Bible Commentaries
Luke 4

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

1. Full of the Holy Ghost Bestowed in full measure at his baptism.

Returned from Jordan Towards Jerusalem, probably, and thence to Nazareth. This is an important point. It has been objected, How could he be led into the wilderness, when at his baptism he was already in the wilderness? Jesus’s back was towards the wilderness, we reply, and his face and movements toward Jerusalem, or Nazareth, when, as Mark says, “immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.”

Verses 1-13

§ 17. TEMPTATION OF JESUS, Luke 4:1-13 .

Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13.

Verse 2

2. Being forty days tempted For the full sacred period of forty days had the devil permission to inject into the intellect of the man Jesus distrust of his divine Sonship, awful conceptions of his Messianic suffering appealing to his will for a recantation, exhibitions of the selfish uses to which he may put his miraculous powers, and high imaginations of the grandeur he might attain if he would pervert his supernatural endowments to the attainment of dominion. When the forty days were at their close, the trial terminated in the threefold effort of Satan in person, narrated specifically by the evangelists.

Did eat nothing Van Oosterzee thinks that it is shown by Matthew 11:18, that these words need mean only that he ate nothing outside the fasting diet, namely, of locusts and wild honey. Yet we need not hesitate to accept the utmost latitude of their literal meaning. The instances of a Spinoza and a Newton show how powerful thought may suspend the demands of appetite. It is spirit which organizes, shapes, and controls body; not body, spirit: and the body disorganizes and dies because spirit is too weak to maintain the completeness and firmness of its mastery. The great spirit of Jesus, sustained by the Holy Spirit, and reined up to its full natural strength by this great crisis, held the bodily organ in complete subserviency to its uses. But how terrible must have been the hungering reaction after such a fast!

Verse 3

3. The devil For the nature of the devil, see our note on Matthew 4:1.

Some see not, still, how so great an intellect as Satan’s should not see and reject the folly of evil. But all experience shows that great intellects encounter temptations proportionately great, and are liable to a proportionate fall. A Bacon, a Burr, a Buonaparte, could as readily yield to temptation as a simpleton or a boy. The intellect of a Satan may cover a stupendous circle of knowledge, and yet the circumference of that circle be so cut, as not to include a large amount of knowledge perfectly clear to men. Just so the eye of man may not see a microscopic world perfectly visible to the eye of an insect.

Lange suggests a theory that Satan was the master-spirit of the world of monstrous lizards revealed to us by geology. Satan’s judgment and fate took place in the catastrophe of that world. Hence he is “the dragon, that old serpent.” Hence, he found the serpent form most congenial for his brief incarnation in Eden. Hence his hatred for the human race that has superseded him. Hence, finally, his spirit breathes poison to man through nature, until his great Conqueror shall renovate the earth in holiness. This theory may solve a number of facts and expressions in Scripture; but Lange wisely allows no Scripture doctrine to depend upon its truth.

Devil said unto him Of course he spoke under no serpentine or bestial shape. And as Ebrard says, “It was no cloven-footed caricature taken from German mythology.” It was in a form, to the utmost of his power, able to fascinate, by his blandishments or subdue by menace and terror.

Verse 4

4. By bread alone Deuteronomy 8:3. We understand Jesus (as does not Van Oosterzee) to quote the words in their original sense. God says to Israel, in effect, I sustained thee by strange supernatural means, to show thee that thou must trust, not in the material and earthly, but in God’s declarations. So Christ will trust not in any questionable means, but commit himself to the divine order.

Verse 5

5. Up into a high mountain Matthew, no doubt, follows the true historical order of the three temptations Luke, a doctrinal order. Hence, while Matthew’s connective phrases then, again, claim to affirm the true order, Luke cautiously has only and. Luke’s order Isaiah , 1. The appeal to the appetite; 2. The appeal to the desire for an earthly monarchy; 3. The appeal to the desire for a dashing supernatural exploitation, a showy triumph over the laws of nature. In Matthew there is a climax of faculties, namely, the appetites, the tastes, and the ambition. In Luke the climax is, power over personal gratification, power over men, power over the laws of nature.

Verse 7

7. If In the three temptations there are three ifs, given obviously by Matthew in the true order. The first if questions whether he is the Son of God, and suggests a selfish test. The second if rather concedes the sonship, and bases upon it a selfish vain-glory. The third if concedes his fitness for a universal monarchy, and proposes a compact by which Jesus shall be the king, and Satan the god, of the earth.

Verse 10

10. It is written The word of God, the venerable Old Testament, has been quoted by many illustrious characters; by Jesus, just now; by Gabriel, Luke 1:18; by God, 1 Samuel 2:30; and now in solemn mimicry by Satan. So that neither God, Christ, nor angels allow that slight regard for the Holy Book in which modern rationalism indulges. Satan alone handles it with an insidious spirit.

Charge over thee In the 91st Psalm a description is given of God’s care of the ideal holy man; true in its degree of all saints, but absolutely true only in the absolutely holy One, the Messiah.

Verse 13

13. All the temptation The fast of Moses of forty days was doubtless a miniature image of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness of forty years. So, too, this new founder of a spiritual Israel passes through the terrible ordeal which is representative of the probation his Church must pass in her earthly sojourning. Happy shall she be, like her Head, in the crowning victory.

For a season Defeated and discouraged, Satan lets him alone for a while. But intense malignity allows neither the devil nor his angels or agents any permanent repose. He will harass Jesus, in his own person or through them, at every possible interval; and especially at the time of the events recorded Luke 22:3, and those following.

To what we have said on the free moral agency of Christ, including his volitional power to obey temptation, we here add as follows. There are three views on the subject:

1 . Christ had no volitional power to obey temptation. This is the old Calvinistic view, maintained especially by the adherents of the Synod of Dort, and especially by Dr. Edwards in his work on the Will.

2 . The man Jesus had such volitional power. This is the old Arminian view, maintained by Episcopius, Limborch, and Curcellaeus, against the dogmas of Dort.

3 . The eternal Logos had the volitional power to sin, having concentrated and reduced himself down to finite and human conditions. This is a German view not yet fully brought before the American Church. It is concisely but clearly presented and maintained by Dr. Nast in his commentary on Matthew 4:1-11.

Verse 14


THE PREPARATORY MINISTRY, Luke 4:14 to Luke 6:11.

Historical Synopsis ( Vol. 1,) § 19-§ 34.

From the temptation Jesus returns to the Jordan, receives John’s attestation, and thence taking his first journey to Galilee, performs his first miracle at Cana, and then fixes his residence at Capernaum.

He soon goes to his first Passover at Jerusalem, cleanses the temple, discourses with Nicodemus, and departing into eastern Judea, baptizes coordinately with John. But upon hearing of John’s imprisonment he retires a SECOND TIME through Samaria ( passing Jacob’s well) into Galilee. While thus in Galilee the first visit to Nazareth takes place, which Luke is about to narrate. The main events of this interval are omitted by Luke.


Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14; John 4:1-42.

14. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit From this field of battle Jesus returned to John at Jordan (John 1:19) to receive from him the full acknowledgment, by the power of the Spirit, of being the Messiah and atoning Lamb.

Jesus returned From the wilderness of the temptation.

Into Galilee On his first journey; Luke omits the visit to John at the Jordan.

Verse 15

15. Taught in their synagogues This verse covers, as a summary, the ministry of Jesus in Galilee; omitting the interval of departure to the Passover and of the baptizing in Eastern Judea.

Verse 16

16. Nazareth See Stanley’s beautiful description of this place in our note on Matthew 1:23. The rude character ascribed by Nathaniel to this town in his query, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (although some doubt, very groundlessly, its imputing any popular odium to that town,) was well illustrated by the coarse and murderous violence of its mob on the present occasion.

As his custom His custom of attending the synagogue on the sabbath, to read and teach. Luke’s summary of Christ’s Galilean ministry thus far, (Luke 4:15,) indicates that he had preached long enough to have established a custom.

Nazareth was not so bad but that she had a synagogue and a service. The service of the synagogue commenced with praise and prayer; then a portion of the law was read aloud, and after this a portion of the prophets. The reader and congregation, out of respect to God’s word, stood while it was read; they sat while the subsequent discourse was delivered.

Stood up to read It would seem that Jesus rose to indicate that it was his wish to read and explain; which was probably expected and readily accorded by the chazan and congregation. He sat down to discourse, (Luke 4:20,) instead of returning to his own place in the congregation. In regard to Jewish synagogues, see our note on Matthew 4:23.

Verses 16-31


Luke sees a true propriety in selecting the first manifestation of the Lord at Nazareth, as the opening of his history of the great ministry. It was initial, ominous, typical. Here, pre-eminently, “he came to his own, and his own received him not.”

It is strenuously maintained by some commentators that there was but one visit and rejection at Nazareth. This is argued from the fact that in both accounts the same proverb is adduced, and the same reference to Jesus’s relatives is made. But that a repetition of the unwelcome visit should awaken similar trains of thought and language is perfectly natural. On the contrary, it seems scarcely probable that in Matthew and Mark the most exciting part of the affair, the attempt to hurl Jesus from the precipice, should be omitted.

Verse 17

17. Delivered unto him The chazan, or superintendent of service, hands him the book or roll, taken from the chest or closet where it was, as was customarily done to any person in the estimation of the superintendent qualified to read the exercise. The “fame of him” (Luke 4:14-15) had encompassed Nazareth, and the curiosity of the audience amply justified the chazan in giving him liberty of speech. The book was a roll, as described in our note upon Matthew 1:1. It was opened by unrolling, and shut by rolling up again. The place may have been the regular lesson of the day, and the roll containing Isaiah may have been handed him; but it is not certain that such division of the lesson at that time existed.

Found the place By revolving the roll so as to reach it. No place could be more appropriate. The passage is in Isaiah 61:1-2.

Verse 18

18. The Spirit of the Lord The passage describes, in terms of beautiful figure, the office of the Messiah, as in the Messiah’s own words. The words are mostly quoted from the Septuagint version. The phrase bind up the broken-hearted in this place is of doubtful genuineness, and is omitted by Alford. The clause to set at liberty them that are bruised, is from Isaiah 58:6, and was probably made by our Lord a part of his text for preaching. The beautiful passages combined show that the jubilee, when the bondmen of Israel were to be emancipated, was held by him to be a type of the Gospel dispensation. Freedom is the spirit of the Gospel; emancipation from the bonds of slavery on the limbs, of ignorance on the mind, of sin upon the soul.

Anointed me The Greek word is the very term from which the title Messiah or Christ is derived. In the passage the mission of Messiah is to the poor and the broken-hearted, the captive, the blind, and the bruised. To these he is an emancipator and a physician. And this point is to be specially marked, as it will supply the key to the proverb quoted in Luke 4:23.

Verse 19

19. The acceptable year of the Lord The year of jubilee, which by the Mosaic law returned every fiftieth year. In this year the debtors and bondsmen were to be released, possessions to be restored, and oppression to cease. To this the gospel day is compared as being acceptable to the Lord. The very unsound inference was anciently drawn, from this term year, that the duration of our Lord’s ministry was but a single year.

Verse 20

20. Closed Rolled it up.

Minister The chazan.

Fastened They had known him in childhood and youth. His simple piety, his working at the trade of a carpenter, and humbleness of family, were fresh in their recollections. Strange and wonderful rumours had come home lately in regard to him. He had set up high claims, and pretended abroad to do great works. They will now see if he can stand the searching scrutiny of acute Nazareth. They knew (of course) beforehand that he could not; but they will hear and decide how well he can preach.

Very probably the mother and sisters of Jesus (if not his unbelieving brothers) were present on this occasion. That they resided still at Nazareth is clear from Matthew 13:56. From the gallery, which many synagogues contain for women, they may have looked down upon the scene first of honour and then of rejection, through the lattice screen, by which it was separated from the male congregation.

Verse 21

21. This day… fulfilled The evangelist having given the text, now states in a single sentence the general proposition of the sermon. Our Saviour must now have proceeded to show that HE was this emancipator who would bring deliverance, and this physician who would bind up the broken-hearted. He must have proceeded to show these Nazarenes that they were the poor persons who needed the benefactor, and the bruised who needed the physician. Gracious as were his words, they were humbling to the audience and exalting to himself. Hence arose the rupture that ensued. See note on Luke 4:18.

Verse 22

22. Gracious words Words of grace. For as the text is full of words of grace and mercy to those who needed them, so was the sermon. Hence even these rude Nazarene highlanders

bare witness that is, fully felt and acknowledged the blessed power with which that grace was proclaimed. When they had arrived thus far, and had fully felt and confessed themselves touched by his winning pathos, who would not have hoped that good would come of it? But though grace be the theme, and Jesus be the preacher, there is a power in a wicked human will and perverse human passions that can defeat all the appliances that God, within the laws of his wise government, can bring to bear upon them. In the very pathos of the blessed orator in this synagogue there was a point in which they could find offence. The very grace and mercy assumed that it was THEY who needed it, and HE who was to bestow it. Their rude pride could not brook two such haughty and humbling assumptions from this carpenter’s son to them.

Verse 23

23. Physician, heal thyself You who paint our misery as so deep, and yourself as our physician, first remedy your own case. If we are miserable Nazarenes, you are as Nazarene as we, and a mere mechanic’s son at that. And there is this difference against you, that you are under charge of an imposture from which you can redeem yourself only by miracle.

Do also here You may ground your assumed exaltation on miracles claimed by you as having been performed at Capernaum and elsewhere. Let us see the like. Perhaps miracles that would pass current at Capernaum might not stand before us sharp men of Nazareth!

Verse 24

24. He said In answer to some response with which they interrupted him. The response must have admitted that they did hold the sentiments he attributed to them.

No prophet Proverbs are of course general rules, to be taken with exceptions. The present proverb is founded on one of the evil propensities of our nature; namely, the envy which arises from our seeing former equals outstrip us in life. This is a special characteristic of coarser natures like the men of Nazareth.

Verse 25

25. Many widows Jesus now illustrates his proverb, in the present case, with a couple of examples in which their countrymen rejected the prophets and were themselves rejected. The widows in Israel of old rejected Elijah and the God of Elijah; they were themselves overlooked, while the widow of Sarepta was selected and elected. The lepers of Israel rejected Elijah; they were themselves consequently rejected and reprobated, and Naaman the Syrian was elected through faith to physical salvation. Like the rejected widows and lepers of Israel were these Nazarenes. The election in all the instances is conditional, not arbitrary.

In both cases, Jesus selects his elect ones (as Luke’s Gentile Gospel hints) from among Gentiles. And this may have been part of the matter of offence. But the main ground was, that Jesus abated not a hair of his pretensions to pass a summary reprobation upon the Nazarenes for their evil hearts of unbelief.

Days of Elias Elias is the Greek form of the Old Testament name Elijah. Driven by the persecutions of Ahab, Elijah the Tishbite, by God’s command, took refuge with the widow of Zarephath or Sarepta. She was induced to supply his wants, and was rewarded of God.

Three years and six months The time of the cessation of rain is said, to have been the third year, and it does not appear at what time it commenced. Apparently it began some time earlier, which gave time for the additional six months. References to the period of three years and six months, apparently as a round number, not to be taken as exact, are several times found in the Scriptures, as in Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7; Revelation 11:2-3; Revelation 12:6-14. So also in James 5:17. Lightfoot adduces also more instances from the rabbinical writers. It is in fact the half of the sacred number Seven. See supplementary note to Luke 6:13. Sarepta, or Zarephath in the Old Testament, Sarafend at the present time, is a large inland village half way between Tyre and Sidon.

Verse 27

27. Many lepers See notes on Matthew 8:2.

Eliseus Greek form for Elisha.

Naaman See 2 Kings 5:14.

Verse 28

28. Were filled with wrath All at once the Church became a mob. It was clearly seen that the faithless widows and lepers were but types of themselves, the faithless Nazarenes. They now proceeded to show the justness of the type.

Verse 29

29. Rose up From their seats in the synagogue. The phrase in the 28th verse, “when they heard these things,” implies that they interrupted him and broke off his discourse.

Thrust him out Expelled him; implying that he would have stayed.

Brow A precipitous projection. The term is taken from the brow of the human face. As Nazareth is a region of some fifteen hills, abounding in precipices, there are several which might have been suitable. The most striking of these is about two miles from the city, and is shown by the monks as the so-called “Mount of Precipitation.” The most judicious travellers reject this as being too far; and Dr. Thompson thinks that it was selected by the monks on account of its bold character and fine view over the plain of Esdraelon.

Cast him down headlong As the Romans used to cast criminals down the Tarpeian rock. Nazareth was built on the lower margin of the hill, and the mob took Jesus up to its summit, where there is a nearly perpendicular precipice, forty or fifty feet high, over which a plunge would in all probability be fatal. Thus this very spot where Jesus had been in his boyhood accustomed to survey the expansive prospect, reaching to the Mediterranean, was selected by his townsmen as the scene of his martyrdom at their hands.

Verse 30

30. Passing through the midst of them Of course the mob was ahead of him. But at the moment in which he chose to escape, wonderful was the ease with which he passed through the crowd, who seem to have parted right and left, as if they meant to escort rather than to murder him. The question is raised whether this critical escape, and other similar instances, were miraculous, (John 8:59; John 18:6.) That they were not, the parallels of Caius Marius and others are adduced, where the awe of the person assailed has unmanned and defeated the assailants. But, perhaps, the clearest parallel to this present escape may be found in Stevens’s History of Methodism, vol. i, p. 195. Wesley, assailed by a Cornish mob, is nearly thrown to the ground, whence he would never have risen alive. Struck with a blow upon the chest, so that the blood gushes out of his mouth, he yet maintains a composure superior to pain, and perfect as if in the quiet of his study. Amid his utterance of prayer and their clamours for his life, a strange and sudden reaction takes place. A call is made for a fair hearing, and the very leader of the mob, awe-struck, becomes all at once his defender. And then, in language strongly reminding us (though it did not the historian himself) of the present scene, it is added, “The people fell back, as if by common consent, and led on through their open ranks by the champion of the rabble, he safely escaped to his lodgings.” Whether this was miraculous or not may be a question of degree, not of kind. Who can tell at what point the natural awe-inspiring power of great or sacred character rises to a supernatural amount?

Verse 31

31. And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee The heretic Marcion, concerning whom see our note on Luke 6:4, commenced his mutilated Gospel of Luke, as Tertullian informs us, at this place, with these words: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius God descended into Capernaum, a city of Galilee. To refute the omissions and interpolations of Marcion, Tertullian appeals to all those Churches which Paul founded with the co-operation of Luke, who all with perfect unanimity follow that edition of Luke which has been handed down to the universal Church of the present day. From this we can see how well authenticated a history we have in our Gospel of Luke.

Capernaum See notes on Matthew 4:13. Jesus had a home (Mark 2:1; Mark 3:19) at Capernaum, where he became so complete a resident as to be legally taxable, Matthew 17:24; but had he a house of his own? This is negatived by his words, (Matthew 8:20,) “the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” It is probable that he either resided with Peter, (Matthew 8:14,) who seems to have been host for other apostles, (Mark 1:29,) or that his mother had transferred her own residence, with her son’s, to Capernaum. Jesus may, for aught we know, have there wrought in his secular occupation.

Verses 33-37


Mark 1:21-28.

See notes on parallel passages in Mark.

Verses 38-44


Matthew 8:14-25; Mark 1:29-39. See notes on parallel passages.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.