Living with Luke (11): 4:1-13 - Jesus' Tempations

            Luke the Evangelist
 is traditionally symbolized by a winged ox or bull –
             a figure of sacrifice, service and strength.                                                                                                        The ox signifies that Christians should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.

Luke 4:1-13:  Jesus’ Temptations
4 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”
Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.
12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.”  13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.

In Gen.12:1-3 God gives Abram what I take to be the ground-plan or plotline of the biblical story in the form of a threefold promise. God promises that through Abram and his wife Sarai he will raise up a great new people, bless that people with his presence and land, and through them, this great new God-blessed people, the rest of the nations will similarly receive divine blessing.

I wonder if the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness by the devil is not shaped by, or at least correlates to, this basic biblical promise.  Luke’s account follows Jesus’ baptism and genealogy in which the role of the Spirit is highlighted.  Here it is the Spirit who fills Jesus and leads him into this crucible of temptation.  The forty days duration of the temptations recall Israel’s forty year sojourn in the wilderness trying to learn the very same lessons Jesus actually does learn and which enable him to triumph of the tempter at crucial point in his life.  Yes, Jesus is Israel in miniature, recapitulating it’s journey as Abraham’s promise-blessed people, succeeding where they failed and fulfilling the great biblical promise they bore.

As such, Jesus stirs up the powers resisting God’s plan and purpose.  Thus, he undergoes this wilderness crucible.  Now if Jesus is Israel (so to speak), heir of the great biblical promise, it seems promising to consider his temptations in relation to that promise.

-if Jesus can turn desert stones into bread, he will assuredly have a great following in no time at all! (v.3)

-If Jesus will throw in with the devil, he will be able to “bless” all the nations of the world! (vv.6-7)

-if Jesus can make a spectacular “splash” at the temple in Jerusalem, the people will surely believe he is “blessed” and that through him they will be too! (vv,9,10)

          A great people, a blessed people, a people blessing everyone else – that’s just what God promised to do through Abraham and Sarah.  Here the devil offers Jesus a parody of this threefold promise just as he had all the generations of Israelites before him with such great success.

          Doubtless the devil assumed he would derail Jesus with this gambit as well.  He would buy into this devilish version of “messiahship” (as Israel had) and the threat he is would be defused. But instead, this “strong man” himself was ambushed (Lk.11.21-22), bound, and plundered by this, the one faithful Israelite, the one totally loyal (sinless) son of Abraham in whom the great promise is at long last realized!

          Luke varies the order of temptations, switching the second and third, probably due to his interest in highlighting the temple.  But the substance remains this same.

          This strikes me as a possible, even plausible reading of the temptation story.  It is anchored in God’s story with his people Israel, indeed, in the most important and central elements of that story.  And it helps us to read Jesus’ life and work as God’s final and best answer to the rebellion of the world, the dilemma of his people, and the working out of his primal purposes for both and the creation too! 


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