From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Luke 1 to 12                                   Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019


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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Luke


(Volume 1:  Chapters 3 to 5)








Chapter Three




John the Baptist Begins His Ministry of Calling the People to Moral Reform (Luke 3:1-6):  In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  He went into all the region around the Jordan River, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one shouting in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low, and the crooked will be made straight, and the rough ways will be made smooth, and all humanity will see the salvation of God.’ “       --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:1       Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.  At this point Luke provides a fourfold identification of the time when John began his public ministry.  This indicates just how detailed a piece of research he had done.  From the Roman perspective, John the Baptist began his public ministry in the fifteenth year that Tiberius Caesar ruled (29 A.D., if he calculates from when Augustus died; if dated from when embraced as co-ruler, 27 A.D.).  Of the two officials of most interest to us, Pontius Pilate was governor in Judea (took office 26 A.D.) and Herod ruled as tetrarch in Galilee (took office 4 B.C.).


            3:2       while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  Caiaphas was the official high priest, but Annas (a Roman removed high priest himself) exercised great power behind the scenes when he desired to.  Since the removal had been forced upon them rather than coming as the result of death--and the natural succession of another to the position--Annas would have retained the respect connected with that office and it is not surprising that the now technically inaccurate title of “high priest” would still be used of him.  (Just as it is not that uncommon to hear former Presidents being addressed as “Mr. President” in later interviews.)


            3:3       And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  He did not limit himself to a single location; he moved from place to place--“all the region around the Jordan [River].”  His preaching stressed the need for baptism but this involved far more than the mere outward action:  It was to be the initial manifestation of  a changed lifestyle (“repentance”) and it was done in order to be saved (“the remission of sins”).  If words have any meaning, without the repentance and the repentance driven baptism they were still counted as rejected by God.  All the right traditional ceremonial acts might continue to be performed, but that would not alter the situation in the least.

            Sidebar: In Matthew 3:1 the region is called the “wilderness of Judea” and in Mark 1:4 it is simply called “wilderness,” the term indicating that (in general) the population was very modest and scattered.  The area ran from roughly the Dead Sea northward to near Hebron.


            3:4       as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  / ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; / Make His paths straight.  The purpose of John’s ministry was described centuries before by the prophet Isaiah (40:3-5) when he spoke of a coming preacher who would be distinguished by two things.  First was the place of his preaching (“in the wilderness”).  This was simply not where people seeking an audience went!  They went to Jerusalem or, failing that, to some other population center.  For this “wilderness” approach to work on a large scale required a preacher so dynamic and effective that word of mouth would bring multitudes to him.

            The second thing he would be distinguished by was his work in preparing the road/path/“way” that the Lord would travel.  This would involve several things, beginning with making the roads “straight” so they would be easy to follow and also in the related ways described in the next verse.  Yet we know that John, in fulfilling this prediction, did not do this literally but preached moral reform instead (verse 3).  Hence these are euphemisms for preparing the person’s attitude and behavior so that it will be easy to welcome and embrace the Regent coming to them.  All obstacles and hindrances--of whatever nature--are removed.  


            3:5       Every valley shall be filled / And every mountain and hill brought low; / The crooked places shall be made straight / And the rough ways smooth.  In the days of Isaiah, few roads were good ones.  And even when we reach the time of Rome and are impressed by how their specially built military ones provided reliable transportation year round for their army, most of a traveling ruler’s itinerary would still take them far beyond such.  So when a ruler came to visit, it was customary to scout out the route first so the trip would be made as easy as possible.  Valleys would be “filled,” hills leveled off, and crooked roads made straight--the language of a road builder.  All efforts along this line were made to assure the ruler’s ease of passage.  In a spiritual sense John the Baptist similarly removed obstacles in the way of his Lord’s success.  The people would be a prepared people . . . in strong contrast to what they had been.


            3:6       And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’   As applied to the Jewish people in particular, all those living in geographic Palestine would get to see the One [= Jesus] who brings salvation.  And Jesus traveled several years as a teacher in order to accomplish exactly that as He shared His message to all Jews who would listen--and quite a few religious leaders who would not.  But in a two part set of books--the second of which is about the effort to share the gospel to both Jew and Roman throughout the Roman Empire--it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this prophetic precedent is being introduced for a secondary reason as well:  a foreshadowing of the later ministry of Paul and the other apostles.  Think in terms of the fulfillment of the Great Commission and how through their teaching they prepared hearts to embrace the cause of the Lord (Matthew 28:18-20). 



John Rages at Hypocrites Who Pretend to Be Righteous and Encourages Reprobates in How to Reform Their Lives (Luke 3:7-14):  So John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You offspring of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones!  Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 So the crowds were asking him, “What then should we do?”  11 John answered them, “The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.” 

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  13 He told them, “Collect no more than you are required to.” 

14 Then some soldiers also asked him, “And as for us—what should we do?”  He told them, “Take money from no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your pay.”

--New English Translation (for comparison) 



            3:7       Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  John was not a blind idealist who ignored what was really going on.  There were those who wanted to go through the baptism but not the repentance.  John rebuked them as nothing but a bunch of dangerous snakes.  Who had “warned” them to flee God’s wrath?  Certainly not John; it had to be someone who didn’t know what he was talking about for the necessity of  repentance / reformed lives had been omitted.  Oh, they were quite willing to go through the empty form of baptism but forget about any change in behavior!

            Sidebar:  Although this warning applied in principle to everyone unwilling to reform for the better, Matthew 3:7-10 notes that it targeted the Pharisees and Sadducees in particular. 


            3:8       Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  Merely bragging of Abraham as their ancestor wasn’t going to do a bit of good.  Yes, it was something to be proud of, but God was still quite capable of creating new Jews from the rocks if He really wanted to.

            Jesus also encountered those who thought their ethnic ancestry allowed them to ignore what God demanded on an ethical level.  Yes, they were physical descendants of Abraham (John 8:37), but they failed the test of being his spiritual descendants:  If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.  Abraham did not do this (8:39-40). 


            3:9       And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  The rebuke applied to all who were unwilling to change for the better.  God was, so to speak, already using an axe to cut the trees down--but worse.  It is being laid to “the roots of the trees.”  They claim to be part of God's people and go all the way back to Abraham.  Well, God is cutting them off at the roots--removing them from any connection with the past they revered and honored.  And the slewn tree is to be used for all it’s good for--being burned to the pulp.  It is worthless and deserves no more than contempt.


            3:10     So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?”  They recognize that the teaching is applicable to each and every one of them.  There is no delusion they are willing to hide behind.  Obviously if they realized that their lifestyle and behavior had angered God, the natural question was the one they raised:  How shall we act to make God happy and remove this danger in the future?  There  are some answers that apply to everyone and there are some that apply to people in specific occupations as we can see in his responses. . . .  


            3:11     He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”  It was an age in which most people had little above the minimum to dress in and to be fed by.  But if one were so blessed, then one must look out for those who are in far worse shape.  The instruction enjoined not an empty act--one to simply dispose of the extra as some kind of symbolic act of humility.  Rather it was utilitarian and idealistic in basis:  it was to give it away to the person who was desperate to have anything since he “has none.”  Likewise the person who has a extra food to the one lacking any.

            This is the kind of behavior James pled for in James 2:14-17:  What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can faith save him?  15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”     


            3:12     Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”  John had laid down a standard of behavior that would be widely applicable.  But what were the standards above and beyond this--for those who were in particular job categories?  Two categories of position are introduced.  The first is what did repentance/moral reform mean to tax collectors and how they acted?


            3:13     And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”  Tax collectors both assessed the tax and collected it simultaneously.  They were a virtual law to themselves.  The opportunity for ripping off the public was readily available and most were believed to be doing so--and it is highly probable that this judgment was rarely wrong.  Since this was their besieging sin, it was what needed to be specially targeted for correction.


            3:14     Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?”  So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”  Romans were hardly likely to have an interest in hearing this strange Jewish “eccentric;” hence they must have been armed men attached to one or more of the Jewish rulers and officials in the region. 

            Even so, they were still people of authority and they could abuse their power readily enough in order to gain a bribe out of greed or to strike out unjustly out of pure meanness.  Hence it is not surprising that the first thing for their agenda is to avoid using their post to frighten and terrorize others--“do not intimidate anyone.”  Their word alone was enough to get the average person in the deepest of trouble.  They had raw power on their side; those they “leaned” on had none.  Hence they needed to avoid “accus[ing] falsely.”  After all, they were in a position to both do it and make the charge stick.

                Furthermore they should be “content with your wages.”  Soldiers outside of the ranks of the imperial army were not unknown to be a potential threat to those who hired them and their continued co-operation was sometimes purchased by an appropriate and judicious bonus to their wages.  And being quietly permitted to be abusive to extort money from those who had little or no influence.  Having agreed to serve at a certain figure, they were to fulfill their commitment.  Even more important was their treatment of the powerless they came in contact with.  Their trade virtually guaranteed them the opportunity to steal if they wished to engage in it and they had an excellent chance to cover it up.  Though this also increased their wages, they were to be content with what they were being paid.  By “signing on” at their promised wage, they implicitly accepted that it was reasonable and just.  



John Cautions That He Himself Is Not the Promised Messiah but That Even So He Is Coming—And Baptizes Jesus in the Jordan Along With Many Others (Luke 3:15-22):  15 While the people were filled with anticipation and they all wondered whether perhaps John could be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one more powerful than I am is coming—I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” 

18 And in this way, with many other exhortations, John proclaimed good news to the people.  19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil deeds that he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all:  He locked up John in prison.   

21 Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized.  And while he was praying, the heavens opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight.”      --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:15     Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not.  You have two factors working together to encourage this deduction.  The first is his popularity (“the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him,” verse 7).  The second is the fact that the people were already “in expectation” of the coming of the Messiah (current verse).  Here we have an obvious possibility:  A man clearly teaching a widely popular message of the reform of the people’s mores.  Why not him? 

            (By the way, this also shows that there was a widespread willingness to consider that the Messiah might not be a earthly monarch at all but a moral reformer instead.  Or, at the least, that he might be equally both--itself a drastic recasting of the heroic liberator motif.  Not that they particularly wanted it to be this way, but that many were quite willing to consider it when evidence seemed to point in a non-conventional direction.) 


            3:16     John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Although Matthew also quotes this statement, only Luke explains that the popular suspicion that John himself might be the Messiah was the motivation behind it (verse 15).  So far as raw power goes, the Messiah’s would be vastly beyond anything exhibited by John; He would be “One mightier than I.”  He would not only be an embodiment of power, but He would be so vastly superior in character and nature, that even the pious and devout John would not be “worthy” of loosening His sandal strap.  These allusions easily convey the idea of the supernaturalness of the Messiah.

            Unlike John, the Messiah would be able to baptize with something far more amazing, “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Acts 2 and the immersion of the apostles by the Holy Spirit--acting in a form that visibly appeared to be like fire (2:1-4)--initially appears to be the point in mind.  Indeed, Jesus explicitly referred to parts of John’s promise in His teaching of the apostles immediately before His final ascension into heaven--both the water and the Holy Spirit parts (Acts 1:4-5). 

            However note that the “fire” element is omitted; not relevant if it refers to a different event, but an unexpected omission if it refers to the same one.  Though not conclusive, two other problems are.  The first is that in Matthew’s quotation of John (3:11), this is immediately preceded by the warning of punitive fire:  “Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (verse 10).  In that kind of context the meaning would be that Christ would offer the human race the choice between the blessings of the Spirit or of punishment (“fire”) and the application would be universal rather than just to the dozen apostles.  The second major problem with the Pentecost only explanation is that even here in Luke the teaching is immediately followed (verse 17) by the punishment of fire being threatened. 

            Therefore what is under discussion are the two great alternatives offered the human species.  Those who are baptized “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  Even though we can quite properly read that as the gift given by the Spirit (i.e., salvation) rather than the Spirit itself the language would fit either case.  For those who do not accept divine mercy, they face their own involuntary “immersing” in the misery of eternal fiery retribution.


            3:17     His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”  The Messiah is going to do a housekeeping of His “farm” [= people, nation].  That which is valuable and useful (“the wheat”) is going to be carefully protected in His barn, but that which is useless (“the chaff”) will permanently and painfully be cast into “unquenchable fire.”  Earthly dry chaff, once lit, couldn’t be put out even if you tried.  In other words, once you have shown you are permanently rejecting the Messiah, you self-destruct; it isn’t something arbitrarily done to you as what you have done to yourself.  You no longer have any of the Divine promises that once were applicable to you.  The Divine retribution is inevitable--because of your own actions and inactions.

            The winnowing fan/shovel used to separate the two groups is the Messiah’s teaching:  it will inevitably separate those who are determined to do God’s will from those determined to do their own . . . except when the two coincidentally happen to match.  On earth as in eternity, the response shapes the results:  Separation of the faithful from the unfaithful.  There are obvious ways this language prefigures eternal rewards and punishments, but the initial separation begins on earth as well.  


            3:18     And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.  In other words this is only a “snippet” of all he had to say--a small sampling.  From it we can see that it must have centered on preparing for the Messiah by reforming one’s morality and making it conform to what God had revealed.  In turn, this carries the message that nothing less would be acceptable to the Messiah either.


            3:19     But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done.  One not listening favorably to John was Herod the tetrarch.  First of all he rebuked the ruler for having his brother Philip’s wife.  As the remarriage right existed in the Old Testament, there were few limitations upon who you could marry.  One of the few was that you could not marry a brother’s spouse.

            The other gospels lay stress solely on this illicit liaison as the reason for Herod’s anger.  Only Luke mentions that the rebuke concerned other matters as well, “for all the evils which Herod had done.”  Ethically he had failed in his responsibilities as ruler.  Not once but repeatedly.  And John called him to account for these as well.  His irresponsible remarriage was merely one example of his rejection of the Divine standards and not the only one.


            3:20     also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.  To determine what is the worst thing a ruler has done can sometimes be hard, but there are some things that are so outrageous that they stand in a class by themselves.  Hence Luke stresses that “above all” the other excesses was his throwing John into prison.  This removed the public rejection of the behavior but eliminated neither the conduct that motivated the criticism nor changed John’s mind that Herod was thoroughly in the wrong.  As there are people today who wish to punish you for preaching Bible morality, so was it even in the days of our Lord. 

            Sidebar:  Annoyed as he was at John, Herod was still so fascinated by his teaching that he listened to him repeatedly while in prison (Mark 6:20).  His ultimate execution, not mentioned by Mark, was ultimately carried out only because of the successful scheming by Herodias.


            3:21     When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.  While the crowds gathered to be baptized, Jesus was among them.  As one who wished to fully show a life exhibited to God, He had little choice.  If He had not, He would have been open to the challenge of denying John’s Divine mission to baptize.  Or having such a conceited view of His own integrity as not needing the baptism that He would appear delusional.  Hence though He stood in no need of repentance or baptism, He still underwent the baptism John administered.  To use the modern idiom, it showed everyone all that “his heart was in the right place.”

            Nothing John is recorded as saying demanded that a person pray while being baptized.  Instead the emphasis was on repentance, the act of immersion, and the changed life.  But it was certainly a quite natural action though not required.  And when Jesus prayed during His baptism a miracle occurred:  “the heaven was opened.”  By itself, this might indicate nothing more than receiving a vision.  But what comes next tells us it involved something quite visible and tangible. . . .


            3:22     And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”  Since the descent was “in bodily form like a dove” that implies that it was visible to Jesus and John and, for that matter, perhaps everyone else close by.  So far as it went, it was an astounding visual image.  But it could be coincidental.  But at the same time a heavenly voice ruled that out by affirming this was God’s “beloved Son.” 

            Two truths are stressed about Christ.  First, He was God's “beloved Son.”  He had a special place in His estimation--not just as a Son (important in itself), but as a “beloved” one, especially respected and admired.  With this reality in mind, it is not surprising that the second truth interlocks with this:  God was “well pleased” with Him, i.e., in both being baptized and in the behavior of His life.



The Ancestry of Jesus Traced Back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38):  23 So Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years old.  He was the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 

27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 

33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah,34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

--New English Translation (for comparison)    



            3:23     Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli.  The brief allusion to Jesus’ age is used as a verbal bridge to begin tracing the ancestry of Jesus back through the many generations that preceded it.  Matthew traces it back to the most important figure in Jewish history by taking it only as far as Abraham, the father of the nation.  In contrast Luke takes it back to the most important figure in all human history, Adam.  Both are “firsts;” Abraham of Israel and Adam of all mankind.  It is often speculated that the lineage in Matthew is that of Joseph and that in Luke that of Mary.      


            3:24-29            the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathiah, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Semei, the son of Joseph, the son of Judah, 27 the son of Joannas, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmodam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Jose, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi.  None of the names listed are found in the Old Testament until we reach the mention of Zerubbabel and Shealtiel in verse 27.  Since much of the listing occurs after the last Old Testament book was completed, this is hardly surprising.  From the next name, Neri (verse 27) through Matthat in verse 29, these names are also missing and that is a bit surprising.  On the other hand, the Old Testament only contains selected genealogies rather than that of everyone and all the various ways they could interlock in individual cases.  


            3:30-32            the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonan, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menan, the son of Mattathah, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon.  None of these names will spark the historical memory of most readers since little is known of any of them in the Old Testament beyond their bare names.  When we hit David (the prototype king, to whom the Messiah is compared) and Boaz (husband of Ruth, whose story is told in the Bible book named after her) we hit two names that will be more memorable.


            3:33-34            the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor.  After several more names that will mean little to most folk, we finally hit the names of the great patriarchs of the book of Genesis--Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.  Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation and that was far enough for most Jews.  For Luke, however, he wishes to carry the genealogy further back in order to stress that Jesus’ genealogy has not only Jews but non-Jews (= functional equivalent of Gentiles) in it as well.  (Boaz’s wife, Ruth, was one as well, but these earlier names make the point even more emphatically by the number of them involved.)


            3:35-38            the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.  Luke ends with Adam as the ultimate ancestor for there was no one further back to trace it to.  If Jews might boast that Jesus was of Jewish descent, then Gentiles could just as rightly point out that His ancestry also goes even further back . . . beyond when there even was such a thing as a “Jew.”  Furthermore, just as Adam was uniquely “son of God,” that image/language applied to Jesus will also be stressed in this gospel.  It allows the author to establish a parallel and precedent for the term when applied to another individual who has a unique relationship to God shared by no one else.








Chapter Four




While Alone in the Wilderness, Jesus Is Personally Tempted to Sin by the Devil Himself (Luke 4:1-13):  1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were completed, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, Man does not live by bread alone.’ “ 

Then the devil led him up to a high place and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “To you I will grant this whole realm—and the glory that goes along with it, for it has been relinquished to me, and I can give it to anyone I wish. So then, if you will worship me, all this will be yours.”Jesus answered him, “It is written, You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’

Then the devil brought him to Jerusalem, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’  12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’  13 So when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from him until a more opportune time.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:1       Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  Before the genealogy we are told that the Spirit visibly descended “upon Him” (3:22) and since this is the very next incident narrated, it seems that we are intended to interpret “upon Him” as also entering into Him in some sense.  The result is described here as being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Being so, He is guided by it into the wilderness.  Mark puts the language even more emphatically:  “the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).  Encouraged, impelled, motivated Him.

            Certainly at some point the Spirit came to “dwell within” in a unique sense and the Baptist defended Jesus when His role became controversial by referring to this fact:  For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand” (John 3:34-35).

            Sidebar:  It is easy to interpret the Spirit’s role as personally abiding within Jesus, but note in John 3:34-35 that the evidence of the “indwelling” of the Spirit is the fact that Jesus “speaks the words of God.”  In other words the Spirit played the role of “revelator” to (or through) rather than having some kind of “physical” indwelling and the language used here (and similar passages) should be interpreted in that manner. 


            4:2       being tempted for forty days by the devil.  And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.  If Jesus has unique  authority from the Father and the unique assistance of the Divine Spirit, it is obviously in the Devil’s interest to try to compromise and destroy His loyalty to the Father.  Hence the reason for what we read next.  Just as He underwent a full body immersion into the waters of the Jordan, He now was to undergo a full body immersion into temptation:  Forty days without food, subject to however many (or few) temptations the Devil chose to throw at Him, He is homeless, alone, and getting hungrier as the days go by.  An excellent breeding ground for doubt and delusions.

            The language leaves us with the impression that the entire period was one of temptation.  In the sense just described that is true, but of Satan’s direct challenges that is another matter since only three are mentioned:  Are these representative examples or the only ones?  If they are the latter, these represent what happens at the end of the forty day period--direct spiritual challenge being added to the ongoing physical and emotional toll.  Alternatively they could be ones repeated on multiple occasions during the extended period--with the Devil hoping each time that the ever more weakened Jesus would finally give in . . . until these last efforts at the end of the period bears no fruit either. 

            Sidebar:  The language in Matthew (4:1-2) places these temptations at the end of the period and in our current verse they are also placed “afterward” (i.e., after the fasting).  That still leaves the question of in what sense is the entire period described as one of temptation?     


            4:3       And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”  On its surface, this does not seem unreasonable.  He was fasting and late into the extended period, the human side of His nature had to be hungry indeed.  People like us can barely go a day or two.  Wasn’t it time to satisfy the hunger? 

            Now if this was supposed to be a time of fasting--and it was (Matthew 4:2)--it emphatically wasn't the time to eat; if you eat, it’s not a fast!

            That did not remove the hunger however and the temptation to stop prematurely.  Perhaps this was a visual temptation as well.  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes on this verse:  The Greek implies that the suggestion called direct attention to a particular stone.  In this desert there are loaf-shaped fossils known to early travelers as lapides judaici, and to geologists as septaria.  Some of these siliceous accretions assume the shape of fruit, and are known as ‘Elijah’s melons’ (Stanley, Sin. and Pal. 154). . . .  Such deceptive semblances would intensify the pangs of hunger, and add to the temptation the additional torture of an excited imagination.”  


            4:4       But Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’   Satan approached it, as we so often do in everyday life, from the standpoint of what is of most immediate benefit.  Jesus took it from the idealistic standpoint and evaluated the desire and compared it with what God wanted.  Was it really God’s desire for Jesus to use His miraculous powers in such a self-beneficial manner?  At the very time He is supposed to be fasting!  The question of God’s intent and desire answers itself.

            Jesus responds by quoting the scripture that we must not live “by bread alone” but also be governed “by every word of God” (quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 8:3).  For this to have direct relevancy to the current situation, then there must have been some “word” (instruction) that God had given Jesus indicating that this was to be a period of abstinence from all food; it must be a period of fasting.  God had said it, so that settled it.


            4:5       Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  It would not have been possible from any mountain in this world to see all the nations; if nothing else the curve of the earth would prohibit it.  Even if those nations most directly concerned with the Messianic mission (geographic Palestine and the surrounding region) are what is under consideration, even that would be seemingly impossible to see from one location alone.

            So a visionary “seeing” would make a great deal of sense, especially since all this was done merely “in a moment of time,” i.e., quickly and virtually simultaneously.  But it need not have been merely a vision, however.  If the Devil actually has great power, why would He have avoided presenting the Lord with the visible, three dimensional images of the varied places that would most impress viewers?  More than a mere vision and less than actually “being there.” 


            4:6       And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  John twice refers to a being with power over the world (John 12:31; 14:30) though not specifying the bearer of that authority as the devil or Satan--but who else could he have in mind?  Who gave him this temporal authority--beyond it being exaggerated bravado--is not stated, but since sin is voluntary does it not follow that Satan “rules” the earth because the human race has voluntarily given the power to him through their abandonment of the true moral standards?


            4:7       Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”  If Jesus will but subjugate Himself before Satan it can all be His.  No suffering.  No cross.  No heartache.  A short cut to the kingship.  Instead of being “on the right hand of God,” He is offered, so to speak, the alternative of being “on the right hand of Satan.”  Still the “number two man”--but to a different leader.


            4:8       And Jesus answered and said to him, Get behind Me, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’   Jesus responded with Deuteronomy 6:13.  The application is that there are some prices you can’t pay no matter how desirable the end result might be.  God had commanded that He alone be worshipped; by specifying God, all others were excluded--even when it advanced your own self-interest.  And to make it even more emphatic, He inserted “only” into the command as well.  No dodging room; no place to hide from the instruction.


            4:9       Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  In Jerusalem he took Jesus to an upper edge of the temple--we don't have the foggiest idea which one in particular.  He was going to be claiming that He was the Son of God in His ministry; all Satan wanted was visible verification.  (And it would draw vast crowds to Him as well--making His success far easier!)  How could that possibly be wrong?  After all, there was scriptural evidence that the Messiah would be protected from harm. . . .


            4:10     For it is written:  ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you.’  The ancient Psalmist (91:11-12) knew that was to be the case and he is quoted both here and in the next verse:  Angels were to be the protectors and agents of the Messiah.  And in the words that come next, we find they were to protect Him from the exact kind of danger that would be occurring.  An ideal Satanic proof text for it can so easily be twisted out of its original intent.

            4:11     and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’   Surely they would be equally diligent to keep Him from injury in falling from the height of the temple!  Of course it would impress the crowds as well.  It would gain him an immediate band of followers.  But there was a down side to this as well:  if He had used His powers for such an idle act of showmanship, what would He now have to do to the Romans since He had visibly manifested power no one could stand against?  Having begun this way, He would have no choice (to retain His followers) but to utilize those powers again and again in a way that would please them.  Which meant crushing the Roman occupiers.  It would mean the transformation of His reign from a spiritual to a temporal one.  And war.  Bloody war.


            4:12     And Jesus answered and said to him, It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’   Since what Satan desired was not part of God’s plan, the scripture applied to it was the one that rebuked “tempt[ing] the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:16).  This carries the implication that it was contrary to the Divine will to submit oneself to needless danger; hence it inherently was an effort to “tempt” God to intervene in cases where His standards required non-interference.  It was a provoking of Him since it called for doing things a different way than He had ordained.  Furthermore it was a provoking of the Heavenly Father because such melodramatic abuse of power was contrary to His agenda; it annoyed the Son for He was determined to live by the standards of His Father.

            Aside:  If this quite logical approach is sound, then it carries the strongest of warnings to those who intentionally handle poisonous snakes in the hope that God will protect them (Mark 16:18).  There is a profound difference between encountering such vipers accidentally--as the apostle Paul did in Acts  28:3--and doing so on purpose and as an act of worship.  Not to mention taking a promise that was to the apostles (Mark 16:18) and arbitrarily applying it to all believers.               


            4:13     Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.  The Devil only departed temporarily:  “until an opportune time.”  That is left fascinatingly vague.  Yet as we read of the discouragements Jesus periodically faced during His ministry from unbelieving critics and misunderstanding disciples, would He not have been tempted to seek an easier and less frustrating way of accomplishing His goals?  The temptations would have been back, in a more subtle but no less dangerous form for they were much lower key and less blatantly obvious.  Of course they would come back in the most intense form at the abuse He suffered in His final day alive.

            Jesus refers to these indirect Satanic temptations when He complimented the apostles at the Last Supper that “you are those who have continued with Me in My trials” (Luke 22:28).  That He was tempted in a wide variety of ways is affirmed in Hebrews 4:15, “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”



Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee but Is Soon Rejected in His Home Town Itself (Luke 4:14-30):  14 Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by all. 

16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,  17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.” 

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him.  21 Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.”  22 All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth.  They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  

23 Jesus said to them, “No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’”  24 And he added, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.  25 But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great famine over all the land.  26 Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 

28 When they heard this, all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage.  29 They got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.  30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:14     Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.  In 3:22 Jesus is described as having the Spirit land upon Him at His baptism.  In 4:1 He is described as “filled with the Spirit” and here Jesus acts “in the power of the Spirit.”  Since this is immediately followed by a reference to His teaching and then His miracle working (4:14-30), the connection would most naturally be that it was through the utilization of this “power of the Spirit” that His teaching excelled others and that His miracles were made possible.

            Although Jesus preached in Judea as well, He was recognized as having a unique relationship with the northern part of Palestine:  the apostle Peter noted that the work “began from Galilee” (Acts 10:37).  His hostile critics were quite aware of this Galilee centered aspect of His life:  “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place” (Luke 23:5).   


            4:15     And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.  These synagogues were located in Galilee (verse 14) and one should note the plural “synagogues” for it indicates that He taught in a variety of places and the reaction in all of them was respect and praise.  But when He reaches Nazareth, things change.  They are impressed by His teaching (verse 22) but they want miracles (verse 23):  Truth is less important than what benefits them in the temporal sphere.  Are these priorities any different among many “religious” people even today?


            4:16     So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  “As His custom was:  Today we would use the idiom, “He was a regular churchgoer; He never missed a service wherever He was.”  Whether He had ever read the Scripture publicly in the synagogue is slightly less clear.  However He was roughly thirty years old and with a passionate religious interest.  Is it at all probable that He had not done so? 


            4:17     And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.  And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written.  Whether this was the prescribed text to read that day--that particular custom is only documented at a much later date--or whether He had the opportunity to select one, it remained a passage that is highly appropriate, especially in Luke’s retelling of the story.  He reads from the first verses of Isaiah 61. . . .


            4:18     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, / Because He has anointed Me / To preach the gospel to the poor; / He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, / To proclaim liberty to the captives / And recovery of sight to the blind, / To set at liberty those who are oppressed.  `“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” presents an image Luke has already utilized three times (3:22; 4:1; 4:14).  The reason the Spirit had been given was so that He could teach the people the “gospel” (“good news,” as in the ESV, NET, and NIV, among others):  it was needed by the spiritually destitute, the “brokenhearted” guilt-ridden, and those “captive” to sin who would hear His message.  Hearts had been broken by the impact of sin; many had become prisoners to sin and no longer in charge of their own lives; they had become spiritually and morally blind.  Sin was their great oppressor and it would be the Messiah’s role to free them from it.  Earthly freedom is wonderful but only lasts decades at the most; spiritual freedom is eternal.     


            4:19     To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  On a literal basis, this was the year of Jubilee, which was supposed to be every fifty years (Leviticus 25:8-17)--when slaves were freed and earthly property was restored to those who owned it at the beginning of the period.  On a spiritual level this was the “year”--the designated time--for all mankind to be liberated from their sin.  If they dared to.  God wasn't going to make them; they would have to want to be and to react accordingly to the gospel invitation.


            4:20     Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  When He finished the reading, He handed the scroll back to the “attendant:”   Scrolls were not cheap; they were expensive and not easily replaced so there would be someone in charge of their preservation and welfare. 

            The fact that He “sat down” would normally suggest to us today that He returned to a seat somewhere within the congregation.  But that would have required all types of physical contortions in order to keep an eye on Him to see how He used or applied the text.  Hence the language is intended to convey the idea of sitting down in a clearly visible seat to share what He had to say in expounding and explaining.  This was not only regular synagogue practice, we learn in the Sermon on the Mount that this seated teaching was the method Jesus preferred (Matthew 5:1).  Matthew 23:2 indicates so did the scribes and Pharisees in their instruction.


            4:21     And He began to say to them, Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Isaiah had spoken of a time of release from sin (verse 18).  “Today,” insists Jesus, “this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  They were being given the opportunity to break free of the chains of sin, if they but dared.  And since they were listening to Jesus, this meant that it was through heeding Jesus’ teaching they could gain release from them.

            Jesus, however, was “a local boy” and it seemed nothing short of incredible that--incredible speaker though He was--that these predictions could find their fulfillment through Him. . . .   


            4:22     So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.  And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”  Since the people “marveled at the gracious words,” more teaching had to follow His assertion that the text had been fulfilled that day.  An explanation.  An application.  An encouragement.  A sermon.  The mere eight words of the preceding verse were certainly not enough to produce that enthusiastic a response! 

            Undeniably eloquent and perceptive, a problem quickly arose in their minds:  on the one hand, He had impressed them with His message.  On the other hand He was merely “Joseph’s son.”  This mere carpenter’s son couldn’t be that perceptive and insightful--could He?  To “modernize” the point:  Substitute a respected preacher of the current hour who comes from an inconspicuous and unimportant background. 


            4:23     He said to them, You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself!  Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’ ”  Oddly enough, they apparently expected Him to just as freely work miracles in Nazareth as He had in Capernaum in spite of their social--not doctrinal--skepticism.  Even though they had found nothing to challenge in His teaching itself, truth was inadequate to gain loyalty standing alone.  In other words, they weren’t about to embrace Him as an authoritative teacher of truth unless they got something out of it as well.  Jesus wasn't about to encourage this mind frame and promptly rejects it in the next verse.

            Sidebar:  Luke has not before mentioned Capernaum, and this is one of the many indications found in his writings that silence respecting any event is no proof that he was unaware of it.  Nor has any other Evangelist mentioned any previous miracle at Capernaum, unless we suppose that the healing of the courtier’s son (John 4:46-54) had preceded this visit to Nazareth.  Jesus had, however, performed the first miracle at Cana, and may well have wrought others during the stay of ‘not many days’ mentioned in John 2:12.  Capernaum was so completely the headquarters of His ministry as to be known as ‘His own city’ ([Matthew 9:1]; Matthew 4:12-16; Matthew 11:23.)”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            4:24     Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.  Of course, some where there were exceptions; there always were.  But if you wished to lay down a general rule that was far, far more often true than false it’s unquestionable.  Modern statements with a similar import are “no man is a hero to his valet” and “familiarity breeds contempt.”

            The key word here is “prophet” for he invokes that word and not the far more modest “teacher.”  A prophet is as far above a teacher in importance as a private is a general.  He not only teaches the right thing as even a teacher can do, but he is Divinely guided to teach truth as a genuine prophet always did.

            Sidebar:  On a second visit to Nazareth--not mentioned by Luke but by another gospel, the same truth is repeated (Matthew 13:57).  John’s use of the phrase (4:44-45) contrasts this hostility with the receptiveness He found in other parts of Galilee.  


            4:25     But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land.  This was a literal prophetic precedent--in prophetic behavior--where many miracles could have come in handy but did not occur.  The multi-year drought in the days of Elijah had produced a major famine and as a result many died of it.  The New Testament writer James also refers to this terrible period (James 5:17).


            4:26     but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  Sidon was outside the boundaries of Jewish Israel; this woman was presumably an elderly Jew who lived there who had managed to survive her husband.  Even there, the famine endangered the survival of all, but God miraculously assured that there was enough bread and oil for her, her son, and Elijah to subsist (1 Kings 17:8-16).  Through Elijah, God even raised her son from the dead (verses 17-24).


            4:27     And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  Just as Elijah only miraculously helped two people with needed food, Elisha only provided miraculous assistance for one person.  In his case, it was not a Jew who lived outside Israel’s borders, but a Gentile who came from a distance (2 Kings 5:1-14).  However gracious and benevolent this was, that did not change the fact that there were “many” others in the land who were also lepers.  Hence even in the days of miracles, miracles were not designed to help everyone!  How then could they get mad if He refused to work ones upon their demand?  It was like they thought they had an inherent right to miracles, rather than regarding them as they were--astounding manifestations of God's generosity.


            4:28     So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath.  It certainly didn’t help that one incident cited took place in a despicable Gentile city and another had an outsider benefited and not even a Jew at all.  In contrast, they were all Jews and even residents of His own hometown.  Like spoiled children denied their “right” to have whatever they want, they became angry at this annoying teacher.  Their responsibility to accept God’s decision in the matter was ignored as their rage grew and overwhelmed them to the point of irrationality.


            4:29     and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.  This was not the normal method of execution (i.e., stoning) but inspired by the availability of a steep enough drop that it should kill Him.  Some have thought that they would have justified it by arguing that Jesus had been guilty of blasphemy.  But it is hard to see where Jesus had said anything that could be twisted into such a defense.  He had invoked not one but two different prophetic precedents and not made any personal claims about His true nature and character that could be interpreted as blasphemous.  At the worst, what He said “insulted” them and not God.

            Sidebar:  Visible even into the modern age, there is a nearby hill with a forty foot drop and it (or one like it) would have been within the limits imposed by “a sabbath day’s journey.”  The only other case of death by this means is recorded in 2 Chronicles 25:12.        


            4:30     Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.  Some think He accomplished this by an amazing show of self-confidence and charisma; due to it, they permitted Him to walk through their midst unharmed.  Before things had degenerated this completely, that might well have been a reasonable explanation.  But when the “lynch mob” was already howling for blood, it’s very hard to see how this was accomplished without at least a partial miracle.  The text doesn’t claim it was such; but can the text be fairly interpreted without the assumption of such?    



In Capernaum, Jesus Heals a Variety of Illnesses Both Inside the Capernaum Synagogue and Outside as Well (Luke 4:31-44):  31 So he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he began to teach the people.  32 They were amazed at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.

33 Now in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 Ha! Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”  35 But Jesus rebuked him: “Silence! Come out of him!”  Then, after the demon threw the man down in their midst, he came out of him without hurting him. 

36 They were all amazed and began to say to one another, “What’s happening here?  For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”  37 So the news about him spread into all areas of the region.

38 After Jesus left the synagogue, he entered Simon’s house.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her.  39 So he stood over her, commanded the fever, and it left her.  Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

40 As the sun was setting, all those who had any relatives sick with various diseases brought them to Jesus.  He placed his hands on every one of them and healed them.  41 Demons also came out of many, crying out, “You are the Son of God!”  But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

42 The next morning Jesus departed and went to a deserted place.  Yet the crowds were seeking him, and they came to him and tried to keep him from leaving them.  43 But Jesus said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, for that is what I was sent to do.”  44 So he continued to preach in the synagogues of Judea.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:31     Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths.  The distance was only twenty miles but it put the Lord in a totally different work environment.

            The Greek wording here for “Sabbath” can be translated either in the singular or the plural and most translations opt for the singular, probably since the immediately past usage is of Nazareth and that clearly has a single specific day in mind (4:16).  Furthermore 4:42 is written as if it is on the very next day--rather than after a prolonged stay--that He left for other locations. 

            Of course we know, from the many mentions of the city in the gospels, that it functioned as His de facto hometown rather than his hostile home back in Nazareth.  Hence, if not today in particular, He is virtually guaranteed to have preached in Nazareth at least occasionally two Sabbaths in a row.

            The Pulpit Commentary on this verse provides a good concise explanation of why this would be an appealing “base of operations” for the Lord: 

            He chose this flourishing lake city partly because His kinsmen and first disciples lived in it or its immediate neighborhood, but more especially on account of its situation.  It has been termed the very center of the manufacturing district of Palestine; it lay on the high-road which led from Damascus and the Syrian cities to Tyro, Sidon, and Jerusalem.

            “ ‘It was, in fact, on “the way of the sea” (Isaiah 9:1), the great caravan-road which led (from the East) to the Mediterranean.  It was hence peculiarly fitted to be the center of a far-reaching ministry, of which even Gentiles would hear’ (Farrar).  The evangelist speaks of ‘coming down’ to the shore of the lake, in contrast with Nazareth, which was placed in the hills.” 


            4:32     And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.  Judging from its examples in the New Testament His teaching was usually direct and to the point and never finessed with a dozen “ifs” and “buts” and “howevers.”  This was true even when in parables and through illustrations they would have recognized.  Furthermore when external “authority” was appealed to, it was not the words of Rabbi X or Rabbi Z but that of scripture; the growing body of rabbinic traditions were irrelevant to Him except as something to be mocked (Mark 7:8-9, 13).


            4:33     Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon.  And he cried out with a loud voice.  It has been argued that since a demoniac would have been considered “unclean,” he would not have been permitted into the service.  Therefore he must have crept in unseen.  But why in the world would a possessed person--while under active demonic control--want to be in a synagogue in the first place?  If the person was in a lucid state--the spirit(s) within weren't “acting up”--it is easy to imagine him wanting the temporary solace that could be gained from the worship and, unless the person had a reputation of lack of control while there, benevolent souls “looking the other way.”  In this case, the problem arose not with his presence but with the loud interruption of the service by the inner spirits.


            4:34     saying, “Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”  Pure, unalloyed panic.  The demons within recognized that He was “the Holy One of God”--and were terrified what could happen.  Strangely enough, until now we have not had the slightest hint that Jesus had in mind dealing with this particular problem that day.  Perhaps He would; perhaps He wouldn’t.  But the demoniac protest left Him with no choice.


            4:35     But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be quiet, and come out of him!”  And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him.  Demonic reference to His power to expel them was not likely to do Jesus any good:  His enemies could easily use it against Him, claiming that they were “praising” Him.  So He ordered the demon to both “be quiet” and to “come out of” the possessed man.  Although the demons vigorously threw him about in their act of doing so, it did no damage.  This is the first of His miracles described in this gospel, though their existence was referred to by the Lord Himself in Nazareth (verse 23).

            Sidebar:  As this is the earliest of our Lord’s miracles recorded by Luke, we may notice that the terms used for miracles in the Gospels are teras ‘prodigy,’ and thaumasion ‘wonderful’ (Matthew 21:15 only), from the effect on men’s minds; paradoxon (Luke 5:26 only), from their strangeness; sçmeia ‘signs,’ and dunameis ‘powers,’ from their being indications of God’s power; endoxa ‘glorious deeds’ (Luke 13:17 only), as showing His glory; and in John erga ‘works,’ as the natural actions of One who was divine.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)    


            4:36     Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, “What a word this is!  For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”  This incident reinforced Jesus’ reputation as a teacher.  He had gone beyond the merely abstract.  He had exorcised demons by a simple and direct command.  No elaborate ritual.  No days of effort.  He simply speaks and it is done.  How can God not be behind such a teacher?


            4:37     And the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.  The report of this incident spread throughout the entire area, further enhancing Jesus’ reputation and encouraging others to hear Him when they had the opportunity.  He is firmly establishing a “track record” of doing what His rabbinic critics could not hope to do.  The reports gave a credibility to His message and encouraged many to listen who otherwise might simply dismiss Him as “just another traveling rabbi.”


            4:38     Now He arose from the synagogue and entered Simon’s house.  But Simon’s wife’s mother was sick with a high fever, and they made request of Him concerning her.  Since the fact that the proverbial “sabbath’s day journey” restricted a person to a walk not over about 2/3 a mile, that meant that Simon’s home was within a convenient distance of this synagogue.  She had, obviously, not been in the service that day since she was not only “sick” but was plagued “with a high fever” as well.  This so concerned Peter’s family that “they”--surely through Peter himself--to ask for Jesus’ assistance.

            Sidebar:  The expression “sabbath day’s journey” is only used once in the Bible (Acts 1:12) and there it is identified as the distance from Jerusalem to Mount Olivet.  The term is never defined in the Scriptures themselves but surviving ancient Jewish traditions put it at 2,000 cubits, basing it upon the distance to be maintained between the Ark of the Covenant and the masses of people as they approached the Jordan River (Joshua 3:4). 


            4:39     So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.  And immediately she arose and served them.  As with the demoniac, there was no delay in the cure; Jesus “rebuked the fever” and it promptly left her.  Rather than leaving her stripped of all energy the way a fever normally does, she had her strength back so fully and “immediately,” that she was able to get up and proceed with her normal role in the household.


            4:40     When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.  The Sabbath was over at sunset and the limitations of a “sabbath day’s journey” were no longer relevant either.  Furthermore, in the interim there would have been a great deal of discussion about Jesus and the possibility of healing others than just the demoniac.  If that hard a case could be immediately dealt with, could there possibly be any greater difficulties with more “run of the mill” difficulties?  And they were promptly proved right in their reasoning.


            4:41     And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!”  And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.  Note how regular disease could quite easily be distinguished from demonically related conditions.  These were not synonymous though, of course, a particularly perverse demoniac spirit could plague a person with both--adding to the pain, discomfort, and embarrassment of those afflicted with such inner creature(s).

            He shut them up as quickly as they spoke for He needed no praise from those who had done so much harm.  Nor would they escape from banishment from their “occupied” victim by giving Him the recognition that He fully deserved.  After all, He was both “Christ” and “Son of God”--note how that in His case they are virtually synonymous--but to accept such public respect from this source would be as repugnant as for a Jew to receive praise from Adolph Hitler.


            4:42     Now when it was day, He departed and went into a deserted place.  And the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them.  They wanted the healings to continue but He had a teaching ministry (verse 44) that must be pursued as His first priority after He spent some time alone.  Why He wanted a brief time alone we aren’t told.  It may simply have been the “down time” that we mortals require after a period of intense activity.  It may have been the need for private prayer.  It may have been to allow word of the quality of His teaching and His varied healings to spread so more people would be willing to hear Him when He came to their communities.  


            4:43     but He said to them, I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.”  Every place possible deserved the opportunity to hear Him preach.  Healings did unquestioned good, but even if a person had a healed ailment, was that anywhere close in importance to the need for a healed soul?


            4:44     And He was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee.  Here we have a major difference in Greek text, with a number of important manuscripts reading “Judea” in place of Galilee.  A large percentage of modern translations embrace it as the more probable text.  If so we find an indication that the other gospels know full well of a major ministry in Judea--one that is only detailed in the gospel of John.

            Regardless of which textual tradition we prefer, we again see that Jesus’ teaching work was repeatedly synagogue centered.  They provided a place where interest in spiritual matters would be inherent in the location and not necessarily be used for such purposes only on the Sabbath either.  It was a natural “study location” for those so inclined to deepen their knowledge of Torah and its interpretation.







Chapter Five




Jesus Calls the Fishermen Peter, James, and John—Who Were in Business Together—To Travel With Him on His Teaching Journeys (Luke 5:1-11):  1 Now Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing around him to hear the word of God.  He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets.  He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore.  Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.”  When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear.  So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. 

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For Peter and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s business partners.  Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  11 So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:1       So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret.  So far as size, Luke’s description of it as a “lake” is more precise than its usual designation:  This same inland lake is generally called ‘the Sea of Galilee’ (Matthew 15:29, &c.).  In the Old Testament it is called ‘the Sea of Chinneroth’ (Joshua 12:3) from its harplike shape.  St John calls it ‘the Sea of Tiberias;’ because by the time he wrote Tiberias, which in our Lord’s time had only just been founded by Herod Antipas, had grown into a flourishing town.

            Gennesareth is a clear sweet lake about five miles long and twelve broad, with the Jordan flowing through it.  Its fish produced a valuable revenue to those who lived on its shores.  The plain of Gennesareth, which lies 500 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, is now known as El Ghuweir, ‘the little hollow.’ . . . In our Lord’s time it was, as Josephus calls it, ‘the best part of Galilee’ (B. J. iii. 10, § 7) containing many villages, of which the least had 15,000 inhabitants.  Josephus becomes quite eloquent over the descriptions of its rich fruits nearly all the year, its grateful temperature, and its fertilizing stream (Jos. B. J. iii. 10, §§ 7, 8), so that, he says, one might call it ‘the ambition of nature.’ It belonged to the tribe of Naphtali (Deuteronomy 33:23) and the Rabbis said that of the ‘seven seas’ of Canaan, it was the only one which God had reserved for Himself.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  

            It has been estimated that in the life of Jesus as many as several thousand vessels of varied size plied the lake.  It was the most economically prosperous area of Galilee or Judea. 


            5:2       and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.  Any fishing boat requires maintenance not just of the vessel itself but also of the nets required to catch the fish:  What tools are to the builder, nets are to the fisherman.  They would be cast into the sea, pulled closed and to the boat, emptied, and the process repeated until they got all the catch they thought they were going to get.  Returning to shore, the fish would be sorted out.  Then any thing else trapped in the net (weeds and such like) that would block the fish from entering it--or tear the net--was also removed and thrown away to maximize the catch the next time out.  The latter could largely be accomplished standing in the water and “washing” the debris off and out.  They had been fishing the previous night and it had been totally unsuccessful (verse 5) but the nets still needed watchful vigilance.


            5:3       Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land.  And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.  In effect, Simon got “drafted.”  Jesus needed a place to set far enough away from the crowd so everyone could see and hear Him easily and this provided an unusual and unexpected--but quite effective--way to meet that need.   


            5:4       When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  Before even taking care of any personal need to rest or eat, He wishes to provide an opportunity for them to provide for theirs.  He is clearly aware of their failure to catch anything the previous night and this will provide them a “reward” (for lack of a better word) for loaning Him their boat.  It will also provide powerful evidence that this teacher has divine power behind Him.    


            5:5       But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”  In other words, this was a futile endeavor.  They had fished all night--the traditional best fishing time for the Lake--and yet had caught nothing at all.  But if Jesus thought it was best, they trusted Him enough to do so though He was the son of a carpenter while they were the professional fishermen and the ones who should know best.


            5:6       And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.  The “experts” are sometimes wrong.  Logically there was no reason to expect fish to be there but they were present nonetheless.  Whether Jesus caused the fish to be there or whether it was a miracle of supernatural knowledge of their location, the result was the same.


            5:7       So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  The nets that were normal for one boat were so full that it required two different vessels to hold all the catch and even then they were filled to overcapacity and on the edge of sinking as they moved shoreward.  A fisherman’s dream come true:  more fish than he could carry!


            5:8       When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”   Economically what had happened was wonderful, but since the professional fisherman in him knew full well that this “couldn't be happening,” it was downright scary as well:  How could this able teacher possibly have produced this?  The sense of inferiority to such a person overwhelmed him.  Recognizing his own inadequacy he urges Jesus to leave “for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  No more sinful than others, of course.  But when confronted with supernatural power, who can avoid the sense of overwhelming inadequacy?


            5:9       For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken.  It was their lake.  They fished there regularly.  They all recognized the improbability--the impossibility--of what they had just seen.  But it had happened anyway.  Even if they wished to dismiss it as a “once in a lifetime phenomena,” what would be the chance of it happening exactly when this Galilean teacher--who was far from being a fisherman--tells them to fish after a night of catching nothing?  Being in the presence of supernatural power was an inevitable deduction.


            5:10     and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.  And Jesus said to Simon, Do not be afraid.  From now on you will catch men.”  Awe was still appropriate; fear was not.  They had nothing to fear from Him for all their human failures.  Indeed, He had a task ready for them that would be as challenging as anything they had ever done at sea:  In the past they had caught fish; now they were going to have the opportunity to “catch men.”  Teach them.  Convert them.  Change them for the better.  Think it impossible?  You “couldn't” catch all those fish either, could you?


            5:11     So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.  They all accepted His recruitment:  When they had landed their boats, they promptly followed Jesus on the next leg of His preaching tour.  At least James and John were in a family prosperous enough to have hired employees working for them (Mark 1:20).  But for all of them--however prosperous or modest in their resources they might be--it meant leaving behind a life they were well used to based on their trust in Jesus that it would all work out for the best.



A Leper Healed By Jesus Illustrates That Such Cases Did Not Remove Any Additional Obligation That Might Be Required by the Mosaical Law (Luke 5:12-16):  12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came to him who was covered with leprosy.  When he saw Jesus, he bowed down with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  13 So he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!”  And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 Then he ordered the man to tell no one, but commanded him, “Go and show yourself to a priest, and bring the offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 

15 But the news about him spread even more, and large crowds were gathering together to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses.  16 Yet Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.     --New English Translation (for comparison)   



            5:12     And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”  There were different degrees of leprosy.  Different stages and different parts of the body affected.  Even a number of different afflictions generically fell under the label.  (For a lengthy discussion of the steps to avoid needlessly classifying a person as a leper see the details in Leviticus 13.) 

            This man “was full of leprosy.”  In other words, an advanced case and one seemingly hopeless.  In this case there was not the slightest doubt of his problem and how widespread over his body it had spread.  Yet out of the depths of his despair he still begged Jesus because he had the conviction that if He wished to, that He had the power to “make me clean.”

            (Side note:  Matthew 8:1-2 explicitly states that this happened as Jesus left the place where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered.  The town of Hattin has been suggested by various commentaries as the community closest to the site, but the gospel writers have seen no need to be specific.)


            5:13     Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, I am willing; be cleansed.”  Immediately the leprosy left him.  Technically a leper was not supposed to be touched.  On the other hand, Jesus had that unique ability to instantaneously heal leprosy, so how could the intent--rather than just the letter--be violated by doing so?  If nothing else, the touching even more emphatically made clear that it was His Divine power that made the healing possible. 

            (By the way, we are dealing here with ceremonial and not moral defilement.  Even by the former standard, if it was always and automatically defiling, how could even the priest be able to examine an individual to see if they had such a problem or if it remained [Leviticus 13] without risking defiling themselves as well?  If the priest could do all this without pollution, would not One who was Divine holiness incarnate do so even more harmlessly?)


            5:14     And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.”  The Law of Moses required that the disappearance of leprosy be confirmed by a priest and that an appropriate offering be made in the temple (Leviticus 14).  Hence this was his next duty and Jesus sent him off to fulfill it.  Furthermore the time this took would give him opportunity to meditate upon the wonder and honor of it before spreading the joyous news among those who already knew him.

            Even so the instruction not to share word of the healing is often associated with Jesus’ desire to hold down popular excitement about His supernatural powers lest they encourage the people to demand they be used in a politically rebellious manner.  The miracles were a potential two-edged sword:  designed to help others and confirm His authority, they could also be twisted into “proof” that nothing on earth could stop a rebellion He led.  To those to whom religion is more a “veneer” than that which dominates the soul, it would be a tempting deduction indeed.  Even so, the desire to minimize the immediate spread of the story is not the same as successfully accomplishing it. . . .   


            5:15     However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.  Some spread of the story was inevitable since there were surely at least a modest number who observed it, however the wording seems to imply a more active spreading by the healed leper as well. 

            This increased even more those who wished to see what the Lord had to say and do.  The growing audience Jesus attracted came both out of self-interest (healing for self or loved ones) and the desire to hear the words of this traveling minister who motivated the souls of so many to seek their own spiritual improvement.  The two aspects of His ministry were invariably interlocked--however beneficial the miracles were to those cured, they were not an end in themselves.  They added credibility to the message.  The message was difficult enough for many to accept with miracles.  Without them there would have been nothing with which to pry faith out of their prejudices.


            5:16     So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.  In spite of the desire of so many to see, hear, and be benefited by Him, Jesus still periodically withdrew for a period of solitary prayer.  This shows that being encompassed within a mortal body, He needed periods of withdrawal to refocus on the mission, on His personal relationship with His Fatherd, and to seek the strength to persevere.  If “people get on our nerves,” how much more must it have been at times with the Lord:  Jesus knew so much but when He tried to share it with others so many either could not--or would not--permit themselves  to understand.  When you are “serving the food of life” at your free buffet table, what could get more frustrating than the refusal to partake of it? 

            Sidebar:  Since this verse comes immediately after the failed effort to minimize the spread of the story about the healed leper (verses 14-15), the most logical connection would be frustration that they crowds far too often came for what they could miraculously get out of Him (healing) rather than for what they could get out of His message (a changed life).  Not that the other aspects we discuss were absent, but that this one was presently the dominant one.   



Jesus Defends His Having the Power to Forgive Sin By Demonstrating That He Had the Supernatural Capability to Heal Serious Disease Such as Paralysis—Proving the Credibility of the Invisible (Forgiveness) by the Visible (Healing)  (Luke 5:17-26):  17 Now on one of those days, while he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting nearby (who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem), and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.  18 Just then some men showed up, carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher.  They were trying to bring him in and place him before Jesus. 19 But since they found no way to carry him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down on the stretcher through the roof tiles right in front of Jesus.  20 When Jesus saw their faith he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 

21 Then the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to think to themselves, “Who is this man who is uttering blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

22 When Jesus perceived their hostile thoughts, he said to them, “Why are you raising objections within yourselves?   23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?  24 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralyzed man—”I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher and go home.”

25 Immediately he stood up before them, picked up the stretcher he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God.  26 Then astonishment seized them all, and they glorified God.  They were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen incredible things today.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)       



            5:17     Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.  And the power of the Lord was present to heal them.  The location was Capernaum (Mark 2:1; Matthew 9:1).  The vague “on a certain day” indicates that this was no special time in the Jewish religious calendar.  It was made different due to the presence of a wide spectrum of religious leaders from both Judea and Galilee. 

            There was a natural curiosity among them about this young preacher and at some point natural curiosity would make many religious “experts” curious to see what He had to say in person--note that they were listening to His “teaching.”  Some of them likely harbored more than a touch of arrogance, confident that no religious teacher from Galilee could possibly measure up to their “high” standards and training.

            However rigorously logical and loyal to the Torah His “teaching” might be, that would definitely be inadequate for many of the tradition bound.  Hence the fact that “the power of the Lord was present” would give Him the opportunity to do something that would challenge their assumptions to the core:  He would establish credibility for His “unorthodox” teaching by healing people.  Miracles surely trumped tradition in establishing truth, did it not?  For these folk it did not (verse 21).           


            5:18     Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him.  Unable to walk at all, four friends (Mark 2:3) were so sure that Jesus could heal the afflicted that they carried him on a “bed” to where Jesus was at--think carrying pallet or stretcher rather than “bed” in 21st century usage.  But their plans were immediately thwarted.


            5:19     And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus.  Because the crowd kept them from getting close to Jesus, they used the outer stairs to reach the flat roof top (quite common in that age).  From there they removed the roofing over Jesus’ head, under which He stood and taught.  Then they lowered the paralyzed man in front of Him.  Far easier with the kind of construction commonly utilized in the first century; impossible with our contemporary equivalents.  The important thing to remember is that they saw an extreme difficulty but did not automatically give up.  Instead they found a way to surmount it.  A lesson for everyday life that it would be good for all of us to remember.  They couldn’t remove his disability, but they could assure he got to the One who could. 


            5:20     When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”  Impressed by their faith, Jesus assured the paralyzed that he also had something he had not even asked for--the forgiveness of his sins.  It has sometimes been assumed that this spiritual gift was provided to remove the cause of the man’s physical calamity, thereby making physical restoration possible.  Although disease and calamity can be the result of sin (John 5:14), Jesus also taught that such things can happen without any connection to sin at all:  in  Luke 13:1-5 as a generalization and in John 9:1-3 in regard to a specific individual.  Hence the connection in this case is possible, but just as likely to have been said to assert just how vast was the authority the Heavenly Father had given Him.  His critics couldn’t make such a claim and were utterly horrified that He did. . . .   


            5:21     And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  This may not have led to doubt on the part of the paralyzed and his helpers, but it surely gave at least momentary pause. . . . like “what in the world is going on here?  It isn’t what we asked for.”  Valuable yes; but not the immediate object.

            In contrast, the scribes and Pharisees gave no thought to whether healing would yet occur to vindicate His claim.  Being kind to their motives, they may have assumed that He was pretending to have salvational power as the means to avoid blame for His lack of providing healing.  But that is extremely improbable since they hadn’t responded, “Prove it!”  Instead they immediately retorted with acrimony at the assertion being made at all:  This Jesus was self-condemned as “blasphemous.”  End of discussion.


            5:22     But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, Why are you reasoning in your hearts?  Here we discover that at least the bulk of the objectors were contemptuous only inwardly in “their thoughts”--though in a large crowd such as this, some were surely verbalizing it aloud as well.  Others you would only need to look at their faces to see the rage.  Either way, Jesus knew full well that He had provoked an antagonistic reaction.  So He threw the ball into their court:  He demanded why they reasoned the way they were doing when He could vindicate His supernatural power by doing something equally impossible to be done. . . .


            5:23     Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk’?  We have to add a very words--the unverbalized “freight” the statement carries:  is it easier to say “your sins are forgiven you” and produce that result than it is to say “rise up and walk” and produce that result?  In other words, the power to successfully do one, makes credible the claim to do both.  Miracles have evidential power to make reasonable what would otherwise be rejected as impossible.


            5:24     But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”  Up to now, He has simply laid down the mental challenge.  Now He proceeds to force them to confront the reality by commanding the paralyzed man to rise up from his bed of affliction.  Then to take the bed and return home.  Jesus has put His reputation on the line.  He has claimed the astounding power to forgive sin and (since the forgiveness of sin is not physically visible to anyone), He is going to vindicate that power by healing the paralyzed.  Can He really do it?  His foes are surely looking forward to His quite public--and deserved--humiliation.  However. . . .        


            5:25     Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.  No delay.  He gathers up the bed parts that he had been carried on.  His family would surely find some use for them and it would be unkind to leave a “mess” behind when one has so much to be thankful for.  It may have been Jesus who performed the healing, but the paralyzed man knows that it had to be God’s power that made it possible and therefore overflows with praise to the Father for what has been done.


            5:26     And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today!”  The crowd shared in the praise and joyfulness over what had happened.  Yet there was an upsetting element of concern and “fear” for they had “seen strange things today.”  Not the healing in itself, but the use of that healing to vindicate Jesus’ power of forgiveness.  Jesus had healed before but here He links it to an even more powerful assertion.

            The scribal and Pharisee critics have two options:  (1)  Jesus has been given the power to forgive sins by God, but that runs into their own objection that that is a right of God alone, or (2) that Jesus is Deity.  The description of Jesus as “Son of God” (especially in the connection with healings) edges right up to that latter concept whether explicitly including it or not.  John’s prologue to his gospel makes it explicit.  Luke leaves it for the reader to ponder. 

            One suspects (from what is told here and their general attitude) a stone faced and annoyed silence among the critics.  Too powerful and open an event to deny happened but carrying evidence for things they dare not admit.



Jesus Asserts the Right to Both Call to Discipleship Levi—Considered a Reprobate Because of His Occupation—and To Share Meals with Other Such People in Order to Encourage Them in the Right Direction as Well (Luke 5:27-32):  27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax booth.  “Follow me,” he said to him.  28 And he got up and followed him, leaving everything behind.

29 Then Levi gave a great banquet in his house for Jesus, and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them.  30 But the Pharisees and their experts in the law complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 

31 Jesus answered them, “Those who are well don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do.  32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”     --New English Translation (for comparison) 



            5:27     After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, Follow Me.”  Leaving behind the religious “experts”--at this point they were probably too startled to argue much of anything--Jesus encountered Levi, who we know better under his post-conversion name of Matthew; he is so called in the parallel account in Matthew 9:9-13.   He was located where you would expect, at the place where he collected taxes.  Although levies on goods being transported on the road system were received, the main source of revenue was probably different:  fees collected on the goods transported across the Sea of Galilee and arriving here in Capernaum.  He may well have worked for Herod Antipas rather than directly for the Romans.  Either way, the “flexible ethics” of the taxmen were well known.  But this one was willing to be honest and even abandon his position. 


            5:28     So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.  Which itself is fascinating.  The reaction (no other words having been exchanged) argues that he already had heard of Jesus.  Indeed, since both were residents of Capernaum how could he possibly not have heard of this “rabbi?”  In addition Jesus’ miracles were certainly well known and their nature widely shared with others both before this (Luke 4:36-37) and afterwards as well (7:15-17).  Could Levi have possibly avoided--out of curiosity at the minimum--taking the opportunity to hear Him speak as well?  And even ponder the application of His reform message to his own life?  Some such scenario must be assumed for we find Levi promptly grabbing this opportunity to both serve and learn more. 


            5:29     Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house.  And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.  Since they were both dwelling in the same town and Jesus was not out on one of His preaching tours, there was nothing more natural than for Levi to have Him as a guest . . . in fact to offer “a great feast” in his home--since a “poor tax collector” was virtually an oxymoron.  As additional guests, there were a large number of the tax collectors Levi worked with.  Whatever Jesus said of value to Levi would automatically have application to the others as well and he did not want them to miss the opportunity to hear it.  


            5:30     And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  This is typically interpreted to mean that the scribes and Pharisees had entered the building as casual observers and the objection is made while there.  This fits well with the customs of the day.  (Their deep aversion to the “tax collectors and sinners” as a class, however, gives at least momentary pause to this scenario.)  If not actually at the gathering itself, their challenge was given either as guests were gathering or immediately after it was over. 

            Regardless of the specific timing, their challenge was aimed at “His disciples” for they are the ones the text tells us were being “complained against.”  They hadn’t had success contradicting Jesus to His face; perhaps one of the various apostles would provide them misspoken words to work with.  Or maybe they could alienate one or more of them from their Master.  Either way, the anti-Jesus agenda would be benefited.


            5:31     Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  No matter which of the apostles were addressed, Jesus was close enough to hear what was being said and to interject Himself in the middle of the discussion.  The key fact here was that these tax collectors were morally “sick.”  Note that Jesus did not promote the modern delusion that “I’m okay; you are okay”--when the you in the equation is blatantly doing wrong.  He would not needlessly insult them, but He would not pretend they did not have a problem to solve either.  Hence there was no choice what He had to do. . . .


            5:32     I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  Those who are already “righteous” are far from perfect.  Though they still have things to work on and have the continuing need to ever be learning more of God’s will, they have laid the right foundation:  they are trying to live morally and in line with God’s standards.  In vivid contrast, “sinners” (like the tax collectors) were doing whatever they wanted that they thought they could get away with.  Hence they desperately stood in need of moral reformation . . . of “repentance” that sets the life and priorities right.




Defending a New Policy on Fasting:  One Can Not Force the New Religious Practices of Jesus Into the Straightjacket of the Existing Ones Without Destroying the Value of Both (Luke 5:33-39):  33 Then they said to him, “John’s disciples frequently fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours continue to eat and drink.”  34 So Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?  35 But those days are coming, and when the bridegroom is taken from them, at that time they will fast.” 

36 He also told them a parable:  “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old garment.  If he does, he will have torn the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.  37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.  38 Instead new wine must be poured into new wineskins.  39 No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’ “

--New English Translation (for comparison)     



            5:33     Then they said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”  The critics attempt to drive a wedge between the Jesus and Baptist movements--the very effort to do so arguing that Jesus had a major reservoir of support among the latter and that the Baptist’s praise for Him had been amply spread about.  Since they had at most an ambivalent if not outright hostile attitude toward the Baptist--he had rebuked them to their face (Matthew 3:7-12)--one has to assume that the real problem was how Jesus differed from their obligatory customs.  The other gospels (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18) indicate that the followers of John also wanted to know the answer to the question--implying that the difference was putting stress on their own high evaluation of Jesus. 

            The Pulpit Commentary provides a concise summary of Jesus’ and “orthodox” Jewish practices of the time:  The Lord's way of life, His presence at feastings and merry-makings, his consorting with publicans, His choice of one of them as his disciple and friend, no doubt surprised and disturbed not a few of the followers of John; hence such a question as the one we are now considering, and such a querulous complaining as we hear of in the Fourth Gospel (John 3:25-26).  

            “The practice of fasting among the Jews was as follows:  In the Law of Moses only one appointed fast in the year was enjoined - that on the sole Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7).  After the Exile the one fast was increased to four.  But the prophets gave no sanction to this added ritual (see Zechariah 7:1-12; 8:19).  In the time of our Lord, rigid Jews used to fast twice a week (Luke 18:12) - on Monday and Friday (the day on which, according to tradition, Moses went up Mount Sinai).  It is evident that our Lord Himself never observed or even approved of these fasts of the Pharisee sect.” 


            5:34     And He said to them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  The “bridegroom” illustration implies a wedding will soon occur.  The fact that his “friends” are present with him suggests that they are all part of the ceremonial group that would accompany him during the wedding celebration (like in Judges 14:10-11; cf. John 3:29).  The circumstances are joyous; it is a fresh marriage--the beginning stages of a new life for bride and groom.  Why would they even think about fasting?


            5:35     But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.”  “Taken away from them”--not “moved away” but “taken away.”  Language that best fits death and unjust and unjustified death at that.  Then they would have a concrete reason--sorrow and grief--and not merely the carrying out of a prescribed ritual.  Jesus doesn’t develop how this applies to Himself, but simply the fact that it will happen.  For the sake of the argument being made, it’s all that needs to be said.  In retrospect we know that He isn’t going to reign as an earthly king; instead He is going to be murdered--judicially murdered.

            Sidebar:  Although Jesus clearly had no problem with fasting (Matthew 6:16), He equally clearly had one with obligatory fasting--in this case in a context where circumstances clearly demanded the opposite.  Fundamentally it was a matter to be determined by the individual rather than conforming to some ongoing schedule demanded by the group.  As Paul later wrote, let each do according to what they think best and not show “contempt” for each other over such matters (Romans 14:5-10).   


            5:36     Then He spoke a parable to them:  “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old.  Jesus is presenting a new approach to things.  To meld it with the existing system of Phariseeism would be destructive even of Phariseeism itself.  It would be like patching a new piece of cloth on an old one:  The old one would tear even worse when it is washed.  It is hard not to see in this an allusion to the key concept Paul will develop at length:  the utter impropriety of trying to bind the technical religious requirements of the Old Testament (or some sectarian form of Judaism as here)--especially on Gentiles who were never bound to obey them in the first place.


            5:37     And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.  It is going to burst the old container wide open.  Jesus’ movement has such fundamental differences with what was being practiced already, that there simply wasn’t room enough for Jesus’ doctrine within the boundaries of Phariseeism; a new movement was required. 

            The Pharisees had a system of behavioral rules more or less set in concrete.  There was little real room in it for change for that implied that what they and their fellow learned scholars had developed was less than ideal.  Oh, you might argue for more rules and restrictions--but to remove them was a different matter.  For example:  How could there possibly be less than two days a week set aside for fasting (as reflected in Luke 18:12)? 

            But on conceptual/doctrinal matters there were profound contradictions as well:  As Jesus showed repeatedly in the “But I say to yous” in the Sermon on the Mount, what they taught was often actually contradictory to what Moses and the prophets had demanded.  Since the learned scholars couldn’t be wrong on these either, there was simply no way for them to absorb Jesus’ “changes” and make them part of their own system of thought.  It was a stark matter of either/or.


            5:38     But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.  That way they can age together; there are no internal pressures that can destroy not just one but both of them.  Even if they had tried to adopt the changes Jesus wanted, they were of such a nature that it would have destroyed their existing doctrinal / theological system.  Today we would use the imagery of “They are not on the same wave length;” i.e., at the core they are incompatible.  You can’t run a conventional car on diesel fuel and you can't run Phariseeism on the gospel of Christ.      


            5:39     And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’   It is natural to want to continue to embrace what one is happy with.  It has the virtue of long association and pleasant memories.  Hence Phariseeism is their strong preference.  What Jesus is advocating is unfamiliar and different; therefore the natural inclination is to be skeptical of it.

            Note that Jesus is saying that their attitude is natural--not right but natural.  It is what they are used to.  It is what they have lived by.  But that still doesn't mean they are right.  Nor us today.  If it be contrary to Jesus and Scripture, how can it possibly be right?