Jesus and Temptation in Luke 4

ilya-repin-follow-me-satan-temptation-of-jesus-christRabbi Yeshua and the Holy Scriptures

In this consideration I want to tell something about how Gospel of Saint Luke is dealing with biblical text, or – even better – how Our Lord, Rabbi Yeshua, is using the Scriptures. I’ll take only a short passage on temptation in the desert, all Christians are experts in, and my contribution is only to remind about some relevant points.

All three synoptic reports describe the role of the Spirit who is the leader (πνεῦμα Matt 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1 2x). The Gospels make it also clear that being led by the Spirit doesn’t mean simply an exalted life but to be exposed to the Enemy of God’s intentions, and to go through trials. In Luke the development is clear. The Greek ἄγω – “to lead” shows how deep the incarnation goes, how far is the Son of God coming down to be one with us in the most delicate steps of our human life. Jesus allows to be led by his evil tempter. The first part of the temptation-passage is marked by leading of the Spirit (Luke 4:1), the second and third has ἄγω (Luke 4:5.9) for the devil, where Jesus is the object. That is probably why this passage plays an important role in the spiritual doctrine of Ignatius of Loyola and his discernment of the spirits.

Luke is following Mark’s idea that it is not one occasion alone but it is forty days that Jesus is exposed to the pressure of temptation. We know that for Luke “forty days” will in the future be also the time of Jesus giving evidence that he is alive in the Acts (1:3).

The threefold temptation with bread, adoration an the holy House of God is an “addition” reaching over that period of forty days and giving synthesis of what was going on. Therein Luke’s Gospel is in accordance with Matthew where we find a clear hint to the first connection with the Scriptures.

In the Gospel of Matthew there is not only general idea of “forty days” but the wording ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα καὶ νύκτας τεσσεράκοντα (“forty days and forty nights”) reminds on the second time Moses was on Sinai, and on Elijah, walking to the that same God’s mountain.

In the Exodus there is a description of Moses fasting (Exod 34:28), differing from the first prolonged visit to Sinai (Exod 24:18). Moses is afterwards twice remembering it in his own witness in Deuteronomy giving his last will (Deut 9:11.18). For Elijah it is clear that he is fasting, when we read about his journey with the strength of one double meal at the beginning of forty days and forty nights (1 Kings 19:8).

Second, well known and most important use of the Scriptures are the answers Jesus gives to the different trials.

The Structure of the Gospel-text is clear. The power of divine word Jesus repeats is so strong that it finishes one diabolic attack. After a quote of the Scripture, introduced by γέγραπται (“it is written”) the evil tester is leaving the first theme and is going over to something else.

The dialogue is defined with two γέγραπται (Luke 4:4.8) in the first and second temptation, and then with two κύριον τὸν θεόν σου (Luke 4:8.12) giving this time not only the introduction but the contents of the Scripture. This structure moves the dynamics of this text towards the centre in God, both times invoking the Most holy Name יהוה, translated in Greek as κύριος.

First temptation of stone and bread, usually explained with God’s power to create Abraham’s children out of stone (cf. Luke 3:8) and Jesus making bread not for himself but for hungry multitudes (Luke 9:12-17.has something more important for our case. Rabbi Yeshua – according to both, Luke and Matthew – is exposed to a diabolic attack on his mind and heart when the tester is trying to command him what to say. We read the imperative “εἰπέ” (λέγω – “to speak” Luke 4:3; Matt 4:3) in both versions. The Opponent is trying to dictate to Son of God what to tell. This way the report gives even more significance to the word of God as opposed to the word of Satan.

Different from devil’s interest to see the mighty word of Creator able to turn over stone to bread, Rabbi Yeshua is pointing out the word from the Deuteronomy and the intention of the Scripture to see what does a human being need to live, what is the food for our human life (“…not by bread alone will live the humankind, but by everything that comes from the mouth of Yahweh will the humankind live.” Deut 8:3).

2. The traditional second temptation is showing the lie in the essence of diabolic actions. Coming back to the first attack through the mouth of the serpent at the beginning of the Scriptures, where God’s warning: “You will certainly die” (Gen 2:17) is turned upside down to: “No, of course you shall not die” (Gen 3:4), the Father of Lie is offering two illusions.

The first one is the show of “all the kingdoms of the world” in one single moment of time (Luke 4:5). This point is strengthened by Matthew and the pure imagination of the mountain so high that one can see the whole world from there. We are aware that it is not possible to see the surface of a globe from one stand point alone.

The second lie is obvious in Luke when the Attacker states before Jesus that unto him is given “the power and the glory” of the kingdoms (Luke 4:6).

For the second time Rabbi is taking Holy Scriptures effectively for his defence. He is quoting now from the sixth chapter of the Deuteronomy. But there is a slight adaptation in this the point. The original Hebrew wording: ירא (to fear) given in the Greek Bible as φοβέω (Deut 6:13) meaning the holy fear of God, Jesus is turning to προσκυνέω (Luke 4:7) in order to counter the satanic “adoration” (προσκυνέω 4:8) in the temptation.

His way of fruitful applying the Word of God shows also the fulfilment and enhanced sharpness: “him alone you must serve” – says Jesus. You are to be servant only to God. The word μόνος is a clarifying addition of Rabbi Yeshua to the Scriptures (“Yahweh, your God, you shall fear, him you shall serve” Deut 6:13a). Both – προσκυνέω as well as μόνος – conform to Luke and Matthew.

3. The third temptation is double sacrilege. Both are evident. One is the attempt to abuse the Holy House of God for a diabolic show opposed to the Son of God. In the essence it is not without intention to attack his very life. This could be the first reason why Luke is placing this theme to position three, taking distance to Matthew’s order. The command βάλε σεαυτόν (Luke 4:9, the same wording as Matt 4:6 in the “second temptation”): “Throw yourself down!” is not only the last attempt to give orders, but a treacherous call for suicide. The “Murderer from the start” (John 8:44) is without mask in his demand: “Finish your life” – And it was the life Jesus was from the first temptation trying to foster and sustain adequately using the Scriptures.

The extreme badness and perfidy is at the same time part of the text-structure in Luke 4. After two γέγραπται called out by Rabbi Yeshua to apply protection of the holy Word of God, the third γέγραπται (Luke 4:10) is a part of the diabolic aggression. The Enemy dares to take over the method of Jesus. The choice of Luke gives the greatest importance to this third and the highest step of gradation. Dark and awful abuse of divine Word is an everlasting warning not to exploit Scriptures against their own intention, but to pay respect and be responsible and honest before the Holy Text.

How hollow and false is the misuse of the Scripture in the mouth of the Tempter shows the wording of the Psalm 91:12. In the Psalm there is a clear description of human walking on the ground: “you will not dash your foot against a stone”. The Psalm gives no idea of jumping or flying or throwing oneself. The misuse of the Word of God is not only evil and unholy, but is a poor mistake by itself.

The solution of the intense dynamics Luke is giving by a new term. Rabbi Yeshua, although once more quoting the same Book of Deuteronomy, gives now the crucial new introduction. As opposed to γέγραπται for the final temptation there is an εἴρηται – “it is said” (Luke 4:12) instead of “it is written”.

Jesus is giving a clear evidence of calling upon the living tradition, creating fundament for Pauline distinction in Second Corinthians: “not letter, but Spirit” (2 Cor 3:6).  The introduction “it is said” calls to mind more vividly how and what Moses was saying giving his testament on the last day of his life, giving special tone to what the Lord “has written for our instruction” (cf. Exod 24:12).

The similar tendency seems to be in the contents of the scriptural quote. Jesus is taking over the warning not to tempt God from Deut 6:16. But in the Gospels (Luke 4:12; Matt 4:7) the Hebrew original is changed according to the translation of the Greek Bible, rendering the verb in singular instead of plural. In this way it is personal, not only collective: “Thou shall not put your God to test!” (Luke 4:12), In Luke’s passage this is a direct and effective command to end the testing.

Niko Bilić, SJ

Niko Bilić SJ

Filozofsko-teološki institut Družbe Isusove, afiliran Papinskom sveučilištu Gregoriana i združen s Fakultetom filozofije i religijskih znanosti


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