This lesson is based upon the amazing account in Luke 4:14-30, in which Jesus goes back to his home church, opens the scroll to read the Scripture, and has the audacity to claim Isaiah’s prophecy is about him. No wonder these people drove him from town and desired to throw him off a cliff.
I have the privilege of pastoring my home church. Many people here have known me my whole life and love me dearly, but I can promise that if I claimed to be the Messiah, they would run me right out of town.
Of course the difference between Jesus making that claim in Nazareth and me making that claim in Mont Belvieu is it was true of Jesus. The Scripture text he read from Isaiah 61 really was a prediction of what Jesus came to earth to do. Jesus fulfilled all the laws of God as the model Israelite, the faithful witness to the Father. He excelled in righteousness where all of Israel, time and again, had fallen short. Luke demonstrates this in the prior scene of his Gospel account.
Luke 4:1-13 relates the familiar story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Most who have grown up in the church know the basics of what happened. Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, where he fasted and prayed 40 days. During the whole span of the 40 days, Jesus was “tempted by the devil” (v. 2). At the end of those 40 days, when he was very hungry, Satan began to tempt Jesus to use his divine rights as the Son of God for himself. Jesus responds to each of three specific temptations with specific passages from Scripture. He remains faithful and overcomes the temptations.
But this story is not just about Jesus’ sinlessness or his methodology of overcoming temptation through God’s word. In this passage we see Jesus as the Messiah, as the representative of Israel who overcomes where the nation has failed.
Consider first the setting and duration of the scene: 40 days in the wilderness. After the exodus, the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land (Numbers 14:34). That’s the most obvious connection. But also remember how for Noah in the ark it rained for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:12). Moses spent 40 days alone on Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Goliath filled the Israelite army with fear for 40 days (1 Samuel 17:16). Elijah was alone on Mount Horeb 40 days (1 Kings 19:8). Throughout the Scriptures, the number 40 symbolizes a period of testing and trial.
In his time in the wilderness, Jesus does what no one else can do. The Hebrews wandering the desert grumbled against God (Numbers 16:41). Noah got off the ark and promptly got drunk (Genesis 9:21). Moses, because of his past sin, was unable to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 32:52). David overcame Goliath, but he eventually fell to the temptation of Bathsheba on the rooftop (2 Samuel 11). Elijah wasn’t driven to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, but by fear (1 Kings 19:3). Jesus is the only one who truly passed the test and withstood the temptations of Satan.
At the end of the 40 days, the devil tempted a hungry Jesus to “tell this stone to become bread” (v. 3). The temptation was to doubt God’s provision of Jesus. The Spirit had led Jesus to fast in the wilderness. If the Father willed that Jesus break the fast, God would provide the food. Jesus’ response is to quote Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man does not live on bread alone” (v. 4).
The original context in Deuteronomy describes Israel in the wilderness during their 40 years of wandering. Moses was reminding them of this, calling them to remember God’s faithfulness in the past. So when Jesus answered the devil with this verse, he was rejecting self-provision and trusting God’s faithfulness in meeting his needs. Where Israel had failed before, Jesus succeeded.
The second temptation occurred in a high place, where the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered authority over them all if Jesus would just worship him (vv. 6-7). Jesus had come to earth to be the King of kings and Lord of lords, and Satan is “the prince of this world” according to Jesus’ own words (John 12:31). Wasn’t this just a faster route to the same end?
Jesus responds quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (v. 8). In the past, Israel’s kings had compromised with other nations, watering down God’s laws and making alliances God had forbidden, all in an effort to gain power. Jesus withstands the temptation by holding fast to his worship and love of God. Again he succeeds where Israel had failed.
The final temptation occurs in Jerusalem, where he is taken to the highest point of the temple and told to cast himself down, knowing God’s angels would save him (vv. 9-11). But Jesus responded with the words of Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (v. 12).
In the original context, Moses reminded the Israelites not to test God in unbelief as they had at Massah, where they said they’d have been better off staying in Egypt (Exodus 17:1-7). Jesus’ use of this verse shows he does not question where God has led him or what God has called him to do. God is faithful, and Jesus knows it. He does not need to test God’s faithfulness with some stunt because he is certain of it. Where Israel failed to believe, Jesus shows true faith.
As the faithful Israelite, Jesus was able to give himself for our sins. Let’s remember his death was able to atone for our transgressions only because his life was lived perfectly, fulfilling God’s laws. The temptation scene reminds us of what was required of Jesus in his life so he might save us through his death.