We come today to the third temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded for us in Matthew chapter 4. “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him” (vv. 8-11).
In the third temptation of our Lord, we come to the very heart of God’s purpose in these temptations. That purpose was to reveal that His Son was the One who had come to fulfill all righteousness. That purpose was to reveal His Son as the One who would save by His perfect obedience.
We read in the book of Romans, chapter 5, that it was by the obedience of One that many are made righteous. So the Scriptures teach us that it is through the obedience of Christ that we are saved. Christ rendered, in the behalf of those given Him of the Father, obedience to the will of the Father. That obedience was rendered in the way of suffering, in the way of death and crucifixion. It was an obedience in which He took the place of God’s children, suffered the punishment they deserved, and earned for them perfect righteousness before God.
In the third temptation Satan attempts to divert Christ from the path of obedience. Satan here shows a remarkable insight into the redemptive purposes of God. Satan shows that he has an understanding of the real issues that are at stake in the salvation of God’s children. He knows that that salvation is to be based upon the Son’s obedience, standing in our place, dying for us, walking the path of suffering. So Satan tries to get Christ off that path. He attempts to offer an easier way, less painful, quicker. “All the suffering and temptation, he says to Christ, can be over in a moment. I’ll give You what You want – a reign, a kingdom – I’ll give it all to you in an easier way. You give me what I want, and I’ll give You what You want.”
Always this was Satan’s purpose. On numerous occasions in the Old Testament history Satan sought to wipe out the line of Christ, to overcome the promise that he heard God speak in the Garden – speak to him, but speak also to Adam and Eve and to the church. That promise is found inGenesis 3:15, the promise that God would give a Son who would crush Satan’s head. Satan always tried to thwart that, he always tried to stop the coming of the Messiah. That was Pharaoh, for instance, when he had all the baby boys of Israel to be drowned in the Nile River. Or, again, queen Athaliah in the history of the kings of Judah. You may read of that in II Chronicles 22, when she even had her own grandchildren put to death. Why would she do that? Why would she act against her natural instincts? Was it selfishness? Was it greed? Oh, it was much more than that! It was Satanic. It was the attempt of Satan to destroy, to interrupt that line, in order to prevent the coming of Christ.
So also, when Jesus was born, you remember Herod had all the baby boys of Bethlehem, two years old and under, put to death. Why was that? Was it simply because he was an insecure king? Oh, there was much more to it than that. It was Satan attempting to stop the purposes of God.
We often ask the question, “Did Satan think that he could succeed in this?” I do not know the mind of Satan, but this much is sure: he put everything into it, everything he had. He knew that Christ was the One whom God had promised, promised already in Paradise the first. He is the Messiah. He is the One who has come to perform the perfect obedience which would be the basis of the salvation of God’s children. So he confronts Christ.
What is his purpose? His purpose is to get the Son, the perfect Son of God, off the path of obedience. He is determined to defeat what God had said.
So, through the temptations of Christ God is pleased to reveal in an amazing and profound way the obedience of His Son, the Son of whom He said, “I am well pleased.” God provides our Lord Jesus Christ who, according to the psalmist, is going to restore that which He took not away. Consciously and deliberately He will walk the path of obedience to the Father. He will obey for us and render a perfect obedience. That perfect obedience is the foundation of all of our salvation. That is what we must see.
God says to us that of ourselves we are far from righteous. We are disobedient. We cannot, of ourselves, render to Him a perfect act of obedience which can be the basis of our acceptance into the heavens. “But I have given My Son. Look to My Son. He rendered perfect obedience in your stead. And on the basis of His work, and His work alone, My people are accounted righteous before Me.”
So, bearing in mind God’s purpose of revealing a perfectly obedient Son, we come, now, to this final temptation of the Lord. When we look at the third temptation as a whole we see that Satan is pretending that he is ready to accept Christ in His claim as the chosen Messiah. To some degree he indicated that in the second temptation. You remember that he used Psalm 91:11, 12. Those words certainly referred to the Messiah. In the first and second temptation, however, Satan used the word “if.” If Thou be the Son of God, change these stones into bread. If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down from the pinnacle of the temple. Now in the third temptation, he does not use the word “if.” He is conceding, so to speak, that point. He is not “iffing” about the deity of Christ. He is not “iffing” about the Father’s good pleasure in Him. He does not set a question mark over the claim that this is indeed the Son of God, the Messiah. But, so to speak, he is saying to our Lord, “All right, You have come to rule. You have come to reign over a kingdom of God. I’ll consent to that. But isn’t there an easier way? Can’t we co-exist? I’m not asking much. And I can give You what You want in a simpler, quicker way. Let’s make peace. This opposition between us, this enmity can be done away with. I’ll concede the point: You are to be a great king over the people of God. Cannot we somehow co-exist? All this temptation can be over. You can still have what You want and what You have set out to achieve. You can be Lord, You can reign. But You don’t have to go the way You are going to attain it – the way of suffering in the place of God’s children. I will concede it all. I’ll give it all up. For just one thing.”
Now we have to remember that Satan’s temptations are always measured and they are always appropriate. He begins by saying “If.” “If the Word of God is true in what it says about You, if that is so, change these stones into bread.” Then he continues in the second temptation: “If You are the Son of God, prove it, put it to a test. God says He delights in You; well, let’s prove it, let’s see if that is so. Cast Yourself from the temple.” But now he says to Him, “You have come to rule in the hearts of men and women. You have come to rule over a great kingdom. I’ll give You that one. But You can do that in a simpler way. You don’t need to be out here in the wilderness suffering, trudging this weary path. We can negotiate. All I want from You is recognition.”
To convey this in a most appealing and graphic manner as possible, we read that “the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” We know that the Judean wilderness was filled with hundreds of peaks, mountains which were very high and able to provide a great view of the surrounding area, a panorama of the surrounding area. So the devil brings Jesus to a place which is impressive and awe-inspiring. We would experience immediately a surge of amazement and power. And, evidently, Satan was saying, “I’ll give You all that You can see. What You see is only a sampling, it’s only a taste. I’ll give You what You see and more. All the kingdoms of the world,” he says to Jesus, “and the glory of them.”
It is helpful to compare these words in Matthew 4 with what we read in Luke 4. In Luke 4:5-7 we read: “And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.” In an instant of time in history, that is, he gave Jesus to see, in a brief segment of time, all the kingdoms of the world. They all passed before Him. That is, he showed Jesus not just what the human eye could see, the power and the glory of what His eye could see at that time, but he showed Jesus, in a way that we cannot fathom, a snapshot of all the kingdoms of the world at that moment. He did not show the slums and the failures and the problems of those kingdoms. But he showed the glory and the power of them. He conjured up the brilliance of Egypt, the stateliness and gold of Rome, the learning and the coliseums of Greece. Something very remarkable took place. You see, special effects certainly are not new with Satan, not new with respect to the devil. The devil is able, according to Scripture, to transpose himself into an angel of light. The devil put on a demonstration. A snapshot of all the kingdoms of the world, all the power and all the glory of them in a moment of time – he showed it all to Christ. And he said to Him, “The cream of the crop is Yours. I’ll give it to You.”
Now we have a question: Could Satan actually do that? Could he legitimately say, “For this is delivered unto me and whomsoever I will give it.” Satan speaks to Christ as if he has ownership and authority over the world. “I can keep it,” he says, “or I can give it away.” He makes out as if God has given it all over into his hands and he can do with it as he pleases. What is the answer to that? The answer is this: Never forget, the devil is a liar. That is what Jesus said in John 8:44 when He was speaking to the Pharisees who did not believe the truth as it was in Him. He said to the Pharisees: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” When the devil says to Christ that he owns and can give it all to Him, he is a liar. Just because he says something does not make it true. The devil is an impostor, a deceiver. He cannot give you what he promises. It is God, not the arch-fiend of hell, who holds all in His hands. Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Daniel 4:25, “The most high rules in the kingdoms of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.”
The devil is trying to make this sound good. He says, “It was delivered unto me.” You see, he is shading the truth. In a sense he is saying, “Well, I can’t do anything without the permission of God, but God has given this to me.” But he is a liar. God holds all things in His hands and from His hands proceed blessing and curse.
Why then, if that is so, does Jesus call him the prince of this world? He calls him this in John 12:32. Again in Ephesians 2:2 we read that the devil is called the prince of the power of the air, and in Ephesians 6 he is called the ruler of the darkness of this world. We ask the question because many have unbiblical and fanciful and distorted ideas about the power of the devil and the power of Christ, as if the power of Christ and the power of the devil are in a great tussle, a great wrestling match between the two of them as to who is going to win out in the end. We hear today of great emphasis upon the devil and his power – that he has power that Christ is worried about and he can take you out of the hand of Christ.
The answer again is that, yes, Satan, through sin, has a great and prevailing influence in the world of sin and darkness. He has great influence in the world. He seeks to spread his hellish world-view and value system. And the world has lovingly and willingly adopted and followed the devil. In the way of sin, because of the sin of man, the devil influences and reigns in the hearts of men. But, nevertheless, the Scriptures are clear that the devil cannot so much as move apart from the will and the decree of God. All his insane wickedness is used of God, controlled of God, to accomplish all of God’s own purposes. For the Scriptures speak to us of the sovereign God, the God who rules over all things and reigns to bring all things to pass, even as He Himself hath determined.
A beautiful chapter in the Bible on this is Ephesians 1. Read that today. There we read of God’s eternal purposes as they center in Jesus Christ, purposes that were with God before He created the world, purposes in which God decreed within Himself to elect, to choose, in Christ a church and to make that church holy and beloved before Him. It speaks there of the purpose of God whereby He works all things after the counsel of His own will. And that does not exclude Satan.
Satan is a liar. Just because he says something does not make it true. Nevertheless, Satan is a great deceiver. Revelation 12 tells us that he deceived the whole world. And he appeals again to what he knows of the human nature.
We must remember that our Lord is in the human nature as He stands before Satan. He was without sin. Neither could He do sin. Neither is there iniquity found within Him, says the Scripture in I Peter 2. Nevertheless, He stands before Satan as a man in our human flesh. And Satan has studied men. He knows that there are things that are true about men as men. So he says, “All right. I know what God has said in Psalm 2. God has said to You as the Messiah, as His Christ: Ask of Me and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession. Now I say to You, Messiah, I have no problem with that. After two temptations, I see that You are made of sturdy stuff. I see that You intend to go through with it. I see that You intend to follow this path of suffering, to drink the cup of anguish. But now I say to You, I concede. I have another way. Let’s cut a deal. I just ask one thing: Bow down to me. Not forever. I’m not asking eternal devotion. I’m not asking that You rule in my name. I’m not asking for Your soul. I’m not asking anything long-term. I’m not asking for a repeated act. Just one time. Give me the satisfaction of one time. And I’ll give You all You ever want. And I’ll give You far more. You won’t have to drink the cup of suffering. Isn’t it human, oh Christ, to achieve the most with as little effort as possible?” Satan has watched men over the ages. Is not that the way the human nature works – as much as possible for as little as possible? “I’ll give You a reign, I’ll give You a rule. But You can gain it, not by being a sin-bearer, but through one act of worshiping me. Oh, yes, that way of suffering and obedience to the Father – that’s very noble. But it’s not necessary. I’m willing to concede. I ask of You just one little thing: recognition for a moment. Flatter me, will You? And I’ll give You everything. You can have it and You will win.” That was the temptation.
What was the Lord’s answer? Get thee hence, Satan. For it is written: Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve.
Our time has quickly slipped away. We have to come back to this next time. Join me then, will you? Same time, same place, as we will continue in this last temptation of the Lord. Until that time, may God bless you through His holy Word.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the obedient Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Open our eyes through this exposition of Scripture that we may see that the tactics of the evil one have never changed. His temptations are always cunningly presented to us as seeking, finally, a compromise, as saying to us that we can co-exist, that evil can co-exist with holiness. Lord, give us to see the folly of such. And give us to stand, by grace, in the words of our Savior: We will worship the Lord only. Him only will we serve. In His name, Amen.