June 3: Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1, 14-19

Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1, 14-19

In the Synoptic narrative, there are three references to the Spirit, connected with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—the saying of the Baptist (Mk 1:7-8), the Baptism of Jesus (1:9-11), and the tradition of Jesus’ time in the desert following his baptism (1:12-13). The first two were discussed in the previous daily notes (June 1, 2); today I will be discussing the third of these, with special attention given to how the tradition is treated (and developed) in the Gospel of Luke.

According to the Synoptic narrative, immediately after Jesus’ baptism, once he has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of God, the Spirit thrusts him into a desolate area where he is tested by the Satan. This tradition is narrated only briefly in Mark:

“And straightaway the Spirit cast him out into the desolate (land); and he was in the desolate (land) forty days, being tested under the Satan, and he was with the wild animals, and the Messengers attended to him.”

The use of the verb e)kba/llw (“throw out, cast out”) sounds most harsh to our ears, and is not how we might expect God’s Spirit to treat His Son and Anointed One. The Matthean version softens this considerably:

“Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit to be tested under the Diabo/lo$ [i.e. the Devil].” (4:1)

The Markan version unquestionably represents a more primitive form of the tradition. It is best to retain the literal sense of the verb e)kba/llw, understanding it as “thrust out”, rather than “throw out”. This properly reflects the violent character of the Spirit in Old Testament tradition, which would “rush” onto the gifted/chosen prophet or leader, like a powerful blowing wind (the fundamental meaning of Grk pneu=ma and Heb j^Wr alike). The violence of the action is also appropriate for the testing that Jesus will undergo in the desert—traditionally understood as the domain of dangerous spirits, in addition to wild animals. While Mark says nothing more of this “testing”, Matthew and Luke each include an extensive narrative account (Matt 4:2-10 / Lk 4:2b-12), drawn from a common line of tradition (the so-called “Q” material).

In terms of Jesus as a Spirit-empowered Messianic prophet (cf. the previous note), the desert locale may be particularly significant, in at least two ways:

    • Moses—the forty days and nights he spent on Sinai (Exod 24:18; 34:28; Deut 9:9), par. with the forty years spent by Israel in the Sinai desert (Exod 16:35; Deut 8:2ff). The Torah which Moses received from God on Sinai plays a central role in the Temptation narrative.
    • Elijah—of all the Old Testament Prophets, Elijah is most commonly associated with time spent in the desert; cf. especially 1 Kings 19:8, and the forty days and nights spent without food on Horeb (|| Sinai).

Following the Temptation scene in Matthew, Jesus properly begins his ministry, in Galilee. The Gospel writer marks this with a citation from Isaiah 9:1-2, presumably understood in a Messianic sense (4:12-16). Luke similarly narrates the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, though in a rather different way, with the episode at Nazareth (par Mark 6:1-6; Matt 13:54-58). It is important to realize how this episode is framed in relationship to the Baptism and the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus:

    • 3:21-22—the Baptism scene (descent of the Spirit)
    • 3:23ff—notice of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
    • 4:1-2a—the Spirit leads him into the desert
    • 4:2b-13—the Temptation scene
    • 4:14-15—Jesus returns in the Spirit, starting his public ministry (teaching)
    • 4:16-30—the episode at Nazareth

Scenes involving the Spirit (in bold above) alternate with narrative episodes and notices marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This indicates a uniquely Lukan development of the traditional portrait of Jesus as a Spirit-inspired Prophet. I previously mentioned the two aspects of Jesus ministry (in the Galilean period) which directly relate to this (Messianic) prophetic role—(1) teaching and preaching, and (2) healing miracles which demonstrate his power over evil spirits. The second aspect was implicit in the Temptation scene (4:1-13), while the first aspect features in what follows (4:14-30). Consider especially how Luke develops the tradition in Mark 1:12—first, the notice in 4:1:

“An Yeshua, full of (the) holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden (river) and was led (about), in the Spirit, in the desolate (land)”

Luke shares the Matthean idiom of Jesus being led by the Spirit (rather than “thrust out” into the desert, as in Mark), but has gone even further in emphasizing the role of the Spirit, and Jesus’ relationship to it. First, contrary to Mark and Matthew, only in Luke’s version of the Baptism scene is the expression “holy Spirit” used (3:22), and this usage continues here in 4:1. Moreover, we find here two phrases which occur elsewhere in Luke-Acts, regarding the role and activity of the Spirit:

Much the same is repeated by the Gospel writer after the Temptation scene, when Jesus returns from the desert to begin his ministry:

“And Yeshua turned back, in the power of the Spirit, into the Galîl {Galilee}” (4:14)

Jesus is thus identified as a Spirit-inspired prophet, a chosen representative of God, empowered to teach (proclaiming God’s word and will) and work miracles. This is the setting for the episode at Nazareth in verses 16-30. I have discussed this scene at length in earlier notes and articles; in terms of the Lukan development of the traditional material, including the role of the Spirit, please consult my article in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (there is also a series of notes you might find helpful). Here I wish to highlight certain points which relate specifically to the citation of Isaiah 61:1-2 and Jesus’ own Messianic identity.

First, there are the themes and motifs of Isa 40-66 (so-called deutero- and trito-Isaiah), those related to the restoration of Israel and the return of God’s people from exile. The Lukan Gospel contains allusions to a number of such Isaian passages, including in the Infancy narrative (cf. Lk 2:25-38), prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry narrated in chapters 3-4. These references occur in the context of a portrait of devout Jews who are waiting (to receive) the “consolation [para/klhsi$] of Israel” (v. 25) and the “redemption [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem” (v. 38). These passages are thus to be understood in a “Messianic” context, and generally reflect the expectations and hopes of many Jews of the period. By the first century B.C./A.D., the idea of the “restoration” of Israel (and its kingdom), was closely tied to the coming of a new (Anointed) Ruler who would re-establish the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Sam 7/Psalm 89, etc).

Second, Isaiah 61:1ff was likely understood as a Messianic passage by many in the 1st century A.D. Evidence for such interpretation and application in Jesus’ own time is indicated by the Qumran text 4Q521. This text survives in several fragments, the largest of which (frag. 2 [col. ii]) contains a blending of several Old Testament passages, primarily Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (for a somewhat similar use of Isa 61:1f cf. also 11QMelchizedek [11Q13]). The role of the Messiah (line 1) in what follows is not entirely clear, but it is possible that he is the agent through whom God will perform “marvellous acts” (line 11ff). It is hard to be certain, but the remaining fragments (especially frag. 2 col iii with its allusion to Mal 4:5-6) suggest the Anointed One (see also pl. “Anointed Ones” in frag. 8) should be understood as a prophetic figure, in the manner of Elijah.

If we accept the historical accuracy and authenticity of the tradition in 4:17-21, then the Anointed (i.e. Messianic) figure with whom Jesus explicitly identifies himself is the prophetic herald of Isa 61:1ff. The accuracy of this self-identification would seem to be confirmed by the separate (and independent) tradition recorded in 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6), where Jesus alludes to the same passage, applying it to himself and his ministry.

Isa 61:1, in its original context, referred to the prophet himself (trad. Isaiah)—the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and anointed him to bring good news to the poor and oppressed; vv. 2-11 describe and promise the restoration of Israel, including a (new) covenant with God (v. 8) and (new) righteousness that will be manifest to all nations (vv. 9-11). Once the full sense of this “restoration” was transferred to the future, the speaker came to be identified with an Anointed eschatological (end-time) Prophet. Admittedly, prophets are not usually referred to as “anointed” in the Old Testament, but in later Judaism it became more common, and in the Qumran texts the word is used a number of times (especially in the plural) for the Prophets of Israel. On the role of the Spirit in Isa 61:1, in light of wider Old Testament (Prophetic) tradition regarding the Spirit of God and the restoration of Israel, cf. my earlier note in the series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.