Mat 4:8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
Mat 4:9 And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me."
Mat 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.' "
The temptation of Christ tangentially shows us a fact that is sufficiently disturbing that most miss it and many traditional commentators even go so far as to try to exegete their way out of the implications of the text. The fact is that Satan is presently the god of this world. The glory that Satan offered to Christ he was actually in a position to deliver. The link between Satan and the current world systems is one explored elsewhere in the Bible. There are even places such as Isaiah 14 where a prophet seems to slide from talking to the incumbent of a throne to the power behind it. The purpose of this paper is to briefly survey the comfortable teaching regarding the temptation of Christ and then to draw out the actual truth both from the temptation passage itself and from Isaiah's passage.
The facts of the temptation are not really open to dispute. The Devil took Christ to somewhere from whence He could see the 'kingdoms of the world' and then stated that Christ could receive them if He first bows down to the Devil. Some will cavil that it is impossible to see the whole earth from any mountain as the earth is round. However I would suggest that if the Son of God and one of the greatest beings ever created wanted to see the whole earth in one go from one place then they could certainly do so. Indeed it may well be that the 'prince of the power of the air' has some form of aerial surveillance set up permanently. Many commentators however, even conservative ones, use the curiosity to introduce the notion that Satan had created an illusion. The kingdoms of the world and their glory did not really exist. Christ was simply being offered a mirage.
The first objection to this notion is that it doesn't fit the pattern Satan had been using. His first two temptations were based upon truth. Christ was hungry and He could turn rocks to bread. The angles would have quite happily stopped Christ hitting the floor; Satan even had scripture to prove it. We should remember too that Satan knew who Christ was. He would know that a deception would immediately have been seen through. Given two legitimate temptations why would he end his barrage with a blank shell?
The second objection is far stronger; Christ's response. Had Satan simply created a mirage or had he offered something that he had no ability to deliver then why wouldn't Christ simply have called him on the deception? In His response Christ does not indicate for one moment that He would not have liked the kingdoms or that the Devil could not deliver them. Instead He focuses upon the fact that it was the condition that made the offer one that was entirely unacceptable.
It should perhaps be noted at this point that a certain triumphalism that pervades parts of the church completely ignores the fact that Jesus plainly stated that His kingdom is not earthly. In fact Christ taking possession of the earthly kingdoms is not heralded until the seventh trumpet during the tribulation. Of course God the father is still in control; every power there is good and bad is ordained of God. Even as we read of demonic warfare in Revelation we still find that the evil are only allowed to flourish whilst God permits. Nonetheless the motivation force behind the behaviors of these kingdoms is not God but the Devil.
Isaiah gives and extended exposition on precisely this subject. In Isaiah 10:5-7 we find the Assyrian's used as a rod of God's anger all the while they actually are executing their own agenda. In the latter part of the chapter we find that Assyria will be punished for that agenda by their own downfall which actually happened at the hands of the Babylonians. Then however in Isaiah 14 we in turn find the Babylonians being castigated for their own response to the glory which they had.
Isaiah 14 however has an even more chilling note to strike. Babylon was a world power that literally shook and terrified the whole of the known world. In one man that was energized by Satan the majority of the world population could be brought to heal. The world's riches could be collected. We know that in a time to come Satan will again raise up and power a world leader. We also know that the whole world other than the elect will worship the beast and Satan through the beast.
I think it is plain to see that the world as it stands is seen as being in the possession of Satan and that therefore it was his to offer. The question arises however as to whether the offer were genuine insofar as surely Christ as Son of God could simply take what He wanted by force. However to make this suggestion ignores the issue of justice. Mankind had sinned which mandated the death penalty. Satan as the accuser had the power to hold all of mankind in death and in fear of death. In order to break the power of death and to release mankind Christ had to die or God had to relinquish justice which He could not do. Therefore the real basis of the third temptation is that Satan was offering Christ a way to avoid the cross.
To conclude: we have been reminded of the power that Satan now has. By sinning we gave him control over ourselves and he has used his influence to build huge powerful and generally evil kingdoms. Whilst it is true that one day the earthly kingdoms will belong to Christ this was only made possible through the cross and is only going to be claimed upon His return. For now the adversary is still the God of this world and he is still roaming as a roaring lion. As believers we have no fear of death and thus the devil has no hold upon us. For those around us and for many leading the kingdoms in which we live; this is not the case.