What was at Stake in the Third Temptation by Satan?
by Dr. Russel D. Moore
What was at stake in the third temptation was the gospel. Think about the implications of this offer. If Jesus had accepted it, Satan would have surrendered his reign of terror. Jesus could have directed the kingdoms of the world however he wanted. No more babies would be miscarried. No more women would die in childbirth. Ended immediately would be all human slavery, all genocide, all disease, all poverty, all torture, and all ecological catastrophes. The rows and rows of crosses across the highway of the Roman Empire would suddenly be gone. There would never be a Nero or a Napoleon or a Hitler or a Stalin, or at least you would never hear the infamy of those names. There would be no world of divorce courts and abortion clinics and electric chairs and pornographic images.
Whatever is troubling you right now would be gone, centuries before you were ever conceived. This sounds like paradise. Satan was willing to give all of this up because he doesn’t fear Christianity. He certainly doesn’t fear “Christian values.” Satan fears Christ. Remember that Satan holds power only through accusation and condemnation. As long as there is no atoning sacrifice for sin, Satan is quite willing to allow conformity to the external law, even to the law of Christ ruling visibly over the nations from Jerusalem. The accuser simply wants his opportunity to indict his human would-be supplanting powers before the judgment seat, with no shed blood to redeem them back. This is what Jesus’ followers couldn’t understand as he moved down the Roman roads toward the place of the skull. It was there, and only there, as Jesus carried on himself the sins of the world, that he could say, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). It is only in his triumphant resurrection from the demonic grip of death that Jesus could have “angels, authorities, and powers” subjected to his rule (1 Pet. 3:21–22). A crossless Christianity isn’t just a deficient Christianity; it’s the same old satanism of human striving.
In every generation the church faces cross-evading liberation theologies of both the Left and the Right. The liberation theology of the Left wants a Barabbas to fight off the oppressors, as though the ultimate problem is the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf to represent religion and “traditional values” in the public square and to remind us of all the economic security we could have in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah. We will always be tempted to bypass the problem behind the problems—captivity to sin, bondage to the accusations of the demonic powers, the sentence of death. Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void—therapy, consumerism, racial resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the Left, crazy conspiracy theories of the Right; anything will do. Where there is something other than Christ preached, there is no freedom.
There may be shouts of affirmation or silently nodding heads. There may be left-wing politics or right-wing politics. There may be culturally liberal psychotherapy or culturally conservative psychotherapy. There may be almost anything people think they want, but there’s nothing but judgment in the air. The Devil doesn’t mind “family values” as long as what you ultimately value is the family. Satan doesn’t mind “social justice” as long as you see justice as most importantly social. Satan does not tremble at a “Christian worldview” as long as your ultimate goal is to view the world. Satan doesn’t even mind born-again Christianity as long as the new birth is preached apart from the blood of the cross and the life of the resurrection. Pastor, Satan doesn’t mind if you preach on the decrees of God with fervor and passion, reconciling all the tensions between sovereignty and freedom, as long as you don’t preach the gospel. Homeschooling mom, Satan doesn’t mind if your children can recite the catechism and translate the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” from English to Latin, as long as they don’t hear the gospel. Churches, Satan doesn’t care if your people vote for pro-life candidates, stay married, have sex with whom they’re supposed to, and tear up at all the praise choruses, as long as they don’t see the only power that cancels condemnation—the gospel of Christ crucified. Satan so fears that gospel, he was willing to surrender his entire empire just to stave it off. He still is.
The first step of any kind of Christian engagement with the outside world then is to focus on the primary arena of Christ’s reign—his church. We threaten the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places by our life together, by being the kind of alternative community that demonstrates that the blood of Christ has triumphed, making those who were at odds into one new reality in Christ …
About the Author: Russell D. Moore is the dean of the School of Theology and senior vice-president for academic administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The grandson of a Mississippi Baptist preacher, Dr. Moore also serves as a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church, where he ministers weekly at the congregation’s Fegenbush location.
Dr. Moore writes and speaks frequently on topics ranging from the kingdom of God to the mission of adoption to a theology of country music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and also blogs regularly at Moore to the Point (www.russellmoore.com). He is the author of several books, including “The Kingdom of Christ,” “Adopted for Life,” and most recently of “Tempted and Tried.”