The Anointed King, or: The Prince, in the Desert, with the Devil (Luke 3:21-4:13)

Well, since you all did so well last week, I thought we would start with another pop quiz this week.

Are you ready?

First question: there’s a man who lives in a garden with his wife. Their job is to grow the garden until it fills the whole earth with beauty and order.

But they decide they don’t need to obey the Chief Gardener. So they are exiled from the garden, driven out into the wilderness east of the garden.

Who am I talking about?

Adam and Eve. Good. Award yourselves 25 points.

And remember that story! It’s going to come up later.

Next question: there are these people who live in slavery, in exile from their homeland, through no fault of their own. Then a prophet comes and leads them to freedom. He baptizes them all…and then they wander around the wilderness for 40 years while God tests their loyalty. And they fail. So they’re not allowed to enter their homeland.

What people am I talking about?

The Israelites. Very good. Double your points. Unless you got it wrong. In which case: minus 25.

Okay. Last question: There’s a prophet, and the word of God comes to him and says, “I want you to go to a particular place and anoint a new king for me.”

So the prophet goes and anoints this new king. And at once the Spirit decends upon this new king.

And then, shortly afterwards, the new king is exiled from the land, driven out into the wilderness east of the kingdom, where he is tested to see if he is worthy to rule the kingdom.

Finally, when the testing is over, this new king returns from the wilderness and takes the throne.

Oh, and by the way, he is about thirty years old when he becomes king.

Now: who am I talking about?

If you answered “Jesus”, give yourself 50 points.

But don’t get excited. The question is worth 100 points; I’m giving you half-credit.

If you answered “David”, then you can give yourself 100 points.

Because that’s David’s story.

It begins in 1 Samuel 16. The old prophet Samuel pours oil on this kid David, which is a way of saying, “you belong to God. God has set you apart to serve him in a particular way.” And the bible says “from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.”

And almost at once David’s life falls apart. First, he finds himself in battle with a giant. Sure, he wins; but then King Saul gets jealous of him and chases him into exile in the wilderness where he lives as an outlaw for a number of years.

Finally, when Saul dies, David is crowned king. And he is thirty years old.

Coincidence? I think not.

Okay. So now, back to the New Testament.

Last week we saw that Luke is writing a mashup: John the Baptist’s story is Moses’s story and Elijah’s story combined. Moses baptized God’s people in the Red Sea; Elijah anointed kings. Moses acted as a priest, purifying the people. Elijah acted as a prophet, announcing God’s chosen kings.

Last week, we saw John the Baptist acting as a priest like Moses, purifying the people. But we didn’t see him acting as a prophet like Elijah, announcing God’s chosen king.

And then he was arrested without anointing anybody. And we were left with a cliffhanger, thinking, “but…he hasn’t finished his job yet! How can God let him get arrested already!”

Which is why — confused and wondering what’s going on — we keep reading. And Luke doesn’t leave us hanging (verse 21):

[21] When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened [22] and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Oh, okay. All right. It’s a flashback! Before he was arrested, John did anoint God’s chosen king!

— but at this point, some of your are going to stop me and say, “wait, wait, wait. John baptized Jesus. He didn’t anoint Jesus. Baptism is being dunked under water; anointing means having oil poured or sprinkled on someone’s head.”

And that is when I say, “Mmmmm. Yes…” And then, after I debate within myself whether I really want to touch this topic with a ten-foot pole, I decide that I had better. Because if we misunderstand baptism, we will also misunderstand Luke’s whole point in telling us that Jesus was baptized by John.

So then, very cautiously, I say, “yes, for many Christians today baptism means being dunked underwater. But that is not how baptism was practiced in the Old Testament.”

And then you say, “well, then, you’d better explain how baptism was practiced in the Old Testament!”

And I say, “I’d be glad to!” So here goes:

In the Old Testament, Moses leads the people through the Red Sea “on dry ground”. Later on, Jewish theologians (like the Apostle Paul) considered this a baptism — a “washing” — because they said the people got damp from the clouds and spray kicked up by the wind that God used to part the sea. So in the Red Sea the people were sprinkled with water, and this symbolically purified them of their past sins, and symbolized their readiness to join the People of God.

Then, a few chapters later, Moses sprinkles blood on the people, officially making them the People of God. Now, blood is gross! but just like being sprinkled with water in the Red Sea, being sprinkled with blood symbolized purification so that the people could be part of God’s People. Luckily, God did not require dunking in blood!

Then, in Leviticus, which is the Priests’ Handbook, God gives Aaron the priest careful instructions on how to purify the people from sicknesses and sins. Depending on the situation, the priests are supposed to have giant tubs of water, blood, or oil sitting there, and they are supposed to dunk people in the proper tub —

Just kidding. They are supposed to sprinkle or pour the water, blood, or oil on the people, depending on the situation. And these rituals are considered baptisms, “washings”.

Now, fast-forward to the New Testament. John the Baptist is the son of a priest, a decendant of Aaron. His father Zachariah trained him in the Priests’ Handbook: Leviticus. John “the Baptizer” — John “the Washer” is doing exactly what Jewish priests had been doing a thousand years plus: pouring or sprinkling water on people and then pronouncing them “clean”.

Very simple, wat!

Now, John was unusual. He shifted the emphasis specifically to forgiveness for sin. He also refused to do these washings at the temple, suggesting that the temple system was corrupt. Which is why the temple priests didn’t like John and insisted his baptism was not an “authorized” baptism — but that comes up near the end of Luke’s book.

So baptism — “washing” — in the Old Testament was understood as pouring or sprinkling water, blood, or oil on people; an action exactly like anointing.

But why do I say Jesus was anointed here even though Luke uses the word “baptized”?

Because baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. And the bible is clear: Jesus does not sin. He does not need to be baptized.

However, like priests and kings in the Old Testament, he does need to be anointed: set apart for service. Anointing a priest or a king was not about forgiving that man’s past sins; it was about setting him apart for his future calling.

So with the same action — pouring, sprinkling — John baptized the people for their sins, but he anointed Jesus to be King. Same action; very different symbolism.

But this will become even more clear in a moment.

Back to the story:

So Jesus gets baptized — anointed king — by John. But Luke carefully structures this sentence so as to actually minimize the water baptism, and maximize God’s confirmation of John’s act:

As Jesus is praying, heaven is opened, and the Holy Spirit decends upon Jesus. Later on in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul says that at this point Jesus was “anointed” with the Holy Spirit. So the water anointing by John was confirmed immediately by the Spirit’s anointing — just as in the Old Testament, Samuel’s oil anointing of David was confirmed immediately by the Spirit’s anointing.

And then, to really confirm things, a voice comes from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Now, at first reading, this sentence sounds like God saying, “Jesus is my son, and I’m happy with him.” And he is! But there’s another layer underneath that adds to the meaning.

We don’t usually realize it, but here God quotes two scriptures: Psalm 2 (“You are my Son” —  a psalm about anointing a new king) and then Isaiah 42 (“with you I am well pleased” — a prophecy about the coming Messiah).

So with this single short sentence, God has said three important things about who Jesus is:

First, Jesus is God’s Son.

Second, Jesus is God’s anointed King.

Third, Jesus is God’s Messiah, who will bring justice to the nations.

So the voice from heaven says, “This guy is God’s Son, the King, and the Messiah!”

So why didn’t everyone just join Jesus right then? What are they waiting for?

Well, to be fair, these ideas of “Messiah”, and “King”, and “Son of God” were blurry at the time. Nobody knew exactly what these titles meant. To them, “Messiah” meant “guy with an army.” But Jesus doesn’t have an army. To them, “King” meant “guy with political power.” Jesus doesn’t have political power. To them, “Son of God” was symbolic, metaphorical. In the Old Testament, King David is called the “Son of God”, but everyone understood that wasn’t literal.

So the people are going to wait and see. And the Book of Luke is the story of how they discover, little by little, what Messiah, King, and Son of God really means.

And Luke starts by explaining the “Son of God” piece. Three times in this section, from three different witnesses, someone calls Jesus the Son of God. And each time we learn a little bit more about what that means.

We’ve already heard the first witness speak: God himself. And that’s an important one! And he has said, “This is my Son, who is going to be King and Messiah.”

So now we know that Son of God = King = Messiah. Which just confirms what the angel Gabriel already said.

So clearly the idea needs to be expanded.

So Luke goes on (verse 23):

[23] Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.

— the same age that priests in the Old Testament were allowed to begin their ministry. And the same age as King David when he began his “ministry” of being King. Coincidence? I think not.

He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, [24] the son of Matthat

and on it goes through all these names, some of which are significant, some are totally unknown. And I could point out a number of interesting things about this list but I won’t. And then, at the end (verse 38), Luke finishes with:

the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

So here is Luke’s second witness linking Jesus to this “Son of God” concept: the geneology.

But how does this add to our understanding of who Jesus is?

Well, here’s the question we should ask: is Adam literally the Son of God, or symbolically the Son of God?

Adam’s sonship is quite literal, isn’t it? He is a physical man, created directly by God using physical earth to form his body, and the Spirit of God to give him life.

And you might say, “yeah, but in that case, every human being is the ‘son of God’.”

And Luke would say, “…yes! That’s my point. Jesus is a human being. He’s not some ‘spiritual’ being. He is literally the human Son of God.”

But Luke is saying more than just that. He is reminding us that Jesus’ connection to Adam is not just through human descent. When we read this verse, we are supposed to remember that just like Adam, Jesus was created directly by God, using a physical woman’s human DNA to form his body, and the Spirit of God to give him life. It’s not a sexual conception, any more than using dirt to make Adam was a sexual conception. Jesus is God’s literal physical Son through God’s direct creative act.

So what have we learned so far?

Jesus is Son of God, King, and Messiah; and Son of God means literally Son of God, through human DNA and Spirit.

But there’s yet another connection to Adam, isn’t there? Let’s see…Adam, Adam, Adam, hold on, there’s something about this guy I’m supposed to remember…

Oh yeah! I’ve got it! Adam was that gardener who got exiled from the garden and driven out into the wilderness east of the garden.

Hey! I wonder if that’s going to happen to Jesus!

Chapter 4, verse 1:

[1] Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,

…ta daa…

[2] where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

Forty days. Forty…forty. Desert. Tempting, testing. Why do these things sound so familiar?

Oh yeah, the story of the Israelites! They were baptized (in the Red Sea)…and then they spend forty years in the desert, while God tested their loyalty.

So Jesus’ story here is similar, but…different. Because God tested his people in the desert, but the devil is testing Jesus here.

Oh, but wait: the God’s Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert. Jesus is being tested by God! It’s just that God is using the devil to do the testing.

Okay, got that.

But those Israelites failed, and they never got to enter the Promised Land.

Is Jesus going to fail?

Let’s find out (continuing in verse 2):

He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

[3] The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

[4] Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ ”

Whoa! Wait a minute! The devil is Luke’s third witness to the Son of God concept?

How bizarre is that! First God says, “Jesus is the Son of God.” Then the geneology says, “Jesus is the Son of God.” Then the devil says, “hey dude, if you are the Son of God, prove it!”

And the question we have for Luke at this point is, “why include the devil’s testimony? Isn’t the devil a liar? How are we supposed to learn something from him about the Son of God?”

Well, let me bring out my literary nerd to tell you that in literary terms, the devil is what we call an “unreliable narrator”. Unreliable narrators can be counted on to lie. So when you’re reading a book — say, The Lord of the Rings — and you come across an unreliable narrator — say, Gollum — then whatever that unreliable narrator says, you know the opposite is the truth.

So the devil here doesn’t show us who the Son of God is, he shows us who the Son of God is not.

Does that make sense?

Take this first temptation for example: “tell this stone to become bread.” We know — because the devil is saying it — that somehow turning this stone into bread will disprove that Jesus is the Son of God.

But why would it be wrong for Jesus to prove himself by doing this miracle? Later on he does lots of miracles. Why not this one?

Well, as we go forward in Luke, we’re going to find that Jesus’ miracles have a particular function. And Luke is going to explain that in the chapters to come. But for the moment I’ll mention two things that Luke will make much clearer later on:

First, miracles are always done for someone else. Jesus doesn’t use his power to serve himself. That’s why he says, “Man does not live on bread alone.” He is saying, “no thanks. I can trust my Father to take care of me.” So he passes this test, which Israel failed.

Second, miracles are not meant to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. God’s voice has already proven that! And if you refuse to believe the very voice of God, then a thousand verified miracles are not going to convince you. Even if a man came back from the dead, you’re not going to believe!

Later on in Luke this point becomes very clear when Jesus curses people who say to him, “do a miracle, and then we’ll believe!”

But for now, Luke just lays the foundation for that idea: the devil is the first one to say, “do a miracle, and then I’ll believe.”

So now we have learned, through the devil’s temptation, that the true Son of God does not use his power to provide for himself or to proclaim himself. He will wait for God to provide; for God to officially “announce” him.

So then (verse 5):

[5] The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. [6] And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. [7] So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

And we’re left thinking, “whaaat? The devil rules all the kingdoms of the world?”

Yes. Remember the story I told you when we started Luke: about an ancient dragon who took over a kingdom? The devil is that ancient dragon. He is the one who persuaded Adam to reject God’s plan for the earth. And when Adam was driven into exile, the devil took Adam’s throne.

But now the anointed King has arrived. The war is about to begin. These temptations are just the last desperate negotiations by the dragon to call off the war and get the King on his side.

So this is what the devil proposes. He says, “how about this? God continues as Lord over all (I know we agree on that); I continue as King over the earth (after all, I won it fair and square); and you be my Prime Minister. Is it a perfect plan? No. But I think we can make it work. What do you say?”

And Jesus says (verse 8):

“No! It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ” He’s saying, “I’m God’s Son. I am the anointed King. It would be wrong for me to let anyone come between the Father-Son relationship. It would be wrong for me to give up the job God has assigned to me.” So Jesus passes this test, which Adam failed.

So what have we just learned about what it means to be the Son of God? The Son values his relationship with the Father above all things. His only ambition is to do exactly what his Father has called him to do.

So then (verse 9):

[9] The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. [10] For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; [11] they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

— let’s pause for a moment. People have noticed that Matthew has these last two temptations in a different order: first Jesus is tempted to jump off the temple, then he is shown all the kingdoms of the world. Luke here has it the other way around. 

Isn’t that a contradiction?

Actually, it’s not. When you read Matthew carefully, you’ll see that he says, “this happened, then this happened, then this happened.” He is saying, “these three temptations happened in this order.”

But Luke doesn’t say “first this, then that.” He is simply saying, “these three temptations happened.” He has deliberately changed the order of these last two temptations in order to make a point. So there is no contradiction between Matthew and Luke.

But, of course, now we want to know, “what was Luke’s point?”

Well, the temple concept is very important to Luke. Remember, his Christmas Story began with an old man in the temple, and ended with a young prince in the temple. And if we zoom way way out, we see the whole book of Luke begins in the temple…and ends in the temple. It’s true: read the last verse of the book.

But why is the temple concept so important to Luke? Because the temple was the throne-room of God. And where would you expect God’s Son to be welcomed and embraced? In his Father’s temple!

Well, Luke thinks so too! — which is what makes the betrayal of the temple priests at the end so monstrous.

See, Luke highlights the temple in order to highlight its corruption, so that Christians of that age will not be tempted to turn back to its baptisms and sacrifices. Jesus’ baptism and sacrifice are sufficient! We don’t need the temple anymore.

So Luke puts this temptation last to highlight it. This is really — almost! — a prophetic temptation. The devil cannot tell the future; but he can make plans. He already knows that the temple priests serve him. He also knows that one day Jesus is going to have to go to the temple to be crowned by the priests. And the devil knows that will be his moment to pounce.

So this temptation is almost prophetic. The devil is saying, “what if, hypothetically speaking, you were in the temple one day and then suddenly you were in danger — well, you would use your dad’s angels to just fly away, right?”

Basically, the devil is saying, “if something bad happened to you in the temple, like — oh, I don’t know, getting crucified — you wouldn’t actually go through with it, would you? You’d save yourself, right?”

And Jesus answers him (verse 12):

It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Uh. Okay. What kind of answer is that?

Well, some of you may have noticed that all three of Jesus’ answers come from the Old Testament, all from one book: Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is Moses’ last instructions to Joshua and the people, after forty years in the desert, just before they cross the Jordan River and go on to conquer the land.

And now Jesus — the New Joshua — after forty days in the desert, is about cross the Jordan River and go on to conquer the land, taking it back from the dragon that stole it.

And what is the message of Deuteronomy? Basically it’s this: “you are about to conquer the land; don’t rush, follow God’s plan, and after you settle in, don’t forget that it is God who got you there!”

Now we already know from Simeon that God’s plan for Jesus includes suffering and rejection. And the devil is saying, “are you sure you want to follow your Father’s plan? Why not avoid the suffering?”

And Jesus’ answer is plain: “if suffering is my Father’s plan for me, then I am going to follow his plan! I’m not going to test him by saying, ‘oh, I don’t like this! Prove that you love me, Dad: make it stop!”

So what does this temptation teach us about what it means to be the Son of God? The Son of God follows his Father’s plan, no matter how slow, how painful, how costly that plan is.

And with that, negotiations are concluded (verse 13):

[13] When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

And Luke has already hinted when and where that opportune time will come. Again and again in the book of Luke the first two temptations will return to Jesus: he will be tempted again to use miracles to set up his own kingdom; he will be tempted again to let other things come between him and his Father.

But the devil will only re-enter this story at the end: in Jerusalem, at the temple. And only then will the third, and final, temptation return: in the dragon’s hour — when darkness reigns — Jesus will be tempted again to flee the path of suffering.

Will Jesus survive the test?

Well…this story gives us hope that he will.

But Luke is hinting that it may not happen quite as we expect.

Right. Once again Luke just brings it all together:

Adam, in a beautiful garden, every possible need fully met, fails the dragon’s test and gives up his Father’s kingdom. Jesus, in the desert, after forty days of hunger, resists the dragon and wins the right to go out and take back his Father’s kingdom.

The Israelites, baptized but then led into the wilderness, refuse to trust God to provide for them and fall under judgement. Jesus, baptized and then led into the wilderness, trusts his Father for all things, and so earns the right to return as the New Joshua, ready for battle against the ancient dragon.

David, anointed King, receives the Holy Spirit, is driven into the wilderness to fight for his kingdom — but eventually he is crowned “King” by the priests, and he conquers Jerusalem to make it his capital city, the City of God.

Jesus, anointed King, receives the Holy Spirit, is driven into the wilderness to fight for his kingdom. And he will. But will he be crowned “King” by the temple priests? Will he conquer Jerusalem, and make it — finally and completely — the true City of God?

We’ll find out.

But of course as we close here we are once again asking: what does all this mean for us? What is God calling us to do?

There’s a lot here. Let’s keep it simple:

We are called to remember how Jesus resisted these temptations — because we, too, as the Children of God, face these same temptations. We are tempted to use what power we have to serve ourselves. We are tempted to allow the cares and ambitions of life to cloud our relationship with our Father. We are tempted to use our power to take the easy path, and reject suffering. And how did Jesus resist these temptations?

He quoted scripture!

So…is scripture like a magic spell then? We quote a verse and the devil flees?

No. There is no “magic” in scripture. We know this because — if you noticed — even the Devil quoted scripture here and he didn’t flee from himself.

So, how did Jesus resist?

Well, consider this: it was the Spirit who led Jesus into the desert. It was the Spirit who arranged his suffering and temptation. Jesus knew that! — so he listened for the Spirit’s voice to lead him out again.

Did you hear the Spirit’s voice? It’s right here on the page. It sounds like this: “‘Man does not live on bread alone.’” “‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” “‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

That’s right: scripture is the Spirit’s voice. Jesus did not need some mystical experience to tell him how to resist these temptations: he had the Word of the Spirit already written out for him.

It is the same for us. The Spirit leads us into the desert, into suffering and temptation. We can resist his guidance! — or we can trust him, and seek his voice. Not by seeking out some mystical experiences or listening for some still, quiet voice to whisper in the darkness and tell us what to do. No; we hear the voice of the Spirit when we read the Word of God.

God has spoken. He spoke from heaven — and here it is, written down for us. If we won’t listen to this, then no amount of miracles or mystical experiences is going to help us.

So scripture is not a magic spell to keep away the devil. These are words of life, telling us which way to go in every situation. Let us learn how to apply it in every situation, for every person in our lives!

If we do these things we will never fall, and we will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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