The Temptation Of Christ On The Mountain by Duccio Di Buoninsegna

“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “to you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours. And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Luke 4:5-9)

I’ve always found the second temptation posed by Satan to Jesus in the wilderness to be particularly curious.  On one level the general dynamic is crystal clear—Jesus is offered authority and glory if he will simply worship Satan. And yet on far subtler level, it suggests a complex and mysterious dynamic that often goes unnoticed, but of which Satan, himself seems to be aware: that, he has nothing of his own to offer, and the best he can ever hope for is neither love nor devotion, but mercenary service ultimately offered for selfish gain.

Take a look at the passage again. The “bait” which is offered to Jesus is to obtain authority and glory. Worship is simply the means to that end. And yet even the barest definition of worship immediately reveals that this is not worship at all. Were Jesus to succumb to this temptation, he would not be serving Satan, but rather himself and his own ends. Nor would he be acknowledging any greatness in Satan that merited such service. He would simply be using him as a pawn.

This is worth considering in depth because it not only suggests something significant about Satan and his power in the world, but also about the motives that all too often drive our worship.  Very often we approach worship as a means to an end, rather than the end itself, that is rendering to God what is His due.

The key to understanding how this dynamic plays out can be found in the words that both Satan and Jesus use in this exchange. When Satan asks that Jesus worship him, the word he uses is proskynéō, which literally means “to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior”. It is an act that, according to Strong’s concordance, “suggests the willingness to make all necessary physical gestures of [deferential respect].”

However, when Jesus responds he not only engages the term used by Satan (‘You shall proskynēseis the Lord only”) he deepens it by adding the term latreuseis, translated above as serve. In so doing, he signals that there is far more at stake in worship than simply physical postures—or songs, or words—of deference. There is, at the core a vital question: Whom will you serve? Will it be God? Or will it ultimately be yourself?

As is often noted, Jesus’ response to Satan is a citation of Deuteronomy 6:13 (“It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.”) But in fact, the combination of the two terms together in the context of worship first appears in the Ten Commandments in the chapter prior to this:

 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above…You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” (Deut 5:6-9a)”

And the underlying concept precedes even this, going all the way back to the Exodus itself, where we find the Lord repeatedly calling on Moses to beseech Pharaoh to let his people go in to the wilderness that they might serve him (7:16; 8:1; 9:1).  The original context seems to suggest that he is simply asking that they might be allowed to go out into the wilderness to worship him, but the Hebrew reveals en evocative connection between this worship and the service they rendered to Pharaoh as his slaves, as both words come from the same root. God, in presenting the need for his children to come and serve him in worship, was making clear that such service would also necessarily entail allegiance to him, not Pharaoh, in their lives.

This is what is at stake for Jesus in the wilderness, and indeed for all of us in our lives. Worship is not fundamentally about the postures we strike, the songs we sing, or the words we pronounce (though all of these are vitally important to worship); it is about answering with the whole of our lives the question, “Whom do you serve?”; and the answer we give to that question will ultimately be evident in the way we treat others, the way we treat our bodies, the way we perform our duties and responsibilities, indeed in every detail great and small that makes up our lives, for in the words of Ravi Zacharias, “Worship is coextensive with all of life”.

It may seem strange for some to see worship in this way—either because we are so accustomed to seeing it as something we do on Sunday morning or because we balk at the idea of servitude being at the heart of worship. But this idea not only goes all the way back to God’s formation of the Israelites in the Exodus; it is consummately manifested in the one whom we claim to worship, the one who for our sake “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…[and] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross!” (Phil 2: 6-8)

And it is he who says to all who follow him obedience, “I no longer call you servants…but I have called you friends” (John 15:15)


Kathleen Durham