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LUKE - ACTS      Luke Acts


A number of or messianic events hold an important place in the Synoptic tradition. These are: the baptism and anointing of Jesus at the Jordan, his temptation in the desert, his confession at Caesarea Philippi and his transfiguration on the mountain.  Luke adds another significant event - Jesus' announcement in the synagogue in Nazareth (Lk.4:14-21). [1]


The story of the baptism of Jesus is simply told (see Lk.3:21-22; cf. Mt.3:13-17; Mk.1:9-11). Jesus is baptised, the Spirit descends on him, and the Father's witness is given.  Luke's account is similar to Matthew's although less dramatic than Mark's.  Mark says that John "saw heaven being torn open" (Gk. schizomenous) - Luke narrates that "heaven was opened" (Gk. aneōchthēnai). 

The prayer of Jesus (v.21)
Only Luke mentions the fact that Jesus was praying at his baptism.  He makes similar observations when Jesus is facing major situations (Lk.6:12; 11:1; 22:41; 23:34).  But Jesus is never depicted praying for the sick or needy, [2] whereas the church in the Acts found it necessary to do so (e.g., Acts 4:29-30).  Prayer, whether in the ministry of Jesus or in the ministry of the church in Acts, is seen to be important.  Prayer, as a request, is also significance in a number of recorded healings (e.g., 4:38).  Prayer is sometimes portrayed as an expression of faith (e.g., 4:29-30).

The Spirit anoints Jesus (v.22)
The question as to whether John the Baptist is the Messiah (Lk.3:15) is now answered: Luke affirms Jesus to be the Messiah (vv.22-23). [3] Matthew recounts that Jesus is baptised in order "to fulfil all righteousness", that is, in order to keep the law (Mt.3:15; 5:17). Luke's omission of the phrase links Jesus' obedience to his anointing by the Spirit - a theological point which is repeated and applied in Acts 5:32 ("the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him").  Here Jesus is consecrated to his mission by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

C.K.Barrett says that as the Servant Jesus receives the gift of the Spirit to empower him for service. [4] R.P.Menzies comments: "Luke not only affirms that Jesus was begotten by the Spirit, he also declares that the coming Spirit-baptizer was himself anointed with the Spirit" [5]

The Father's witness (v.22)
With Matthew and Mark, Luke records the Father's acknowledgement of his Son in the form of a bath-qol: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (v.22, cf. Psa.2:7).  Two titles are ascribed to Jesus here: first, the Son, the chosen Son of God, and second, the elect Servant of the Lord (cf. Lk.9:35; Isa.42:1; 44:2).  The existential experience of baptism is personal to Jesus and John (Jn.1:31-34). The dove was not seen by the bystanders. [6]


The temptation narrative in Luke finds a common source with Matthew in Q [7] and compares with the shorter account in Mark (Lk.4:1-13; cf. Mt.4:1-11; Mk.1:12-13).  All three Synoptists see the temptation of Jesus in terms of the Greek word peirazō (to test, to tempt).

The Spirit leads Jesus into the desert (4:1)
All the Synoptics relate the Spirit to Jesus' temptation.  But Luke contrasts with Mark as far as the initial prompting of the Spirit is concerned.  For Mark, Jesus is "driven" (ekballei) into the desert, whereas for Luke he is led (ēgeto) into the place of temptation. [8] Only Luke sees Jesus coming triumphantly out of his conflict with the devil "in the power of the Spirit" (4:14).  The success and power of the Lord's ministry relates to the Spirit.  C.K.Barrett comments: "Jesus faces his opponent fully and manifestly equipped with divine power". [9]

The significance of the temptation The conflict of Jesus with Satan is important.  It is a conflict which tests the motives of Jesus and his power.  Although Matthew's order of the three temptations differs to that of Luke their messianic significance is the same. Jesus is seen resisting temptation and, like a teacher, he uses Scripture to combat the devil.  L.Morris' observation has theological insight:

Jesus had just been baptised and now looked forward to the public ministry to which he had set his hand, but first he spent time in quiet reflection in the wilderness.  The story is of great interest... Clearly he faced questions like: What sort of Messiah was he to be? Was he to use his powers for personal ends? Or for the establishing of a mighty empire that would rule the world in righteousness? Or for working spectacular, if pointless, miracles? He rejected all these for what they were, temptations of the devil. [10]

The three temptations (4:3-12)
The first temptation (vv.3-4) involves commanding a stone ("stones" in Mt.4:3) to become bread.  Jesus is tempted to prove his messiahship by a selfish miracle.  The private nature of the temptation argues against the idea that the test was to convince Jesus that his vocation could be fulfilled as a social worker.  The OT background to the narrative is the story of the manna (see Ex.16). [11]

The second temptation (vv.5-8) takes place in a "high place" where Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and the offer is made of their authority and splendour.  But Jesus rejected political messiahship. [12] The narrative compares with the story of Moses, when the Lord showed him the promised land from the heights of Pisgah (Dt.34:1-3).  The rejection of the devil's lordship by Jesus is further developed by Luke in the Jesus and Beelzebub narrative (11:14-20).

In the third temptation (vv.9-12) the devil invites Jesus to demonstrate his divine Sonship by throwing himself down from the highest point of the temple.  Satan used Scripture (see Psa.19:11f.).  But Jesus refused to put his Father to the test. [13]

Jesus and Satan (4:13)
The Lucan statement that the devil left Jesus for a time (4:13) is taken by H.Conzelmann to indicate that the devil was kept in subjection until the end of the ministry of Jesus: "It was a time of salvation; Satan was far away, it was a time without temptation". [14] But this hypothesis may be contradicted by a consideration of Lk.8:12; 10:18; 11:18; 13:16; 22:3,31.

Old Testament parallels
The parallels with the OT are evident: the manna, e.g., note Pisgah (or Sinai), and the temple.  The use of "forty days" (4:2, par.) suggests that some deep theological significance is behind the use of the story (Moses and Elijah fasted for forty days in the desert (Ex.34:28; Dt.1:9; 1 Kgs.19:8)). [15] J.A.Dawsey sees a reference to Moses in the temptation narrative, but only likens Jesus to him in two of the temptations.  In the temptation where the devil took him up to the high mountain in 4:6f. he likens Jesus to Joshua and the devil to Moses (!).  But in the end "all three (temptations), he says, "show the cunning effort to get Jesus to identify himself as the Son of God who comes in the spirit and tradition of Moses". [16]

"Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit" (4:14)
R.P.Menzies says that Jesus was equipped for his messianic task by the Spirit.  But he makes an interesting comment on the temptation narrative - Jesus did not overcome the temptations of the devil by the power of the Spirit.  Rather, Jesus overcame Satan by his commitment to Scripture.  The Spirit is not said to be the source of Jesus' obedience - rather, Jesus' obedience is the source of his continuing relationship with the Spirit. [17]


The baptism, anointing and temptation pave the way for Jesus' public dénouement.  Luke's record of the way Jesus introduced himself and his mission in the synagogue in Nazareth is rather unique. Using the account of the synagogue reading and sermon (4:14-30), he sets forth Jesus as the one mighty in word and in deed (Lk.4:31-44).  But compare this with Mk.6:1-6; Mt.13:53-58. [18]

Jesus in the synagogue (4:14-15)
In common with the other Synoptists Luke depicts the public ministry of Jesus commencing in Galilee (v.14; Jn.1:43).  His first emphasis is on Jesus as a teacher or rabbi (v.15) and, perhaps as C.H.Dodd indicates, as a friend of humanity. [19] Jesus is often pictured teaching in the synagogues or temple. [20] The story of the cleansing of the temple (Lk.19:45-48) sees the temple as a centre of teaching (cf., 20:1; 21:37-38).  The prophecy of Jerusalem becoming a centre of teaching is fulfilled (Isa.2:2-3 (cf., Isa.56:6-8; Mic.4:2). 

Jesus' reading and sermon (4:16-29)
In the synagogue Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah and applied it to himself.  This central passage is important as it indicates Jesus' understanding of himself and of his mission.  R.Stronstad sees Jesus claiming to be a prophet, arguing from the Aramaic rendering found in the Targums. [21] But Luke also portrays Jesus as the Servant of the Lord, the Ebed Yahweh, who came to bring the Lord's salvation (cf., 1:31, 68-79. Note: Lk.7:18-23; Mt.11:1-6, Q). The Lord Jesus read:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me;
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

Jesus chose the reading from Isaiah 61:1f. (cf., Isa.58:6).  Strictly speaking it is not part of a Servant Song but does reflect them. [22] The words are paralleled with Peter's: "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him" (Acts 10:38).

M.Turner says that Luke has given "this passage a place of very special importance in his whole literary enterprise", and studies the passage in some detail. [23] Scholars have sought to interpret the passage from the point of view of the Exodus or the Day of Jubilee.  Liberation theology has made political gain from it. [24] R.P.Menzies sees the pericope (4:16-30) as "the cornerstone of Luke's entire theological program", combining as it does the major themes of the work of the Spirit, the universality of the gospel, the grace of God, and the rejection of Jesus. [25]

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me" (4:18 and 10:21)
The verse is of interest in that "the only other direct reference to the Spirit on Jesus in Luke comes at 10:21". (M.Turner). [26]


Peter's confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi is a high water mark in the Synoptic tradition (Mt.16:13-20; Mk.8:27-30; Lk.9:18-27).  Peter represents the disciples of Jesus confessing Jesus as the Christ. [27] Matthew's fuller confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt.16:16) compares with Luke's, "The Christ of God" (9:20). 

The messianic secret
The fact that Jesus warned his disciples not to confess him publicly as Messiah raises a number of questions about the so-called "messianic secret".  Jesus did not openly confess himself to be the Messiah - so, did he see himself as the Messiah or not? An answer may be found in his preferred self-designation of the Son of Man (note Lk.9:21-22). [28]

The charismatic significance of Caesarea Philippi
The Spirit is not named in association with this pericope.  However, the first prediction of the Lord's suffering (Lk.9:22) introduces the theme of persecution.  According to Matthew, Peter's insight into Jesus' identity was given by revelation (Mt.16:17).  Luke does not develop this point.


The transfiguration of Jesus is found in Mt.17:1-8; Mk.9:2-8; Lk.9:28-36.  The story is deeply embedded in Christian tradition - as 2 Pet.1:16-18 indicates. [29]

"This is my Son" (9:35)
The transfiguration reflects the theological awareness found in the baptism and anointing and the sermon in Nazareth.  The divine bath-qol again announces the Sonship of Jesus in the language of Scripture (Psa.2:7; Isa.42:1).  Jesus is seen to be greater than the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). Only Luke mentions the fact that Jesus' conversation with Moses and Elijah was about his coming departure or exodus (elegon tēn exodon autou) - the cross (9:31).

The charismatic significance of the transfiguration
Again, the Spirit does not surface as a feature in this pericope.  However, the narrative may be compared with the passage in 2 Corinthians, where Paul compares the glorious giving of the law through Moses at Sinai with the glory that comes with the gospel (2 Cor.3:7-18).  Moses is compared with the believer (v.13) and their transformation (Gk. metamorphoō, to transform, transfigure) is compared with Christ's –"[we] are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory..." (v.18). [30]


1. Consider the arrangement of the Lord's temptations in Mt.4 and Lk.4.  Why are they in a different order? Is Luke free to redact traditions to fit them into his theological framework?

2. How is Jesus the believer's example in his baptism, anointing, and temptation?

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