The Ambition Test
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 4:8 (Holman) Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain
and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.
Since no place is high enough to see the entire world, this had to be done in the mind’s eye, as a vision. With vivid imagery, like cinemascope flashing across an Imax Movie screen, Jesus saw Earth’s splendor: Temples, Palaces, Cahokia Mounds, the Pyramids, Coliseum, the Great Wall of China.
This scene would have weighed heavily on Jesus’ imagination. In one moment’s time, Our Savior saw the world He came to save (John 3:16).
The temptation to seize power was no minor test. Israel had been led for centuries to believe all the nations of Earth were created to serve Israel.
This dream of universal dominance had haunted the Jews for generations. Their craving for power was further whetted by the fact they wanted the iron yoke of Rome removed. They were tired of being slaves, of crushing taxes, of having every hint of revolt brutally squelched. Ambition stalked Israel. Jesus grew up in this environment. He had heard the hopes and dreams. Satan knew precisely what he was appealing to in Jesus’ psyche. The devil knows us, and tests us in the areas that make us susceptible to sin.
Matt. 4:9 And he said to Him, “I will give You all these things if You
will fall down and worship me.”
This panorama looked better than a cross. The temptation was to take a short cut in winning the world, to substitute Satan’s way for God’s way.
The kingdoms and their splendor were Jesus’ already. They never did rightly belong to Satan. He stole them. They were contraband, stolen goods.
The Devil offered to give what he did not truly own. He does this to us by counterfeiting veneers to hide the horrid result his temptations lead to.
He makes us think the sign above sin’s door says “Contentment”. But as we get close enough to see through the fog, we see it says “Counterfeit”.
One remarkable fact about this test is; Satan was in essence conceding Jesus was destined to rule a kingdom. This was why Jesus came to Earth. Satan’s tempting voice offered Jesus an easy shortcut to reach His objective.
The first test was physical, to turn stones into bread. The second test was to presume on the Father, to leap from the pinnacle of the temple. This third test addressed Jesus’ mission, what the Father sent Him to Earth to do.
Obviously, Satan and Jesus were rival claimants to the world’s throne. The Devil was offering Jesus a way to settle the conflict without all-out war.
In Psalm 2:8, the Father predicted of His Son, “I will make the nations Your inheritance and the ends of the earth Your possession.” John the Revelator wrote of a future time. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15). The question Jesus faced was; how would He progress from Psalm 2:8 to Revelation 11:15? What would be the process?
His original Father-given plan, the assignment with which He came to Earth, entailed a bloody death at a cross for Himself, followed by a bloody conflict everywhere with Satan. Only vicious war could dislodge the evil one: a war waged not only in Jesus’ lifetime, but raging on through history.
Jesus realized every corner of the globe would become a spiritual battleground. He knew millions of His followers would die for the cross.
Jesus understood every square inch of Satan’s territory would be contested. It has been. I have learned this in our unreached people group, the Bells of the Big Country. The battle has raged on every hand, toe-to-toe, face-to-face. Bible translation and the Jesus Film have come at a huge cost in money and time. Illiteracy, remoteness, animism, no Bells being allowed out of country, no foreigners allowed to live among them—these hamstring our efforts. Within their nation, where revival is astir, distrust between people groups inhibits the spread of the Gospel. Even something as basic as prayer has been a struggle. Praying for people we don’t know and have never met is hard to maintain. Fifteen years of work, at least 7 groups laboring, yet only 200 converts to show for it. War. War. War. Every inch battled for.
Satan, foreseeing it all, gently said to Jesus, “Let’s not go there. Don’t try to win this world gradually, later, and spiritually from within hearts. Take this world now and outwardly. Why wait for what is rightly Yours? You deserve it now.” Sin seems a shortcut to what we want. We convincingly say to us, “A lie ends difficulties; compromise won’t hurt; silence is golden.”
Had Jesus chosen the wrong way, the result would have been a disaster not only for us, but also for Him. Satan would have never given Jesus rule over this world. Had Jesus bowed, the devil would have cackled with laughter so loud that it would have reverberated all the way to Hell.
Jesus knew this would be the result if He yielded. Thus the question, why would this temptation have tempted Jesus? For the same reason our temptations are tempting to us. Satan is a liar; we know he is; we know he won’t deliver; yet in every temptation his voice sounds very convincing.
Satan is insolent. He stole this world, yet claimed it. He usurped what had been Jesus’ to start with. Christ wanted Earth back, and had to fight the bewitching temptation to retrieve it in the easier, wrong way. The test was to win on Satan’s terms, not the Father’s, to avoid enduring a long agonizing road to the cross, no taking our Hell into His body, no humiliation.
Fortunately—The name of Jesus be glorified—atop the “very high mountain”; Jesus saw more than only the world’s splendor. He saw past Earth’s glory and saw the hurt. Do we? I fear our world is too sanitized.
Jesus saw my sin, your sin, our Hell. He didn’t yield to the temptation to let our planet remain corruptible, mired in sin and dying without hope.
Jesus decided He would win Earth not by leaving us in our sin. He decided the kingdoms of this world, and the souls of its citizens, were worth being won by suffering and death, yea even by His own death on a cross.
In this sermon, my chief desire has been to cause us to love Jesus more. He truly is precious. A second desire is to make us hate Satan more, to come face to face with the monster that lurks behind our temptations.
This third temptation was the devil at his most sinister. Dropping all pretenses, he risked everything in one desperate fiendish assault. He took the mask off and showed his real colors. He was in Jesus’ face, taunting, “You threw me out of Heaven, but I did well on Earth, didn’t I? Look around. Mine! Mine! Mine! Bend before me one time, and I will abdicate.”
Satan wanted Jesus to do now what the Trinity had refused to do when Lucifer rebelled in Heaven. He mutinied in the immediate presence of God’s throne because he did not want to have second place. He attacked the Trinity back then and failed. Having never lost his greedy ambition, Satan now switched to bribery in an effort to destroy God’s organized work on Earth.
It seemed Jesus could have ruled if He had admitted Satan was supreme in this realm. Our Savior would have had to go over to the dark side. In other words, Satan was asking Jesus to give him His soul. The devil asks no less of us. Jesus said no; let’s do the same.