Luke 4Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
4 Then Yeshua, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Yarden and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days of testing by the Adversary. During that time he ate nothing, and afterwards he was hungry. 3 The Adversary said to him, “If you are the Son of God, order this stone to become bread.” 4 Yeshua answered him, “The Scripture says, ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’
5 The Adversary took him up, showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world, 6 and said to him, “I will give you all this power and glory. It has been handed over to me, and I can give it to whomever I choose. 7 So if you will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Yeshua answered him, “The Scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 Then he took him to Yerushalayim, set him on the highest point of the Temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, jump from here! 10 For the Scripture says,
‘He will order his angels
to be responsible for you and to protect you.
11 They will support you with their hands,
so that you will not hurt your feet on the stones.’”
12 Yeshua answered him, “It also says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the Adversary had ended all his testings, he let him alone until an opportune time.
The story of Jesus’ testing is found in the sources of the Gospels and used briefly by Mark in one sentence, and more extensively by Matthew and Luke. The letter to Hebrews also contains a reference to it, stating that because of his experience of testing Jesus is fitted to act as a priest on behalf of humanity.
Matthew uses the same material as Luke with some variation in wording and a significant difference in order. He places the invitation to worldly power last because he sees it as the climax of the tests; whereas Luke places the invitation to jump from the temple last because he sees it as the hardest test of all. Both place the incidents as a prelude to Jesus’ ministry, not because that is historical fact, but because they remind the reader that Jesus whole ministry was a test. The CJB translation is helpful because it renders Satanos as “The Adversary” rather than making it a proper name. Although the word became more and more a name in Christian writings, in this story it refers to the sceptical opponent of God who tries to undermine the mutual trust of God and humanity, as in the book of Job. He is representative of the worldly powers that so easily destroy faith. The three testing invitations are:
- 1. The son of God should use his powers to serve his own interests. The narrator mentions Jesus ‘ hunger. Surely God did not mean that his son should be in need, but rather that he should see his own welfare as very important, because he needed it to be of any use to others. Only crazy religious maniacs think God want us to fast and damage ourselves. Enlightened self- interest is justifiable, as we are told by those who believe that you can’t be a philanthropist unless you’re wealthy. Jesus quotation, from the book of Deuteronomy (as are all his answers to The Adversary), is sober and balanced, accepting that human beings have material needs but insisting that they also have a spiritual need for God’s wisdom. A temporary fast in order to gain wisdom is not wrong. Jesus accepts that the son of God is an animal who needs food and shelter and company, but he is convinced that he is also a human animal who may deprive himself of material food in order to receive and transmit God’s goodness.
- The son of God can give allegiance to worldly powers in order to achieve worldly rule. Great abilities often bring with them great ambitions. We are not to imagine that Jesus was free from these. In this case, he is reminded that worldly power is gained by those who can use the means of power available in the world. This involves giving some allegiance to Force, Conquest and Wealth by which power is gained. The Roman Empire in the time of Jesus included most of the known kingdoms of the world by its disciplined allegiance to these gods. Surely God’s agent, his Liberator and King, should honour these gods so that he could bring justice to the world! Why should the devil have all the best empires? There were many young Jewish men who had given their allegiance to a messianic politics that recognised the need for violence and other worldly methods, to establish God’s kaliphate on earth. Jesus’ reply refuses to talk politics but cuts to the quick of the issue. Any recognition of false Gods, even for “good” causes is a breach of the first commandment. The son of God must bow down only to the one God.
- If you can’t exercise supernatural power you’re not God’s son. Many, especially modern, commentators see the third test as the invitation to indulge in spectacular miracles to gain a following. I do not think so. I think Luke saw this as the most devilish test because it was meant to undermine Jesus’ relationship with God. Surely the very scriptures which furnished Jesus with his replies tell him that God’s messiah and son will be able to accomplish great miracles! If Jesus can’t do such things, then clearly he isn’t God’s son. Doubtless there was a public hunger for miracles, but the test goes deeper than disappointing it. It strikes at the root of Jesus trust in God and in his own role as God’s son. Luke wants his readers to remember that the son of God can be hungry, the son of God can be powerless, the son of God can suffer and die. Jesus answer comes from the story of how Istael put God to the test after escaping from Egypy, demanding that God’s supernatural power should ease their problems. The Deuteronomy text forbids treating God as a source of supernatural goodies. The son of God trusts God’s love and demands no proof of it, other than the difference it makes to human lives.
In this prelude to Jesus’ ministry Luke gives his readers the tools for understanding what it means for Jesus and for themselves to be children of God.