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Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Luke 1:1–9:50 3. Messianic Preparation: Resistance of Satan (4:1–13)

Messianic Preparation: Resistance of Satan (4:1–13)

Jesus’ temptations serve as a major prelude to his ministry. The account also brings together the baptism, genealogy, and the start of his ministry. The focus is on Jesus as the beloved Son (3:22, 38), who is obedient to God in a way that other people—including Adam—are not. Schürmann (1969: 205) points out three levels at which the account works: (1) Jesus is the pious Son who has unswerving allegiance to God; (2) the battle between Satan and Jesus will run through the entire Gospel; and (3) the success of Jesus in the wilderness recalls Israel’s failure there. Jesus is qualified to lead the nation, and his success gives promise of ultimate success against all spiritual enemies. The focus on Deuteronomy, the book of the nation, serves to underscore this reversal motif concerning Israel. Jesus begins his ministry having overcome the initial onslaught of the evil one, while showing his commitment to living in a way that may not be the easiest road to travel, but is the way that most pleases God.

Another focal point is how Jesus overcomes the evil force by his reflective application of the written Scripture and its truth. In so doing, he serves as an example of the spiritual person (Schürmann 1969: 207). The christological note in the account is clear, since the narrative presents Jesus as one who is faithful to God—an important point in light of the possibility of perceiving his ministry as a failure because of his tragic death.

Tannehill (1986: 59) adds another important observation about the account: The temptations reveal Jesus’ approach to his mission. Here is a man who pursues God’s call. Jesus is dedicated to God’s mission, not his own purposes, desires, or self-advancement. The account is, then, an introduction to how Jesus will not pursue his mission. His goal is not to draw attention to himself, but to focus on God’s work and God’s truth, which he is called to carry out. The next large pericope, 4:16–30, will reveal what Jesus’ mission is. Jesus will not use his power to serve himself, but he will lift up others and minister to both their physical and spiritual needs.

Sources and Historicity

The historicity of this event has been variously approached. Marshall (1978: 168) speaks of an inward experience expressed in dramatic form. Fitzmyer (1981: 509) sees a qualified connection back to Jesus, but regards historicity as a less significant question than the account’s theological and symbolic value. He suggests that Jesus spoke of this experience parabolically or dramatically. One should not read the experience with “naïve literalism” or seek to “salvage” its historicity (p. 510). The hesitancy to see a direct experience is hard to justify, and the separation of symbol and history is something, as seen in other accounts, that reflects a worldview judgment. Tiede (1988: 97–98) offers a warning that interpreters should not be drawn into excessive historical or psychological speculation that reduces the account to hallucinations due to lack of food. I prefer an approach that does not divorce symbolism from history quite so much. To religiously sensitive eyes, history is full of symbolic import. To say this is to acknowledge that some of these experiences may have been inward or supernatural in character (see Luke 4:8).

The account’s source ultimately must go back to Jesus himself. It is hard to see how or even why the early church would create such an account. There are numerous ways to show how Jesus overcame demonic opposition other than to produce a story like this one, which lacks any real parallels. The absence of such encounters by other NT luminaries, not to mention the lack of any OT parallels, speaks against its creation by the community. In fact, the closest NT parallel is Paul’s failure to get relief from his “harassment” by a messenger from Satan, where dependence on God’s grace is the issue (2 Cor. 12:7–10). The closest OT parallel is Job. But neither of these accounts is a face-to-face battle with dialogue between the combatants. The temptation account is unprecedented, which speaks for its connection to Jesus. The critical criterion of “dissimilarity” may apply here.

Given that the basic account has roots in Jesus, the issue of verbal agreement and divergence in the various Synoptic accounts still remains. Mark 1:12–13 contains only a brief remark about this event and lacks dialogue and detail. On the other hand, Matt. 4:1–11 is so close to Luke’s account that most commentators see a written source shared by Matthew and Luke (most speak of Q here: Creed 1930: 61; Luce 1933: 115; Manson 1949: 42–43; Wiefel 1988: 99; Bovon 1989: 193; Fitzmyer 1981: 507; Tiede 1988: 98; C. F. Evans 1990: 256). However, a key point of agreement with Mark 1:12–13—the association of testing with the wilderness and with the period of forty days—suggests that Luke is also aware of material like that in Mark. Yet Mark’s failure to give details about this event leads some to suggest that Mark did not know the body of tradition that Matthew and Luke share.3 In fact, there are enough small, but theologically irrelevant differences between Matthew and Luke that to posit the same exact written source for both of them seems difficult. For example, why do Matt. 4:3 and Luke 4:3 differ on the name of Satan (the tempter versus the devil)? Or why does Matt. 4:3 work with the plural stones and loaves, while Luke 4:3 has the singular? Why is Luke’s version of the offer of the kingdoms (4:6) much fuller than Matthew’s? Why is Matthew’s citation of Deut. 8:3 so much longer than Luke’s (see the additional note on 4:4 for details)? What about the differences in Matt. 4:7 and Luke 4:12 (see the additional note on 4:12)? Why does Luke 4:9 alone say “from here” (see the exegesis of 4:9)? Why does Luke omit a reference to angels in 4:13? In this pericope Matthew and Luke are dealing with distinct yet very similar traditions (distinct versions of Q?). Luke is probably responsible for the account’s introduction and conclusion (4:1–2, 13).

The major distinction between the accounts is the order of the temptations. In Matthew, the trip to the mountain to see the kingdoms of the world is the final temptation, while for Luke the trip to the top of the temple is the last temptation. Since it is clear that six temptations are not to be posited, it is also clear that one of the Gospel writers has rearranged the order for literary reasons. The event shows that the Gospel writers are not averse to arranging materials for the sake of topical or theological concerns, a point that must be kept in mind when examining other pericopes as well.

Which writer rearranged the sequence? Schürmann argues that Matthew rearranged the account because he develops the site of the mountain as a significant theological locale of revelation, a point that is supported by the ending of Matthew’s Gospel (28:16–20) on a mountain. But Fitzmyer (1981: 507–8) and Schulz (1972: 177 esp. n. 2, who also traces the debate’s history) argue more persuasively for a Lucan rearrangement. Fitzmyer notes that Matthew’s order is a natural progression—desert, building pinnacle, mountaintop—and that the Matthean citations of Deuteronomy appear in reverse canonical order (Deut. 8:3; 6:16; 6:13). In addition, the clearest temporal adverbs occur only in Matthew (e.g., πάλιν in 4:8, τότε in 4:10, and the summary dismissal of Satan—details that Luke lacks). Finally, as Schulz makes clear, Luke has a theological motive for his rearrangement. For Luke, Jerusalem is the climactic locale of conflict in Jesus’ life (19:45–24:53). Luke’s rearrangement places the emphasis on the Jerusalem temple temptation as the decisive one. Goulder (1989: 294) agrees, but prefers to see the phrase you shall not tempt the Lord your God as climactic, forming an inclusio on temptation, rather than seeing Jerusalem as the motive. Most commentators accept Matthew’s order as original (Ellis 1974: 94; Schweizer 1984: 82; Hendriksen 1978: 232; Tiede 1988: 98). Plummer 1896: 110 refuses to choose either way.

This account has caused much speculation, especially in the early church. Hebrews 2:17–18 and 4:15 speak of Jesus’ being tempted as a high priest and perfected. In a period of high christological controversy, the question was raised about how Jesus could be sinless and yet be truly tempted. Some modern expositions still focus on this question, as if it were the major issue for Luke. It must be noted, however, that Luke is not concerned with ontological questions here. He simply presents the temptations as an event in Jesus’ life, as an important encounter in which Satan was successfully rebuffed. Plummer (1896: 105–6) rightly notes that some questions raised by this passage are not answered for us; he also notes that to resist temptation is harder than to succumb to it. Jesus’ achievement, as far as Luke is concerned, is that Jesus resisted giving in to Satan. Jesus represents in his rejection of evil what a son of God in the Adamic sense is capable of when he follows God’s desire. The second Son of God succeeds, where the first son of God failed.

There is general agreement about the account’s basic form, but not about its roots. Bultmann (1963: 254–57) calls it a “story about Jesus” and classifies it as scribal Haggadah, since God’s Word is used to refute the devil, but he also says (p. 253) that it possesses “the rudiments of an originally detailed legend” like those about Buddha or Zoroaster, a point that Manson (1949: 45) explicitly rejects. Bultmann goes on to argue that the text is against the selfish use of miracles, arguing that Jesus’ work can be distinguished from magic on that basis. Because of the controversy, he sees the text emerging from Palestinian roots, but it has Hellenistic touches in that it rejects the portrayal of Jesus as a Greek miracle-working “divine man” (also Schulz 1972: 182, 187).

Rejecting Bultmann’s description as too limited, Fitzmyer (1981: 508–9) sees the unit as the work of Christian scribes to produce an account that is primarily symbolic; it cannot have been produced by the community. The original setting is a set of parables or a dramatic depiction of experience that shows a Jesus who refuses to do signs. Bovon similarly sees a response to Jewish critics that Jesus is a magician or a false Messiah.

Marshall (1978: 166) correctly notes, against Bultmann, that the issue is neither dialectical skill nor scribal debate. There is no scriptural controversy here, only confrontation (see also Schürmann 1969: 209). Rather, the issue is obedience to God’s will as recorded in Scripture. Thus, it is right to call the account simply a “temptation of the righteous,” whose closest parallel is Job. Whether one needs to appeal to wider polemics with Jewish or Hellenistic opponents is debatable; but it is clear that the account renounces the raw use of miraculous power for any whim. Thus, it may explain what kind of divine agent Jesus would be: one who served others. The account should also be read as an example of how faithfulness overcomes the temptation to sin and avoids becoming allied with Satan. But it is not just personal temptation that is in view. Jesus as the Son of God represents a whole line of humanity (Tiede 1988: 98–99). Jesus was righteous and ready for his task.

The outline of Luke 4:1–13 is as follows:

a. Setting (4:1–2)

b. Temptation of bread and God’s care (4:3–4)

c. Temptation of rule through false worship (4:5–8)

d. Temptation to test God’s protection (4:9–12)

e. Departure of the devil (4:13)

Numerous themes dominate the passage. Jesus is the pious, obedient Son. Jesus is successful in temptation where others, like Israel and Adam, failed. Jesus is qualified to represent both the nation and humanity. Jesus refuses to rule on the wrong premises. His success shows the value of a reflective knowledge of God’s Word. In fact, when God is obeyed in compliance to the Spirit, Satan can be resisted. Nonetheless, one should note that the road of resisting temptation is not always the easiest or most obvious road to take; in fact, it often means self-denial. Power is not to be accepted without careful consideration of the terms. Finally, God is not to be tested concerning his faithfulness.

Exegesis and Exposition

1But Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, withdrew from the Jordan and was being led by the Spirit in the desert, 2while being tempted for forty days by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days, and when they were completed, he was hungry.

3And the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, speak to this stone that it might be a loaf of bread.” 4And Jesus replied to him, ❐“It is written that ‘not by bread alone shall a man live.’”❒

5And the devil took him up and showed him all the inhabited kingdoms in an instant. 6And he said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for to me it has been delivered and I give it to whom I will. 7Therefore, if you bow down and worship me, all shall be yours.” 8And Jesus said to him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.’”

9And he led him into Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He shall give his angels charge over you to protect you’; 11and ‘on their hands they shall lift you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 12And Jesus replied to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not test the Lord your God.’”

13And when he finished every temptation, the devil departed from him for a time.

a. Setting (4:1–2)

4:1 The double reference to the Spirit is the prominent feature of Luke’s introduction to the temptations. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and was led into the wilderness by the Spirit. Such an emphasis makes clear that Jesus’ being exposed to temptation was not his fault in any way. Rather, this withdrawal was a direct result of God’s leading. The characterization of Jesus as full of the Spirit is typical Lucan terminology to describe a spiritual person (Luke 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24). Just as Simeon was led to the temple in Luke 2:27, so Jesus is taken into the wilderness. Wisdom residing in or filling a wise person also occurs in Judaism (Wis. 1:4–5; 7:7; Sir. 39:6). The account itself will serve to verify why Jesus can be described in these terms.

Though each of the Synoptics speaks of Jesus’ being led by the Spirit into this situation, each uses different terminology to express the same idea. Matthew 4:1 speaks of Jesus’ being “led by the Spirit” (ἀνήχθη … ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος, anēchthē … hypo tou pneumatos). In Mark 1:12 “the Spirit cast him out” (τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει, to pneuma auton ekballei) into the wilderness. And in Luke 4:1, Jesus is “led by the Spirit” (ἤγετο ἐν τῷ πνεύματι, ēgeto en tō pneumati). In addition, Luke’s double reference to the Spirit makes the point with more emphasis. It makes clear that the spiritual impulse that guided Jesus was an internal, spiritual one from God.

Ὑπέστρεψεν (hypestrepsen) can be taken in one of two ways: either Jesus “returned” to Galilee or he “withdrew” from the Jordan area. Since Luke does not mention from where Jesus came to the Jordan River, it is more natural to see here a reference to a withdrawal from the Jordan (Fitzmyer 1981: 513). Only Luke names the Jordan as the general locale, but even he does not specify the exact location of the temptations beyond its being called the wilderness. Often the wilderness is a region of demonic activity, and yet it is here that Jesus goes to commune with God. Luke 8:29 and 11:24 show that demonic forces looked on the wilderness as a haven (Schürmann 1969: 208 n. 145). While in other settings the wilderness is a place to retreat and find God (1:80; 3:2; 5:16; 7:24), on this occasion Jesus fasts and faces the devil in spiritual battle.

4:2 Luke notes that the duration of wilderness testing took forty days, but does the forty days go with being led or with tempting? Was Jesus led for forty days in the wilderness or was he tempted for forty days? Hendriksen (1978: 232) believes the former arrangement prevents a problem with Matthew and Mark in that Mark speaks of forty days in the desert, while Matthew speaks of the temptations coming at the end of the forty days. However, the construction in Mark 1:13 is similarly ambiguous. Plummer (1896: 107) notes correctly that, since πειραζόμενος (peirazomenos, being tested) is a present participle, the idea is that tempting occurred over forty days, regardless of where the phrase is placed in the sentence. This indicates that the tempting is contemporaneous with the leading, which negates Hendriksen’s view. Jesus was tempted over a forty-day period. The three tests recounted here may be but the concluding act of the drama, since Luke says that these three tests came at a point of hunger after forty days of fasting, which is in agreement with Matt. 4:2. Mark 1:12–13 either does not know of or ignores the reference to specific temptations.

The reference to forty days is interesting, given the uses of the number forty in the OT. Forty years was the period of Israel’s wilderness wanderings (Num. 14:33; 32:13; Deut. 8:2). Forty lashes was the most a person could receive (Deut. 25:3). Forty days was the period of uncleanness after birth (Lev. 12:1–4). Forty days was the duration of the flood (Gen. 7:4, 12). Ezekiel had to bear the iniquity of Judah for forty days (Ezek. 4:6). Most importantly, forty days was the length of the fasts of Moses (Exod. 34:28; Deut. 9:9) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) at key points in Israel’s history (Plummer 1896: 108–9 n. 1). In fact, Moses spent forty days on the mountain to receive the covenant (Exod. 24:18; 34:28). The parallels of Moses and the nation (Deut. 8:2) are significant, since Jesus’ reply to the temptations will come from Deuteronomy. Marshall (1978: 169) notes, however, that none of these OT passages attribute the periods directly to God’s or the devil’s testing, which means a purely symbolic parallel is unlikely. A note of design is present in the event; it is a time of significant action.10

Luce (1933: 116) would like to make the temptation a strictly internal psychological experience for Jesus, arguing that Jesus reflected in private on his baptismal call. However, it is clear that Scripture portrays this event as a battle between real beings. In the OT, the devil is portrayed as inquisitor in the heavenly courts (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7), as an accuser (Zech. 3:1–2), and as a tempter (1 Chron. 21:1). In the NT, he is consistently portrayed as a personal foe: John 8:37–44; 2 Cor. 11:3; 12:7; Rev. 12:3–9; 20:1–4. First-century Palestinian angelology depicted as real the realms of faithful and fallen angels: 1 Cor. 4:9; 6:3; 10:20; 11:10 (faithful angels who observe the worship of the church); 1 Pet. 1:12; Eph. 3:10; 6:10–20. Luke 1 records Gabriel’s visit to Mary, and Luke 24 the angelic figures’ announcement of Jesus’ resurrection. In addition, Fitzmyer (1981: 514) notes the focus on a personal “arch-demon” in this period (see also H. Kelly 1964). The encounter is much more serious than a mere issue of internal, psychological reflection. Whatever form the confrontation took, it was clear that two personalities were in the ring of battle.

Jesus’ condition at the time of the final encounter was one of weakness. He had had nothing significant to eat for forty days. The phrase οὐκ ἔφαγεν οὐδέν (ouk ephagen ouden, he had not eaten anything) has been pressed literally by some, so that Luke is more emphatic in portraying Jesus’ rejection of food than is Matthew, since it is argued that Matthew has him only fasting (Luce 1933: 116–17). Others (Schürmann 1969: 209–10) suggest that Luke’s emphasis is Jesus’ immunity from hunger pangs, showing the wonderful fullness of this time, for nothing is impossible with God (1:37; 18:27). Schürmann is correct: Luke’s point on the nature of the fasting is not clear. Did Jesus take only drink or did he eat only what the desert supplied, so that nothing substantive was consumed? But Klostermann (1929: 59) is correct to see the phrase as a popular way to express fasting. In other words, Matthew and Luke are probably saying the same thing. As a clear example of Luke’s idiom, Klostermann cites Matt. 11:18, which speaks of John’s eating and drinking nothing, an expression that cannot be meant in absolute terms. In addition, Matthew prefers the term he uses for fasting, νηστεύω (nēsteuō).

So Jesus fasted for this period and at the end of it he was hungry. Jesus’ situation at his test contrasts with Adam’s. Adam had not fasted at all, while Jesus had suffered lack for forty days. Adam could eat from any tree in the garden but one, while Jesus was denying himself food. Adam was in paradise, while Jesus was in the wilderness (Hendriksen 1978: 233–34). Certainly if environment was the determining factor in overcoming temptation, Jesus was playing at a disadvantage. The devil made his move with Jesus in this exposed condition.

b. Temptation of Bread and God’s Care (4:3–4)

4:3 The first temptation fits the setting. Jesus is hungry, and he ought to feel free to provide himself with food. Surely this is a simple and straightforward request to meet one’s basic needs. Satan’s request is to transform a stone (λίθῳ, lithō) into a loaf (ἄρτος, artos), both singular nouns in contrast to the plurals in Matt. 4:3. It would seem that Luke chose to use the singular to focus the request and to bring it into direct conformity with the singular (ἄρτῳ, artō) of the OT quotation in Luke 4:4. Perhaps the singular was regarded as an appropriate reference to a meal for one (Fitzmyer 1981: 515; Nolland 1989: 179), whereas a plural might seek to add a corporate element to the provision that would highlight Jesus’ role as the nation’s son, a point that fits Matthew (Glickman 1983: 334–35). Schürmann (1969: 209 n. 161) argues that three loaves were made available to guests in Palestine (cf. 11:5). If he is right, then it is hard to explain the singular (but his suggestion in n. 160 that Matthew gets his plural from Matt. 3:9 is unlikely). Regardless of how the change in number occurred, the request is the same: Jesus is to provide food for himself by the miraculous transformation of a natural object. The number difference influences only the possible implications one might draw from the event.

What is the temptation? The question turns on the “if” clause. Since it is introduced with the indicative mood, εἰ (ei) is a first-class condition. In other words the statement presents the “if” clause as potentially true or with a heightened vividness (“if you are Son now”). Given this, attempts to suggest that the temptation is designed to challenge Jesus’ sonship are probably overstated (Luce 1933: 117; Geldenhuys 1951: 159). The devil is not directly doubting Jesus’ sonship. The temptation is more subtle than this.

If one realizes that the assertion of sonship is acknowledged by the devil, then the temptation can be taken in a variety of ways (Glickman 1983: 218–27; Marshall 1978: 170–71):

1. Jesus is tempted to satisfy his hunger in an inappropriate manner (Gerhardsson 1966: 52). But surely the mere miraculous provision of food in itself is not sin or else the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus would have to be viewed similarly. This view is too vague.

2. The satisfaction of hunger represents a distrust of God’s provision and protection of his Son (Fitzgerald 1972: 156). In favor of this approach is the context of the Deut. 8:3 citation in Luke 4:4.

3. Jesus is tempted to satisfy his hunger by miraculous power. This view takes various forms. (a) Such power is an expression of self-gratification, which is an inappropriate use of Jesus’ miraculous powers (Marshall 1978: 170–71; Schürmann 1969: 209; Fitzmyer 1981: 510). (b) The exercise of power would prove Jesus’ sonship, which the tempter doubts (Luce 1933: 117; Geldenhuys 1951: 159). This view incorrectly reads the conditional clause and is therefore suspect. (c) The satisfaction of hunger through miraculous means brings into question God’s provision for and protection of Jesus, and it questions the way God is leading him with regard to self-denial and service. This latter approach is really a combination of views 2 and 3a.

Which of these approaches to the temptation is best? Much is to be said for the combination approach (i.e., view 3c). First, the citation of Deut. 8:3 has to do with God’s provision for the nation. God promised he would protect his people Israel and had demonstrated his protection by providing manna for them (Exod. 16). God had demonstrated his faithfulness for forty years. In Deuteronomy, Moses was reminding the nation not to doubt God’s goodness upon entering the land. Jesus too had a promise that he was God’s Son (Luke 3:22), and surely God would protect his Son. Thus, if food were to come to the Son who had been led into the desert to fast, surely God could give it to him. Thus, the Deuteronomy parallel centers on God’s promise and its truth, a promise that is related to his provision.

Second, by providing himself with food, Jesus would be operating independently of God, something that the Son was not to do, as Jesus’ acknowledgment of God’s will at Gethsemane shows (22:39–44). Jesus’ miraculous provision of food for himself would represent a challenge of God’s protection for his Son and a rejection of the Son’s dependence on him, especially since God had led him into the desert.

The devil was really suggesting that perhaps God was abandoning Jesus, and so he had better look out for himself. Is not God treating you poorly? If so, take care of yourself. You can look out for yourself better than God can look out for you! Given the self-sacrificial mission the Son was to have and the suffering he would face, such a test of self-denial was appropriate. As Jesus’ reply shows, he knew the devil’s attack on God’s goodness and protection was wrong.

4:4 Jesus’ reply is short and to the point: human livelihood consists of more than the mere meeting of daily needs. The citation is from Deut. 8:3, the original point of which was to call Israel to remain fixed on God’s faithfulness in delivering his promises and protection (cf. Luke 12:31). The “word of God” by which people are ultimately to live is even more fundamental than the provision of food. Jesus will rest on God’s sustenance and provision, given in God’s own way. He will not short-circuit God’s path. Here is how the Son of God (3:38) lives. In fact, for Jesus, life is doing God’s will, not providing for self. Luke cites a shorter portion of Deut. 8:3 than does Matthew (see the additional notes for textual and critical issues tied to this difference).

c. Temptation of Rule Through False Worship (4:5–8)

4:5 The second temptation begins with a glimpse of the world. Matthew places this temptation last, which is probably the original order. Creed (1930: 63) notes in support of Matthew’s order that what is present are two tests grounded in sonship followed by a final effort to offer Jesus all things, a natural progression (see the introduction to this unit).

The nature of this experience is disputed, mainly because Matt. 4:8 mentions Jesus’ being taken to a very high mountain, while Luke speaks only of his going up and seeing the kingdoms in an instant. Luke focuses on the quickness of the special appearing of the kingdoms, while Matthew simply presents the place. But most commentators, going back as far as Calvin, note that no mountain gives a view of the entire world. So most posit some type of vision here. Arguing that the language in Matthew and Luke is too spatial to refer merely to a vision, Schürmann (1969: 210) challenges this approach and speaks of a “diabolical rapture” in Luke. The mountain image has apocalyptic connections in Ezek. 40:2, Rev. 21:10, and 2 Bar. 76.3, while 1 Enoch 25.3, 77.4–5, and 87.3 refer to the mountain(s) of God, a mountain of great elevation that sits above all as paradise. So Jesus is given a perspective from above—whether by vision or by rapture—which allows him to see a great expanse of territory.

The reason for Luke’s omitting the reference to the mountain, that is, if he in fact knew of it, has been variously explained. (1) Plummer (1896: 111) says that Luke knew a vision was present, so he removed the mountain reference. (2) Conzelmann (1960: 29) argues that the mountain was a place of revelation for Luke, so he removed it since a reference to a mountain here would not fit this motif. But one could argue that a revelation was present, though it was a diabolical one. (3) Many note that Luke focuses on time over place, because he realizes no mountain is high enough to see all the kingdoms (Creed 1930: 63; Fitzmyer 1981: 515–16; Schürmann 1969: 210; Dupont 1968: 55). The first part of this approach is likely, though the rationale for it interprets the text in a overly literal manner and ignores the possible apocalyptic origin of the figure. Luke may have merely opted for a stylistic equivalent. Glickman (1983: 464–65) notes that Luke’s change allows for a steadier progression toward Jerusalem (Nolland 1989: 179).

This observation about Jerusalem, if stated carefully, is correct. In the three Lucan temptations the only locale mentioned is Jerusalem. Probably stylistic reasons cause omission of the mountain reference. Perhaps Luke is simply working with a different source.

What is clear is that Jesus had a view of all the inhabited earth and that all earthly power was presented to Jesus (Schneider 1977a: 101). Luke’s use of οἰκουμένης (oikoumenēs, inhabited world) may well be a reference to the Roman Empire, in that Rome was basically regarded as the world of that day (cf. 2:1–2). Οἰκουμένης occupies the place of κόσμου (kosmou, of the world) in Matt. 4:8 and is a Lucan term with a comprehensive scope (Luke 21:26; Acts 11:28; 17:6, 31; 19:27; 24:5). As Marshall (1978: 171) notes, like a prospective seller, the devil points out the goods. In a place where Jesus has nothing, he is about to be offered everything.

4:6 The offer highlights its scope. Σοί (soi, to you) is in the emphatic position: “Look, Jesus, at what can be yours!” The use of τὴν ἐξουσίαν ταύτην ἄπασαν (tēn exousian tautēn hapasan, all this authority) underscores the extent of the offer. All the earthly kingdoms under Satan’s authority are available to Jesus, for Satan can give them to him. The offer precedes the actual condition of the contract, which will reveal the intent of the offer. The bait is placed in the trap.

It is interesting to note the perspective that this verse brings concerning the kingdoms of the world. Political and institutional power is related to Satan’s power and authority in a way that is unusual for Luke, in that Luke normally is quite benevolent toward Rome. This suggests that Luke is using a source whose perspective he accepts. The assumption behind this perspective is that until the earth is redeemed by God’s power, it lies in the hands of the evil one. Satan’s influence is still significantly present in the world (Rom. 8:18–30; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 5:19; Eph. 2:2; 2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 13:2; Ernst 1977: 159). Here arises the question of whether Satan had the authority to make this offer. Was Satan offering something he could deliver?

It is probably best to say that the devil’s offer is a mixture of truth and error. He is pictured as wielding great authority on the earth, so much so that some interpreters regard the offer as totally genuine (Godet 1875: 1.215). He certainly claims such authority in saying he can give these things to whomever he wishes. It is possible that Satan believes the claim, so that the offer should be seen as involving diabolical self-delusion.

But there is evidence in the Gospel that suggests the offer is exaggerated. Jesus’ expulsion of demons is against such a view of Satan’s absolute authority. Later in Luke, Jesus’ authority triumphs over the demons, and the demons respond to his rebuke (4:31–37; 8:26–39; Hendriksen 1978: 236; Godet 1875: 1.244–46). Their fear shows that the demons are aware of a limitation on their power. That Satan can be dismissed, as he is in Matt. 4:10, may also suggest this limitation. From the text’s perspective, Satan’s offer is at best characterized as an oversell (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and at worst it is a lie (John 8:44). Nonetheless, the temptation was real. Would Jesus be drawn into seizing power and turning his back on God, or would he receive it from God’s hand graciously, as the ruling Son had been promised in Ps. 2:8 and Dan. 7:14? These OT passages use terms that are used in Luke 4:6: δώσω (dōsō, I will give) and ἐξουσία (exousia, authority). The temptation was ultimately about seizing power on one’s own, apart from God’s promise and provision. Of course, as later passages show, Jesus realized that there was only one source that could make this offer and that source was not the one addressing him now (10:22; 22:29; Schürmann 1969: 211).

In offering Jesus all the kingdoms’ authority and glory, Satan was attempting to suggest that all the power, wealth, glory, and fame that the world could offer were there for Jesus’ taking. The offer made here was a much easier route to go than the one by which Jesus would obtain all these things from God. But it was also a dead end. Danker (1988: 102–3) gives a beautiful contrast between Jesus’ refusal to seize this authority and Alexander the Great’s claim to deity (Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead 14).

It also should be noted that Luke’s description of Satan’s words is much fuller than that in Matt. 4:9, even if one allows that the description of Matt. 4:8 has been brought into the statement of Luke 4:6. If Luke and Matthew had a common source, there is no adequate way to sort out or explain the differences here. Marshall (1978: 171–72) admits that it is a moot point whether Luke expanded the text (Dupont 1968: 53–55) or Matthew abbreviated the text (Schürmann 1969: 211). There is no way to tell. The difficulty suggests that perhaps the Gospel writers were not dealing with exactly the same source material. The differences are not significant for the meaning, but they may be revealing at a source-critical level.

4:7 Satan’s condition is that the Son renounce his allegiance to the Father. He is to bow down and worship Satan, an act that would not require just a momentary action, but that would change his life. Often the temptation is described as if all Jesus had to do was hit his knees once and all would be his. But the challenge represents a defection from God, and such a defection would have lifetime consequences. Jesus was to give the devil the respect and honor due to God alone (Marshall 1978: 172). For by bowing down (προσκυνήσῃς, proskynēsēs) before (ἐνώπιον, enōpion) the devil, Jesus would be accepting his authority and sovereignty. In Luke, προσκυνέω appears only here (including v. 8) and in 24:52, where the risen Lord is the object, a rare usage of christological significance, since in that context there is no doubt who Jesus really is. The meaning of the offer was clear: if Jesus would give Satan his heart and bow down before him, Satan would let Jesus rule. It was a high price to ask for an empty claim, but the response would reveal where Jesus’ priorities were.

4:8 Jesus again replies with Scripture that gets right to the issue: God alone is worthy of allegiance. The citation is a summary of Deut. 6:13. Only the word μόνῳ (monō, alone) is not in that passage. But the presence of the term summarizes well the force of the command to give honor only to God and not to idols (Hendriksen 1978: 237 n. 193; Nolland 1989: 180). The attitude expressed is like that in John 5:19, 5:30, and 6:38, where Jesus pledges that he does nothing except in subjection to the Father. His “religious service” (λατρεύω, latreuō, to serve) is only for God. Λατρεύω is also usually limited to God or to idolatrous religious service (BAGD 467; BAA 949–50; Strathmann, TDNT 4:62; Luke 1:74; Acts 7:42).

Some believe that Jesus rejected the principle of an earthly political rule (Plummer 1896: 112). This represents an overinterpretation. What is rejected is ruling at Satan’s side now, not an earthly rule per se. Satan’s temptation is an attempt to break the Son’s relationship to the Father. The problem is the nature of the proposed alliance, not the issue of the rule’s locale or character. Luke 17:20–37, 21:5–38, and Acts 3:19–21, which look forward to Jesus’ return, suggest a time when Jesus will rule the earth, beyond his current rule in ascension. Jesus will display his sovereign authority. He will rule on the earth, but that authority will come from God, not the devil. The Son’s loyalty will be rewarded with sovereignty, because of the Father’s loyalty (Acts 10:42; 17:31). No offer is great enough to persuade Jesus to abandon his Father. Such total allegiance to God is exemplary.

d. Temptation to Test God’s Protection (4:9–12)

4:9 The third temptation also involves an element of travel. As noted earlier, this is Matthew’s second temptation. This is probably a visionlike experience, since a real trip would involve witnesses unless it took a special form. The devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, or what Matt. 4:5 calls the holy city (τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν, tēn hagian polin). Since both writers use the name Ἰερουσαλήμ (Jerusalem) frequently and the phrase ἡ ἁγία πόλις is rare in the Gospels (only Matt. 4:5; 27:53), it is possible that Matthew made the change, since he alone uses the phrase (Marshall 1978: 172). However, the motive for such an alteration is not clear. But if τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν was the original wording, a change to Jerusalem for a Gentile audience is a little more likely, though hardly necessary, since the temple is named explicitly (Fitzmyer 1981: 516; Nolland 1989: 181). This absence of motive for the change again raises the possibility that the traditions used are distinct. Luke presents this temptation last, because it places the climax in the city where ultimately the drama surrounding Jesus’ life will be resolved. Luke makes much of Jerusalem (Luke 9:53; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11).

Jesus ends up on the temple’s pinnacle, but the exact locale is uncertain. Some think it is a high temple gate (Jeremias 1936), but many think it is the Royal Porch on the temple’s southeast corner, which loomed over a cliff and the Kidron Valley, creating a drop of some 450 feet (Hendriksen 1978: 237–38; Godet 1875: 1.218; Plummer 1896: 113). Josephus mentions that the height of this locale made people who peered over its edge dizzy (Antiquities 15.11.5 §§411–12). Despite uncertainty about the exact location, the point is clear: Jesus is at a height where, if he were to cast himself down, it would take special protection to emerge unscathed.

The devil’s request is simple enough. He again calls Jesus the Son of God in a first-class Greek conditional clause, a statement that does not in itself assume doubt, but presents the current potential of sonship quite vividly (see the exegesis of 4:3): “If you, Jesus, are currently the Son, cast yourself down.” The rationale of the request comes in 4:10–11, but clearly Jesus is intended to place the protection of his life and limb in God’s hands. According to church tradition, James the Just died from a similar fall from the temple’s pinnacle (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.11).

The request’s significance is disputed. Why is the temple brought in? Surely if only protection from a fall is in view, then a wilderness cliff would do. Some suggest that the temple scene describes a public act. This view holds that Jesus is to make a public, miraculous confirmation of his sonship and test the faithful protection of God (Fitzmyer 1981: 517). Some go on to argue that Jesus’ messianic status is what will be proved, since there is a Jewish tradition that ties Messiah to signs at the temple.26 A flashy display of power, not the cross, is the devil’s offer to Jesus. However, the idea of a public demonstration is unlikely, unless the event is also a representation. There is no mention of an audience or any hint that this action is public (Schürmann 1969: 213 n. 195; Nolland 1989: 181). As with the other temptations, this is a private affair between the devil and Jesus. In addition, the Jewish tradition about messianic works is late.

Another parallel often mentioned, Acts of Peter 32 (ca. 180–190), serves as a contrast to the temptation account. It does not suggest an explicit messianic connection to the act described there and in fact makes a polemical point (Marshall 1978: 173; Schneemelcher 1991–92: 1.312–13). In that text, Simon Magus flies over the temples and hills in Rome, until Peter’s word of judgment causes him to crash to the ground. Though Simon claims to fly by the power of God, Peter shows that the reality is different. The Acts of Peter text actually rebukes the kind of miraculous display that Jesus refuses to engage in here.

What is the nature of the challenge then and why the temple? It would seem that the challenge is a private test of God’s faithful protection. If Jesus is the Son and is righteous, then God will protect him as the citation from Ps. 91 in Luke 4:10–11 suggests. This temptation is really a test of God’s care and of Jesus’ trust of God (Danker 1988: 104; Hendriksen 1978: 238; Marshall 1978: 173). The temple is a locale that pictures God’s closeness. It is where he is to be found as a refuge of protection (Gerhardsson 1966: 56–58). Surely if God will rescue anyone, he will do so at the temple where he is said to dwell.

In light of God’s proximity, Jesus can feel free to cast himself down. Luke alone among the Synoptics uses the term ἐντεῦθεν (enteuthen, from here [only here and 13:31]). The rest of the NT uses the term eight times, seven of which are in John and Revelation. Again, the addition is hard to defend as Lucan, and it may suggest another source.28 As Jesus looks over the high pinnacle’s edge, he is exhorted to cast himself down and rest in God’s hands. He is to let go and let God!

4:10–11 Satan takes a new approach. Having been bested twice by Scripture, he now invokes the text on his own behalf (Schneider 1977a: 102). The Son is to cast himself into the open air because of God’s promise of protection for the righteous in Ps. 91:11–12 [90:11–12 LXX].29 As Liefeld (1984: 864) notes, the mere use of biblical words and promise may not convey God’s will.

The citation is given fairly faithfully, though Luke has the phrase τοῦ διαφυλάξαι σε (tou diaphylaxai se, to protect you), which Matthew does not possess. Both writers omit the phrase ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ὁδοῖς σου (en pasais tais hodois sou, in all your ways) after the mention of protection. Luke’s additional line (τοῦ διαφυλάξαι σε) highlights the protection on which the demonic challenge turns. Again, the reason for its inclusion is hard to explain if Matthew and Luke share the same source. An addition, if present, can only be for emphasis. Some argue that the omission of ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ὁδοῖς σου is designed to suggest that the devil twisted the Scripture, since the protection applies only to “all the righteous ways” in which one goes (Hendriksen 1978: 238); but this reads into the line the word righteous, an idea that is clearly in the context, but is not present verbally in the line itself. Thus, the omission is like many OT citations where a nonessential line is omitted without influencing the argument (Danker 1988: 104; Schürmann 1969: 213 n. 192).

The citation’s point is clear. Satan argues: “God will protect those who are his, so go ahead and jump. If you are God’s Son, Jesus, you need not worry a bit.” In first-century culture, this type of miraculous protection was expected of wonder workers and would be a testimony of Jesus’ special position. Jesus should trust God, and his position would be confirmed. In addition, God’s goodness would be substantiated. Again a lie is present, since those who were possessed by demons or followed the suggestion of evil spirits often ended up with bodily damage (9:39; 8:33).

4:12 Jesus refuses the devil’s attempt to test God’s miraculous protection. Such a test would be presumptuous of Jesus, because it would be artificially created and really would be unbelief masquerading as faith. The premise behind the test is that maybe God will not protect the Son (Liefeld 1984: 864; Stählin, TDNT 6:752). Jesus recognizes the offer for what it really is and, citing Deut. 6:16, refuses to jump.

In its OT context, Deut. 6:16 is a reminder to the nation, as it enters the land, not to test the Lord as it had done at Massah (Exod. 17:1–7). In Exodus, the nation had presumed on the Lord’s guidance and deliverance by complaining that they never should have come out of Egypt. Freedom and manna were not enough. Jesus is comparing the devil’s offer to such a test. It says in effect, “I do not think you will take care of me as Son, so to be sure I am going to place you in a situation where you must take care of me now and on my terms.” The demanding of miraculous protection, where it is not needed, is not faith or loyalty. It is sin. So Jesus refuses. God had proclaimed Jesus to be the Son at his baptism, so Jesus will rest on his promise. Jesus will need such loyalty and faith in light of what he will face.

e. Departure of the Devil (4:13)

4:13 The reference to completing the temptation adds evidence to the suggestion that Luke saw these three temptations as the end of a string of temptations (Plummer 1896: 114). The construction πάντα πειρασμόν (panta peirasmon, every temptation) denotes a comprehensiveness to the trials and thus the comprehensiveness of Jesus’ refusal to fall into the trap (a similar use of πᾶς is found in Matt. 3:10 and 12:31; Plummer 1896: 114).

The reference to the devil’s departure (ἀπέστη, apestē) for a time (ἄχρι καιροῦ, achri kairou) is provocative. Conzelmann (1960: 28) suggests that Luke portrays the period from 4:13 to 22:3 as “Satan free” (this interpretation predates Conzelmann, being held by Plummer 1896: 114 and Klostermann 1929: 61). Stated this way the view cannot work, since Jesus’ ministry is loaded with demonic challenges (4:33–37; 8:12; 9:38–42; 10:17–18; 11:14–22; 13:11–17; S. Brown 1969: 5–19; Marshall 1970: 87–88). What one can say is that satanic pressure intensifies in Luke 22, as numerous references in that chapter show (22:3, 28, 31, 53). The battle between the adversary and Jesus is a constant one in the Gospel, as 22:28 makes clear. Nevertheless, the conflict rages more heatedly in the final moments of the drama. Fitzmyer (1981: 518) notes that 4:13 is the only place in the entire Gospel where direct temptation is successfully withstood—and Jesus is the one who succeeds.

A final peculiar omission of material occurs here. At the end of this account, Luke omits the reference to angelic ministry, even though he readily refers to angelic activity (Luke 1:11, 26; 2:9; Acts 5:19; 8:26; 12:7; 27:23). It could be argued that Luke omits the reference because the angels are primarily a vehicle for revelation or guidance. But the Acts passages show the angels active in deliverance. So the omission in light of the reference to angels in both Mark and Matthew is peculiar and might again suggest an independent source.34

On the other hand, the Lucan omission of Jesus’ instruction to Satan to depart, which appears in Matt. 4:10, can be explained more easily, since that command belonged to the final temptation of Matthew, which Luke has earlier. Thus, it dropped out in Luke’s rearrangement of the temptation’s order.


In Luke 4:1–13 Jesus shows his qualities as a loyal and beloved Son. He refuses on three occasions to enter into activities that would show a lack of trust toward God’s care. These temptations have been compared to texts like 1 John 2:16, so that Jesus is tempted with regard to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. Others see the tests of Jesus at the level of Priest (temple), Prophet (stone to bread), and King (kingdoms of the world). However, both of these arrangements are unlikely for Luke. The Prophet, Priest, and King model fails because two of the tests are explicitly tied to the same title (Son), and because there is no priestly motif for Jesus in Luke. The comparison to 1 John 2:16 fails because it is not clear how to align the temptations to the three categories.

All three tests challenge God’s promise about Jesus’ sonship as revealed at the baptism (Luke 3:22). Did Jesus believe that God would care for his very needs or should the Son go his own way and provide for himself (stone to bread)? Did Jesus hold God in the first place of priority? If an offer for all the world came Jesus’ way at the cost of worshiping another, would he refuse it (kingdoms of the world)? Did Jesus believe God’s word and realize that God would protect him, rather than put God to a staged test (temple)? The issues of Jesus’ faith, focus, and loyalty were at the center of the tests. Jesus emerged as a faithful Son, despite the less-than-ideal environment.

Some argue that these tests are unique to Jesus and should not be read as exemplary (Fitzmyer 1981: 518; S. Brown 1969: 17). It is true that the forms of the temptations are unique to Jesus and are related to his unique position. What Satan asked of Jesus would not be repeatable. But the issues of the tests are fundamental ones that can be repeated for anyone. Previous to entering this unit, Luke had tied Jesus to Adam as Son of God. If one is literarily sensitive to Luke’s order, then there must be a significance to the Adamic reference between the two events of baptism and temptation, both of which discuss Jesus’ sonship. What Jesus does is exemplary and representative. The ultimate way to avoid falling into temptation is not to go one’s own way. Faithfulness to God involves trusting him, worshiping him alone, and refusing to create a test of his goodness. Jesus knew the lesson and served as the teacher. As such he showed that he was ready for the ministry that the Father had given to him. He also shows the reader the path to a faithful walk with God. Life is defined as doing God’s will and walking in God’s way, even if it entails suffering and self-denial.

Luke 4:1–13 concludes the second major portion of Luke’s Gospel. The ministry of John the Baptist pointed the way to Jesus and told all to look for the coming of a Mightier One who would bring God’s Spirit. The baptism showed that God had cast his lot with Jesus, the beloved Son. The genealogy tied Jesus to all humanity through Adam. The resistance of temptation showed that Jesus was righteous and faithful. Jesus was introduced and was ready for ministry. The next major pericope will let Jesus speak for himself about his mission (4:16–30). As he enters that ministry, one thing is not in doubt. Jesus faithfully serves God and is qualified to represent his hope. He is ready to undertake his mission.

Additional Notes

4:4. Some manuscripts cite the whole of Deut. 8:3 (Byz, A, D, Θ), but the different forms that the longer version of Luke 4:4 has in the manuscript tradition argue against the presence of this longer reading (see UBS on this text).

4:4. Different theories exist for how the original temptation tradition was worded, given Matthew’s long citation and Luke’s short version. Schürmann (1969: 210 n. 164) argues that Luke shortened the original: (1) Luke 4:22 shows that Luke knew the concept of “words proceeding out of the mouth of God,” which is present in Matthew’s OT citation; and (2) Luke’s understanding of God’s word did not allow him to use the term to refer to preservation of life; instead he referred it more specifically to God’s utterances (also Wiefel 1988: 101).

On the other hand, Holtz (1968: 61) argues that Matthew filled out the citation to bring out clearly the point intended in the reference to Deut. 8:3. Fitzmyer argues that Matthew expanded the text to bring in wisdom motifs about the teacher who feeds his disciples. These explanations are possible, but less than convincing. Did Luke really avoid the idiom of God’s word, as Schürmann suggests? Is the passage’s point really clearer by the text’s expansion, as Holtz suggests? Interestingly, no pattern emerges as to whether Luke 4 or Matt. 4 possesses the longer OT citations. Luke 4:10–11 has the longer OT text versus Matt. 4:5–7. Neither Gospel writer is inclined to abbreviate or expand quotations in this account. It may be that the tradition has produced these variations. This difference may illustrate only that slightly distinct, but similar, sources have been used, since there is no clear evidence that one or the other is original. This is the first of many such details in this pericope, as noted in the exegesis above.

4:12. A few stylistic characteristics in this verse may be attributable to variant sources. Luke uses ἀποκριθείς to refer to Jesus’ reply, while Matt. 4:7 uses ἔφη. It can be argued that there was a parallel in the source and that Matthew departs from it with ἔφη. But it could also be argued that Luke created the parallel uses of ἀποκριθείς, since the term is present in Luke 4:4, 8. This is another stylistic alteration that is difficult to pin down to a common source.

A second curious difference in Luke is the absence of γέγραπται (Matt. 4:7), along with the Lucan use of εἴρηται. Dupont argues that this is a stylistic variation. However, the rationale for the difference is not clear, since Luke uses γέγραπται frequently (e.g., Luke 4:4, 8, 10). Here is more evidence that suggests perhaps the material that Matthew and Luke used was not common material or that one of them had additional material (Ernst 1977: 162).

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