The Lukan Gospel proper begins with chapters 3-4, corresponding to the beginning of the Synoptic narrative (Mk 1:2-28). The opening episode in the Synoptic tradition is the Baptism of Jesus—a sequence of episodes spanning the description of John the Baptist’s ministry to the summary description of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. There are three references to the Spirit within this tradition (Mk 1:8, 10, 12) which Luke has inherited. The first two—the saying by the Baptist (3:16) and the descent of the Spirit at the Baptism (3:22)—are simply reproduced from the tradition by the Gospel writer.
The situation is different with regard to the third reference. In the core Synoptic tradition, following the Baptism, there is a brief narration of Jesus’ time in the desert, where he is tempted (lit. “tested”) by the Satan (Mk 1:12-13). The initial statement in Mark reads as follows:
“And straightaway the Spirit casts him out into the desolate (land)” (v. 12)
The use of the verb e)kba/llw (“throw out, cast out”) sounds extremely harsh, but is appropriate to the harshness of Jesus’ experience in the desert (v. 13). Matthew softens the language, but otherwise follows the Synoptic/Markan narration:
“Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under [i.e. by] the Spirit…” (Matt 4:1)
In Luke’s version, while the author clearly is drawing upon the same tradition, the wording has been modified considerably, in a way that reflects the Lukan Spirit-theme:
“And Yeshua, full of (the) holy Spirit, turned back from from the Yarden (river), and was led in the Spirit in(to) the desolate (land)” (4:1)
The two expressions in bold are thoroughly Lukan expressions, which, as we saw in the previous notes, were established in the Infancy narratives. They represent two of the primary modes of Spirit-experience featured in Luke-Acts:
- filled with the Spirit—cf. the notes on 1:15 and 1:41, 67, where the verb plh/qw is used; here it is the related adjective plh/rh$ (“filled, full”)
- being/going in the Spirit—cf. 1:17 and 2:27 (note); the idea of being led by the Spirit is very much implied in the latter reference (Simeon is guided into the Temple precincts where he encounters Jesus)
In the Markan narrative, the Spirit comes unto Jesus at the Baptism, but then he is “thrown out” by the Spirit into the desert. This could imply that the Spirit was no longer with Jesus during his time in the desert, but that Jesus had to fend for himself, enduring temptation (much like a normal human being). During that time, he had to rely on Angel-messengers for strength and comfort. The Matthean and Lukan versions word the narration to make clear that the Spirit was still with Jesus during his time of testing. In all likelihood, the Markan version intends this as well; the Spirit ‘thrusts’ Jesus into the desert, but does not leave him. Matthew and Luke simply make this point clear.
Indeed, the Lukan version gives special emphasis to the presence of the Spirit, by way of the double reference. Jesus remains filled by the Spirit, and guided by the Spirit, all through the forty days of testing. This is confirmed by the fact that the Gospel writer restates the Spirit-theme immediately after the temptation scene, in verse 14:
“And Yeshua turned back, in the power of the Spirit, into the Galîl.”
The restatement was necessary, on the literary level, because of the insertion of the temptation scene (vv. 2b-13). Both Luke and Matthew expand the brief Synoptic description of the testing (by Satan) with the famous temptation-dialogue (par Matt 4:3-11). This is part of the so-called “Q” material, and the temptation-dialogue is unquestionably one of the most vivid and memorable of “Q” traditions. The Lukan framing of this episode suggests that it is the presence of the Spirit that empowers Jesus to overcome the Devil during the forty days of testing.
Indeed, it may be said that Jesus comes through the desert-experience even stronger, and this in relation to the presence of the Spirit. In verse 1, Jesus is “led in the Spirit”, but in verse 14, following the testing, he returns “in the power of the Spirit”. On the important association of the Spirit with “power” (du/nami$), i.e., the power of God, cf. 1:17, 35; 24:49; Acts 1:8; 8:19; 10:38. It is clearly an important aspect of the Lukan Spirit-theme. On a similar association in Paul’s letters, cf. Rom 1:4; 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5, etc. This ‘power of the Spirit’ is often connected with the ability to work miracles; however, the primary Lukan point of emphasis is on prophecy—that is, the Spirit-empowered ability to communicate the word of God (i.e., proclaim the Gospel). In the book of Acts, the prophetic aspect includes supernatural signs and phenomena (speaking with tongues, etc).
We will explore this aspect of the Spirit-theme, in relation to the Lukan portrait of Jesus, further in the next daily note.