Unrighteous mammon (riches, and the power and status which accompany them) is identified by the Lord Jesus as a chief rival for the primary allegiance of men: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon", He said (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). Worldly advantage is an alluring idol that vies for the worship of the ones who were made, and have been redeemed, to bring God glory. In Luke's account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Satan made a direct frontal attack using this idol. He dared to tempt the Lord Jesus to commit flagrant idolatry, by offering the ulimate worldly prize.
We read in Luke 4 that the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish", Luke 4:6. The statement is laced with a certain arrogant mimicry of the just and good government of the world by God Himself. For example at least four times in the book of Daniel, the statement is made that, "the most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses." The evil one promises Jesus that He can have it all, if only He will worship himself, the tempter.
Let us examine Satan's first proud claim, that all the authority and glory of the kingdoms of the world had been delivered to him. As is often the case with the most damaging and deceitful lies, there is some truth mixed into the tempter's words. In Ephesians 2:2, he is called the "prince of the power of the air". The Lord Jesus called him "the prince of this world", John 14:30. There are only two spiritual kingdoms, and Satan is indeed represented in Scripture as king of the realm of darkness. All persons, families, people groups, nations, or kingdoms of all ages and places that are not in Jesus' kingdom are in the darkness. Yet as the breathtaking opening of the book of Job makes clear, Satan has always been under God's sovereign control. Satan's assertion about all the kingdoms of this world was only partly true.
Moreover, redemptive history now has moved beyond the cross of Christ. By His cross He, "disarmed principalities and powers", and "made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it", Colossians 2:15. As the light of the Gospel continues to go out into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit, Satan's ability to deceive the nations is being crushed. "The prince of this world is judged", John 16:11.
There is another dimension to this temptation, one that does not appear if we do no more than take a superficial glance at Jesus' encounter with Satan. It is the temptation to believe that one can do much good by means of unrighteous mammon. The temptation struck at Jesus' generous and loving heart. What if the Man Christ Jesus had taken a pragmatic approach to this temptation? What if He had decided that, if He indeed had all that power, right now, He could use it all for good? What if He had determined that accepting Satan's offer would be a wonderful means to display His own kindness and goodness? What if He had thought, "as king of kings, crowned by Satan, I won't use my authority for evil, but for good!" What if He had decided that merely kneeling before the evil one was a small price to pay in order to seize such a golden opportunity?
Thus David deceived himself into believing that the value of having a census of his army was worth disobeying God. Thus the businessperson who disobeys God by cheating on taxes is deceived in believing it's a good thing, because the money unjustly kept will be rescued from bad government spending and given to good causes. Thus Eve was deceived into believing that the apparent goodness to be had from the forbidden fruit was worth disobeying God. Thus Jacob's sons told him that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal, and thus a modern son or daughter tells a "white lie" to Mom and Dad, believing that it's worth it because a good thing will come of it: the parents won't get upset or angry.
Thankfully, Jesus didn't take this approach. His heavenly Father's glory was more important to Him. And, looking at Jesus' exaltation to God's right hand from the perspective of His temptation to worship Satan, do we not see that Jesus ultimately received more power, glory, and honor than the evil one could have ever given, even if he had truly been able to give all the world's kingdoms? "...them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed", 1 Samuel 2:30.
Just as all the kingdoms of the world are truly and ultimately God's domain, so here. It is God's prerogative to bring good out of evil; He will often do that - but we are not to do evil that good may come! Our "reasonable service" (Romans 12:1) is to worship God and Him alone.
September 12, 1999
Pastor Keith Graham
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