Summary: A look at the third temptation of Jesus in Matthew. The temptation to use power for good, but not in God's way.
The devil saves the best for last in his plan to tempt Jesus. He takes him to a very high mountain and shows him the glories of the nation of Israel, and in a vision shows him all the kingdoms of the world, both present and future. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” But Jesus rebukes the devil and again resorts to the Scripture for his strength and defense: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” When Jesus had met his last and greatest temptation in the wilderness, the devil left him and the angels came and ministered to him.
You have to remember the nature of who Jesus is, and his potential power in the world. We are not tempted with being a world ruler because none of us have that potential, and besides, we have trouble enough running our home, or our business, without trying to run the world. But the temptation to power always has great allurement for those who know that potential is within their reach. We have to go no further than our recent experiences with the struggle for power in Jerusalem and other parts of the Middle East today. Not to mention a whole host of other power struggles going on all over the globe. Men with the potential for being key figures among the power brokers of the world, have caused incalculable suffering as they have tried to live out their ambitions. But the same scenario can be played out in a home, an office, a church, a business, local councils and governments. It is tremendously tempting for those who see power within their grasp, no matter how small the realm, to want to grab for that power. There are those who will stop at nothing until they are in control. There are even those who in a very real sense bow down to the devil and use any form of evil to achieve their ends.
It is possible to be tempted with the desire to control the world out of the best of motives. It is tempting for some Christians who believe they can change the world through political power. We desperately need good moral leadership in government, but it would not make the United States a Christian nation even if every one of our leaders was a genuine Christian, nor would it bring in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God cannot be forced on a nation, or an individual, from the outside, it comes only from the work of God on the inside. It does not come through the passage of laws or court decisions, it comes as a result of the transforming work of the Spirit of God. Laws are necessary for the protection and preservation of society, but the laws themselves do not change anyone. They sometimes control those who need controlling, but they do not affect the inner life of those individuals. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). The Kingdom of God comes about through prayer more than it does picketing. The problem is that we do not believe enough in the power of prayer.
I heard a true story about a small town with a church and a local bar located next door. The bar decided to have nude dancing, so the pastor and people of the church decided to have an all night prayer meeting. During the prayer meeting some of those present fervently asked that the Lord would burn down the bar next door. Astonishingly, a few days later the bar burned to the ground due to an electrical short in the wiring. The owner of the bar went to court and sued the church for their role in the bar’s destruction. But the pastor and members denied any responsibility. The judge made the adroit observation that it seemed unusual to have before him a bar owner who believed in the power of prayer and a church which did not.
Let’s look at this temptation of Jesus piece by piece. First, the Bible says that the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. There is no mountain in the world high enough to see all the kingdoms of the world, even in Jesus’ day, but a high mountain was an appropriate place for the devil to give him visions of all the kingdoms of the world, both present and future. I like to think the United States was included in that vision, as well as other modern governments. The splendor of high-tech, wealthy and powerful kingdoms was a tremendous contrast to the squalid kingdoms of the middle east in that day. The appeal was to have a hand in directing the events of all these kingdoms for the best possible reasons, ruling the world for the greatest benefit and blessing of humanity, easing human suffering, giving moral direction, squelching international conflicts and despotic rulers. The temptation was very real and very difficult to turn down. What a difference he could make! His policies would make the world so much better. And there would be no one to oppose him; no conflicts, no suffering, no cross, because he would be in control. His life would not just affect a few people, it would affect all people, present and future. But as Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).