Luke 3 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

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Jesus, the One Who Comes

John has pointed to Jesus, so Luke turns now to describe Jesus' preparation for ministry. A divine endorsement accompanies Jesus' arrival (3:21-22), while the genealogy (3:23-38) and the temptations (4:1-13) give his historical and spiritual credentials. These latter two passages highlight Jesus' connection to Adam, showing that Jesus, though unique, has come to serve all humanity. Jesus' faithfulness to his ministry, along with God's endorsement of him, is the theme of Luke's opening presentation of Jesus' ministry.Jesus' Baptism (3:21-22)

The closest modern parallel to Jesus' baptism--though of course it is not at all the same--is the selection of a presidential candidate at a political convention. At this ancient "convention," however, there is only one elector who speaks, only one vote that counts. This is the first of two times in Luke's Gospel that a voice from heaven addresses Jesus (the other is in 9:28-36). Both events represent a divine endorsement of him (Acts 10:37-38; 13:23-25). This first endorsement contains two elements--the descent of the Spirit and the word from heaven; the second is marked by a cloud and a divine word.

After almost two thousand years of established theological teaching about Jesus, it is hard to appreciate how revolutionary the baptismal endorsement was, even though in all likelihood Jesus experienced it privately. The description of this miraculous event, unlike accounts of other miraculous events, gives no indication of bystanders' reactions (compare Paul's conversion, Acts 9:7; 22:9). There is simply a word to Jesus. Luke's presentation of the event, like the parallel Synoptic accounts (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11), pulls the curtain away from the heavens and lets us see how God views Jesus' arrival.

The divine word from heaven explains who Jesus is and uses Old Testament language. As important as this description is, the environment in which the remark appears is also significant. Jesus, by submitting to baptism, identifies with humanity's need for cleansing. Luke will return to the connection between John and Jesus' ministry in 20:1-8; Matthew makes more of this identification by speaking of the need for fulfilling all righteousness (Mt 3:15). But the point here is crucial. The temptations will show that Jesus is different from Adam; he is able to resist the temptation to go his own way selfishly in sin. So Jesus does not accept baptism for the sake of his own sin. His participation in the rite indicates his readiness to take up humanity's cause in salvation. Here begins the realization of what John preached, the opportunity for the forgiveness of sins (Lk 1:76-79). John baptizes in water to picture cleansing, but Jesus brings the Spirit to wash away sin, to bring God's presence into people's lives and to guide them into the way of peace. This hope is why the Spirit descends on Jesus: God both endorses Jesus and pictures the enabling presence that comes in and through him.

A second key element associated with this event is that the Spirit descends after prayer. Luke alone notes this detail. With this unique mention of prayer the theme of devotion and nearness to God emerges. Jesus looks to God during every step of his mission.

The endorsement is clear, direct and filled with Old Testament background. There are three points of Old Testament contact.

First, Jesus is my Son. This is an allusion to verse 7 of Psalm 2, a regal psalm that probably has roots in the promise to David that God would be a father to David's descendant (2 Sam 7:14). Hebrews 1:5 explicitly links these Old Testament texts together.

Second, the quality of this relationship emerges in the description of Jesus as the beloved Son, the one whom I love. Here the emphasis may well be on Jesus' elect status (Is 41:8), highlighting that he is uniquely chosen for his task. Others suggest the allusion is to Genesis 22:12, 16 and to Isaac typology, but then Son would have both regal and national meaning simultaneously. Since Luke lacks Isaac typology elsewhere, this sense seems less likely.

Third, this Son is one with whom God is well pleased. This portion of the statement alludes to Isaiah 42:1 and serves as an initial Lukan description of Jesus as connected to Isaiah's Servant figure (on the evidence for this allusion, see Marshall 1969:336-46). As Servant, Jesus will carry out both prophetic and representative roles.

So in this short event heaven places its endorsing stamp on Jesus. He is the promised regal Son, the chosen one, unique in his call. He reveals the will of God and serves him. This is the one for whom John prepared the people. Anointed with the Spirit, Jesus is truly the Christ, a term that means "anointed one" (4:18). He is ready to minister and carry out his call.The Genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38)

Genealogies are interesting because they show our roots. A glance at a person's ancestors can often reveal much. Such is the case with Luke's genealogy of Jesus. Jesus has connections with David, Abraham and Adam. The latter connection is especially important, since it directly suggests his divine sonship and his relationship to all humankind. The Jews often kept genealogical records for important people, especially priests (Josephus Life 3-6; Against Apion 1.7 30-36). In Greek culture a tracing of such roots would be done to show Jesus' qualifications for his task (Diogenes Laertius Life of Plato 3.1-2; Plutarch Parallel Lives, Alexander 2.1; L. T. Johnson 1991:72). The fact Jesus is God's Son would be particularly significant here, even though that sonship in this context is mediated through Adam. What Luke implies here is explicit in Paul, where Jesus is the second representative of humankind, the second Adam (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:20-28, 45-49).

Several features of Luke's genealogy distinguish it organizationally from the lineage in Matthew 1:1-17. (1) Luke's placement of the list between the baptism and temptations makes the sonship of Jesus the issue, since that is the point of both the baptism and the temptation accounts. Can he be the Son? (2) Because it goes in reverse order, Luke's list allows Adam's name to be the last human echo before the temptations of Jesus are described. (3) Where Matthew stops with Abraham, highlighting Jewish interest in Israel's founder, Luke goes back to the birth of humanity by God's creative hand. Thus he shows that Jesus' story is humanity's story.

There are also key content differences between the two genealogies, including a significant divergence in the names between Abraham and Jesus, where the genealogies overlap. Matthew has forty-one names in this section, while Luke has fifty-seven. In the period between David and Jesus only two names are common in the lists: Shealtiel and Zerubbabel. Some sixty names in Luke's list are not in Matthew's. The most significant differences are that David's descendant in Matthew's list is Solomon, while Luke mentions Nathan; and Jesus' grandfather in Matthew's list is Jacob, while in Luke it is Heli (Stein 1992:141). The difference after David helps to explain the vast variation in names after that point.

There is no certain explanation for these differences. Some argue that there is no way to bring the two accounts together (L. T. Johnson 1991:72). But various explanations have been proposed. (1) A popular explanation is that Matthew gives Joseph's genealogy while Luke gives Mary's, especially given his concern for Mary in Luke 2 and the remark about Jesus' being thought to be Joseph's son in Luke 3:23. The problem with this is that a genealogy based entirely on a female line of descent would be rather unprecedented, especially for establishing a regal claim to promises associated with David. Furthermore, Luke 1:27 appears to tie Jesus' Davidic connection to Joseph. (2) Other variations argue for two ways to trace Joseph's line. Some speculate that Matthew has the natural line and Luke the royal line. Others suggest the reverse: Luke has the physical line while Matthew has the royal line. A third option suggests that Matthew gives the physical line while Luke gives the legal and "physical" line, with the physical contact being a sister who remarries and bears a child after a childless marriage. All these options appeal to levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-10) as the key at some point in the list, in the vicinity of the grandfathers--so one parent would be the physical progenitor, but the other parent, who died childless, had his name and line carried on through the birth after the levirate marriage. (3) Still a final option suggests that Mary, having no brothers, is an heiress to Heli (also spelled Eli in some translations). Heli adopted Joseph as son, as in other cases where a man had no biological son (Num 32:41; Ezra 2:61; Neh 7:63). So Luke's list reflects adoption (Nolland 1990:170-72). Luke's line may be the legal one because of the curse of Jeconiah (Jer 22:30), when he was cast out of the promised line (though Matthew does mention him). (A modern illustration of how a regal line can take a detour is the Duke of Windsor, who renounced all claim to the throne for himself and his descendants.)

Every explanation requires a conjecture that we cannot establish, so which approach might be right is uncertain. Regardless of which option is chosen, what is clear is the list's intention. Jesus has a claim to the throne through David and is related to all humankind through Adam. He has the proper roots to be God's promised one. He has the right heritage to inherit this ministry of deliverance. His roots extend to David, Abraham and Adam. God has carefully designed his plan. There are no historical surprises in Jesus. Ultimately all humanity is a unit, and Jesus is concerned with more than deliverance of the tiny, elect nation of Israel. With him comes realization of the Old Testament hope for that nation, but bound up in him also is the fate of all people.The Temptations of Jesus (4:1-13)

Most lives have a moment of truth, a crossroads where one's mettle is tested and one's character emerges. In such moments the ethical options stand out starkly, and the choice that is made reveals on which road a person is traveling.

Satan's temptations of Jesus are such a moment for the recently anointed Son. How is the "beloved Son" going to carry out his task? His choices reveal his commitment and also point to the road of faithfulness and dependence that disciples should travel.

The event can also be compared to a cosmic, heavyweight championship fight. This is but the first round of many battles Jesus will have with Satan and other demonic forces throughout Luke's Gospel. Though at points, like the crucifixion, it looks as if Satan wins, Luke tells us not to be fooled about who is the stronger force.

Finally, Jesus' numerous quotes from Deuteronomy in response to these wilderness temptations recall another time and place where temptation and God's chosen met in the wilderness. During the exodus, the Israelite nation failed this test. Jesus succeeds where Israel failed. What is more, the genealogy immediately preceding this account has named Jesus as Son of Adam and Son of God. The echo of Genesis 3 cannot be missed. What Adam failed to do as representative of all humanity, Jesus succeeds in doing. Jesus' success is the first of many TKOs Jesus will deliver against Satan; the victory serves to reverse a string of defeats humanity has suffered at the hands of this deceptive, elusive enemy. Jesus shows that spirituality does not always take the easiest road; it trusts God's word and remains faithful to his way.

The temptation recorded here is paralleled in Matthew 4:1-11 and Mark 1:12-13. Mark simply mentions Jesus' successful response, while Matthew narrates the same three temptations as Luke but in a different order. Matthew's second temptation is Luke's third (at the temple in Jerusalem), while Luke's second temptation is Matthew's third (the offering of all the kingdoms on the earth). This is a case where one Gospel writer has rearranged the order, and either writer could be responsible. But it is more likely that Luke has placed the Jerusalem scene last, as the climactic encounter, for literary reasons. Luke will highlight Jesus' journey to Jerusalem (9:51--19:44), the nation's central city, as the place Jesus is fated to go and suffer death. So Satan's offer to circumvent that suffering is a truly sinister effort to thwart God's plan. The placement of this temptation last foreshadows the strategic role Jerusalem will have in Luke's story.

As significant, threatening and testing as this event is, Luke leaves no doubt that Jesus is directed to the desert. He mentions that Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit and is led by the Spirit. Tests of character are divinely wrought, even when they place us at risk. One need only think of Job. In Jesus' case the tests come after forty days of fasting. The circumstances could not be worse for Jesus to deal with the offer of food in verse 3. Jesus' circumstances could provide him a ready rationalization for giving in. The contrast of this temptation to that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden could not be greater. Adam and Eve had everything they needed to eat, but Jesus meets Satan in the midst of hunger and deprivation.

The first temptation raises questions of God's care and provision. Jesus' reply in terms of Deuteronomy 8:3 makes the issue God's goodness in providing for and protecting those who are his, just as the original setting suggested for Israel. Satan's words "if you are the Son of God" are a subtle appeal to Jesus' power, presenting the premise as if it were true. The assumption is that Jesus can act on his own here. But for Jesus to take action independent of God would have represented a lack of faith in God's goodness. Jesus' reply from Deuteronomy, "man does not live on bread alone," reveals that one's well-being is not limited to being well fed. As necessary as food is, it is not as important as being sustained by the Word of God. For Jesus, truth is living in awareness of God's promise of care and relying on him even when God leads him into the wilderness. If Jesus is God's beloved Son, as was declared at the baptism, God will care for him. Such trust is exemplary.

The second temptation is Satan's invitation to engage in false worship. It represents a challenge to the first commandment to worship God alone (Ex 20:3). Apparently Jesus is given some type of visionary experience of the kingdoms of the earth and is offered total authority by Satan. As Satan makes the offer in verse 6, he places you (soi) in the emphatic position as if to say, "Look what can be yours!" This effort to entice recalls James's remarks about how sin emerges when our desires lure and ensnare us into sin (Jas 1:14-15). Satan is trying to lure Jesus through an appeal to power. The Greek reads, "To you I will give all this authority and glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, I will give it to you." The devil's offer is deception at its best, a half-truth. Though he has great power (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; Rev 13:2--pictured as a dragon), he does not have authority to offer Jesus everything. The offer itself reflects extreme self-delusion on Satan's part, or else it is a ruse to get Jesus into the same predicament Satan now lives in as a result of his unfaithfulness and rebellion.

Here is an opportunity to grab power, but to do so and renounce God would be to possess destructive power--and ultimately would mean not possessing power at all. Satan is not worthy of worship. So Jesus' reply rejects the offer totally: "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only." The quote is from Deuteronomy 6:13, which follows closely on a passage recited daily by Jews, the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4. Jesus is certain that only One deserves his service. It is not self or Satan, but God. By putting worship and service together in the verse, Jesus makes it clear that both words and life are meant to honor God.

The third temptation is also probably visionary in character. Jesus is placed on a high point of the temple and is urged to jump, to experience the joy of God's certain protection. The exact location at the temple is uncertain; two locales are possible. Some suggest the high temple gate, but more likely is the "royal porch" on the temple's southeast corner, since it loomed over a cliff and the Kidron Valley, some 450 feet below (Josephus Antiquities 15.11.5 410-12). Satan now quotes Scripture himself (Ps 91:11-12) to make it appear that taking a leap would be perfectly orthodox. And again the request is made in terms of Jesus' being the Son, as it was in verse 3. Satan plans a private test of God's faithfulness: "Jesus, before you venture out on this ministry, you had better be sure God will care for you. The psalm guarantees your protection, so jump. If you are the Son, God will rescue you; if you trust God, you will jump. Just let go and let God care for you!"

We can guess at what Satan really has in mind as we consider the destructive effects of demonic possession described in other texts (8:33; 9:39). But Jesus refuses to test God's provision by insisting on a miracle. He will not presume upon God and put a mask on unbelief by seeking to confirm God's trust. So Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:16: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." The Old Testament background is significant. Israel had presumed about God's goodness, doubting why he had sent them out into the desert and promised them the Promised Land. They had tested God at Massah (Ex 17:1-7). Jesus refuses to demand God's protection on his own terms. Such a demand is neither faith nor loyalty; it is sin.

Having failed, the devil departs for a time. This does not mean he leaves the story until Luke 22:3, when he reappears to influence Judas. Rather, he works behind the scenes in the various demonic encounters Jesus experiences throughout his ministry (as in 10:18; 11:19-23). The wilderness temptation is only the first round in Jesus' victory, but it is the first of many victorious rounds. Jesus' success reveals that he is qualified for ministry. The key to Jesus' triumph is his faithfulness in walking with God wherever God leads him, even in the midst of testing times. Here is a loyal and beloved Son who requites God's love. To love God is to be faithful to him, worshiping and serving only him.

Previous commentary:
John the Baptist, the One Who Goes Before

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