Jesus, Satan and Caesar

Satan offered Jesus unlimited political power to achieve his messianic mission if only he acknowledged him as his overlord

Satan tempted Jesus by offering political power over “all the kingdoms of the world,” but he refused the offer. Instead of power and grandeur, he submitted to the way of the ‘Suffering Servant.’ Arguably, the most startling detail of this encounter is that Christ did not dispute the Devil’s claim to have jurisdiction over the political systems of the world.

He was “driven” into the wilderness by the Spirit to be “tested” by the Devil. Thus, the event was instigated by God. There, Satan tempted him in four ways, and the greatest test was the offer of unlimited political power - (Matthew 4:8-11).

Augustus - Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash
[Augustus - Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash]

The Devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the “
kingdoms of the world (kosmos) and their grandeur.” He was offering him more than just sovereignty over the Jewish nation.

THE TEST


In the passage, the term “world” or “kosmos” can refer to the entire physical world if not the creation itself, the ‘Cosmos.’ Effectively, Satan is offering him the “kingdom of God,” the very thing he has come to inaugurate.

In the version of the story in Luke, the Tempter boasts that he will give Jesus “all this authority” if he acknowledges his sovereignty, and he declares that “it has been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it.”

But Jesus does NOT call him a liar or dispute his right to dispense political power, which almost certainly he would have if the Devil does not have this authority. And if Satan received this authority from a higher source (“it has been delivered to me”), that can only be God.

Very likely, behind Satan’s claim is the fall of man. His “right” or rulership over humanity is the consequence of Adam’s sin - (John 12:31, 14:30).

Desert wilderness - Photo by Avi Waxman on Unsplash
[Photo by Avi Waxman on Unsplash]

To acquire such awesome power, Jesus must “
RENDER HOMAGE” to the Devil. The Greek verb denotes giving homage or allegiance to someone or something of higher rank, not the modern western idea of “worship” in a religious sense. Thus, to gain universal sovereignty and absolute power it is necessary for Christ to acknowledge Satan as his overlord, at least, according to the faux “god of this world.”

WHAT KIND OF KING?


Is this a real temptation for the Son of God? Is he not the Messiah appointed by God to reign over all the earth? But how can the Davidic king reign over the rebellious nations of the earth without the military and economic powers of the World Empire?

  • I have set my king on my holy hill of Zion… Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession” – (Psalm 2:6-8).

Effectively, Satan is providing a shortcut to Christ’s God-ordained sovereignty over the world, a way for him to avoid suffering and death on a Roman cross.

And imagine all the good Jesus could accomplish if he possesses Caesar’s throne and commands his legions! With the military and economic might of Rome at his fingertips, will not righteousness and peace quickly become reality throughout the Empire?

Surely, if ever there was justification for the resort to State power this is it. Who better to wield the imperial might of the empire than the Prince of Peace?

SUFFERING SERVANT


But rather than bow to Satan and resort to the political methods that dominate the present age, Jesus submits to the path of the Suffering Servant.

In the Kingdom of God, true victory is achieved through self-denial and sacrificial service for others, and “greatness” is measured by acts of mercy, especially to one’s “enemy” and persecutor.

Contrary to the expectations of his contemporaries, and in defiance of Satan’s offer, Jesus “took on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death.”

And because of this choice, God has exalted him to reign over the Cosmos and given him the “name, which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” But Golgotha must precede ascension and glory.

And the disciple of Jesus is summoned to ADOPT THIS SAME PERSPECTIVE. Let this “mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus”:

  • Who being in the form of God, counted not the being like God a thing to be seized, but poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, being made in human likeness; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore, God highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth” - (Philippians 2:6-11).

Institutional Christianity has a long history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and conduct is too great. But sooner or later, advancing Christ’s kingdom through the political means of this age will always necessitate resorting to the coercive power of the State.

We need to take seriously the scriptural portrayal of political power as part of Satan’s domain. If the Devil works behind the scenes in this world, and if the possession of political power necessitates giving allegiance to him, and since Jesus himself refused to do so and instead chose the way of the cross, should we not follow his example? Should we embrace what he rejected?



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