The desert hissed as the snake rose up. He looked steadily at Jesus, then darted across the clearing. Jesus hesitated only a second, then ran after him eagerly.
‘What’s he doing?’ Zadkiel cried, as he ruffled his wings.
‘He appears to be laughing.’ God said — only mildly surprised.
Indeed, Jesus was relieved now. So many days straining against silence, letting the words run round his head. At last there was a focus, and adversary, a way to test it all.
The snake led him to point where the desert met hillside, and coiled himself seductively around a pile of stones.
The desert hissed again. “If you are the Son of God… (if… ifff ) Command these stones to become bread.”
Jesus’ eyes narrowed as he looked at the stone, baking in the heat of the sun. ‘Clever worm,’ he thought. This was indeed what he’d been thinking day after day as he weighed up the rocks, touched them to his lips.
He could do it, surely. If he was the Son of God. Stone into bread. Water into wine. He could do it. But not like this. Not to prove his own power.
He picked a rough stone from the desert floor and threw it into the midst of the snake-sweet pile. Stones scattered, and the worm darted to safety.
Jesus answered him, ‘It is written: one does not live by bread alone.
The snake eyed him warily, then circled his feet. The desert hissed as the snake slipped up the path and Jesus ran to follow him.
‘Not again!’ Zadkiel moaned. ‘Let me go to him.’
‘Not yet.’ God said. ‘He is quite safe.’
The snake led Jesus to the very top of the cliff. He coiled himself on the ledge, and Jesus leaned out over it. Below, the light danced on the hot sand. Jesus could see whole worlds shimmering: coast-lands and cities, rivers and trees. The snake rose and said, ‘To you, I will give all their glory and authority. If you worship me, it is yours.’
Jesus laughed at the paucity of the offer. He could see the scrub disturbing the flow of the illusion. The snake had got this one wrong. Jesus rebuked him. ‘It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ He saw the snake flinch with the truth of it.
The snake was cross now, and gave no signal before he raced to the top of the hill where the stones rose as temple pillars. ‘If you are the Son of God. IF. IFF. Throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “He will give his angels charge over you, and they will bear you up.”‘
‘Oh, he is clever.’ Zadkiel whispered, in grudging admiration.
‘Oh yes. Too clever for his own good.’ God said, unperturbed.
Jesus looked quite calm now. He watched as a beetle scurried up from a crack in the rock. He bowed to it, and blessed it, and said ‘It is said: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ And the desert began to hiss with the snake’s wrath.
‘Now!’ God said, so suddenly that Zadkiel nearly missed his cue. Soon the sky was filled with wings and songs of praise. The angels came to Jesus and tended him in love.
the earlier part of this story
can be found here.