywhere this way so tries another tack. He tests Jesus by suggesting that Jesus ought to demonstrate his God given powers.
5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,
6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Take note that the Devil is actually twisting things around here. Clearly he is implying that since Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore important, no harm is going to befall him. He is tempting Jesus to indulge in what would be nothing less than an "ego trip" and therefore tempting him to commit the sin of pride as well as demonstrating a lack of faith in God. However Our Lord easily rebukes the tempter. If Jesus has faith in God then He does not need to test or demonstrate anything, particularly to himself, after all, there is no-one else around.
The Devil sees quite clearly that he is not going to get anywhere with a minor attack so he now pulls out all the stops. The next offer is rather like the last throw of the dice by a ruined gambler.
8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
This is a very crucial point to note. This is an offer of total worldly power. All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Would it not appear that this offer has no meaning unless these things actually are the tempterís to give? In other words the evil one has a certain degree of temporal power because the material world is his domain. Well, it certainly seems like that from the nature of the offer, doesnít it?
Wrong, this is typical of the type of deception that Satan practices -- Satan has no real personal power.
This is, albeit high-powered and very persuasive, a typical example of the tempterís lies. The only power was that inherent within Jesus and by the Grace of God. What the Devil was doing was to tempt Jesus to abuse the powers given him by Almighty God, if thou wilt fall down and worship me, in other words he is persuading Jesus that if he completely and utterly rejects God and abuses all the powers that he has been given by God, then he can rule the world.
The Devil does not have any real powers of his own, otherwise he would not be bound by God. His only power is that he can persuade and therefore seduce people to abuse their own God-given gifts. Of himself he has nothing of any value to offer, although as can be clearly seen he attempts to make one think otherwise. Unless of course he acts under Godís will and as Godís agent as seen in the Book of Job. Even Satan is subject to the will of God because like everything else he was created by God.
(Job 1.7) And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
(Job 1.12) And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.
However, we should not be that dismissive of the Devil, Satan, because the lack of possession of powers or gifts is not going to stop him trying to cause as much evil in the world as he can. He knows his battle-ground very well and will do all in his power to enslave menís souls and prevent them from the true worship of their Creator.
In this particular instance Jesus has the right answer as seen in Matthew 4:10.
10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
11 Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
That the devil has no real power himself does not prevent him excercising other peoplesí God given powers or gifts via the act of temptation. The fallen angels, demons, or evil spirits, call them what you will, are forever on the look-out to gain advantage over Godís handiwork. One example of this can be seen by the corruption of soul that high public office, temporal power, or financial position can bring.
St. Paul was very aware of the subtle wiles of the tempter and his minions as evidenced below in his letter to the Ephesians.
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
The following verses are quite beautiful and are used in several Orders of Christian Chivalry for the installation of a Knight. They provide a very expressive and descriptive way of developing the faith to overcome evil.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
The above verses can be actively envisaged mentally as physical acts of arming oneself, like a knight, against the evils of the world.
Jesus saw the temptations of the devil very clearly and named him the "father of lies"
(John 8:44) Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
Always remember that the evil one has time on his hands. After all he is not going anywhere, there is nowhere for him to go except the place appointed for him by Almighty God.
(Revelations 12:9) And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
He has all the time in the world and more help than he needs to subvert the Creatorís work. Every little temptation accepted leads to greater temptations. Once one starts to accept small temptations it is very easy to accept further increase. One can observe this in the whole of our modern society as it comes to tolerate and accept greed and envy as desirable attributes of life.
A. J. Edwards
Colchester, Essex, United Kingdom