You are of God; living in this world, this world was handed over to Satan:
God allowed Adam and Eve to eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Because if they did, they would surely die (Genesis 2:16-17).
But one day, Eve was tempted by Satan, in the form of a snake, to eat the fruit of that tree (verse 1 of chapter 3).
She was hesitant at first, knowing God’s instruction never to eat it. But she was convinced when the devil insisted that doing so would open her eyes to know good and evil like God (verses 3-5).
True enough, seeing that the fruit was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and “desirable for gaining wisdom,” she took some and ate it. And she gave some to Adam (verse 6, NIV).
This disobedience to God constituted the fall of Adam and Eve, which “opened the way for sin to enter [the] world.”
This was confirmed by Jesus:
In The Devil’s Temptations.
Jesus had demonstrated His commitment to be an obedient Son of God by His answers to the first two temptations. Then the devil shifted his strategy. The third temptation did not begin like the first two with the words, “If you are the Son of God … .” As we will see, the devil seems to have conceded for the moment that Jesus wanted to be obedient. So the thrust of the third temptation was this: What would Jesus The Son be willing to do to establish the kingdom of God on Earth?
Although Matthew does not say so, I wonder if Jesus and the devil both had Psalm 2 in mind. That Psalm talks about the Son, the Messiah, ruling the kingdoms. Part of it reads:
I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Psalm 2:7-9).
How kingly do you think Jesus looked after 40 days and nights of fasting in the wilderness? He was alone, tired, dirty, hungry, and thirsty. Being king over God’s kingdom must have seemed a long way off. The devil seized the opportunity. In essence, he said, “Let me show you a way to fulfill your heart’s desire.” He took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. That would have included Rome! At that moment their splendor and Jesus’ appearance would have been quite a contrast. “‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’”
There are several things to note here.
A. The appeal. Consider the appeal of the offer from the devil’s viewpoint.
Jesus’ Condition: Deprived – tired, hungry
The Devil’s Offer
Splendor, not suffering
Jesus’ Condition: Alone with the wild animals
The Devil’s Offer: Significance, not obscurity
The Devil’s Offer: Instant results, not delayed
Power to do what He wanted
To each condition of Jesus the devil offered a solution. The last one is the key to this temptation. In answering the first two temptations, Jesus had already resisted the first three aspects of the devil’s third temptation. He would not turn stones into bread to stop His suffering from hunger. He would not jump off the highest point of the temple to get instant notoriety. In neither temptation would He succumb to the lure of a shortcut to get instant results. The devil then added another element to make up a new and enticing package: “You can have splendor, significance and instant results, AND you can serve God while you do it. That’s what you want to do, isn’t it? Serve God? What have you done with your life so far, Jesus? Been a carpenter’s son, huh? Look, I’ll give you the kingdoms, and you may do with them as you wish. You’re a king, aren’t you? Inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth, if that’s what you want to do. Free Israel from Roman rule. Establish justice in the world. Take care of the poor. Bring about world peace. Wouldn’t that please God? Do it without suffering! Do it successfully! Do it now! YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL!”
B. The trap. There is always a catch with an offer like that. What is the catch here? The devil also said, “If you will bow down and worship me … .”
The act of prostrating oneself in worship is a symbolic gesture. It appears that the devil attempted to minimize the significance of that act. He did not ask that it be done in public. Apparently the devil would have been satisfied if Jesus had bowed down to him privately on the mountain. There is also the suggestion that the devil presented it as a one time event. And the devil did not ask that worship of him be exclusive. Knowing that Jesus wanted to establish a kingdom for God, he could scarcely have asked up front to be worshiped exclusively.
The devil would have liked for Jesus to believe that after bowing down before him, He would be finished with him. Worship signifies several things, however:
- allegiance to the one who is worshiped (there is a duty of loyalty);
- the superiority of the one who is worshiped (worship flows from inferior to superior);
- dependence of the worshiper on the one who is worshiped (the worshiper acknowledges that he is not sufficient without the one who is worshiped).
Jesus realized that the symbolic act of bowing down and worshiping the devil would also carry with it a continuing obligation.
C. Could the devil deliver on his offer? Some think that the devil was lying about being able to give the kingdoms to Jesus. After all, we know that God ultimately rules over all things. And we know that the devil is a liar – Jesus called him a murderer and a liar (John 8:44).
Just because the devil is a liar, however, does not mean that he cannot make true statements. To say that the devil must lie at all times makes him a caricature, almost a cartoon character. He is in business. You cannot do business if you lie all of the time. While the devil is not committed to the truth, he will make a true statement if it suits his purposes. That seems to be the case here. In Luke’s account of the temptations, the devil claimed that God had given him the kingdoms, and that he could in turn give them to whomever he wished (Luke 4:6). Jesus seemed to accept this. Later on, in John 12:31 and in John 16:11, Jesus called the devil “the prince of this world.” Therefore I take the devil’s statement to be true, as far as it goes. There is more to be said, which we will cover later.
Furthermore, if the devil’s claim had not been true, would not Jesus have just said so? That would have been the easy answer: “Come on, Satan, you know you can’t deliver the kingdoms to me!” Significantly, Jesus did not answer the devil that way.
Jesus’ answer to the devil was simple and to the point. As he did in answering the first two temptations, Jesus referred to the Book of Deuteronomy. He said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10). (The quotation, at least in part, is from Deuteronomy 6:13.)
It is easy to get caught up in the details and implications of the third temptation and miss the central issue. Jesus did not miss it: God alone is worthy of our worship.
As we have already observed, the devil did not ask Jesus to worship him exclusively. That was his tactic with Israel, too. We read in 2 Kings 17:35-40
When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship… .” They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols (emphasis added).
For that reason, the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians and scattered among the nations.