Commentary on Luke

Donald G. Miller
Part 2: The Nature of Jesus' Messiahship:
The Suffering Servant
Luke 2:41-4:30

The first impression which this section makes is one of disunity. The stories which make it up seem to be unrelated in content. The experience of a spiritually precocious lad (2:41-52); the dramatic appearance of a fiery reformer (3:1-22); a family tree (3:23-28); an inner struggle of the Gospel's central figure (4:1-13); the sermon of a famous man in his home town synagogue (4:16-30)--what connection have these? The same impression of disjointedness is felt in the references to time. Twelve years have elapsed between the birth stories and the first event (2:42). Eighteen years elapse between the first incident and the second (3:23). The family tree is chronologically out of place. The whole time scheme seems marked by disarray. An examination of Luke's use of sources adds to the impression of disjointedness. Some of his material he takes from Mark, some from Q, and some from his own special source (see the Introduction). Everywhere the surface impression is one of bungling disunity, like an unrelated assembly of snapshots stuck together in a scrapbook without plan or artistry.

Ofttimes, however, a profound unity lies hidden beneath a superficial disunity. The words on which the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple turns are "my Father's house" (2:49). The climax of John's ministry is the baptism of Jesus, where a voice from heaven says, "my beloved Son" (3:22). "The son of" is the characteristic phrase of the family tree (3:23-38). Twice the expression, "If you are the Son of God," gives the clue to the meaning of the Temptation (4:3, 9). In the story about preaching in the Nazareth synagogue, the people at first can hardly believe their ears, and ask: "Is not this Joseph's son?" (4:22). Unquestionably, the element which binds all these stories into a unity is that of sonship. Since in four instances Jesus' sonship to God is expressed or implied (2:49; 3:22; 3:38; 4:3, 9), and in the fifth he claims to be God's "anointed" who will bring in the Messianic Age (4:18-21), the central unity of this section is clear: Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Messianic King spoken of in the Old Testament as God's Son (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7; see also Luke 22:70; John 1:49).

Added to this is the thought that the way to become a true member of the family of God lies in him and his work. The Jews claimed to be children of God because Abraham was their "father." John insisted that this claim had no validity (Luke 3:8-9). Repentance (3:8) and faith in the "good news" of the coming Kingdom which God's Son was to bring (3:18) formed the only pathway to a right relationship to God. Tracing Jesus' genealogy all the way back to Adam suggests, too, that all men are related to what he had come to do (3:23-38). This entire section, then, states the central conviction to which Luke is seeking to lead his readers: Jesus is the Son of God, the Messianic King who has inaugurated the Kingdom of God, and membership in this Kingdom for all other men lies in him. Thus, Luke's "orderly account" (1:3) places after the introduction to the Gospel (1:5-2:40) a clear statement of its theme (2:41-4:30).

The Boy Jesus in the Temple:
Jesus' First Recognition of Sonship (2:41-52)

The Law prescribed that every male Jew should go up to Jerusalem for three annual Feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Exod. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16). Women did not have to go, but often did (1 Sam. 1:3-28). It was Mary's custom to go annually (vs. 41). The Law does not specify the age when a boy comes under its obligations. Jewish custom, however, set it at thirteen, when a boy became a "son of the commandment." Some parents, in order to prepare their children for this day, so that it would not be too sudden an entrance upon adult religious obligations, took their children to the feasts at Jerusalem before they were thirteen. Jesus' presence at the Feast at the age of twelve may indicate such a practice on the part of his parents.

It is not surprising that Jesus' parents did not miss him on the homeward journey until nightfall (vss. 43-45). For protection against robbers, it was customary for pilgrims to the Feasts to travel in caravans. The crowds were tremendous. About 100,000 pilgrims crowded into a city of only 50,000 inhabitants. In each caravan, family groups were often separated. Mary could well have thought that Jesus was with Joseph, while Joseph thought him to be with Mary, or both may have thought that he was with relatives or friends.

"After three days" (vs. 46) probably includes the day's journey away from Jerusalem, the journey back, and the day they found him. He was in the Temple, taking part in the instruction of the rabbis. Note that Luke does not say that Jesus was instructing. He was learning. He was "listening" to them, "asking" information from them, and "answering" their questions (vss. 46-47). They were "amazed at his understanding and his answers," for he had a grasp of spiritual truth quite unusual for a lad of his years. But there is no hint of anything like the boast of Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century A.D., who claimed to have been questioned on points of the Law at the age of fourteen by the High Priest and elders. Nor is there any hint of what is found in one of the Gospels the Church rejected, which pictured Jesus as instructing the rabbis in the Law and in prophetic mysteries, and enlightening them on astronomy, medicine, and other learned matters. Luke's story is natural, restrained, unembellished.

It is quite natural that Mary should speak a word of gentle rebuke, in which she reveals their "anxiety" over him (vs. 48; see also Luke 16:25, where the same word is translated "anguish"). The meaning of the whole story lies in Jesus' reply to his mother's rebuke. Mary said, "your father and I." Jesus replied, "my Father" (vs. 49). It is this play on the twofold filial relationship of Jesus--to his parents and to God--which leads to the heart of the story.

Jesus was conscious of a unique relationship to God. Why should he not be in the Temple? It was God's house, and there he was at home. This was not a studied answer. It was rather the spontaneous expression of a deep inner consciousness. He was subject to his earthly parents (vs. 51), yet at the same time he was conscious of a higher relationship more intimate and more meaningful. The Old Testament had called God "Father," (Deut. 32:6; Isa. 63:16; Ps. 103:13). The term, however, either referred to God as Father of the nation or was used as an illustration--"as a father." Here Jesus goes beyond these. His sense of being in his Father's house is not merely that of an Israelite, conscious that the Temple was the place where God manifested his presence. The expression on Jesus' lips is wholly personal--"my Father's house." In these first recorded words from Jesus' lips is seen his early recognition of his unique Sonship to God. Here is the first faint ray of light on his Person, which will dawn upon Jesus in all its fullness at his Baptism, and will burst on the disciples in splendor after the Resurrection.

Luke, however, carefully guards against reading too much into Jesus' consciousness at this time. Jesus is not yet fully aware of his Messiahship, nor of the full meaning of his unique relation to God. He goes home to do what a twelve-year-old should do, obey his parents (vs. 51). As a normal child, he must still develop to maturity by learning (Heb. 5:8). Hence, Luke tells us that he "increased in wisdom"--both mental and moral insight; "in stature"--physical growth; "and in favor with God and man"--spiritual excellence (vs. 52; see 1 Sam. 2:26). His consciousness of divine Sonship was real, but undeveloped--"faint like an echo in a dream." He was not a God who merely looked like a child, in whom growth would have been impossible. He was truly human in body, mind, and spirit, living under all the limitations common to man--save sin.

Mary's inability to "understand" (vs. 50) what he said was the first light stroke of the "sword" which was to pierce her heart (2:35). As mother of Messiah, she had a son, and yet, in a sense, she did not. He did not belong to her, but to all men, in a way that Mary could not at that time understand (see Luke 8:19-21; 11:27-28). There is wisdom, however, in Mary's dealing with her lack of understanding. When God's truth is not clear, do not cast it off; hide it in the heart and wait for fuller light (vs. 51).

The Baptism of Jesus:
God's Vindication of Jesus' Sonship (3:1-22)

It is difficult to imagine what the rise of John the Baptist meant to his people. It was "more important far than war or revolution." The characteristic way that God had made known his will in Israel in the past was through prophets. But prophecy had been silent for more than four centuries. The belief was widespread, however, that when the Messianic Age came, prophecy would reappear (Joel 2:28; Mal. 3:1; 4:5). When, therefore, John the Baptist made his sudden and dramatic appearance in the Judean wilderness, it was like a bolt out of the blue. Here was the prophet who was to prepare the way for God's decisive action! Here was the signal for the coming of the New Age! Now was the hour of God's deliverance of a people frustrated by centuries of delay! The End Time had come!

Luke makes this clear in two ways. First, he describes John's prophetic role in the exact words of the calls of the earlier prophets--"the word of God came to John" (vs. 2; see 1 Sam. 15:10; 2 Sam. 7:4; 1 Kings 17:2; Jer. 2:1). Prophecy had again arisen! Second, he takes great pains to set John's appearance in its historical framework. He mentions not only the political rulers at that time (vs. 1), but also the religious leaders of Judaism (vs. 2). He means by this to suggest that Judaism had reached its climax in John; the end toward which it was moving was announced by him. But more than that, the end toward which all history had been moving was about to take place--the coming of the Kingdom of God. "All flesh shall see the salvation of God" (vs. 6). In that which John announced, both secular history and religious history would reach their fulfillment.

If, however, God's decisive hour in history was about to break in, this called for an equally decisive response on the part of man. When oriental kings made journeys into remote parts of their realms, heralds were sent ahead to announce their coming. Roads had to be made where there were none--valleys had to be filled, and hills made low. And where there were roads, they had to be straightened and smoothed (vss. 4-5). John is the herald. His message was: The King is coming! Prepare the way! How was this to be done? By repentance, by a radical change of heart which would manifest itself in works that gave evidence of it.

The thoroughgoing nature of John's message is seen in his demand that everyone repent--and give witness to repentance by baptism. Many of the Jews expected judgment to fall on the Gentiles when the Kingdom came. They, however, as children of Abraham, would escape judgment and be heirs of the Kingdom (vs. 8). John reversed all this. In effect, he excommunicated the whole nation. It was not sufficient to be a descendant of Abraham. God had no more regard for their pride of birth than for desert stones. God's judgment was about to fall. Those who did not "bear fruits that befit repentance" would be destroyed (vss. 8-9). Only those who repented, acknowledging that they were sinners before God and desiring the gift of a new life, could withstand the judgment when it came. Only they would receive the forgiveness which the Messiah would bring.

This break with current Judaism was dramatized by the fact that John appeared not in Jerusalem, the "holy" city, where official Judaism centered, but in the wilds of the Judean wilderness. Repentance meant a break with what Jerusalem stood for at that time, and an acknowledgment that it was under the judgment of God. The demand of John was that men do this immediately and decisively. The rite of baptism dramatized all this. One was born a child of Abraham, the sign of which was circumcision. He must now, by his own decision, confess that Abraham's children had failed. He must acknowledge that his only hope for entrance into the coming Kingdom was God's merciful forgiveness and cleansing from sin.

Baptism, however, was not a magical rite which imparted blessing in itself. When the multitudes flocked to John to be baptized, he insisted that the rite was of no value save as it testified to a deep inner change of heart (vss. 7-9). This change of heart, however, was not some dramatic act, far removed from the common round of life. It was to be manifested by living in hope of the coming Kingdom in the ordinary tasks of every day. Those who had an excess of clothing and food were to share it with those who had none (vs. 11). Tax collectors, excluded from the Kingdom by the rabbis because they were in the employ of the Romans and were considered traitors to their own people, were not to leave their jobs but to discharge them with integrity and scrupulous honesty (vss. 12-13). Soldiers were to serve faithfully, content with their pay, and not to enrich themselves falsely either by violence or by fraud (vs. 14). This counsel of John is not to be thought of as mere moralizing, nor as salvation by works. Had he stood for this, he would not have broken with the religious elders of his day. He is not saying that if men are generous, honest, and faithful, they will thereby earn the right to be members of the coming Kingdom. He is rather saying that if one acknowledges his unworthiness and accepts God's gracious gift of entrance into the coming Kingdom, he will show it by ethical behavior toward his fellow man. This is not the ethics of legalism, but the ethics of gratitude. It is the extension in grateful service of the hand of one who has first beat upon his breast crying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" (18:13).

The appearance of John created such a stir in Judea, and so fanned into flame the Messianic hopes of the people, that many began to wonder whether he might be the Messiah (vs. 15). This John denied in the strongest terms. There was a "mightier" One coming, so much greater than he that he was not worthy even to offer him the menial service of untying his sandals. He would actually bring what John's baptism with water signified--the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was the sign of entrance into the Messianic Age (vs. 16). The "fire" connected with the baptism of the Holy Spirit likely refers to the purifying of the Spirit's work. In a passage in Malachi which seems to lie behind Luke's whole description of the work of John, the "messenger" sent to prepare the way of the Lord is to be "like a refiner's fire." He is to "purify" and "refine" the people so that they may "present right offerings to the LORD" (Mal. 3:1-3). Water cleanses the outside alone. Fire penetrates to the deepest recesses and purifies the inner life. But those who do not repent will be destroyed (vs. 17). The coming Kingdom will bring a great separation.

But just as prophets of old had to suffer for the word which they spoke, so this one who gathered up the whole of Old Testament prophecy and pointed it directly toward Jesus, likewise had to suffer. Luke ends his story of John by telling of his imprisonment under Herod, whose evil life he had rebuked (vss. 19-20). In his suffering, without knowing it, John was a forerunner of him who came to be the Suffering Servant (see Matthew 17:12, where Jesus connects John's sufferings with his own).

Since Luke conceives of John's work purely in relation to that of Jesus, the most significant fact of his career was his baptism of Jesus. No description is given of the Baptism itself. The emphasis is placed rather on what happened to Jesus in that moment. The record is brief, but of extreme importance.

The heart of the story is the voice from heaven (vs. 22). It probably was heard by Jesus only, for it was addressed directly to him--"Thou." The exact form of this experience is a mystery. Luke is interested not in psychological explanations of the inner life of Jesus, but rather in the theological meaning of the experience. It is significant, however, that the voice spoke words of Scripture. What happened came out of Jesus' contemplation of his mission in the light of the Old Testament. Luke adds that it was in answer to his prayer. The root of the experience, then, was prayerful study of the Scriptures to determine God's will for his life. This is of paramount importance, for it suggests that if Jesus came to clarity about himself and his mission by the Holy Spirit's illumination of the Scriptures, we are not likely to find a better way for ourselves. The Holy Spirit speaks through the Scriptures, not apart from them.

The voice echoes two Old Testament passages. The first half of the declaration comes from Psalm 2:7--"You are my son." The second half comes from Isaiah 42:1--"in whom my soul delights." This suggests that two strands of Old Testament thought which seem for the most part to have developed independently were brought firmly together in the mind of Jesus. Psalm 2 pictured one who bore a special relation to God as Son, "anointed" or commissioned to carry out his purposes (Ps. 2:2). The mission given to him was to subdue the nations and bring the ends of the earth into subjection to God's Lordship (Ps. 2:8). But what was the method whereby this was to be done? Clearly that of coercive force. "You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel" (Ps. 2:9).

Isaiah 42 is both similar and dissimilar to this. Instead of a Son, the chosen of God is a Servant. In this lies no contradiction, for what is true sonship but obedient service to the will of a father? The mission of the Servant is identical with that of the Son--"he will bring forth justice to the nations" (Isa. 42:1). His task is to bring all peoples under the divine sovereignty. But what of the method by which this was to be done? At this point there is a radical difference from the Second Psalm. Instead of violently smashing all opposition before him, "He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street" (Isa. 42:2). He is so gentle that he will not break off an already bent reed, nor snuff out the wick that gives no light (Isa. 42:3). He will undertake his task by a method which seems doomed to failure from the very start, a method which will tempt him to be "discouraged." Yet he will "not fail . . . till he has established justice in the earth" (Isa. 42:4). The full meaning of this discouraging method is set forth in Isaiah 53. It is the method of suffering love, which destroys the opposition to God's sovereign rule in the earth not by violent assertion but by redemptive suffering.

The Son and the Servant are one and the same! This, Jesus had found in the Old Testament. The heavenly voice now confirms his conviction and seals it with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The early surmise of the twelve-year-old boy has grown through the years, tested by life and enriched by the Holy Scriptures. To the One who eighteen years before had said, "my Father" (2:49), the vindicating voice from heaven says, "my Son" (3:22). But true sonship means obedient service. The Son must fulfill the role of the Servant.

This gives us the clue to the meaning of Jesus' baptism. John's baptism was "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin" (3:3). Was Jesus baptized for his own sins? Certainly not, according to the New Testament writers (see 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Rather he was baptized for the sins of others. Isaiah 53 makes this clear. There the Servant is pictured as one whose wounds and bruises were for the "iniquities" of others (vss. 5-6). He was "stricken for the transgression of my people" (vs. 8). He was made "an offering for sin" (vs. 10). "He bore the sin of many" by "pour[ing] out his soul to death" (vs. 12). Thus Luke couples Jesus' baptism with that of the people--"when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized" (3:32). In his first public act, the Servant identified himself with the sins of his people, and was baptized for their sake, not his own. He took upon himself all the sins which all the people brought to the Jordan.

It is plain, therefore, that right from the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, he was headed for the Cross. How clear the details of the outcome of his choice were at that moment we cannot know. We do know, however, that in principle he accepted the role of the Servant who "humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8). The Suffering Servant is the key which unlocks the meaning of the entire New Testament, yes, even of the whole Bible (see Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; Acts 2:22-33; 3:13, 18, 26; 4:27, 30; 8:32-35; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 5:7-9; 1 Peter 1:11; 4:1; 5:1; Rev. 5:6, 9-12).

In addition to telling of the voice heard by Jesus at the Baptism, Luke tells us that "the heaven was opened" (vs. 21). This means that the world above sense became visible to Jesus (see Acts 7:56). The veil which divides the human and the Divine was drawn back, and Jesus entered upon a fuller fellowship with his Father than he had heretofore known. He, at this moment, knew the perfect filial relationship wherein the Father made himself and his purposes fully known, and he entered into these purposes with complete understanding and acceptance. The filial relationship of the twelve-year-old, perfect at that stage but necessarily limited, has now become complete.

This is confirmed by the gift of the Holy Spirit (vs. 22). Why the figure of the dove is used is not clear. Several guesses have been made, but it is perhaps better to confess ignorance. Luke's expression "in bodily form" is mysterious, but is intended to stress the objective reality of the experience. He does not say that the Spirit came in a "body," but "in bodily form." Nor does he say that an actual dove was present. He says "as a dove." Mark, Matthew, and John all use similar expressions (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; John 1:32). Here is mystery which we do not understand, but for which a rational explanation is not important.

The important thing is that the Holy Spirit came on Jesus in a way different from what he had known before. Again we move in the twilight of mystery. We are in the near neighborhood of the Trinity, where the relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit elude our grasp. At the Baptism, where Jesus assumes the role of the Servant and receives power to enter upon his ministry, there is an activity of the entire Godhead which bespeaks the tremendous importance of the occasion. The Father speaks and the Holy Spirit descends. The recipient of the Father's voice and of the Holy Spirit is the Son. Henceforth, there is a union between them which, rather than denying the reality of their past relations, deepens and seals them.

Jesus was not without the Holy Spirit before his baptism. He was born of the Spirit (1:35). But now, the Holy Spirit has come on him in his fullness in such a complete union that the two are inseparable in God's action and in Christian experience. (See 2 Corinthians 3:17, where Paul says "the Lord is the Spirit"; see also Acts 16:6-7, where "the Holy Spirit" and "the Spirit of Jesus" seem to be used interchangeably. This does not mean that they are identical, but that they are so closely related that to have one is to have both.) On others, the Holy Spirit had come in partial measure and for special periods (see 1 Sam. 10:6; 16:14). But here is a coming of the Holy Spirit in a way which has no parallel in the Old Testament. On Jesus, the Spirit came in fullness and came to remain forever. For this reason, it was possible for Jesus to fulfill the mission of which John spoke, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (3:16).

The Fourth Gospel makes unmistakably plain what is implicit here in Luke, when John the Baptist says: "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33; see also John 3:34). Jesus can now impart the Holy Spirit by imparting himself.

With this unique empowering, Jesus goes forth to the ministry of the Suffering Servant in obedience to his Father's will. What Israel had failed to do--to be God's obedient servant--Jesus now will do for them, and for all men. Here is both the New Israel and the New Adam. He must bear the sins of the many, in order that he may "make many to be accounted righteous" (Isa. 53:11; see also Rom. 5:19). This is the meaning of his baptism.

The Genealogy:
The Universal Meaning of Jesus' Sonship (3:23-38)

The genealogy of Luke faces us with difficulties, especially in the light of that of Matthew (Matt. 1:1-17). The list of names is somewhat different. Several ingenious attempts have been made to solve this problem, but none of them has more than conjectural value. The wisdom of John Wesley on this point could well be followed. He remarked that if there were any discrepancies in the two lists, it merely meant that there were errors in the public documents from which they were taken, and that the Holy Spirit did not see fit to inspire the Gospel writers to correct the court records of their day! Paul would have agreed, since he counseled Timothy to avoid "endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith" (1 Tim. 1:4; see also Titus 3:9). However difficult the genealogies of Matthew and Luke may be to harmonize, they both achieve the ends for which they are introduced. Furthermore, in Luke's case, he traces the line clear back to Adam, where he legitimately arrives, whatever be the course by which he gets there! The fact that the genealogies were traced through Joseph, though he was not the physical parent of Jesus, was no problem to Luke or to his readers. In the Orient, parenthood is not merely a matter of birth. It can be acquired. Adoptive parents are real parents. So can God be our Father; we have all received "adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:5).

What was the purpose of including a genealogy at all? Matthew traces the line of descent from Abraham to Jesus, showing thereby that Jesus was the true heir of Israel who gathered into himself the threads of the holy history of the people of God. But the narrow stream of holy history, made up of the story of the people of God from Abraham to Jesus, had a decisive meaning for all history. Although its limits were quite definite, its function, like that of the Gulf Stream, was to transform the climate of the whole ocean. Consequently, Luke traces his genealogy in the opposite direction from Matthew, beginning with Jesus, and carrying it back to "Adam" (3:38). Jesus is the climax not only of holy history but of all history. He not only fulfills the hopes of Israel, he brings fullness of life to all men. In his life, death, and resurrection, the center of all history is reached. Every life ever born, before or since, is related to him. He is the goal toward which all history moves, the end for which all things were created.

In this way, Luke was suggesting Paul's conception of Jesus as the "last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:20-22, 45-49; Rom. 5:12-19). The first Adam was the originator of the old humanity, characterized by disobedience and death (Gen. 3). Here is a new Adam, the originator of a new order of humanity, characterized by obedience and eternal life. In him, estranged humanity is once more given the "power to become children of God" (John 1:12). This new Adam will perform an "act of righteousness" which will lead "to acquittal and life for all men" (Rom. 5:18). This is the significance of Luke's genealogy. It establishes the universality of the saving work of the Son who is the Suffering Servant.

The Temptation of Jesus:
The Son Remains the Servant (4:1-13)

The temptation of Jesus is not so much a preparation for his ministry as its opening act. He had come to be a Savior (2:11). This meant doing battle with God's enemy, whom Jesus later called "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and whom Paul termed "the god of this world" and "the prince of the power of the air" (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). This was the first engagement with the Devil in a battle which continued to the end. It introduces us to a struggle in which no quarter may be given and no compromise is possible. It is a battle for the Lordship of the world. Either Jesus or the Devil must win, and the power of the other be broken.

Many have questioned the existence of a personal Devil and look upon him as merely a symbol of the total sin of the human race. No proof for or against such a view may be given. It is plain that Jesus believed in the reality of the Devil. One may, if he likes, discard this as a part of the time-conditioned framework of Jesus' message. May it not be, however, that Jesus plumbed the dimensions of evil at a level deeper than is possible to us? In spite of the good will and best efforts of responsible leaders, and the almost universal longing for peace on the part of the masses of all lands, human society precariously balances on the verge of self-destruction. It may well be the height of naivete to account for this either by mere human stupidity and perverseness or the evil designs of a few wicked leaders. Belief in the existence of the Devil may solve more problems than it raises!

The nature of the Temptation experience cannot be fully understood. It was a private affair which, obviously, no one else could share. It was not the sort of thing which the Church would have created if it were not real. Hence, the story must have come from Jesus himself. What form it took to his consciousness we cannot know. It is hardly likely, however, that the Devil appeared in all his ugliness. He more likely appeared as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14), using Scripture as his weapon against Jesus. Furthermore, there is no physical location from which "all the kingdoms of the world" may be seen in a moment of time (vs. 5). The story intends to make the Devil objective in the sense that he came to Jesus from without, and was not merely the reflection of the working of his own heart. Yet it is quite unlikely that if one had been there, he could have come away with a photograph of the Devil or a tape recording of the conversation.

A point of significance is the place which Scripture plays in the whole encounter. In two of the temptations, the Devil tries to mislead Jesus by a wrong use of Scripture. In all three of them, Jesus' sword of victory is the Word of God. This testifies to Jesus' true humanity, to his precise knowledge of the Scriptures, and to the supreme value he placed on them.

To understand the temptation of Jesus, it is necessary to relate it directly to his baptism. Although Luke places the genealogy between the two, he does not mean to separate them. Both Matthew and Mark likewise connect these two experiences, Mark using the work "immediately" (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12). They are two parts of one experience. They both have to do with his mission and the means by which it is to be achieved. The Baptism clarified his mission as Suffering Servant. The Temptation confronted him with the costliness of this mission and tested whether he would be obedient to it. The Temptation, therefore, was not designed to make him doubt his Messiahship. It was rather Satan's effort to divert him from being a suffering Messiah. Would he seek to achieve his mission by fulfilling the Messianic hopes of his people, or would he be obedient to the Father's will and go to the Cross--a choice which meant rejection by his people right from the start? This was what Jesus faced at the Temptation.

To this testing he was "led by the Spirit" (4:1). To face it was his first step of obedience to his Father's will. The forty days in the "wilderness" recall the experience of the founder of the Old Covenant, Moses, who remained on the mountain forty days and nights, and did not eat or drink (Deut. 9:9), and who had to return to a rebellious people who had rejected his leadership and his God (Deut. 9:12). It also relates to the testing of the Old Israel in the wilderness for forty years (Deut. 8:2). They failed in their obedience to God. Jesus, as the founder of the New Israel, would make good where they had failed.

The first temptation was an effort to divert him from his chosen path of suffering into becoming a "bread king," an economic Messiah (vs. 3). He who holds men's bread in his hands can rule. And since Jesus was the Son of God ("since" is a better translation than "if"), he could utilize his power to make bread out of desert stones. By thus meeting the needs of his people, he could win their allegiance, and ultimately conquer the whole world. The force of this temptation lay in the fact that there seemed to be scriptural warrant for it. Had not Moses, the leader of the first Exodus, fed the people with manna from heaven? (Exod. 16:4-36). If Jesus were to fulfill in a new and greater Exodus what was begun there, why should he not follow a similar method? (see John 6:30-31). Then, too, Jesus' own hunger at this time made men's need for bread vivid. Since men must have bread, why not give it to them?

Jesus' victory over this temptation came through a word of God in the Old Testament: "Man shall not live by bread alone" (vs. 4; Deut. 8:3). The brief record here does not complete the verse, but Matthew indicates that the whole of it was in the mind of Jesus: man lives "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Man does need bread, and need it desperately. Ask some half-starved victim of a concentration camp! But bread is not the only nor the deepest need. Fellowship with God, growing out of obedience--even if it should mean hunger--is man's deepest need. Jesus, therefore, refused to be diverted from the pathway of suffering by meeting man's superficial needs in place of his deepest needs. He also refused to use his power to minister to his own needs. By his answer two things are plain: he lives as man, and he lives in perfect obedience to his Father's will. Whatever the cost of these two decisions, he will pay it.

The second temptation was to avoid suffering by using earthly power, by becoming a political Messiah (vss. 5-7). Matthew, who places this temptation last, probably gives the climactic order, for in the light of the Jewish hopes of Jesus' day, this temptation was probably the strongest. That is why Jesus replied to it so decisively, "Begone, Satan!", and spoke so harshly to Peter when he voiced the same temptation later at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 4:10; 16:23). Jesus grew up under Roman sovereignty. His hands labored to earn sufficient to pay Roman taxes. He had seen the havoc wrought by Rome on his nation. He loved his land and his people, and must have longed with them for the day of freedom from Roman power. So the cry of his people for political deliverance was very real and very appealing to him. One of the prayers which Jews prayed in Jesus' day was that God would send the promised King, the Son of David, girded with power "to annihilate the godless rulers and to cleanse Jerusalem from the heathen," by "breaking them in pieces with iron rods." Then "the heathen would be put under his yoke," and "foreigners would have no right to dwell" among the people of God. There were many Zealots who had taken up arms against their Roman conquerors to aid God in answering this prayer. Some even went so ar as to kill their own people who collaborated with the Romans. This is what the Jewish people desired in their Deliverer. Jesus knew this. So did the Devil!

Hence, the Evil One placed before Jesus' mind "all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time," with all their "authority and their glory" (vss. 5-6). "To you I will give all this," he said, if you will only "worship" me (vs. 7). Such worship would have been an acknowledgment that the Devil owned "all this" by right. In this way, the Tempter sought a compromise by which he could avoid a battle to the death. It was an offer to grant Jesus Lordship over this world, if only he would not contest the Devil's lordship elsewhere in the universe. Not only human history, but the world that is above history, is temporarily under the dominion of Satan. He is at work in "the principalities and powers" of the invisible world as well (Col. 1:16; 2:15). When the Tempter saw One coming who was to contest his total lordship, he attempted to escape by offering Jesus a partial Lordship which would shrink his own dominions but not totally terminate his reign.

His claim that the earth had "been delivered" to him was partially true. He is "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31), "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2). But the claim, "I give it to whom I will," was false. For his lordship is limited both in power and duration. He was "a strong man, fully armed," who "guards his own palace" and whose "goods" were in peace (Luke 11:21). But "one stronger than he" had come to "assail him and overcome him" (Luke 11:22). His power was great, but there was a greater power, and Satan's days were numbered. So, with half-truth and half-falsehood, and using the Messianic hopes of Jesus' own people whom he had come to save, Satan assaulted the integrity of Jesus in the hope of saving himself and his "dominion of darkness" (Col. 1:13).

Again Jesus' answer was taken from Scripture: "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve" (vs. 8; Deut. 6:13). To have acknowledged Satan's lordship anywhere in the universe, would have been a denial of the total Lordship of God. Satan's authority was a usurped authority. It was the result of rebellion against God, the only rightful Lord of the whole universe. The rebellion must be put down. God must reign. Jesus must destroy "every rule and every authority and power" set against God (1 Cor. 15:24). Hence, he refused Satan's offer, refused to escape suffering in order to win a partial victory, and maintained his decision to be the Servant who should obey God at any cost ("him only shall you serve").

Furthermore, had Jesus yielded to this temptation, he would not even have gained the true Lordship of this world. To rule by the "authority" and "glory" of this world would not have established the Kingdom of God even here on the earth. No rule based on external authority ever truly wins the allegiance of men, nor can it last. History is the graveyard of such authority. God wants the will of man, his heart, his free obedience in love. When these are given, then, and then only, is his Kingdom at work. In Jesus' own land, a good century and a half before he was born, the Maccabees had arisen in the name of religion to deliver their people by force. A truly remarkable temporary success followed. But within a brief span, the movement had lost its soul, and worse evils followed in its wake than those from which it had brought deliverance. In our own time revolutions against tyranny have soon ended in worse forms of tyranny. Coercive power may be necessary to restrain evil. But it can never bring the Kingdom of God. "The weapons of our warfare are not worldly" (2 Cor. 10:4). Much as Jesus must have wished political deliverance for his people, he saw that their real needs lay deeper. They, and the whole universe, needed deliverance from Satan. Through the power of suffering love, he would "put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Cor. 15:25).

The third temptation was to be a miracle-working Messiah, one who would win the allegiance of men by wonders (vss. 9-11). Human nature is addicted to wonders. Even in the modern world, which is heir to the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Enlightenment of the 18th century, and the scientific discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries, the love of the marvelous still lingers. There is no place in the world, no matter how sophisticated, where one who performs wonders will not have a large following. This was doubly true in Jesus' day. Paul, who knew Judaism from within, said that the "Jews demand signs" (1 Cor. 1:22). All through Jesus' ministry his people "sought from him a sign from heaven" (Luke 11:16, 29-32; Matt. 12:38; 16:1; Mark 8:11; John 2:18; 6:30). In the light of this, the temptation to use his power to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple without injury, was both real and strong.

But why do this at the Temple? Because that was the place where the Jews were looking for a sign. For more than five centuries their hopes had been so frustrated that they felt deliverance could come only by an act of God. They, however, still had their Temple, the place of God's presence with them. It was the one visible symbol of their status as God's favored people. It therefore had become more and more the center of all their emotional ties to their history and of their hopes for the future. And had not Malachi written that "the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple"? (Mal. 3:10). What better way could there be to declare Messiahship than to make a dramatic arrival at the Temple in such fashion that the coming itself was a miracle? There was seeming justification in Scripture for such a gesture. God had promised angels to bear one up (4:10-11; Ps. 91:11-12). Was this not the time to put God to the test? And would not such a risk of faith justify his people in believing in him?

The answer to this, too, lay in Scripture. "You shall not tempt the Lord your God" (4:12; Deut. 6:16). God's promises are not given to be used for selfish ends. Neither are they designed to surround us with the divine protection when we choose the dangers to which we shall expose ourselves. The context of the Psalm which Satan quoted makes this clear. "Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name" (Ps. 91:14). In the obedient service which flows from loving fellowship with him are God's promises validated. The path of Jesus was the path of the Servant. The protecting care of God would have to be given by the choice of his Father rather than his own desire, and in whatever measure God determined. Even the Servant wold have to know an hour when it seemed that God's promises had failed. He would have to cry out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). If was then that God's promise to bear him up was fulfilled at a deeper level. Through the Resurrection, God "highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9). But this could come only through the humble obedience of the Servant "unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8).

Luke's closing statement, "when the devil had ended every temptation," suggests that the three described were part of a much wider range of soul struggle which is not disclosed. These three were only typical of what he endured. The departure of the Devil from him "until an opportune time" also indicates that the struggle of Jesus is not over (4:13). It has just begun. The assaults of the Evil One continued throughout his ministry, for Jesus spoke of his disciples as "those who have continued with me in my trials" (22:28). The trials would be climaxed in Gethsemane's Garden (22:39-46) and on the cross (22:54-23:56). The glory of it all for us is that he now continues with us in our trials. "For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:18).

The Servant's Mission and Its Consequences (4:14-30)

The connection of this incident with what has gone before is clear. It is the testing in actual experience of the inner decision of Jesus made at the Temptation. How many have made high resolves in some moment of inner struggle, only to break down at the threshold of action! Will Jesus do the same?

What could be better designed as a test than the situation here? Jesus, the obscure son of a small village carpenter, has suddenly become famous "through all the surrounding country" (4:14). Now he returns to his home village and speaks in the synagogue. "The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him" (vs. 20). They expect something wonderful from him, some sign that will demonstrate to them what has made him famous elsewhere. Behind their expectancy is the religious hope of deliverance from Rome, and the Messianic excitement kindled by John the Baptist. If Jesus was ever tempted to deny the decision made at the Baptism to be the obedient Servant of God, it was here! But what happens? Within a short time, his fellow villagers are seeking to kill him! Tested in action, he makes good. He will not compromise the decision of his soul to gain the favor of his people. He will be the obedient Servant, even at the risk of death.

For the Scripture reading and the comments to follow, Jesus chose Isaiah 61:1-2. There the prophet pictures the deliverance of Israel from exile in Babylon in terms of their Year of Jubilee. In this year all debts were canceled, all slaves freed, and property went back to the original owner (Lev. 25). This was "good news to the poor" (4:18). So would be the release from Babylon, said the prophet. The captives would be freed, and those who had been shattered by enemy oppression would be released. They could return to the homeland with rejoicing. This would be "the year of the LORD'S favor," the year of grace (Isa. 61:2). But the actual release from Babylonian captivity and the return to the Holy Land had not brought the fulfillment for which they hoped. Nor had the centuries since. Still they were an oppressed, conquered, broken people. The prophet, then, must have had a deeper meaning in mind. He must have been speaking of the coming Messianic Age, when the sin which had led to the Babylonian captivity would be dealt with.

So, Jesus boldly links this Coming Age to himself. "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," he says (4:21). Here we see that the heart of Jesus' message lay in the fact that he was the fulfiller of the Old Testament. Now is God's gracious time, for the One who is to usher it in is in their midst. All that the prophets had announced, all that Jewish history prefigured, was unrolling before their very eyes in him! There was a deeper poverty, a worse captivity, a more tragic blindness, a more shattering oppression, than that of ancient Babylon or the Rome of their day. It was that wrought by Satan. Here was the "stronger" One who had come to invade Satan's domain and conquer him (Luke 11:22). "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).

The initial response of the congregation was ambiguous. What they had heard of him as a teacher, which they found hard to believe in the light of their memories of him, was confirmed (4:22). They were momentarily proud that such a gifted person should have come from their village. But like the young Augustine, who was impressed by the eloquence of Ambrose but indifferent to what he said, their admiration was purely superficial. "Is not this Joseph's son?" they asked (vs. 22). How can he make such claims for himself?

The one way Jesus' claims might be authenticated was to produce some miracles, as it was reported he had done in Capernaum (vs. 23). Here was the voice of the Tempter again. The people were demanding exactly what Jesus had determined not to do. His claims were not to be authenticated by a display of signs, but by faith. The Scriptures were fulfilled in their "hearing," not by sight (vs. 21). God's word is heard; it calls for faith. Men cannot demand of God that he send the Messiah in the form they have predetermined. Faith cannot rest on visible confirmation of a sort which the believer himself has determined. (Note in Matthew 27:42 the later demand of the religious leaders: "Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.") If the people of Nazareth refuse to believe his word, they will be placed in the same position as the ancient Israelites, who were considered by God to be less worthy of his grace than the Gentiles, such as the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian (vss. 25-27). Grace is given not on the basis of worthiness, but purely on the basis of faith (see Acts 13:46). The message of God's salvation is for all who "will listen" (Acts 28:28). At these words of Jesus, the people rose up in wrath and sought to kill him (vss. 28-29). It is plain why Luke, with Gentile readers in mind, stresses the universality of God's grace.

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