The last of our Lord’s temptations is the one which has been most variously interpreted, which is another way of saying the one which has been least certainly understood. The tempter takes Jesus to a high mountain, shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and says, “All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me”.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 198. This is a peculiar temptation: what could possibly work in this? Jesus had the right of rule over the world — he is now sitting as King of kings and Lord of lords:
The possibility of the temptation lies in the two facts that the sovereignty over the world belonged of right to Jesus, as the Son and representative of God, and that an immense and actual power in the world was unmistakably wielded by evil. Could Jesus make any use of that power? Could He, in order to obtain a footing in a world where evil was so strongly entrenched, give any kind of recognition to evil? Could He compromise with it, acknowledging that it had at least a relative or temporary right to exist, and making use of it till He could attain a position in which He would be able to dispense with its aid? This is the real question in the third temptation.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 199–200. Would Jesus be willing to make an “alliance of evil in establishing his kingdom?” (p. 200).
And so this temptation continues to exist for the church:
It hardly needs to be said that this temptation also remains with the Church. Evil is still a great power in the world, and as long as it is so the question will continue to arise whether it is not a power of which we can make some use for the kingdom of God. It is all the more sure to arise because evil is strong enough to cause great trouble and suffering to those who refuse to transact with it.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 200. There are a myriad of ways in which evil proposes a transaction. Perhaps someone who is powerful and wealthy seeks influence in the church? Denney gives this example — and I have spoken with many pastors who have been offered financial security in exchange for a compromise in doctrine or winking at sin.
But there are other ways in which a pastor may be compromised — seeking political connections and power (and indeed, the state may be jealous when the church does not support the state; just today, I read of a nationally prominent politician who complained of voters listening to “the pulpit” rather than politicians on matters of morality and policy). There is the fact of being shunned, called names whether “ignorant” (God as creator, Jesus having risen from the dead) or hateful (Biblical sexual morality). The world will make demands from every direction, and will cause great trouble for those who refuse to pay the world protection money.