My Notes on Luke 4:1-13

Liturgical Background:  In the readings on Ash Wednesday we saw that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness, affording us an opportunity to repent should we fall into temptation (Joel 2:12-18).  This has been manifested most fully and completely through the Church which has a ministry of reconciliation in Christ who, though he knew no sin was made to be sin by the Father so that we might become the righteousness of God(2 Cor 5:20-6:2).  We are thus empowered to avoid testing God through hypercritical acts of piety (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18).  On the Thursday after Ash Wednesday we learned that every test is a choice between obedience and disobedience, life and death (Deut 30:15-20), and we are called upon to embrace the cross of self-denial in the face of the world and its temptations, as our Blessed Lord did (Luke 9:22-25).  On the Friday after Ash Wednesday it was reiterated that this self denial must be just that, real self-denial which has meaning for our life with God and our fellow man (Isa 58:1-9), and this is to be our attitude as we await the return of the Church’s bridegroom (Matt 9:14-15).  Yesterday we saw that a true fast means being committed to the poor and the marginalized for the sake of both their temporal/bodily needs (Isa 58:9-14), and their spiritual needs (Luke 5:27-32).

Notes On Luke 4:1-13.

Luk 4:1  And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from the Jordan and was led the by the spirit into the desert.

According to Luke, the Holy Spirit came down upon our Lord as he prayed after the baptism.  “The Spirit is the creative source of Jesus’ mission just as it had been the source of his very life [1:35]” (Eugene Laerdiere, LUKE New Testament Message, vol 5).  Latter, at Nazareth, Jesus will speak of himself as anointed by the Spirit and why it happened (4:16-30).

The anointing of Jesus calls to mind a couple of OT texts, the first being Isaiah 11:2 which speaks of a messianic King who will help the poor and afflicted (see Isa 11:1-5).  The second is Isaiah 42:1-9.  This is the first “Servant of the Lord Songs” and describes the servant as one on whom God has put his Spirit to teach and to establish justice, and to aid the sick and oppressed.   Sickness, oppression, injustice are all effects of Adam’s fall to the serpent’s testing, Jesus, as Son of Adam (Luke 3:38) began his ministry (Lk 3:23) to rectify this situation.

“Filled with the Spirit” is a common expression in Luke (Lk 1:41, Lk 1:67; Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8, Acts 4:31; Acts 9:17; Acts 13:9).

Led by the Spirit into the desert.  The Greek literally reads: “Was being led about in the Spirit.”   The Greek word translated as “being led” is a perfect passive indicative, indicating that Jesus was subject to the Spirit continually.The underlying idea is not all that different from St Mark: “Mark has the Spirit driveth him, where the word drive denotes the power, efficacy and alacrity of the Spirit which was in Christ, and which was to be in the Apostles and all other Christians, and which was to drive or impel them to heroic acts of virtue, according to the words As many as are driven by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God (Rom 8:14, Vulg.).  Christ then was led by the spirit, not rapt through the air, but through the impulse of the Spirit, going with the utmost alacrity upon His feet, to the scene of His contest with the devil.” (Lapide).

Desert.  Would call to mind the desert wanderings of Israel at the Exodus.  Might also call to mind the prophecy of Hosea 2:16-17, which spoke of a time when God would lead Israel back into the wilderness.  But the desert was also a place of danger, the dwelling of beasts and demons (Lev 16:10; Isa 13:21; Isa 34:14; Tob 8:3).

Lapide: The desert was Christs wrestling ground of prayer, fasting and an angelic life, where He entered upon His duel with Lucifer and vanquished him.

St Ambrose: Let us too, follow Christ. far from luxury, far from lasciviousness, living as it were in the arid soil of His life of fasting.  Not in the marketplace, not in the broad streets is Christ found.  So let us not seek for Christ where he cannot be found.  Christ is not in the courts of law, for Christ is peace; in the court are lawsuits, Christ is justice; in the forum is iniquity, Christ is charity; in the forum is detraction, Christ is fidelity.

Luk 4:2  For the space of forty days, and was tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.

According to Father Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J. the forty days is applicable only to his eating nothing, not his tempting by the devil, which seems to have taken place near the end of his fast.  However, the phrase was tempted by the devil (should be translated being tempted by the devil, for the Greek participle suggests “the simultaneity of the temptations and the Spirit’s escort” (Fitzmyer, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE I-IX, The Anchor Bible).  Concerning this Lapide writes: “And the Spirit is here put in opposition to the devil, who follows as the adversary of Christ and the Holy Ghost, that Christ’s Own Spirit might lead Him where the evil spirit might find Him to tempt Him, says St Gregory.”

Forty days.  Given the importance of texts from Deuteronomy in this account the phrase is certainly meant to call to mind the forty years of wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus (Deut 8:2-4; see also Ex 16:35).  It also calls to mind two great Old Covenant figure, Moses (Ex 24:18-34), through whom the covenant was delivered to the people, and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), the great defender of the covenant.  The devil will leave Jesus at the end of this tempting, but he will return on the night Christ institutes the New Covenant.

Was tempted by the devil. Why should Christ be so tempted?  Lapide lists 6 reasons:

1.  “The holy Spirit intended by this temptation to afford to Christians, baptized and converted to God, an ideal of religious life, whereby they should know they must fortify themselves against the temptations which are sure to attack them.  So Sts Chrysostom and Hilary.

2.  The Holy Ghost would show that there is no temptation which may not be overcome by grace, by prayer and fasting, by repeating the sords of Scripture, the precepts and promises of God.

3. Christ, who was often tempted by Satan, thus showed Himself to be like unto all other men, His brethren, as the Apostle teaches (Heb 4:15).

4.  That He might show that those who are about to become doctors, preachers, prelates, apostles, must needs be first proved by temptations and be strengthened by prayer and meditation in solitary retreats, and there drink in a large supply of the Spirit,which they may afterwards pours forth upon others.  They who be wise, first go apart with Christ into the wilderness of prayer ad meditation.

5.  That challenging Lucifer to battle, He might vanquish him, and his whole army of demons with him.  This duel between Christ and the devil is as when the sun struggles with the surrounding clouds, with this motto, “Splendor is from me.”  “For the sun, as St Ambrose says, “is the eye of the world, the pleasantness of day, the beauty of the heaven, the measure of the seasons, the strength and vigor of all the stars.  As the sun dissipates the clouds, so does Christ all the temptations of the devil.”  And again, “As the sun makes brilliant the darkest clouds, so does Christ, by the splendor of His grace, convert desolation into consolation, temptations into victories, war into triumph.”

6.  That by His temptation as an example, He might overcome our temptations, and might teach us to fight with and overcome the same antagonist.  For although the faithful, conscious of their own infirmity, ought to avoid temptations as far as they can, according to the words of Christ, “Lead us not into temptation,” yet when temptations do come, they must, relying upon Christ, valiantly resists them, remembering His words: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  Whence St Augustine on Psalm 91 says, “Therefore was Christ tempted, that the Christian might not be overcome by the tempter.”  And elsewhere he says, “He has won the victory, that we too might triumph.”  For as St Ambrose says, When thou art tempted, recognize that a crown is being prepared for you.  Take away the contests of the martyrs, you take away their crowns.  Take away their torments, you take away their beatitudes.  Is not the temptation of Joseph the celebration of virtue?  Is not the wrong of his prison the crown of his chastity?

And when they were ended (i.e., the forty days) He was hungry. Maldonatus: He (Christ) entered the arena hungry, and challenged His opponent; not like other, by boasting of His strength, but by the display of His weakness.

Lapide gives six reasons why Christ fasted:

1.  That by prayer and fasting He might prepare Himself for His work of preaching, and teach us to do the same.

2.  Objectively, that by the hunger consequent upon His fasting, He might afford the devil an opportunity of tempting Him; and by the same fasting might arm Himself, and teach us to arm ourselves against temptations, so states St Basil.

3.  That by macerating His flesh, He might make satisfaction for Adam’s eating the forbidden fruit, and for all the gluttony of his posterity.

4.  That He might dispose Himself for holy contemplation, and show that fasting is a wings, whereby the soul is carried upward to celestial things.

5.  That He might teach us to despise corporal for the sake of spiritual delights; and that by the contemplation of divine things, and the joy which arises from that contemplation, the longing for carnal pleasures is quenched, and the thought of food and drink taken away.  Whence the Abbot John, as Cassain testifies, was so fed with the pleasures of contemplation, that he could not remember whether he had eaten the day before or not.

6.  And chiefly, that He might inaugurate the Lenten Fast, observed by Christians according to Apostolic tradition; that He might sanction, and, as it were, consecrate this fast by His example, so Ignatius (epist. 7) and other Fathers, passim.  The reason was so that first we might give a tithe of all the days of the year to God.  “From this day until the gladness of Easter are six weeks, or forty-two days, from which, as six Sundays not to be given to fasting must be deducted, there remain only thirty-six days.  Thus do we deny ourselves for six-and-thirty days, as giving the tenth of 365 days of the year to God, that we, who have lived by the gift which we have received for ourselves, might, for the sake of our Maker, mortify ourselves by fasting in His own tithe of time.


Luk 4:3  And the devil said to him: If thou be the Son of God, say to this stone that it be made bread.

The term “Son of God” recalls the heavenly voice at the baptism (Lk 3:22), but reminds us also that the term was used of Christ in the infancy narrative as well (Lk 1:32-35).

If thou be the Son of God.  “Satan had perhaps heard the voice from heaven…It is to be believed that the devil said this, not as one who doubts, or denies, or derides, like his agents when they said, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt 26:42); but as believing, and declaring, and wishing to counsel Christ in a seemingly well manner.  As if we were to say, “As Thou art assuredly the Son of God, suffer not hunger, but, as Thou art able, and food is not to be procured otherwise, command that these stones be made bread.”  It was more in craft with the serpent so to tempt, as appearing not to tempt, but to advise Christ well and for His advantage.

Say to this stone that it be made bread. This is the first of three temptations which draw upon Deuteronomy’s re-telling of three testings Israel underwent at the Exodus.  The testing in the desert was God’s doing (Deut 8:2-3) in order to teach them obedience to His word.  As the text of Deuteronomy goes on to indicate, this testing was in anticipation of their entering the holy land and forgetting God (Deut 8:6-13), it was supposed to be something they were to remember in order to avoid failing (Deut 8:14-20).

Luk 4:4  And Jesus answered him: is written that Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word of God.

The New American Bible places Deut 8:1-5 under the title “God’s care,” and the remained of the chapter under the heading “Danger in prosperity.”  The danger for the Israelites was that once they were in the land they would begin to think of themselves as self-sufficient, (Deut 8:17), no longer recognizing the power of God behind their existence, but this Jesus refuses to do.

Lapide: Every faithful Christian lives by every word of God: (1) By receiving Christ, who is God’s Eternal Word, and who, being made man, nourishes us by His doctrine, His grace, and His example.  And we, by receiving Himself, by receiving His Flesh, receive His Godhead in the Eucharist.  (2) God gives the words of sacred Scripture, which feed by illuminating and inflaming the mind.  (3) He feeds us by prayers and holy inspiration.

St Gregory: Consider how great is the patience of God, and how great our impatience.  If we be injured, or provoked by any wrong, we are moved with wrath, and either avenge ourselves as far as we can, or threaten when we are not able.  Behold, the Lord endured the onset of the devil, and answered nothing save words of meekness.  He endures him shom He might have punished.”


In the second temptation (quoted and commented on below) we see that Luke’s ordering of the temptations differs from Matthew’s.  Luke’s second temptation is Matthew’s third, while Matthew’s third is Luke’s second.  Both had theological reasons for structuring their accounts the way they did.

Matthew has his temptation account end on a mountain with his refusal to worship Satan so that he might gain all the nations of the world.  This points forward to the end of the Gospel where Jesus, having remained faithful to the Father, is on a mountain as the Son of Man who was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:14).  For this reason He tells His apostles  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  What Jesus never could have really gained by worship of Satan He did gain by fidelity to His Father.

But Luke has placed this temptation second in his Gospel for reason which will be pointed out below in the comments on Luke’s third temptation.

Luk 4:5  And the devil led him into a high mountain and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
Luk 4:6  And he said to him: To thee will I give all this power and the glory of them. For to me they are delivered: and to whom I will, I give them.
Luk 4:7  If thou therefore wilt adore before me, all shall be thine.
Luk 4:8  And Jesus answering said to him. It is written: Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

In His response our Blessed Lord quotes Deut 6:13, but as was the case in the first temptation, the context is important.  This part of Deuteronomy (4:44-28:69) is often referred to as “Moses second address” (discourse), and the opening of the address refers to an event that took place at Beth-Peor, the site of an infamous apostasy by the people (see Deut 4:46, and the narration of the event in Num 25).

The people had won victories over Sihon and Og (Deut 4:46, see Num 21:21-35) but had fallen into idol worship soon after at Beth-Peor.  Moses, by prefacing the Decalogue  in Deut 5 with these references lays the groundwork for his exhortations to fidelity in Deut 6, which includes the word’s our Lord spoke to Satan (quoting Deut 6:13).  One of the major themes of Deuteronomy is that Israel will only be successful over its enemies if it remains completely faithful to the worship of God, indeed, this is the primary theme of chapters 6-11.  Since fidelity to God is required for victory over one’s enemies, one can hardly worship Satan to gain political power.

Father Callan: To thee I will give all this authority,and the glory of them: for it hath been delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it.  The demon now once more arrogates these Divine rights which occasioned his original fall, when he aspired  to be like the Most High (Isa 14:14) see note below.  As he could not elicit from the Lord whether He was the Son of God, now being rendered more insolent and haughty from our Savior’s modesty and humility, he imagines Him to be a mere man, and feigns himself to be the Son of God, the view of whose glory in time to come was the source of envy and of his fall-that Son to whom were given the nations for inheritance, and the possession of all power in heaven and on earth, and as such, he claims supreme adoration.

Note:  Fr Callan is referring to a theological opinion held by some that Satan’s fall was the result of a test by God in which he was shown the future glory bestowed on man via the Incarnation.  The thought that a creature lower than himself led to his proud rebellion.  For more see the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The tempter lied in saying for it (authority and glory) hath been delivered unto me.  For, to God alone, does it belong to bestow kingdoms on whom He wills-The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD as the watercourses: he turneth it whithersoever he will (Prov 21:1); no authority except from God (Rom 13:1)-not to the demon, whose power is restricted in this world, as appears from the history of Job.  He is termed the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), and the prince of this world; because, of the power which, by Divine permission, he is allowed to exercise over the children of unbelief and sin, who are his slaves.  But he has no power to bestow kingdoms, as he falsely asserts here.

Luk 4:9  And he led him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence:
Luk 4:10  for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to guard thee:
Luk 4:11  and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Luk 4:12  And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

As noted above, Luke, in comparison to Matthew, has reversed the final two temptations.  Luke has the temptations end at the temple in Jerusalem, the city where the Christ was destined to die (Lk 18:31-34), like the prophets before him (Lk 13:34-35).

It appears that Satan is here trying to take advantage of the Lord’s last response concerning worship and service of God by taking Him to the center of Hebrew worship and tempting him to demand that God serve him!

He will give his angels charge concerning thee, to guard thee: and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone. Satan here appeals to Psalm 91:11-12, according to the Septuagint, a Psalm which the New American Bible entitles “Security Under God’s Protection.”  The Psalmist has taken refuge in the Temple and is expressing his confidence that the presence of God will protect him.  Jesus responds with a quote from Deut 6:16, which alludes to the people’s tempting God in the wilderness at Meribah and Massah as narrated in Exodus 17:1-7.

The devil’s temptation here calls to mind the mocking of the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers on Calvary (Lk 23:35-36).

Concerning this temptation Lapide writes: The devil, who fell down from heaven to Tratarus, strives to cast or drag others down with him.  Wherefore when he persuades anyone to sin, he causes him to cast himself down.  As Christ saith to the unfaithful: “Ye are from beneath, I am from above (Jn 8:23).  Again, Christ, studiously concealing from the devil that He was the Son of God, eluded all his arts and devices, and kept him in doubt and suspense, so that he should not know in what way he might tempt Him.  Wherefore learn not to make known to every one the secrets of thy soul, lest thou be hindered by the devil.  In battles, the crown of victory is his who can conceal his own plans, and discover those of the enemy.  A Christian learns by frequent experience that heroic acts of virtue are easily accomplished, if the determination of them be kept secret in the mind, and they are suddenly brought out into the sphere of action, before the demon has been able to get scent of them and oppose them.  This is the art of deluding the demon.

Again Lapide writes: Learn here that the devil in the same way that he tempted Christ to cast Himself headlong, tempts Christians by raising the fancy, the blood, black bile, so that they may have sad, horrible, sanguinary, despairing, blasphemous thoughts, such as had never come into their minds before.  Let them comfort themselves by the example of Christ, how God permitted His temptation for His greater virtue and merit.  The advice which Scipio Nasica gave the Romans not to destroy Carthage when it was conquered, lest the Roman youth should become enervated by ease, for that Carthage, raising war, would be a perpetual spur to their courage, you might apply to the struggle which the saints endure through frequent temptations.  Thus St Paul, though almost an angel upon earth, said: “Lest the abundance of the revelations should puff me up there was given me a thorn in the flesh-the messenger of Satan to buffet me.”  The remedy is constancy of mind, fortitude, and firm confidence in God, by which you will manfully overcome temptations of every sort, however dreadful and abominable they may be.  Yea, you will despise them, and proceed with a great heart in the course of virtue in which you have entered.

Luk 4:13  And when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from him for a season.

The devil would return at the dawn of the Passion (Lk 22:3-5)

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One Response to My Notes on Luke 4:1-13

  1. Pingback: Commentaries and Resources for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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