Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.
“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.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)
The first two temptations backfired, so the devil tried one last “go for broke” tack, asking directly what he had been angling for all along — for Jesus to bow down and worship him. The enticement he would use would be the kingdoms of the world and all their wealth. After all, wasn’t Messiah supposed to come rule over Israel and subdue the nations? Indeed.
Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut, but it was something that was not his to give. In Psalm 2, God says to his Son, whom he has anointed to be king, “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” In Daniel 4:32, a voice from heaven announces, “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
All the kingdoms on earth have always belonged to God, and they had already been promised to Jesus. Satan was nothing more than a usurper who deceived the nations and exercised what the apostle Paul calls the “principalities and powers,” that is, the demonic influences that lurk behind evil in governments and cultures. He could not offer Jesus the kingdoms of the world, only his dark dominion over them. But it is precisely that dark power that Messiah came to destroy. So the devil tried to cut a deal: “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.”
However, not only was Satan offering what was not his to give, he was also asking for what could never be. There is but one God, and though he be triune, Satan is not part of that Trinity — and the difference is vast. Satan is all for himself. God has always been for others, even within the fellowship of the Trinity: The Father is all for the Son and the Spirit, the Son is all for the Father and the Spirit, the Spirit is all for the Father and the Son — they are all for each other.
Satan is a destroyer; God is a creator. Satan is a taker; God is a giver. Satan is darkness; God is light. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the light who “shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5). Just as light could never rule by means of darkness, so Jesus could never rule by means of Satan’s dark power, for when light shines, darkness ceases to be. And that is what is now happening through King Jesus the Messiah: “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).
- Jesus has bound the “strong man” and has “plundered his house” (Mark 3:27). In his ministry, Jesus exorcised many demons, and he has given his people the authority to do the same.
- Jesus has ruined the works of the devil. “The reason the Son of God appeared,” says John, “was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). What the devil has done cannot stand.
- Jesus, by the cross, has broken the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).
- Jesus has qualified us “to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).
- Jesus, by the cross, has disarmed the principalities and powers and has made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them (Colossians 2:15). They cannot stop the kingdom of God from increasing all over the world.
In this final temptation, Jesus rebuked the devil, just as he had done the other two times, with a quote from Moses: “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus would not be bowing down to the devil but would be worshiping God alone. He was also serving notice that the devil himself would also be bowing down before God.
And so shall it be. For God has highly exalted Jesus and given him “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
What the devil offered falsely, God has truly accomplished in Christ. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).