The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 4:1-13 (Luke 4:1-13)

The temptation in the wilderness.

One of the most mysterious but most suggestive passages in the history of the Christ. Without attempting to indicate all the points presented for reflection (see homiletics on Matthew 4:1-25 .), observe—

I. THE TEMPTATION IS NECESSARY TO THE PERFECTING OF JESUS AS THE SAVIOR OF SINNERS . He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness—led for the purpose of being tried by the devil. In the solitudes and simplicities of the Nazareth life, he had not known, he could not know, this kind of trial. Now is to come the first distinct experience of the devil's power. God—may we so say?—carried him away from the scene of the baptism and the opened heavens and the Divine voice, and presented him to Satan, the prince of the power of the air: "This is my beloved Son: put forth thine hand, and touch him." Is this strange?

1 . It is a very real link of communion between the Lord and the life beset by sin and evil. "By thy fasting and temptation, good Lord, deliver me."

2 . See in it a part, and an essential part, in the making of Jesus to us Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption. Let us not overlook that "the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil." Now begins the great pitched battle between the kingdoms of light and of darkness; the wilderness-time is the girding of the sword on the thigh of the most Mighty. Do not think of the temptation as an isolated experience. At the end of all the temptations the devil departed from him only for a season , or until a season . He had been conquered, but he was not done with the Conqueror; he only bided his opportunity. The whole earthly ministry was a conflict with that hell which had all but dominated over the world of man. And the conflict was concluded in victory only when the Head was bowed on the cross. "Through death he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." Ah! truly there is "an infinite more behind" all that is recorded.

II. TEMPTATION IS NECESSARY TO HUMAN PERFECTING . The hour of the leading into the wilderness is striking. St. Luke amplifies the account given by the earlier evangelist. The latter connects the event with the baptism and that which accompanied it; the former tells us of what is subjective—of the conscious plenitude of life and power. Jesus, being full of the Holy Ghost, is led. When the sense of the mighty force is strong within him, when the chords of the heart are vibrating in response to the voice from heaven, when the soul feels straitened until it enters on the great mission given it; when he is ready, lo! this summons to the wilderness, this forcible taking of the anointed man, with the anointing fresh and full, to the dreary desert place over whose surface the wild beasts roam. But is not this a way of God? Was not Saul of Tarsus, in the morning of his life in Jesus, sent for three years to Arabia? Is not strength gathered, is not character compacted, through contact, direct and personal, with the forces alike of good and evil? He who was "made in all things like to his brethren" must have that in his human history which corresponds to facts and necessities in ours. And the wilderness, with its struggle, its assaults on faith and obedience, its glimpse into the outer darkness, its resistance of the devil, is a necessity in the education of the man as the Son of God.

III. THE TEMPTATIONS OF CHRIST RECORDED ARE A MIRROR OF THE TEMPTATIONS OF HIS BRETHREN Mark the word "recorded." St. Luke tells us that Jesus was led during forty days, tempted of the devil. What the forty days meant remains untold. Probably it could not be expressed in language intelligible to us. It was only at the end that "the Divine event becomes human enough to be made to appear." Until then the lower wants were in a condition of suspense; the hunger is "the first sign of his coming back to us." Then the part of the temptation which we can understand begins. It will be remembered that we are dealing with a narrative of real transactions. It is not a poem, not a parable. Whether the acts were purely subjective, consisting only of suggestions to the inner spiritual sense, is a doubtful point; but that there was a veritable tempting in the manner described, that we are regarding "a chronicle of events," cannot be doubted. Nor is it a mere likeness of temptation that is set before us. The gospel story would be nothing to the heart if we conceived of it as a series of visions which in no distinct way touched the citadel of the Lord's heart, was not to him what temptation is to us—the contact of the soul with some hour and power of darkness. If it be asked—How can this be if Jesus was without sin? let it be recollected that sin does not consist in an impression of what is evil; it consists in yielding to the impression, in receiving it. The sacred writers are careful to note that all suggestions come, not from the soul, but to the soul from a lying spirit outside the personality. When we speak of sinlessness, we do not mean that enticements to sin can never present themselves or be felt as enticements; we mean that they are never yielded to or consented to—that there is a will so perfectly loyal to the Father that the wrong and the unchildlike are never in the purpose of Jesus. Note the three points or regions of the temptation recorded. The order is slightly different in the accounts of St. Matthew and St. Luke. That which is third in the one is second in the other, reminding us that too much stress is not to be laid on the mere sequence of the story. The first trial had reference to the urgent need; it came in the form of the subtle insinuation, "Son of God, you are hungry: why not use your power to satisfy the wants of nature? You have not bread, you cannot buy bread: why not bid these stones become bread?" So plausible, that the lie can scarcely be discerned. It is addressed to the man on the most pressing side of his necessity. And Jesus meets it as man. "Man's only life is not that by bread, but that by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God." God's Word had made the stone a stone. He would not say the stone is a loaf. He must be throughout in harmony with the eternal word and will. Then how subtle is the second attack! Adhering to St. Matthew's order, "Thou art full of confidence in thy God. Thou dost trust him to the uttermost. Put thy faith to the proof. The Jews expect that their Messiah will descend from the clouds. Away to the top of yonder temple. Cast thyself down from thence. Do something striking; thou knowest it is written, 'He shall give his angels charge over thee.'" How plausible the appeal to the Son of God on the side of his faith! And, once more-repelled by the counter-thrust, the counter-Scripture, "Thou shalt not try to the uttermost the Lord thy God, claiming a miraculous help for what is born of human pride and rashness"—mark the tact and the audacity in the final assault which the enemy makes. The love of power—that which is at once the strength and the weakness of every noble mind—shall be the wedge. "Son of God, look down on the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Thou art seeking the sovereignty of man. I can give it thee. The force is thine; use it at my instigation. The dominion of love is one of toil and pain. Take what I offer. Think what blessings to the world will be at once secured. The sole condition is to fall down and worship me. Am I not the real king of the world?" It is the very climax of devilry. The temptation can go no further. "Then saith Jesus, Get thee behind me, Satan." It is the battle of man that is portrayed in man's Lord. "For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one." Here is the tempter who is tempting us, adapting the form of his solicitations to our tempers, our endowments, our circumstances. Here are the characteristics of his approaches, his doubts, his "ifs" ("if" is a devil-word which more than any other loosens the holdfasts of faith), his quotations from Scripture when it suits his purpose to do so, his three great heads of temptation—that which seeks us through bodily need or fleshly appetite, that which seeks us through even our purer and higher instincts, that which would draw us into the net by stirring up the pride of life. Ah! there is no sleeping with this tempter. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."

IV. THE VICTORY OF CHRIST IS OUR ENCOURAGEMENT . Blessed is the assurance contained in the words, "Get thee behind me, Satan." The devil is behind Jesus, the Captain of our salvation. What is our position towards our Captain? Apart from him? Ah, we may tremble! With him, in him? He is between us and Satan, and we can do all things through him strengthening. "Be of good cheer: I have overcome.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 4:1-2 (Luke 4:1-2)

Solitude and struggle.

We are not to suppose, even though we read this statement as given by Matthew ( Matthew 4:1 ), that our Lord was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by the evil one: to take that view would be to mistake the force of the Hebrew idiom. All that is intended is that Jesus was constrained to retire into the solitude of the wilderness where he would have to undergo the temptation which did actually befall him. He was led, by Divine direction, into retirement, and there, by Divine permission, into spiritual struggle.

I. THE DIVINE DIRECTION . As Moses in Midian, as David around Bethlehem, as Elijah at Horeb, as John in the wilderness of Judaea, as (afterwards) Saul in Arabia, so Jesus prepared for his great work in the depth of "the solitary place." There we Can well believe that he held much communion with God ; that he looked down into the secret places of his own soul and communed carefully with himself ; and that he pondered long on the great work— the Father's business —which lay before him. We may be sure that this period of solitude produced very rich fruit in after-days, not only in the truth which was spoken, but in the life which was lived and the sorrow which was endured. This period should find its Counterpart in our history; if it does not find it by our consent, it may do so without any choice of our own. For:

1 . God commends such retirement to us. He does so by the way in which he led the greatest and the wisest of his servants (see above); by the faculties of devotion, introspection, and forecast which he has given us; by the example of our Lord. But:

2 . God compels us to such retirement. He does so by his holy providence, when he lays us aside, when he takes us away from the busy scenes of toil, from "the strife of tongues," from the excitements of society, and even from the distractions of the home circle; when he shuts the door upon us and draws round the curtain and leaves us alone with himself. Of that time, if we are wise, we shall make good use. It is a time for spiritual renovation; then we may learn lessons we should never gather even in the sanctuary; then we may enter on an upward path which otherwise we should never take, and so reach a goal we should otherwise never gain. It is a sacred opportunity, inciting to

including the solemn and determined rededication of our whole selves and our entire future to the service of our Savior.

II. THE DIVINE PERMISSION . By the permission of God the evil one came to our Lord and tempted him (see following homilies). God allows the tempter to assail us even as he did his "beloved Son." There are some temptations which are more likely to beset us in the period of solitude than at any other time—temptations of the wilderness. They are:

1 . A morbid sensitiveness as to

2 . Excessive disappointment and consequent disheartenment concerning

But though we may pass through these struggles we may come safely out of them. The remedies are these:

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 4:1-13 (Luke 4:1-13)

The temptation of Christ.

From the baptism of Jesus we now pass to his temptation. In the baptism he received, as we have seen, three gifts from the Father—the guarantee of a perfect revelation of the Father's will, of a perfect inspiration to do that revealed will, and of an assurance of Sonship during the trying ordeal. We are now to notice three temptations, corresponding very accurately to these three gifts, and so presenting in most artistic fashion the great drama of Messiah's life. But before taking them up as they are here presented by Luke, let us direct our attention to one or two preliminary matters. And first we must notice that Jesus was "led," or, as Mark puts it still more graphically, was "driven" of the Spirit into the wilderness ( Mark 1:12 ). This clearly implies that our Lord did not "court temptation," nor rush with a light heart into it, nor shirk it, but accepted bravely what was forced upon him. It is only in such a spirit that we can hope successfully to resist it. There is no premise of Scripture to sustain any one who rushes madly into temptation. But, secondly, we observe that a great baptism of the Spirit is usually to prepare the recipient for some victoriously-to-be-met temptation. Jesus went to the wilderness filled with the Holy Ghost, and so was enabled to vanquish his tempter. Thirdly, the scene of the temptation is significant. While its exact location is not indicated, its general characteristics are. It was some wilderness , where nature affords no food or sustenance to man. What a contrast to the happy garden where the first Adam was tempted! Messiah meets the tempter in the most trying circumstances, and the tempter's defeat there is promise of his defeat everywhere. Moreover, Mark tells us he was "with the wild beasts" ( Mark 1:13 ). It is a new Daniel braving the lions and subduing them. Fourthly, we must observe that he is here tempted in his public capacity, as Messiah. He had doubtless been tempted previously as a private individual; he had been urged by Satan most probably to leave the privacy of Nazareth for a more public position, and had put away all these temptations manfully. Now that he has dedicated himself as Messiah in the Jordan, he must undergo corresponding temptations.

II. NOTICE THE TEMPTATION THROUGH APPETITE . (Verses 3, 4.) After forty days' fast, during which time he was suffering temptation from Satan, he finds himself famishing. The spectacle in the wilderness and among the wild beasts is, therefore, that of a famishing Messiah . Never was he nearer death than on this occasion, except when death actually came. It is at this juncture that Satan first tempts him through his hunger. He claims to be the Son of God; this assurance was given him in his baptism; and as the Son he believes he possesses, though as yet he has not exercised, miraculous power. Let him, then, use his power for self-preservation, which is the first law of nature, and transform the stones of the wilderness into bread. The fallacy which underlies this temptation is one to which men are now most prone, viz. that "men must live," and then this false principle passes through degrees of comparison, and men say to themselves they must, if possible, live well, and, lastly, they must, if possible, live very well But is it necessary that any of us should live? Who has given us this revelation? May not God's revelation be that the best thing we could do would be to die for truth and righteousness? Hence our Lord, instead of listening to the voice of appetite, declares his resolve to listen to the voice of God, and upon that revelation he will live. "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." It is surely instructive in these times, when appetite is accepted by many as man's one certain revelation, to have our Lord directing our attention to a higher revelation and a more sustaining voice. Bread cannot sustain the whole man; it can only prop up the physical nature; but the spiritual needs other food and higher help, and finds it in God's Word alone! Amid the fierce struggle for bread, let us listen to him who speaks about the better bread which comes out of the mouth of God!

II. NOTICE THE TEMPTATION THROUGH AMBITION . (Verses 5—8.) Matthew puts this temptation last, instead of here, and in this is probably chronologically more accurate than Luke. But we need not transpose it in order to profit by it. Messiah, then, though famishing, abides by the revelation of God rather than make a miraculous banquet in the wilderness. But of the revelation the Father gave him this was a chief part—that he was to become Conqueror and Ruler of the world! Universal empire was, therefore, his legitimate ambition. It is here that Satan tempts him. Taking him to some mountain-top, he shows him, in some miraculous fashion, all the kingdoms of the inhabited world in a moment of time. Next he claims to be the rightful ruler of these kingdoms, but is willing to make a bargain with the ambitious Messiah that, if he will only acknowledge his sovereignty and pay him the homage due to earthly kings, all the kingdoms shall be made over to him. The temptation here is to gratify ambition at the cheapest rate. No self-denial, no self-sacrifice, no consuming spirit, shall be needful, but simply a little homage paid to the world's prince. It was such a bargain as a worldly mind would have welcomed eagerly. But Jesus refused the terms. He would not acknowledge Satan to be the world's rightful ruler. He regarded him as a usurper whom he had come to depose. Hence, in impatience with the arch-fiend, our Lord exclaimed, "Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." The question in the first temptation was that of revelation , corresponding to the first of the baptismal gifts; the question in this temptation is that of inspiration , the spirit of service, and corresponding to the second of the baptismal gifts. Jesus will not render any homage to the world's betrayer, but will serve God alone! Once more may we see the grand spirit of self-sacrifice which this implies. Jesus will seek and obtain a universal empire, but by making no truce with the world; rather would he himself suffer unto death and be followed by myriads of martyrs, than gratify a poor ambition in Satan's suggested and worldly way.

III. NOTICE THE TEMPTATION TO PRESUMPTION AND OSTENTATION . (Verses 9-12.) As Messiah Jesus must consider what plan would be best for beginning his public work. This must have been with him a distinct subject of thought. And now Satan suggests that if he precipitated himself from the pinnacle of the temple into the court, and did so with impunity as God's Son, the people could not but hail him as the promised Messiah. He should put his Sonship, the tempter suggests, to the test. He should test the promise about angels bearing up the believer and preventing him from dashing his foot against a stone. It was a temptation to carry faith into presumption, and becoming ostentatious in doing so. Our Lord, then, having resolved to live by faith, is as firmly resolved to avoid presumption. He will not tempt his Father by claiming support in ostentatious circumstances. And so he repels the insinuation, and resolves not to presume upon his Sonship. Hence we find that, instead of entering in any such spirit upon his work, he enters upon it publicly when he drives the traffickers from the temple. It was an amazing method of beginning Messianic work, and yet it was the best way. £ These temptations have their little counterparts in our own experience. We are tempted through appetite, through ambition, and through presumption. We must resist the enemy in the Master's spirit. The apt quotations from the Divine Word show where the sword of the Lord lies, and it is for us not to let it rust in a napkin, like Goliath's at the tabernacle, but to have it in constant readiness for active service and faithful resistance.

And now, in conclusion, we have to notice the fact that angels came and ministered unto Jesus when the crisis was past. We know not what they brought to him-ambrosial food, the corn of heaven, perhaps; at all events the most delightful food of which he ever partook. Then, like Elijah, he went in the strength of the food received, not, indeed, to the mount of God and the wilderness, but from the wilderness to the busy haunts of men, and in the power of the Spirit. Satan, meanwhile, having "completed" the temptation, having done his worst to make him fall, leaves him for a season free. It must have been a heaven of happiness to be consciously free from his incessant wiles and snares, and to have won the freedom. So may we in our little measure win some respite from the enemy, if we faithfully follow our Lord in resisting temptation!—R.M.E.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 4:1-13 (Luke 4:1-13)


The consecration of our Lord in his baptism was immediately followed by what is known as his temptation. It is, perhaps, the most mysterious and least understood of any of the scenes of the public ministry related by the evangelists.

It is related at some length by SS . Matthew and Luke, with very slight difference of detail, the principal one being the order in which the three great temptations occurred. In St. Mark the notice of this strange episode in the life is very short, but harmonizes perfectly with the longer accounts of SS . Matthew and Luke. St John omits it altogether; first, because, with the earlier written Gospels before him, he was aware that the Church of his Master already possessed ample details of the occurrence; and secondly, the story and lessons of the temptation did not enter into the plan which St. John had before him when he composed his history of his Lord's teaching.

What, now, was the temptation? Did the evil one appear to Jesus actually in a bodily form? Did his feet really press some elevation, such as the summit of snowy Hermon, or the still more inaccessible peak of Ararat? and did the far-reaching prospect of sea and land, mountain and valley, bathed in the noonday glory of an Eastern sun, represent to him the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them? Did be in very truth stand on the summit of the great temple-roof, and from that dizzy height gaze on the crowds below, crawling like ants across the sacred court, or toiling along the Jerusalem streets?

So generally thought the ancients, and so it would appear, on first thoughts, from St. Matthew's account, where we read ( Matthew 4:3 ), "The tempter came to him.;" and the vivid realistic imagery of St. Mark would rather help us to the same conclusion. Some expositors and students of the Word have imagined—for it comes to little more—that the devil manifested himself to Jesus under the guise of an angel of light; others prove supposed the tempter came to him as a wayfaring man; others, as a priest, as one of the Sanhedrin council.

But on further consideration all this seems highly improbable. No appearance of the devil, or of any evil angel, is ever related in the Bible records. The mountain whence the view of the world's kingdoms was obtained after all is fanciful, and any realistic interpretation is thoroughly unsatisfactory and improbable. The greater of the modern scholars of different countries—the Germans Olshausen and Neander, the Dutch Van Oosterzee, the Frenchman Pressense, the Swiss Godet, Farrar and Plumptre in our own land—reject altogether the idea of a presence of the tempter visible to the eye of sense. The whole transaction lay in the spiritual region of the life of Christ, but on that account it was not the less real and true.

Nor is it by any means a solitary experience, this living, beholding, listening, and even speaking in the Spirit, narrated by the evangelist in this place as a circumstance in the Lord's life. Centuries before, Ezekiel, when in his exile by the banks of Chebar in Chaldea, was lifted up and borne by the Spirit to far-distant Jerusalem, that he might see the secret sins done in the temple of the Lord ( Ezekiel 8:3 ). Isaiah again, in the year that King Uzziah died, saw the Lord on his throne, surrounded by seraphim; in this vision the prophet speaks , and hears the Lord speak, and a burning coal from off the altar is laid on his mouth ( Isaiah 6:1-11 ). To pass over the several visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others, in which the transactions lay altogether in the spiritual region of their lives, we would instance from the New Testament St. Paul's account of himself caught up into paradise, "whether in the body or out of the body" he could not tell ( 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 ). And still more to the point, St. John's words prefacing his Revelation, how he was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day," when he heard the voice behind him, and saw his glorified Master. On that day and in that hour he heard and saw what he relates in his twenty-two chapters of the Revelation.

In language very slightly different, the temptation of the blessed Son of God is related by the evangelists, when they preface the history of the event with the words, "Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost … was led by the Spirit into the wilderness" (see, too, Matthew 4:1 ).

We conclude, then, with some confidence, that the devil did not appear to Jesus in a bodily form, but that, in a higher sphere than that of matter, the Redeemer met and encountered—with the result we know so well—that spiritual being of superhuman but yet of limited power, who tempts men to evil, and accuses them before the throne of God when they have yielded to the temptation. "We believe"—to use Godet's words here—"that had he been observed by any spectator whilst the temptation was going on, he would have appeared all through it motionless upon the soil of the desert. But though the conflict did not pass out of the spiritual sphere, it was none the less real, and the value of the victory was none the less incalculable and decisive."

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 4:1 (Luke 4:1)

And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness; more accurately translated, in the Spirit . The question of the nature of the temptation has been discussed in the above note. The words, "full of the Holy Ghost," and "was led by the Spirit," lead us irresistibly to the conclusion that the Lord, during this strange solemn time—like Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah, and, later, Paul and John the beloved apostle—was especially under the influence of the Holy Spirit; that his eyes were open to see visions and sights not usually visible to mortal eye; and that his ears were unlocked to hear voices not audible to ordinary mortal ears. Tradition has fixed upon a hill district bordering on the road which leads up from Jericho to Jerusalem, as the scene of the temptation. The hill itself, from being the supposed spot where the Lord spent these forty days, is named Quarantania. The rocks in this neighborhood contain many caves.

- The Pulpit Commentary