The Third Temptation of Jesus – Commentaty

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Luke 4:9-13 recounts the third temptation of Jesus in which the devil takes him to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and says, “To prove you’re God’s son, jump off from here; remember, it is written, ‘To his heavenly messengers he will give orders about you, to protect you,’ and ‘with their hands they will catch you, so you won’t even stub your toe on a stone.’” Once more, Jesus denies the temptation and tells the devil, “It is said, ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” For the time being, the devil leaves. I will give a biblical background of Luke 4:9-13 by examining the source materials. I will look at the historical background of this passage through an examination of the gospels’ author, intended audience, and socio-political context. I will then discuss the significance of Luke 4:9-13. Finally, I will discuss how this passage applies to me.

The Biblical and Historical Background of Luke
In order to understand the biblical and historical background of Luke 4:9-13, it is necessary to look at the entirety of the gospel. The third temptation in Luke is almost identical to the second temptation in Matthew 4:5-7. Indeed, this similarity offers a clue into Luke’s biblical background, as both gospels seem to use the same source material. According to most scholars, Luke used the Gospel of Mark for it’s literary framework and a source simply called Q, a missing document or oral tradition from which Luke and Matthew derived the account of Jesus’ temptation on the pinnacle of the Temple. There appears to be older sources within the passage itself, as the devil quotes Psalms 91:12 when he talks about the angels catching Jesus if he jumps. This indicates that the Q source had access to or knowledge of the Hebrew bible.

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The historical background of the gospel becomes clear through an examination of Luke’s intended audience and socio-political context. According to Luke Timothy Johnson, “Luke’s readers were in all likelihood Gentiles, a great deal of Luke-Acts, in fact, would not make sense if its readers were not Gentile”. The center of religious life for Jews and Gentiles remained the Temple of Jerusalem until it’s destruction in 70 CE by the Romans. This caused both the Jews and early Christians to spread out across the empire, away from their destroyed home. Ehrman wrote, “For Luke, the message of God comes to his people in their most sacred city, Jerusalem, in the most sacred of all sites, the Temple, but this message is not meant only for the Jews. In Luke’s view, it is a message of salvation for all people.” It is therefore argued that Luke was written after the destruction of the Temple, as indicated by its more universal rather than Temple-centric message.

The Significance of Luke 4:9-13
The significance of Luke 4:9-13 lies in the test: not just the testing of Jesus by the devil, but in the temptation to test God himself. The devil’s test of Jesus is significant because it reveals a couple significant things about the tester. First, it may be that the devil is testing to see if Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Maybe he is not sure. If Jesus were to jump and live, that would give the devil proof. Second, whether or not the devil is testing to see if Jesus is or is not the Messiah, he can still tempt Jesus into seeing if he has doubts about his role as Savior. Finally, the devil may have simply wanted to get Jesus to accidentally kill himself. He could prove Jesus was not the Messiah and get rid of him in one foul swoop. Jesus’ response to this temptation is significant because he rightly corrects the devil by pointing out that it is not for him to test the Lord. After all, to test God would be to test your faith. To test your faith would no longer be faith, just a twisted version of it. It is through Jesus’ rebuttal that Luke reveals the true principle behind this passage—it is not for us to test God for to do so would be a denial of faith.

Personal Application of Luke 4:9-13
I chose this passage because it serves as a reminder to not test God. I see it all the time. People sometimes use their so-called righteousness to prove to others how spiritual they are when really they would be better off proving it through good, Christian actions. It seems to me a form of laziness to have the philosophy of, “If God were truly in my corner, then I would get an A on my test.” I know that is a simplistic way of looking at it, but the principles are the same. In a way, it is a form of narcissism. God is not your own personal cheerleader or genie who can grant wishes. To serve God means I have to make choices and take actions in service of him, not in service of myself.

In the Gospel of Luke, the third temptation of Jesus reveals important lessons about tests. In Luke 4:13, Jesus tells the devil, “You are not to put the Lord your God to the test”. This is a clear warning that the devil will be back for Jesus. For modern Christians, this passage speaks to the temptation that will always come into people’s lives even at the most unexpected of times. Through unyielding faith in God and making good choices will humanity be able to pass these tests.

  • Bowker, John, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1997.
  • Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: a Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.
  • Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Gospel of Luke: Sacra Pagina, Paperback (sacra Pagina (quality Paper)). Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2006.
  • Koester, Helmut. History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age. 2nd ed. Ed. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995.
  • Miller, Robert J., and editor. The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version. Rev. and expanded ed. San Francisco: HarperOne, 1994.

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