In Mathew’s narrative, the third temptation Jesus faces in the wilderness is when the devil offers to make him King of the world. My point in this series has been that, sooner or later, we all will get tempted the same way Jesus was tempted. So, what does being King of the world mean in my life?
(I cite here the devil’s offer from Luke because he has one more detail):
Luke 4:5-7 And [the devil], leading him up into a high mountain, shewed him all the kingdoms of the habitable world in a moment of time. And the devil said to him, I will give thee all this power, and their glory; for it is given up to me, and to whomsoever I will I give it. If therefore *thou* wilt do homage before me, all [of it] shall be thine. Matthew 4:10 Then says Jesus to him, Get thee away, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt do homage to [the] Lord thy God, and him alone shalt thou serve.
I pointed out in the previous posts that temptation #2 was somewhat similar to #1, in the sense that they both involved expecting, or even forcing, Divine Intervention by God. Here, temptation #3 is somewhat akin to #2 in the sense that they both involve Jesus’ role as the Messiah. Or, I should say, the perversion of that role.
In the second temptation, the devil invited Jesus to embrace – then and there – the role of the Messiah as the conquering King of Israel. But to do that, Jesus would have had to abandon His Father’s plan for the coming of the suffering Messiah: the one that would pay for the sins of the world.
That second temptation played to vanity: the desire that is found in all our hearts to be admired, to be seen as the hero, the winner, the savior.
My brother and I read and collected superhero comic books since we were in first or second grade. (Mostly Marvel, although later on I would buy DC, Charlton, Gold Key, etc.) Yes, it was escapism. But I really feel that a big part of that fascination so many of us have with superheroes is, at least in part, the desire to stand out from the masses, to be recognized, to feel valued by the world. If I had those powers… how different life would be.
As comic book artist and creator Jack Kirby once told us: When the Vikings looked at the hardships of their lives, and even at the fact that a lot of their living was made by stealing from other people, there was one thing that they clung to, that always lifted their spirits and their self-respect: That thunder and lightning going on in that storm… that was Thor, fighting the storm giants on their behalf.
If I had those powers, I would… (fill in the blank)
But the third temptation is not playing to vanity. It is playing to my desire to have control, my desire to be the decider of my fate.
Can the end justify the means, sometimes?
Satan knew how the Father’s plan was meant to culminate: In the end, every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord over all. That was the point of the prophecies in Daniel about the Son of Man who would usher in the Kingdom that would never end. So, what the devil offers Jesus in the third temptation is not the cancellation of that plan but its fulfilment NOW.
“If you are going to be the King of Kings in the end, anyway… Hey, I give up. You can have it all, right now. Look, it has all been given to me already and therefore I can do whatever I want with it. So, here, take it. I give it to you; be the King of Kings.”
Interesting… What would have happened if Jesus had agreed? We have all sorts of prophecies about the Reign of the Messiah. Depending on how you interpret them, it seems that it includes a 1000 year physical reign where again God establishes an undeniable Theocracy on Earth; just as in the days of the Kings of Judah. Except this time no one, no nation, will be able to deny who is the only Almighty God.
Zechariah 14:8-9 And it shall come to pass in that day [that] living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the eastern sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. And Jehovah shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Jehovah, and his name one…
Zechariah 14:16-17 …And it shall come to pass, that all that are left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, Jehovah of hosts, and to celebrate the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso goeth not up of the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, Jehovah of hosts, upon them shall be no rain.
Can you imagine? With God in control, all the lies of men would be exposed for what they are… puny, useless, worthless. Truth would be True, Justice would be Righteous. Good – not might – would be the rule of the land.
Wouldn’t you want to live in that Kingdom? Think about it: Never ever having to wonder if God exists or if He can hear your prayers. Sickness would be abolished; lifespans measured in hundreds of years. Even the violence of Nature would be tamed.
Isaiah 11:6-9 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatted beast together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the she-bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the adder, and the weaned child shall put forth its hand to the viper’s den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea.
“Come on… Jesus! It is your life we are talking about. Isn’t this what you have always wanted? Your disciples won’t have to be martyred. The Holocaust will never happen. Think of all the suffering you will save the human race…
… All I ask is one little thing: Thank me: Bow down and worship me.”
If you were there, listening to this conversation, what would you have urged Jesus to say?
This is the kind of question that we know how we are supposed to answer but whose alternatives we seldom think through… My mom wouldn’t have had to die of dementia. My cousin wouldn’t have had to die of liver cancer. Fill in your blanks. All the suffering, all the prayers that never seemed to get answered, all the disappointments… erased, as it were, with the snap of a finger.
“Jesus… Do you really care about all those people? Then why put them through this charade called human life? Get it done and over with, now. You choose.”
What would have happened if Jesus had agreed? Sure, the Kingdom of the Messiah would have begun… But over a hundred billion people (21 centuries of humanity) would have been condemned to eternal separation from God.
Because if Jesus had accepted the Throne, then and there, the crucifixion would have never happened. His blood would not have been shed to pay for the sins of the world.
And that was out of the question. For as Peter tells us, 2 Peter 3:9 … It is not God’s will that any should perish.
The Father’s plan has never been a charade…
Jesus always subjected His will to the perfect plan of the Father. So much so that He made a commitment from the beginning of time to die for us. That is why one of the possible translations of Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus: The Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world.
In Isaiah we get a glimpse of a conversation that happened outside of Time. It is the Son, speaking about the Plan:
Isaiah 49:1-4 … And he said unto me, Thou art my servant, Israel, in whom I will glorify myself. And I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and in vain; nevertheless my judgment is with Jehovah, and my work with my God.
The Son knew what it would mean to take on this mission of Love from the Father: It would all seem in vain, it would seem a failure… because His enemies would triumph and kill Him on the cross. David prophesied about the agony on the cross in Psalm 22:
Psalm 22:1-19 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? [why art thou] far from my salvation, from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry by day, and thou answerest not; and by night, and there is no rest for me: And thou art holy, thou that dwellest amid the praises of Israel...
… But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and the despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, [saying:] Commit it to Jehovah—let him rescue him; let him deliver him, because he delighteth in him!
… I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is become like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my palate; and thou hast laid me in the dust of death.
For dogs have encompassed me; an assembly of evil-doers have surrounded me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may count all my bones. They look, they stare upon me; they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. But thou, Jehovah, be not far [from me]; O my strength, haste thee to help me…
Jesus knew, before it all happened, what it would cost to take on the sins of the whole world and yet, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said, Matthew 26:39 My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; but not as *I* will, but as *thou* [wilt].
In that third temptation, the devil wasn’t telling Jesus out and out to reject the Father’s Plan. He was saying,
“You can take a short cut. Look, you get to the same End point anyway. So, what if it isn’t exactly what the Father had in mind. Don’t you have a right to decide for yourself a better way… I mean, a better way for you?”
And that is the temptation. That is how it applies the same way to us: God has a Plan for my life. But the devil will say,
“Ok, Ok, I know… But, tell me, whose life is it anyway?”
This is an ancient temptation…
Eve and the serpent
Eve’s temptation was the same.
When the serpent tempts Eve to eat of the Tree of all that can be known about good and evil, many of us assume that neither Eve nor Adam understood what good and evil were at that point. Yet, the story says no such thing. In fact, the story implies that Adam and Eve spent plenty of time walking in the Garden with God, talking to Him.
If you had been there as one of them, just the three of you, wouldn’t you have asked some pointed questions? Particularly, about that tree of which you were told not to eat? Anyone that has raised little children knows they are not shy about asking “Why?” And Adam and Eve were a lot smarter than children! In fact, we can even deduce that they had pondered on their own about all this revelation, based on Eve’s explanation to the serpent, where she hyperbolized the danger of the tree by suggesting that they were forbidden even to touch it.
Any student of History will tell you that, tempting as it may be to second guess otherwise, we have to give the benefit of the doubt to the original writers of an account. You cannot force a witness to contradict himself just because you do not want to believe what he says. This is the foundation of the innocent until proven guilty maxim of our legal system.
So, in reading the account in Genesis, we have to assume that Adam and Eve understood full well the meaning of good, the meaning of evil, and even the meaning of death. Otherwise, on the latter one, Satan’s whole temptation that “you surely shall not die” would have been unintelligible.
So, what was that temptation in the Garden all about?
In the original Hebrew, in God’s admonition to Adam, He calls the Tree, the Tree of hadaat of good and evil; from the root daath which means discernment, knowledge, premeditation; even, skill.
But the word the serpent uses is different.
Genesis 3:1 …And it said to the woman, Is it even so, that God has said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
Note how the deception starts. It starts by planting the idea that God could be mean-hearted and fickle by giving them a whole Garden and then forbidding them to eat of every tree.
Genesis 3:2-3 And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God has said, Ye shall not eat of it, and ye shall not touch it, lest ye die.
Eve’s answer makes sense in the light that, someday, she would be raising little children. It’s like when we train a toddler, under the penalty of spanking, not to cross the street. The toddler cannot understand that, because they are so small, they are hard for an oncoming car to see. So, you establish the forbidden line not at a street with cars coming but at the very boundary of the street. Once they grow older, and they understand, then you teach them to look both ways, etc. I think Eve would have taught her children, “don’t you even touch that tree!”
Genesis 3:4-5 And the serpent said to the woman, Ye will not certainly die; but God knows that in the day ye eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and ye will be as God, knowing good and evil.
The word the serpent uses for “knows” is different: It is from the root yada: It has different force. Among its many uses it means: ability, to acknowledge, to be acquainted, aware, to bring forth, chosen, clearly understand, cohabit, discern, disciplined, discovered, distinguish, experienced, familiar friend, intimate friends, know with certainty, understand, very well know.
When I read all these possible meanings, one word that comes to mind is sagacity: having or showing keen mental discernment. In particular, it implies that this knowledge is something I have figured out by experience.
To me, daath defines knowledge as a collection of objective Truth, in the same way that the Law is the collection of God’s objective rules that define His will for His children. God determined the Law and established Knowledge for our good.
Thus, when God tells us in Hosea: (4:6) My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; for thou hast rejected knowledge, and I will reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me; seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children… There, the word used is daath.
Or when Jeremiah rebukes the king:
Jeremiah 22:13-16 Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his upper chambers by injustice; that taketh his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not his earning; that saith, I will build me a wide house, and spacious upper chambers; and he cutteth out for himself windows; and it is wainscoted with cedar, and painted with vermilion. Shalt thou reign, because thou viest with the cedar?
Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Was not this to know me? saith Jehovah.
That again is daath. It is used all over the book of Job this way, and in the Wisdom literature:
Psalm 94:9-10 Understand, ye brutish among the people; and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that instructeth the nations, shall not he correct—he that teacheth man knowledge?
Proverbs 8:10-11 Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold: for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not equal to it. I Wisdom dwell [with] prudence, and find the knowledge [which cometh] of reflection.
Daath-knowledge is a statement of fact established by God and taught by God to give life to His children.
But yada-knowledge always has the sense of something man has figured out on his own strength.
And Eve understood the difference. For it says:
Genesis 3:6 And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a pleasure for the eyes, and the tree was to be desired to give intelligence; and she took of its fruit, and ate, and gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
That word intelligence is from the root sakal: to have insight, comprehension, particularly in how that leads to prosperity or success. Again, it speaks of an accomplishment of man.
The serpent’s offer to Eve was straightforward after all:
“You don’t need to believe God’s definition of right and wrong, you can be your own moral compass.”
Whose life is it anyway?
Notice that the devil did not tell Eve that good was for sissies and evil was for the strong. No, the devil appears to accept, even to promote, the fact that good and evil exist. And he is not taking any sides either; you see…
“Hey, it’s not for me to tell you how to live your life. All I am telling you is: you can figure all this out on your own. Why take God’s word for it? Why limit your life by what He says? Isn’t it your life?”
That is the strength of the third temptation: You, human being, get to decide right and wrong. Sounds almost reasonable. After all, didn’t God give us free will? Didn’t He give us the ability to think? Why should God object when we exercise those gifts?
Jesus was tempted the same way we are tempted.
And we are tempted the same way He was.
He was made this same offer. He had the same free will we have. He had the same ability to think that we have. He could certainly come up with His own plans. And I think most of us would agree that any plan Jesus came up with would be way better thought out than anything we could ever come up with. And yet, when given the choice to choose His way, His plan, over the Father’s Plan, what did He choose?
He chose the Father’s Plan.
Why? Was He weak-willed? Was He not courageous enough to stand on His own two feet?
What do you think?
I think He fully understood the difference between daath-knowledge and yada-knowledge. He understood that God’s plan is infinitely more perfect than anything we could ever come up with on our own.
But above all, He understood that it is up to us to decide whether we want to be King or Servant. It is our choice. It was His choice. And He made it:
Mark 10:45 (NASB) “…For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
That is why His rebuttal to the devil is: Thou shalt do homage to [the] Lord thy God, and him alone shalt thou serve.
Him alone shall though serve. Him, not me!
Yes, it is my life. And he has given me free will to decide what to do with it. That means, I am the only one that can give it to Him willingly.
I could choose to be King of my world; or I can accept Him as the only One worthy to be King, and choose to serve Him.