Satan's Dual Objectives: A Worldly Messiah And A Worldly Church

As one examines the New Testament, it becomes evident that Satan had two primary objectives in this world, among many more perhaps less evident. (1) To tempt the Messiah to conform to the image of the worldly Jewish religious thinking of His time. (2) To influence the church so that it conforms to the worldly religious thinking of our times. In the first objective, Satan totally failed. He met an opponent who stood firm. In the second objective, he has met with more success than we would like to think or admit.

I. A Worldly Messiah: Impossible.

From the very beginning of the Lord's ministry, Satan confronted Christ with the object of tempting Him to conform to the religious world that Satan himself had organized. This confrontation was necessary at the very beginning so that "Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matt. 4:1) In both accounts (Matt. 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13), although the order of the three proposals changes, it is evident that Satan's primary objective was to persuade Christ to follow his suggestions. On the surface the suggestions seemed to contain sensible advice. Considering them more carefully, they were self-promoting and worldly. If heeded, the three suggestions would have brought to Christ instantaneous worldly acclaim and acceptance among the religious leaders. "To understand this we must recall what has been said of the state of the Jewish nation, and especially the nature of the Messianic hopes which they were indulging. They expected a Messiah who would work dazzling wonders and establish a world-wide empire with Jerusalem as its center, and they had postponed the ideas of righteousness and holiness to these [ideas]. They completely inverted the divine conception of the kingdom, which could not but give the spiritual and moral elements precedence over the material and political considerations. Now what Jesus was tempted [by Satan] to do was, in carrying out the great work which His Father had committed to Him, to yield in some measure to these expectations. He must have foreseen that, unless He did so, the nation would be disappointed and probably turn away from Him in unbelief and anger" (James Stalker, Life of Christ ). Although it was a decisive struggle and the devil was thoroughly defeated, the devil "departed from Him until an opportune time" (Luke 4:13). He was not yet ready to admit defeat and he planned to keep on trying until the end.

His subsequent attacks were not long delayed. They were not direct confrontations with the devil himself, but they were nonetheless suggestions that came from Satan's mode of thinking. Many times these suggestions are the most dangerous because we are not aware of their source. Not so with Christ, for He was always aware of all the devices of the devil.

One attack came from his very own family in Galilee. His brothers said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show Yourself to the world." The brothers did not believe in Him and thus we understand the origin of their suggestion. It was a worldly promotion that motivated their thinking. Christ answered them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come." (John 7:2-8). He did not succumb to the darts of His brothers, but He went to Jerusalem later in accordance with His Father's timing and planning.

The attack still continues. This time it comes through His spiritual family......... Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." This was God's plan and Christ's mission on earth. Then Peter took Him aside; he obviously felt he had some wise advice for the Lord. He then actually began to rebuke the Lord. This is quite an act for a mortal man to attempt to correct His Lord. He said to Him, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" Now Peter is suddenly a prophet, a false prophet at that! But the Lord turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (Matt. 16:21-23). He directly and correctly identified the mind that was behind the counsel.

Once more our relentless foe attacks. This time he uses the howling mob that has gathered underneath the cross of Calvary. Christ is now not only hungry and thirsty, but He is bleeding and dying. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!" The chief priests also, together with the scribes, mocked and said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." (Mark 15:29-32). Using the same "if clause" that the devil himself used in the wilderness, they said, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." (Matt. 27:40). For a mortal man, with endowed divine power, how tempting it would have been to come down from that cross and spectacularly destroy everyone of His enemies before the eyes of a terrified crowd. But Christ was not a mortal man. He knew His mission and He knew that it had to be finished. If Christ had come down from the cross, it would not have proved that He was the Son of God. It would have proved that He was not the Son of God. It would have demonstrated that He was just a man, a selfish man, interested in saving Himself rather than fulfilling the mission of His heavenly Father. Satan struck his final blow on the Messiah; his opportune times were gone; and the mission of our Lord was carried out according to His Father's plan to the very last detail.

But even after Christ's death, our relentless foe still continues to attack.

II. A Worldly Church: Undesirable The Head of the Church is gone back to heaven but His body is still here on earth. Thus Satan concentrates His attack on those who form His body. Saul learned this truth on the road to Damascus. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And Saul said, "Who are you, Lord?" He recognized the voice speaking from heaven had to be divine, but he had not the least idea Who it could be.

And the Lord said to him, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Saul was making havoc of the church; he was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. But he never once laid hands on Jesus of Nazareth. How could he be persecuting Jesus Who was in heaven. In time, he learned the full intent of this statement. When He touched the body on earth, He touched the Head in heaven (Acts 9:4,5). Saul ceased his activity for Satan, and became a disciple of the Lord.

But our relentless foe again continued to attack. Our "adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Pet. 5:8). But his most effective attacks take the form of subtlety, seeking to conform the church to the standards of the world rather than obedience to the Word of God. Paul would later write to the church at Corinth, "But I am fearful lest that even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, so your minds may be seduced from wholehearted and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3). Thus Satan continues his use of seduction in an attempt to draw the church away from direct obedience to the Lord. And at times, including the present, we have seen evidences in many parts of the world of a church permeated with worldly desires and attitudes. A church that often has been attractive to the world, but powerless in proclaiming the Word of God and its truth.

Those who have experienced working in the local church know and understand the influence that is brought upon them by the world's way of thinking. They understand the temptation that is often confronted to yield in some measure to these suggestions. Their is something attractive and easy about many of these methods. It is much easier to say "yes" than to say "no" to them. The suggestions may not be in complete adherence to the Word of God, but they are partly in agreement. They are appealing, popular suggestions and at times they are even lots of fun. The temptation then takes this form. If we can first win the approval and acceptance of the world, are we not able to later on lead them to the truth? It would be as if Christ would have accepted the Jewish concept of the Messiah, won their confidence, and then later attempted to teach them the righteous, moral, and spiritual concepts of His kingdom. This subtle temptation may even come to the worker through his own immediate family as it did with Christ. Sometimes it's a wife or husband; a daughter or son; a father or mother who raises the question, "Why can't we do this or that? Everybody else does."

"Other times the suggestion comes from our spiritual family. Peter was certainly not aware that he was being used as a tool of Satan. But his thoughts regarding the Messiah were influenced by Satan's way of thinking.

Although they are totally unaware of it, our Christian friends can often be thinking and planning under the influence of this world's teachings. They have developed an attitude that suggests, "if it works for the world, it will work for the church."

There is a temptation "which every worker for God, weary with the slow progress of goodness, must often feel, and to which even good and earnest men have sometimes given way - to begin at the outside instead of within, to get first a great shell of external conformity to religion, and afterwards to fill it with a reality" (Stalker). But it never works. It never has and it never will.

The temptation is strong. Those who adopt the ways of the world seem at times to prosper so much more than those who adhere to the unadulterated Word of God. Must we give in if we are to succeed. The busy, he has many supporters, but we have on our side the Christ , the Head of the Church, who has overcome all the temptations of the devil. "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (I Jn. 4:4-6). Plod on, Christian worker. don't give in now. The time of reaping is almost here!