Upon Jesus rested a frightful weight of decision. Every act, every word, every inner impulse with Him must be, not high, but of the very highest. Everything had to be truth and holiness. Any man would have collapsed under this burden, and even to attempt it would have destroyed him. This is the truly incomprehensible: that Jesus not only bears this burden, but that He bears it naturally, freely. Words are not strong enough to express the marvel of the divine ease under a burden so heavy.
What does the Father's will require of Jesus? That He bring near the kingdom of God, exercise His lordship over the people first called, and through them begin, in this world, the transformation of existence into the “new man”, living under a “new heaven" upon a “new earth". For that to come about, however, the people must turn to Him in faith and love. He brings them the fullness of grace and salvation, but they must be allowed to accept it freely. And this in the face of a history centuries old, filled to overﬂowing, as the Old Testament shows, with examples of disobedience, apostasy and rebellion, all of which is potentially present in habits of mind and spirit. The people to whom the Messiah came with His Gospel had entrenched themselves in attitudes and ideas which served to
intensify their stubbornness. To proclaim the Gospel meant, then, to unroll the whole meaning of this people’s existence.
He who brings what is completely new, upon which everything turns, calls forth, at the same time, everything old, and draws from it the conclusions of the whole past. This He was called to do with genuine respect for man’s freedom. That freedom must be as genuine as the decision with which man is faced is great. Jesus must proclaim, but not influence; teach, but not recruit; warn, but not alarm; impress, but not compel. He must show neither weakness not passion. He must not protect Himself, give ground, or flee. He penetrates into the depths of men’s souls, knows their every impulse. He has power not only over their thoughts, imaginings and feelings, but direct power over nature as well. This power, in all divine sincerity, He must not use to bend man's will. It is from this point of view that we must try to understand the temptations which offer Him the opportunity of making use of that power in the service of His own will and thereby of spoiling the purity of His redemptive work. Do we have the slightest inkling what such a life must have been? To have brought salvation and endless opportunity to men, and at the same time to have been unable to use the least constraint? To have seen men needy and abandoned, and to have been unable in any way, and for their own good, to persuade or to compel them?
Jesus knows that history, from its very earliest beginnings, has moved toward Him. Now it surges and mounts up about Him. He knows that all the evil of the past has aroused itself and turns against him, drawing the consequences, and He is obliged to give it full sway. He may speak, teach, warn, exercise His goodness, generosity and miraculous power in man's behalf, but only in such a way that neither man’s freedom nor the responsibility for his own acts is impaired. Jesus sees how the decision inclines against Him, and through what people, what miserable acts, what chance happenings! He sees how everything is converging toward a climax, of the frightfulness of which the hour in Gethsemani gives us an intimation - and He may do nothing to avert it. And that not because of any
weakness, indecision or yielding in His nature, but out of the perfection of pure courage and divine responsibility.
Behind this, arrayed against Him, stands the Adversary. Now he will accomplish what he had been unable to achieve through the temptation, namely, induce Jesus to betray His Father’s will, be it from fear or rebellion, from injured pride, or zeal for His mission - or even from compassion for mankind - and if for only the briefest moment, for He who would betray God’s will was no mere man, but the Son of God. Then God would be standing in opposition to Himself and, let us admit what must be admitted - it would have meant the end of God.
In the fact that this did not happen lies Jesus’ triumph. His “battle" is no encounter of power against power, no struggle for supremacy of strength against strength, no concentration of will against an enemy, but something entirely different, something inconceivably great, pure, quiet - namely, endurance in pure truth, actualization of the divine will to the utmost limit, perfect freedom in the fullness of possibilities, generosity and love in absolute perfection.
We have already said that the most frightful thing about sin was that no one had been able to measure its actual power. No one knew of what it might finally be capable, and Satan’s deception - deception of himself who lives by lying - gave the appearance of having the power to divorce God from truth,
and in so doing to dethrone Him whose sovereignty rests upon His worthiness to receive power and glory, honour and adoration. The Adversary had carried out the temptation with every means he could devise, but with the result that Christ proved to be the perfection of obedience and love. Then it became clear that God is not only greater than the powers of nature, not only more powerful than the will of man, but stronger even than sin. That point had been contested, and was now proved. Then was given to God the honour which belongs to Him. Then began that mysterious judgment of which John speaks often, and of which the final judgment at the end of the world will be the revelation.
“The Faith and Modern Man”, Romano Guardini, Chapter 11, The Adversary.