Hollywood did not invent the sequel. At the very least, it goes back to the ancient Greek author Aeschylus. Much later, Milton wrote Paradise Regained, a sequel to Paradise Lost.
After asking the Holy Spirit to bless his work, Milton offered a poetic version of the familiar Bible story concerning the baptism of Jesus Christ. This set the stage for the epic struggle about to take place.
Satan was dismayed when he heard God the Father proclaim: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The arch-devil had seduced Adam and Eve and had led his evil hosts from hell to the realm of light. However, God had promised that a Descendant of Eve would crush his power. When he heard these words proclaimed from heaven, he knew that the promised Descendant had come.
Satan was not going to give up without a fight. He summoned his evil hosts and explained the danger that threatened them. The demons agreed that Satan should handle this crisis. They hoped that their fearless leader could deceive the Son of God, just as he had seduced Adam and Eve at the beginning of time.
Meanwhile, God the Father knew what was in Satan’s mind. In a conversation with Gabriel, he mentioned the final battle in which His Son would utterly defeat the forces of evil. However, before that happened, a preliminary skirmish was to take place. God the Father was going to expose His Son to the temptations of Satan. He knew that His Son would emerge victorious.
The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. Since He was alone, He had plenty of time to think. He mused on His experiences as He was growing up. He remembered how Mary had encouraged His lofty thoughts. He understood His mission on earth and knew that it would lead to sufferings and death.
He remained in the wilderness for forty days. During this time, wild beasts were His only company. They grew tame in His presence and did not harm Him, even when He slept in whatever makeshift shelter He could find. All the while, He had nothing to eat.
At the end of this forty-day period, an aged man approached Him. He was dressed in rustic clothes and seemed to be kindhearted. He pointed out that many people died of hunger when they wandered into this desolate region.
The old man told him that he had heard the baptizing prophet call him the Son of God. Accordingly, he suggested: “If Thou be the Son of God, command that out of these hard stones be made Thee bread.” To encourage compliance with his suggestion, he pointed out that such a miracle would keep Him alive. In addition, the old man said that he himself would like to eat some bread, since his usual fare was tough roots and stubs.
Jesus was not fooled by this seemingly kindly old man. He knew that it was the devil in disguise. To ward off temptation, he quoted a passage of the Holy Scriptures, saying: “Man lives not by bread only, but each word proceeding from the mouth of God, who fed our fathers here with manna.”
Jesus made it clear that he knew that the old man was the devil, so the devil tried to persuade Jesus that he was not such a bad fellow. For example, he claimed that he helped the human race by enabling soothsayers and oracles to foretell the future.
Jesus examined and refuted the devil’s claims one by one. In reply to the example quoted above, Jesus pointed out that when Satan’s oracles foretold the future, they told half-truths in unintelligible, deceptive language.
When Satan asked permission to remain in the presence of Jesus, he received the response: “Thy coming hither, though I know thy scope, I bid not, or forbid. Do as thou find’st permission from above. Thou canst not more.” Since night was coming, Satan bowed hypocritically and disappeared into thin air.
In the meantime, Simon, Andrew, and others were wondering what had happened to Jesus. Because of the testimony of John the Baptist, they were confident that he was the promised Messiah. His absence distressed them greatly.
His mother Mary was also concerned. Nevertheless, from past experiences, she figured that Jesus must have an important reason for absenting Himself. She resolved to wait with patience until He reappeared.
After leaving Jesus, Satan went to the middle region of thick air, where his potentates sat in council. He acknowledged that it was hard to deceive Jesus. He told his followers that he might need their help.
Belial rose to speak. He thought that beautiful women would prove to be irresistible. He pointed out that even Solomon succumbed to idolatry to please his wives.
Satan contemptuously rejected the counsel of Belial. He knew that such a temptation would certainly fail. Jesus was wiser than Solomon. To tempt Jesus, Satan knew that he would have to use seemingly honorable objects.
Amid the applause of the assembly, Satan left the council, accompanied by chosen followers who were to assist him with the temptations that he was about to prepare.
That night, Jesus dreamed about Old Testament events involving food, such as the time when a raven fed Elijah at the brook Cherith. When He awoke, Satan approached Him, this time dressed in the type of clothing typically worn in a royal palace.
Satan again tempted Him with food. He told Jesus that it was the duty of all creatures to serve Him. Then a table appeared, filled with tasty, aromatic dishes. Satan urged Jesus to sit and eat. He assured Jesus that the table contained no forbidden fruit.
Jesus resisted Satan’s temptation. He said: “Thy pompous delicacies I contemn, and count thy specious gifts no gifts, but guiles.” The table and its provisions vanished.
Satan then acknowledged that the heart of Jesus was set on high designs. However, Jesus was only the lowly Son of a carpenter. He would need wealth if he wanted to achieve any lofty objective. The tempter hinted that he would be willing to finance any project that Jesus wished to undertake.
In reply, Jesus pointed out that Jephthah, Gideon, and others had performed great deeds even though they were poor. Jesus was confident that He could do the same. He was not tempted by wealth.
Satan then flattered Jesus and told him that he should not conceal his godlike virtues from the world. By vigorous action, Jesus could win greater glory than Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar.
Jesus recognized the vanity of human praise and glory. He cited the example of Job, who was relatively unknown on earth, but was famous in heaven. Jesus told Satan that He did not seek His own glory but the glory of His Father, who sent Him.
Satan then pointed out that Jesus was a Descendant of David. As such, He was the Heir of the kingdom of Judea. He told Jesus that He would never be able to exercise His rightful authority if He sat around doing nothing.
To make the temptation more appealing to Jesus, Satan appealed to His altruistic nature in the following way. Israel was currently subject to the Roman Empire. Whether or not Jesus was personally interested in a kingdom, Satan argued that Jesus should accept the crown in order that He might deliver His people from bondage.
Jesus did not succumb to this temptation. He would let His Father decide when and how His everlasting Kingdom would begin. In the meantime, He figured that He might have to do some suffering first.
Satan thought that Jesus might change His mind if He beheld the kingdoms of the world with His own eyes. He took Jesus up to a high mountain. He first showed Jesus the mighty kingdom of the Parthians, which lay to the east, and then the Roman Empire, which lay to the west.
Jesus was not interested in either of these kingdoms. When all lesser persuasions failed, Satan promised to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, provided that Jesus would fall down and worship him as His superior lord.
Jesus disdainfully rejected Satan’s offer. Quoting the Holy Scriptures, He said: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and only Him shalt serve.” He also criticized Satan’s presumption in offering the kingdom’s of the world to the Son of God. The kingdoms of the world were not his to give. In conclusion, Jesus said: “Get thee behind me! Plain thou now appear’st that Evil One, Satan for ever damned.”
Out of fear, Satan uttered a few conciliatory words. He promised not to offer Jesus advice concerning kingdoms any more.
Satan observed that contemplation and profound dispute interested Jesus more than a crown. He cited Jesus’ sojourn in the temple when He was twelve years old. Before leaving the mountain, the devil showed Jesus the city of Athens and explained its intellectual glories.
Jesus was not tempted by the poetry and philosophy of the Greeks. Their philosophy was not true wisdom, and Israel’s psalms were far better than Greek poetry, which loudly proclaimed the vices of their gods.
Satan pretended to give up. He warned Jesus that He would soon wish that He had accepted his proffered help. Satan had read the stars, and they predicted that Jesus would suffer a dire fate: scorn, pain, and a terrible death. He took Jesus back to the wilderness and pretended to disappear.
As night set in, Jesus was hungry and cold. As He slept, a storm arose, and the devil sent Him disturbing dreams.
In the morning, the devil approached Jesus once more. He pretended that he had been far away during the storm. He claimed that Jesus was buffeted by the nocturnal storm because He failed to follow his advice. He warned that Jesus would suffer many further hardships.
Jesus knew that the devil had sent the storm in an effort to terrify Him. He told Satan that his efforts were futile.
Satan then focused his attention of the term “the Son of God.” The term had many different meanings. Satan claimed that he himself could be called a son of God in a certain sense. How was Jesus different from any other son of God?
To learn whether Jesus was more than a mere man, Satan took Him to the temple at Jerusalem. He set Jesus on a lofty perch and told him to leap downward. If Jesus was truly the Son of God in its ultimate sense, angels would preserve Him, so that He would suffer no harm. Satan even quoted, or rather misquoted, a passage of Scripture to prove his point.
In reply to Satan’s misquotation, Jesus correctly quoted a Scripture passage, saying: “Tempt not the Lord thy God.” Amazed at his final defeat, Satan fell off the lofty perch on which he and Jesus were standing. When Satan met with his followers, he had to admit his defeat.
Angels took Jesus from His uncomfortable perch and set him down in a flowery valley. They fed Him with ambrosial fruits from the Tree of Life. Then they celebrated His victory in song.
Paradise Regained is rich in allusions to history, to Greek mythology, and to portions of the Holy Scriptures. I incorporated a few examples in my summary, but there are many more.
The entire epic may be read online. It is presented by Literature.org.