Looking at the last temptation of Jesus in the Judean wilderness before the man Jesus of Nazareth embarked on His mission to bring the Kingdom of God on earth, just as it is in Heaven.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Luke records it this way – “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”” Luke 4:5-7 ESV. I will give you all this authority. All this glory. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours. If you will worship me?? Remember, this is a story that could only have come from Jesus. This is a real temptation we are talking about here. So…are we reading that Jesus was tempted to worship the devil?? Seriously??
YES!!! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten son sent by the Father as savior of the world, the only one who has seen the father, who was the full revelation of the Father, was seriously tempted to worship the devil.
But – I’m not talk about black masses and pentagrams here. That stuff is just external anyway. It’s just ancillary, on the edges of society. It’s just for show. Nobody is going to follow Jesus as messiah if He comes in with pitchfork and red suit anymore than you or I would fall into temptation if the devil announced himself to us that way.
The temptation for Jesus is the temptation to empire. It’s time for the God of Israel to rule the nations, but how? Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. So He has thoughts like “I could do that!! I could be the next, greatest empire!” BUT – to seize power and rule the world by force and might is to worship the devil. All the way back to Cain and Abel, the devil has been tempting us to force and violence – “…And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”” Genesis 4:7 ESV. Sins (the Devils) desire is for you. He’s crouching at your door. You must rule over it.
Sin was crouching at Jesus’ door too. Jesus could have raised an army. He could have marched into Jerusalem, overthrown Pilate, overthrown those working against Him. He could have been a great general. He could have been the greatest general. He could have conquered the known world and beyond. He could have been the Messiah Israel was looking for. He could have been a great warrior, liberating Israel by force and installing Himself as the next emperor. That’s what they were looking for. It’s what they were expecting. For that matter, it’s what we are STILL looking for. (Are we not still expecting Him to return breathing fire and gunning down all those enemies He commanded us to love in the sermon on the mount??!!)
Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Good thing Jesus knows His bible. He could have led an Israelite army to a great victory, liberating them from their persecutors. Where would that have left us? Look at Pilate. He is really only known to us because of his role in the Jesus story. Look at all the Caesars. They may demanded allegiance in their day. The people might have said “Caesar is Lord.” But the only place you’ll find them today is in our history books and the ruins of Rome.
Remember when Jesus said “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV. Jesus was speaking from personal experience. Jesus was tempted to sell his very soul to the devil to bring in the kingdom of God by force and might. He would have done so with the purest, best intentions. His motive would have always been to achieve righteousness and justice. But…it’s not the way of God. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Ruling the world at the end of a spear would have corrupted even the son of God.
To us, the ends almost always justify the means. We will compromise our souls if it gets us what we want in the end. But for Jesus, He knew that for the ends to be truly beautiful the means would have to be beautiful too. For Jesus – and think about this for a moment – the ends ARE the means.
Jesus could have been another on a long line of the Kings of Israel. He could have been the greatest warrior. But he would have wound up a footnote in history. A failed messiah.
But instead of worshipping the devil through power and force, He took His thrown upon the very cross the principalities and powers murdered Him with. His means were His ends. What does that mean?
Jesus wanted to bring the kingdom of God based on radical forgiveness and love of enemies. He went to the cross forgiving radically and loving his enemies. He wanted to bring in the kingdom of God based not on the might of Cain but instead the sacrificed blood of the millions of Abels throughout history. And so Jesus DID take the throne, He did liberate Israel – by the Roman cross with His crown of thorns. In overcoming Satan’s third temptation he overcame the enticement of the sword.
To prioritize power is to worship the devil. He could have taken power like all the other Kings. He could have been Jesus the Great. But he would not have saved the world. It would have been just another go around of the same old thing.
He faced this same temptation two more times. The first came from Peter – “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”” Matthew 16:21-23 ESV. We would have said the same thing as Peter. We are still looking for Jesus to come with power and force and liberate us from God’s good creation. But like Peter, we are setting our minds not on the things of God, but the things of man.
The second time was in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was sweating blood in anticipation of the torture He would endure in just a few hours. “Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”” Matthew 26:42 ESV
Jesus remained faithful to the will of the Father that He would become King with a crown of thorns by enthronement upon a cross. This is what saves the world. This is why we worship Him.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.”
Matthew 4:8-11 ESV