Seeing the Ukraine Conflict in the Temptations of Christ


This video caught my eye.

The Ukrainian soldiers trying to recover their dignity by “going to work” guarding warplanes. The Russian troops (sans flags) preventing their advance to their base, firing warning shots. This is of course a showdown.


This is the first week of lent and the common lectionary gospel reading has Matthew’s version of the temptations of Christ

It is interesting to see the Ukrainian conflict through the lens of the text.

You’ve got bread: the conflict over the economics of the corrupt Ukraine. Europe wades in with 15 billion dollar bail out to try to keep the Ukraine in their sphere.

You’ve got the cameras. Satan invites Jesus to display his divinity by playing “catch the messiah” off the pinnacle of the temple.

How do the cameras play into the confrontation between the Ukrainian and Russian soldiers? How do the cameras shape the meaning of the event? Do the cameras create the meaning of the event? Why do protesters around the world make signs in English in the hopes of moving American observers to move the American government to move the outcome to their advantage?

You’ve got military/political power. The Ukraine has been the rope in a tug of war between the West and Russia for some time now. The slow escalation of violence was happening in the protests and then Russia moved the armies in.

The political/military power vs. economic power conflict is only enabled because Russia respects the military power of the West and the nuclear deterrent. Now the hope for avoiding more war is negotiations between the Russians and the West, the Ukraine being in some way a minor player in the negotiations over their future.

In the temptations Satan invites Jesus to engage him at all three levels.

It is interesting to note Satan’s place in this conflict. Everyone in the Ukrainian conflict will find a human, political adversary with which to contend in each of these spheres of conflict. They will struggle over bread/economics, reputation/image, military power locating their enemy in flesh and blood across the field of battle.

Satan stands above this, not as the Romans against the Jews, but as an adversary making the Romans, Russians, American, Europeans as proxies. In the conflict between Jesus and Satan humanity is as the Ukraine in the negotiations between Putin and the West.

The Temptation

Satan invites Jesus to use his power over economics, reputation/image and military power (Jesus as Storm God) to win for his side. Jews can replace Romans. Mosaic law can replace the Roman way. Athletes wear clothes and public baths are shut down. Jesus wins the culture war.

Jesus doesn’t bite because he knows that if he wins the culture war in this way Satan wins. If Jesus wins the Ukraine in this way Satan wins.

Theodore of Mopsuestia notes “It is not through miracles but by patient, long-suffering endurance that must prevail over the devil.”

Jesus wins by being hungry when he could use power to turn stones into bread. Jesus wins by being mocked, abused, scorned, rejected. Jesus wins by his humiliating defeat on a Roman cross.

Did Jesus Win?

I can understand some 2000 years later someone claiming “Jesus won nothing”.

He’s far more famous and has many who pledge allegiance to him. He changed human history more than any other man ever has. There is a regard in the world for the poor and the weak and an appreciation for love and benevolence the likes of which the Classical pagans cannot take credit for. The tiny early church would overcome the Roman Empire. We all make up our own minds on this matter.

I can’t accept claiming that Jesus wins by economics, good publicity and an army of swords.

If the church is to be intelligibly understood within the story line of Jesus’ temptations in the gospels, I imagine we’ll see a church like Jesus, losing economically, losing in its reputation, and losing politically, but yet enduring mysteriously and compellingly in ways we sometimes recognize in glimpses.

In some ways the final judgment of Jesus stands between Good Friday and the Resurrection. Do those who lose their lives for Jesus find it? The answer is lived out every day and an answer will be given but today we are offered invitations to use power to make bread for ourselves, gain popularity for ourselves and grab political and military power for ourselves. What say you?

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in How to become a Christian, Institutional Church, Missional and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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