The second test

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent and the gospel is the temptation/testing of Jesus in the desert. From the mundane of concerns about daily bread, we are taken to the lofty heights.

5 Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. 6 The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. 7 All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’”

In the second temptation the devil “leads” Jesus up. The same verb “lead” was used earlier in v. 1 to speak of the Spirit’s leading of Jesus in the wilderness.  The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promised to give him all their power and glory if he would only worship him. There is the claim that the authority and the glory of the kingdoms of the world have been given to the devil, so he can give it to whomever he wishes. Interestingly, Jesus does not dispute (answer) the claim of the devil that the kingdoms of the world belong to him. Green (The Gospel of Luke, 194) states: “… we have been led to believe that ‘all the world’ was under the charge of the Roman emperor (2:1; 3:1). Now, however, in a way clearly parallel to the scenario painted in Revelation 13, we discover that the world of humanity is actually ruled by the devil.”

Or is this just one of the devil’s lies? If so, it isn’t worth Jesus’ effort to argue with this liar. The devil will say anything to try and sway Jesus over to his side. The devil will make promises that he is powerless to keep. He is called the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44). Is the devil in possession of the kingdoms of the world? The devil can’t make people act evilly, but is very good at enticing them to such deeds — often with false promises. The history of civilization is laced with narratives of the corrupting influence of power and glory in the world. Is the devil tempting Jesus to enter the world of secular/political power? Wouldn’t this be a way to see the kingdom of God take hold in the world? Why not do it the way it’s done by nations, kings and governors.

Bratcher notes: “The temptation for Jesus was whether he would opt for political power and success or will he choose the path that may lead to suffering, humiliation and death? Will he play the game of power politics, jockeying for position, climbing to the top by hook or crook, or will he take the hard road of the suffering servant? Political ambition and the desire for success could, of course, be easily rationalized as being for a good cause, God’s cause.”  Jesus’ response makes it clear that God’s will leads to a more costly way, but there can be no compromise. Jesus’ response is almost a quote from Dt 6:13: “The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.”

It is also good to recall Psalm 2:8 – “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask it of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and, as your possession, the ends of the earth.” God’s purpose is to grant Jesus an everlasting kingdom—a promise made in 1:32–33, now recalled by this faint echo of Ps 2:8 and indeed by the devil’s own offer. The devil proposes to displace God as Jesus’ benefactor. The devil will give him what is due, but in the process extract a great price—that is, Jesus’ allegiance. In effect, this is an invitation for Jesus to deny his identity as God’s Son, substituting in its place an analogous relationship to the devil. Resident in the devil’s own words, though, is a recognition that these two possibilities are not really parallel after all, since the devil is not co-equal with God. Whatever rule the devil exercises is that allowed him by God; he can only delegate to Jesus what has already been delegated to him. What Jesus is offered, then, is a shabby substitute for the divine sonship that is his by birth. [from Green, 194-95]

As Culpepper [99] notes: “This is the first reference to authority in the Gospel, but Luke is more concerned with the exercise of authority than any of the other Gospels. Jesus taught with authority (4:32) and commanded the unclean spirits (who were subject to the devil) with such authority that they came out (4:36). He had authority to forgive sins (5:24). A centurion recognized his authority (7:8). Jesus gave the Twelve authority over demons and diseases (9:1). Jesus claimed that he saw Satan fall from heaven and gave his disciples authority to tread on snakes and scorpions (10:19). He instructed them to fear the one who has authority to cast them into hell (12:5). In Luke, therefore, the authority of God, exercised by Jesus, is superior to that of the authority of the devil, exercised through unclean spirits and ‘the kingdoms of the world.’”


  • R. Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 9 of the New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 96–101

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