“The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: Matthew 4, Luke 4-5.

In the chapters that immediately precede these chapters, Matthew and Luke have just shown us the moment where Jesus is baptized and as he comes up out of the water, the voice of the Father, speaking from heaven, declares that Jesus is his son (Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22). This is an important reminder because the chapters for this lesson recount Satan’s immediate challenge to the Father’s declaration, Jesus rejecting that challenge, and then Jesus showing the signs that prove his messiahship–his status of having been anointed by the Spirit–to the people of Galilee.

Satan’s Challenge to Jesus’s Divine Sonship

Why did the Spirit lead Jesus into the desert?

After Jesus is baptized, Luke says Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert, but does not say why the Sprit led him there (Luke 4:1). Matthew says that he is led by the spirit into the desert “to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1). (Joseph Smith revised this to say that he was led by the Spirit into the desert to be with God (see JST, Natthew 4:1))

Matthew and the JST seem to be exhibiting two different ways of thinking of God’s relationship toward temptation. Matthew seems to take the approach that because God knows all, when he leads us somewhere, it is because he intended what happened to us when we got there. The JST seems to take the approach that because God is pure he cannot possibly be leading us toward temptation, or intending for us to be tempted. Luke just avoids the issue by avoiding attributing motivations to the Spirit’s promptings.

  • Does taking these different approaches change the way you respond to temptation? What my be the pros and cons of each?
  • Do you think God ever leads us into temptation? Does he lead us into a situation where he knows we will be tempted? Isn’t that what he did with Adam and Eve?
  • Does this relate to the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that God will not lead them into temptation (Matthew 6:13)?

Jesus’ Temptations.

In Matthew, Jesus fasts 40 days and nights, and after his fasting is over, “the tempter” comes to him and tempts him (Matthew 4:3). Luke’s version is a little different. Luke says that Jesus is tempted for 40 days, abstaining from food and drink (Luke 4:2). In Matthew, he is not tempted until his fast is over (Matthew 4:3). But in Luke, he is tempted the entire 40 days of fasting (Luke 4:2).

  • “Tempter” is a little unusual as a name for Satan. We usually hear adversary or devil. Why do you think Matthew chose to name Satan “the tempter”?
  • Does Luke’s version suggest that the three named temptations are only emblematic of the types of temptations he wrestled with for 40 days?

In both versions, when Satan comes to Jesus to tempt him, the first thing he says is “if you are really the son of God…” (see Matthew 4:3 ; Luke 4:3). This is not here in this chapter by accident, it is a direct challenge to the Father’s declaration in the previous chapter (see Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22). Jesus rejects the temptation by quoting Moses(Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4, both quoting Deuteronomy 8:3). (Side note, the footnote for “mouth,” in Matthew 4:4, a reference to “God, Corporeal Nature of” in the Topical Guide, has got to be on the top ten list of worst proof texts.)

In Matthew, Satan then takes Jesus to the top of the temple and again questions his divine sonship, tempting him to jump off the temple and let angels rescue him, quoting a Psalm that says God will charge his angels with safekeeping the faithful (Matthew 4:5-6, quoting Paslm 91:11). He again rejects the temptation by quoting Moses (Matthew 4:7, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16). Then Satan takes him to a high mountain and shows him a vision of all the kingdoms and the glory of the world, offering them to Jesus if he will worship him, Satan (Matthew 4:8-9). Again, Jesus rejects the temptation by quoting Moses (Matthew 4:10, quoting Deuteronomy 6:14). Matthew seems to show an ascension from desert to Jerusalem to high mountain, and after the first two temptations questioning Jesus’s divine sonship, Satan seems to give up and go for a raw bribe.

Luke’s version is a little different. Luke flips the order of the second and third temptation (see Luke 4:5-12). So the raw bribe is in the middle, bookended by temptations questioning Jesus’s divine sonship. In Matthew, Satan implicitly claims to be able to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world, but in Luke Satan explicitly makes the claim that the “power” and “glory” of the earth is “delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will give it” (Luke 4:6).

  • We don’t often comment on the fact that this story has all kinds of supernatural flying/teleportation going on. Matthew and Luke both say that “the devil” takes Jesus to the temple and to the mountain, but Joseph Smith changes this to say that the spirit takes him to these places, and that Satan then shows up. Maybe Jesus is just walking, following spiritual or demonic promptings, but as I read it, I think the text is describing some kind of teleportation. Whether the teleportation is divine or demonic, what is it doing in this story? Does the presence of teleportation change how you read this story?
  • Why do you think Luke might have changed the order of the temptations? Does this change how we read what Satan is doing?
  • When Satan claims that God has given him the “power” and “glory” of the earth and that he is therefore free to give it to Jesus, do you think Luke intends us to read this as a lie, or as the truth? Why might Luke have associated the power and glory of the political kingdoms of the earth with Satanic power? Do we do so today? Should we?
  • The fact that both Jesus and Satan speak in the language of scripture is fascinating. It suggests that the scriptures were deeply embedded in Jesus’s mind, which really emphasizes Jesus’s humanity–instead of just relying on his own divine power, Jesus is relying on the written words of Moses, probably that he learned as a young boy. Does that tell us anything about how Jesus understood the Father’ declaration that Jesus was his son?
  • But perhaps paradoxically, the fact that Satan tempts Jesus with the language of scripture demonstrates the inadequacy of relying on the written word alone. As Shakespeare said, “the devil can cite scripture for his purpose” (The Merchant of Venice, Act. I, sc. 3). How can we avoid being deceived by twisting of scripture? How can we be sure that we ourselves are not twisting it?

Signs of the True Messiah

Having rejected Satan’s challenge to his divine sonship, Jesus moves on to establish the proof of his divine messiahship among the people of Galilee.

Matthew says Jesus hears of John’s arrest and goes back to Galilee and asserts that this fulfills a bunch of prophecy (Matthew 4:12-16). Then Jesus began to preach. His message: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Stopping by the sea of Galilee, Jesus calls Peter & Andrew, then James & John, to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-22). Jesus then settles into “teaching in the synagogue,” preaching the gospel of the kingdom,” and healing all kinds of sickness and disease (Matthew 4:23). He gets pretty famous (Matthew 4:24-25).

  • We don’t have very much detail here about what the content of Jesus’s preaching actually is. Just one sentence. According to Matthew, Jesus’s message is identical to John’s message. Is this significant?
  • Why did Jesus just repeat John’s message? How was his ministry here different from John’s ministry in previous chapters?

Luke’s version is similar, but more detailed. Jesus goes back to Galilee “in the power of the spirit” (more of that divine teleportation), and gets pretty famous from his teaching in the synagogues (Luke 4:14-15). But then his time in Galilee gets interrupted by a quick trip back to his hometown (Luke 4:16). Back in Nazareth, Jesus stands up in the synagogue to read (which is normal) and he reads Isaiah 61:1-2 and then says “this scripture is fulfilled today”–basically a huge mic drop (Luke 4:17-21). His audience are provoked and they carry him out to thrown him off a cliff, but he uses some more of that divine teleportation again to escape (Luke 4:22-30).

This episode is thematically important because it gives us Jesus using Isaiah 61:1-2 as the basis of his claim to be the messiah, the anointed one, which echoes the theme of the Father declaring his divinity and Jesus overcoming Satan’s challenge to the Father’s declaration. Just as the Father declared Jesus’s divinity, Jesus is declaring his messiahship to the people of Nazareth, but more importantly to the reader of Luke’s gospel. And just as Jesus overcame Satan’s challenge to the Father declaration, the rest of Luke 4 gives us Jesus overcoming the people of Nazareth’s challenge to his declaration by exhibiting the signs of the true messiah as he ministers in Galilee. He is replaying his spiritual, supernatural victory over Satan’s spiritual, supernatural challenge on a more human, worldly level.

But before we get any further, Isaiah 61:1-2 is a really important messianic text. So let’s take a closer look at it.

The KJV of Isaiah 61:1-2 reads:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.

  • Usually when we talk about somebody who has the spirit, we speak of the spirit being “with” that person, or that person “having” the spirit. What does it mean to say that the spirit is “upon” a person? Is this supposed to remind us of the previous chapter, where “the Holy Ghost descended…upon him”?
  • What does it mean to be anointed to preach the gospel? Is it the same as being “set apart” to preach the gospel? How is it different? What do we associate with anointing? What would Isaiah or Luke have associated with anointing? How is receiving the spirit like an anointing?

Luke’s translation is similar, but a little different. Luke’s version reads:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

  • Where Isaiah says “good tidings,” Luke says “the gospel.” They mean the same thing (gospel means good spell, or good news, good story, or good doctrine).
  • Where Isaiah says “the meek,” Luke says “the poor.” I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I’m told that the Hebrew word here means, literally, the poor, and that it is often used figuratively to mean anyone who is in distress or afflicted in any way. Why do you think Luke would go with the more literal interpretation of the word?
  • In what ways do we preach good news to the poor today? Do we sometimes resist reading literally Jesus’s commandments and teachings about the poor in favor of more symbolic readings? What are the pros and cons of such interpretations?
  • Where Isaiah has “bind up the brokenhearted,” Luke has “heal the brokenhearted.” Are these synonyms? How might they differ?
  • Where Isaiah has “proclaim liberty to the captives,” Luke has “preach deliverance to the captives.” The meaning is essentially the same, but is there a difference between preaching and proclaiming? Is there a difference between liberty and deliverance?
  • The last section is where Luke varies the most from Isaiah. Isaiah says: “the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” Luke expands this into a couplet: “recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” I’m told that the Hebrew word Isaiah used simply means “opening,” and that it is an interpretative choice to translate it as “opening of the prison.” Luke seems to interpret it as an opening of the eyes, and a release from the limitations of injury or sickness. Why would Luke choose to read the text in this way?

The rest of Luke 4 shows us Jesus exhibiting the signs that Luke interprets Isaiah 61 as prophesying of. First, he teaches in the synagogue (Luke 4:31). He then casts a devil out of man (Luke 4:33-35). Jesus gets pretty famous (Luke 4:37). Then he heals Simon’s mother in law of a fever (Luke 4:38-39), and heals many other sick people (Luke 4:40), and casts out many other devils (Luke 4:41), and preaches in synagogues throughout Galilee.

  • Luke seems to focus on the power of Jesus’s word. When he teaches in the synagogue his hearers are “astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power” (Luke 4:32) (I can’t read this verse anymore without thinking of the Jack Chick comic, or of the memes based on it). And when he casts a devil of a man, his observers are “amazed: “What a word is this!” (Luke 4:36). What is Luke saying here?


Thematically, these chapters show Jesus overcoming Satan’s challenge to the Father’s declaration that Jesus is the son of God, and then they show him taking that spiritual victory and bringing it down to the level of the physical and the human, and Luke especially emphasizes that in doing so, Jesus is proving himself to be the Messiah. For Luke, Jesus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messianic role as one who releases from bondage in physical and well as spiritual ways was proof that Jesus was the messiah, that he had truly been anointed by the spirit. And while Matthew doesn’t quote Isaiah here, he later has Jesus explicitly claim that the same signs (healing the sick and preaching good news to the poor) are proof that he is the Messiah when John’s disciples ask if Jesus is the messiah (see Matthew 11:3-6).

  • Does the church today still have a messianic mission to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the imprisoned, deliverance to the oppressed, and healing to the sick?
  • How does the church fulfill that mission today? How do we as individual disciples fulfill that mission? What temptations do we have to overcome to fulfill that role?
  • Are we sometimes tempted to put aside that role in order to gain wealth, power, and worldly glory? How can we resist and overcome those temptations?




  1. Thanks for pointing out the differences between the telling of the same experiences. I feel how it shows how the scriptures were written and maintained by humans, and that they may have injected their own conclusions into what they were telling. I enjoy pondering over the differences.

  2. Mr. Schmidt says:

    Lately whenever I re-read the part when Christ does the “mic-drop” and says that the scripture is fulfilled, I can’t help but wonder how I would have reacted. Would I have been one of the angry mob, either angry myself or at least too uncertain to do anything but passively stand by? Or would I have been one to straitway leave my nets? I know how I’d want to think I’d have been … but to be honest, I’m not sure I know myself well enough to know how I would have responded.

  3. Ryan Mullen says:

    Thanks to Julie Smith pointing it out, I’ve been focused lately on Jesus’ anointing (Mark 14, Luke 7) as a literal fulfillment of His claim to be the Messiah/Christ/Anointed. Considering that Jesus hasn’t yet been anointed when he quotes Isaiah, what are we to make of anointing? Was it a spiritual anointing? Does his baptism count as the anointing?

  4. Another Roy says:

    Thank you. I enjoy the analysis!

  5. Thanks, this was really helpful.

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