Servant or Caesar?

In the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus by offering him political power over “all the kingdoms of the world,” an offer the Messiah of Israel emphatically refused. Instead of power and grandeur, he submitted to the way of the ‘Suffering Servant’ that leads inevitably to death. But the most startling detail of this encounter is that he did not dispute the Devil’s claim to have jurisdiction over the political systems of the world, including its most powerful empire.

Jesus 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 his greatest challenge was the offer of unlimited political power - (Matthew 4:8-11).

Mountain Top Alone - Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash
[Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash]

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

In the version of the story in Matthew, the term rendered “world” or “kosmos” can refer to the entire physical world if not the creation itself - the ‘Cosmos.’ Satan was offering Jesus a means to establish the “Kingdom of God,” the very thing for which he came.

In the version in the Gospel of Luke, the Tempter boasted that he would give Jesus “all this authority” if he only acknowledged Satan’s overlordship. Moreover, he declared that “it has been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it.”

Jesus did NOT call him a liar or dispute Satan’s right to dispense political power, which almost certainly he would have done if the Devil did not have this authority. Furthermore, if Satan received this authority from a higher source (“it has been delivered to me”), it could only be God.

Very likely, behind the Devil’s claim was the fall of man as recorded in the Book of Genesis. His “right” or rulership over humanity was the consequence of Adam’s disobedience - (John 12:31, 14:30).

In Matthew, to acquire this awesome power Jesus had to “RENDER HOMAGE” to the Devil. The Greek verb so rendered denotes giving homage or even allegiance to someone or something of higher rank. In other words, to gain universal sovereignty it was necessary for him to acknowledge Satan as his master.

Was this a real temptation for the Son of God? Was he not the Messiah appointed by God to reign over all the Earth? But how could he govern the rebellious nations of the world without the military and economic powers of the World Empire? - (Psalm 2:6-8).

Satan was offering a shortcut to the God-ordained sovereignty promised to the Messiah of Israel, a way for Jesus to avoid suffering and death on a Roman cross. Imagine all the good he could do if he possessed Caesar’s throne and commanded his legions! With the military and economic might of Rome at his fingertips, would not righteousness and peace prevail throughout the Empire?

Surely, if ever there was justification for resorting to State power and force, this was it. Who was better qualified to wield the imperial might of the Empire than the Prince of Peace?


Rather than bow to Satan and stoop to the corrupt and violent methods that dominate the present age, Jesus chose the path of the Suffering Servant. In his Kingdom, victory is achieved through self-denial and sacrificial service for others. “Greatness” is measured by acts of mercy and love, especially to one’s “enemy.”

Contrary to the expectations of his contemporaries, and in defiance of Satan’s offer, Jesus embraced the “form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death.” Therefore, God exalted him to reign over the Cosmos and gave 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.”

However, Calvary must precede exaltation and glory, and his disciples are summoned to ADOPT THIS SAME ORIENTATION by letting 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 instead, 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” - (Philippians 2:6-9).

Institutional Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and conduct on others is too great. But sooner or later, advancing God’s Kingdom through the political means of this fallen age necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State.

Thus, disciples of Jesus must choose between following the “Lamb wherever he goes,” or giving their allegiance to the “Beast from the Sea.” When they employ the corrupt political systems of this world, they willingly embrace that “Beast,” prostrate themselves before its “image,” and even “take its mark.”

Followers of Jesus must take seriously the Scriptural portrayal of political power as being part of Satan’s domain. If the Devil works behind the scenes in this world, if the possession of political power necessitates giving allegiance to him, and since Jesus himself refused to do so, should we not follow his example, or SHOULD WE EMBRACE WHAT HE REJECTED?



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