Jesus seems to have been determined to let people know that he wasn’t interested in a certain kind of power. In the text above, he directly rebuffs Satan’s attempt to lure him into bypassing the suffering that lay ahead for the immediacy of some kind of political position with all of its trappings.
After one particularly notable miracle, the people wanted to make Jesus their king, a lifelong dream for many would-be rulers. Jesus quickly fled the area to spend time by himself in the mountains, completely uninterested in what they wanted for him.
One of the accusations Jesus’ enemies made against him on the eve of his death was that he wanted to establish himself as a rival to Caesar, which wasn’t true, at least not in the sense that they meant it. Jesus clarified it for Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.” In other words, I’m not that kind of king.
The disciples of Jesus also wanted to hitch themselves to this rising star so that perhaps they might sit at the table with the one with all the power in his hands. He quickly disabused them of that notion, to put it mildly.
And on it goes.
What Jesus went to great pains to teach is a lesson that’s been so quickly and completely forgotten by so many followers of Jesus over the years. Thinking that in order to make a difference in the world we need power as the world defines it–whether political or cultural or institutional or whatever–we’ve tried to co-opt Jesus for our own purposes. These desires inevitably lead to dangerous and damning places, as history has repeatedly demonstrated.
To all of that, Jesus emphatically says “no.” His “power,” such as it is, is in sacrificing himself for the good of those around him. One surprising outburst from Jesus came in response to Peter’s misguided suggestion that Jesus circumvent the cross and its suffering to achieve his goals, which seems almost exactly like what Satan tried to get Jesus to do in the wilderness. “Get behind me, Satan!” was Jesus’ unforgettable and shocking rebuke. I’m not that kind of king.