The Temptation of Jesus
4:1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 4:2a where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil.
Chapters 4-9 combine a record of Jesus’ preaching and teaching with the gathering of the disciples, and with the growing tide of opposition.
Full of the Holy Spirit – reminding us that the fullness of the Holy Spirit does not provide immunity against the onslaughts of the devil.
Led by the Spirit – rather ‘in the Spirit’. The Spirit ‘led him as a champion into the field, to fight the enemy that he was sure to conquer.’ (Henry)
‘Three times did the Lord conquer Satan; three times did he repulse him (in the temptation) and drive him off, lawfully vanquished. And thus Adam’s breach of the law of God was cancelled by the obedience of the Son of man, keeping the statutes of God.’ (Irenaeus)
The link between Jesus’ sojourn in the desert and that of Israel is very striking:- ‘Matthew begins by noting ‘forty days and forty nights.’ Except for 1 Kings 19:8 and the flood account, every time this phrase is used in the Old Testament it refers to Moses on Sinai. Matthew notes this detail because he is quite aware of the parallel. Notice also that all of the responses Jesus gives come from Deuteronomy 6-8, where Moses is exhorting the Hebrews after narrating the story of Israel in the wilderness. So in Deut 8:3 we read, ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. The reference is to the manna, which was given when the people were hungry and did not trust God, but instead demanded food. Jesus trusts God and does not demand food. Deut 6:13, quoted in this passage, follows Deut 6:12 “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” This verse reminds us of the golden calf at Sinai (the reason for Moses second fast of forty days) when Israel got tired of waiting for Moses and instead made the calf, of which they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Ex 32:4) Again, we have a reference to the failure of Israel in the wilderness. Finally, look at the full context of Deut 6:16 “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.” Again we have a reference to Israel’s failure in the wilderness.’ (Hard Sayings of the Bible)
‘Satan’s intention in the temptation was to make Christ sin so as to thwart God’s plan for man’s redemption by disqualifying the Savior. God’s purpose (note that the Spirit led Jesus to the test) was to prove his Son to be sinless and thus a worthy Savior. It is clear that he was actually tempted; it is equally clear that he was sinless.’ (2 Cor 5:21) (Ryrie)
- Appetite: the desire to enjoy things, Mt 4:2ff; Lk 4:2ff.
- Ambition: the desire to achieve things, Mt 4:5f; Lk 4:5ff.
- Avarice: the desire to obtain things, Mt 4:8ff; Lk 4:9ff.
(Source unknown) Compare 1 Jn 2:16
For forty days – This may well refer to the length of time spent in the desert, rather than to the length of time he was tempted by the devil. So Hendriksen, J.B. Phillips, etc. Cf Mt 4:2-3. This whole period was used, no doubt, for deep reflection on his life and ministry to date, and especially the divine commissioning which took place at his baptism. Such reflection would naturally have led to a consideration of what might lay ahead. Such solitariness was experienced by Moses (40 years in Midian); Elijah (40 days en route to Horeb, 1 Kings 19:8); John (during his exile on Patmos).
He was tempted by the devil – The word ‘tempted’ can also mean ‘tested’, (cf Deut 8:2) it is probably correct to see both meanings here: as far as the devil was concerned, Jesus was being tempted to commit sin, but as far as God was concerned (and remember, Jesus was led into the desert in the Holy Spirit), this was an exercise in obedience. God never temps us to sin, Jas 1:13-17. Thus the devil, in his most malicious acts, serves the larger purposes of God. ‘The devil tempts that he may ruin; God tests that he may crown.’ Ambrose (C. 340-397)
Rather like the Beatitudes, the temptation of Christ tells us much about the kind of kingdom he came to establish.
4:2b He ate nothing during those days, and when they were completed, he was famished. 4:3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4:4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone.’ ”
“If you are the Son of God…” – If! ‘What force there is often is a single monosyllable! What force, for instance, in the monosyllable “If,” with which this artful address begins! It was employed by Satan, for the purpose of insinuating into the Saviour’s mind a doubt of his being in reality the special object of his Father’s care, and it was pronounced by him, as we may well suppose, with a cunning and malignant emphasis. How different is the use which Jesus makes of this word “if” in those lessons of Divine instruction and heavenly consolation, which he so frequently delivered to his disciples when he was on earth! He always employed it ot inspire confidence; never to excite distrust. Take a single instance of this:- “If God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” What a contrast between this divine remonstrance and the malicious insinuation of the great enemy of God and man!’ (Daniel Bagot)
A voice from heaven had just announced the divine sonship, 3:22. But now a doubt is introduced; a challenge is issued. Born in a stable;- hurried off to Egypt for fear of Herod;- raised the son of a carpenter in an obscure Galileean town;- can that heavenly voice really be believed? So don’t just take God at his word – prove your sonship by supernaturally satisfying your hunger.
‘Let it be noted that the first temptation contained an appeal to a fleshly appetite, like the temptation in Eden. Adam and Eve were tempted to eat unlawfully, and so also was our Lord.’ (Ryle)
Jesus refused to perform the miracle (a) because it was Satan who challenged him to do it, and he would not give place to the devil. Miracles are performed in order to confirm faith, and Satan has no faith to be confirmed; (b) because the miracle would have served his own needs, and eased his own situation, and he did not come to please himself, but to serve and to suffer for others; (c) there was indeed a demonstration of Christ’s divine Sonship, and this was neither a turning of stones into bread nor even coming down from the cross: it was in his glorious resurrection from the dead; (d) he wished to be identified with his brothers, hungering as they hunger, and suffering as they suffer, that he might be the more fully prepared and equiped for his role as High Priest.
‘Some of the devil’s strongest temptations involved his encouraging Christ to rely on his miraculous power to avoid the way of suffering and the road to the cross. (Lk 4:1-12) Gethsemane is the most powerful testimony in all of Scripture to the divinely ordained necessity of not always receiving protection from suffering. (Lk 22:39-46) In his epistles Paul echoes this theology. (esp. 2 Cor 4:7-18 6:3-10) Not all receive or benefit from gifts of healing, and Paul personally and agonizingly learns the lesson that God’s grace is sufficient for him and that God’s power is made perfect in Paul’s weakness.’ (2 Cor 12:8) (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)
Ian Paul observes: ‘the NRSV, committed to gender-inclusive language use for humanity, rather clumsily translated Matt 4.4 as ‘One does not live by bread alone’, which made use of the closest English has to a UGASP [an UnGender Assigned Singular Pronoun], but in doing so made Jesus sound like the Queen on a picnic.’
‘If it is true, as Jesus said, endorsing Deuteronomy, that human beings do ‘not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’, (Mt 4:4 Deut 8:3) it is equally true of churches. Churches live, grow and flourish by the Word of God; they wilt and wither without it. The pew cannot easily rise higher than the pulpit; the pew is usually a reflection of the pulpit.’ (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian)
Jesus answers the devil from Scripture, Deut 8:3. Whatever does not agree with Scripture does not come from God.
‘Though he had the Spirit without measure, and had a doctrine of his own to preach and a religion to found, yet it agreed with Moses and the prophets, whose writings he therefore lays down as a rule to himself, and recommends to us as a reply to Satan and his temptations. The word of God is our sword, and faith in that word is our shield.’ (Henry)
4:5 Then the devil led him up to a high place and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. 4:6 And he said to him, “To you I will grant this whole realm—and the glory that goes along with it, for it has been relinquished to me, and I can give it to anyone I wish. 4:7 So then, if you will worship me, all this will be yours.” 4:8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ”
How exactly this took place is unclear. Perhaps Jesus was shown a vision. Or possibly we are to understand all the kingdoms of the world as being something of an over-statement.
‘Luke reverses the order of the second and third temptations of Christ to build toward a climax with Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem (Lk 4:1-13; cf. Mt 4:1-11). Both of these are key themes throughout his work.’ (Blomberg, DJG)
‘We have to contend every day with the same imposture: for every believer feels it in himself and it is still more clearly seen in the whole life of the ungodly. Though we are convinced, that all our support, and aid, and comfort, depend on the blessing of God, yet our senses allure and draw us away, to seek assistance from Satan, as if God alone were not enough. A considerable portion of mankind disbelieve the power and authority of God over the world, and imagine that every thing good is bestowed by Satan. For how comes it, that almost all resort to wicked contrivances, to robbery and to fraud, but because they ascribe to Satan what belongs to God, the power of enriching whom he pleases by his blessing? True, indeed, with the mouth they ask that God will give them daily bread, (Mt 6:11) but it is only with the mouth; for they make Satan the distributor of all the riches in the world.’ (Calvin)
“I will give you…” – Satan’s promises are generous: to Eve he had said, “You shall be as Gods.” But his promise to Eve was a lie, and to Christ an attempted deception. To both, he promised what was not his to give. He has no power to give anything that is worth having.
“It has been given to me” – Satan’s habit is not to lie outright, but to deal in half-truths – that is, to present falsehood under the guise of truth. That there is a measure of truth in this statement is clear from Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Heb 2:14. Such authority as he has is due partly to human sin and partly to divine permission. It can be seen in the evil and corrupt activities of many of the rulers of this world.
“If you will worship me…” – Here is the sting in the tail of this temptation. ‘Perhaps he does not mean so as never to worship God, but let him worship him in conjunction with God; for the devil knows, if he can but once come in a partner, he shall soon be sole proprietor.’ (Henry)
To accept a kingdom from Satan would mean using Satan’s methods, recognising his authority, and, ultimately, worshiping him. But Jesus’ kingdom was entirely different, Jn 18:36-37. His was the humble, lowly path. He refused to accept the crown without enduring the cross. Cf Php 2:9, …therefore God exalted him to the highest place…
Again, Jesus appeals to Scripture, Deut 6:13. ‘What? worship the enemy of God whom I came to serve? and of man whom I came to save?’ (Henry)
God alone is to be worshiped and served. Indeed, the essence of conversion is to turn to God from idols, of every kind 1 Thess 1:9.
‘For groups rejecting the deity of Jesus Christ, this verse is important. Only God is to be worshiped. When compared with other passages, this verse actually presents a case for Jesus’ divine nature, not an argument against it. Scripture is clear in saying that Jesus received worship from a leper (Mt 8:2), from a disciple (Jn 20:28), and from angels (Heb 1:6). If God alone is to be worshiped, then Jesus must be God.’ (Apologetics Study Bible)
4:9 Then the devil brought him to Jerusalem, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 4:10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 4:11 and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 4:12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
As with the second temptation, it may be that a vision is implied here.
The highest point of the temple – The exact location is uncertain. It may have been the roof of Herod’s portico, which overhung the Kedron Valley and looked down some 450 feet (Josephus calls this a ‘dizzy height’).
“If you are the Son of God” – The devil challenged Jesus to prove his credentials. So might people today ask for more proof than God has been pleased to give. Cf Lk 16:29.
‘But what is this I see? Satan himself with a Bible under his arm and a text in his mouth!’ (Bishop Hall). The devil himself quotes Scripture on this occasion, Ps 91:11-12, but in doing so twists it to fit his purpose.
As before, Jesus repels this temptation by an appeal to Scripture, Deut 6:16. Some people are suspicious of all use of ‘proof texts’. Jesus shows us here that it is the mis-quotation and the mis-use of Scripture which is wrong, and that there is an appropriate, and very important place, for citing the Word of God to support an argument.
The devil might have found a text of Scripture to appeal to in support of this temptation. But the general tenor of Scripture is to condemn ‘rashness, a trifling with providence, an impetuous rushing into totally unwarranted danger’ (Hendriksen). Satan quotes a text which promises divine protection; Christ counters by asserting that such protection must not be presumed upon by rushing headlong into danger. To do so is to ‘put the Lord you God to the test.’
There are many ways in which people today are prone to ‘put God to the test.’ We presume upon his love and mercy when we pray for good health, and yet fail to take sensible measures to take care of ourselves; we expect God to save our souls, and yet do not use the means of grace; we pray that God would ‘deliver us from evil’, yet put ourselves in the way of temptation; we hope that God will bless our children, yet fail to take proper care for them oourselves.
“Our Saviour teaches us that our better way, either with perverse men, in asserting their errors, or with Satan in his assaulting us with misalleged scripture, is not so much to subtilize about the place or words abused. It may be so cunningly done sometimes, that we cannot well find it out; but this downright sure way beats off the sophistry with another place, clearly and plainly carrying that truth which he opposes and we adhere to. Though thou canst not clear the sense of an obscure text, thou shalt always find a sufficient guard in another that is clearer.” (Leighton, quoted by Ryle)
4:13 So when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from him until a more opportune time.
He left him – (cf Jas 4:7) but not for good, Lk 8:12; 10:18; 11:18; 13:16; 22:3,31. One victory over Satan does not mean that there will not be more battles to be fought.
The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee
4:14 Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside. 4:15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by all.
Cf. Mt 13:53-58; Mk 6:1-6.
Hendriksen suggests that there may have been an interval up to a year between v13 and v14, during which the events recorded in Jn 1:19–4:42 took place.
In the power of the Spirit – ‘Not as a limping survivor’ (Edwards). This expression means, among other things, that Jesus is acting and speaking in response to God’s leading. But, even so, his appearance in his home town will result in rejection and attempted murder.
Luke has other, more direct, ways of drawing attention to Jesus’ miracles (Lk 5:17; 6:19; 8:46). Nevertheless, as Bock (NIVAC) says, this passage, which reports Jesus’ teaching, should be paired with the next section (Lk 4:31-44), which gives an account of his (miraculous) actions. His message and his ministry go hand in hand, supporting one another.
Edwards says that, in Jewish thinking, the Spirit had ceased to be active at the end of the prophetic era. But Luke makes it clear that he was now very much active again. ‘In the infancy narrative the Holy Spirit was active through Zechariah (Lk 1:67), John (Lk 1:15), Elizabeth (Lk 1:41), Mary (Lk 1:35), and Simeon (Lk 2:25) so that the Spirit might be active in Jesus the Son of God in his conception (Lk 1:35), baptism (Lk 3:22), temptation (Lk 4:1), and public ministry (Lk 4:18).’
He returned to Galilee – This will remain the focus of his ministry until Lk 9:51, when he sets out for Jerusalem.
News about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside – It is a mark of the selectivity of the Gospels that this statement can be made, even though Luke has not yet given any specific reasons for Jesus’ increasing fame.
He began to teach in their synagogues – France says that smaller towns and villages may not have had a synagogue building as such (although Capernaum did, Lk 7:5). According to Garland, most would have been modified rooms in private dwellings. The word originally meant ‘gathering’, and then ‘meeting place’.
The expression ‘their synagogues’ is used only once in this Gospel, twice in Mark (Mk 1:23, 39), and most frequently in Matthew (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54; 23:34). Edwards thinks that it hints at a certain distance between Jesus and the synagogue, although Garland’s opinion is that no sense of alienation is implied. Stein offers an alternative reason for this reference to ‘their’ synagogues: Luke was writing for Gentiles.
He…was praised by all – lit. ‘glorified’ by all. That would soon change in his home town. His fame may be spreading, but he is by no means fishing for popularity. As we shall see, though the people are impressed, they are not necessarily persuaded. There are people today who praise Jesus from afar, but who, on closer acquaintance with his teaching, would recoil with horror.
Rejection at Nazareth
4:16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 4:17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and the regaining of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Although this incident is mentioned in Matthew and Mark, Luke gives it greater prominence, partly by giving the account in more detail, and partly by moving it forward to this early position in his narrative.
Edwards describes the chiastic structure of this passage, in which the climax comes, not at the end, but in the middle (“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”.
Garland notes how opposition to Jesus moves from the cosmic level, after his confrontation with the devil, to the human level, as the members of his local synagogue take exception to his teaching.
Jesus came to Nazareth – Garland tells us that Nazareth probably had a population of under four hundred, and is believed to have been quite poor, ‘since excavations have uncovered no paved streets, public structures and inscriptions, or fine pottery.’
(a) The setting. This was not Jesus’ first public appearance after his baptism and temptation. Although not mentioned by Luke, his public ministry had already commenced in Judea, cf Jn 1:35-4:44. It is clear from various details in this narrative that a great deal had preceded this visit to Nazareth, cf v14f, 23. Mark puts this visit to Jesus’ home town later (Mk 6:1-6). Luke not only tells the story in more detail, but gives it greater prominence by pulling it forward. He may have done so because it so effectively introduces Jesus’ ministry and people’s reaction to it. Indeed, this visit to Nazareth was decisive; it epitomised Christ’s ministry and the publication reaction to it: he came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (Jn 1:11).
Another indication of the importance of this episode within Luke’s telling of the gospel is that Jesus would refer again to this very passage from Isaiah in answer to John’s query (Lk 7:20-22).
Stein points to the strategic importance of this passage: ‘the account reveals not only the heart and content of Jesus’ message to Luke’s readers (Lk 4:18–21) and the favor Jesus found in general among the common people (Lk 4:22), but it also foresees his rejection (Lk 4:23–30); the shadow of the cross hung over Jesus’ ministry from the very beginning.’
Luke’s interest in this episode is related to the theme and purpose of his Gospel as a whole: for Jesus rejection by his own home town highlights the fact that Jesus brought salvation not just to the Jews but to all who would believe in him.
Following France, we may regard as the ‘big idea’ of this account that Jesus sets out, in his own home town, the nature and purpose of his ministry. However, when he tells them that it involves the salvation of people everywhere, and not just the Jews, his hearers react violently.
He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom – He came to the synagogue in his home town – where he was well known, and had been so since childhood. Such familiarity should have bred respect, but instead contributed to contempt.
There are many references in the Gospels to Jesus’ attendance at worship, but only here are we told that it was his custom to attend synagogue worship on the Sabbath. Note, staying awaying from the public worship of God’s people, even when that worship is in some measure corrupt, and those people in some measure faithless, prevents us from securing blessing for ourselves, for the people of God, and for the kingdom of God.
‘Unlike the temple in Jerusalem, where animals were sacrificed on the altar by priests, Jewish synagogues, according to rabbinic nomenclature, were “assembly halls” or auditoriums, which functioned primarily as worship centers where Torah was read and expounded, and secondarily as community centers, guesthouses, and perhaps schools for children.’ (Edwards)
This passage is the earliest reference we have to synagogue worship. If later practice applied at this time, then the service began with prayer, and then there was a reading from the Law (Gen-Deut). Then Jesus read from the prophets. The local synagogue authorities would invite people (sometimes distinguished visitors) to read and preach. The Scripture would have been read in the original Hebrew, but a translation in Aramaic would have been made by the reader or somebody else. The synagogue was clearly used for teaching as well as for worship, cf Lk 13:10.
As Bock observes, this was the first of several Sabbath events that would end in controversy (Lk 4:31–37; 6:1–5, 6–11; 13:10–17; 14:1–5).
The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him – It was probably given to him by the ruler of the synagogue. We do not know whether the reading was pre-selected, or whether Jesus asked for this scroll in particular.
We have already been told that by this time Jesus had become a well-known figure around Galilee. Therefore, it was quite normal for him to be invited to preach.
He…found the place where it was written – suggesting that Jesus deliberately chose to read this passage.
Intriguingly, Garland comments that ‘finding a specific text in a scroll without chapter and verse divisions is difficult, and it suggests that Jesus was so familiar with the Scriptures that he knew where to turn.’
He stood up to read – out of respect for the Word of God. Preaching was often done sitting down, v20, although cp. Acts 13:16. Although the worship was under the direction of the synagogue leader (Lk 8:41; 13:14), other competent men could be invited to read from and comment on the Scriptures.
(b) The reading from Scripture. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. It is possible that Jesus chose this reading for himself, there being no evidence that a lectionary was used at such an early date.
The quotation is from Isa 61:1-2. It has been suggested, however, that Jesus can scarcely have read from a Hebrew scroll what Luke reports. For one thing, the reading follows the LXX, and for another thing it introduces a phrase from Isa 58:6 (‘to release the oppressed’). Some think that Luke has conflated the reading from Scripture with what Jesus said in the sermon that followed. Others think that Luke is putting these words into Jesus’ mouth, because he is sure that the Lord would have applied them to himself at some stage in his ministry, given his composite reply to John the Baptist (Lk 7:22 with Isa 29:18; 35:5–6; 26:19; 61:1). (See the discussion in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, art. ‘Prophets in the New Testament’).
Edwards says that this particular passage would have had no special messianic connotations for Jews.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me…” – Showing Jesus’ qualifications for this ministry, just as “He has anointed me to preach” indicates his commissioning to it. L.T. Johnson comments that, in context, this anointing took place at Jesus’ baptism.
“He has anointed me” – ‘The Greek word would allow us to transliterate this verb with surprising consequence: “He hath christed me; he hath made me the Christ.” (Loane, Key-Texts in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 121)
Jesus applies these words to himself, showing how strong was that sense of vocation which came with the heavenly voice at his baptism, cf. Acts 10:38. His quoting of this passage points to the condition of man as one of spiritual poverty, broken-heartedness, captivity, blindness and oppression. This spiritual distress is caused by sin, and no-one but the Son of God, anointed by the Spirit of God, can relieve this distress.
Good news to the poor – ‘In Luke the term “poor” does refer to an economic condition, but not merely to economic status, for the poor and humble hope in God.’ (Stein). Cf. Mt 11:5.
Johns notes that ‘as in Mary’s canticle (Lk 1:52), the “poor” represent not only the economically impoverished but all those who are marginal or excluded from human fellowship, the outcast.’ Johnson adds that this theme is prominent in the first half of Luke’s Gospel (Lk 6:20; 7:22; 14:13, 21; 16:20, 22).
Garland explains: ‘The “poor” who are the recipients of this good news are “not only the economically impoverished but all those who are marginal or excluded from human fellowship, the outcast.” They are the losers in the competitive race for scarce resources, economic security, honor, and power. Their only recourse is to “look to God for help.” They include the disciples. Jesus’ Beatitudes begin with a blessing on the poor (Lk 6:20) that is specifically addressed to the disciples.
Bock (NIVAC), more fully: ‘It cannot be denied that “poor” here refers to those who live in a socially and economically limited environment. But according to the use of this term in the Old Testament and in Luke, that is not all that is intended here. The Old Testament background points to the anawim, the “pious poor,” the afflicted (2 Sam. 22:28; Pss. 14:6; 22:24; 25:16; 34:6; 40:17; 69:29; Amos 8:4; Isa. 3:14–15). These are the humble whom God will exalt (Luke 1:51–53) and who like the prophets suffer for being open to God (6:20–23; cf. the description in 1 Cor. 1:26–29; James 2:5). They are open to God and his way since they are frequently the first to recognize how much they need God.’
Notice also what he was to preach – good news. This general statement is expanded in what follows.
But what counts as ‘good news’ for the poor? Certainly, Jesus did not come to make them wealthy, for his disciples forsook their livelihoods in order to follow him (Lk 5:11, 28; 18:28–30), and were instructed to sell their possession and give away the proceeds (Lk 12:33)!
“Release for the captives” – There is no record of Jesus actually releasing prisoners (but see Acts 5:19; 12:6–11). But the demonised were released from the bondage to Satan (cf. Lk 13:16), and, more generally, exiles who have been captive in a foreign country, and subject grief and hardship were set free. Cf. Jn 8:36. Sin imprisons people (Acts 8:23), and forgiveness amounts to a release from this captivity (Lk 1:77; 3:3; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). Later, of course, Jesus’ followers would be prominent in setting slaves free from captivity.
France points out that the word translated ‘release’ is also used for ‘forgiveness’ in Lk 1:77; 3:3; 24:47.
Bock (NIVAC) says that in including this expression from Isa 58:6 Jesus is making it clear that he not only announces liberty (as a prophet); he actually brings it (as Messiah). And since Isaiah 58 contains words of rebuke to Israel for not living up to her calling, Jesus is claiming to do what Israel had failed to do.
‘A notable feature in Luke-Acts is the piety of the Gentiles and the unacceptable. This theme begins in the OT (Lk 4:16-30) and continues through the time of Jesus and the church. A comparison of Luke’s account of the centurion with Matthew’s, a story evidently derived from Q, reveals several distinctive Lukan emphases. In particular, Luke dramatizes the piety of the centurion. The elders who are sent by the centurion to obtain mercy from Jesus state that the centurion “is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue” (Lk 7:4-5). Luke describes the centurion Cornelius in similar terms (Ac 10:2,22; cf. also Lk 8:27). All of this is part of Luke’s favorable description of those unacceptable by Jewish standards (Lk 4:18; 5:27; 7:11-17, 36-50; 15:11-32; 19:2-10).’ (DJL)
‘The different metaphors used in this passage all point to the oppressed condition of Israel. In light of Luke 7:22, however, a literal reading cannot be ruled out, since the metaphors become actualized in the ministry of Jesus himself. The “poor,” then, symbolize not only Israel in suffering (Lk 6:20), but also those who are without means and the outcasts in general (Lk 11:41; 12:33; 14:13). The “blind” likewise can be used in a symbolic way to describe those without salvation (Lk 1:78–79; 2:29–32; 3:6), but it also refers to those who are physically impaired (Lk 18:35–43; Acts 9:18–19). The “release” can also refer to the freedom from the power of Satan (Lk 13:10–17; Acts 10:38) or the literal release from debts (Lk 11:4).’ (Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament)
‘We are held captive by all kinds of evil passions, foolish pleasures, sinful lusts, and selfish ambitions. What sins are keeping us captive? What guilt is enslaving our souls? Jesus came to set us free. By his death on the cross, our sins are totally and completely forgiven; by his resurrection, we have power in the Spirit to resist temptation and lead a holy life.’ (Ryken)
The regaining of sight to the blind – This represents the reading found in the LXX. The original Hebrew of Isa 61:1f has ‘bind up the brokenhearted’ instead. Since Jesus was reading from the scroll of Isaiah, we must assume either that the scroll reflected the LXX at this point, or (more likely) that Luke (who, as a Gentile, would have spoken Greek and not Hebrew), was filling in the quotation from his own Greek Bible. Michael Heiser comments: ‘We often don’t realize that even biblical writers depended on translations that they considered the Word of God. In the same manner, we can consider our own translations the Word of God.’ (I Dare You Not to Bore Me With The Bible, p125).
The regaining of sight to the blind – Once again, the literal meaning is not far away (Lk 7:21–22; 18:35–43). But the opening of the eyes of the blind can also be synonymous with gaining spiritual insight (Lk 24:31) or receiving salvation (Lk 1:79; 3:6; Acts 26:17–18).
‘Later in his Gospel Luke will give an account of Jesus restoring sight to a blind man (Luke 18:35–43). This was a sign of the age to come, when every child of God will have perfect vision: God has promised that every believer will see Jesus Christ in all his glory (Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2).’ (Ryken). See also Lk 2:30; 24:16, 31.
It is only by the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit that we can see ourselves for who we are, and Jesus for who he is. Only the Spirit can open our eyes to behold wonderful things in God’s word. Only he who can gives us insight into the sinfulness of our sin. Only he can enable us to see Jesus for who he really is (cf. Lk 24:31). All else is groping in the dark.
To set free those who are oppressed – This ‘may well fit the perception that Israel remains shattered by its idolatrous oppressors even after returning from the Babylonian exile’ (Garland).
Ryken suggests that ‘oppression’ belongs to the same category of what we might call ‘abuse’. It includes the spiritual oppression that can result from demonisation (cf. Lk 4:31-36; 11:14).
The year of the Lord’s favour – Or, as The Message puts it: ‘This is God’s year to act!’ The year in which the Lord shows grace and favour to his people; reminiscent of the year of Jubilee (Lev 25), during which debts were forgiven, slaves were freed, and all land which had been purchased reverted to its original owner. This year – occuring once in fifty years – gave everyone the opportunity of a new start. Christ came as the great Liberator.
Note how the prophecy cited in v18-19 was fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry: the poor received the good news, Lk 6:20; 12:32; captives were released, Lk 13:16; Jn 8:31-32; the blind were made to see, Lk 7:21-22; the captives were set free, Mt 11:28-29; Jn 7:37; the ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ had arrived, Lk 7:22; 10:24.
4:20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. 4:21 Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.”
…and sat down – thus taking up the posture for preaching.
The eyes of everyone…were fastened on him – It is not too difficult to begin to imagine the scene. The atmosphere in the (probably crowded) synagogue was charged with interest and excitement. Everyone has heard about Jesus and his doings, v23. But what would he say and do here, in his own home town? He has just read the passage from Isaiah. Will he remind his audience of past ages, when God stretched out his arm and performed mighty miracles through heroic prophets? Or will he speak of a golden age to come? No – he speaks of the here and now. See next verse.
(c) The exposition. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” – A one-line sermon! However, the words recorded here no doubt summarise the discourse with which Jesus followed his reading from the prophet. His hearers did not doubt that God’s kingdom would come in the future. But Jesus saw God as acting in the present, in his own life and ministry. The OT promises and prophecies generally find their fulfilment in Christ. So the only really new thing here is the word ‘today’: ‘What until now had been potential, promise, hope, and long-awaited, is at this moment present reality. Jesus’ interpretation of Isa 61 is a four-word summary of salvation history: “Today Scripture is fulfilled” (v. 21).’ (Edwards)
‘In Luke 3:4–6, Isa 40:3–5 was cited as being fulfilled in John’s ministry. Now Jesus declares the prophecies of Isaiah are being fulfilled in his own ministry. “Someday” has become “today” as the emphasis falls on salvation happening now. It recalls 2:11, “To you is born today in the town of David a Savior, who is Christ and Lord.”’ (Garland)
The fulfilment, which has begun this very day and in their very hearing, will unfold, such that Jesus will be able to answer John’s query by saying that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them (Lk 7:21–22), which (as Garland notes) fulfills prophecies in Isa 28:18–19; 35:5–6; 61:1–2.
Remember that, in a very important sense, ‘today’ is all we have. The past is gone for ever. The future is to a large extent unknown. Make the most of today and its opportunities. Cf Ps 95:7; Jn 9:4; Heb 3:7.
4:22 All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” 4:23 Jesus said to them, “No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’ ”
(d) The reaction. The sermon would have been listened to in attentive silence, and would have been followed by a hum of conversation. Jesus, no doubt, would have waited for some indication – perhaps a question – to indicate that his words had been taken to heart.
All were speaking well of him – lit. ‘all bore witness to him’; ‘all took note of him.’
Jesus himself later warn his disciples to be careful ‘when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.’ (Lk 6:26)
‘It is possible that those who are admirers of good ministers and good preaching may yet be themselves no true Christians.’ (Henry)
They were amazed that someone from their own town, whom they knew as ‘Joseph’s son’ should speak like this.
“No doubt you will quote to me…” – ‘The Lukan Jesus exhibits an uncanny awareness of what goes on in people’s minds (Luke 5:22: 6:8; 7:40; 9:47; 11:17; cf. Lk 20:23). Here, he plucks the words from his respondents’ mouths by announcing to them what they were about to say.’ (Nolland, WBC)
‘Physician, heal yourself’ – They intended to use this traditional proverb ‘to play off Jesus’ claim to offer the glories of salvation against his own modest state (cf. 23:35).’ (Nolland, WBC)
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” – And therefore a ‘local boy’. Garland detects no hostility in this exclamation, and thinks that at this point Jesus’ hearers are expecting him to do something wonderful for them. Even if this is the case, they will soon find, as people continue to find, a stumbling-block in the humility of Christ’s earthly life.
But, as Edwards remarks, this exclamation could be understood in more than one way. The townsfolk could not be expected to know of Jesus’ divine sonship. They might be expressing either wonder or scepticism. From how Jesus responds, the second seems more likely. How could all that he has just said be true of such an ‘ordinary’ man?
“No doubt” – Regardless of how positive the reaction has been up until this point, Jesus sees underneath the surface of their reaction, and detects their underlying resistance and resentment. Accordingly, what he now says to them is deliberately provocative.
‘Simeon prophesied that he would reveal the secret thoughts of many hearts (Lk 2:35), and Jesus does so here (see also Lk 5:21–22; 6:7–8; 7:39–40; 9:47; 11:17; 24:38). He reveals that they will become resentful because he will do no mighty work in their midst, and he rebukes them in advance for rejecting him.’ (Garland)
(e) The challenge. “Physician, heal yourself!” – An anticipation of the mocking cry as Jesus hung on the cross: “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!”
This would certainly constitute a demand for Jesus to ‘do his stuff’ there in his home town. But it may also the suspicion that, although he was reputed to be a healer, he was sick himself. (Bock, NIVAC)
“…what we have heard that you did in Capernaum” – note, not ‘What you did,’ but, ‘What we have heard that you did.’ They do not believe, or at least, not fully and sincerely, cf Mk 6:5. In our own day, we may doubt well-attested facts, merely because we have not seen them with our own eyes. Some atheists say they would believe in God if (for example) they saw a clearly-written message in the clouds that said, “Here I am!” But in demanding absurd evidence they ignore the actual evidence.
Jesus’ accusation is reflected in Paul’s comment: ‘the Jews demand signs’ (1 Cor 1:22).
At any rate, this retort would amount to a challenge: ‘Show us. Prove it’. But they wouldn’t even give him a chance to do those same miracles in Nazareth, because they would drive him out!
Luke’s claim to have produced an ‘orderly account’ (Lk 1:3) is sometimes challenged on the ground that Jesus had not yet visited Capernaum at this stage. But an account can be ‘orderly’ without necessarily presenting events in chronological order. ‘In all likelihood, the synagogue scene of Lk 4:16-30 is placed forward in sequence to typify what Jesus’ Galilean ministry was like. We suspect this because in the scene there is a call for Jesus to reproduce what he had done in Capernaum at a time when, in Luke’s sequence, he had not yet been in Capernaum.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary). See also above, on v16.
Curiously, Garland thinks that ‘Jesus anticipates with prophetic foresight his hometown’s bitterness when they learn of his mighty works in Capernaum and refers to future, not previous, events.’ But Luke has made it clear that Jesus has already been ministering (and, presumably, performing miracles) around Galilee for some time.
They challenge Jesus to perform there what he has (allegedly) performed elsewhere. Note, however, that Jesus does not respond by saying, “Well then, if it’s miracles you want, it’s miracles I will give you.” As Ryken remarks, Jesus refuses to be known on our terms. He insists that we know him on his terms. He will not performed miracles on demand. Indeed, unbelief is an actual barrier to miracle-working (cf. Mk 6:5f).
Jesus refers, rather, to two incidents from long ago: one a simply act of kindness, the other a single miraculous healing (when others, more ‘deserving’, were not healed).
Ryken quotes David Gooding: ‘They did not believe him, that they admitted. But the fault was not theirs, but his, for not supplying adequate evidence. The cure was in his own hands. It was no good finding fault with them for not believing; they were prepared to believe if he provided them with sufficient evidence. It was up to him to provide it. They had heard that he had done many marvelous things in Capernaum. But that wasn’t enough; if he wanted them to believe his claim, he would have to prove it true by doing many more works like that in his own home town’
4:24 And he added, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 4:25 But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great famine over all the land. 4:26 Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 4:27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
“I tell you the truth” – lit, ‘Amen’. It gives emphasis to what follows.
“No prophet is accepted in his hometown” – Jesus answers one proverb, v23, with another. We might say, “Familiarity breeds contempt”.
(It is a curious fact that proverbial statements often have a more limited meaning than they appear to have, so that for every proverb, one with an opposite meaning can often be found.)
On opposition to God’s messengers, see Lk 11:49–52; 13:32–35; 20:10–12: Acts 7:51–53.
Jesus declines to perform any miracles in Nazareth on the basis of the general truth that familiarity breeds contempt, and those who knew him were prejudiced against him. Note, Jesus never performed miracles in order to satisfy people’s demands for proof. God has always had sound reasons for withholding, as well as for granting, miracles.
There is a general truth here that we do well to ponder. In our churches, do we overlook home-grown potential for leadership and other kinds of ministry?
Jesus gives two examples from long ago. Both were Gentiles. One was a poor woman, the other a wealthy leper. Both wee miraculously provided for, while the Israelites were passed over.
The days of Elijah and Elisha constituted a low point in Israel’s history (1 Kings 17–18; 2 Kings 5:1–14). Was Jesus making a deliberate comparison with his own day? But the most provocative aspect of Jesus’ words was that he put forward despised Gentiles, and not Jews, as examples of those who were favoured by God.
‘Both Sidon and Syria were traditional enemies of Israel, yet the Israelite prophets had used their miraculous power to benefit, in the one case, an obscure widow and her son and, in the other case, the commander of the enemy army.’ (France)
Elijah was succoured, not by one of the Israelite widows, but by a woman of Zarephath of Sidon, 1 Kings 17:7ff.
The notorious Jezebel came the same region as this woman (1 Kgs 16:31).
Naaman the Syrian – again, not a Jew, but a Gentile. 2 Kings 5.
‘Jesus mentions the socially weak (widows) and marginalized (lepers) here, but the main point is that non-Jews were the ones to accept two of the major signs prophets of the Old Testament. Sidon and Syria were among the particularly despised areas. Jesus’ point: Nazareth will not receive him, but non-Jews will.’ (NT Background Commentary)
‘Jesus recalls the history of Israel in the period of Elijah and Elisha. (1 Kings 17-18; 2 Kings 5:1-14) The history lesson is a warning. That period was a low point in the nation’s life, when rejection of God was at an all-time high and idolatry and unfaithfulness ran rampant. So God moved his works of mercy outside the nation into Gentile regions, as only a widow in Sidon and Naaman the Syrian experienced God’s healing. The price of rejecting God’s message is severe: mercy moves on to other locales. It is quite risky to walk away from God’s offer of deliverance. This exchange reveals the basic challenge of Jesus’ ministry: the choice he presents carries high stakes.’ (IVP Commentary)
Jesus mentions these two OT episodes to show that the Jews must not think themselves to be invincible in the matter of divine grace: God will show favour to whom he pleases, Jew or Gentile; and the Gentile can often put the Jew to shame in this matter of faith. Isaiah’s word was true for the widow and the leper – and they were Gentiles!
Garland points out that ‘the two illustrations link Jesus’ ministry with that of Elijah and Elisha. Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s slave (7:1–10) recalls Elisha’s encounter with Naaman, and his raising of the son of the widow of Nain from the dead (7:11–17) recalls Elijah’s raising of the son of the widow of Zarephath.’
On the one hand, the gospel was extended to the Gentiles as a result of its rejection by the Jews (Lk 24:47; Acts 13:46). But, on the other hand, this extension was no afterthought. Both groups fall within God’s eternal plan of salvation, as Eph 1:4f declares.
God’s love does not recognise national barriers, and does not favour any age, sex, or social class. See Isa 45:22; Jn 3:16; 4:42; 1 Tim 4:10; 1 Jn 4:14.
‘By identifying Gentiles as models of faith in a sermon to Jews, Jesus made the revolutionary point that salvation is not limited for Jews, but also includes Gentiles. The sermon in Nazareth effectively anchors the Gentile mission, not in the later conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10), as often supposed, but in the initial proclamation of the gospel by Jesus himself. The inaugural sermon in Nazareth sets forth major theological and missional themes contained in Luke-Acts, and the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth over “the Gentile question” in the Gospel sets the stage for Paul’s rejection on the same grounds in Acts.’ (Edwards)
France points out that hints of the universality of Jesus’ mission have already been found in Lk 2:31f. ‘Here in Lk 4:25–27 that universality is underlined in a most provocative way. Luke’s Gospel is the enemy of parochialism.’
Garland notes that ‘the issue of Gentiles being included as recipients of God’s grace (and their inclusion in the people of God) will be one of the major sources of difficulties for Jesus’ apostles in their mission beyond Judea and Galilee.’
‘That which especially exasperated them was that he intimated some kindness God had in reserve for the Gentiles, which the Jews could by no means bear the thoughts of, Acts 22:21. Their pious ancestors pleased themselves with the hopes of adding the Gentiles to the church (witness many of David’s psalms and Isaiah’s prophecies); but this degenerate race, when they had forfeited the covenant themselves, hated to think that any others should be taken in.’ (MHC)
Here, then, is an echo of Jesus’ earlier warning: ‘Do not presume to say, “We have Abraham as our father”‘ (Lk 3:8).
4:28 When they heard this, all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage. 4:29 They got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 4:30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.
When they heard this – People love the truth when it agrees with them and affirms them. But they hate it when it challenges and contradicts them.
(f) The attack. All the people in the synagogue were filled with rage – Thus immediately fulfilling Jesus’ words about a prophet not being welcome in his own country! They could not tolerate Jesus comparing himself to the prophets of old; nor could they endure his appeal to God’s dealings with the Gentiles. To think that they were less favoured than Phoenician widows and Syrian lepers! Paul’s statements, that God would give to the heathen the salvation which the Jews had despised, were treated with the same fury, Acts 13:46,50; 22:21-22. ‘Their pious ancestors pleased themselves with the hopes of adding the Gentiles to the church (witness many of David’s psalms and Isaiah’s prophecies); but this degenerate race, when they had forfeited the covenant themselves, hated to think that any others should be taken in.’ (Henry) How angry people become, when they are made to consider that God may be more merciful than they would like him to be! How furiously sin can burn against grace and truth!
They got up, forced him out of the town – There is, says Edwards, a sense of ritual about this act of throwing Jesus out of the town. Cf. Lev 14:40f, 45; 2 Chron 33:15; 1 King 21:13; Acts 7:58; 14:5f. ‘The phrase is a ritual anathema and a gauge of the outrage against Jesus.’
‘This rejection in Nazareth…sounds a theme throughout Acts that Christians did not voluntarily disassociate themselves from the Jewish synagogues across the Roman world. They were thrown out and persecuted.’ (Garland)
Expelled – by his own family! Nazareth was the birthplace of Jesus’ mother (Lk 1:26), and among its couple of hundred residents would have been a members of his own extended family. They seem to have been complicit, if not actually active, in him being expelled from the town. See also Mk 3:21, 31–35; 6:4.
So that they could thrown him down the cliff – ‘an ominous foretaste of what is to follow’ (France). Nazareth was built on the side of a hill, being surrounded on three sides by more elevated parts. The Jews took Jesus to a peak in order to throw him down the cliff. They probably intended then to stone him to death. This cliff, or precipice, has been identified as being situated on the west side of the present-day Church of the Annunciation.
No doubt they would have justified their hostility by saying that Jesus was a false prophet, to be utterly rejected, as taught in Deut 13:5f.
(g) The escape. He walked right through the crowd – It is not clear whether we should regard this as a miraculous deliverance, or that there there was something about Jesus’ presence that held the crowd back. What is clear is that the divinely appointed time for him to lay down his life had not yet come. Cf. Jn 7:30; 10:18.
He went on his way – never to return to Nazareth. Capernaum would now become his base (v31).
This whole episode has been seen as a commentary on the 3rd temptation. The people tried to put Jesus in a position such as Satan had suggested. But Jesus would not let them.
Ministry in Capernaum
A day in the life of… If the previous section can be viewed as presenting Jesus’ ‘mission statement’, the present passage can be seen as describing a typical day as the Lord begins to carry out his mission. As France observes, it presents ‘a wholesome balance of three elements: the supernatural (exorcism), the physical (healing), and the mental (teaching/proclamation).’ We might even call these three elements ‘mind, body, and spirit’ (but not in the sense meant in modern book shops!)
4:31 So he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he began to teach the people. 4:32 They were amazed at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.
He went down to Capernaum – A town situated on northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. With around 1,000 inhabitants it was larger town than Nazareth, and had a thriving fishing industry. It had its own purpose-built synagogue (Lk 7:5), whereas in many comparable villages and towns the meetings were held in adapted dwellings. It was the home of Peter, Andrew, James and John, and would now become the centre of Jesus’ activities, cf. Mt 4:13-16; 9:1; Mk 2:1.
The word ‘down’ is accurate, for Nazareth was situated up in the hill country, whereas Capernaum was below sea level.
According to Ryle, we learn here ‘how diligently we ought to persevere in well doing, notwithstanding discouragements.’ Thrust out of one place, our Lord moves to another, and patiently works on.
On the Sabbath – the first after he had called the disciples. This is the first of five occasions, recorded by Luke, when Jesus healed on the Sabbath (see Lk 4:38f.; 6:6ff.; 13:10ff.; 14:1ff.). As yet, there was no accusation of Sabbath-breaking, but such would soon follow, Lk 5:21; 6:2,7. The theme is obviously important to Luke.
His teaching – At the end of the passage there are further references to Jesus’ teaching ministry, v43f.
‘It is fashionable in some circles…to play down the importance of preaching in the church. It is claimed that the gospel is conveyed much less effectively by what we say, than by what we do and what we are. There is no avoiding the fact, however, that in these opening scenes of the ministry of Jesus the way God’s message ‘comes across’ is by words: one man speaks, other men hear.’ (Wilcock)
He cried out at the top of his voice - ‘A scream caused by the sudden contact of the demon with Jesus' (RWP).
"Ha!" - ‘A diabolic screech' (RWP).
As recorded by Luke, the demon voices its horror before Jesus confronts it. No doubt it has been provoked by his authoritative teaching. Evil cannot but be provoked and made uncomfortable in the presence of Jesus.
"Leave us alone" - lit. "What have you to do with us?" (ESV).
"Have you come to destroy us?" - Morris, Nolland and others say that this could (or should) be taken as a statement - "You have come..." There may be a hint here of the demon's awareness that Jesus has 'come' from another place, a hint that receives further confirmation in the title the demon ascribes to him - 'the Holy One of God'. Truly, 'the demons believe - and shudder'!
The demon's utterance is a significant admission of Jesus' authority over the unseen world.
'The demon recognized the “today” of Luke 4:21. God’s kingdom had come; thus the demons were being driven out (11:20; 10:17–18), and they knew that the abyss awaited them (Lk 8:31; cf. Rev 20:3, 9–10).' (Stein)
'While careful to assert that “the Bible speaks more about resisting the devil than it does about binding him,” Cymbala has been part of necessary exorcisms in the process of leading a church with a very complex and troubled population in the middle of Brooklyn. He tells one story of a Hispanic girl who came forward to the front of the church in a “daze.” Cymbala and those coming with him to pray felt instantly alerted. As soon as the name of Christ was mentioned, the small girl lunged for the pastor’s throat and “body-slammed Cymbala against the front edge of the platform.” At the same time, a “hideous voice from deep inside her began to scream, ‘You’ll never have her! She’s ours! Get away from her!’ ” Obscenities followed. In the name of Jesus, those praying with her addressed the spirits, and in a few minutes the girl was set free and now serves the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Her testimony has been a great encouragement to those coming to the church.'
"I know who you are - the Holy One of God" - The Devil and his agents know that Jesus is the Son of God, Jas 2:19. But they believe and tremble (witness the screech). But, of course, this is knowledge without faith, and such can be found amongst the sons of Adam too. It is possible to have a mind stored with biblical knowledge, and to be able to argue all the finer points of theology, and yet to be no better than this demon-possessed man.
'The reference to Jesus as “the Holy One of God” may reflect the belief that naming a spiritual foe granted mastery over it' (Edwards). Garland agrees: 'The ancient magical papyri assume that knowledge is power, and names were used as incantations because it was believed that knowing the name of the power or enemy gave one the upper hand in defeating them.' Yet Garland thinks it most likely that this is a simple acknowledgement of the demon's accurate, though perverted, knowledge.
Edwards remarks that 'demons recognize the power, purpose, and person of Jesus before mortals do.'
In fact, says Ryle, the demon's knowledge was 'unaccompanied by faith, or hope, or charity'. He asks: ‘Does our knowledge of sin make us hate it? Does out knowledge of Christ make us trust and love him? Does our knowledge of God's will make us strive to do it? Does our knowledge of the fruits of the Spirit make us labour to show them in our daily behaviour?'
Jesus rebuked the demon, indicating that it had no right to be troubling the man in the first place, and also confirming Jesus' lordship over it. There is no incantation, no magical charm, not even an appeal to God. Jesus acts by his own authority.
"Silence!" - See also v41. Why did Jesus silence the demons, especially when they seemed to have a better idea about who Jesus was than any of those around them? Remember too that Satan was quoting Scripture to Jesus in the third temptation! This command may be seen as (a) the beginning of Jesus refusal to accept premature recognition of who he is; (b) a refusal to accept the testimony of an evil spirit, lest it be thought that they and he were in league. As Ryken succinctly puts it: 'if what the demons said happened to be true, Jesus did not want them to be the ones saying it.' It has been said that the devil is a better theologian than any of us, but he's still the devil.
Athanasius: 'The Lord himself silenced them and forbade them to speak. He did this to keep them from sowing their own wickedness in the midst of the truth. He also wished us to get used to never listening to them even though they seem to speak the truth.'
"Come out of him!" - 'Notice Luke’s emphasis on the simple authority of Jesus, which contrasts with the more elaborate exorcistic techniques and magical formulae used by some of his contemporaries. Because of who Jesus is, a word of command is enough.' (France) We might compare also the methods of some modern practitioners, who require special conditions in their healing services in order to achieve their (real or apparent) success.
'In those days people who wanted to gain power over the darkness would resort to all kinds of magic spells, religious incantations, bizarre rituals, and other desperate forms of hocuspocus. But Jesus had true spiritual authority. All he had to do was say the word, and out the demon came.' (Ryken)
When Christ commands, demons must obey. ‘The power of demons is very considerable; but the power of Christ is greater. He ‘gagged' a demon with a single word.' Jesus silenced the demon ‘because his words about Jesus' divine identity were untimely, inappropriate, and inflammatory.'
'He had been till then the strong one in the man, but now one stronger than he was in the field against him, and so, constrained by the superior might of him who came to "destroy the works of the devil", the evil spirit obeyed.' (Taylor)
The demon threw the man down in their midst - Satan promises much, but delivers nothing that is not destructive to our bodies and souls. When he has finished with a man, he throws him away.
'He did all the mischief he could, because he knew that it was his last opportunity.' (Taylor)
Taylor observes that 'when an ill-disposed tenant is compelled to leave the house in which he has dwelt, he frequently shows his spite by doing damage to the premises, and so in this case.' But on this occasion it was...
...without injuring him - a typical Lukan comment (not found in Mark).
4:36 They were all amazed and began to say to one another, “What’s happening here? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 4:37 So the news about him spread into all areas of the region.
"What's happening here?" - lit. 'What is this word (logos)?' This can be understood as 'teaching', 'power', or even 'thing'. In any case, wonderment is being expression over who Jesus is and what he is doing. As Evans remarks: 'When the people ask [this question], the reader knows, for the reader has been told of Jesus’ conception through the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35), his anointing with the Holy Spirit at his baptism (Lk 3:22), his filling with the Holy Spirit during his successful encounter with the devil (Lk 4:1), and his own announcement at Nazareth that the Holy Spirit was upon him (Lk 4:18).'
"Authority and power" - 'The reader remembers that the devil had promised an exousia. The fact that Jesus has authority over the minions of that counter-kingdom of the devil reveals that he is the emissary of the “kingdom of God,” (Lk 4:43), the “Stronger One” prophesied by John (Lk 3:16). This same authority he will give, in turn, to those he sends out as his prophetic emissaries (see Luke 9:1; 10:19).' (L.T. Johnson)
He commands...they come out! - The use of the present, rather than the aorist, tense, suggests a repeated activity, not a one-off. Garland quotes Lutz as saying that Luke does not intend this episode 'as an account of Jesus’ expulsion of a demon from a possessed man in the Jewish assembly but rather as a demonstration of the cosmic authority and power which Jesus embodies over the whole demonic realm and its impure schemes.' So much for the devil's claim to have authority over all the kingdoms of the world (Lk 4:5f).
"Teaching...authority...evil spirits" (NIV) - The link between the casting out of demons and the preaching of the word is notable, Mt 10:8; Lk 4:36. Faithful teaching of God's word will not only provoke evil spirits, but will also prove to be their downfall. The ministry of the seventy, Lk 10:1ff, was a ministry of the Gospel before which demonic forces had to retreat. In the face of opposition by those practicing demonic magic, Timothy is urged to ‘preach the word', 2 Tim 3:6-4:1.
Jesus demonstrated his authority both by his gracious words, v32, and his powerful actions. Jesus' approach to the demonised did not blindly follow that of his Jewish contemporaries. They used magical means to try to prevent or cure demonisation (avoidance of certain places or numbers, use of amulets or incantations). But Christ commanded them with a simple word, with authority and power. There are, of course, many such accounts miraculous deliverance in the NT, and a consideration of these should remind us that Christ is the appointed conqueror of every form of evil that human sin has brought into the world. ‘Christ is the universal physician to whom all the children of Adam must repair, if they would be made whole' (Ryle).
News about him spread throughout the surrounding area - the word used here (from which we get our word ‘echo') was used for the roar of waves beating on the shore, and draws a vivid picture of the spreading fame of Jesus as a result of what happened here in Capernaum.
4:38 After Jesus left the synagogue, he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 4:39 So he stood over her, commanded the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.
Lk 4:38–43 = Mk 1:29–38
Many interpreters agree that this account is based on the reminiscences of Peter. (The earlier episode, in Nazareth, might equally have Mary, or another member of Jesus' family, as its source). L.T. Johnson notes the change from 'the leisurely presentation of Jesus’ programmatic preaching in Nazareth' to 'this rapid series of vignettes' without noting that the differences might have something to do with the sources!
He entered Simon's house - This is the first mention of Simon Peter in this Gospel. It would seem that Luke has created an inclusio, marking Simon Peter out as the principal eyewitness source. The inclusio ends with the last mention of Peter in Lk 24:34.
Bauckham observes that Mark has his own Petrine inclusio. But 'the references to Peter as the first disciple to be named in Luke (Lk 4:38) and the last to be named (Lk 24:34) are not the same as Mark’s, and so it is not as though the pattern in Mark has reappeared in Luke simply because of Luke’s incorporation of Mark’s material.'
Simon has not yet been called to be a disciple (cf. Lk 5:1–11; 6:12–16), but there is evidently some 'back story' to that calling. It may well be that Jesus stayed at Simon's house while he was based in Capernaum.
Simon's mother-in-law - Note Paul's ref. to Peter's wife, 1 Cor 9:5.
Suffering from a high fever - Greek medical writers such as Galen referred to fevers as either ‘small' or ‘great'. Luke the physician refers to this illness as an example of the latter, using Galen's terminology.
'Suffering from' is literally 'gripped by', and it is one of several hints of a demonic causation (Garland). At any rate, it links with Jesus self-proclaimed mission to 'release the oppressed' (Lk 4:18; cf. Lk 13:16).
Edwards thinks that the condition may have been malaria - a common disease in low-lying, water-bound Capernaum. The wording that Jesus uses in healing the woman suggests that it may have been demon-induced.
He...commanded the fever - Or 'rebuked' the fever. This is the only occasion on which Jesus addresses the disease, and not the sufferer. It is the kind of language normally used for the casting out of demons. It may be, then, that her illness had been caused by a demon (cf. Lk 13:16), but it is also possible that this is a case of personification. Jesus addresses the storm using similar language, Lk 8:24.
Bock makes the brief but telling point that in demonstrating his authority over disease, Jesus demonstrates his authority over life itself.
She got up at once and began to wait on them - demonstrating the immediacy and completeness of the miracle, since a high fever would normally leave the patient very weak. We probably also have here a reflection of her hospitable character. Furthermore, 'In Luke, serving at a meal becomes a “paradigm for Christian service in general” (see 8:3; 10:40; 17:8; 22:26–27)' (Garland).
The healing miracles of Christ were instantaneous and complete. So in the case of Peter's mother-in-law, Lk 4:38-39; the man with leprosy, Lk 5:13; the paralysed man, Lk 5:17-26; the man with the withered hand, Lk 6:6-11; the wild demoniac, Lk 8:26-39; the woman who touched Jesus' garment, Lk 8:43-48; and Jairus' daughter, Lk 8:40-56.
4:40 As the sun was setting, all those who had any relatives sick with various diseases brought them to Jesus. He placed his hands on every one of them and healed them. 4:41 Demons also came out of many, crying out, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.
When the sun was setting - not only was it cooler, but at the end of the sabbath it was not regarded as work to carry a sick person, cf. Jn 5:10. A new day began when three stars could be seen in the darkening sky. The wording indicates the crowd's impatience to bring the patients to Jesus. The reason for this sudden surge of interest was no doubt the spread of the news about the healing of the demoniac and of Peter's mother-in-law.
Diseases...demons - Luke distinguishes between the two. He does not attribute all disease to demonic activity. Indeed, as Bock says, 'the New Testament suggests that one can distinguish between possession and sickness (Mt 4:24; Lk 4:40–41; 7:21; 9:1; 13:32), yet some overlap in terms of external manifestations can exist (Lk 8:29; 9:39; 11:14; 13:11, 16).'
- decisive - his healings were instantaneous and complete (with rare exceptions)
- selective - he did not heal everyone (if he did, no-one would ever die!)
- instructive - they point to his person and mission (as authenticating 'signs')
- predictive - of the eternal life that would be purchased by him through the cross
He healed them - ‘I would...make a broad distinction between two methods of healing: not the obvious distinction between the miraculous and the medical, but one which lies deeper than that. Where his object is to be known as the Healer, he works immediately; such cures are, as it were, for the shop-window - the kind of success story which establishes the reputation of a great surgeon or physician. I see no reason why in some circumstances today Jesus may not choose to work in this was and for this purpose. But where he is already known, he may well say to the trusting patient: "I could of course give you immediate relief; but I would rather take the opportunity to do something more far-reaching, which will be to your greater benefit in the long run. You will find it more protracted and perhaps more painful, and you may not understand what I am doing, because I may be treating disorders of which you yourself are unaware." He will then set to work to deal with the needs of the whole person, rather than with the obvious needs only. He may aim at a calming of spirit, or a strengthening of courage, or a clarifying of vision, as more important objectives than what we would call healing. Indeed the latter may not be experienced at all in this life, but only at the final "saving and raising" of the sick, when their mortal nature puts on immortality.' (Jas 5:15) (Wilcock).
Bock (IVPNTC) notes that the possibility of miracles has been regarded with some scepticism since the days of the Enlightenment. Yet the most difficult of all the miracles - Jesus' resurrection - is also the best-attested. If we can believe that that great event actually occurred, then we should have no problem, in principle, in accepting others.
Demons came out of many -
They knew - pluperfect, lit. 'they had known all along' (Garland).
"You are the Son of God!" - 'Note the contrast with 4:1–13. There, Satan tried unsuccessfully to get Jesus, as the “Son of God,” to misuse his power. Here, that power is deployed to good effect against spiritual evil, and the demons recognize his authority as the “Son of God” (4:41).' (France)
Some commentators have suggested that this is an attempt by the demon to gain some kind of control over Jesus by naming him. But, as Stein says, Luke gives no indication of this, and so it might be better to interpret this in line with the teaching of James, that 'even the demons believe', as supernatural, though evil, beings.
Would not allow them to speak - God's angel had identified Jesus as the Son of God (Lk 1:32,35), as had God himself (Lk 3:22). But Jesus would not receive testimony from the demons, for the very reason they were eager to give it - because they and Jesus would seem to be in league, as his enemies indeed alleged, Mt 8:4; 12:24.
...because they knew that he was the Christ - It would take the disciples much longer to reach the same conclusion! Another reason for Jesus refusing to allow the demons to testify him may be connected to the so-called 'Messianic secret', and the possibility that widespread recognition of Jesus as the Christ might trigger a nationalist revolt against the Romans. Edwards notes that the language of 'son of God' and of 'Messiah' had, for many, political and military connotations. People need to learn that Jesus is 'the Servant of the Lord'. 'The profile of the righteous, even suffering, Servant (Isa 52:13–53:12) is more effective in evoking faith than a potentate would be in coercing it. The model of the Servant is essential to understanding the divine sonship of Jesus. Since that role is not fulfilled until the cross of Golgotha, all utterances about Jesus’ nature and mission are premature until then.' (Edwards)
The view of Evans, that in Mark 'the idea is that Jesus’ messianic identity is to be kept a secret until Easter, when it will be more correctly understood' makes good sense.
4:42 The next morning Jesus departed and went to a deserted place. Yet the crowds were seeking him, and they came to him and tried to keep him from leaving them. 4:43 But Jesus said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, for that is what I was sent to do.” 4:44 So he continued to preach in the synagogues of Judea.
At daybreak - According to Mk 1:35, very early in the morning, while it was still dark. Mark also tells us that his purpose was to pray.
Jesus departed and went to a deserted place -
'It was nearly impossible to find a place to be alone in ancient towns, with their narrow streets and sometimes (often in poorer places like Egypt) twenty people living in the common one-room houses. Most blocks in Capernaum consisted of four homes facing a common courtyard.' (IVPBBC)
They...tried to keep him from leaving them - No doubt, they had more miracles for him to do. As Ryken wryly puts it: 'With his power at their disposal, they would never need anything ever again. He could be their teacher, their counselor, and their doctor all rolled into one.'
But, as Wright suggests, the most important reason Jesus left Capernaum was so he could take the message of God's kingdom to other places. And he had to stay one step ahead of the authorities, who would soon be on his trail.
"I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns too" - Lit. the 'reign' (βασιλεία) of God. This is the first mention of the kingdom of God in this Gospel. 'The expression summarizes the hopes and dreams of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries who longed for the fulfillment of the OT prophecies which spoke of a return of a golden era to Israel.' (Evans)
The reference to 'good news' links back, of course, to Jesus' mission statement in v18.
Stein summarises: 'The term “kingdom” in the Bible usually refers to the rule of someone rather than the territory controlled (cf. Lk 19:12, 15; 23:42). Understood this way, God’s kingdom was proclaimed by Jesus and Luke as a present reality (Lk 11:14–22; 16:16; 17:20–21) as well as a future hope (Lk 11:2; 13:22–30; 22:16–18). The alternatives of either a “realized” understanding of God’s kingdom (the kingdom already has come) or a “consistent” understanding (the kingdom is still entirely in the future) are therefore unnecessary. God’s kingdom is both present and future. It already has been realized in fulfillment of the OT promises but awaits the final consummation when Jesus returns.'
France points out that Jesus was not willing to be sidetracked from his ministry of proclaiming the good news by popular demands for more miracles.
For Bock (IVPNTC), it is important that we see Jesus' miracles as illustrations of an underlying reality. That reality is, of course, 'the good news of the kingdom of God'. This comes across with particular clarity in Lk 5:1-11, when the miraculous catch of fish is seen as a picture of what the disciples are being called to be (fishers of men), and in Lk 11:20, which links the driving out of demons with the coming of God's kingdom.
Putting it slightly differently, Bock reminds us that the miracles are 'signs', pointing away from themselves: 'Numerous passages show Jesus discouraging people from focusing too much on his miraculous activity (Mt 12:39; Mk 8:12; Jn 6:26–27). Sometimes he performs a miracle and asks that it not be divulged (Lk 8:56). Why does he do this? Possibly because he knows the meaning of the miracle will be lost if people focus on the event itself. In the rush to take and experience what Jesus has to offer, people can easily forget the One all the miracles point to.'
But Jesus' miracles also unveil 'the deep cosmic struggle between the forces of evil and Jesus. If we ask what the miracles show, it is Jesus’ sweeping authority...The miracles pull back a curtain, as it were, so we can glimpse the behind-the-scenes battle within creation.' (Bock)
"That is why I was sent" - there is a Johannine ring to this statement. See also Mt 8:34. The verb should be understood as a 'divine passive' (Stein), indicating Jesus' awareness that he had been sent by God, from heaven. It also hints at his pre-existence. In Lk 7:20, Jesus answers the question about whether he was 'the one who was to come' by referring to his miracles.
For an indication of the great amount of work done in this period, see Mk 1:39.
Judea - This reference to 'Judea' is unexpected, since Luke has placed Jesus firmly in Galilee, and based in Capernaum. But although Luke does sometimes refer to Judea in the more proper and limited sense of the southern area around Jerusalem (Lk 2:4), he also uses it in reference to the whole of Palestine (as in Lk 23:5). Blomberg asks: 'Did Jesus follow his departure from Capernaum with a preaching tour of Galilee or Judea (Mk 1:39; Lk 4:44)? Probably only Galilee; Luke in several places used the term "Judea" to refer to all of Israel as the "land of the Jews" (cf. Lk 1:5; 6:17; 7:17; 23:5; Acts 2:9; 10:37).' (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd ed., p191)
At any rate, in the very next verse (Lk 5:1) we find Jesus in Galilee.