The Temptations of Jesus
11 – All The Kingdoms!
Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, 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’.”
Luke 4: 5-8, 13
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 shall all be yours!” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve’.”
…. And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
The High Mountain
In Matthew’s account, Jesus is taken up to a high mountain from where he can see all the kingdoms of the world. In Luke’s version there is no mountain. His Greek-thinking Christians may be aware that no such mountain, that could survey the entire civilized world, existed. Luke, like many of us, would have understood that the mountain was in Jesus’ imagination or in a vision, and that no real mountain was intended. Luke simply observes that Jesus is just taken up.
In a moment of time
This may be another clue that it was not physical seeing, but the seeing that takes place in a vision, similar to that which Ezekiel experienced in Ezekiel 3:12, 8:3, and 11:1. In an instant he is transported in his mind from the a Judean hill top to the highest of mountain pinnacles. In fact it is almost as if Jesus were transported up into space and sees the spinning globe and in a matter of moments sees the entire world.
This is somewhat reminiscent of Moses on Mount Nebo’s highest point, Mt. Pisgah. From there he sees the whole of the promised land, which he will not be permitted to enter. (Deuteronomy 3:27, 34:1-4.) Moses was also asked to look in every direction, which the Rabbis understood as surveying the whole world N.E.S.& W.
The words comes stealing upon his mind, “All these Kingdoms I will give you, with their power and their glory, if you will worship me.” Or in more recent vernacular it might sound like this: “You can have it all. All of it. You can be its ruler. Its glory will all be yours. All you have to do is work with me on this one.”
To establish “The Kingdom of God” is the Raison d’être of Jesus’ life and work. The temptation is alluring because Jesus, even this early, knows that he has been sent to proclaim and inaugurate the long expected Kingdom of God. Establishing the kingdom is not an afterthought with him. It is forethought. (That is why as soon as he leaves the wilderness he will chooses 12 men upon whose shoulders he will build his church.) To get the kingdom as a gift, rather than as a reward, must have been very tempting.
At his baptism, the voice from heaven points Jesus to Psalm 2 “You are my Son, today I have begotten you, ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession.” The world has already been promised to the Messianic King by God Himself. (Ps 72:8) The nations are his by right, but how will they become his in fact? Right now Imperial Caesar rules the known world and rules it badly. What could Jesus do if he sat on Caesar’s throne and brought in a new way to govern the world?
The Zealots of Jesus’ day were sure that if Caesar and his minions could be overthrown, a new kingdom could take its place. Jesus was from the Galilee that grew more than its fair share of zealots with such dreams. Jesus knew of the tyrannies of this government. When he was just a child in Nazareth he had seen hundreds of crosses standing like telephone poles along the highway, each one holding a body, each one surrounded by grieving families gathered around the foot of those execution gibbets. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to replace such an infamy with righteous rule!
Is Jesus being tempted to seize the desired end by whatever means necessary? Moving towards the right end without the right means, however, is fraught with grave dangers.
Politics has been called “the science of the possible”. Only with compromise with all the vested interests can any political system work. Will the coming kingdom also need to rely on cooperation with other powers? Satan thinks so. The marriage of state and church has always been tempting!
So what did it mean to worship Satan?
It meant to serve his purposes, just as we worship God when we do his work and his will. The ways of power and politics are often seen to be the ways to reach the goal. The means may not be ideal, but the end does justify the means. It’s called politics. It’s called compromise. It’s called accommodation. “Work with me,” the voice says, “and you’ll win it all! Guaranteed!”
But Jesus knows that if bread lines will not change the world, and Barnum & Bailey show biz won’t, neither will becoming the monarch of mankind do it either.
There will be a time right after feeding the 5,000 where kingship is offered him by the crowds. The Gospel of John says, “Knowing that they meant to come and carry him off, to make a king of him, he once again withdrew to the hills alone.” (John 6:15)
The temptation is to use the ways and means that powerful people have always used. Might makes a thing right in the minds of the powerful. The question comes: Does he join forces with those with power, or does he speak truth to power, and end up rejected by those who hold such power? Jesus already knows no one can serve two masters. His response is from the scriptures once more, We are “to worship God alone and only serve Him.” He will work the plan of His Father, and not the scheme of Satan. He will not use sordid means to gain the ends he seeks.
Who owns “All the Kingdoms of this world”?
Satan may think he owns them. They may be his by stealth from humanity, but they are not his to give – only his to lose. Humanity may have signed over the property to the evil one, but “The earth is the Lord’s and everything within it.” Satan is called “the Prince of this world” in John’s gospel (12:31, 14:30, 16:11) but it as Prince Absalom stealing from his kingly father, that he has received these ill gotten gains.
Matthew does not include Luke’s phrase “It has been delivered to me and I give it to whom I will.” The tempter is the father of lies and has lied from the beginning, and this is one of his lies. Matthew feels no obligation to give any coverage to such lies.
And the evil one fails to realize that even if it was given to him to rule, it was always by God’s permission, and not by his own power. This is clearly enunciated throughout the book of the Revelation. He is on God’s leash at all times.
Satan is quite prepared to surrender the world to Jesus if he promised not to change it. He could rule the nations, as long as he had no thought of healing them. But the intention of God had always been “The kingdoms of this world” would be elevated to become “the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” But Satan was suggesting that the Kingdom of God and His Christ could be transmuted and downsized to become one more of the Kingdoms of this world. Maybe even its greatest empire, greater than Babylon, of Greece or Rome. But it would be an empire, as all the others were, based on military and political power, but not the power of love.
The glory of a fallen world
In Matthew the “kingdoms and their glory” are offered to Jesus. In Luke “All their power and their glory” are offered. The words of the enemy are reminiscent of an ancient promise. “To the Son of Man was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” (Daniel 7:14)
In spite of the damage done to the world, it is still a thing of beauty and a joy forever! Sunrise, sunset, spring time and harvest bring fresh pleasures to all the senses. Even to this day with environmental damage being perpetrated on earth, sea, and sky, nature seems to rebound in beauty even after we have done our best to do our worst! I wonder if during this temptation the Son, through whom all was created, looked down upon this brilliant blue planet floating in space, was reminded of its glory and its beauty. This was a world well worth the saving at any price! But how shall it be rescued and restored?
The words “worship me!” seem hardly tempting! Who in his right mind would be allured by such a blatant offer? This is not an invitation to devil worship. That is too adolescent a temptation!
The word “worship” is in the aorist tense, inferring perhaps just a single act. Only once, bow the knee! Only once, then go back to being good. One small concession. Let the thin edge of the wedge in. But How would Jesus ever live with himself after that? How could he have conquered sin by sinning just once. How could he be the true son of the Father by offering a selective obedience to Him? The results would have been the same as Eve and Adam’s one little peccadillo.
Jesus will later outline the problem: “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world but lost his own soul?” But it would not be the loss only of his own soul, but the soul of humanity. Jesus resisted this temptation, and Matthew reminds us, at the close of his gospel, that the one who refused the offer of power was granted all power in heaven and earth! (28:18-20)
The God centeredness of Christ
Jesus’ response to this temptation is to refer once more to the words from the Book of Deuteronomy. He quotes only the words from 6:13, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve’ but in his mind may well be the words from the fuller text that runs from 1-16. These verses include such phrases as:
vs. 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”
vs. 5 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your might.”
vs. 13 “The Lord your God you shall worship; him you shall serve,
and by his name alone you shall swear.”
vs. 14 “Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you.”
vs. 16 “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
Why does Jesus say, “Worship only God”? For that is the very thing that Jesus himself is intent on doing. The Kingdom is to be given to God, not to gain for himself, and not to keep for himself, for it belongs to God alone. King David asks, when Araunah offers him the threshing floor, and the wood and the animals for a sacrifice, “Shall I offer to God that which costs me nothing?” And shall Jesus offer to His Father what Satan has offered him as a bribe? Oh no! He will pay the full price and more.
Have you noticed that there is an awareness of God throughout the temptations that helps Jesus guard his himself from danger.
- “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
- “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
- “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”
Twice the word “only” appears in these lines. The word in Greek is “mono” Here there is a strict monotheism. The Scottish prayer says:
We confess and acknowledge one God only,
to whom alone we must cling,
whom alone we must serve,
whom alone we shall worship,
and in whom alone we must put our trust.
Jesus is committed to treating God as God, and only him.
Be Gone Satan!
With these words the evil one is banished. Satan has been defeated and dismissed. If this has been the contest of the powers, Jesus has overcome and conquered. He has stopped evil in its tracks as the New Adam and the New Israel. As our older brother, he has won this victory on our behalf. From this encounter he will move on to plunder the devil’s domain, driving the ultimate nail in his coffin when he is nailed to the cross.
Which leads us to revisit a question raised earlier. If these temptations to use sub-standard means to achieve the desired end, are not the right means, what are the right means?
The answer comes in two parts.
First it will be his mission to enter into the arena, with the inevitable outcome that he will suffer and die for the redemption of all.
But the second means is a surprise to us all.
In the gospel of Luke (10:17-24) the story is told about the seventy disciples returning from their mission to the town of Galilee. Filled with joy, they report, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Jesus responds, likewise in joy, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy…” Jesus saw Satan fail in the wilderness, and saw him continue to fail and fall as his earliest followers announced the coming of the Kingdom of God.
And so when Jesus leaves the wilderness, before he does any work of power, he chooses “the twelve” to “equip them for every good work to do his will” as he begins the dismantling of the devil’s domain. Later he will choose “the seventy” to assist him in this work, and those early followers will make disciples of others, men and women, for such people will be his means for establishing the Kingdom of God among the nations. (Mark 1:16-20, Matthew 4:18-22.)
But in the meantime, the words of Luke, as he concludes the entire wilderness event, need to be noted. “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (4:13).
The tempter will be back and Jesus will continue to be tested at every turn, all the way to the cross. And the same will be true of the church as she heads down the highway of the future. She will be faced by testings and temptations as she attempts to fulfill her mission, but not to worry, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world!”