In his final effort to tempt the Lord Jesus, Satan becomes very brazen. He shifts from tempting Christ with earthly satisfaction, to tempting Christ to test the Lord, and finally to tempting Christ to abandon the cross. Once again, Christ resists for us and to empower us. Ultimately, Christ’s victory over Satan’s final temptation is a victory of the theology of the cross over the theology of glory.
Satan is identified in Scripture as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). There is a sense in which he has some jurisdiction over this world and he seeks to use that to his advantage in this final temptation of Christ. Still the offer is rather bold. We read:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)
Satan offers to Jesus the “kingdoms of the world and their glory.” Such things do rightly belong to Jesus and He will eventually have them. Satan’s offer is not for something illegitimate, but rather for legitimate entitlements attained in the wrong way. Satan here offers Christ the very thing he is owed, but without the cross by which he has been sent to secure them.
Glory without the cross remains one of Satan’s chief temptations. He wants you and I to believe that we can have what we want, but apart from recognizing our sin, apart from payment for sin, apart from the gospel that secures our salvation. We are often persuaded by such a notion. Martin Luther identified a contrast between what he called the “theology of glory” and the “theology of the cross.” “A theology of glory,” wrote Gene Edward Veith, “expects total success, finding all the answers, winning all the battles, and living happily ever after.” Its focus is on self and personal achievement. He continues:
The theology of glory is all about my strength, my power, and my works. A theologian of glory expects his church to be perfect and always to grow. If a theologian of glory gets sick, he expects God to heal him.
And if he experiences failure and weakness, if his church has problems and if he is not healed, then he is often utterly confused, questioning the sufficiency of his faith and sometimes questioning the very existence of God.
The theology of glory focuses on its own victory and success entirely apart from God and especially apart from Jesus’ death, which is our victory. A theology of the cross points to our weakness and need. It points to our dependence and to God’s supply. Veith notes the contrast:
But, Luther pointed out, when God chose to save us, He did not follow the way of glory. He did not come as a great hero-king, defeating his enemies and establishing a mighty kingdom on earth. Rather, He came as a baby laid in an animal trough, a man of sorrows with no place to lay His head. And He saved us by the weakness and shame of dying on a cross. Those who follow Him will have crosses of their own: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Not that we have to suffer for our own sins. But faith in the Gospel, putting our trust in what Christ accomplished for us on His cross, entails acknowledging our own weakness, the failure of our own works, the complete abnegation of our glory. (“Glory Versus the Cross”)
We have no glory of our own! It is to Christ we must cling.
We can cling to Christ, of course, because He did not fall prey to Satan’s temptation. He resisted this offer on our behalf. We read:
Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:10-11)
Satan knows enough to offer the right things. Christ was coming to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, to inaugurate it. But Satan was offering a kingdom without the pain of the cross, the separation from the Father, the wrath of God. Jesus, however, knows better. He fulfills his role as Messiah only through the Cross and the resurrection (Romans 1:4). He won’t pursue glory apart from cross, and he certainly won’t worship Satan!
Jesus resists the devil, and at this final refusal to submit to temptation the devil “left him.” Jesus overcame temptation for us! Which is what we need. It is hard not to seek glory. It is hard not to strive after our own fame, success, reputation, importance, and personal achievement. It is hard to admit our weakness, our frailty, our need. It is hard to accept the offer of God in Christ; it’s hard to accept this offer because it is humbling. But we need to be humbled. Christ overcame Satan’s temptation because we cannot.
Humility is the path both to our salvation and to our sanctification. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot attain glory apart from Christ’s cross. Neither can we, however, fight temptation apart from humility. In order for us to continue to grow spiritually we must settle with our weaknesses, for it is there that we find strength. The Apostle Paul knew this personally. He writes to the Corinthians about a particularly painful weaknesses. He had asked God to remove it but God insisted that this painful “thorn in the flesh” would remain, in fact God is the one who gave it to him. Instead of removing the thorn God would give Paul the grace to endure it. Paul’s response is one of humble acceptance, but it is instructive for us. Paul writes:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:8-10)
Paul doesn’t just accept weakness, he boasts in it! He embraces weaknesses because it is through weaknesses that he finds the power of Christ rests upon him. The theology of the cross points us towards real strength. Christ defeated Satan’s temptation on our behalf, and when we accept our weakness and look to Him we too find the strength to fight temptation and persevere!
There is no glory apart from the cross of Christ. It is why Paul says that he will “glory in the cross of Christ” (Gal. 6:14). Jesus was not persuaded by Satan’s temptation to seek glory apart from the crucifixion. He resisted Satan’s offer on our behalf, because we could not. And, his victory over Satan’s temptation is our power to resist temptation too. The theology of the cross always wins over the theology of glory!