Luke 4

Luke 4:1-13.44

Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12, 13.

In none of the Synoptic Gospels has the temptation a weightier place than here. Matthew confronts the Messiah with the great enemy of God’s people; and, giving the three closing acts just as they took place, reports them as they illustrate dispensation, and the great impending change, which is emphatically his theme. Mark notes the fact in its due time, and the devotedness of the blessed Servant of God thus tempted of the devil in the wilderness, with none but the wild beasts near, till at its close, as we know also from Matthew, angels came and ministered to Him. John characteristically omits the circumstance altogether; for it clearly attached to His being found in fashion as a man (when He emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men), and not to His being God. To Luke it was of capital moment; and the Spirit, as we shall see, saw fit to arrange the order of its parts so as the better to carry out the design by our Evangelist.

Here is noted the transition from Jordan of Jesus, “full of the Holy Ghost” (verse 1). It might not at first sight appear to be a likely path; but the more one reflects, the more one may see its wisdom and suitability. He was just baptized, sealed of the Spirit, and, above all, owned by the Father as His beloved Son, forthwith led in the Spirit in the wilderness; and there He was forty days tempted of the devil.80 The principle is true of us too. - Sons of God by the faith of Jesus, and consciously so by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, we too know what it is to be tempted by the devil. Temptation is hardly the way in which the devil deals with his children; but when we are delivered, such conflicts begin.

The first in order, and this in Matthew too, is the appeal to natural wants. “And in those days he did not eat anything; and when they were finished, he hungered.45 And the devil said to him, If thou be Son of God, speak to this stone that it become bread.”81 The Lord at once takes the lowliest ground, really the most elevated morally, that the sustenance of nature is not the first consideration, but living by the Word of God. He waits for a word from Him Whose will He was come to do. He refuses even in His hunger to take a single step in the way of satisfying His sinless wants without Divine direction. The true and only right place of man is dependence; and He having become a man, would not swerve. from the dependence which referred to God instead of following wishes of His own: indeed, His will was to do God’s will. “And Jesus answered unto him, saying, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, (Deut. 8:3) but by every word of God”4681a (verse 4). Such was the true estate of man, and his right relation to God; and Jesus therein abode, in circumstances of the greatest trial, the bright contrast of the first Adam, who left it where all circumstances were in his favour.

Historically Israel were so tried and failed totally, spite of that constant lesson in the daily manna of their dependence on God and of His unfailing care of them. They hardened their hearts, not hearing His voice; so that forty years long Jehovah was grieved with that generation, and said, “It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” (Ps. 95:10). But the heart of Jesus was toward His Father, and He, with the full power of the Spirit, refused to supply even the most legitimate wants of the body, save in obedience. “My meat,” as He said later, “is to do the will of him that sent Me.” (John 4:34.)

The next here (the third in Matthew, and, as I believe, in the order of occurrence) is the worldly appeal. “And [the devil]47 leading him up into a high mountain,48 showed him all the kingdoms of the habitable world in a moment of time. And the devil said to him, I will give thee all this power, and the glory, for it is given up to me,82 and to whomsoever will I give it. If, therefore, thou wilt do homage before me, all49 shall be thine. And Jesus answering him said, It is written, Thou shalt do homage to the Lord thy God, and him alone shalt thou serve” (verses 5-8). (Deut. 6:13). The best authenticated text leaves out of the Lord’s answer to the devil “Get thee behind me, Satan; for.”50 And a little reflection shows that, as the external authority demands this omission, so it seems necessarily to follow from the change of order in which Luke was, I doubt not, guided of God. For the vulgarly received text would give the strange appearance that the Lord told the adversary to get behind or go away, while Satan is represented as staying where he was and tempting the Lord after a new sort. Omit these words, and all flows on in exact connection with the context. Internal evidence is thus in harmony with the external.

In Matthew where the words occur in the third place,83 as in fact it was so, the command to get hence is followed by the devil leaving Him. Thus all is as it should be. In Luke where the transposition occurs, the necessity for omitting the clause is evident; and so it was.

The Lord rebuts the worldly temptations by insisting, according to the written Word, on worshipping the Lord God and serving only Him. Homage to Satan is incompatible with the service of God.

Lastly comes the religious trial. “And he led him to, Jerusalem,84 and set him on the edge of the temple,85 and said to him, If thou be Son of God, cast thyself down hence, for it is written, He shall give charge to his angels concerning thee to keep thee; and on their hands they shall bear thee up, lest in any wise thou strike thy foot against a stone. (Ps. 91:11f). And Jesus answering said to him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt [the] LORD thy God” (verses 9-12) (Deut. 6:16). Here the devil would separate the way from the end, omitting this part of the psalm which he cites. The Lord replies with the saying in Scripture, “Thou shalt not tempt the LORD thy God.” To trust Him and count on His gracious ways is not to tempt. The Israelites tempted Jehovah by questioning whether He was in their midst or not; they ought to have reckoned on His presence, and succour, and care. Jesus did not need to prove the faithfulness of God to His own Word; He was sure of it and counted on it. He knew that Jehovah would give His angels charge over Him, and this not outside ‘ but to keep Him in all His ways. Thus foiled in his misuse of Scripture, as everywhere else, the enemy could do no more then. “And the devil having completed every temptation, departed from him for a time.”86 Jesus, the Son of God, was victorious, and this in obedience, by the right use of the written Word of God.

Luke 4:14-30.

It is important to notice that the temptation in the wilderness preceded the active public life of the Lord, as Gethsemane preceded His death in atonement for our sins. It is an utterly false notion that this defeat of Satan in the wilderness was the basis of our redemption. Such, I believe, is Milton’s view in his “Paradise Regained.” But this theory makes victory to be the means of our deliverance from God instead of suffering, and gives consequently the all-importance to living energy, rather than to God’s infinite moral or judicial dealing with our sins on the cross; it puts life in the place of death, and shuts out or ignores expiation. The real object and connection of the temptation is manifest, when we consider that it is the prelude to the Lord’s public life here below, in which He was continually acting on His victory over Satan. When the enemy came again at Gethsemane, it was to turn the Lord aside through the terror of death, and specially of such a death as His on the cross. In the wilderness, and on the mountain, and on the pinnacle of the temple (for there were three different sites and circumstances of this temptation) it was to draw Him away from the path of God by the desirable things of the world.

But however this may be, Jesus now returns in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: “and a rumour went out into the whole surrounding country about him. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.”87 This is the general description, I apprehend; but the Spirit of God singles out a very special circumstance which illustrates our Lord in the great design of this Gospel. It is peculiar to Luke.88 “He came to Nazareth [Nazara], where he was brought up: and he entered, according to his custom, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read.89 And the book of the prophet Esaias was given to him. And having unrolled the book, he found the place where it was written.” It was, in fact, the beginning of Isaiah 61.90 This is the more remarkable because the connection of the prophecy is the total ruin of Israel, and the introduction of the kingdom of God and His glory when judgment takes its course. Yet in the midst of this these verses describe our Lord in the fulness of grace. There is no prophet so evangelical, according to ordinary language, as Isaiah; and in Isaiah there is no portion perhaps of the whole prophecy that so breathes the spirit of the Gospel as these very verses. Now what can be more striking than that this should be read on that occasion by Christ, and that the Spirit of God gives Luke alone to record it? Our Lord takes the book and reads, stopping precisely at the point where mercy terminates. It is the description of His grace in ministry; it is not so much His Person as His devoted life, His work, His ways on earth. In fact, it is pretty much what we have in Acts 10: “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” Immediately after in the prophecy follows “the day of vengeance of our God.” But our Lord does not read these words. Is not this, too, extremely remarkable, that our Lord should stop in the middle of a verse, and read what describes His grace and not what touches on His judgment? Why is this? Because He is come only in grace now. By and by He will come in judgment, and then the other verses of the prophecy will be accomplished. Then it will be both the year of His redeemed when He will bless them, and the day of vengeance when He will execute judgment upon their enemies.

Meanwhile, all that He was about to do in Israel for the present was only gracious activity in the power of the Spirit. To this accordingly God had anointed Him — “to preach glad tidings to [the] poor; he hath sent me [to heal the broken-hearted],51 to preach to captives deliverance, and to [the] blind sight, to send forth [the] crushed delivered” — and this is what He was to preach — “[the] acceptable year of [the] LORD.” 91 “And he rolled up the book.” Now nothing, it is plain, can more aptly suit the object of the Spirit of God in Luke, who is the only writer inspired to record this. All through the Gospel, this is what He is doing. It is the activity of grace among men’s misery and sins and need.” By and by He will tread the winepress alone, He will expend the fury of the Lord upon His adversaries; but now it is unmingled mercy. Such was Jesus upon the earth, and so Luke describes Him throughout. No wonder therefore that He closed the book. This was all that was needful or true to say about Him now; the rest will be proved in its own time. The judgment of God in the second advent is as true as the grace of God that He has been showing in the first advent.

Another thing, too, is remarkable and proved by this. It is that the whole state of things since Christ was upon the earth till the second advent is a parenthesis. It is not the accomplishment of prophecy, but the revelation of the mystery that was hid in God that is now brought to view. Prophecy shows us Christ’s first and second advents together; but what is between the two advents is filled up by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, Who is forming the Church wherein there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Prophecy always supposes Jew and Gentile. The Church is founded upon the blotting out of this distinction for the time being. It is during the period when Israel does not own the Messiah, which stretches over all the interval between the two advents of Christ, that this new and heavenly work proceeds.

The Lord therefore stopped dead short, and closed the book. When He comes again, He will, as it were, open the book where He left off.92a Meanwhile, His action was exclusively in grace. The Lord draws their particular attention to this; for when He returns the book to the officer who has it in charge, He sits down. People were all gazing at Him in wonder. He tells them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears.”

But unbelief at once betrays itself. “Is not this the son of Joseph?” They could not deny the grace,93 but they contemn His person: “He was despised and rejected of men.” In point of fact, unbelief is always blind; He was not Joseph’s son, 94 except legally — He was God’s Son. “And he said to them, Ye will surely say to me this parable, Physician, heal thyself: 95 whatsoever we have heard has taken place in52 Capernaum, do here also in thine own country.” His answer to their thought was, that “No prophet is acceptable in his [own] country.”96 Nevertheless grace shines out all the more because Christ was rejected. It is remarkable that He does not vindicate Himself by power; He does not work any miracles to make good the rights of His own person, but appeals to the Word of God, the Old Testament Scriptures, for what suited the present time. “Of a truth, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months,97 so that a great famine came upon all the land; and to none of them was Elias sent, but to Sarepta of Sidon,53 to a woman [that was] a widow.” Grace, therefore, when Israel rejects (and they were doing so now), goes out to the Gentiles. Sidon was under the special judgment of God, and there was a widow there, reft of all human resources, and she was the one to whom God sent His prophet in the days of deep distress. When Israel themselves were suffering from a terrible famine, God opened stores for the desolate woman in Sidon. Thus grace goes outside His guilty people. So, too, in the time of Elisha the prophet. Many lepers were in Israel, “and none of them was cleansed, but Naaman the Syrian.” Grace is sovereign, and in the days of Jewish unbelief Gentiles are blessed. This Scripture showed; and how beautiful this was and in keeping with Luke! It paves the way for the going forth of the Gospel. When Israel rejected the Lord Jesus, the grace of God must work among the Gentiles, among those who least expect and deserve mercy. How did the men of Nazareth relish this? They were “filled with rage, and rising up, they cast him forth out of the city, and led him up to the brow of the mountain upon which their city was built, so that they might54 throw him down the precipice.” This is the expression of the hatred which follows rejection of grace. When self-righteous men are convicted of wrong without feeling their guilt against God, there are no bounds to their resentment; and the enmity of their hearts is most of all against Jesus.

The result of the Lord’s first appearance at Nazareth in the synagogue was that, though He Himself characterized His ministry from the Word of God, or rather the Spirit of God had already anticipated it as He then openly proclaimed it, as being the ministry of grace, by reading this scripture and declaring that it was that day fulfilled in their ears, man soon turns from it in anger and dislike. Attracted at first, he revolted from it afterwards, because grace both tells out the ruin of man, and always insists on going out wherever there is need and misery. Nevertheless, the Lord did not make it plainly known that grace should go out to the Gentiles till their rejection of Himself began to manifest itself. And now the same men who were so smitten with the charm of grace at first were ready to turn upon Him and cast Him down headlong from “the brow of the mountain upon which their city was built. But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way.”98 His time was not yet come.

Luke 4:31-37.99, 100.

Mark 1:21-28.

He “came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee,101 and taught them on the Sabbaths. And they were astonished at his doctrine; for his word was with authority.”102 This was what Jesus showed. It was not first miracles and then glory, but the truth of God. The Word, not a miracle, forms a connecting link between the soul and God; no miracle can do this — nothing but the Word of God. For the Word addresses itself to faith, while a miracle is done as a sign to unbelief. But as God produces faith by the Word, so He also nourishes it by the Word. This proves the immense value of the Word of God; and Christ’s word was with authority.

“And there was in the synagogue a man having a spirit of an unclean demon.”103 This is the first great work that is recorded in Luke. Our Lord seems already to have done mighty deeds in Capernaum (that is, in this very place) before He went to Nazareth: but Luke begins with Nazareth, in order to characterise His ministry by that wonderful description in the Word of God which opens out grace to man. Now we find Him in Capernaum, and the first miracle recorded of Him here, whilst He was teaching in the synagogue, was the cure of a man possessed with a spirit of an unclean demon which had the consciousness of the power of Jesus. For the demoniac cried out, “Eh! what have we to do with thee, Jesus, Nazarene?104 Hast thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy [One] of God.” It is remarkable here and elsewhere, the “I” and the “we” — the man himself, and yet the identification with the evil spirit. Moreover, this possessed man says, “I know thee who thou art; the Holy [One] of God.” This appears to be the same character in which Psalm 89 speaks of Christ, where it says, “Jehovah is our shield; and the Holy One of Israel our King” (verse 18). It is a psalm full of interest because the Holy One there is the sole groundwork of the hopes of the people, as well as the stay of the house of David, otherwise ruined. It is just the same thing in our Gospel, save that Luke goes out more widely. The point of Psalm 89 is that every hope depends on Him. Israel have come to nothing; the glory has waned, and at length departed; the throne is cast down to the ground. But then He is the King, and therefore it is perfectly secured.

The shame of God’s servants shall be removed, and their enemies shall surely be put to perpetual reproach, after the downfall of their pride, and all the painful discipline that the people of Israel shall pass through.

Here the unclean spirit prompts the man to acknowledge Jesus as this Holy One. But He refused such testimony; He did not even receive the witness of men, how much less of demons! “Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out from him. And the demon, having thrown him down105 into the midst, came out from him without doing him any injury. And astonishment106 came upon all, and they spoke to one another, saying, What word [is] this! for with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out. And a rumour went out into every place of the country round concerning him.” He has thus shown that the power of Christ must first put down Satan (but not without a certain allowed humiliation for man); that this is the chief evil which pollutes and oppresses the world; and that until the day Satan’s power is expelled it is no good to expect full deliverance. We must go to the source of the mischief. This, therefore, is the earliest of the miracles of Christ brought before us by Luke.107

Luke 4:38-44.

Matt. 8:14-17; Mark 1:29-39.

But then there is also compassion — deep and effectual pity for men. So our Lord, when He leaves the synagogue, goes into the house of Simon.108 “And Simon’s wife’s mother was suffering108a under a great109 fever, and they besought him for her. And, standing over her, he rebuked the fever, and it left her; and immediately standing up, she served them.” Not only was there power to dismiss the disease with a word, but there was, contrary to all nature, strength communicated to her. A “great” fever leaves a person, even when it is gone, exceedingly weak, and a considerable time must elapse before usual vigour returns. But in this case, as the healing was the fruit of Divine power, Peter’s wife’s mother not only arose, but served them immediately.

The same evening, “when the sun went down, all they that had persons sick with divers diseases brought them to him; and having laid his hands on every one 110 of them, he healed them.” It made no difference. It was not only that He could cure the fever, but He could cure everything. “He laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.” Another thing to be noticed is the manner of it, the tenderness of feeling — He laid His hands on them. This was in no way necessary; a word would have been enough, and the Lord often employed nothing more than a word. But here He shows His human compassion — He laid His hands upon them and healed them. Demons also came out of many, but we find Him here keeping up the testimony to man of the power that Satan had in the world. There are few things more injurious to men than forgetfulness of the power of Satan. At the present time there is exceeding unbelief on the subject. It is regarded as one of the obsolete delusions of the past. But we find most clearly demons going out of many, not in any one peculiar case, “crying out, and saying, Thou art the Son55 of God.” These acknowledge the Lord, not as the Holy One of Psalm 89, but as the Anointed One, the Son of God, of Psalm 2. He was the King of Israel in both cases. But the Lord accepted not their testimony in any instance. He really was the Holy One and the Son of God, but it was from God that He took His title, and recognition by the demons He refuses. “They knew that He was the Christ.”111 What a solemn thing to find that man is even more obdurate than Satan! for the demons were more willing to acknowledge Jesus than the men even who were delivered here from the demons, and who were healed of all their diseases. Man for whom Jesus came! What a proof of the incurable unbelief of man, and the certain ruin of those who refuse the Son of God! Devils believe and tremble. Man, even when he does believe with his natural heart, does not tremble. He may believe, but he is insensible in his belief. Can such faith save him? The only faith that is good for anything is that which brings the sinner in his need and ruin before God, and which sees God in infinite mercy giving His Son to die for him. Anything short of this ends in destruction; and so far from natural faith bettering a man, it only brings out his evil, and turns to corruption the more speedily. It is a kind of complimenting the Son of God, instead of a lowly and a true owning of man’s own condition and God’s grace.

But there is another thing which this chapter brings before us — namely, that our Lord departed112 when it was day “into a desert place; and the crowds sought after56 him, and came up to him, and [would have] kept him back113 that he should not go from them. But he said to them, I must needs announce the glad tidings of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for for this I have been57 sent forth. And he was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee.”58114 The great object of the coming of Christ was to preach God’s kingdom;115 it was bringing God and God’s power before men — God’s power visiting man in mercy. No healing of diseases or expulsion of demons could satisfy the Lord. And when He had by His miracles attracted attention in any place, it was the more reason for His going to another. He did not seek His own fame; another should come in his own name who would. But for our Lord Jesus to attract a name was a reason for departure, not for staying.

44 Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 262-270.

45 Before “hungered,” AE, etc., 1, 33, 69, Syrr., etc., put “afterwards, which Edd. omit, with BDL and Old Lat.

46 “But by every word of God”: so AD, etc., and all later uncials with cursives, Goth., most Syrr. Rejected by Edd. following BL, Syrsin, Amiat., Sahid., Memph. (from Matthew).

47 [“The devil”]: so AE, etc., Amiat., Syrr. (sin.: “Satan”); but omitted by Edd., after BDL, 1.

48 “Into a high mountain”: as AD and later uncials, all cursives, Syrr. Goth.; but Edd. omit, following BL, Amiat., etc. (from Matthew).

49 “All”: so Edd. after ABDL ΔΞ, most cursives (1, 33, 69), Syrr. Memph. “All things” is found in only a few minuscules, and in Amiat.

50 “Get thee behind me, Satan,” in T. R. after “him” is supported only by A with later uncials, most cursives. Edd. follow BDLX, 1, 33, etc.; and the same authorities with Amiat. omit “for.”

51 Before “to preach deliverance,” A, with all later uncials and most cursives, Goth. Syrrpesch hcl hier has the words bracketed, which Edd. reject, after BDL Ξ, 33, 69, Syrsin Old Lat. and Amiat., Origen, etc.

52 T. R. for “in” has ἐν, with AE, etc., and most cursives. Edd. adopt εἰς, which may be “to” or “for” (R.V. “at”), but is probably a colloquial substitute for ἐν, as in verse 44. The critical text is that of BDL, 69.

53 “Of Sidonia”; so ABCDL, etc., 1, 69, Old Lat., Memph. “Sidon” appears in E Δ, etc., Syrr.

54 “So that they might,” as Edd. after BDL, etc., 1, 33, 69. Memph., in place of “in order to,” the reading of AC, etc.

55 “The Son”: so Edd., after BCDL Ξ, 33, Old Lat., Amiat., Memph., Arm. A and later uncials, as most cursives, Syrr. Aeth. Goth. add “the Christ” before “the Son.”

56 “Sought after”: so Edd., following ABCD, etc., 1, 33, 69. EG and some later uncials have simply “sought.”

57 “I have been [I was]”: so ABCDLΧ, 1, 33, 69. AE and some later uncials have “I am.”

58 “Galilee” (Cf. Mark 1:39): so Blass, with ADΧΓΑΠ, etc., Old Lat., Goth., Syrrpesch hcl. Other Edd. adopt “Judea,” after BCLQR, a few cursives, Syrsin, Memph. See further in Appendix, note 114.