The First Degree and the Journey in the Wilderness
By Brother Marius Redelinghuys
Presented on 19 January 2017 at Lodge De Goede Verwachting
The Temptation of Christ and his journey in the wilderness in reflects the journey of the Candidate who wishes to become an Apprentice Freemason. The tale, as conveyed in the fourth verses of the gospels of St Matthew and St Luke, is here treated allegorically, engaging in a figurative and symbolic reading of the text, to extract its meaning for the Apprentice Freemason and his journey towards self-knowledge.
The King James Version of the Holy Bible is used in the text below, with the assistance of Strong’s Concordance and Thayer’s Greek Lexicon to obtain metaphorical and figurative translations for the original Greek.
The Candidate, like the 30-year-old Jesus, having lived an earthly life, desires a more meaningful life.
He stands prepared to be “led up by the Spirit [inspiration] into the wilderness [a place of solitude and isolation] to be tempted [tested] by the devil [worldly and the desires of the flesh]”. The “devil” can also be rendered as the traducer, a person who exposes or displays, in this case, the worldly state in which the Candidate finds himself. Similarly, the “devil” can be “metaphorically applied to a man who, by opposing the cause of God, may be said to act the part of the devil [the darkness] or to side with him”.
This inspiration towards enlightenment compares with the desire of a Candidate to become a Freemason. He was first prepared in his heart, “through the ideas he had formed of the Brotherhood”, in other words his awareness the existence of a path towards enlightenment and self-knowledge.
Having then undertaken this first step, he finds himself in the solitude of the Preparation Room. He is stripped of all metals and trinkets, all signs of wealth and rank, to contemplate his desire for self-knowledge through the teachings and instructions of the Order. This is similar to the fasting – religious abstention and deprivation – that Jesus endures whilst in the wilderness.
At the end of this period of self-reflection and deprivation, the Candidate hungers, metaphorically, ardently craves or seeks with eager desire, in this case, enlightenment.
However, before this desire and craving may be satisfied, three trials or tests must be undertaken.
It is significant that Jesus, like the Candidate, has to undergo three trials on the path to self-knowledge.
During his first journey the hungering Jesus is tempted by an offering of the pleasures of food and drink. The Candidate is similarly tested by the dangers and difficulties of life, obstacles (like hunger and thirst, dangers and temptations) on life’s journey to which he submits, voluntarily or involuntarily, and chooses to overcome or not.
Overcoming these difficulties and obstacles require self-examination, an understanding of the nature of man, the first step towards purification and sanctification.
We also find that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God”. Man, and a Freemason in particular, shall be guided by the teachings, values and morals of the Volume of the Sacred Law, and not simply carnal desires.
Along the journey of life we struggle with constant bombardment by sudden attacks, by wild alarms and formidable enemies. We undertake this struggle, we are lead to the highest pinnacle, and tempted to cast ourselves down like the prideful man who ascends these heights with “the greatest unconcern”, considering “himself the strongest”.
Yet, as the first journey signifies, it is he that approaches the struggles of life in this manner that “is often nearest to the fall”. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18 (KJV).
Instead, the Candidate that knows himself, “arms himself” against these struggles, he is not discouraged nor is his peace of mind disturbed. He, like Jesus, engages his formidable enemy, whilst not despising him, instead seeing him for what he is.
He does not tempt or test the character or power of the Lord his God1, the Master of Divine Providence. As symbolised by the Bitter Cup, “by self-knowledge and his trust in [The Grand Architect of the Universe], and the assistance thereby obtained, he is enabled to overcome the bitterness of life”.
It is worth noting here that the Greek word “temple”, in both Matthew and Luke, is also used for the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. It is significant to our Order, as Artemis is the Greek goddess of the Moon, and her twin brother, Apollo, the god of the Sun.
In our Lodges, “the sun enlightens the day, the moon the night”, and the Master of the Lodge, the High Priest of the Temple so to speak, the embodiment of the Wisdom and teachings of our Order, enlightens both day and night.
Finally, Jesus is asked by the tempter to be led by his passions, greed in particular, and to submit to these. He is offered all the kingdoms of the world, all that is earthly, if he worships his passions.
The Candidate “to prove a victor in the strife of passions” and “discovers the impure sources of his actions”, must know himself. Jesus rejected these passions and instead worships and serves the Lord his God2, the Master of Divine Providence. This worship and service of The Grand Architect of the Universe, is a decision Man makes voluntarily, consciously, and purposefully.
When the Candidate does the same, when he calmly and at peace, undertakes the journey of life, he discovers the gifts of Divine Providence. Of interest is the origins of this word, from the Latin providentia, "foresight, prudence"; from pro- "ahead" and videre "to see", also, the “knowledge of the future” that awaits Man once he has completed the journey of this life.
Man, “in his existence on earth and in his soul3”, discovers the Light, the bonds of Brotherhood that and the path that connects Man with the Divine.
“The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:16 (KJV)
Those who dwelled in obscurity, metaphorically, in “ignorance about divine things and human duties.., in whom darkness held sway”, saw a Great Light; in those who sat in the realm mortality a Light rose up. Having endured his trials, the message of Jesus was to repent – to think differently and reconsider – because elevation, the realm of happiness, eternity and power, is approaching.
As we are taught, these three trials collectively signify an increase of Knowledge: of the fallibility of Man and the exalted of the Divine.
The Entered Apprentice, in each journey as Jesus did, rejects the deadly sins of gluttony, avarice and pride; and strives towards the virtues of chastity, temperance, and humility. “Self-knowledge [makes] him humble and cautious”.
After these three trials, at the age of three, the Entered Apprentice, embarks on a journey of self-knowledge and in the Light.
Jesus afterwards discovered and approached Simon and Peter, James and John, and they became his Brethren. Similarly, the Entered Apprentice finds that he has Brethren who accompany him on the Great Path towards Enlightenment.
1. As rendered in Matthew 4:7 (KJV)
2. As in 1 above
3. In other words, that which links him with the Divine.