Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
Then saith Jesus unto him, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.'”
Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him (Matthew 4:8-11).
Satan has tried to get Jesus to satisfy His great physical hunger and to test out God’s promises. Each time Jesus has rebuffed him with Scripture. So now, in the third temptation (the second in Luke’s account; Luke 4:5-8), Satan attempts to seduce Jesus with one of his greatest tools– the desire for power.
No generation has ever lacked people who are willing to go to any length to get even a small portion of what Satan promises Jesus. History books are filled with the names of people who have used brute force in an attempt to conquer the world– Ramses the Great. Nebuchadnezzar. Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar. Genghis Khan. Napoleon. Hitler. For every such character there have been a hundred petty rulers who dreamed of something greater, and vast multitudes of the poor and dispossessed who dream of such power.
And here Jesus is– with one action, He could best them all. One could argue as to whether Satan, the Father of lies (John 8:44), would have really given Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world or not. One might even dispute whether it is within Satan’s power to give them. Yet to do so would be to blunt the force of the temptation. After all, if Jesus knows that Satan will not give the promised result or cannot do so, it is not much of a temptation. As the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), he is likely well able to deliver on his promise.
Not a few men would have quickly fallen on their knees, including many of the Jews of Jesus’ own day. Ironically, this is His chance to be the “Messiah” of the Jewish imagination. What will He do?
This is a real test for Jesus. It shows everything that He is about. And, as before, He is about confidence in God. He tells the Evil One to be gone, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13. God is the only One worthy of true worship– prostration and service. God’s call for Jesus is the only important call. God’s purposes cannot be accomplished through Satan’s vehicles (Romans 1:16-17)!
Think for a moment about what Jesus is really doing here. With one quick action, all the pain and suffering could be gone. He would receive honor, glory, and power. Millions would be at His disposal for whatever purpose He desires. Rome, Persia, India, China, and all others would bow down before Him. Fantastic wealth and luxury would be His. But when He dies it would all go away, and humanity would never receive reconciliation with God.
Instead, He chooses to follow God’s call. He will soon go back to Galilee. He will live out His days as a peasant. During His life He will be an object of scorn and reproach. Despite doing good He will receive mockery, abuse, and ultimately a humiliating death as a common criminal (Philippians 2:5-8).
But then God raised Him in power and granted Him authority that Satan could never provide– authority over heaven and earth, the Name that is above every name (Matthew 28:1-18, Philippians 2:9-11). Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is able to provide true life and salvation for all who come to God through Him (John 6:53-58, Romans 5:5-11, Hebrews 12:2). Through His blood an eternal Kingdom is established, one that can never fade (Colossians 1:13, 2 Peter 1:11).
Therefore, Satan offered Jesus the imitation, and He preferred to suffer in order to accomplish the reality.
We do well to heed Jesus’ lesson here. Too often we follow after the imitation– the idols of the world, and many times the specific idol of power– and think that we can accomplish God’s work through that imitation. It never has been and never can be. God’s purposes are accomplished through Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom; it manifests a specific disinterest in the governments of men (Romans 1:16-17; 13:1-7). Too many reach after power and abuse it on national, corporate, familial, and even individual levels. We must instead focus our efforts and stewardship on the eternal Kingdom and God’s purposes in it (Matthew 6:33). We must be willing, as Jesus was, to forsake the temporary pleasures, satisfaction, and honor of this world and to suffer loss and indignity in order to receive eternal glory and honor (Romans 8:17-18).
The Apostle John lists the three means of temptation that Satan uses: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions (1 John 2:16). Thus Satan successively tempted Eve into sinning: the appearance of the fruit, its perceived health benefit, and its ability to make wise (Genesis 3:6). We all know what resulted (Romans 5:12-18). Satan attempts to do the same with Jesus: the desires of the flesh (bread), the desires of the eyes (power), and the pride of life (testing God). But this time Satan fails. Jesus stands firm and gains the victory over him, empowered by the revealed Word of God in Scripture.
Jesus, the embodiment of Israel, has endured His “Elijah moment.” He set out in His exodus into the wilderness and experienced the temptations of the wandering and yet proved faithful to God. It is right for the angels to minister to Him, for it is time for Jesus, having overcome the Evil One, to minister to others. The Gospel of the Kingdom can now be proclaimed by the One who overcame the temptation to compromise and to give up what is eternal for what is fleeting. Let us praise God for the victory and the Kingdom we can share in the Son!
Ethan R. Longhenry