The temptation to rule the world is real, but let’s be clear about one thing: it is not the way of Jesus. The temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-10) is the perfect example of a Bible story that that needs fresh eyes.
First, the devil. One of the issues many modern adults have, is that we don’t believe the devil is real, which could be an entire post. For today, in looking at this story, let’s settle on the notion that the devil is the personification of the little voice that invites us to consider things that we know we shouldn’t, everything from a second helping of dessert to erupting at someone who has angered us.
In this story Jesus faces three temptations, and I don’t know about you, but I was always taught that the moral of the story is that Jesus was tempted and didn’t sin, therefore, we should be like Jesus and not sin when we’re tempted. I no longer think that’s what this is about at all. This is about Jesus’s purpose and mission; it’s about what the mission is not.
The first temptation feeds the former narrative well. Jesus was hungry and was tempted to turn stones into bread. Jesus says no. He’s better than the Israelites who were hungry in the wilderness and whined to God; he’s better than we are when we go for that second helping. He resists the temptation.
But is that really all it is? What temptation is Jesus really faced with – food, or using his power to serve himself? It’s easy to look at the headlines and see how other people have used their power to serve themselves, but we also need to look at ourselves. We all use our power, our time, talent, and money for our own benefit, well beyond our needs.
In the second temptation, Jesus is taken to a high peak and is tempted to prove that God is real and God will save him, by throwing himself off a cliff. The temptation to force God to prove himself to us is real. How many people have died because they believed God would save them, instead of taking simple, sensible precautions?
The second piece to this part, is that the devil used the words of the Bible to tempt Jesus. The Bible can be used to say anything we want, that’s why it’s important to understand more than just individual verses. When we grasp the overall mission and discern the heart of God, we can filter through the verses that are inconsistent and even contradictory. This also demonstrates to us that just because someone quotes scripture, doesn’t mean they speak for God. The devil knows scripture, too, and will manipulate it to confuse us.
Finally, and this one is the clincher, Jesus is tempted to turn away from his mission and rule the world. If Jesus would worship the devil, the devil would give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Again, I was taught things like: well, the kingdoms aren’t the devils to give, or Jesus knew he would one day rule the world anyway.
This is really about power. The expectation of most Jews was that the messiah would come, build an army, overthrow their oppressors and set up a new kingdom, a new Israel. The messiah would be a conqueror, a ruler, one who would institute Mosaic Law as the law of the land. But that wasn’t Jesus’ mission. It wasn’t the mission then and it’s not the mission now.
Jesus could have done that. People were waiting to join that army; they were ready to fight. That has been the temptation of the church ever since: to reclaim the world for God through force. But that’s not the mission. The mission is to reclaim the world for God through love. This requires hearts and attitudes of “love, of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. [And there is no need to control government to do that, because] against such things, there is no law.”