The Servant Son Versus the Serpent Spirit
After being anointed as the new king by the Spirit descending from heaven, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the devil, the most powerful evil spirit (Mt. 4:1-11).
Like the deceitful serpent in Gen. 3:1, the devil raises questions about what God has said. God has declared from the heavens that Jesus is the beloved son (in Mt. 3:17). So Satan subtly suggests that if Jesus is now the (royal) son of God (as God claims), he should not be suffering hunger in the desert. Real rulers are feasting; the lords of the earth live in luxury; he should command the stones to become bread.
Jesus responds with God’s earlier words (in Deut. 8:3) to Israel in the wilderness: people do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. So Jesus chooses to believe the word of God (in Deut. 8:3, and the words from heaven in Mt. 3:17)–and thus will remain God’s faithful servant king. He will not just be another greedy ruler of the earth, who values his own mouth more than God’s mouth (words).
So the serpent takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple complex in Jerusalem. This is where Satan thinks a new king in Israel should announce his presence. The present rulers there will not recognize his authority unless they see a special sign from heaven. Since Jesus is focused on God’s word, Satan again begins with “if you are the son of God,” but then adds words of God from Ps. 91:11-12. Such a sign as angels from heaven rescuing the jumping Jesus would prove to Jesus, and show all Jerusalem, that he really is the royal son of God who should become their king.
Jesus replies with other words from God (from Deut. 6:16): Do not test the Lord your God. The Lord has already spoken from heaven (Mt. 3:17); Jesus is already the royal son of God–anointed to rule by the Spirit from heaven. He does not need to prove this to himself, or to Jerusalem and its ruling fathers. The servant son will continue to please his heavenly Father.
If Jerusalem and Israel are not a big enough temptation, the serpent decides to offer all the nations. Now Jesus can be the greatest and richest king of the world (empire), if he falls down and worships Satan. This time Jesus quotes God’s words from Deut. 6:13; you shall worship the Lord your God, and shall serve only him. Rather than become the imperial king of a world empire (like Rome), Jesus will remain true to the voice from heaven and be a servant king who pleases God.
Jesus does not question that Satan is the spirit ruler of (the kingdoms of) this world, and has the power to give all the kingdoms of the earth to Jesus. Indeed, later on Jesus will refer to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 14:30; 16:11). Kings of the earth gain and maintain power and glory by cooperating with the ruler of this world. Like the ruling serpent, they deceive, seduce, and dominate in order to magnify themselves and their kingdoms.
Heaven’s new king commands Satan to leave; this king is even more powerful than “the ruler of this world.” Then (good) angels come to Jesus and serve him.