Tag Archives: matthew 4:1-11

The Election, Satan & the Sovereignty of God

This past Tuesday, November 6th was Election Day here in the United States. I challenged my readers to put their ability to vote into perspective, and declare that Jesus is King. You can read that post here.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s political circus, and in light of the reactions that I have read and heard from evangelicals across the country, I felt compelled to share what I believe to be a biblical perspective of recent events and the days to come.

If you’re a follower of Christ and you are in any way troubled or overjoyed by the outcome of the recent presidential auction, then you really need to spend some time reflecting on King Jesus and what the Kingdom of God looks like on the earth, and how it’s to be lived out through the church.

In helping us to rethink the Kingdom together, I think we need to be reminded of a biblical theology of the devil and the truth about demonic involvement in the kingdoms of the world. And then (re)consider the way in which God is sovereign in the world today.

Holy Spirit, please open our eyes and ears to your truth.

Prince of the Power of the Air

I have recently mentioned in my post What Would Jesus Not Do? that Satan has power and authority to manipulate the kingdoms of the world. We can see this in Matthew 4:8-9. Jesus doesn’t dispute Satan’s claim.

While we don’t know how the Devil originally came to have this power, the Scripture is clear on the matter.

John says that “the whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Paul refers to Satan as “the god of this age” and as “the ruler of the power of the air” (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2). Jesus referred to Satan as the “ruler of this world” (John 12:21; 14:30; 16:11), indicating that he is the highest demonic ruler behind the kingdoms of the world.

Greg Boyd writes, “Functionally, Satan is the acting CEO of all earthly governments” (The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church, p.22).

This ought to be very sobering to those believers who think that politics is the avenue by which God reigns on the earth. If we will accept this biblical idea, we will see more clearly why it is that Jesus rejected politics as a method of advancing his upside-down Kingdom.

In Daniel 10 we learn that the reason Daniel’s prayers were not seemingly being answered was due to the demonic “princes” that were at work behind the powers that be in the world. The angel that appears to Daniel tells him of the demonic powers that were working behind the scenes to bring chaos and destruction through empires. And that this would impact God’s people.

In the book of Revelation, the Devil is revealed as the ruler of all kingdoms of the world as if it were one kingdom of darkness that Jesus would claim in his return (Rev 11:15). John’s apocalyptic vision portrays Jesus and the church as the target of Satan, who is the great dragon behind the evil deeds of governments (Rev 12:1-17).

Jacques Ellul has written: “He (Satan) brings all his efforts to bear against those who carry grace and love in the world… to prevent God’s love from being present in the world” (The Subversion of Christianity, p.177).

While there is presently a great demonic influence at work in the kingdoms of the world, the Lord intends to bring about the end of all nation-states to make way for the establishment of one Kingdom with Christ as ruler of a new heavens and earth. God will soon crush Satan (Rom 16:20).

In the meantime, there is a covert spiritual evil at work in governments.

“What the vanquished powers can always do is dramatize the situation on earth, make human life intolerable, destroy faith and mutual trust, make people suffer, kill off love, and prevent the birth of hope. In other words, what seems to me to be biblically certain is that the evil powers make earth a hell…” (Ellul, p. 177).

How then can we possibly think that our direct involvement in politics is a Christian “duty” as a citizen of heaven (Phil 3:20)? We are aliens and strangers (1 Pet 2:11). A soldier in a foreign land does not get involved with civilian affairs. They obey their commanding officer (2 Tim 2:4).

Messiah Jesus has shown us the way to overcoming evil. Will we follow him?

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:10-12

Is God in Control?

I find it interesting that those believers who say, “God is in control” after their candidate loses, don’t often live like it in the days leading up to elections. Their attitudes, their language, and their fear-mongering say something much different about God.

Saying that “God is in control” seems to be the evangelical response to tragedy, real and perceived evils, and personal disappointment. And then there is confusion as to what and how God is “controlling” the world around us. I think it’s important that we think about this a bit.

Calvinists are the most inconsistent here. They say, “God is in control” to mean that every single thing that happens on the planet is because God made it happen, but reserve the right to be disappointed when their candidate loses and evil prevails in the world. Huh?

For many reasons, I can’t help but find this view so terribly illogical, even downright disturbing. I don’t know why anyone would be outraged by any evil activity if everything happens because God wills that it happen.

I must admit that I’m appalled by this idea. It’s ridiculous and should be rejected as a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty.

Any idea of “God is in control” that doesn’t allow for a great level of human free will and the existence of spiritual evil fighting against the will of God is a bankrupt and empty theodicy.

It’s not even worthy to be considered as a legitimate explanation for evil in the world. I prefer a Trinitarian Warfare Worldview.

Many folks use the cliché that “God is in control” simply because things didn’t go their way, and they can’t make sense of the world around them.

It also sounds like some believers are implying that God must have wanted this or that particular person in office, while refusing to acknowledge that sometimes God’s will is not always done.

Of course, it could be that God’s will is being done and they just don’t like it. But since they are supposed to be OK with whatever God does (including evil), they say, “God is in control.”

Which is it? I’m not real sure what is meant by this phrase anymore.

I do think that we have been guilty of proclaiming that “God is in control” simply because we are trying to remind ourselves of something we’ve not been entirely convinced of yet. Our fearful words and actions in an election year prove this to be true.

We must come to a biblical consensus on who is responsible for evil, and what God is doing about it. If we call ourselves Christians, then Christ must be viewed as God’s response. Therefore, our response to evil must look like the God revealed in Jesus. Nothing else will do.

Many evangelicals have yet to come fully into the peace and rest of Christ, and the assurance that the true King and his Kingdom will not be overcome—not even by hell itself (Matt 16:18). Jesus said it. We can believe it.

America will collapse in time, but the gospel of the Kingdom will live on. And possibly in more powerful ways than the church in America has ever known in her worldly comforts and freedoms.

God does not give a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power in the knowledge of our living hope. It’s fear that garners a trust in politics and the power of the sword, not the living hope of Christ in us.

Is God in control? I have no doubt. But how is he in control?

As one theologian has put it, “God’s sovereignty doesn’t look like a huge bicep coming out of heaven. It looks like the cross of the crucified Jesus.”

The control of God looks like a bloody cross, not a bloody sword.

This power looks foolish to those who have not known it.

God was in control when the forces of darkness crucified the King of the universe for claiming that his Kingdom is the real deal, and Caesar’s kingdom is just the parody.

That’s what God’s sovereignty looks like.

Fallen angels and wicked men war against the Lamb, but the Lamb triumphs in surrender. He wins by dying, not by killing. We’re called to follow him in this way of overcoming evil with good (Rom 12:17-21). We overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev 12:11).

All other methods of confronting evil, no matter how noble and good, compromise the distinctive nature of the Kingdom of God that the church is called to manifest. Do you believe this?

Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven because clearly the Father’s will is not always done (Matt 6:10). Yet God is in control even as spiritual evil uses its freedom to oppose his reign.

Now that’s sovereignty!

So, if you believe that “God is in control” then you should live like it before and after presidential elections. And understand what it means to say such a thing. We must have “cross” control in mind.

What if the Church…

What if the church in America didn’t just say, “Jesus is King” in moments of great safety and security on the earth, but actually lived like he is the reigning King of the whole universe right in the middle of this political mess—in the midst of this present evil age?

Imagine what the church could do in the earth through the Spirit’s power if she moved forward with the courage of the early church that had no political power to advance the Jesus movement.

What if we lived like that?

I submit to you that our national, ethnic, and socio-economic boundaries and identities would fade away. We would discover a new identity with one allegiance. Healing would flow from Christ, through the church, to all the nations of the world.

If we would pledge to Jesus and his methods of doing justice, God’s desire to bring heaven to earth would be known in the earth. We would move closer to the reality of which Christ promises to complete in his return.

That’s Christianity, folks. That’s what God wants in the earth.

And he waits for a church that wants his will to be done—a people that welcome his Kingdom, not look for an escape.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Let these times of ours be a reminder to you that the hope of the world is not found in the kingdoms of the world and their politics of corruption.

This is one more opportunity for us to rethink the church’s quest for politics and the ugliness that results from confusing the way of Caesar with the way of Christ. I want to encourage you to give some serious thought to this.

Brothers and sisters, I feel strongly that the future of the church in America depends upon whether or not she is able to successfully embrace the beauty of the Kingdom of God over and against a pervasive nationalism that presently holds her captive to the use of worldly kingdom politics as a means to God’s good ends. This is my prophetic word. You be the judge.

It’s time to turn the tides and begin trusting in the way of the crucified Messiah. Lord, help us to be creatively engaged in acting out the good news of the Kingdom in the way of Christ.

Will you join me in reimagining the Kingdom manifested on the earth?

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

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What Would Jesus Not Do?

In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by the devil following his baptism by John, his own cousin.

But before Jesus can begin his ministry of revealing the Kingdom of God, Jesus must first undergo a series of temptations that will forever define him. He must decide in his own heart, and for the testimony of his followers, what kind of Messiah he will be.

What kind of king and kingdom will Jesus choose? His way then becomes our way. The temptations of Jesus are a matter of our own discipleship.

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”  1 John 2:6 (NIV)

In order to understand the temptations, we must see them in conjunction with the previous event. They should not be isolated from Christ’s recent baptism. John the Baptizer recognizes Jesus as the coming king of the promise, the Messiah for Israel. And that’s what he will be.

So, what kind of Messiah will Jesus be for his people?

The temptations of Christ are not just examples of Jesus overcoming sin. They were never meant to be read as examples of Christ experiencing random temptations. The gospel writer sees them as the defining moment for the person and work of Jesus.

“Only as we see what Jesus rejected, can we know what he has affirmed.”  Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom, 34.

The nature of these three temptations is critically important for seeing what Jesus will not do in his ministry.

Bread from Stone—Kingdom Economics

After fasting forty days and forty nights (a reenactment of Israel’s wilderness wandering), Jesus was tired and hungry. This clearly would have made any proposal appealing to the flesh. Our physical state often affects our spiritual condition.

And this was the point of the fasting. Jesus makes himself completely vulnerable to opposition. It would have certainly been a time of closeness with the Father and a time of great challenge in his humanity against Satan. Jesus must now face his greatest challenges as Messiah.

The devil came to him and said, “If (since) you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus replies, “It is written, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt.4:3-4).

Was Jesus simply tempted to eat because he was hungry? What does this have to do with the baptism event and Jesus’ coming Kingdom ministry?

Jesus embodies Israel and reveals the nature of his divine mission. The connection to Israel’s history and Christ’s words of total submission to God is obvious. So, what does this have to do with his kingship and Kingdom?

There were two classes of people in the Roman Empire: upper and lower class. Evidence suggests that 90% of the citizens were of the lower class. Most folks were unbelievably poor.

Since Jesus is the Messiah, the devil tempts Jesus to be a welfare king. “Turn these stones to bread” he said. How will Christ deal with the economic problems of the world? This is the question Christ answers. It is a question every king must consider.

Will he open the grain houses upon his arrival? Like Julius Caesar returning from Gaul seeking to manipulate and pander to the masses, will Jesus use his power to win people through their stomachs? What will be his method of proving his divine rule?

Jesus relates to the hunger of people all over the world. He embraces the hunger of others. Jesus’ response ought to be seen as a rejection of solving the problem as an earthly king would.

He doesn’t ignore the physical needs of the world. Jesus will go on to feed many who are hungry. However, the Kingdom of God is much bigger than a loaf of bread—it is more than food. And Jesus doesn’t need bread because he is the bread of life.

Jesus deals with poverty in a different manner. He will feed folks, but he seeks to do more than feed mouths. He will seek to restore the dignity of others and reconcile them to God.

Base Jumping From the Temple—Bad Religion

Then the devil took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem. Satan says, “If (since) you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” (Matt 4:6). The devil then proceeds to quote Scripture (Psalm 91), twisting it to tempt Jesus to action.

Is Jesus going to swoop in and gain the approval of the religious establishment? He very easily could have removed all doubt to who he was.

A grand entrance would certainly gain recognition that he was indeed the Messiah. Yet he resists the temptation to gain approval of those religious folk. If Christ were going to convince the religious leaders, the “Doctors of the Law,” this would be the way to do it. But he doesn’t do it.

Jesus chooses not to parachute in and remove any obstacles from them hearing his message of the coming Kingdom.

He will make his presence known in the Temple, but only right after he drives out those practicing bad religion. This is quite different than the entrance he was tempted with by the devil.

FYI: This isn’t how you win the votes of the Sadducees on the left (who were in charge of the Temple) or the Pharisees in the “Religious Right” who were popular with the people.

Instead, Jesus storms in to the heart of Jewish religion, and turns it upside-down. The Temple is no longer the place of worship and symbol of God’s presence. For the Spirit of God has come to dwell in men. There is now something, someone, greater than the Temple.

He is Immanuel, God with us.

Jesus will not do any pandering to the religious elite. No sir. Jesus will shut down institutional religion for good and tell the ruling party that they are now out of a job.

There’s a new king in town. His name is Jesus… the Christ from Nazareth.

Kings and Kingdoms—The Politics of Jesus

Jesus has already rejected two powerful offers to play by the world’s rules and give the people the Messiah that was expected—a Messiah that fixes this present age by methods characteristic of this world.

Jesus refuses to manipulate people using the old avenues of power. Instead, he will offer people bread from heaven and true religion that’s good for the soul, which is much more satisfying.

Now Jesus faces his most difficult challenge yet. Jesus is taken to a high mountain. In the ancient world, mountains were seen as places where deities come to earth. From the pagan “high places” to the receiving of the Ten Commandments, God chose to work within this ancient mindset.

And this final temptation should be seen as an offer of divine importance.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”  Matthew 4:8,9 (NIV)

Lest you think this temptation is merely about getting Christ to commit to devil worship, let’s look closer at what really faces Jesus in this final bout with the devil.

Christ is shown all the kingdoms of the world. The devil has power over them, which Jesus does not deny. The evil one still manipulates these kingdoms today. The Messiah will crush these kingdoms as Daniel prophesied (Dan 7:14). But how will he crush them?

Will he take the world by force using violence? Will he succumb to the way of the present evil age and the prince of the air by putting his hand to the plow of political power? Will he commit to the way of the devil—the source of all war and violence?

Will he be an Alexander, a Julius Caesar, an Augustus, or better yet… a King David?  This would not be the last time he is faced with this temptation (Matt. 16:23; 26:51,52; Jn. 6:15).

Christ redefines power in his rejection of earthly kingship. He rejects the avenue of earthly politics to advance the Kingdom of God. As God’s full revelation of his own character, he intentionally rejects power-over methods of coercion and force to advance the Kingdom.

Jesus embodies God’s will for his people and all those who seek to enter in to the rightful reign and rule of God on earth. Do not pass by this temptation and miss the foolishness of the Kingdom of God, for therein is power that we have not fully known in our day.

We must be willing to say to the prince of the power of the air and the kingdoms he controls, “Away from me!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matt. 4:10).

Walking the Kingdom Way

If we’re really concerned with WWJD, maybe we should first look at what Jesus would not do for the sake of clarity.

The temptations of Jesus prove that Christ rejects the secular concept of Messiah in both the way he confronts social injustices, instutionalized religion, and the political powers of his day.

Jesus is faced with three major social institutions: economic (bread), religious (temple), and the political (mountain).

Notice that Jesus would not capitulate to the world system. The rejection of these three temptations characterizes the entire ministry of Christ.

Until we’re willing to reject what Christ rejected, we have not fully accepted the Kingdom of God as revealed by Jesus.

If we desire to follow Christ, we must embrace the way of the suffering Messiah, instead of that way which is common to man.

We must walk the Kingdom way. And that way always looks like Jesus.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


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