Exegesis of Luke 4 1-13 According to John Essay

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Exegesis of Luke 4:1-13

According to John Hayes and Carl Holladay, exegesis is an exercise in "leading" -- which is to say that a Scriptural exegesis acts as a kind of interpretation, helping people to understand more fully the Word of God (1). This paper will provide an exegesis of Luke 4:1-13 in which Jesus is tempted thrice by the devil, and it will also show how each temptation helps to clarify for Christians the exact mission of Christ (Fitzmeyer 509).

Luke was a Gentile by birth and by profession a doctor. (According to tradition he was also an artist and is still revered by many today as a patron of both doctors and artists). An early companion of St. Paul, Luke can be said to have been influenced by the Apostle. Indeed, Luke's writings are filled with a similar zealousness found in Paul's letters. What makes Luke's Gospel unique among the other Gospel narratives is that it emphasizes the sacrificial nature of Christ (beginning as it does with the chronicle of Zachary the priest). Moreover, Luke's Gospel appears to be dedicated to the Gentile converts, with whom he could share some common ground. This Gospel may also especially appeal to us, as we today live in a neo-pagan era (where the gods of gold and celebrity are worshipped). Thus, we should not fail to appreciate the characteristics of Luke, which are spiritually satisfying because they concentrate on the spiritual aspects of Jesus. More than any other Gospel, the Gospel of Luke shows Christ "as an example of prayer" (Frey 144), and it is the episode of Christ's temptation in this last of the Synoptic Gospels that we now examine.

The Temptations

Joseph Fitzmyer notes that the three scenes of Jesus' temptation, though they differ in order from the other Synoptic Gospels, "have a common subject in that they correct a false understanding of Jesus' mission as Son" (509). The scenes of Jesus' temptation in Luke help clarify the exact mission of Christ, but each of the temptations also serves as an example of the kind of temptation every man can be expected to face at some point in his life -- in modern times no less than in ancient. Such is the reason they are recorded by Luke, according to Fulton Sheen, who describes each temptation as a "short cut from the cross" to kingship. "Good men," as Sheen states, "are not tempted in the same way as evil men, and the son of God, Who became man, was not tempted in the same way as even a good man" (63). As Luke's narrative begins, Jesus is being "led by the Spirit" (Luke 4:1), which is to say he was participating in a retreat in the desert. Going into the desert was often a part of retreating from the world and getting in touch with the spirit. Those who did so removed themselves from the company of men to grow in solitary communion with God. Jesus does this after his baptism, to show that the soul's entry into communion with God must be accompanied by submission (through prayer and fasting). Following this example, Jesus is tempted by Satan -- a situation that we can all expect to face when we attempt to draw near to God.

According to Sheen, Satan tempts Jesus by "pretending to help Him find an answer to the question: How could He best fulfill His high destiny among men?...Satan had a satanic suggestion, namely to bypass the moral problem of guilt and its need of expiation, and to concentrate purely on worldly factors" (Sheen 63). Jesus was tempted to be like so many social institutions whose primacy is the economic endowment of man -- through which the belly is so often satisfied. But Jesus was not primarily on Earth to satisfy the belly -- His retreat following His baptism showed the purpose of His life: to prepare for His death. Such is why He allowed His first temptation: "If you are the son of God, command that this stone become a loaf of bread" (Luke 4:3).

As Sheen observes, Satan "was appealing to Our Lord to stop acting as a man, and in the name of man, and to use his supernatural powers to give His human nature ease, comfort, and immunity from trial" (Sheen 64). However, Jesus' life was one of trial, not of comfort, and his answer to Satan is perfectly recollected: "Not by bread alone shall man live, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4). Undaunted Satan attempts another tactic to divert Jesus from His destination, the cross. "To thee will I give all this power and their glory…if thou will worship before me" (Luke 4:6-7). Jesus delivers the reproof that man shall worship and serve God alone, despite whatever honors one may be offered by the world. As Sheen asks, "Why could He not choose a much quicker way of establishing His kingdom, by striking up a treaty, which would give Him all He desired, namely the world, but without the Cross?" (Sheen 68) The answer, Sheen states, is in Jesus' absolute refusal of ecumenical dialogue -- a striking claim. By stating exactly whom man should worship, without exception, Jesus clears the path to the Cross. But He permits one final temptation. Satan virtually commands Jesus to prove His Divinity by hurling himself from the ramparts -- for the angels would not dare allow Him Who Is to come to harm. Satan, essentially, tells God to do the unreasonable to prove Himself: Show your power by annihilating yourself. Jesus decides rather to prove that faith "must never contradict reason" (Sheen 67). Jesus' response is the essence of medieval scholasticism upon which doctors like Thomas Aquinas would build their eschatology.

John Nolland establishes how "the narrative shows some formal similarities to accounts of rabbinic debate. For the synoptic tradition, this periscope is remarkable in that the responses of Jesus are entirely made up of scriptural citations" (177). According to Nolland, it is significant that Luke refers to the tempter as "the devil," while Matthew uses the term "Satan." This may be connected to the fact that Luke was writing to the Gentiles and attempting to avoid religious language that was explicit. For example, "Luke avoids the religious language for fasting" (Nolland 179).

As for source material, Alfred Plummer makes very clear that the narrative could have come from nowhere but Christ Himself -- as there were no witnesses about, and there is no evident source for the narrative in Old Testament scripture. Such being the case, it is likely to be all the more effective in relating to the Gentiles, for it gives an appropriate understanding of how each person is to deal with the temptation that comes with attempting to follow Christ and join in communion with God. As Plummer notes, each of Jesus' responses to the devil ignore the devil's request: rather, Jesus "gives an answer which holds good for any child of God in similar temptation" -- specifically, the primacy of the Divine over the Demonic.

It is the last temptation Luke relates that acts as a gentle reminder that one ought not tempt the Lord by asking for a sign. For according to Christ, it is a wicked generation that always desires a sign -- because it refuses to believe lest its senses be satisfied. Luke, here, denies the senses. Yet, we reason, after all, why should God erect His kingdom on Cavalry? Why not erect by flying from the rooftops and establishing His glory in bout of grandeur? The answer is found, as Sheen supplies, in Christ's mission, which is to erect Christendom by erecting His throne out of wood -- the wood of the tree that would serve as His Cross. Here, Luke, is foreshadowing for the Gentiles, is the path to Jesus' kingdom.

The practical application of Luke 4:1-13 follows from the words of Sheen, who sees Christ not as a Revolutionary, but as a Redeemer. The fact that we today live in times of constant revolution, when everything is impermanent and "change" is the buzzword of elections and lessons, does not mean that we must feel oppressed. On the contrary, there is a calmness and stillness that comes from this reading. Christ is yesterday, today, and forever -- not here today and gone tomorrow, like so many Revolutionaries.

But these verses also have another practical application, for they draw the attention of the hearer to the fact of temptation. Man, as Jesus shows, is going to be tempted. Temptation, therefore, is not always to be run from. Sometimes, as in this example, it must be faced squarely, with assertion, certitude, and perseverance. Of course, the fact that the temptation occurs while Jesus is fasting is further example that to fast is a kind of penance that allows us to bear up better under the pressure of temptation. By denying the flesh we are more easily ready to combat those temptations that stimulate the…[continue]

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