“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’” (Matthew 4:8-10).
Recently I was in a conversation regarding Jesus’ temptation in the desert. I have always found it rather remarkable that Satan offered to Jesus what already belonged to Him, namely “all the kingdoms of the world.” The temptation wasn’t to possess the kingdoms—Jesus already possessed them—but in how Jesus would respond to the offer.
You and I would have responded, “These are already mine.” Jesus could have responded this way and it would have been all true. Jesus’ response could have been founded on privilege, His status with the Father. But yet, He did not respond in this way.
Satan was attempting to get Jesus to act, to respond from His position as God’s Son. We can see this with the first temptation: “If you are really God’s Son, turn these stones into bread.” In the second, the same: “If you are the Son of God, jump—and God will catch you. Prove it.” In each case, however, Jesus did not respond from the privilege of His status as God’s Son. If He would have, that would have been the end of it—the end of it for all of us. No cross. No salvation. You see, Jesus did not give in to the temptation to assert His special status. No. Not at all. Jesus responded with the only thing that mattered (albeit in different ways, but still each time the same): “I will keep God’s word; I remain faithful to God’s covenant.”
You and I—as I have heard so often—like to boast in our special status with God. For some reason (pride, most likely) we think we impress the non-Christian world with this stand. This is not the way.
While this is true in that a Christian is a son of God, an adopted child of God, the temptation is to prop ourself up in front of others with this position rather than do what is necessary and the only thing that matters: will I keep God’s word and be faithful to His covenant?
Sure, you say you are God’s child, you say you are a king (or queen as it may be). I get the royalty you claim. I know the proof-texts. But what we need to know is: will you keep God’s word and be faithful to His covenant?
The temptation was not in possessing all the kingdoms of the world, but in humbling Himself—even to the point of death on the cross (e.g., Philippians 2:5-11).
This is a real temptation for the Christian: To assert one’s privileged status with God before a watching world. I see this all the time on social media and in conversation among Christians (and in the presence of non-Christians). I even hear this in sermons, instructing Christians to assert their privileged status with God. While most certainly true, this is not the way of discipleship, not the way of following Jesus. All that matters is one thing: God wants to know, the watching world wants to know, even Satan wants to know, will you (will I) keep God’s word and be faithful to His covenant?
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.