Luke 4.1-13

 

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3) Luke’s two books (Third Gospel and Acts):

Satan in charge, and his predicted fall “like lightning”

The Third Gospel is anonymous, but there are good reasons for accepting the early tradition that its author was the Greek physician Luke, a Gentile convert to Christ, who, as we have seen, became a companion of St. Paul (above, 3.1).  He was also the author of the Acts of the Apostles, and he addressed both of his books to a high-ranking man, probably a Roman, named Theophilus.

While using Mark as a guide for his Gospel, Luke adds some striking elements to our appreciation of Satan.  Like Matthew, he begins with an Infancy Narrative, but very different from Matthew’s. He includes the birth of John the Baptist, and John’s father, Zachary, speaks of the coming Messiah almost likening him

 

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to Lucifer, the Morning Star, calling him calling him Anatole, “a Star that heralds the day,” which visits us from on high, “to give light to those who live in Darkness and the Shadow of Death” (Luke 1.78-79).

After John has started on his baptismal regimen, he speaks of the coming Messiah:  he will baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit and also with fire.  He adds that he will gather the wheat into his granary, “but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3.16-17).  This might seem to be the job of a Destroying Angel, or the Angel of Death—or Satan.  After Jesus is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends on him, the voice from heaven addresses Jesus, as in Mark:  “You are my son, the Beloved” (Luke 3.22).

Thereupon Luke interrupts his narrative to tell Theophilus that Jesus at this time was about thirty years old, “being the son, as was thought, of Joseph, [who was the son] of Eli, [“] of Matthat, [“] of Levi,” and so on, through seventy more names, including another Jesus, and going through David, Abraham, and Noah.  After Noah, he continues thus:  “[who was the son] of Lamech, [“] of Mathusala, [“] of Enoch, [“] of Jaret, [“] of Maleleel, [“] of  Cainam, [“] of  Enos, [“] of Seth, [“] of Adam, [“] of God” (Luke 3.23-38).  The incongruity of this elaborate list has often been commented on:  after hearing at great length that Jesus was not the son of Joseph but was the immediate son of God, we hear a long genealogy of Joseph, showing that he is descended from God through Adam.  But then, of course, so is everyone!  This kind of universalism, in fact, is one of Luke’s main themes.  But what I want to underline is that there is no “hitch” in this descent, no hint that the descent through Adam constituted a problem of any sort—in other words, there was no mention of a doctrine of “original sin.”

Luke resumes his story by saying that Jesus, “being full of the Holy Spirit,” was “led about by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was being tested by Devil” (4.1-2).  We see that Luke hereby combines the Markan testing during the whole of the forty days with Matthew’s threefold testing at the end.  The first test is the same as in Matthew, but Luke reverses his second and third tests.

 

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So, after the rock-into-bread test, Devil leads Jesus “up” and shows him “in an instant” all the Kingdoms of the World (Luke 4.5).  Luke abandons Matthew’s impossible “very high mountain” and conceives of a “miraculous” instantaneous vision of the entire populated World, which Devil is able to stage-manage.  Devil then says to Jesus:

I will give to you all this power (exousia) and all the glory (doxa) of these Kingdoms.  For it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.  Therefore, if you will do me homage, it will all be yours.  (Luke 4.6-7)

By these words, Satan claims to be in charge of all of the Kingdoms of the World, and able to delegate his authority as he wishes.  Jesus tacitly acknowledges his claim, while at the same time responding, as in Matthew, that the sort of homage that Jesus is being urged to render to Satan should be given to God alone.

Therefore, we see that Satan is the Ruler of the World, because all of its Kingdoms have been “given” to him.  Who gave them to him?  There is only one possible answer:  God.  In other words, we must assume that Satan is somehow God’s Vicar-General on Earth.

How did this idea get started?  We will see that in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Satan as “the Ruler of this World.”  Could it have been inspired by the Book of Job, where, in the LXX version, Devil tells the Lord that he has gone about the Earth and walked about upon the Earth under Heaven?  Or does it come from his position as Superintendent of Discipline in the Book of Jubilees, where God grants him a staff of malignant Spirits?  Is it connected with Satan’s role as Angel or Prince of Death, which is spoken of in the Epistle to the Hebrews? (see chap. 5.3).  After all, anyone in charge of death has universal sway.  In the Great Midrash on Leviticus, when the Israelites promise to observe Yahweh’s commands, He tells the Angel of Death that, even though He has made him Ruler of the World (Kosmokrator) over men, he must have nothing to do with this Nation, for they are His children.

 

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In the second volume of his Biography of God, Jack Miles3 likens Satan’s appointment by God as Ruler of the World to Yahweh’s similar establishment of the King of Babylon as the Ruler of the Nations, according to the revelation He gave to the prophet Jeremiah:

It is I Who by My great Power and My outstretched Arm have created the Earth, with the people and animals that are on the Earth, and I give it to whomever I please.  Now I have given all these lands into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, My Servant, and I have given him even the wild animals of the field to serve him.  All the Nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time for his own country comes in its turn, when mighty Nations shall enslave him.  But if any Nation or Kingdom will not serve its King, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the King of Babylon, then I will punish that Nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says Yahweh, until I have completed its destruction by his hand (Jeremiah 27.5-8)

It is striking that Yahweh regards Nebuchadnezzar as His Servant—no matter what character flaws he may have!  It is also noteworthy that his rule is scheduled to come to an end.  Both of these points might seem very apposite for Luke’s presentation of Satan; but both are lacking in the considerably shorter Greek text, which Luke would have been following:

I have created the Earth by My great Power and with My high Arm, and I will give it to whomsoever it shall seem good in My eyes.  I gave the Earth to Nabuchodonosor, King of Babylon, to serve him and the wild beasts of the field to labor for him.  And whatever Nation and Kingdom that will not put its neck under the yoke of the King of Babylon I will visit with sword and famine, saith the Lord, until they are consumed by his hand.  (LXX Jeremiah 34.5-8)

 

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But it does seem as if Devil is echoing the Lord’s words here:

(LXX)  The Lord:  I have made it and I will give [doso] it to whomever it pleases Me.

(Luke)  Devil:  I will give [doso] it to you because it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.

As with Nebuchadnezzar, this is the high point of Satan’s career.  It will not get any better for him, and it will soon get worse, as we will see below.  But first, let’s finish with the current episode.  Luke’s third test proceeds like Matthew’s second:  Jesus is challenged to throw himself from the top of the Temple in the expectation that God’s Angels will rescue him, and Jesus responds that this would be a test of God, which should not be done.  Then Luke concludes:  “When Devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4.13).

Does this mean that Satan intends to continue testing Jesus whenever opportunity presents itself?  Perhaps.  But some interpreters take these words to mean that the rest of Jesus’s public ministry will be a Satan-free time, and that Satan will return to testing Jesus only when he commandeers Judas just before the Passion.  But even though we do not hear of Satan testing Jesus again before this, there is some talk about Satan in the meantime.