If Satan was brazen enough to tempt Jesus Christ to embrace a counterfeit parody of himself in the Judean wilderness , then nothing would stop him from attempting to convert the ‘image of Jesus’ that resides in the minds of contemporary Christians wandering through the wilderness of modern life. In fact, this wily deceiver has been conspiring to change the enduring image of Jesus, in the unconscious logic of unwitting Christians in every new generation since that historic encounter. He desperately seeks to create in the their minds a conceptual model of Jesus, more aligned with his goal to deceive the nations.
Twice already, the deceiver has attempted to thwart Jesus’ ministry before it formally began, subtly tempting him to give into: In the first instance, his material self- interest and, in the second instance, his religious self- promotion–twice he failed.
But that ancient serpent was not going to give up. This time, he was confident that Jesus could not resist his last offering: World domination. The offer of unlimited power and glory–to rule over the vast scope of this temporal world, with all its might and splendour. After all, no self-respecting Messiah should expect anything less ?
Let’s consider it;
‘Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.’ Matthew 4:8-11 (NIV)
Satan is able to supernaturally transport Jesus to a high mountain and project before him a fantastical vista of the empires of the world. As we might watch a movie promoting the excellent virtues of buying into a time-share located on an opulent tropical island, Satan, as it were, sells ‘the world’ to Jesus. He extols all the grandness and splendour of human glory and the empires that birthed them. Then makes his offer, ‘ And all this I will give to you…’
Political power and influence without limit. Can you just hear Satan’s words dripping like poison into Jesus ears, ‘ You came to deliver the world, well here it is–the world at your finger tips. No need to sacrifice yourself for their sins, no need for costly evangelistic endeavours, no need to try and convince the free will of humanity to believe in you. Just offer the decree to all the world leaders and they will create a state religion which will legislate the worship of Jesus. In fact, you could create a world-wide religion and unite all these kingdoms as one, and you could rule over them all; with absolute power–just imagine it!’
Of course there is ‘just’ one small qualification to this offer. Satan requires Jesus to bow down and worship him as Lord. He is requiring Jesus to become an apostate and turn to the dark side! Satan is, in effect, offering Jesus the whole world, in exchange for becoming a Satan worshipping Jesus–one who now served the will and purpose of God’s greatest enemy.
Now, in a moment of sober reflection, you have to ask: ‘What was Satan thinking, was he completely deluded?’ Well yes! You have to remember, that with Satan, you a dealing with a mind thoroughly distorted by sin, a mind completely given over to self-oriented introspection, a mind not only independent of God but absolutely dedicated to promoting the same manner of independence with anyone he can get his crooked claws into. You see, Satan , in his perverted state of mind, believes others think like him and what entices him must entice them! Now, ordinarily this might work on fallible humans, but the subject of this particular temptation is substantially different–it is the Son of God.
Clearly it didn’t work. In fact, so offensive is this offer that Jesus’ response is blunt, to say the least, ‘ Away from me Satan!” Why would Jesus give up his own eternal glory for the fading glory of this world, even despite its apparent value to the eye of sinful man? At this point, the words he later speaks to his disciples immediately comes to mind, ‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?’ Luke 9:25 (NIV)
Satan was offering Jesus the whole world, and expecting to give up his ‘very self’ for it–to deny who he truly was and become: A Satanic Jesus, a false Messiah, and an Anti-Christ!
Jesus’ rebuke, as we have come to expect, was substantiated by a reliance on Holy Scripture–the living and active Word of God: ‘ Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ (from Deuteronomy 6).
Jesus does not resort to his own divine reason, and does not appeal to his superior role as the Son of God. He quotes Holy Scripture because, as with his two previous counter-temptation practises, he wanted to assert his dependency on and allegiance to his heavenly father. This allegiance is most powerfully affirmed, by vocally confessing the father’s authoritative word as the basis of the defence. Quoting the Word of God, is akin to saying, ‘God whom I worship, who is above all, who is my loving benefactor, speaks on my behalf, and that is enough for me. His word is true and it never fails– and I will trust him with my life and my future!’
Satan, realising the futility of this quest, turns and flees.
However, the deceiver may have failed to persuade Jesus, but if there has ever been a temptation that has succeeded in enticing Christians to embrace the counterfeit Christ, this is it. It seems that political power, in whatever from it may take, is irresistible to the fallen human nature! Christian history is replete with examples.
In 312 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine has a vision of a cross projected above the sun, with the words ‘ with this sign conquer’. In a dream, the following night, the Emperor is, allegedly, instructed by Jesus to use this ‘sign’ to conquer his enemies. He converts to Christianity, and Christianity is subsumed by the Roman Empire, eventually becoming the Roman Church; a church that conquered the world–advancing the cause of Christ through politically-backed might.
Not only so, but a similar Jesus was co-opted to justify Protestant conquests. Those familiar with Calvin’s Geneva and his use of state power to suppress radicals like the Ana-Baptists, or Cromwellian England and the Puritan inspired overthrow of the English Crown with it’s affiliated religious wars; even against those in Scotland who shared similar religious beliefs! Indeed, there is no end to the catalogue of political conquests enacted in the name of Jesus, in the centuries following the Reformation.
Even today, the American Evangelicals see the current President as the champion of their faith, using political power to advance the cause of Christ. And, of course, those on the other side of politics; numerous adherents of the radical left seek to use a form of Jesus to justify their many social-justice crusades. Hoping to entice followers to their cause with their falsely manufactured Jesus. It seems Satan’s political ambitions for the Jesus of our unconscious logic is alive and well.
Of course, even on a lower level, within the scope of menial Church politics, Satan has convinced many Christian leaders to embrace the Jesus of political power; the one who conquers enemies and advances their might through various religious means; and this to advance, at least in their understanding, the cause of the gospel. But you have to wonder, who is really conquered, what is really advanced?
In hindsight, it is somewhat incredulous that all these things have taken place, inspite of Jesus’ thwarting of Satan during his temptation, and his repeated rejection of political aspirations in the New Testament. When challenged by Peter to reconsider his death on behalf of humanity (no doubt inspired by Peter’s imagined view of a ruling Messiah), Jesus responds, ‘ Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ Matt 16:23 (NIV) Or again, when questioned by Pilate ( a man steeped in political method), as to the nature of his kingship, Jesus replies, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.’ John 18:36 (NIV)
Yes, as tempting as it might seem, to embrace a view of Jesus that endorses political power as a means to successfully advancing the Kingdom of God, it is entirely false.
In fact, Jesus was at pains to avoid political power and glory, instead taking the road-less-travelled and walking in humility and weakness, trusting in God’s vindication of his methods and aspiring toward a hope in an eternal kingdom; a kingdom offered to those who deny themselves and lay down their lives for the hope of an eternal glory.
The Kingdom that Jesus looked forward to was, and is, eminently greater in glory and splendour than anything this world could offer; devoting one’s life to any lesser cause would be a waste.