Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus - Lesson 2, Part 2


Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

This article is the third in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the public life of Jesus. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance—and the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.

The Temptation of Spiritual and Political Leadership (Part 2 of 3)

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.[1]


In a previous article,[2] we began to examine the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and the interpretation of that event by the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky as contained in The Brothers Karamazov.[3]

In a famous chapter entitled The Grand Inquisitor the intellectual brother, Ivan, challenges the spirituality and Christian commitment of his younger brother Alyosha by telling him he is working on a poem set in Spain in which Jesus returns to earth during the Spanish Inquisition. In the poem, Ivan imagines that Jesus is immediately arrested and imprisoned by the Church authorities on charges of heresy—of adding to what he has said of old which in the opinion of the Church he has no right to do. One dark night, the Grand Inquisitor himself visits the Christ to interrogate and lecture him—arguing that Jesus’ greatest mistake was to ignore the advice of that “wise and dread Spirit, the spirit of self-destruction and non-existence”[4] (Satan) when he met with Jesus in the wilderness. If only Jesus had heeded that advice (“the temptation”) and based the direction and tenor of his leadership upon it, the work of the Church would have been so much more successful and mankind would have been so much happier and more fulfilled.

The first temptation offered by the wise and dread Spirit is for Jesus to win the allegiance of mankind by turning stones into bread—“Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!”[5] But Jesus rejects that diabolical advice by saying, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”[6]

The Second Temptation:  Give Them a Show

Having failed with the first temptation, Satan now tries a different tack. “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: “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.” ’ ”[7]

From Dostoyevsky’s perspective, what Satan is really saying here is, if you, Jesus, really want men to notice and follow you, then give them a show! Do something spectacular to attract their attention and something mysterious, defying explanation, to pique their curiosity, and something seemingly miraculous to win them over. Come here to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem where everybody can see you. Call out, “Look at me! Look at me!” until every eye and every camera is fixed upon you. Then hurl yourself down, and just before you hit the pavement stones, have your Father’s angels swoop down and catch you. (In support of this argument, Satan even quotes Scripture, the 91st Psalm.) Do that, Jesus, and you will make the evening news on every television network and the headlines in every newspaper. The scene will go viral on YouTube. People will be attracted to you by the millions. But whatever you do, Jesus, don’t go about trying to win the masses by asking them to choose to follow you by the un-coerced and unsupported exercise of their free will. They can’t do it. They won’t do it. Instead, they’ll go running after whoever gives them the show that you refuse to give them.

Jesus’ Response to the Second Temptation

What was Jesus’ response to this second temptation? Note that he did not deny that there was a role for the miraculous in his public ministry. But, as he was later to demonstrate, most often he performed miracles in response to faith, not as a means of generating it.[8] In fact, he rebuked those who followed him only to see or experience a miracle[9] and who were constantly looking for “signs” that would compel them to believe.[10]

Therefore, Jesus rejects Satan’s invitation to leap from the pinnacle of the temple and to demonstrate his deity through a spectacular deliverance. Jesus does so by quoting Scripture: “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”[11] Caesar and the political leaders of the Roman Empire might win the temporary allegiance of the masses by offering them bread and circuses, but Jesus rejects both of these as illegitimate and unacceptable means to acquire a following.

Again the Grand Inquisitor strongly rebukes him: “Thou didst crave for free love (i.e., love freely given) and not the base raptures of the slave before the might that has overawed him forever.”[12] “Is the nature of men such, that they can reject miracles and at the great moments of their life, the moments of their deepest, most agonizing spiritual difficulties, cling only to the free verdict of the heart?”[13] Of course not!

“There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive forever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness—those forces are miracle, mystery and authority. Thou has rejected all three and hast (regrettably, in the opinion of the Grand Inquisitor) set the example for doing so.”[14]

Implications for Us

What are the contemporary equivalents of this second temptation for would-be spiritual or political leaders today and how would we—how should we—respond to it?

In our day, is much of so-called televangelism—the Hollywood-style entertainment excesses of many of the television preachers—anything other than succumbing to this second temptation? Are we also not succumbing to this temptation when we attempt to fill our churches by substituting religious entertainment for worship and substantive communication of the gospel with its demands for service and self-sacrificial love?

Similarly, with respect to contemporary secular politics, is not this the temptation to put image ahead of substance, to substitute appearances for reality, and to employ all the techniques and stratagems of “image politics” to win support for our cause or candidacy?

This is a theme that Malcolm Muggeridge, the famous British correspondent and one-time editor of Punch, elaborated on under the heading of "The Fourth Temptation."[15] Muggeridge imagines that a wealthy Roman tycoon passing through Galilee happens to hear Jesus speaking and teaching and concludes that there would be a public appetite for his message. He proposes to “puff Jesus” using all the techniques of modern communications and employing the highly respected public relations firm of Lucifer Inc. to put on the Jesus show and make him a superstar. But Jesus turns him down, for the same reasons he resisted this temptation in the wilderness.

Again, like most powerful temptations, there is an element of truth to it. Political effectiveness and influence require powerful communications, and there was no more powerful communicator than Jesus Christ. The work of God in the world is both miraculous and mysterious, and Jesus understood and used both miracle and mystery in conducting that work.

Yet, what was his response to this temptation to use the spectacular, the marvellous, and the mysterious to capture and entertain the masses of his day and sweep them into his kingdom camp on an emotional flood of temporary euphoria?

He resisted it! He used miracles to reward faith but not to create it. He said it was a wicked and adulterous generation that sought after a sign. He also quoted the scriptural prohibitions against tempting God by asking him to bless and honour spiritual circuses.

How then do we—how should we—respond to this temptation? The Grand Inquisitor says, “Accept as offered the advice of the wise and dread Spirit to win men’s allegiance by employing the spectacular, the marvellous, the mysterious.” Jesus says, “Reject it—do not by so doing put the Lord your God to the test.”

[1] Matthew 4:1

[2]Faith and Politics: Lessons in Leadership from the Public Life of Jesus, “The Temptation of Spiritual and Political Leadership, Lesson 2 Part 1”.

[3]  Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (New York: Signet Classics, 1986).

[4] Ibid., 244-245

[5] Ibid., 246

[6] Matthew 4:4

[7] Matthew 4:5-6

[8] Two examples of this can be seen in Matthew 9:20-22 and 27-29.

[9] John 6:26-27

[10] “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a [miraculous] sign!” Matthew 12:39

[11] Matthew 4:7

[12] The Brothers Karamazov, 249

[13] Ibid., 248

[14] Ibid.

[15] Malcolm Muggeridge, Christ and the Media (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979), “Lecture One, The Fourth Temptation,” 39-41.


Source: Marketplace Institute

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