Chapter 4 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

Satanic Temptations

4:1-13  To prepare for his ministry Jesus went into the desert for 40 days (4:2). Both Matthew and Luke omit the fact that during this time "he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him" (Mark 1:13). Mark's reference to wild beasts may suggest the danger of attack from them, or perhaps that (like St. Francis) animals felt comfortable to be with him. At first he must have faced the temptations we all have, such as wondering whether he was suited for his calling. Both Matthew and Luke tell us that it was only at the end of this time (4:2) that Satan suggested three ways for Jesus to achieve recognition as Messiah without needing to rely on the Holy Spirit. One of the last of the Old Testament prophets had said "Not by might, nor by power, but my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6). But Satan suggested that as Messiah he had the power to make bread from the rocks of the Judean hills, or to make himself a world ruler, or to gain a following by impressive miracles. Any one of these routes would be quicker and less costly than going the way of the cross. In each case Jesus answered Satan by quoting from the chapters in Deuteronomy when Moses spoke about the temptations in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 6:13, 6:16, 8:3).

4:1 Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (1:35), filled by the Spirit at his baptism (3:22, 4:1), led by the Spirit, and all his ministry as a fully human person would be by the Spirit (4:14, 18, etc.). In the Old Testament the words for wind (ruakh) and Spirit are the same. Sailors let their sails be filled to begin moving their boat. Eagles take off from their perch to be filled by the updraft of wind on Mount Lebanon (Isaiah 40:31). Artists (Exodus 31:3, 35:31), and national leaders (Judges 3:10, 6:34) and prophets (Luke 1:15) are filled when they look to the Spirit in faith and begin their work.

4:2 Whenever a person is filled by the Spirit he or she becomes a threat to Satan, and the tempter will do all he can to turn the person back to relying on their natural abilities and power (see Galatians 3:3). The temptations to use unspiritual means to do his work as Messiah came at the end of the 40 days.

4:3 Satan's temptations usually begin by introducing a doubt. In the Garden of Eden he asked "Did God say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?" (Genesis 3:1). And when Eve explained that there was only the fruit of one tree they were not eat, Satan then came in with "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God (Genesis 3:1-5). As Jesus said, "When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44). So now Satan questions what Jesus had been clearly told at his baptism: "You are my Son, the Beloved" (3:22). The next suggestion was that if he really was the Son of God he could easily find a way to produce bread from the rocks scattered on the hillside. And of course when people saw he had the power to feed them with abundant food, they would accept him as their Messiah.

4:4 Jesus answered this by quoting the words of Moses. God wanted his people to understand that "one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:3,). In his Gospel Matthew quoted this verse in full (Matthew 4:4), but Luke only quoted the first half of the verse to indicate that man needs more than calories and proteins to live as a child of God in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27, see John 4:34).

4:5-7 Jesus was then given a panorama of all the kingdoms of the oikoumene (the world of the Roman empire). Compared with Matthew's account Luke adds "in a moment of time" which characterizes this as a dream vision in which many images run through our mind. What the Father had in mind was that eventually the nations would one by one receive the good news of the Messiah's kingdom. But Satan offered a much quicker way to world dominion. Matthew wrote "If you will fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:9), but Luke leaves out the need to fall down physically before Satan. With the help of a few Satanic lies, half truths, deception, and torture it would be easy to gain the political power he needed. And with that power he could force people into the ways of righteousness. This is a temptation of everyone called to leadership because Satan is "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31,14:30, 16:11). This does not mean that Satan has any kind of legal right or power to run our world, but he is the source of the lies and deceptions that are part of the usual political process. As Jesus would later explain to Pilate,"My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).

4:8 Jesus answered this proposal again with part of a text from Deuteronomy. "The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear" (Deuteronomy 6:13). And Satan knew very well the implications of that reply. Similarly it is by pointing out a relevant text from the Bible that we can put the tempter to flight.

4:9-11 Matthew put this temptation to gain power by working miracles as the second of the three satanic proposals (Matthew 4:5-6). It is unlikely that these temptations only came once. They probably came again and again in different forms over a period of several days. We can imagine the scene. Jesus could go to the highest point of the temple, announce what he was about to do, and throw himself down to land triumphantly in the middle of the crowd that was assembled for the Feast of Tabernacles. He would immediately be accepted as the Messiah. And Satan quoted two verses from the Psalms to prove that Jesus could do this safely (Psalm 91:11-12).

4:12 For the third time Jesus' answer is from the same part of one book of the Bible. "Do not put the Lord your God to the test"" (Deuteronomy 6:16). This was at Rephidim (renamed Massah) when the people were thirsty, and they angrily challenged Moses to work a miracle. Moses called this a testing of God's power. God was displeased but he commanded Moses to strike the rock (Exodus 17:5-7, Numbers 20:5-8). On another occasion when Moses angrily struck the rock twice, God was displeased, and the result was that Moses would not be allowed to enter the promised land (Numbers 20:9-13) .

4:13 Having completed panta (every kind) of temptation Satan was evidently silenced by the implications of Jesus's confident use of the appropriate Scriptures, and for a time he withdrew his attacks. But Luke goes on to describe other aspects of Satan' work in the world and in the lives of individuals (8:12, 10:18, 11:15-20, 13:16, 22:3, 31).

4:14-30 Rejection in Jesus' home town of Nazareth

 Being filled with the Spirit does not guarantee a good response from the hearers (Jeremiah 26:7-8, 38:4-6, Amos 7:12-13, Matthew 23:34-35). This is especially true among those who have known a prophet in his home town since childhood.

4:14-15 Matthew tells us that Jesus remained in Judea till he heard that John the Baptist had been arrested (Matthew 4:12). Jesus had already been filled with the Holy before his temptations (3:22, 4:1). As his spiritual power was recognized back in Galilee, he was invited to speak in the synagogues and his power was recognized.

4:16-17 Jesus made the two day journey on foot from his home in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). This visit to his family home town up in the hills of Galilee was several months after the beginning of his ministry (see Matthew 4:13, Mark 6:1, Luke 4:14-15) Only Luke tells us what happened there. It was probably derived from a personal visit and conversation with those involved (see 1:3). It was Jesus' custom to attend the synagogue on Saturday, the Sabbath day. The elders of the synagogue had heard of Jesus' preaching in the synagogues around Capernaum so they invited him to comment on something from the scroll of Isaiah. He opened it at a well known passage about the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 61:1-2, see the true fast of Isaiah 58:6-7). A complete scroll of Isaiah was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which proves that our Hebrew text of Isaiah (based on documents from very much later) is identical with the scroll that Jesus was given to read.

4:18 He began by applying the text to his own ministry by the Spirit with its good news for the oppressed. Concern for the poor is common in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:10, 25:35-36, Deuteronomy 15:7, Job 31:16-19, Psalm 41:1, 112:9, Proverbs 14:21, 31, 17:5, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9, 29:7), and as in the Magnificat, "the rich he has sent empty away" (1:53). Luke later records Jesus words "Blessed are you who are poor" (6:20, see 6:24), "the poor have good news preached to them" (7:22), and the need to welcome the poor (14:13, 21, 18:22).

4:19 He concluded the reading with Isaiah's proclamation "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" but omitted the second half of the verse which predicted "the day of vengeance of our God" (Isaiah 61:2). This was because his intention was first to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, and it was only when this was rejected over a period of forty years that the final day of wrath would come. Luke will speak of the destruction of Jerusalem (21:20-24, as happened in AD 70 and that would occur in that generation 21:32).

4:20-23 Luke must have heard what can only be an eye-witness account of the dramatic moment when Jesus sat down, and explained that the prophecy of Isaiah had been fulfilled by his coming among them. They were certainly amazed at the power of the gracious words they heard. But then somebody pointed out he was son of Joseph who had been the local carpenter. Matthew adds the words "Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this? And they took offense at him" (Matthew 13:55-57). From Luke's account it is obvious Jesus could see the mood changing. He could hear them murmuring "If he did any miracles in Capernaum, why can't he do something impressive here?"

4:24-26 Apparently after the synagogue service Mark explains that the unbelief in Nazareth was so strong that "he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief" (Mark 6:5-6). Perhaps in response to questioning Jesus pointed out that a prophet is never accepted in his own home town (a common Jewish proverb as in John 4:44). And he went on to illustrate the problem of unbelief and faith in unlikely places from the Old Testament. No other widows were provided for in the days of Elijah, but the widow of Zarephath. She was not only a foreigner but from the hated race of Canaanites (1 Kings 17:8). This was a reminder that the Lord (known as Yahweh) was not just a Jewish tribal God but cared for people of all nations (see 13:29, 24:47).

4:27 Similarly the only leper healed through the prophet Elisha was a foreigner and the Commander in Chief of the hated Syrian army (2 Kings 5:1 - see the Roman Centurion, 7:2).

4:28-30 That the son of the local carpenter would dare to suggest such things was intolerable for the racially prejudiced Jews of Nazareth. They were so angry they tried to throw him off a cliff, which could be explained to the Roman authorities as an accidental fall. But in the confusion with perfect poise and control of the situation he went out right between them. As far as we know, Jesus never returned to the home town that rejected him. He had attended a wedding at Cana, which was only a short walk away, and his mother was invited to do the catering (John 2:1-3). But the events recorded in John 1:19-2:11 preceded the visit to Nazareth and belong to the time between the return from the temptations and the early Galilean ministry in Luke 4:14-15)

4:31-44 Ministry in and around Capernaum

 Before beginning his ministry Jesus moved from Nazareth, the inland village where he was raised, to the busy city of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee ( Matthew 4:13) and he called Capernaum his own town (Matthew 9:1). Several of his disciples came from that city and the neighboring city of Bethsaida just across the river Jordan.

4:31-32 Capernaum was a busy cosmopolitan city on the trade route up into Syria. In contrast to his home town of Nazareth, he was given a hearing there. He would speak in the synagogue services on the sabbath in that area (see 4:14-15). And Luke notes that "he spoke with authority" as opposed to the rabbis from Jerusalem who commented learnedly on what other rabbis had taught.

4:33-35 Here we have Luke's careful description of a case of demon possession. The evil spirit recognized who Jesus was, and wanted to be left alone (as in 8:28). Jesus commanded the spirit to be silent, and freed the man from his power. As was often the case, there was a final convulsion as the spirit tried to hold on to its victim, but Dr. Luke notes that the man was not harmed.

4:36-37 This kind of power over evil spirits impressed the crowd, and the result was that Jesus became known in the whole area.

4:38-39 Simon Peter's house (also the home of his brother Andrew, Mark 1:29) was close to the synagogue in Capernaum. As usual Dr. Luke is interested in the medical diagnosis, and he notes that Peter's mother in law was healed from a high fever, and was immediately able to get up from her bed and serve food for the household.

4:40-41 When the sun had set, and people were free from the day's work, they brought their sick "with various kinds of diseases" and Jesus laid his hands on each of them individually. People who are given the gift of exorcism are careful not to lay hands on a devil possessed person, and Luke notes that when demons recognized him he rebuked and silenced them.

4:42-44 After the pressures of this work, early the next morning he went away to pray (Mark 1:35) in a desert place (the aorist tense indicates this was not a daily occurrence). Luke then adds "And the crowds kept seeking him out, and came to him, and kept preventing him from leaving" (literal translation of two imperfect tenses). They wanted this great prophet and healer to confine his ministry to the area of Capernaum. But he explained that he must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom elsewhere (see Luke's use of the word Kingdom (4:43, 6:20, 7:28, 8:1, 10, 9:2, 11, etc.). "And he kept proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Galilee" (again an imperfect. Here Galilee is a more likely reading than Judea, see 4:31, 5:1).

Chapter 5 .....