16 March 2022

To Whom Homage?


Satan offered Jesus unlimited political power for his messianic mission if only he accepted the Devil as his overlord

Satan tempted Jesus with political power over “all the kingdoms of the world,” but he refused the offer. Instead of might and grandeur, he submitted to the way of the ‘Suffering Servant.’

But the most startling detail is that he did not dispute the Devil’s claim to have jurisdiction over the political systems of the world.

In the gospel account, Jesus is “driven” into the wilderness by God’s Spirit where he is “tested.” And once there, Satan tempts him in four ways, the greatest of which is the offer of political power - (Matthew 4:8-11).

IN THE WILDERNESS


Matthew records how the Devil takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows him all the “kingdoms of the world (kosmos) and their grandeur.” He offers him more than just sovereignty over the Jewish nation.

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

In the version in Luke, the Tempter boasts that he can give Jesus “all this authority” if only he acknowledges Satan’s overlordship, and he declares that “it has been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it.”

Jesus does NOT dispute his right to dispense political power. And if Satan received this authority from a higher source (“it has been delivered to me”), that can only be God. Most likely, behind his claim is the original fall of man. His rulership over humanity is a consequence of Adam’s sin - (John 12:31, 14:30).

To acquire this awesome power, Jesus must “render homage” to the Devil. The Greek verb denotes the sense of giving homage or allegiance to someone or something, and not the modern western idea of “worship” in a religious sense. Thus, to gain universal sovereignty it is necessary for the Messiah to acknowledge Satan as his sovereign.

MESSIAH


Whether Jesus felt tempted by this offer the passage does not say. But considering that the “Spirit drove him” to be tested by Satan, the gospel writers must have considered it a real possibility.

And besides, Jesus is 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 this world’s governments? Is it not his destiny to subdue and rule over the entire earth? – Psalm 2:6-8).

Effectively, Satan intends to provide him with a shortcut to his God-ordained royal position, a way for him to avoid suffering and death on a Roman cross.

And imagine all the good that Jesus can accomplish if he sits on Caesar’s throne and commands his legions! With the military and economic might of Rome at his command, will not righteousness prevail across 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 World Empire than the Prince of Peace?

SUFFERING SERVANT


However, rather than bow to Satan by resorting to the political methods of the present age, Jesus submits to the path of the Suffering Servant.

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

And contrary to the messianic expectations of his contemporaries, and in defiance of Satan’s offer, Jesus chose to “take on the form of a slave” and become “obedient unto death, even death upon a cross.”

And because of his choice, God has exalted him highly to reign over the Cosmos, and He has 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 self-denying mind. “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus” - (Philippians 2:6-11).

The institutional church has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and conduct is too great. Sooner or later, advancing the Christian religion through the political mechanisms of this age always necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State.

We need to take seriously the scriptural portrayal of political power as being part of Satan’s domain. If the Devil works behind the political scenes of 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?

Are we not called to render homage to Jesus as our Lord and King rather than Satan? And should we embrace what he rejected?


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