Thursday, October 24, 2013

Another Examination of the Third Temptation of Christ, Matt 4:8-10

Every once in a while I reread through the Gospels and I keep finding things that I hadn’t thought of before.   This time I was thinking about the third temptation of Christ.
8 And again, Jesus was in the Spirit, and it taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9 And the devil came unto him again, and said, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matthew 4:8-10, JST included in blue)

5 And the Spirit taketh him up into a high mountain, and he beheld all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
6 And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.
7 If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.
8 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Luke 4:5-8, JST included in blue)
While it is not stated in the account, it is possible Satan may have been trying to make Jesus think of this scripture in Psalms:

7 I will declare the decree:
the Lord hath said unto me,
Thou art my Son;
this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me,
and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,
and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.  (Psalms 2:7-8)

Satan would see how Christ might apply verse 7 to Himself as meaning the day of His baptism at the hands of John the Baptist (though later Paul would use that verse to apply to Christ’s resurrection instead (see Acts 13:33)). 

Satan may have been trying to get Christ to think that verse 8 meant He could pray for anything and get it, even if it were riches and power.  Satan wanted Christ to think God gave Him permission to have a triumphant life of ease and wealth and complete dominion instead of a suffering servant life.  (Think how the atonement would have been frustrated if Jesus had believed that!)  It could be that Satan was playing upon Jesus’ righteous desire to establish the kingdom of God and was offering Him a chance to have it without suffering, waiting, living in relative obscurity, or allowing others the choice to refuse Him.

So how did Jesus resist this temptation?  

“thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve” –  First, I have to wonder how quick Jesus’s response was.  Was it instinctive and immediate with clear knowledge about who he was refusing?  Or did He have to work through it with reference to righteous principles and confidence in His divine mission?

At any rate, Jesus understood the implications for the salvation of man if He decided to take dominion of the world immediately.  To do so, thinking to avoid the coming suffering and sacrifice of the atonement, would be self-serving to the extreme.  Even though Satan only mentioned worship and not service, Jesus knew that whomever He served He would be worshipping too.  So, if He served Himself by asking for and taking dominion now, it would be as if He were worshipping Himself, but that would put Him in direct opposition to Heavenly Father’s plan for the salvation of mankind, and this would constitute worship of Satan instead.  (This gives us a profound principle—serving one’s self is worship of Satan because it puts us in opposition to God.  Even for Jesus to serve Himself would constitute the worship of Satan.)

This is why Jesus parried Satan’s temptation with quotation of the commandment to only worship and serve God. 

Now, we know that verse 8 must be fulfilled.  We know that Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords will someday rule over all the earth, though His authority isn’t universally acknowledged now.   Yet, there is an additional way to interpret verse 8 that would be consistent with Christ’s sacrificial mission, and according to that interpretation it is being fulfilled at this very moment.  According to this interpretation, v8 is a prophecy of Christ’s intercession for all men. 

Ask of me,
and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,
and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

Happily, the Doctrine & Covenants speaks of the intercessory conversation that Jesus has with the Father in which He asks and is given what He wants :

Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—
Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life. (D&C 45:3-5, emphasis added)

Jesus asks the Father to spare us and give us to Him.  When we come to Christ, we become His possession as His sons and daughters.  Thus it is love, self-sacrifice, and serving God that must bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalms 2:8.