(1) Jesus Christ sets us on the path of freedom which is based on truth and leads through love to eternal life. (2) Yet false gods continue to enthrall us with the path of power which is based on falsehood and leads through indifference to death. (3) Even Christians have fallen under their spell. (4) But Jesus is calling us to join him as prophetic witnesses in breaking their spell beginning with his Church. (5) Use this website to strengthen your witness to Jesus for our good and his glory.
The Third Temptation: Controlling Even God Matters Most (Luke 4:9-13)
In this series of three definitive temptations, the devil wants Jesus to be savior his way. First he tempts Jesus to affirm that reality matters most. Values like truth, freedom, and love aren’t measurable and therefore don’t exist or matter much. Jesus disagrees, affirming that Abba’s words matter most.
Then the devil tempts Jesus with the power and glory of all the kingdoms of the world. He tempts Jesus to think that controlling reality matters most. He tempts Jesus to think that only if he has that power will he have the ability to do all the good things that people so sorely need done. All Jesus has to do is accept and acknowledge his submission to the devil. A simple public bending of the knee, burning of incense, or pledging of allegiance will do. Jesus rightly refuses to do so. He does not need power or glory from the devil to be our savior. He also rightly discerns that even the smallest public gesture can betray our whole rejection of his Abba and ours.
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time (Luke 4:9-13, New Revised Standard Version).
In this third and final temptation, the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem and places him on the very top of the Temple (v. 9). At that time, Jerusalem was still the holy city and the Temple was still its holiest place. By having Jesus stand there, the devil had put him in the most exalted religious place in the entire world.
The devil then tempts Jesus to prove that he truly deserves to be standing where he is. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here…” (v. 9). From the devil’s worldview, Jesus can prove he is the one chosen by God to be savior of the world by forcing God to act miraculously on his behalf.
To resist the first two temptations of the devil, Jesus hadn’t argued or yelled at him or gotten into a fight with him. Jesus had simply and calmly quoted the Bible: “One does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3) and “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Do we want to rightly discern how to respond creatively to danger and the devil? Jesus shows us that getting some stout biblical words into our heads is a good idea.
To strengthen the third temptation, the devil quotes the Bible right back at him: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’” (Psalm 91:11-12). This just goes to show us that even if we do get stout biblical words into our heads, we might still be smooth-talking stinkers.
Jesus isn’t fooled. To rightly understand the inanimate words of the Bible, one still needs the living Spirit. There’s nothing automatic about that. Jesus, however, quotes the right words, repeating, “‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Deuteronomy 6:16).
Jesus proves he is God’s chosen savior by not jumping off the Temple roof, by not testing God, by not forcing God to act miraculously on his behalf.
Jesus was God’s chosen savior. His temptation was to have God prove that by intervening miraculously on his behalf. Instead, he left to God the decision of when and how to be present in his life. He freely affirmed his relationship of freedom and love with God and his hope—his lively confidence—that God too would affirm his relationship of freedom and love with Jesus in ways he judged best.
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time (v. 13). That opportune came daily during Christ’s brief public ministry but definitively between the time of his arrest and his crucifixion. While Jesus was dying on a cross, minions of the devil repeated this third temptation by yelling, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” (Luke 23:35). Still Jesus refused to test God. Then, on the third day following his death, God raised his son from the dead and gave him a new indestructible life (Luke 24).
We give in to this third temptation of the devil when we have spectacular but false expectations of how God should be present in our lives. We think of ourselves as so special that God must conform to our expectations. Otherwise, he is no god at all. We even test God to the point that we expose ourselves to unnecessary risks with the expectation that God wouldn’t allow us to be harmed.
God loves us more than we can ask or even imagine. He routinely speaks to us and shares with us signs of his presence in our lives. But his words and signs, while best for us, are always surprising. They are never what we expect. But as the one whom God raised from the dead can attest, that’s good too.