Real Bible Studies, Luke 4, Temptation & Rejection

Temptation in the Wilderness

Luke follows the sequence established in Mark and Matthew by having Jesus tempted in the wilderness just after his baptism. In his account, Luke more or less follows the story as delivered by Matthew and doesn’t embellish much, though there are several notable differences. Like Matthew, Luke relates that following his visit to the Jordan, Jesus takes off into the wilderness and doesn’t eat for forty days. Luke provides a quick overview of Jesus interacting with Satan which does not end with Matthew’s “Get thee behind me Satan.” Luke also switches the order of temptations. Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread, then offered the kingdoms of the earth, and finally instructed to leap from the top of the temple, all of which he rejects by citing scripture. Afterward, Satan departs, presumably of his own volition because Luke doesn’t have Jesus drive him away as does Matthew.

Rejection at Nazareth

Luke then says Jesus returns to Galilee to start his ministry by teaching in the synagogues and that he garners much attention. He then relates Jesus’s rejection in Nazareth, but adds several odd twists to it. Luke’s account takes place in a synagogue and occurs prior to any mention of Jesus recruiting the disciples, whereas Mark and Matthew say that Yeshua made his pronouncement that a prophet is not recognized in his hometown to his disciples. In addition to setting the story in a synagogue Luke shows Jesus actually reading from scripture. While Matthew and Mark often have Yeshua quote scripture, he’s never specifically shown reading from scripture. Reading and writing were specialized skills at that time that a craftsman such as a carpenter in ancient Judea would not have been likely to possess. The Scribes and Pharisees were trained to read and write in order to conduct Temple business, but Luke does not relate the circumstances under which Jesus acquired these skills beyond saying he was at the Temple a lot listening to others read and comment on scripture. While he’s frequently depicted as an enlightened individual, Jesus is never identified by Luke as holding a profession that would have required him to read and write.

In Luke’s account, Jesus goes into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from Isaiah 61:1-2:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;

Isaiah 61:1-2 (RSV)

Finished, he tells his listeners that they have heard the prophesy fulfilled because he’s the one who’s been anointed. At first, they’re impressed by how gracious Jesus is. This leads to them questioning “Is this not Joseph’s son?” There’s no mention of his mother, his brothers or sisters as in Mark or Matthew. Jesus then squanders whatever goodwill he’s garnered with this response:

23 …“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Caper′na-um, do here also in your own country.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Eli′jah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; 26 and Eli′jah was sent to none of them but only to Zar′ephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Eli′sha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Na′aman the Syrian.”

Luke 4:23-27 (RSV)

This doesn’t go over well with the crowd, who eject Jesus from the synagogue all the way to the outskirts of town, to the edge of a cliff, where they plan to toss him over. Without giving many details, Luke says Jesus was able to pass through the crowd uninjured.

Expelling the Unclean Spirit

Having not made a very good impression in his home region of Nazareth, Jesus heads to Capernaum, where many of his adventures take place in the other Gospels. Once again teaching in the synagogue, he encounters a man with an unclean spirit and commands the demon to leave him, which it does. This astounds everyone around him and they begin spreading the word about Jesus. At no point in Luke’s Gospel up to this point does Jesus caution the crowds to not reveal that they’ve seen him or what they witnessed.

Healing Simon’s Mother

Luke introduces Simon by having Jesus enter Simon’s house where he finds Simon’s mother ill. Since it’s the identical incident described in Mark and Matthew, we can assume it’s Simon Peter, the disciple, though Luke does not identify him as such. The wording makes it sound like Simon sent for Jesus because of his mother’s condition, and perhaps this is how Luke has the two meet. We’re otherwise given no details on who Simon is or what his profession is, just that he has a sick mother, who Jesus heals. Immediately, she gets up and starts seeing to everyone’s needs.

Just as is described in Mark and Matthew, Luke relates that a multitude shows up at Simon’s house once they hear Jesus is there. Jesus heals everyone who needs it and drives out demons before they’re able to reveal he’s the Christ. Luke concludes by having Jesus head off to a lonely place, but the crowds find him and refuse to let him leave. He tells them he can’t stick around because the surrounding places need him, too. From there, Luke sends him to Judea.

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