The Temptation of Jesus, 1-13

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.

Lk 4:1–13 = Mt 4:1–11; Mk 1:12,13

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)

Jesus Tempted

  1. Appetite: the desire to enjoy things, Mt 4:2ff; Lk 4:2ff.
  2. Ambition: the desire to achieve things, Mt 4:5f; Lk 4:5ff.
  3. 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)

The Temptation of Jesus Is Not About Your  Battle With Sin

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, 14-15

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.

The primacy of the word.  Edwards observes that we moderns are often more impressed by actions than by words.  But an action – even a good deed or a miracle – can be misunderstood.  ‘A word is capable of greater precision and penetration than any other symbol of reality. God created all things by the word, brought Israel into existence and sustained it through the prophetic word, and through Jesus, who both is the Word of God and declares the word of God, God offers salvation to all.’

Hendriksen asks: ‘What was it that made Jesus’ teaching so popular’  Answer: it was ‘lively, authoritative, well-organized, practical, interesting, true. Cf. Matt. 7:28, 29.’

Our Lord honoured the public means of grace.  Ryle remarks on the honour which our Lord gave to the public means of grace. The main teachers in those days were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, and we cannot suppose that there was a great deal of the Holy Spirit’s presence under such teaching. And yet the Lord graced the synagogue and its services with his presence and ministry. We are reminded by his behaviour in this respect that we are not lightly to forsake any worshipping community which professes to respect the name and praise and book of God. See Deut 12:5; Ps 84:1-4; 95:2-7; 122:1-4; Isa 37:1; Mt 18:20; Lk 2:36-37; 24:52-53; Heb 10:25.

Rejection at Nazareth, 16-30

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 (Mt 13:54-58) and Mark (Mk 6:1-6), 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.

Edwards comments on the function of synagogues:

‘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.’

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).

On attending an imperfect place of worship

‘We need not doubt that there is a practical lesson for us in this part of our Lord’s conduct. He would have us know that we are not lightly to forsake any assembly of worshippers, which professes to respect the name, the day, and the book of God. There may be many things in such an assembly which might be done better. There may be a want of fulness, clearness, and distinctness in the doctrine preached. There may be a lack of unction and devoutness in the manner in which the worship is conducted. But so long as no positive error is taught, and there is no choice between worshipping with such an assembly, and having no public worship at all, it becomes a Christian to think much before he stays away. If there be but two or three in the congregation who meet in the name of Jesus, there is a special blessing promised. But there is no like blessing promised to him who tarries at home.’ (Ryle)

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 unrolled the scroll – Luke does not use the word for ‘open’, but rather one which describes how scrolls were actually handled.

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.

To proclaim good news to the poor – 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)!

Political? Social? Spiritual?
Luke 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.”

A number of interpreters regard Jesus’ teaching as promoting a ‘social transformation’ approach to mission.

Simon Ponsonby (God Inside Out) represents the view that, while our Lord’s teaching here by no means excludes  the meeting of spiritual needs, there is also a this-worldly emphasis on the meeting of social needs:

‘We must avoid over-spiritualising these verses, reading them through an evangelical lens, making them only speak in eternal and spiritual terms of spiritual poverty, spiritual blindness, spiritual oppression and spiritual imprisonment, from which we are set free by the preaching of the spiritual gospel.  crtainly there is this spiritual evangelical tone here, but there is also a more down-to-earth, practical sense, seen when Jesus actually physically healed the blind, fed the hungry, and sent the poor and the outcast away rejoicing.’

While this is not entirely wide of the mark, it is to be noted that our Lord stresses proclamation.  As DeYoung and Gilbert (What Is the Mission of the Church? pp. 37-38) observe:

‘The Spirit of the Lord, resting upon Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, would anoint him to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. With the exception of “to set at liberty the oppressed”,…these are all words that point to speaking. While it’s certainly true that Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to the blind (as pointers to his deity, signs of the kingdom’s in-breaking, and expressions of his compassion), the messianic mission statement in Luke 4 highlights the announcement of good news. If Luke 4 sets the tone for the mission of the church, then the center of the church’s mission should be the preaching of the gospel.’

Regarding the meaning of ‘poor’ in this context, Stein maintains that

‘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.’

Cf. Mt 11:5.

Johnson 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.’

DeYoung and Gilbert also understand the reference to ‘the poor’ to carry this wider meaning.  In support, they state (among other things) that

1. In Isa 61:1f, from the quotation is taken, ‘the poor’ are not just the economically poor:

‘they are the humble poor, the mournful ones who trust in the Lord and wait for their promised “oil of gladness” and their “garment of praise” (Isa. 61: 3).’

2. Similarly, the Greek word ptochos can refer to both literal and figurative poverty:

‘Of the ten uses of ptōchos in Luke, seven should be taken as literal poverty (Lk 14: 13, 21; 16: 20, 22; 18: 22; 19: 8; 21: 3), while three may be figurative (4: 18; 6: 20; 7: 22). Elsewhere in the New Testament, Revelation 3: 17 is a clear instance where ptōchos should be taken figuratively. The church in Laodicea thought themselves rich (and they were, materially), but on a deeper spiritual level they were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”’

3. If the reference to ‘the poor’ is to be taken literally, it follows that ‘the captives’, ‘the blind’ and ‘the oppressed’ should be taken literally, too.  But there is no instance in the Gospels of Jesus setting a literal prisoner free (cp. Lk 7:18-23).  But if we agree that spiritual bondage is meant, then we should also be able to agree that spiritual poverty is the primary meaning.  Of course, our Lord did heal those who were literally blind; but even these healings were intended to point to the condition of spiritual blindness and its remedy.

‘Jesus’ hearers probably assumed that he was announcing some kind of political manifesto; a call to rid the nation of its Roman oppressors.  Proponents of ‘liberation theology’ often look to this text to support a similar view today.  Others think that our Lord was announcing some kind of social programme for the poor and hungry.  But although Jesus does care about such things, they are not his primary concern.  He did not come to start a political movement.  His ministry is not to the body, first and foremost, but to the soul.  He told his followers to store up treasure in heaven, rather than on earth.  ‘The best guide to how Luke understood [this prophecy] is his following record of Jesus’s actual ministry, where the focus falls on physical and spiritual deliverance of the sick and possessed, and on giving hope to the hopeless and a voice to the voiceless, rather than on a concrete attempt to reform the social or political system. But the values here expressed have provided an important incentive to radical Christian sociopolitical involvement in subsequent generations.’ (France)

‘He has come to free the physically infirm, such as the blind (Lk 4:18) and the leprous (Lk 4:27; cf. Lk 7:21; 9:6). He helps the materially poor, like the widow in Elijah’s day (Lk 4:25–26; cf. 6:20–25, 30–38). Yet the spiritually poor are primarily in view—people broken and grieved by misery and poverty, oppression and injustice, suffering and death, national apostasy and personal sin, who in their extremity cry out to God to bring forth justice, bestow his mercy, and establish his kingdom (Matt. 5:3–10). Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty (Mark 2:5, 10, 17; 10:45; Luke 7:48–49; 19:10).’ (J. Knox Chamblin, in EDBT, art. ‘Gospel’)

We should avoid polarisation, and affirm that both spiritual and social are meant.  Our Lord pronounced forgiveness of sins and showed compassion for the poor and the sick.  Note the wording of the Beatitudes, where in Luke Jesus pronounces a blessing on ‘you poor’, and in Matthew the blessing is for ‘the poor in spirit’.  In the present passage, the word translated ‘release’ is the one normally used in this Gospel for ‘forgiveness’.

‘The salvation in view is represented with Jubilee imagery, but is no call for an implementation of Jubilee legislation. Jubilee release is not spiritualized into forgiveness of sins, but neither can it be resolved into a program of social reform. It encompasses spiritual restoration, moral transformation, rescue from demonic oppression, and release from illness and disability.’ (Nolland, WBC)

Although Jesus did not come primarily as a social reformer, we should not think that social reform is excluded from his message and ministry.  As Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God) says, he expected his followers to live out the Jubilee principle in their lives, forgiving debts as well as sins, and generously sharing their possession, Acts 4:34 w Deut 15:4.

“Release for the captives” – ‘Release’ = ‘aphesis’.  Isa 61:1-2a and isa 58:6 are probably combined here in the quotation because they have this word in common.  The same word occurs a little later (‘to proclaim release to the captives’) and, elsewhere in Luke, to describe release (forgiveness) from sins.  The same word occurs frequently in Lev 25:8-55 (LXX) in the context of the Jubilee Year – a year of social and economic ‘release’.

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).

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.

The reading actually includes elements drawn from other OT scriptures – Isa 58:6 and Lev 25:10.  Bailey says that whereas passages from the Torah had to be read as written, others could be adapted by including sections from other, related, texts.

An incomplete quotation?
Luke 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.”

Why does the quotation finish at this point?  Why did Jesus not include the words ‘…and the day of vengeance of our God’ (Isa 61:2)?

Richard Rohr (The Divine Dance) takes this as evidence that our Lord deliberately subverted such negative, punitive aspects of Old Testament teaching.

A more developed form of this argument is given by Derek Flood (Disarming Scripture).  Flood thinks that it was the omission of the ‘vengeance’ part of the quotation that led to the negative reaction of his hearers, who would have been longing for Jesus to say something about the overthrow of their Roman oppressors.  This, it has to be said, is a rather dubious attempt at mind-reading.

According to the Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament:

‘The omission of Isa. 61:2b probably is motivated by Luke’s intention to highlight dekton (“favor”) as the final word of his scriptural quotation. This is confirmed by the function of dektos in the discussion that follows (Lk 4:24). The suggestion [by Fitzmyer] that Isa 61:2b is omitted because Luke wanted to downplay the theme of judgment is unlikely in light of its appearance already in Lk 2:34–35; 3:7–17.’

Given Jesus’ unwavering regard for the Scriptures, it is better simply to say that the words were omitted because were not relevant to his ministry at that time.  His was a ministry of grace, not of condemnation.

Garland agrees that

‘The effect of the omission is that the emphasis falls on the year of release, not vengeance.’

But the message of vengeance is not shunned (see Lk 21:22).  Garland continues:

‘It is more likely that Luke intends to present the outset of Jesus’ ministry as one marked by grace and release. John stridently harangued the crowd, who all had better repent or face a fiery judgment. By contrast, Jesus heralds that now is the time when God’s long-awaited promises are being fulfilled. Now is the time of salvation when God is acting to redeem his people.’

According to the Holman Apologetics Commentary:

‘It seems likely that Jesus left out the part about judgment because the time when he will execute judgment is not tied to the phase of his ministry he was initiating, but will be a part of his later return (Heb 9:27). Jesus will eventually fulfill both aspects of Isaiah’s message, but the stress at this time was Jesus’ identity and the fact that the promise of God was fulfilled in Jesus’ mission as the Servant.’


‘The day of vengeance’ would have been associated in Jewish minds with God’s judgement of the Gentiles.  But Jesus wishes to emphasise that God’s favour extends to the Gentiles themselves.

This line of interpretation is consistent with Jn 3:17f –

‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him.  The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.’ (My emphasis)

The fact is that Jesus did complete the quotation.  He did so as he approaches Jerusalem near the conclusion of his ministry:

Lk 21:20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21:21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Those who are inside the city must depart. Those who are out in the country must not enter it, 21:22 because these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.”



‘The one metaphor that dominates Jesus’ declaration of fulfillment here is release. The picture of Jubilee, which foresees a total release from all enemies and debt, wonderfully describes the essence of salvation. The books are wiped clean; all legal obligations are removed through the grace Jesus provides. In addition, there is a new way of seeing, so that life from the old perspective is now appreciated as darkness and blindness. One needs only to look at Jesus’ compassionate ministry through miracles to see the sense of release that so many experienced from what he did. These miracles, as we shall argue shortly, are an audio-visual of deeper realities that are at the center of his work.’ (Bock, NIVAC)

Ryken notes that the word translated ‘release’ is also used by Luke for ‘forgiveness’ (Luke 1:77; 5:20–24; 7:47–49; 24:47).  This, he comments, is ‘the most liberating, emancipating release of all: freedom from guilt through the forgiveness of sins. There is no greater captivity than bondage to sin. It imprisons the mind, enslaves the heart, and incarcerates the soul. If that is what sin does, then what Jesus did on the cross is the world’s greatest deliverance. By dying for our sins, Jesus paid the debt that we owed to God and thereby freed us from our captivity to sin and guilt.’

For the needy

The gospel is particularly suited to the poor, the needy, the dependent and the vulnerable.  ‘Independent, well-to-do people often have a false sense of security about life, as if it is really within their control. Our culture tells people to take control of their own lives—as if they can grab life by the reins and steer their own way. The poor, however, live under no such delusions and are usually better prepared to turn toward God.’ (Bock, NIVAC)

‘Let us take care that we know for ourselves in what light we ought chiefly to regard Christ. It is right and good to reverence Him as very God. It is well to know Him as Head over all things—the mighty Prophet—the Judge of all—the King of kings. But we must not rest here, if we hope to be saved. We must know Jesus as the Friend of the poor in spirit, the Physician of the diseased heart, the deliverer of the soul in bondage. These are the principal offices He came on earth to fulfil. It is in this light we must learn to know Him, and to know Him by inward experience, as well as by the hearing of the ear. Without such knowledge we shall die in our sins.’ (Ryle)

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.

As Ian Paul comments,

‘Luke is presenting Jesus as a good, observant Jew, just as he has presented earlier characters in a similar way, and he includes positive notes of the acceptance of Jesus teaching in this episode, as well as the rejected; Luke continues to be a ‘both/and’ rather than an ‘either/or’ gospel.’

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)

Good news!

‘The first word of the gospel is thus not a moral command or obligation to work harder and do more, but a proclamation of what God in grace has already done for the world in Jesus Christ. It is good news!’ (Edwards)

‘This is why,’ (writes Ryken) ‘Jesus told the people who were gathered at the synagogue in Nazareth that day that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:21). They did not see any prisoners gain their freedom or any blind people recover their sight. But they did hear Jesus preach the gospel, and when they heard it, Isaiah’s prophecy came true. Salvation had come by the proclamation of God’s Word.’

At last!

Bock reminds us of some of the events which we might eagerly anticipate: graduation, marriage, a new job, a new home, the birth of a child, and so on.  Then, when the longed-for day arrives, there might be a sense of uncertainty: is this really it?  God had long promised deliverance to his people.  This very day, claims Jesus, the expectations of prophets such as Isaiah are being realised.  His words bring a moment of decision to his hearers.  Will they believe, or doubt?

Time to decide

Bock adds: ‘Jesus’ claim that “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” places both listeners and readers in the position of having to make a choice. No fence-sitting is possible. Jesus’ teaching is not some ethical instruction detached from his person. He is the promise of God. Either he brings God’s promise or he does not.’

‘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.

Who does he think he is?

As Stott (Basic Christianity, p33f) notes,

‘The most striking feature of the teaching of Jesus is that he was constantly talking about himself…This self-centredness of the teaching of Jesus immediately sets him apart from the other great religious teachers of the world. They tend to be self-effacing. He is self-advancing. They point people away from themselves, saying, ‘That is the truth, so far as I understand it; follow that.’ Jesus says, ‘I am the truth; follow me.’ No other religious founder who dared to say such a thing would be taken seriously.’

Jesus said:-

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35 (TNIV)
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12.
I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  John 11:25–26 (TNIV)
I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me … Matthew 11:28–29.

Stott continues:-

‘The great question to which the first phase of his teaching leads is, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ He refers back to figures from the distant past and makes the astonishing claim that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, that Moses wrote about him, that the Scriptures point to him, and that indeed in the three great divisions of the Old Testament—the Law, the Prophets and the Writings—there are things ‘concerning himself’.’ (Mark 8:29; John 8:56; 5:46; 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44)

Stein writes:

‘We already have had such reliable witnesses as a devout priest and his wife, the angel Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, the righteous Simeon, and prophets such as Anna and John the Baptist witness to Jesus’ person and role. Now, however, Jesus himself answered the question, “Who is this one?” (Lk 5:21; 7:49; 8:25; 9:9).’

Stein continues: ‘Luke’s Jesus is the promised Christ, i.e., the Anointed One (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38). He already has been described as the Christ, the Son of David in Luke 1:32–33, 69; 2:4, 11; 3:31. His anointing by the Spirit at his baptism (3:22), his being led by the Spirit (4:1) in a victorious confrontation with Satan, and his returning in the power of the Spirit to Galilee (4:13) have all prepared us for this. But now Jesus himself confessed that he is the awaited Messiah (4:18–21). In 4:41 this emphasis appears again when Luke added to the demons’ confession of Jesus as God’s Son the title “the Christ” (cf. Mark 1:34).’

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)

An admiring, or hostile, reaction?

Garland thinks that the reaction is still positive at this point.

Others, however, think that this means that they bore witness against him, being hostile towards him from the start.  This would be consistent with the ‘rage’ recorded v28 (although less so with their ‘amazement’ at his ‘gracious words’).

Looking ahead to v28f, Flood says: ‘Based on this extreme reaction—one where they want to kill him—it’s hard to believe that they were complimenting him just moments before, and much more likely that the people’s initial reaction was one of shock and condemnation at Jesus’ message of grace without wrath. Everyone likes hearing a message of grace toward ourselves, but we don’t so much like hearing a message of grace for our enemies.’  (Disarming Scripture, p72)

‘Luke speaks of astonishment, but not admiration or appreciation. They wondered at his preaching, but they did not take it to heart’ (Morris).

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.)

Why does familiarity breed contempt?

‘Familiarity breeds contempt; and we are apt to think meanly of those whose conversation we have been accustomed to; and they will scarcely be duly honoured as prophets who were well known when they were in the rank of private men. That is most esteemed that is far-fetched and dear-bought, above what is home-bred, though really more excellent. This arises likewise from the envy which neighbours commonly have towards one another, so that they cannot endure to see him their superior whom awhile ago they took to be every way their inferior.’

In our own families

Ryken suggest that ‘this is one of the reasons why many Christians have trouble persuading their own family members to accept Jesus Christ. They speak to their families with a prophetic voice, exposing their sin and warning them about the coming judgment. Sometimes God calls us to this kind of ministry, but if so, we need to remember that prophets are without honor, especially at home. Often it is better simply to embrace our families with the love that we have found in Christ, taking the role of a caring servant rather than a confronting prophet.’

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.

John Stott told of the theological student who was asked, in an examination, to distinguish between Elijah and Elisha.  Unfortunately, this was not an area he had revised.  So he wrote: ‘Let us not quibble about the difference between these two great men of God.  Let us, rather, list the kings of Israel and Judah in their chronological order’!

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).

Are we prepared to confront, and be confronted?

As France says, this episode prompts us to ask whether, as hearers, we are prepared to be challenged with uncomfortable truths, and, if so, what our reaction might be.  And are preachers willing to risk a hostile response by challenging prejudice?’

Shock tactics

France quotes Tom Hovestal: ‘Jesus’ way of dealing with the self-righteous and religious people was instructive…Jesus seemed to specialize in using shock therapy with the religious. He was fearless in putting His divine finger on the faults of the faithful. He did not sugarcoat his message or attempt to burrow His way into religious hearts by tiptoeing around sin and cultivating a “positive mental attitude.” … He loved them enough to break through, often in shocking ways.’

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!

Why them, and not us?

‘According to [Jesus], the gospel was for people who were poor, blind, and captive. But as far as the people of Nazareth were concerned, they were none of these things. They were good, law-keeping, Bible-believing, worship-attending Jews. Who did Jesus think they were? And who did he think he was?’ (Ryken)

The prevailing attitude towards non-Jews was reflected in an inscription on the Temple: ‘Let no Gentile enter within the partition and barrier surrounding the Temple, and whosoever is caught shall be responsible for his subsequent death.’

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.

The gospel is attacked most violently by those closest to it

‘We should not be surprised if Jesus was rejected by outsiders and enemies. The unsettling truth of this story is that the greatest danger to the way of God in this world is posed by those who are closest to it. Jesus is rejected not in Sodom and Gomorrah, but in Nazareth. He is betrayed not by the devil, but by one of the Twelve whom he chose. He is crucified not in pagan Rome, but in the heart of Israel at Jerusalem. The rejection of Jesus repeats the rejection of God in the history of Israel, whose ultimate adversary was not Baal worship or foreign nations, but “my own people who are bent on turning from me, declares the Lord” (Hos 11:7). “[Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).’ (Edwards)

Not the first attempt to kill him, nor the last

‘This was not the first time that someone tried to kill Jesus, and it would not be the last. Herod tried to kill him when he was still a baby. When he was a man, many people plotted against Jesus, until finally they put him to death. What happened at Nazareth was a premonition of the cross. Already we can tell that something horrible will happen to this man. We see what kind of Savior he will become: someone “despised and rejected by men”.’ (Ryken) (Isa. 53:3).’

(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.

Who rejects whom?

We think of this passage as recording Nazareth’s rejection of Jesus.  But, as Edwards says, it also records Jesus’ rejection of Nazareth.  Readers and listeners should consider whether their present opportunity to follow Jesus might be their last opportunity.

Jesus sides with the outsiders

This is apparent in his choice of reading, and in his choice of examples.  The inclusion of the Gentiles had, as the prophets make clear, always been God’s plan.  Yet ‘on the ground’ (as it were) it was due to rejection of the gospel by the Jews.


Some people never get beyond the human Jesus.  Was he not the son of Joseph?  Can anything good come out of Nazareth (Jn 1:46)?  Were his life and teaching not scandalous, from beginning to end?  What possible reason do we have for placing Jesus above Buddha, or Krishna, or Mohammed?  Why on earth would the Creator of the universe choose this person, this time, this place, this message.  Why doesn’t God listen to our advice, and do things our way?

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”

Jesus’ person and ministry is unique.  And yet he sends us in his name and with his message.  Bock (NIVAC) notes the words of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:47 – “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”  To receive Christ’s disciples is to receive Christ; to hear their message is to hear him.

Preaching from this passage

We can regard this as Jesus’ ‘mission statement’.  There were many factors that should have led to a positive reception: (a) he came in the power of the Holy Spirit; (b) he came to a place where he was known and (presumably) respected (cf. Lk 2:52); (c) his audience had high expectations (cf. Lk 4:22); (d) he began with a positive, uplifting message.  But admiration soon turned to rejection.  Why?  (a) He had the ‘wrong’ idea about himself (who does he think he is??); (b) he had the ‘wrong’ idea about the objects of God’s favour (the needy, rather than the privileged).  All this leads us to consider who do we think Jesus is, and what we think his mission is today.

Ministry in Capernaum, 31-44

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.
Lk 4:31–37 = Mk 1:21–28[

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.

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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)

Amazing teaching
Not only was the Lord Jesus utterly removed from the conventionality of his times, but he was also remarkable for the originality of his instructions. He came to earth to make men acquainted with truths of which they had been till then entirely ignorant, as well as to show them the depth and importance of those which they professed to have received. He set before them the nature and attributes of God; and the duty of worshipping him in spirit and in truth. He gave a wide and far-reaching interpretation of the law to which they were so fond of alluding, and which they were so far from keeping. He unfolded to them the love of God as Father, and exhorted them first and before all things else to look to the condition of their hearts before him. He exposed the hollowness of mere outward service, and warned them against the hypocrisy of offering their prayers, or doing their righteousness to be seen of men. He exalted character above reputation; religion above ritual; substance above form, and reality above appearance. He emphasized the long-forgotten doctrine that " God requireth truth in the inward parts,'' and taught that only the pure in heart could see God, so that " except a man were born again he could not enter into the kingdom of heaven." And if these things were amazing even to Nicodemus, we cannot wonder that they filled the men of Capernaum with astonishment.

Furthermore, his discourses were peculiarly illustrative. The lilies of the iield, and the sparrows on the house-top; the fig-tree and the vine; the sower going forth to sow and the fisherman casting his net; the housewife kneading her dough, or seeking for her lost piece of money; the shepherd tending his flock, and the husbandman reaping his harvest; the children playing in the market-place, and the virgins waiting till midnight for the bridegroom's coming — all these familiar things were woven by him into the fabric of his discourses, and that with such singular beauty and fitness that his speech was not vulgarized thereby, but only made more luminous and glorious. It is not surprising therefore that ‘the common people heard him gladly’ or that the officers sent to apprehend him retunied witliout doing their errand, and exclaimed, "Never man spake like this man."

Still further, his addresses were characterized by wonderful adaptation to his hearers. He “knew what was in men," and while he repeated his words on some occasions, he commonly varied the character of his discourses so as to make them suitable to that of his audiences. His words were always "in season" and "fitly spoken." He said the right thing, at the right time, to the right people. He spoke to the Pharisees in one way, to the Sadducees in another, and to the common people in yet another. While in and with all these qualities there was a loving gentleness, which would not “break the bruised reed," or "quench the smoking flax," and a pervasive earnestness, which showed that he was not playing with a subject for the amusement of his hearers, but rather pleading with them to ' seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness," and to choose that “one thing "which was “needful," in all places, and in all cases. His preaching was neither an "effort'' put forth by him to elicit human applause, nor an intellectual wrestle with some great subject for a display of himself, but it was a grappling with the conscience and a pleading with the heart, an interblending of faithfulness and pathos that is without a parallel in the history of the race.

But the special attribute of his teaching which called forth the amazement of the worshippers in the synagogue of Capernaum was its authority, and the difference by which in this respect it was distinguished from that of the Scribes. These last were the expounders as well as the conservators and guardians of the old Testament Scriptures, but in their explanations of the sacred books they were careful never to put forth an opinion of their own, and contented themselves with repeating the aphorisms of the learned rabbis who had spoken or written on the subjects with which they were dealing. A favorite formula with them was "our learned doctors or wise rabbis say," our "ancient doctors thought," and very frequently they gave the names of their authorities in full, as is often done now by scholars in the notes to their prelections…Now the most cursory perusal of the sermon on the mount will show how far removed our Lord was from such a mode of teaching. He spoke on his own authority, saying on one occasion to Nicodemus, "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen…and no man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man who is in heaven," and claiming, as he did in his great inaugural discourse, to stand on a higher pinnacle than Moses himself. He set aside all false interpretations of the ancient law, and laid down now principles of obligation with the formula, “Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, but I say unto you." And in all this there was no unwarrantable assumption, for there was that about him which showed that the claim was well founded. His words were living and powerful. They "pierced even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow," and discerned the thoughts and intents of the heart ; the very effects produced by them witnessed to the rightfulness of his claim to utter them, so that the difference between him and the Scribes was not one of degree, but of kind, not one between a man and other men, but rather one between men and God. His, "I say unto you," was equivalent to the old prophetic expression "Thus saith the Lord," and as men heard it, they could not but acknowledge that a greater than any of the prophets was addressing them.

William Taylor, The Miracles Of Our Saviour, 75-78[/su_note]

His message had authority - in contrast to the teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees (cf. Mk 1:22). They were amazed, not so much at his learning, as the moral force and spiritual insight of his teaching. See Paul's comment, 1 Cor 2:4. But we must suppose that not all who were spell-bound by the power and originality of Jesus' teaching were permanently changed by it.

'He could and did declare sins forgiven, modify the Law of Moses, violate the Sabbath ordinances, offend against the proprieties (eat with tax collectors and sinners), make stringent demands (forbid divorce; challenge to celibacy and to leave family ties), defy common sense (encouragement to turn the other cheek) - in short, teach as no teacher of his time taught.' (R.E. Brown, Jesus: God and Man)

Several different types of authority may be recognised.  For example, we might say that a man is 'an authority on the railways', because he knows a great deal about their history.  Another man might be regarded as an authority because he has a whistle, and a train can only begin its journey if and when he blows it!

Of course, 'there is more to Jesus’ authority than his ability to preach the Word; he can show the presence of God’s power.' (Bock)  In fact, Stein thinks that the description of Jesus' message having 'authority' means less that he spoke with truth and conviction than that is accompanied by miracles of healing and the casting out of demons.

'Jesus’ life and mission are especially epitomized by the Greek word exousia, “authority,” which, beginning in vv. 32 and 36, occurs fifteen times in the Third Gospel as a designation of his sovereign freedom to declare and embody the gospel (Lk 4:22, 43), to prevail over evil and demons (Lk 4:36; 9:1), and to forgive sins (Lk 5:24).' (Edwards)

Originality of teaching was not greatly prized by the Jews.  They were used to their teachers citing endless predecessors.  Rabbi Eliezer, for example, said, 'nor have I ever in my life said a thing which I did not hear from my teachers' (Morris).  The teaching of Jesus was strikingly different.  Although he held the OT scriptures in highest esteem, he quoted no human authority.  'He declares God’s will directly, even keeping his direct use of Scripture to a few limited situations.' (Bock)

'A typical discussion would run something like this: “Rabbi so-and-so says this, but Rabbi such-and-such says that; however, the sages used to say …”...Jesus’ teaching, however, was direct and explicit. He did not speculate or offer alternative suggestions; he did not appeal to authorities greater than himself.' (Evans)

How did Jesus exercise his authority?

‘Different people exercise authority in different ways. A general does it by giving out orders and enforcing strict military discipline. A teacher does it by passing out grades and sending her students to the principal’s office. A traffic cop does it by blowing his whistle and handing out citations. A taxman does it by conducting an audit and assessing penalties. These are some of the many ways that people exercise their God-given authority.  But how did Jesus exercise his authority? In the simplest way we can imagine: just by saying the word.’

‘How did he exercise his teaching authority? By speaking an authoritative word. How did he exercise his authority over demons? Simply by rebuking them. How did he exercise his authority over disease? He did it the same way: by telling the fever to come out. Words may not seem very powerful, but when they come from God, they have the power to transform people’s lives, to triumph over supernatural evil, and to overturn the effects of illness. The words of Jesus carry supreme divine authority over creation and all the powers of hell.’ (Ryken)

4:33 Now in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 4:34 “Ha! Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 4:35 But Jesus rebuked him: “Silence! Come out of him!” Then, after the demon threw the man down in their midst, he came out of him without hurting him.

Here we have an account of the first of 33 miracles recorded by Luke.

The spirit of an unclean demon - an unusually full description, possibly explained by this being the first such incident described by Luke.  Moreover, 'in the Greek world, a daimōn was not necessarily a bad thing' (L.T. Johnson).  Note also that he has previously used the term 'spirit' in a different context, and so feels the need to clarify it here.  Such a demon may be associated with physical or moral filth (EBC).

'Luke distinguishes demon possession from physical illness, as does the rest of the New Testament (Matt. 4:24; Luke 4:40–41; 7:21; 9:1; 13:32)—though on occasion the concepts overlap (cf. Luke 8:29; 9:39; 11:14–20; 13:11, 16, where the symptoms of the presence of a demon look like illness).' (Bock, NIVAC)

'Jesus has already met with Satan; now he is facing off against Satan’s cohorts.' (Bock, NIVAC)

There are hints of demonic activity in the OT, usually associated with idol-worship, see Deut 32:17; Pss 95:5; 105:37; Isa 13:21; 34:14; 65:3.

Jesus here shows himself to be the conqueror of Satan, by his power to cast evil spirits out of the bodies of the possessed.

A man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit - lit. ‘a spirit of an unclean demon': this expression is unusual, as ‘demon' and ‘unclean spirit' are usually separate and alternative terms. This character of impurity is frequently mentioned, and is worthy of note. It stands in stark contrast to the acknowledged purity of Christ, v34. Jewish tradition accounted for the existence of demons by saying that two angels came down to earth, one returning to God and the other gratifying his lust with earthly women. The offspring became demons. In Mt 10:25 demons are described as agents of Satan. Note that in the NT demons are seldom mentioned except in connection with their being cast out.

This man was 'in the synagogue'.  We might wonder what he was doing there, and whether he was a regular attender, and if so what his behaviour was on previous Sabbaths.  What is clear is that in the presence of Jesus the man is aroused to rage.  Matthew Henry notes that 'it is possible that those who are very much under the power and working of Satan may yet be found in the synagogue, among the worshippers of God.'

Demonisation today?

It is reasonable to suppose that demonic activity is especially provoked under the following circumstances: (a) in the presence of unusual holiness, when demons are forced to show their hand, and engage in overt struggle; (b) in absence of holiness, when the usual restraints on demons are lifted, and they can move around more or less at will.  Obviously it is the first of these that applies here.  It is to be noted that biblical accounts of demonic activity are mainly found in the Gospels: there is less (but not no) evidence of them before and after the time of Jesus: demonisation is mentioned just twice outside the Gospels – Acts 16:16ff; 19:13ff.

The suggestion by Ryken, that one reason for demonisation being less common today is that there are many more people in the world, but no increase in the number of demons to ‘go round’, is intriguing, but speculative.  Who knows how many demons there are?

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)

As a modern example of demonisation, France cites the following, from the ministry of Jim Cymbala:-

'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.'

Much knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  One is reminded of other ways in which a person may know and speak truth, but in an unholy way: a person may be learned, but lack judgement in the application of that learning.  He may want to parade his knowledge, and again a reputation for superior intelligence.  He may use his knowledge to gain control over other people.  He may use it as a weapon with which to assail those who hold different views.  And, of course, biblical and theological knowledge may be used by some merely as a means of earning a living, where ‘research’ and ‘new ideas’ and ‘critical study’ are carried on in places of learning without any thought for God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

"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).

A central part of Jesus’ mission.  ‘The fact that Jesus’ first miracle is an exorcism, and that he frequently encounters and heals the demon-possessed, testifies that vanquishing Satan and dividing his plunder (Lk 11:21–22) was central to his mission (1 John 3:8).’ (Edwards)
You can’t always blame the devil!  ‘Demon possession also goes well beyond ordinary temptation. In some Christian circles it has become popular to attribute every sin to a particular demon. People who think too highly of themselves have a demon of pride; people who eat too much have a demon of gluttony; and so on. When people talk this way, they are really blaming Satan for their own sinful nature. Their sins are not the direct result of demonic control, but simply the expression of their own sinful desires.’ (Ryken)

It is significant in this regard to note that Jesus does not pronounce forgiveness of sins for the demonised.

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 4:38–41 = Mt 8:14–17
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.

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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).'

On Jesus' healing ministry, Richard Bewes (in his oral ministry) says that it was:-

  1. decisive - his healings were instantaneous and complete (with rare exceptions)
  2. selective - he did not heal everyone (if he did, no-one would ever die!)
  3. instructive - they point to his person and mission (as authenticating 'signs')
  4. 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 -

Why not put out the fire?  Garland asks: ‘One might wonder why Jesus only plucks individuals from the fire. Why not put out the fire? The scope of the opposition is overwhelming and the entire world is broken and wounded, languishing in bondage to forces alien to God. God intends to attack the problem at the source. Its defeat must await the crucifixion, and its final defeat, the parousia.’

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.

Healing today?  The fact that Jesus healed so many that day, but did not stay to heal more, prompts a question about miraculous healing today.  Most Christians will acknowledge that he does still heal today by his Spirit, but how frequently, and under what circumstances?

Ryken suggest that ‘it helps to know why Jesus performed so many miracles during his earthly ministry. He did not do it to teach us to “expect a miracle.” Rather, he did it to confirm his identity as the Christ….Sometimes Jesus still works in miraculous ways today, especially when his gospel first penetrates a godless culture.

Moreover, ‘often he uses the hurts of the body to bring healing to the soul.’

Antagonism and admiration – closer than you think.  It is obvious, then, that there is a contrast between Jesus’ rejection by the townsfolk of Nazareth and the enthusiastic reception he receives in Capernaum.  Yet the motives behind Nazareth trying to kill him and Capernaum trying to keep him are not so very different: ‘They both want a miracle man to serve their selfish ends. Jesus’ harsh judgment on Capernaum in 10:13–15 should not be surprising. Their enthusiasm for him is exuberance for the miraculous, and it is insufficient for the long haul since it wanes over time.’ (Garland)

Edwards: ‘Satan sought to redefine Jesus’ mission in the temptation, and the Nazarenes, in threatening to throw Jesus from a cliff, sought to end it. But even Capernaum’s desire to “be fed by” Jesus, as we say today, is self-serving and thus an overture of self-will over God’s will.’

"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)

The centrality of preaching.  ‘Let us beware of despising preaching. In every age of the Church, it has been God’s principal instrument for the awakening of sinners and the edifying of saints. The days when there has been little or no preaching have been days when there has been little or no good done in the Church. Let us hear sermons in a prayerful and reverend frame of mind, and remember that they are the principal engines which Christ Himself employed, when He was upon earth. Not least, let us pray daily for a continual supply of faithful preachers or God’s word. According to the state of the pulpit will always be the state of a congregation and of a Church.’ (Ryle)

"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.

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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.

For Jesus, words and actions, go hand in hand.  ‘When John the Baptist raises the question again later, Jesus’ answer points to such fulfillment (7:18–23). Jesus does not proclaim who he is; he lets events explain who he is. For him, actions speak louder than words. He is more than an ethical instructor or a psychologist; he has power to overcome the forces of evil that plague humanity.’ (Bock)
Doing good.  Although Jesus’ miracles of healing have multiple significance – they are signs, for example, pointing to deeper and eternal realities – we must not forget that they are also acts of compassion and kindness.  As Bock (NIVAC) remarks, ‘Many missionary organizations and churches in recent history have organized benevolent ministries and hospitals as expressions of the type of compassionate service Jesus performs here. Such a connection is justified. What the healings and exorcisms show is God’s power and concern for humanity. The church should show no less compassion today. When we deal with the ravages of disease or show concern to those who are hurting, we are reflecting the kind of love God has for people who live in a fallen world.’  See Acts 10:38-42).
What sort of kingdom?  It becomes clear as Jesus’ ministry unfolds that he is not simply a liberationist bent on inaugurating a program of social reform, though social reform follows directly from submitting to God as sovereign ruler. Nor will there be dramatic displays of glory and violent disruptions of society as he purges evil from the world. God’s reign manifests itself in preaching and healing and can be compared to a seed sowed in the ground (Lk 8:5–15). It requires patient endurance (Lk 8:15) to see its full effect.’ (Garland)
Preaching from this passage

This passage highlights Jesus’ authority in a number of ways:-

  1. the authority of his teaching, v31f;
  2. his authority over demons, vv33-37;
  3. his authority over disease, vv38-41;
  4. the authority of his mission, vv42-44.

Are we sufficiently mindful of the authority of Jesus in our lives, in the church, and in the world?