Temptation Three (Matthew 4:1-11)

Finally the devil takes Jesus to a vantage point on an unnamed mountaintop to present his crowning proposal. We’re told he “showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” Satan knows he’s not showing Jesus anything He hasn’t already seen; the devil has no originality – rather his power lies in twisting the truth. Like an evil inoculation, the father of lies attempts to inject his ‘noeema’, his godless ideas and suggestions, into in the mind of Jesus. His scheme is designed to encourage genetically modified half-truths to infect and colonize within his victims so that they are unable to recognize the temptation.

“All this I will give you,” offers the devil with unveiled pride, “if you will bow down and worship me.” the blatant arrogance of Satan’s temptation is appalling. He offers the kingdoms of the world to the Maker of heaven and earth. The cosmos Satan controls is other than that made by the Son of God; the world system under the devil’s influence is characterized by “principles of force, greed, selfishness, ambition, and pleasure (which is) often outwardly religious, scientific, cultured, and elegant; but seething with national and commercial rivalries and ambitions.”[1]

This temptation tests the very foundations of every person’s character: Jesus’, yours, and mine. Who of us, other than Jesus, has been able to avoid being motivated by pleasure, ambition, selfishness or greed? Yet Satan regards these motives to be worship of him. It’s a chilling thought. So as Jesus deftly averts Satan’s needle-like aim, He becomes an example and help for us in avoiding similar temptations. We can discover the foundation of Jesus’ moral strength by taking a closer look at His response to the temptation.

“Away from me, Satan!” He commands. He uses a similar invective some time later with His disciple Peter; Peter attempts to dissuade Jesus from pursuing a sacrificial death, and Jesus recognizes this same temptation to adopt the devil’s worldview.

“You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” He observes. Peter has fallen prey to Satan’s influence, thinking by his principles rather than by God’s.

And there we are likely to fall too. Satan’s third temptation seeks to keep us bound and gagged by a deception that our best happiness lies in pursuing our own way, following our own bent, doing what we will. Here is where splendour lies, we think. Filtering choices through this mindset deranges the noble beginnings God designed us to display. The things of men obliterate any thought of the things of God.

It is here that we see, as in everything about His life on earth, that Jesus submits Himself to the process of the temptation, without falling to it, for our benefit. It is not random; it is not even ultimately under the control of the tempter. Jesus walks through this temptation experience in obedience to the Father, in order to benefit every follower of His. His suffering benefits our faith if we learn from it.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews explains, “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

We are given strength to face Satan’s old temptations by looking to Jesus at God’s throne of grace, in our times of need. Jesus has put Himself in our shoes so that we can walk in His and be relieved of ongoing failures. Prayer, an attitude of humility, a dependence on God’s Word, and an alertness to the lies of this world system will be the means of our protection. We don’t need the splendor Satan offers. We have God.

“O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.” (Psalm 104:1)

[1] Footnote on kosmos from the NIV Bible, Rev.13:8

(Photo Credit: Martin G. Conde, Wikimedia Commons)

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