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Notes on Luke 4:1-13

I really like the way Luke tells the story of Jesus’ temptation.

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) tell many of the same stories about Jesus. But, sometimes one of the Gospels tells a story in a way that is significantly different from the others. In this case, Mark notes Jesus’ temptation only briefly (1:12,13), Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke give a more detailed account — though the order of the temptations differs.

The reason I especially like the way Luke tells the story, is the comment the author adds at the end:

Verse 13:

Κα συντελσας πντα πειρασμν διβολος πστη π᾿ ατο χρι καιρο.
"When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time."

Temptation characterized Jesus’ whole life. Luke makes it clear that we are not to think of this as the only time of testing and temptation in the life of Jesus. Not at all — the tempter takes advantage of the "opportune time" (καιρς). As with our lives, Jesus' life also was characterized by temptation. Temptation finds it's ways of addressing us, and times of stress and uncertainty (for example) can also be times of great temptation.

If temptation characterized Jesus' life, then this is one of the ways in which Jesus' life was similar to ours. This is one of the ways Jesus identifies with us. 

This is the point is made repeatedly in the Letter to the Hebrews. It says: 
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NRSV). And: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Hebrews 2:18 NRSV).

Throughout the passage the tempter is called
διβολος (diabolos). The noun emphasizes maliciousness. The word can mean: “slanderer.” It’s a title, not a name: διβολος: the Devil.

Verses 1, 2a:

Ἰησοῦς δὲ πλήρης πνεύματος ἁγίου ὑπέστρεψεν ἀπὸ τοῦ Ἰορδάνου καὶ ἤγετο ἐν τῷ πνεύματι ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” 

This particular season of temptation was a necessary part of the preparation of Jesus for the ministry that lay before him.

This particular time of temptation was unique to Jesus. Notice the nature of the temptations that follow. They are not normal temptations like anyone would have to contend with: they are particular to Jesus. I have never been tempted to turn stones into bread. I’m not under the impression I can. I’ve never been tempted to worship he devil so that I could acquire all the glory of the kingdoms of the world — I’ve never had that offer. I’ve never been tempted to jump off a high tower to see if the angels would catch me — I’m not under the impression they would. No, these temptations are particular to Jesus — to his mission and his ministry.

Notice here that Jesus is not being tempted in his weakness. No, it is his strengths that become the basis of the temptation. It is his unique mission in life, his unique relationship with God the Father — these are the basis of his temptation.

We often suppose that it is our weakness that is the source of our temptation, but it may well be our strengths. If we are gifted, the issue becomes: how will we use these gifts. We are often tempted through our strengths, through our capacities to enjoy life, and even through our spiritual giftedness.

The whole point of this time of temptation is: how Jesus will use the gifts and talents given to him. This is why Luke sees the temptation as important and necessary to the story of Jesus — it was there, in the place of temptation, that the direction of Jesus’ ministry was determined.

Furthermore, we are told that through all of these 40 days in the desert Jesus was tempted: “
where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” The temptations that are recorded are simply examples, I think. The whole of the 40 days was a time of temptation. What direction was Jesus going to take with his life?

Verse 2b:

Καὶ οὐκ ἔφαγεν οὐδὲν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις καὶ συντελεσθεισῶν αὐτῶν ἐπείνασεν.
“He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” 

This unusual, extended fast is not something that is recorded for us to emulate. I think this detail is in the story to remind the readers of the fasts of Moses. It is to show the tremendous significance of Jesus mission. Israel became a nation through the ministry of Moses. Now One greater than Moses has come.

The temptations that are recorded for us came at the end of this extended fast, and they appear to have been a visionary experience.

Verses 3, 4:

εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ διάβολος· εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰπὲ τῷ λίθῳ τούτῳ ἵνα γένηται ἄρτος. καὶ ἀπεκρίθη πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς· γέγραπται ὅτι οὐκ ἐπ᾿ ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος.
“The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone. ’”

It has often been noted that we have a form of dueling Scriptures here. The devil cites Scripture, and calls upon Experience (Jesus is hungry). He then uses Reason to persuade Jesus of his case: since Jesus is the Son of God, he need never go without bread. So, while the devil doesn’t cite any kind of Tradition, this seems like a pretty good United Methodist argument to me: he’s certainly got 3 of the 4 sides of the famous Quadrilateral covered. But, Jesus knows his mission — and it is not to use his power for his own gratification. The incarnation means that God came to us in Christ — accepting the limitations of the human condition.

Jesus did not come into the world simply to awe and amaze — his power was conditioned by his mission on earth. So, he rejects the malicious Theologian’s argument. He stays on the path laid out for him — which is a mission that will benefit all the world. He came to serve and to give his life for others.

Verses 5-8:

Καὶ ἀναγαγὼν αὐτὸν ἔδειξεν αὐτῷ πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τῆς οἰκουμένης ἐν στιγμῇ χρόνου καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ διάβολος· σοὶ δώσω τὴν ἐξουσίαν ταύτην ἅπασαν καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν, ὅτι ἐμοὶ παραδέδοται καὶ ᾧ ἐὰν θέλω δίδωμι αὐτήν· σὺ οὖν ἐὰν προσκυνήσῃς ἐνώπιον ἐμοῦ, ἔσται σοῦ πᾶσα. καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ· γέγραπται· κύριον τὸν θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις καὶ αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις.
“Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. ’”

It is this part of the text that convinces me that this whole thing was some sort of visionary experience. The Devil takes Jesus to some vantage point such as never existed — or ever will exist — in this world. In an instant (ἐν στιγμῇ χρόνου) Jesus can see “all the kingdoms of the world” and all their power and authority. And, the Devil says: I can give all this power and authority to whomever I please — thereby indicating that the Devil has the kingdoms of this world in his hip pocket.

Those who seek power are those who most often gain power. Those whose need is great seek it adamantly. Those who feel they need power and the affirmation of the crowd often find it — and it is those under this authority that suffer.

Every time I think of this part of the passage I remember the Beast from the Sea in Revelation 13, the image of corrupt political power. Christians have often identified this character with the Antichrist spoken of in the letters of John. And, I think Antichrist is a good descriptor: the Beast from the Sea is the corrupt political ruler who has chosen the path that Jesus rejects here. How many throughout history have been driven by such a vision: to rule the world? How many lives have been lost in the pursuit of this dream?

And, Jesus rejects this. He did not come to seek political power and influence. His mission could not have been accomplished through political power and constraint.

And, it was a matter of worship. God alone is to be worshipped, not the powers and authorities of their world.

Jesus came to establish God’s Lordship (Kingdom) in this world — and that simply could not be established by the usual political means.

Verses 9-12:

Ἤγαγεν δὲ αὐτὸν εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ ἔστησεν ἐπὶ τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, βάλε σεαυτὸν ἐντεῦθεν κάτω· γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται περὶ σοῦ τοῦ διαφυλάξαι σε καὶ ὅτι ἐπὶ χειρῶν ἀροῦσίν σε, μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου. καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι εἴρηται· οὐκ ἐκπειράσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου.
“Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. ’  Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test. ’” 

This temptation just seems to me to be a naked appeal to power and privilege. Since Jesus is the Son of God, he can make a show of this special relationship with God. Why not do it? Such a demonstration would prove to the world who he was.

But, Jesus again rejects this — showing that the miracles he performed in his lifetime were not intended simply to awe and amaze — they were acts of compassion, performed as evidence that God was doing something new through him. It was not about Jesus’ status or even about his power, as such — it was about God’s love and will and purpose for all the human race.

Yes, Jesus experienced temptation throughout his life — for temptation finds its opportune times. But, this particular time of temptation was unique to Jesus. These were not the kind of temptations the rest of us generally face. These temptations addressed Jesus through his strengths, not his weaknesses — through his special relationship with God. It was in the wilderness that Jesus determined to follow the course that had been laid out to him — a mission of salvation and hope for all the world.

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