But Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’ ” (Luke 4:8 BSB)
Alexander Maclaren said that in this temptation Christ was tempted to grasp His dominion by a false means. The Lord was shown in a moment in time the kingdoms of the known world, and enticed to claim this world as His own by worshiping Satan. The Lord’s response was to say that only One is worthy of worship, and that is the Lord God.
Questions of the passage: There are two questions that people raise here on this point:
- Did Satan truly take Jesus up to a mountain and if so, what mountain was that? And how was it possible to show Him all the nations of the world?
- Why is the order different in Luke’s Gospel from Matthew’s Gospel? Matthew has this temptation last, and Luke places it second.
The Nature of Christ
Regarding whether it was a real mountain or not, looking carefully at the original language of Luke, it appears that this was a mental image and not a physical one. There is first of all the theological problem of suggesting that Jesus let Satan lead Him anywhere that would involve a lengthy journey, for that would already be giving into the temptation. To follow the devil anywhere is morally wrong, and we know from our own personal experience how many times Satan begins with what seems like an innocent suggestion, or an “acceptable sin” to lure us into being more vulnerable. This was the nature of Eve’s temptation in the Garden, that she listened to the devil.
The Nature of Temptation
The nature of temptation also strongly supports that this was a mental image, not a physical journey. The text emphasizes that it was a quick flash of a thought, such as would be a part of the temptation: “showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5). Temptation happens in our souls. James wrote: “Each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed” (James 1:14). This was why the temptations did not take root in Jesus’ heart, because His desire was simply to do the will of God. He was not possessed with his own evil desires that fought against Godly desires.
And another argument for it being a mental journey is the simple fact that the text has already given us a venue. He went out into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
And a final argument for it being a mental image and not a physical journey was that the word for “world” here is oikoumene or the ‘inhabited world,’ and there is no mountain in the world from where one could see all the inhabited nations of the world, not then and not now.
We must remember that Jesus was tested as we are tested, and He met this temptation as a man, a sinless man but a man nonetheless. There is a mystery concerning what Jesus of Nazareth knew and what He did not know. But the scripture says that He “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). If He were to face temptation like we face it, then He must have at His disposal the knowledge of things that we have at ours. The genius of His life was the spiritual dimension which made Him fully alive. The Spirit filled Him, led Him, guided Him, and revealed things to Him. But in laying aside His glory and taking on the form of a servant, there was also in this the laying aside of omniscience. Otherwise the scripture could not say that He “increased in wisdom.”
So the temptation took the nature of conjuring up in a flash the memories of the injustices that happened to His people, the cruelty, perhaps, of a Roman soldier against a Jew. We remember how Moses murdered the Egyptian who was mistreating a son of Israel, and how that bitterness and anger festered in his heart. Would not this devilish image of the inhabited world seek to lead Christ to think about such unpleasant and unjust people, or the superstitious Canaanites that lived around them, or the reputation of the cruelty of the Greeks, etc. It was a temptation to consider how He might have His revenge against them, by gaining power over them all.
It was the Satanic voice that whispered, “Wouldn’t you really like to have power over these evil people so you can squash them like they squashed your people? I’ll show you how. Just worship me, and I will give it to you.”
The Nature of Godly Worship
The offer had a hook in it, a nasty factor included, that Jesus could gain this power over these inferiors of He would worship Satan. Worship includes first the mental acknowledgement of the superiority over you of the one you would worship, second the heart’s affection toward this one, and thirdly the outward expression and service to this one. Worship always involves a motive and a reward. In true worship of God the motive is the rightness of worshiping God and the reward is in knowing we are worshiping one worthy of worship.
But in all other worship there is a much inferior reward, something that is selfish and that is attractive to us on the basis of our lust and our pride. It is a quid pro quo act that comes from our baser thoughts and values. Either we get richer, more powerful, healthier, or more respected, or something. Some people worship celebrities because they feel significant by being around them or knowing about them.
On a mere human level, we may choose to admire someone because of his wealth that he earned on his own. We may study his life to learn about his character, or we may try to befriend him hoping that he will reward us in someway. The first motive is sincere and noble, but the second is selfish and ignoble.
It is similar in worship, that we worship God because of who He is, because He is worthy of worship. Satan, in fact, in offering a reward for worshiping him, admitted that he was unworthy of worship. He must bribe people to worship him, and he does it by appealing to their lower and baser character traits. It was as thought he said, “I am not worthy of worship, but of you will worship me anyway, then I will reward your unforgiveness, your anger and hatred, your lust and pride, by giving you what these ignoble and base desires of your heart want.
Many of us have been touched by the prayer attributed to Francis Xavier:
My God, I love thee; not because I hope for heaven thereby, nor yet because who love Thee not are lost eternally.
Thou, O my Jesus, thou didst me upon the cross embrace; for me, didst bear the nails and spear, and manifold disgrace.
And griefs and torments numberless and sweat of agony; even death itself, and all for one Who was thine enemy.
Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ should I not love thee well, not for the hope of winning heaven, or of escaping hell.
not with the hope of gaining aught, nor seeking a reward, but as thyself has loved me, O ever-loving Lord!
Even so, I love Thee and will love and in thy praise will sing, solely because thou art my God, and my eternal king. Amen
We need the help of God. We need the salvation that Christ offers, the help that sustains us in this life, His healing touch, our daily bread, and especially deliverance from evil. But worship of God, of it will be pure, is done not for any of these things, but because we recognize Him for who He is: the pure One, the beautiful One, the righteous One, the holy One, the loving One. Regardless whether or not we ever receive anything from God, we worship Him because of who He is. This is true worship and it is the worship that Jesus was demonstrating during this temptation.
A Final Question about the Order of the Temptations
There is no explanation given for why Matthew and Luke have them in different orders. However, we should note that this is not a big deal. We should note that the temptations happened close to one another. Mark’s Gospel does not mention the temptation specifically and gives the impression that they were repeated thrown as fiery darts at the heart of Christ.
Matthew’s order is generally seen to be the correct order of the temptations. Matthew used the words “then,” and “again,” and gives in Jesus’ final rejection the phrase “Get thee hence, Satan.” But Matthew puts them as happening rather closely together, so that the precise order does not have special significance.
Luke, however, seemed to take them from the Gentile perspective and in that light they emphasize three different issues: (1) recognizing our need of God, (2) worshiping God, and (3) not putting the Lord to the test. From a lost Gentile perspective perhaps this made more sense as the first has to do with the awareness of the need for God, the second with the decision to trust in God or trust in Christ, and the third with the acceptance of what one’s lot is in life as a follower of Christ.
- What is your motive for worshiping God?
- Why is God worthy of our worship?
- Why is Satan unworthy of our worship?
- Have you been tempted to take revenge on others? How did you handle that temptation?
- What should we do with those who have been unjust toward us? Romans 12:19-21 and Matthew 5:43-48.