08. Luke’s Gospel

The Temptations of Jesus

8 – The Temptations of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel

Luke 4:1-13

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for 40 days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil.  And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “if you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.  If you then will worship me, it shall all be yours!”  And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve’.” (Deuteronomy 6:13)

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you and on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone’.” (Psalm 91:11-12)   And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’.” (Deuteronomy 6:16) And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

When we compare how Luke records the temptations of Jesus with the other two gospels, we note several things that are different.  The animals and the angels are both missing from Luke’s account. He has a different sequence of the three temptations than Matthew records. Only Luke records that “when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” And though both Matthew and Luke record a genealogy, they are quite different in several ways, and placed in different locations in their gospels.  There are also other differences that set quite a different tone to the telling of the same story. Let me unpack those differences and ask why Luke would tell the story this way.

The genealogy

Mark & Matthew, when they write their versions of this story, place the baptism of Jesus and the temptation so close to each other that they appear to be two halves of one event. Mark says “Immediately…”  as he moves us from baptism to temptation. Matthew writes “then…” which also connects the two events closely together.  But Luke divides the baptism from the temptation, with a genealogy of all things! Why on earth would he do that?

If Matthew is writing primarily to Jewish Christians, we can understand why he might include a genealogy and place is very early in his story. His version traces Jesus as being a Son of David, and a Son of Abraham and so establishes his credentials as the long expected Messiah. For this reason Matthew’s genealogy begins with Abraham and shows how it leads to, and ends, with Jesus.

But we believe that Luke is writing primarily to Gentile Christians who, it seems, would have very little interest in Jewish genealogies. Yet he does write one, and when he does he does a strange thing. He begins with Jesus, and then works backwards, and ends not with Abraham but goes all the way back to Adam.  David and Abraham are only noted in the same frugal manner as every other name in the list. They are not marked out as particularly significant. But there are two names that are significant: they are Adam and Jesus.  Luke understands that Jesus has been sent, not to be simply the Jewish Messiah, to fulfill the promise made to Abraham and David, but to be the saviour of all humanity. And Luke throughout his writings will keep on pushing the boundaries so as to include all people of all races and places. So he takes us all the way back to Adam the father of all humankind.

But he has another purpose in taking us back to Adam. In the very last entry of his genealogy Adam is called “the Son of God”.  This is strange.  No where else in the entire Old Testament is Adam called the Son of God. (If the truth be told Adam is hardly mentioned in the rest of the Old Testament outside the first few chapters of Genesis.) Neither does the New Testament call Adam a son of God, though Paul will give some focus to Adam in other ways I will note below. This title for Adam may be Luke’s unique contribution to our understanding of our first parent.

In the paragraphs before the genealogy, Jesus has just been introduced at his baptism by God speaking the words, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased!”  Then after having made that connection, Luke follows his genealogy with the temptation of Jesus where the words “If you are the Son of God…” are repeated twice.

If Matthew intended to draw a contrast between Israel being tempted in the wilderness and Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, Luke wants to draw our attention to a different parallel, this time between Adam the Son of God being tempted and Jesus the Son of God being tempted.

So Luke has two individuals who served as sons of God.  Adam the first man and Jesus the Last Adam.   In Pauline theology, and we presume that Luke was deeply influenced by Paul’s teachings, there  are two prototypes laid before us.  Follow Adam and we die; Follow Jesus and we live.  The entire history of this planet rotates around these two men: Adam or Jesus.  We get to choose the leader whom we will follow.

In Romans 5:12-21 Paul lays out the contrast:

Through Adam                                              Through Jesus Christ

Sin came into the world  (12, 15.)                    The free gift came   (15, 16, 17, )

Death came through sin  (12)                           Eternal Life!    (17, 18, 21)

Death spread to all and many died (15)           Life abounded for many  (15, 17, 20)

Condemnation & Judgment (16)                       Many made Righteous  (16 – 21)

Paul uses the same template in I Corinthians 15:20-22, 45-49:

Through Adam                                                 Through Jesus Christ

Death                                                                     Resurrection

All die                                                                    All made alive

First Adam                                                            Last Adam

A living being                                                                         A life giving spirit

Of dust                                                                  From heaven

Image of the man of dust                                   Image of the man from heaven

So the inference is that when Jesus is being tempted, our minds are supposed to think about Adam and what happened to him when tempted, and then to raise the question, then what happened to Jesus when he was tempted?  The first perfect man failed, will the last perfect man succeed? We’ll see.

Full of the Holy Spirit

Another change in the telling of the story by Luke gives focus to Jesus relationship with the Holy Spirit.  Mark simple says, “The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.” Matthew says, he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” But Luke writes, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for 40 days in the wilderness…”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is described as “Filled with the Spirit” not just anointed at his baptism, and led or driven by the Spirit, but filled with the Spirit.

This is not the first time Luke has used the phrase “filled/full of the Holy Spirit”. When he describes the birth narratives of Jesus & John, the Holy Spirit is at work:

  • 1:15       John the Baptist is filled with Holy Spirit from birth
  • 1:17       John comes in the spirit and power of Elijah
  • 1:34       The angel tells Mary that the “Holy Spirit will come upon you.”
  • 1:41       Elisabeth was filled with Holy Spirit
  • 1:67       Zecharias was filled with Holy Spirit
  • 2:25-7   The Holy Spirit was with Simeon, and gave insight to him, and moved him to act.

And after his baptism we see continuing references to Jesus being led by the Spirit into Galilee to begin his ministry, (4:14) and the text for his sermon in Nazareth begins with the words from Isaiah “The Spirit of The Lord is  upon me because he has anointed me…” (4:18)

When Luke writes the Book of Acts there is frequent note made of the infilling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church. Luke may be suggesting that the very same Spirit who indwells the church was the very same Spirit who indwelt Jesus, and equipped him to face his struggles too.

Led by the spirit for the 40 days

Luke’s grammar is of interest as he describes the relationship between Jesus and the Spirit. The Greek text is best translated as follows, Jesus was “led in the Spirit for 40 days in the wilderness…” He was led while “in” the wilderness, not just “into” the wilderness. He was not led into the wilderness and abandoned there, but instead seems to have been guided through the process by the ever present Spirit. He was led while in the wilderness just as God led Israel while in her wilderness journeyings.

Luke also chooses not to use “by” the Spirit (uppo in Matthew) but “in” the Spirit (ev in Luke).

Jesus was led by the internal inspiration of the Spirit, not externally by outward compulsion. The Holy Spirit was with him during the entire process of being tempted.  For Luke that same resource person is with the church and its citizens too.  We are never intended to face our testings alone.  If Satan is with us, so is the Holy Spirit.  If evil has its allure, goodness is also present with a more than equal and opposite attraction.

Ate nothing

Where Matthew says Jesus “fasted” forty days, Luke does not use the religious term when he writes his account. Luke says “he ate nothing in those days.” In the gentile world, fasting as the Jews practiced it may have either been unknown, or in Pauline circles there may have developed a sense that fasting was a Jewish ritual that many in the church saw as legalism. (see Luke 5:33-35, 18:9-14, Col:2:16-23, Rom. 14:1-8).

In those days

This phrase is used in prophetic literature, and throughout Luke’s writings (2:1, 5:35, 9:36, 21:23. Acts 2:18/Joel 3:2,  Acts 7:41, 9:37)  to connect the event in question to divine timing.  Some events are pivotal in importance when telling a story (often called  Kairos time, not Chronos time).  This is a time indicator that the event was predicted and is now being fulfilled: moments filled full of divine significance!

The order of the temptations

When we read Matthew he outlines the three temptations that Jesus underwent. He places the temptations in this order:
(1) Change stones to bread
(2) Jump from the pinnacle of the Temple
(3) Offer of all the kingdoms.

But Luke has them in a different order:
(1) Change stones to bread
(2) Offer of all the kingdoms
(3) Jump from the pinnacle of the Temple

There have been varied attempts to explain the change of sequence.  If Luke’s is the earlier version, then Matthew may have changed the order to fit the last temptation to match the last verses of his Gospel, “When they saw Jesus, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….” (Matthew 28:17-20)

If Matthew’s is the earlier version, then Luke has changed the order perhaps because of his interest in Jesus in connection with Jerusalem and the Temple.  It is Luke that tells us of the baby Jesus being brought to the temple to be circumcised. (The other writers don’t.) It is Luke that tells us of the12 year old Jesus meeting with the religious leaders in the temple. (Again the other writers don’t.)    And perhaps Luke want to point to the ultimate testing of Jesus in Jerusalem in Gethsemane, and at his trial, and on the cross.  In Matthew’s account of the resurrection appearances and the ascension he seems more interested in Galilee, whereas Luke has the resurrection appearances and the ascension taking place near Jerusalem.

Why Three Temptations?

Three times the devil tempts him in the wilderness.
Three times he prays urgent prayers in Gethsemane.
Three times Peter was tempted and failed each time at the fireside.
Three times Paul prays for relief from the thorn in his flesh.

Does “three” indicate testing to the extremity?  Does “three” indicate the three central temptations behind all the details of the 40 days contest?  For the suspicion of some of us is that over 40 days he wrestled with many and varied temptations, but these three were the most recurrent. We also sense that they came in no particular order, but were at the root of the entire experience.

If the Seven Deadly Sins are the root cause of all other sins, could there be three temptations that are the root cause of all of our temptations?

  • A desire for Pleasure ?          – Bread would look great about now!
  • A desire for Popularity?       – Jump off the Pinnacle of the Temple
  • A desire for Power?              – All these kingdoms will be yours!

In the next three chapters we will explore each of the temptations in particular to try determine why these three might have been the dominant ones for Jesus.

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