Forty days have passed, during which Satan has tried nearly every kind of temptation (cf. Luke 4:1, 13). The final three temptations, as recorded by both Matthew and Mark (in differing order), are Satan’s “best shot” in my estimation. The first temptation was based upon the fact that our Lord had fasted 40 days and nights and was hungry. Satan sought to induce our Lord to use His divine power to convert stone to bread. Our Lord’s response, based upon the lesson which Israel was taught in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:3), was that life consisted of more than physical existence and was therefore sustained by more than food. Ultimately, life is living in union and fellowship with God, as Adam and had done prior to the fall. Death is separation from God. Life, then was sustained by obedience to every word of God. For our Lord to have acted independently of God by turning stone to bread would have been to doubt the word of God (specifically the declaration, “Thou are My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased,” Luke 3:22), and thus to have forfeited life, not sustained it.
Satan is now about to employ the second temptation. What is it that he is trying to avoid, or to accomplish in this temptation? I like to think of Satan as being something like the head of the CIA, having a host of “undercover agents” (demons, fallen angels, like himself), who constantly gather intelligence to further the cause of wickedness and rebellion against God. While Satan and his host are not omniscient (all-knowing), they have attained a great deal of data over the centuries. What is it that Satan knows, which motivates his actions in this text? Let us begin our lesson by considering what Satan had to have known, and thus what he would have been trying to accomplish by this temptation.
From Genesis 3:15, Satan learned that a woman would have a child which would spell his destruction:
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
Satan knew from the beginning of history that a man would come to destroy him. The genealogy of Luke shows the link between Jesus Christ and Adam, both of whom were “sons of God” (Luke 3:22, 38). I believe that Satan had rightly concluded that Jesus had come to destroy him. The demons knew so as well. They cried out,
“What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34).
As time went on Satan learned that although he wished to rule over the earth, God promised that the Messiah would come, and that He would rule in righteousness, and that His reign would be forever:
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen. 49:10).
Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness; Therefore god, Thy God, has anointed Thee With the oil of joy above Thy fellows (Ps. 45:6-7).
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this (Isa. 9:6-7).
“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).
“I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14).
At the time of our Lord’s birth, the “kingship” of the Christ child was constantly stressed. The prophecies of Christ’s identity as Israel’s king could hardly have been missed by Satan’s intelligence-gathering force.
The prophecies which preceded our Lord’s birth identified Him as the King of Israel, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the coming King:
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
In the magnificat of Mary, this was again evident:
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.… He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble” (Luke 1:49, 52).
When the wise men arrived from the east, they asked,
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2).
The answer of the scribes was a citation from the prophecy of Micah:
“‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER, WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL’“ Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:6).
All of this indicates that Satan undoubtedly knew that Jesus was the “seed of the woman,” the “Son of God,” the King of Israel, the Messiah who had come to destroy him and to establish an everlasting righteous kingdom. Satan’s motivation is therefore not very difficult to determine: Stop our Lord at all costs! And if Jesus could not be defeated by Satan, perhaps an agreement could be negotiated, whereby an alliance could be established, and the “kingdom of Satan” could be shared.
I have previously suggested that Satan’s claims cannot be taken at face value, for Satan is a liar by nature (John 8:44). Thus, this statement of Satan must be carefully weighed:
“I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours” (Luke 4:6-7).
What does Satan possess? What can Satan give to another? Let us consider what the Bible tells us about Satan’s authority. Our Lord’s words in the Gospel of John are the most informative. Summed up, Satan is the “ruler of this world”:
“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And I , if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:31-32).
“I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go from here” (John 14:30-31).
“… and concerning judgment, because the ruler of the world has been judged” (John 16:11).
The apostle Paul calls him the “god of this world”:
And if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:3-4).
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
What does it mean for Satan to be the “god of this world” or the “ruler of the world”? It does not mean all that Satan claims in his words to our Lord in the second temptation. The right to rule the earth was given to man, not Satan. Adam and Eve were commissioned to rule God’s creation (Gen. 1:26). According to the psalmist, the rule of all creation still belongs to man:
What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, And dost crown him with glory and majesty! Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou has put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas (Ps. 8:4-8).
Our Lord Jesus, as the “Son of Man” ultimately fulfills this task, but it is the task of man, not of Satan. Furthermore, the ultimate rule of the earth is God’s:
For the kingdom is the LORD’s, And He rules over the nations (Ps. 22:28).
The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all (Ps. 103:19).
“Thou art the God, Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth” (Isa. 37:16).
Daniel answered and said,
“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan. 2:20-21a).
“This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: that you be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan. 4:24-25).
There is a time in the future, which is known as the period of the Great Tribulation, during which Satan will be given authority to rule, but this power is granted, within limits, and for a specified period of time:
And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, every one whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain … And he exercises all authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed … And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Rev. 13:7-8, 12, 15).
Satan is the “ruler of this world” in the sense that he dominates fallen men through the power of sin and death, and through the instrumentalities of “the world” and “the flesh,” as well as through his direct intervention (“the devil”). He is not in control over kings and kingdoms, although he certainly influences them. Our Lord is the One who is in sovereign control of history, and of the nations, and thus the prophecies of the word of God are sure. God cannot predict the future if He does not control it.
Satan’s claim is only partially true, at best, and thus his offer is exceedingly hollow. It is worth noting that throughout the Bible Satan is continually offering others things which are not his own. He offers Adam and Eve the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but it was not his to give. Our Lord, on the other hand, offers what He possesses, and the life which He offers is that which He has obtained at the cost of His own blood.
Matthew’s account (and that of Luke in the King James Version, which I am inclined to accept as genuine) informs us that Satan led Jesus up a very high mountain. It was from this vantage point that he projected in some miraculous fashion “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time” (Luke 4:5). Some are inclined to understand this miracle as one which took place in the mind of our Lord.67 I am inclined to disagree for two reasons. First, I do not think that Satan had access into the mind of our Lord, or that he has direct access to implant such sequences into any mind. Second, I see no reason for him to have led our Lord to the top of a very high mountain to project a “mental movie.” This could just as well have been done from the place where the previous temptation was staged.
The expression, “in a moment of time,” is unique to Luke’s gospel, and I believe it serves as an important clue to what happened on that high mountain. Satan’s “moment in time movie” was a spectacular production that would have made Cecil B. DeMill (the producer of the movie, “The Ten Commandments”) weep. We may perhaps best relate to it by thinking in terms of that amazing production which was staged in the Los Angeles Coliseum at the concluding ceremonies of the Olympic games. It was a very dramatic, professionally produced presentation of the kingdoms of the world. The fact that it took place in but a brief moment added to its impact. Its brevity also enabled Satan to gloss over all of the gory aspects of the kingdoms of the world which would have made it possible for them to be scrutinized, and thus seen in their true light. These kingdoms were far from glorious and would have to be put down, set aside, destroyed, so that the kingdom of God could be established on the earth. Like a dishonest used car salesman, Satan made a hasty presentation, hoping that Jesus would not see the ugly flaws in his kingdom.
Satan’s problem, as we have already noted, was that the coming of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom spelled the doom of Satan and the demise of his kingdom. Satan was desperately striving to save his own skin. Satan’s goal was thus to attempt to derail the establishment of the kingdom of God, the Messianic rule of Christ on the earth. Satan’s goal was to somehow persuade the Son of God to become his ally, rather than his arch-enemy, who would destroy him and his kingdom.
What “weakness” was Satan hoping to find in our Lord to which this particular offer might appeal? My premise is that Satan is projecting his own fallenness, his own weaknesses, on our Lord. He therefore expects that the same things which appeal to him will appeal to the Son of God. One of Satan’s primary ambitions is to “be in control.” The accounts of his fall in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 show that he was impressed with his position and power, but that he wanted more. Indeed, he was not content until he could be in full control. Since God was in control over him, he sought to elevate himself to the place where he possessed God’s power and control. I believe that Satan hoped to find that same compulsion to control, to be in charge, in our Lord, and thus he aspired to offer him a kingdom which was too tempting to refuse. Dominion and power and glory are those things which appeal to men who aspire to be in control. Satan was impressed by it, and so he hoped our Lord would be as well.
We know, especially from the second chapter of Philippians, that the things which Satan offered our Lord were the very things he left behind in heaven to come to earth to achieve redemption for mankind. These are also the very things which our Lord won by virtue of His obedience to the Father’s will, even unto death. In comparison with the dominion and power of the kingdom of God, Satan’s offer is indeed a paltry one.
Satan’s approach was to offer the Son of God the kingdoms of the earth, in place of the kingdom of God, which was not of this world (John 18:36). Satan seems to be acting on the premise that a king must have a kingdom to be a king. Satan’s kingdom (at least “his” from his own perspective) was already present, and, so far as his “presentation” had demonstrated, it was a splendid one, so why seek any other? Besides this, in order to attain the kingdom which the Old Testament promised, there would have to be a bloody battle. Why go to all that trouble when there was an easier way?
Satan owned the kingdoms of the world, and he could give them to whomever he wished, or so he claimed. Satan would gladly give them over to the Son of God for a very small concession on His part. All that He needed to do was to bow the knee to Satan in worship. It may have been a totally private act, carried out in a “moment of time.” What great benefit could come from such a small act.
Satan’s proposition offers what appears to be something of great value, for but a minimal cost. His merchandising methods make Madison Avenue look pale. Indeed, I think that Madison Avenue learned from Satan. His offer is like those we see on television all the time. You know, a beautiful diamel ring, which looks as though it is worth thousands of dollars they tell us. And while it could sell for thousands, a mere $19.95 will acquire it, for a limited time, of course, and until supplies run out. Along with the ring they will send us earrings, bracelets, pots and pans, knife sharpeners, and the kitchen sink. Such value, for so small a price. So Satan’s temptations have always appeared.
One of the amazing features of our Lord’s response to Satan is a remarkable brevity. Naturally, Luke has summarized each of the temptations. Nevertheless, it would seem that while Satan may have elaborated greatly and drawn out each solicitation to sin our Lord had little to say to Satan. The words of our Lord respond to Satan on only one point, and that point is the critical issue or principle involved. All other issues are not addressed. The reader should be able to discern these errors and Satan is not one to be corrected or converted, so that extensive correction would merely be a wasted effort. Satan, like the fool of Proverbs, does not rate a reasoned response, for he is set in his rebellion. Instead, Jesus gave but one reason for rejecting Satan’s offer: “YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY” (Deut. 6:13; Luke 4:8).
Satan had asked for only one thing, but that one thing was the most crucial act of all. He asked to be worshipped. No doubt Satan attempted to make this act of worship seem trivial. Perhaps it would be done in private, and for just a moment in time. Our Lord understood the importance of worship, however. It was important because worship was to be directed toward God alone. To worship Satan would have been a direct violation of God’s Word.
More than this, worship was a symbolic act, an act which implied and required further action. Worship was something like the act of signing one’s name on a piece of paper. This does not seem very important, unless that piece of paper is a bill of sale, a contract, a blank check, or enlistment papers for the army. Signing up for the army is a very easy act to perform, but once you arrive at boot camp you begin to realize all the implications of what you have done.
So it was with worship. Worship is an act which acknowledged that the person or thing bowed down to is greater than the worshipper. That which is worshipped is of greater worth, and has greater power and authority than the worshipper. Thus, the one who worships another must also serve him. The words, “AND SERVE HIM ONLY,” are added by our Lord, and are not a part of the text of Deuteronomy 6:13. They surely are implied by the context of Deuteronomy, however. Our Lord’s words inform Satan that He knew that an act of worship would have constituted Him a servant of Satan. Thus, by getting Jesus to worship him Satan would have made Jesus a subordinate, and would have preserved his freedom and prolonged his kingdom. Jesus, knowing these things, refused Satan’s proposition and let him know that He understood the implications of what he had proposed.
Our Lord’s kingdom could only be established by the defeat of Satan and his forces, not by submission to him through an act of worship. The kingdoms of this world have to be set aside before God’s kingdom can be established. Our Lord’s kingdom is not “of this world” (John 18:36), and thus to accept the kingdoms of this world would have been to have rejected God’s kingdom. Jesus’ refusal to fall down before Satan was, among other things, a declaration of war. Satan was an arch enemy. It was only by means of the cross of Calvary that Satan would be defeated and the kingdom of God could be established.
That our Lord clearly understood the difference between His kingdom and that of Satan can be seen in the gospels. Almost immediately in Luke (4:33ff.) Jesus began to wage war on Satan and his demonic forces (cf. also Luke 11:14-26). In the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Luke 6; Matt. 5-7), Jesus spelled out the vast difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men. Repeatedly, Jesus found it necessary to correct His disciples, whose thinking about our Lord’s kingdom more often were along the lines of the kingdoms of this world. As a result of His victory over Satan in this area, our Lord would only a little later say, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father” (Matt. 11:27).
In the book of Revelation we see that Satan will eventually get his wish, to reign upon the earth and to dominate the kingdoms of this world for a short period of time, a time which is known as the Great Tribulation (cf. Rev. 12ff.). It is through the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 13:1ff.) that Satan reigns and through whom he is worshipped. At long last his desires are realized. All through history, in my opinion, Satan is seeking those through whom he can reign, through whom he can be worshipped, and through whom he can set up his kingdom, when grated permission by God. The Great Tribulation will be Satan’s “reign for a day,” and when his character is fully revealed and he has served God’s purposes, he will be confined for a thousand years, and then finally cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20). At this time the kingdom of God will be established on the earth, and our God Himself will reign (Rev. 21-22; cf. also 1 Cor. 15:24ff.).
Our text has a variety of applications to us. First and foremost, our Lord’s victory over this temptation again shows that He has the right to rule. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. It was His willingness to relinquish the glories of heaven and to suffer at the hands of men which made our salvation possible.
Second, this text reminds us of a principle which was applicable to our Lord and also applies to saints today: IN GOD’S ORDER, THE CROSS IS THE PATH TO THE CROWN. Satan offered a “crown” without a cross. God’s way was to establish His throne, His kingdom by means of the cross of Calvary. The cross is the means to the crown. Suffering is the pathway to glory. The Old Testament saints learned this lesson (cf. Hebrews chapter 11, cf. esp. vv. 24-25, 32-40). And so it is for New Testament saints as well:
For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:11b, 12a).
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21).
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation (1 Pet. 4:12-13).
Third, we should learn from this text that unlike our Lord and like Satan, we have a desire to control which is so strong that we are willing to pay a high price to attain such control. While our Lord was willing to set aside His right to reign, so that He might pay the price for our sins, we are often willing to pay a high price to gain control or to keep control.
The issue of control, of having control and being in control is a very prominent one in the Scriptures. The scribes and Pharisees were jealous of our Lord for they recognized that they were losing control (cf. Matt. 7:29; 27:18). It was due to their fear of losing control that they constantly challenged Jesus as to His authority. The disciples, too, were overly concerned with being in control. They argued one with the other as to who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-34). They were concerned with who would to sit on the right and left hand of our Lord (Matt. 20:20-21). They wanted to use God’s power to destroy their enemies (Luke 9:51-56). They wanted to prohibit others from doing wonders in the name of Jesus (Mark 9:38). Jesus had to teach them that the greatest in the kingdom were to be servants of all, just as He was doing (Mark 10:42-45).
Throughout the New Testament we can see how the desire to exercise control can be used of Satan to promote sin. The Corinthians seemed to have a fixation on being in control, or of being in that group which had control, or of having a leader who was in control. Husbands are tempted to abuse their role as leaders by lording it over their wives, all in the name of biblical leadership (cf. Ephesians chapter 5). Elders can be tempted to lord it over the flock (cf. 1 Peter chapter 5). Individuals can seek to maintain control by standing up for their rights. Women can resist the order established by God in the home and in the church by seeking to gain control, to lead where they should not (cf. 1 Timothy 2; 1 Corinthians 11, 14). Let us beware of Satan’s attacks in the area of control.
Fourth, we should be instructed by our text concerning the character and tactics of Satan. Satan is a liar and a thief. He claims to own and he offers to give that which is not his. He glamorizes sin and he minimizes the high price which following him exacts.
Fifth, we should be reminded of the importance of worship. Worship is so important, Satan strove to attain it. Worship was so vital, it was the one point on which he responded to Satan. Whatever we worship we are obligated to serve. Worship establishes who is in control.
The worship of God is constantly under satanic attack. Satan seeks to pervert our worship in two ways. First, he seeks to re-direct our worship. He seeks to turn our worship from God to virtually anything else. Satan desires our worship, and is willing to be worshipped indirectly. When worship is directly to anyone or anything but God, it is ultimately the worship of Satan, in my opinion (cf. 1 Cor. 10:19-20).
If Satan cannot re-direct our worship, he will seek to reduce it to less than what it should be. Satan represented worship as a means to an end (“Worship me and all this will be yours.”) Our Lord saw worship as the end, the chief goal of man. Worship is our highest calling, our greatest privilege. Unfortunately, even when we are worshipping God, we often view worship as a means. We worship so that we will feel good, so that we will receive a blessing. We pray, not so much to praise God, but to petition Him for what we want. We read the Bible, not to adore Him, but to find promises which we might claim. Let us beware of worshipping God as a means, rather than as our highest goal.
67 Thus, A. T. Robertson writes that this miracle was “… mental, a great feat of the imagination (a mental satanic ‘movie’ performance), but this in no way discredits the idea of the actual visible appearance of Satan also.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), II, p. 50).