The Temptation and Jesus' Sermon in Nazareth

Luke 4:1-44


It is true in a certain sense that the nation of Israel was God's son. Although when God promised Abraham that He would bless Abraham and His seed, God was referring primarily to Abraham's Greatest Son Jesus, in a secondary way God was also referring to the nation of Israel, God's lesser son. In Hosea 11:1 God calls the children of Abraham "sons," specially, "My Son": "Out of Egypt did I call My Son." Many of the events in the OT featuring the Jews were events between God and His Son Israel. As a result many of the same kind of events which occurred during the life of Israel, God's lesser son, also occurred in the life of Jesus, God's Greater Son. For example, in the lives of both Israel and Jesus we see the slaughter of the innocents (by Pharaoh and by Herod) and the exodus of Israel (Exodus 1-14) and Jesus from Egypt (Matt. 2).

Another event in the OT which parallels an event in the life of God's greater Son is that of the trials/temptations in the wilderness. After God led His Son Israel into the wilderness from Egypt, God allowed Israel to be tested 10 times. Each time Israel failed. After the 10th time, God is so fed up with Israel that He decides that He will wipe out everybody 20 years of age and older. For the next 40 years God makes good His promise by wiping out the older generation and by replacing it with a younger generation of holy warriors committed to God. In Luke 4 we see God's Greater Son entering the wilderness in order to experience another time of trial and testing. Unlike Israel, God's Greater Son Jesus will gain a decisive victory over Satan.


Although the Holy Spirit was the instrument God used to bring Jesus into the world, at Jesus' baptism God christens Jesus, that is, anoints Him, with His Spirit so that He might conduct His ministry henceforth under the leadership of and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Everything Jesus does from now on is a result of Jesus following the Spirit and allowing the Spirit to work through Him. For this reason whenever the Jews attack Jesus by saying that He is performing miracles in the power of Satan, Jesus claims that they are in effect attacking the Holy Spirit.

The first thing the Spirit does after Jesus is anointed with the Spirit is to drive (Mark 1:12) Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted by Satan. This is not just Jesus encountering temptation. This is the Spirit waging war against Satan. Over 1000 years earlier God's Son Israel had lost in its conflict in the wilderness; this greater Son has gone into the wilderness in order to take Satan to the mat.

A closer look at the first and third temptations helps us understand the nature of the temptations Jesus faced. At the beginning of these 2 temptations, Satan says: "If you are the Son of God . . ." In other words since the first and last temptations begin with this clause, all 3 temptations are to be understood in light of Satan's use of this clause "If you are the Son of God." It needs to be noted that the clause is not really an "if" clause. The Greek words used here could be translated "Assuming You are God's Son" or even "Since You are God's Son." The 3 temptations revolve around the issue of what kind of Son Jesus is going to be to the Father.

The First Temptation: Turn Stones to Bread (4:3-4)

In the first temptation Satan says: "Since You are God's Son, turn these stones into bread." Jesus' response is: "Man shall not live by bread alone." Matthew tells us that Jesus goes on to say: "But by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God." Satan seems to be implying that it is beneath the dignity of Jesus to be going around starving. As God's Son surely Jesus deserved better treatment than this! Mel Gibson seems to have picked up on this very idea in The Passion of the Christ when he has Satan carrying around his child, as if to mock Mary: "I take better care of my own than God takes care of His own."

Quoting Deut. 8:3 (all 3 quotes of Jesus come from Deuteronomy, Moses' sermon to the Israelites in the wilderness), Jesus' response is that sonship does not mean necessarily privilege, comfort, and rights. Rather sonship entails obedience to God. For Jesus the essence of sonship is obedience, not privilege and comfort. Jesus enunciates this very principle later to the disciples after He ministered to the Samaritan woman. After the Samaritan woman leaves Jesus, the disciples arrive from town, bringing food for Jesus to eat. Jesus' response? He's not hungry because He has already been eating. When the disciples are puzzled by this response, Jesus says, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work" (John 4:34). The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to fast and pray, and up to this point the Spirit has not told Jesus to break that fast.

The Second Temptation (4:5-8)

Next Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain from which in a moment Jesus can survey all the kingdoms of the world. This event probably takes place in the form of a vision. After showing Jesus all these kingdoms, Satan promises Jesus that if He worships Satan just once, then Satan will turn all his rule and authority over these kingdoms to Jesus. Satan knows that Jesus as the Christ, God's Son has the right to rule over creation. He wants to give Him the option of achieving this goal by worshiping him just once instead of achieving it by suffering on the cross.

Some have questioned whether or not Satan really had this kind of authority. He most likely did. After God created the world, He gave man dominion over creation. At the Fall though, man did not simply sin, he also relinguished his right to have dominion over creation. Creation no longer was benevolent. From then on man had to work by the sweat of his brow and the woman had to experience great pain in childbirth. For all practical purposes the world was placed beneath the rule of Satan. Jesus seems to acknowledge this when He says, "Now the ruler of this world is coming, and He has nothing in Me" (John 14:30). Quoting Deut. 6:13, Jesus replies once more than sonship involves obedience and worship of God, not of Satan.

We too are to interpret our sonship in terms of obedience and not in terms of privilege, benefits, etc. Christians make the claim that we won't go through the tribulation because we are God's children. We may or may not go through the tribulation; that is up for debate. What is not up for debate is the principle that we are to obey God no matter what He has in store for us, prosperity as well as adversity, poverity as well as riches, sickness as well as health.

The Third Temptation (4:9-13)

In the third temptation Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple. The pinnacle of the Temple most likely was the southeastern corner of the outer Temple wall which overlooked the Kidron valley. This was the highest point from the ground in the whole Temple complex. Satan urges Him to jump down, claiming that God promises Jesus in the Scripture that He will take care of Jesus: "He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you" and "In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone" (Ps. 91:11-12).

(First, note that Satan uses the Scriptures in his war with Jesus. Simply because somebody quotes Scripture does not mean he is using Scripture properly. You can use the words of the Bible in a way that they contradict the content of the Bible. Be careful in the way you use the Bible. Second, note that simply because somebody misuses the Bible we should not discard the Bible. I've heard this principle applied too often to other areas of the Christian life. "Oh, we shouldn't care about spiritual gifts because charismatics have been misusing them!" The burden upon us is to make sure we use the Bible, spiritual gifts, etc. in the way God wants us to use them, not discard them.)

The essence of Satan's temptation is that Jesus by jumping down and being rescued by God's angels would astound all the people around Him. Such a feat would convince them that He was truly the Christ and that they should accept Him as such. Jesus though replies, by quoting Scripture again, that we are not to test the Lord God.

What is the essence of testing God? Instead of following His leadership and living in His strength, we follow our own agenda and live in our own strength and power. I don't have to give the Lord my time, but then neither should I expect Him to rescue me whenever I have no time. I don't have to give God my relationships, but then neither should I expect Him to salvage my relationships whenever they go sour. The same applies with my health, my money, etc. God unfortunately most of the time gives us the freedom to do what we want to do, even when we didn't care what God thought or wanted when we were making our decision. Many times God will rescue us even when we have that attitude; however, we should not expect it. That is asking too much.

In Jesus' specific circumstance testing God would be to do this spectacular feat which God had not directed Him to do. For Satan, Jesus' Sonship meant taking the easy way to obtaining the kingdom of God. For Jesus, Sonship meant obeying the Father. To be sure maybe everybody would have accepted Jesus as the Christ if He had done this spectacular feat; however, it would have meant Jesus disobeying His Father. All three temptations are actually an attempt on Satan's part for the Son to disobey His Father. Jesus though, the Perfect Son, refuses to be anything except a perfectly obedient Son. Later Jesus will say: "The Son can do nothing of Himself unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner" (John 5:19).

Many Christians engage in the debate about whether or not these were real temptations. The question is whether or not Jesus could have really sinned. I don't see how they could have been anything but real temptations. If Jesus could not have sinned, then in what sense did He have victory over sin and Satan? In what sense then could He ever give us help during our times of temptation? In all our efforts to perserve the deity of Jesus, we have destroyed the humanity of Jesus. He is 100% God while being at the same time 100% man. Being man, He could sin; being God with the Spirit operating through Him, He chose not to sin.

Did Jesus really experience temptation like you and me? Yes, even more so. You and I don't really experience the full weight and force of temptation because we give in too quickly. Jesus though resisted to the bitter end. He knew exactly how awful it is to be tempted. Did Jesus experience every temptation man can experience? Maybe or maybe not. It doesn't matter though. Temptation is temptation. The temptations Satan leveled at Jesus were the ones Jesus felt the most tempted to yield to. Satan is not going to waste his time tempting you on things which have no appeal to you. He goes right for the jugular. Jesus though experienced the temptations which would have had the greatest pull on Him. He resisted them completely and is therefore capable of aiding us during times of temptation.

It's been said over and over again that Jesus resisted temptation by quoting Scripture. Throwing out a verse is not what gives us victory over temptation. It is knowing what God wants (as revealed in the Bible) and obeying Him in His strength and power which gives us victory over Satan. You can't know God's will though unless you know His Word. For this reason we try to have our children memorize as many Bible verses as possible so that when temptation does come, God will be able to remind them of His will (in His Word). Then and only then will they be able to resist Satan in God's strength and power.

Finally, this passage teaches us that there is a difference between being tempted and yielding to temptation. Many Christians feel guilty because they are tempted, because Satan throws things in their paths for the purpose of leading them astray. If that were legitimate, then Christ would be guilty because He too was tempted. "But the voice I hear is my voice. I am the one tempting me; therefore, I am guilty." There is an insightful scene in C. S. Lewis' book Perelandra in which there is a scientist who is going mad. On his shoulder is a demonic lizard-type creature whispering maddening words into his ears. The creature has learned to speak exactly the way the scientist speaks, with the same grammar, syntax, language, etc. The scientist thinks that he is going crazy because he believes he is speaking these crazy words to himself. The reason he is going crazy though is that he is giving credence to the lizard-type creature without even knowing it. We need to know exactly what Satan does to try to defeat us; otherwise, he might just win.


Luke informs us that after Jesus' victory over Satan in the wilderness, He returns to minister in Galilee in the power and might of the Holy Spirit. He is truly the Christ who has been christened ("anointed") with God's Spirit in order to bring about the kingdom of God. He comes to Nazareth. As the passage will show, this is not the first sermon Jesus preached; nor was it the absolute beginning of His ministry; He has already been ministering in Capernaum (4:14, 15, 23). Moreover, according to John 2-3 Jesus has already been ministering in Jerusalem.

Why does Luke place this early episode though in Jesus' ministry at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry? He puts it first because it sets the tone for what follows. Jesus being rejected in Nazareth was not a unique experience. It is a foreshadowing of the response that He is going to receive from the Jewish people on the wholesale level.

Jesus enters the synagogue in Nazareth (still in existence today) on the Sabbath. Luke informs us that it was Jesus' custom to worship in the synagogues on the Sabbath. (If the Lord found it important to worship on Sabbaths in the synagogues with God's people, even when the worship services were led by people far less qualified to lead them than He, how much more should we?) It was also a regular custom of the synagogues to ask visiting rabbis to lead in the worship service. Since Jesus has gained for Himself a wonderful reputation because of His ministry in Capernaum, the synagogue officials ask Jesus to guide them in the reading of the Scripture and in expounding upon the passage. Jesus takes the scroll of Isaiah and turns to Isaiah 61. (Either this was the assigned passage for the day, or else Jesus chose it for this particular occasion.):

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me [notice the emphasis upon Jesus being filled with the Spirit]
Because He anointed ["christened"] Me to preach the Gospel to the Poor
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind
To set free those who are oppressed
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

After returning the scroll to the synagogue official, Jesus sits down and addresses the congregation. (Sitting while teaching was a synagogue custom.) All eyes are glued upon Jesus. They have heard about the miracles He had performed in Capernaum. Now that He was back home, they were expecting Him to do even greater miracles.

Instead of getting a miracle, they get an announcement. To the amazement of the congregation, Jesus announces: "This passage has been fulfilled in your hearing. In other words, I am the One christened with the Spirit in order to preach the gospel, to bring sight to the blind, to free the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's salvation." At first the people seem to respond positively to what Jesus is saying. Luke though gives us only a synopsis of what happened in the synagogue. Somewhere along the way the people turn on Jesus. They say, "Is this not [just] Joseph's son?" In other words, they are claiming that He is not any better than the rest of them, so where does He get off calling them blind, oppressed, poor, etc.?

Jesus picks up on their hostile attitude. Their attitude towards Him is "Physician, heal yourself." In other words, they are incensed at Him that He would call them "blind," "poor," and "oppressed." About 2 years later the Jews in Jerusalem will be offended when Jesus calls them "slaves." They claim that as Abraham's sons, they have never been enslaved, while a brief survey of their history reveals that they had been free for only half of the time they had existed as a people. They refused to acknowledge their spiritual poverty and resented anybody telling them anything different.

Jesus goes on to say that the principle "a prophet is not accepted in his home country" applies to this situation as well. It is hard for people you grew up with to think that you have become somebody important. This is true in general; however, this is especially true with respect to Israel and God's prophets. Time after time whereas God's prophets were not welcome in Israel, they were welcome in foreign lands, for example, Phoenicia (the widow Zarapeth) and Syria (Namaan). In a sense Jesus is saying that whereas the Jews will reject the Christ, foreigners will accept Him. This really infuriates the crowd.

One of the major obstacles for Christianity is the question, "If Jesus is the Messiah, then why didn't God's people the Jews accept Him?" The actual question though should be, "Would Jesus have really been the Messiah if the Jews HAD accepted Him?" Throughout their history they continually rejected God's prophets. Their accepting Jesus would have been so out of character for them. Rejecting Him was in keeping with their character. Rejecting Jesus was simply the culmination of the way the Jews had treated God's prophets from day one. From here on out, the story of Jesus and the Jews is that of their rejecting Him. Only a few will actually accept Him (see John 1:11-12).

This infuriates the congregation to such an extent that they even try to kill Jesus by trying to throw Him off the cliff overlooking the village. Earlier they had wanted a miracle and didn't get one. Now they get one; Jesus miraculously passes through their midst unharmed.