WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.3 Jesus at the Synagogue in Capernaum


Luke 4:31-37

Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath, he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching because his words had authority. In the synagogue, there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are —the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power, he gives orders to impure spirits, and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.


It is not difficult to identify the enemy in the synagogue in Capernaum. While Jesus was teaching a man in the congregation started speaking on behalf of the demon within him. It was the man who was doing the yelling, but it wasn’t the man who was making up the words. I know this is a bit hard for a lot of western cultured people to relate to, but lots of other cultures would be more familiar it. The society of the New Testament knew all about it. People knew when their relatives and friends were demon possessed. They brought them to Jesus for the demons to be cast out. At the time of Jesus Jewish exorcists were known to manipulate demons with apparent success,[1]But the demonstration of kingly power by Jesus was something they had never seen.

At the outset, let’s just notice what happened. I want us to be reminded that we are not reading a theological manual or a set of propositions. We are gaining an understanding of the kingdom of God through an event that happened to Jesus. The message is the story, and the story is the message. Any truth we discover will come as we observe it in its context. The context here is an incident in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Jesus had returned to Capernaum from Nazareth. He had made it his operations base. He had called disciples there, taught there and performed miracles there. In contrast to Nazareth, his teaching in the Capernaum synagogue was welcomed and acknowledged. The people listening knew that it was different from what they had come to expect over the years. The leaders who usually taught there would do what we see a lot of speakers doing today. Their impact comes from their accumulated knowledge. They quote all kinds of authorities they have researched and read. Their presentations are based on human oratory and human learning. None of that is wrong in itself. What made Jesus’ teaching different was the presence of God’s authority as he spoke. Today we might call that “anointing.” It was a combination of being what you are teaching and the Holy Spirit who works within the hearts of the hearers, affirming what is being said. We might also describe this as the ‘tangible presence’ of God. It happened when Jesus preached and taught.

As the room was becoming more engaged with the presence of the Spirit of the Lord, one man in the congregation was experiencing something quite different. Without delving too far into speculation, we could assume that he was becoming more and more uncomfortable or aggravated. The reason was that his life had been occupied by one or more demons. Whether the man was a visitor to the meeting or a regular we can’t know. What we do know was that his demonised condition was not obvious until he began to speak. It might be interesting to contemplate the idea that he could well have been a regular member. In that case, he would have sat through other synagogue services without being threatened by anything that was happening.

Today was different. It seems that the authority of Jesus’ presence provoked the demon into making his presence known. It was intimidating and directly threatened the legitimacy of the demon’s occupation within the man. I think we can deduce what was going on from the character of the outburst:

“Go away.”

“What do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us, Jesus of Nazareth?”

”I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”

Jesus didn’t go into the synagogue to chase a demon. He was there preaching and teaching. In other words, he was engaged in doing the work of the kingdom of God. That might seem very logical to some, but I can remember times when everyone seemed to get so hyped up about demons that they would act like security intelligence officers and “sweep” the room for demons before they did anything else, “just in case.” For that reason, we need to note that even when there WAS a demon in the room, Jesus didn’t focus on it. He simply proclaimed and ministered the kingdom of God. That, in itself, was sufficient to flush out any demonic presence.

The preoccupation with demons is sad because of the unwarranted attention and, at times, the authority it gives to the devil. Even though it is true that the Son of Man appeared to “destroy all the works of the evil one,”[2]He did that by proclaiming the kingdom. The same is true when certain people seem to set themselves up as experts on everything the devil is doing and offer endless critiques of anything that looks like an error.[3] It must always concern us to know that the ministry of Jesus was exactly the opposite. We know him because of what he offered, rather than what he opposed. The reason for this is simple: whenever he was opposed he offered something. He proclaimed the solution rather than describing or bemoaning the problem.

This is an excellent example. When Jesus first entered the synagogue nothing abnormal happened. The demon was present but silent. When he began to preach his authority was felt by everyone in the room. For all except one, it was embraced with approving surprise. They didn’t anticipate the palpable authority in the room. One of those present was affected very differently. The hidden demon became extremely agitated, possibly knowing his tenure was threatened. The level of agitation reached a point where silence was no longer an option.

We don’t have the opportunity to interview the demon involved. If we did, we could get a running commentary on how the situation unfolded. What is more to the point, we don’t fully know why he cried out. Was it an involuntary reaction of fear or was it a strategic counterattack? If it were involuntary, it would be reasonably simple to understand. Extreme fear often precipitates an involuntary outburst.

One of my reasons for thinking it was not involuntary, or not ultimately so, is based on the last of the three statements. The demon accurately publicises Jesus’ true identity: the “holy one of God.” The obvious question is, why the devil would want people to know that. He is the adversary. He is opposed to everything Jesus represents. We have noticed in the previous account of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth how the people intentionally avoided the suggestion that Jesus was the Messiah. Is the devil now working for the Kingdom? I don’t think so. It seems this outburst was an attempt to discredit Jesus. I’m pretty sure when someone screams out such things in the middle of the sermon it is not going to amount to credible testimony. It will only create confusion or aversion just by association.

The presence of Jesus and his preaching filled the room with authority from heaven. The first reaction of the demon was fear and then a quick counter-attack designed to discredit, even though what he was saying was true. We have already seen how the devil uses Scripture. This is similar. In this case, the devil is using truth in such a way that it will be obscured by the confusion.

Jesus exercises direct authority.

This is a good example of the way spiritual wickedness works. The man doing all the yelling is an individual human being with a separate spiritual person attached in some way. Jesus made this quite clear. His command is to the demon, not the man. Firstly to be silent and then to come out of him. The outcome is similarly clear. The demon objected to the idea and threw the man to the ground and then came out. No more manipulation. No more shouting. No more contesting. Just a man, lying on the floor of the synagogue free from this demonic presence and influence. Everyone saw what had happened and they were once again amazed at the exercise of such direct authority. It seems that while the regular exorcists were able to manipulate and do deals to get demons to leave, no one had ever seen a demon go by a simple word of command.


One of my memories of growing up on the family farm was the local annual show. Even though I wasn’t all that proficient, I can remember spending a sizeable percentage of my pocket money at the duck-shooting sideshow. They used air rifles with lead pellets, and there would be a few rows of ducks that would spring up and move across the back wall of the tent. It was only when they were at the top of their cycle that you could get a shot. You had to be able to aim at the spot where they would pop up and then try to follow them across till they disappeared. I think this incident tells the same story. The presence of the enemy in the synagogue was not apparent until it reacted to the authority of Jesus as he preached. Once it was out in the open Jesus could respond with direct authority. There was no bargaining and no idea of appeasement or detente. Two words of command, a few parting rattles and it was gone.

Faith is the other weapon here. I think anyone who has ever ministered in the name of Jesus would relate to this experience. When you act or speak as an expression of faith, there is nothing visible to confirm the outcome. There is always a risk factor. Just think of it. The demon cries out. Jesus commands silence. The moment the command is spoken there is no tangible guarantee of what will happen next. Only faith is the “substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things that are not seen.”[4] Jesus speaks as a tangible “work”[5] of his trust in the Father’s power and purpose. There has been a longstanding debate about the essential nature of faith. One core meaning would be best translated by the English word, “faithfulness” or “loyalty.” Someone would be said to be exercising faith when they remain committed to a relationship or a purpose regardless of how they feel and regardless of what might happen. The other would be the assurance or knowledge that something was certain of happening even if there was no form of tangible evidence. I don’t think the two are opposite at all. Faith begets faithfulness and faithfulness begets faith as far as I am concerned.

On the day when Jesus was preaching in the Capernaum synagogue when the demon began to use the man’s voice to cry out loud, I don’t think there was any doubt in Jesus’ mind that if he uttered a command, the demon would succumb. He knew he had that authority. It is the same as anyone with authority in any area of life. An accomplished musician picks up their instrument, and confidently their fingers move to produce a beautiful sound. A doctor with authority can use the most intricate instruments with authority to perform successful brain surgery. They have faith in their skills and instruments. They know the intricacies of the human body and can navigate with the same faith or confidence. Patients can go in very sick and leave completely well. Jesus was confronted by a man controlled by a demon. He could get rid of the demon and leave the man a bit shaken, but free. Like the Bible says, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.”[6]  As we know faith is not just some set of propositions to which we give assent. It is something that is known by what happens because it is there. When a demonised man is set free, what we have witnessed is the faith inside of Jesus becoming visible and measurable. Above all things, faith will only be known by what happens. Jesus was in that synagogue with his Father’s authority and knew his Father’s purpose. No one could see it when he entered. They began to experience some of that faith during his preaching. It became more visible as they saw a demon intimidated, silenced and then expulsed at Jesus’ command.

One of the things I love about spiritual weapons is the fact that when they are used, only the devil loses. Only the devil’s world is destroyed. Flesh and blood have the opportunity to be rescued, delivered, transformed or redeemed. They don’t always take the opportunity, but whenever spiritual weapons are used, they get the chance. On this day in the synagogue, one man was set free, and the rest of the congregation had the opportunity to embrace their Messiah/King.


There are a series of challenges here. Even though I have had some experiences where demons have made their presence known through people I have been involved with, I have very limited understanding of the matter. What we have been witnessing here is an occasion where, as kingdom ministry (in this case preaching) was happening it flushed out a demon that was present. I think I ought to be more aware of the fact that there is a difference between doing the work of the kingdom with authority and doing it without. When we have little or no authority we are like anyone doing anything with no authority: we are more tentative, less expectant and more engaged with human interaction rather than engaging the powers of darkness because we know what we are doing and know how to do it. So I think I need to spend more time considering what I am doing in the name of Jesus and offer that ministry with the confidence that I am going to confront resident dark powers. I think I should become more aware and practice the more so that I become more confident. I need to learn as I go and keep pushing out the boundaries of my comfort zones. I need to learn how the enemy captures people and confront the enemy with more confidence rather than just having endless conversations that challenge nothing much at all.

I think if I focus on FULLY doing kingdom of God work – i.e. what flows from the rule of God and what challenges every other kingdom and what honours the rule and will of the king, I will find myself more and more in situations where the contest is between what I am saying and doing and what the devil has been killing, stealing and destroying. I want to offer people the very best of what the kingdom of God represents as Jesus did. When demons show up, as a result, I want to be able to deal with them directly and effectively. I think it is harder to do than it is to talk about. To be willing to confront the actual presence of a demon IN a person or IN a situation takes a bit of practice. Some people will take this to an extreme and figure there are demons where there aren’t. Others will qualify demonic presence using the language of psychology and want to deal with it by prescribing medicines. That’s why there is a work of the Holy Spirit enabling us to DISCERN what is going on. It must not be a method or a religious practice. It must be a one-by-one discerning so that we know how to respond.

I can only assume that the weapon of salvation, i.e. my covenant relationship with God gives me access to the authority belonging to my Father just like Jesus. I need to continue to embrace that relationship so that I will know God’s authority and be able to exercise it as an expression of his nature and purpose.

[1]         See Luke 11:19 “Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.”

When Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, by the religious leaders, he argued that their accusations could apply in the same way to the Jewish exorcists who practised their ministry with a measure of endorsement from the religious establishment.

See also Josephus, Antiquities 8:47-49 where Josephus talks about exorcists using scents and invoking particular words to see someone freed from demonic influence.

[2]         See First John 3:8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

[3]         One example that comes to mind is the work of Hank Hanegraaff from the Christian Research Institute. Their zeal to expose Christian heresy was so strong we only knew them by what they were opposed to – rather than what they stood for.

[4]         See Hebrews 11:1

[5]         See James 2:

[6]         See First John 5:4

WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.2 Jesus at Nazareth

Luke 4:14-27

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day, he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” 24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time when the sky was shut for three and a half years, and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.


It is very easy to only think about the last part of the story to answer our question. Jesus made a provocative statement accusing his fellow Nazarenes of errant unbelief by comparing them to the Israelites at the time of Elijah and Elisha. When the whole congregation became furious to the point of wanting to put their hometown “son” to death it is natural to assume the presence of the adversary.  The level of anger going way beyond reasonable is consistent with the nature of wickedness. In fact, wickedness is always trans-rational, indiscriminate and destructive. We also know that it comes from a hierarchical order of spiritual personalities: the devil and the hosts of demons. We should not, however, limit our focus in Nazareth to the end of the story.  We need to see what led to this outburst.

The town that Jesus called home for almost thirty years was totally insignificant according to the records from that time. Researchers have estimated its population to be approximately 200 people. When Nathanael is told by Philip that they have met the Messiah and that he comes from Nazareth, all he can say is, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”[1] When historians provide lists of Galilean towns, Nazareth never gets a mention. How ironic that this town stands out for two reasons:  first, it was the home of the Messiah for all those years.  Second, it was the only town to react violently to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah (apart from Jerusalem of course).

The first visit of Jesus to his hometown was poignant, to say the least.  He had been baptised by John and commissioned by his Father at the Jordan River.  He spent forty days in the wilderness being challenged by the devil.  On his return to Galilee he made Capernaum the operations base for his ministry.  The miracles done there immediately became known throughout the province and beyond.  He also visited other Galilean towns where he also performed miracles and taught in synagogues. By the time he decided to return to his hometown, his reputation as a teacher and miracle worker had arrived ahead of him.

What happened in Nazareth may seem extreme, but it is quite common in Christian experience. We could call it “familial resistance.” Familial, because it happens in families but also because it comes about through over-familiarity. The saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt” refers to the same thing. Having lived in a small country town of around 300 people for the first twenty years of my life, I am well aware of it. Everyone knew everything about everyone. Sometimes they knew a bit more than everything. When you think about the fact that Jesus spent thirty years in the company of 200 people and never once gave any indication that he was the Messiah that, in itself is amazing. He did such a good job of becoming incarnate that no one suspected for a moment that he was anything other than the son of Mary and Joseph. And Mary and Joseph were not notable for anything famous except, perhaps, for the scandal associated Mary’s pregnancy which small town gossip tends to perpetuate.

There is a much bigger back story to Jesus’ visit to Nazareth than any other place he visited.  He was well known there, but not for any of the things for which he became known in every other place.  It was this back story that allowed the enemy to hinder what God wanted them to know.  This identifies a very important aspect of the devil’s work everywhere.  He uses what has become familiar to stop us from seeing the unfamiliar.  He uses the past to rob us of the future.  He uses our long term compromises to blind us from discovering truth.  This story from Nazareth highlights all of these.  The presence and work of the enemy here escalated through a number of identifiable stages.

1. They responded to Divine Presence with Indifference

When Jesus came to Nazareth, he arrived before the Sabbath. We are not told how many days he was there, but it was more than one. Jesus had been performing notable miracles in Capernaum, and the news of it has spread quickly. He had also visited other towns and spoken in their synagogues. In all cases the reception was enthusiastic. But when he came to his own town, the initial impact was …… nothing. Later in the sequence of events, Jesus pointed to the fact that they were waiting for something to happen, but no one came to him for healing. No one asked him any questions or called on him to teach or preach. It was like old times. He was back in town, but nothing more was going on that Mary and Joseph were hosting their otherwise becoming-famous son. Small towns note those things in their weekly newspapers. When I was in Dorrigo (Mid-North Coast NSW) the eight-page Don Dorrigo Gazette used to include about a quarter of a page reporting significant social events: “Rodney and Karen Smith were pleased to receive their eldest son, John, visiting from Brisbane.”  Everyone already knew about it of course, but it still got a mention. When I was growing up in Gunning, I was hardly ever referred to as Brian. I would be introduced as “Terry Medway’s boy.”

When Jesus came home for a visit, the reception was not like Capernaum or other towns and villages of Galilee. There, Jesus’ reputation and a preacher and healer attracted immediate attention. People gathered to hear and brought their sick to be healed. But in Nazareth there was nary a ripple on the social let alone spiritual level. The former status quo rose up to challenge whatever they had heard about from other places. In Nazareth it was a case or, “Joseph and Mary were pleased to receive a visit from their son, Jesus.”  They were wondering about the stories they had heard, but it was kept well under wraps. The social status quo prevailed. Even though Jesus was now performing signs and wonders that should have alerted them, they totally rejected the idea that Jesus presence was Messianic.

I think this kind of enemy work is common to kingdom ministry no matter which part of the world you live and regardless of which century you belong to. In recent years we have begun to hear the term “presence” as referring to God tangibly engaging with people. I have heard people talk about going to a Christian gathering and saying, “God really showed up tonight.” They were referring to the ‘manifest presence of God.’ We all accepted the idea that God was omnipresent. But if someone fell down as they were receiving prayer, we would be told that God did something that could be seen or heard. When Jesus returned to Nazareth his presence was the presence of God. The apostle, John described it in this way,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth……. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”[2]

God showed up in Nazareth. No longer was he travelling incognito. No longer was the incarnation limited to mere human ability and capacity. God said things and did things through his Son. They were things that everyone could see and hear. They were things that required a response.

As far as the people of Nazareth were concerned nothing was going to change. The mould that had taken thirty years to construct in their minds and hearts was just too strong.  But the enemy was using that to push back against what they had heard from Capernaum and other places.  For those days this was definitely the “elephant” in the room.” We have to realise that we often fail to go looking for the presence of God, even though we are told that he dwells within us and will never leave for forsake us. He says he will be with us always. That means we have to discover his presence, not just hold it before us as an empty proposition. We often need to seek him in order to find him. Like the people of Nazareth, we often settle for the words but have no real expectation of the reality.

Remember, we are looking at this incident to see how the enemy made his intentions and presence felt. The truth is that he had been doing a good job at it for a long time in Nazareth. It was always going to be a shock for Jesus to leave home as Joseph and Mary’s boy and come back as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Their conclusion that Jesus was nothing than a small town boy of no special status was demonic. When the evidence came to their ears by way of the stories about him in Capernaum and elsewhere, they were apparently set aside. When Jesus showed up the shutters were up, and the doors were closed. It was, perhaps the only village in Galilee that reacted in this way.  Think about it. There is a special kind of enemy work that uses the familiarity and culture of our close perimeter relationships to block us from seeing the heart and purpose of God.  Jesus was warning us about this when he made statements like this one:  “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”[3]

The people of Nazareth made no response to the fact that Jesus was in their midst.  Like the people of Jerusalem that Jesus wept for, they missed their opportunity.  That this began with a polite silence is no less a sign of the working of demonic purpose than someone lying on the ground frothing at the mouth.  It is the more heinous because of its false air of respectability.

2. Responding To Revelation with Denial

The second manifestation of the enemy occurred when Jesus was given the scroll and chose to read words from one of the fundamental passages in the Scriptures referring to the long-awaited Messiah. As he was reading, I am sure everyone’s heart was being stirred. I have been in congregations that place high-level emphasis on the second coming of Jesus.  Every time it is spoken about excitement stirs because of their heightened anticipation.  It could be any day!   What a day that would be.


Just think about that situation and then read what Jesus said to them. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  These words cannot be easily misunderstood. He was telling them that he WAS the Messiah. I don’t have any trouble understanding what he meant by those words, nor do I have any problem accepting the fact that Jesus was the very Messiah promised in those words. Not so, the people in the synagogue at Nazareth. Their lack of understanding shouts at us. In their minds it was unthinkable that Jesus could be that Messiah.  He had lived up the road for all those years and there was nothing to warrant such an idea.


Instead of getting upset because he made such a preposterous claim or asking a question as to how this could be, they met this revelation with complete denial.  They talked about his capabilities as an orator. He has just announced that the waiting time for the Messiah to come is over, but all they can talk about was his elegant diction. He was the son of Joseph and Mary, nothing more.

We only have to compare this situation with what happened a long way to the north when Jesus and the disciples visited Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked them to tell him who they thought he was. Peter was quick to respond, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[4] They were looking at the same person but what they saw was totally different. Sadly, their history of seeing and knowing Jesus as a local became a demonic weapon powerful enough to block what Jesus was plainly telling them.

It is important to see that their reaction was not just people having a different viewpoint. There is only one entity committed to stopping people from recognising the Messiah, and that’s the devil. He doesn’t show up as a man in a red suit toting a pitch fork; he shows up by convincing the people of Nazareth that Jesus is nothing more than the son of the local carpenter.  This is a dark presence having a profound impact on the people from Nazareth. It is not a demonic manifestation where someone screaming out obscenities or curses. These people are not demon possessed. They are under demonically inspired bondage. More to the point, this kind of demonic presence is not something that will be resolved by an exorcism. This presence has been building over the years or even decades. It so locks people into a cultural set of expectations that the idea of the Messiah growing up in their midst is wildly preposterous to them. It causes them to immediately disregard what Jesus has just said – and move on quickly.

When people respond to revelation with denial it isn’t because they haven’t heard what was said. They could hear okay. They also knew the language and the meaning of the words. There were no complicated philosophical concepts. “Today” means today. This “Scripture” refers to the Messianic passage from Isaiah he had just read. “Fulfilled in your hearing” meant everyone within earshot in the synagogue. No problems there. The problem was a demonised set of attitudes and previous experiences that caused them to hear but not accept what Jesus had said. They didn’t argue about it either.  They didn’t ask questions.  They just ignored it and changed the subject.

Again, this is a universal experience. Jesus told a parable about the devil coming and stealing the word from heaven that they have received.[5] It was the devil who came and stole, not a person lacking understanding. It was demonic presence, right there. How many sermons have been listened to, Bible portions read and prophetic words given by the Spirit that have had a clear and straightforward meaning only to be met with a demonic wall of resistance. There is no fanfare and no outburst. Just a polite change of subject. We need to be alert to this – both for our own sake and for the sake of those for whom we have responsibility before God.

3. Responding To Conviction with Retaliation

It is easy to see that there is a progression here. Things are heating up in the old hometown synagogue. First Jesus comes to town and people ignore his presence. Then he goes to the synagogue and reads a Messianic portion from the Scriptures and tells them plainly that he is their Messiah. I think Jesus loved these people. In fact, I am certain he did. He knew all of their names and everything about them. If the Messiah had a mission to proclaim and do the works of the kingdom of God he would have definitely had a desire for the two hundred or so people from this backwater village in lower Galilee. There are only a few occasions where Jesus speaks so directly about his identity, and this is one of them. Very often when we engage with people in some way for them to see the goodness and love of God we experience push back and then we just back away. On this occasion, with this group of people, his reaction to the first manifestation of the presence of the enemy was to wait for an opportunity to make a clear statement. What happens when they ignore the counter-attack from Jesus?

As you get to this part of the story, Jesus shifted attention from the prophecy of Isaiah to their quiet but stubborn unbelief. He chooses two events showing that God needed to go to a couple of Gentiles to find anyone with faith because the unbelief of his own people was non-existent. In the presence of demonised denial, Jesus refused to back off; such was his heart for the people of his hometown. He exposed their quiet and polite resistance by comparing it to two events recorded in First and Second Kings. A woman from Sidon had faith to believe Elijah, and a Syrian army commander had faith to go to Elisha for healing. This was undoubtedly a fierce conversation, but its purpose was to allow them to see what was happening. They were immune to the loving gesture of their God.

The response seems to have been immediate and extreme. They were angry. They rushed forward and jostled him out of the synagogue to a nearby cliff and intended to throw him to his death. Such a level of opposition would not happen again until Jesus went to Jerusalem before his crucifixion. The people who had become prisoner to a seemingly benign but incredibly stubborn resistance to previous overtures now got totally out of control. This is what happens when we continue to do deals with the devil. His efforts are silent and sombre at first, but lurking beneath is a torrent of violence and aggression. It’s not generated by the people themselves, but spurred and breathed upon by the forces of evil. I doubt that these people knew why they overreacted as they did. Such is the outcome of politely courting and accommodating darkness.

And the response of Jesus? That was quite a feature in itself. Its a bit hard to tell exactly how far they had to jostle him to get to the edge of the cliff. There are a number of different possibilities, according to the archaeologists. The point is that he didn’t resist, perhaps until the last. At that point, the power of God came and enabled him to walk through the middle of them. The last weapon of war used was his faith. If you ask why this was allowed to happen, we can only speculate (which is always a bit dangerous). I guess that he was waiting for them to realise what was going on, perhaps to change their minds, perhaps to realise that what he had said and the stories they had heard was from God. Grace and love are mighty rivers from the heart of God, and they flow in volume until the opportunity for change has evaporated. I love the sentiment of Peter found in his first letter, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”[6]  His capacity for non-retaliation was not the dutiful steeling of his will. It was the overflow of his trust in God the Father.


  1. WORD FROM GOD   When there was no response to his presence in the town as there had been in other places he waited without making any direct counter attack. I am not at all expert in waiting, but it is a weapon. He could have stood on the street corner and shouted to everyone that he was here now as the Messiah, but not; he waited until the gathering in the synagogue. Although it isn’t immediately obvious as representative of one of the seven Ephesian weapons, I think the deliberate waiting was because he was “doing what he saw the Father doing.”[7] In this case, the Father didn’t initiate, so Jesus waited. In Ephesians 6 we call that “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”[8]
  2. TRUTH    When there was no initial response, Jesus waited for the synagogue meeting and either deliberately chose the passage from Isaiah or, as some suggest, by the providence of God it was the lectionary reading for that particular Sabbath. Either way, the one-line sermon was a classic case of the Ephesians weapon of truth. Jesus made known reality that couldn’t be otherwise seen.
  3. FAITH    My way of describing faith is taking an action that shows you are trusting God to do something. We have all heard the famous phrase from the Letter of James: “Faith without works is dead.”[9] When the whole congregation of his hometown rose up in anger and began to push him toward the cliff he allowed it to happen (see above). Then, even though his life was in danger, he didn’t cry for help or begin to berate the crowd for their unwarranted vexations. At a certain point God intervened and, without so much as a retaliatory push or a harsh word, Jesus was able to walk through (not around or away from) the crowd. There would come a time when he would embrace death but, like Aragorn,[10] it was not going to be this day.


Not every work of the enemy rises suddenly and obviously. The work in Nazareth was a long slow process. Remember, any work that opposes or hinders recognition and response to the presence and work of God will only ever be demonic. There is no neutral territory, persons or circumstances. The religious teachings, lifestyles and expectations had built over the centuries. When Paul describes the presence of the enemy in 2 Corinthians 10, he talks about “strongholds.”[11] Before we start speculating about what a ‘stronghold’ might look like, he provides clarification. He talks about ‘arguments,’ ‘pretensions’ that hinder people from embracing the knowledge of God and then, ‘thoughts.’ I don’t think I will ever be able to forget a definition of strongholds explained to us by Argentinian, Ed Silvoso.[12] He said a stronghold is “a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable situations we know are contrary to the will of God.”

If you think about Nazareth or the rest of Galilee and Judea for that matter, it is easy for us to see the mindsets that had developed over the years of traditional religious legalism. When Jesus described the impact of the religious leaders of his day[13]He is describing this very phenomenon. It took a long time. It was based on a progression where human traditions were given more authority than what God had said. In the conservative, small, almost forgotten village of Nazareth, these traditions would have shaped the lifestyle of generations. Their presuppositions would have stood unchallenged. Jesus spent thirty years living in that environment.

We have our own brand of human traditions: Greek philosophies, rampant rationalism from the Enlightenment and then a host of uglies that have taken root as moral values were jettisoned in the sixties and seventies. It isn’t just values themselves. They are the effect. The cause is an underlying intention to reject God and substitute an idol. Different detail but the same old problem.

So the challenge is to maintain an awareness of what comes from God and what is derived from human wisdom that denies God. I would love you to spend half a day of normal life just thinking about the ideas behind what people say and do: news items, workplace, marketplace, family etc. You will be amazed at how subtle the accepted values are those who have nothing to do with what God has lovingly said or graciously intends. They are “arguments, pretensions and thoughts” locked down as strongholds. And they are hard to resist. Some of them intimidate us and cause us to live out our own values and beliefs secretly to avoid being regarded as weird or worse.

Jesus saw and felt these strongholds in Nazareth. When he came back to visit he knew the only loving thing to do was to challenge them. He needed to give them a shot at realising what was going on and therefore the opportunity to embrace what God was doing in their midst. That strategy involved saying nothing at first but then lovingly trying to lift the lid on their polite unbelief. On the surface, it was exactly that. Underneath it was much more sinister – as we have seen. The same hearts who were willing to say nice things about Jesus’ ability as a speaker were, a few minutes later, willing to throw him off a cliff. Such was the ensconced demonic presence.

We are left in no two minds about the outcome of Jesus’ ministry to Nazareth. It appears that no one became a believer or follower that day. Just think about the pressure on Jesus NOT to DO and say what he did and said. He could have had a nice few days at home and say and do nothing. In the synagogue, he could have stopped after the nice comments and said nothing more. We face such pressures every week. If all Jesus was concerned about was hoping his hometown people would think nice things about him, then he could have done so. But Jesus knew the havoc that had been wreaked over the decades and maybe centuries. He was all too aware of there religious bondage that was locking down his family and friends. Even though his mission to Nazareth may have seemed like a failure in some respects, at least the people had been given a clear opportunity to see and respond to the presence of the Messiah. Even though their unbelief became violent, it was out in the open. Nothing is going to happen until the covert work of Satan is uncovered and then resisted. In that sense, it was a success.   This will be the crossroads decision that we will have to make week by week if the strongholds around us are going to be challenged at all.

[1]         gives an insight into the village chosen by God for the beginning of his Son’s life journey. See John 2

[2]         See John 1:14-18

[3] See Matthew 10:34-36  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law —  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”

[4]         See Matthew 16

[5]         See the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13

[6]         First Peter 2:23

[7]         See John 5:19,20 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all, he does.”

[8]         See Ephesians 6:17

[9]         See James 2:26

[10]       Aragorn was a lead character in the Tolkien trilogy, Lord of the Rings: “A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.”

[11]       See 2 Corinthians 10:3-6     For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

[12]       page 155, “That None Should Perish,” Ed Silvoso, Regal Books 1992

[13]       See Matthew 23



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. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Luke 4:9-13

We don’t need to revisit the question as to whether the devil appeared physically or otherwise. Nor whether they physically or spiritually travelled to the temple in Jerusalem (read Parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t already). The devil is called the “deceiver,” after all. It is safe to assume that the episode was shrouded in deception.  Jesus found himself standing on the highest point of the temple. That, in itself, did not constitute the presence of the devil. It was an amazing building, as noted by some of Jesus’ followers.[1]  The principle to note here is the fact that this intrusion by the devil started out by utilising what might be considered as the very core of religious orthodoxy – i.e. the temple in Jerusalem.

It won’t be a stretch for us to regard the devil as capable of initiating a work by using something as core and as orthodox as the temple, especially Herod’s temple. That, in itself, represents nothing demonic.  It is the next three ideas that identify the presence of the adversary.

Like the first encounter, Jesus is challenged about his identity as the Son of God. Is he really the Son of God? Could there be a trace of doubt in Jesus’ mind? After all, he had been led by the Spirit into this ‘godforsaken’ wilderness. He had been here forty days and had eaten no food. Doesn’t sound too much like the wonderful will of God, does it?  More than that, Jesus had been living as a carpenter in Nazareth for thirty years without any ‘show’ of his divine sonship. The people of that village were pretty much convinced that Jesus had nothing to do with God when he visited and began speaking in the synagogue.[2] There is a touch of irony here about the matter of Jesus’ identity. He had just come from the River Jordan where he had heard his Father’s voice telling him that he was a beloved and pleasing Son. Now he was a long way from the Jordan, and the affirmation he received there was being seriously challenged. I think there would be many people who would testify to the fact that when they had had some strong affirming experience of God, it is common for things to happen immediately afterwards to challenge those experiences. The devil’s schemes don’t seem to change over time.

The second string to this bow suggests that Jesus should put on a demonstration. He should throw himself off the top of the temple and allow everyone in the precinct to see what happens next. In other words, to put his identity on show. This was presented as a valid “test.” We might say, “Let’s test this and see what happens.” In almost every sphere of life, things are tested to validate their quality. The reason they are tested is that it is possible that something is not working properly or that during the process of manufacture or installation something might not be sound. We are all in favour of things being tested. We feel safer as a result. Think about this the next time you sit in an aeroplane. Each plane has been subjected to thousands of tests before flying. Add to that the tests that are updated every millisecond through the gauges and lights that the pilots and engineers keep checking. The reason for these tests is that things can and do go wrong. There is some logic about Jesus “testing” his connection with heaven before he starts on a ministry journey where he is going to be the mediator of all kinds of supernatural power. He is going to proclaim healing before it happens. He is going to teach with crowd-felt authority. He is going to still storms and call dead people back to life. A pre-emptive ‘road test’ would be quite a typical human idea, wouldn’t it?  A human idea perhaps, but one that called into question the faithfulness of God.

The third part of the challenge comes as a misquoted text from the Bible. We all know the devil is familiar with the Biblical text. Perhaps the devil had taken note of the fact that Jesus was using Bible texts to frame his previous testimony. The devil has a shot at it to make the idea sound as if it has Biblical integrity. In a little less than two thousand years of Christian history we have seen enough misquoting to last a thousand times a thousand lifetimes. People have ‘proved’ things, built teaching systems, denominations and reputations on misquoted and misunderstood Bible texts and portions. We have all been in Bible study groups and have marvelled at the differences of opinion possible from the same text or passage. The very fact that texts and references are quoted to ‘prove’ or endorse all kinds of crazy attitudes and actions knows no limit. The reason it happens is that when you quote a text like the devil did on this occasion, it sounds as if it has authority. Look at the example here. Jesus was challenged to prove his Sonship – to himself and to whoever might be around the temple at the time. The Bible verse said that if he jumped off the pinnacle of the temple, some angels would come and stop him from hitting the ground. I think it is plain to see the exegetical logic involved. We need to remember that the devil knew that the Bible verse didn’t mean that. He wanted Jesus to be smashed to death on the stones of the temple court.


At the risk of being ultra-repetitive, I need to point out again that Jesus was not just parroting words from the Bible. Deuteronomy 6:16 makes an elementary point: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” It refers to what happened to the Israelites at Massah and Meribah.[3] They had no water and complained to Moses that God could not be trusted to fulfil his promise. This quarrelling and complaining were described in the text as “testing” God. They gave the place where it happened two names: Massah, which means “testing” and Meribah, “quarrelling.” When Moses reminded them of these things at the end of the forty-year journey, he was charging them not to repeat what happened.  God had proved trustworthy every day for forty years. He had provided food and water for possibly a million and a half people.  Not bad considering they were wandering in a desert.  The suggestion that God could not be trusted was nonsense at best and a horrible insult at worst.

If Jesus was using Scripture as testimony, he was making known what could not be seen. What heart attitude and experience might he be referring to? To go back to the testing associated with flying, I made the point that these tests are done because of the possibility of human error or mechanical failure. Both of those things are possible, and when 300 people are 35,000 feet above the earth hurtling along at 900 kph, it’s not good when things go wrong. So they have created all kinds of tests to make sure they know that everything is AOK. What if an aeroplane could be built and flown where there was no chance of any malfunction. If that were possible, then you wouldn’t need all the tests.

And that is the very point here. What if God was not capable of failing to keep his promise? What if there was nothing that could separate us from his love? What if he was 100% faithful 24/7? And what if you were utterly convinced that this was so? If God was trustworthy and I was thoroughly convinced of it, THERE IS NO NEED FOR TESTING!!!!

My conclusion is that Jesus had been trusting in the faithfulness of his Father God for the whole of eternity and found that there was no occasion where that trust had failed. Jesus had been raised in Nazareth and had spent thirty years trusting God’s faithfulness and timing. This love/trust relationship had been working for all of that time. It was a total certainty. So when the devil comes to suggest that he should now push a button to test it out, you can see how the devil had misjudged what was inside Jesus.

Once again, the weapon Jesus used was not a Bible reference but a personal declaration of reality/truth. It was the first of Paul’s weapons in Ephesians 6. In quoting these words, Jesus was making known something that couldn’t be seen. We will find that this is consistent with the way Jesus modelled the use of spiritual weapons of war. Again, it is important to notice that the weapon wasn’t something he picked up and fired like a gun. This weapon was something belonging to his intrinsic personhood. He HAD a relationship with God based on total trust. That trust was active and activated every day. Because it was a heart/lifestyle thing, it was easy for him to realise that the suggestion of performing some kind of spiritual sideshow in the temple precinct was demonic. The same is true of the exercise of this weapon. He didn’t need to perform a loud, flamboyant ritual to ‘cast the devil out.’ He just had to tell the devil the truth and move on. It’s a bit like flicking a speck of dust from your coat. No need for drama. No need to stop everything and write a PhD thesis on the nature of the speck. Just flick it off and keep going. In this case, the phrase from a well known Australian advertisement is true: “one flick and they’re (it’s) gone.”[4]


As with the previous two challenges, the devil had no weapons that would stand against this short statement of testimony from Jesus. He didn’t argue any point or raise any new idea. The whole intention simply collapsed. I know these accounts are concise, but the principle is profound. Think about some of the struggles you have experienced or have known about where the struggle seems to go on and on. I am convinced that on some of those occasions the length of the battle is due to other factors. One of those factors could well be that we are not using the right weapons. We are using weapons that Satan is quite capable of handling. This is especially true when we use human weapons: argument, pretension, status, manipulation, intimidation etc. Even though Jesus was hungry and had been forty days in a very remote and dangerous region, the fact that his trust in his Father had been established over time meant that he was fully capable of “flicking away the speck.”

It is also important to notice that on this third occasion where Jesus flicks away the taunt of the enemy he withdraws from that battlefield altogether. He doesn’t surrender. He just goes away and looks for what he would consider a strategic opportunity. I think there are some encouraging issues for us here. Someone once said to me that the devil could not sustain a long-term encounter. It doesn’t mean he gives up overall. It just means he doesn’t have the character strength to keep it up. From our point of view, it means that if we don’t stop resisting, then we will win. I notice that Paul makes this point in Ephesians 6. He talks about “standing.” I think that is a very profound insight into the way we approach battles. Jesus did it here. He didn’t get all charged up and go chasing the devil and focus his attention on the devil and forget about everything else. He merely resisted, and the devil got flicked. Too many people get too interested in everything to do with the devil rather than keeping their focus on serving Jesus and the kingdom.

On this occasion, Jesus didn’t change his tack. He went to the wilderness led by the Spirit. He flicked off the devil’s taunts. If he were a government department in Canberra, he would have invented five new procedure manuals and changed the name of the department a few times on the presumption that if it happened on one occasion, the whole game plan had to be changed. Not so in the kingdom of God. And there was no repeat of this kind of incident anyway. He had the same intention before this incident and the same after it. The attack changed nothing about Jesus’ approach to ministry. It was business as usual. We ought to take advice from this and do likewise.


Once again, we have watched Jesus use a weapon that he couldn’t take off or put down. Nor could he grab it to put on. This weapon had been developing from eternity. I think it is going to be true of all of the weapons. They are not going to be methods or rituals. They are going to be something we develop as part of our being. In this case, it had an attitude to God where there was total trust. For him, it was the same trust in a very different environment. If you read Philippians 2, you will see that Jesus stepped out of his status as God and stepped into humanhood. Instead of relating to his Father from heaven, he was doing it from the posture of human society on earth.But the relationship was the same, and the trust was the same. It wasn’t foolproof. As anyone can see from a read of the gospels, that relationship was maintained as a matter of critical priority.

So Jesus models for us what it means to trust God one hundred percent. When the devil came and suggested there might be a need to check it out and make sure God could still be trusted, there wasn’t room for it. The trust container was already full. No need to test something that is incapable of failing. Think about that for a while. God is totally incapable of failing. He is totally reliable. The challenge for us concerning this weapon is to be building that trust every day. Trust in God is built in the same way we build trust with others. We get to know them and the more we know, the more we trust. The more we trust, the more reason we have to trust.

I need to be building that trust. I need to do that by reading the testimony to God’s faithfulness. There are sixty-six books of it in the Bible, and there are millions of stories people have told about their experiences of trusting God and finding him to be faithful. Then, we can approach the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives by asking the question in any given situation: What would I do in this situation if I knew that God was completely reliable? Then go and do that.


I know some people like to follow some form of religious ritual when it comes to spiritual warfare. I hear them say, “We are going to go into spiritual warfare about this.” Others develop the habit of figuratively putting on the weapons mentioned in Ephesians 6 each morning. None of that comes from the modelling of Jesus. Putting on the armour amounted to hearing from God every day, worship and serving God every day and trusting God in every situation. That made him a certain kind of person, not someone who knew how to grab a gun from the cabinet and shoot at someone. When the devil wanted to turn Jesus’ primary attention to food, it just wasn’t something that held any attraction to him because what God said was always more important to him. Similarly, Jesus lived only to worship and serve his Father, God. It was a non-debatable issue and was his desired normal practice. When the devil wanted Jesus to switch to worshipping him, it didn’t ruffle a feather. Jesus had no interest in worshipping anything or anyone else. When the devil tried to get Jesus to doubt his identity and doubt the faithfulness of his Father, again, Jesus wasn’t interested. With three flicks these nasty little specs of evil were discarded like dust from a coat. He didn’t have to put on any weapons. He had been developing these weapons every day of his life. He didn’t ‘go and do’ spiritual warfare at all. He just gave testimony to what was inside of him, and the devil had no comeback. When we do the same, we will be armed in the same way. Neither physical needs nor personal ambition nor the desire to attract attention had any power.

So we need to pursue everything God has said. Don’t just read the Bible. Hear and know what God has said. Don’t just hear it but do it. Continue to pursue all of the other things that God has said. You will be armed in there day of battle. We need to make sure it is God who is the object of our primary loyalty and worship. We have to get to the point where we know what it feels like to belong to God, serve God and honour God. When that primary source reigns in our day to day circumstances, we will again be ready in the day of battle. And we need to grow in our understanding and sense of conviction that God is so totally reliable that we will never need to “test” his faithfulness to us.

[1]         See Mark 13:1 “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

[2]         See later in Luke 4

[3]         See Exodus 17

[4]         Most Australians will remember a well-known jingle for a pest control agent called “Flick.”




Jesus and the devil direct    Part 2

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 splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Luke 4:5-8


Once again, those of us who have been impacted by western culture with its hunger for analysis will find this story frustrating for the detail that is not provided. I would love to know HOW Jesus was led to the top of a high mountain. More than that, I would like to go to that mountain to see what Jesus saw. If I was from a different age and personality type I might want to build a monument there – or three. As usual, these issues crowd in and make it harder for us to see what we ARE told.

Spiritual experience is, by definition, subjective. You can describe it, but it is not as easy to provide a way for anyone else to gain an objective appraisal. When Paul was describing one experience in his own life he talked about it like this:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 2 Corinthians 12:1,2

Being “caught up to the third heaven” is not something we can measure or analyse. Those of us who trust Paul and what he wrote, would accept what he said even though most of us would not have had any similar experience. The point is that Paul didn’t know whether it was a physical or metaphysical experience. He didn’t know if his physical body was transported to the third heaven or not. The important thing for us to note is that the reality of his encounter with God wasn’t predicated on it. The same could be said for most supernatural experiences.

So, it matters very little whether Jesus and the devil physically left the wilderness and were transported to the top of Mt. Everest or whether he saw it in a vision without leaving his spot in the wilderness. What matters was the fact that he was being offered an alternative means of fulfilling what was, in fact, his divine calling. No need to trudge the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea. No need to be opposed by the religious leaders and misunderstood by his own followers. It could happen with one simple “adjustment”: worship the devil.

Consider for a moment what the devil was appealing to in Jesus. Regardless of the fact that it was Jesus and he was special, the targeted areas of vulnerability were very common. The first targeted his identity as the Son of God using personal needs (i.e. hunger). The second targeted personal ambition by offering a soft core alternative to his God-ordained purpose. I am aware that many people will assume that the devil showed up wearing a red suit and holding a pitchfork. When the text says, “the devil led him…”  we are left in no doubt as to who was there. I am certain that was not the case. As I have already mentioned, I think it matters little what was going on physically or metaphysically. The fact was that Jesus was shown the kingdoms of the world and told that they would be given to him. I am sure he would have known the words of Psalm 2 that referred to his calling and destiny: “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”[1]  It is possible, maybe even likely, that the “vision” of the nations turned up in his consciousness with some sense of legitimacy. If he was about to embark on a process that would culminate in his coronation as King of kings and Lord of lords, such a vision could have been seen in that light.

The presence was made known in the next statement: “And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”  The first sign of iniquity will be found in the idea that the rule of the nations” is about ’authority and splendour.’ That has nothing to do with the heart attitude of the Creator. There is no sense in which authority for its own sake has anything to do with God’s nature. God’s heart is for love and relationship. Where did you see Jesus walking around banging his own drum and beating people over the head with the idea that he was God and King? The power and authority manifest by Jesus was power under, not power over. And the glory sought by Jesus was the glory of the cross – giving people a shot at experiencing the righteousness of God that comes as a gift.[2] Once again, the devil got Jesus totally wrong. Jesus had been born in moral controversy, raised in obscurity and was now on his own in the wilds of Judea. Hardly a pathway to earthly status and splendour. The second giveaway was to be found in the idea that this dominion could be traded for the sake of personal interest. Just consider what that might look like if it were thought to come from God – trading off people and their well being as if it were a bargaining chip???? Then, the final statement was the total giveaway. The cost of this trade to Jesus would be to transfer his primary loyalty, love and commitment. Once again, this is a very common ploy of the enemy, and he has played that card well. I agree with N.T. Wright when he classifies sin as idolatry. We offer what belongs to God alone to other things: self, career, money, power, gratification, lust and so on. In that sense, we have all listened to this empty promise from Satan that we can gain some sort of status and pleasure by giving what belongs to God to someone or something else.


As the presence of the enemy was made known, Jesus was once more able to counter-attack using a quote from Deuteronomy. As previously noted, my own conclusion here is that Jesus was not just sprouting Bible words, but making something known that the devil hadn’t realised. In Paul’s list of weapons, this is the one referred to as “truth.” His righteousness here is seen in the simple fact that he didn’t rise up with indignation. He simply explained what he was not interested in the deal the devil was offering. I’ve seen some people deal with the devil by splashing their own ego and pride over everyone and everything. Jesus simply used a Bible reference to make clear to the devil that he was only going to be worshipping God.

Once again, if you think about this as a weapon, it was hardly something that you pick up and brandish. It wasn’t like that at all. The weapon was Jesus worshipping and serving his heavenly Father for there last thirty years as he grew and worked in his earthly father’s carpentry business. He didn’t turn anything on that day for special effect. He just explained that his primary worship settled. I just wish it was as much a resolved issue for us as it was for Jesus. You can see that this merely ongoing commitment was the weapon. His lifestyle pattern was the weapon. It wasn’t armour that he put on and then took off. Every time he followed after his Father’s will and every time he stood among the worshippers at some local synagogue he was stating his primary loyalty. It was the most settled thing about his life, and it needs to be so for us. When we commit to maintaining our worship and commitment to God through prayer, community, service, ministry worship, being in the Word of God – we are sharpening a weapon that will have the power to rebuff the advances of the enemy in a single word of testimony.


For the second time, the enemy totally gave up on the issue. We all know there was one more issue coming, but it is important to realise that the devil had no counter-attack for what Jesus said. Would that we were engaged in an unchallenged lifestyle of worship and service to God. Just as Jesus only had to make one statement that described the genuine posture of his lifestyle, we could do the same. What was being suggested would be immediately and fully recognised as a ploy of Satan and we would be fully equipped to deal with it. As with Jesus, Satan’s suggestion would have no power.


Without simply repeating what has been said earlier, I have come to realise that these kinds of attacks from the enemy are common to almost everyone. If you can just set aside their idea of a bloke in a red suit appearing in there Judaean wilderness and remember that the devil’s craft is deception, it won’t be hard to identify attacks like this. The challenge to keep God as the one an only god in your life is a constant challenge. The challenge to avoid the soft options the world throws up to us to accomplish a purpose in life is the same. Even if we don’t hear words like “if you worship me it will be yours”  we just have to have a worship stocktake every so often to see what the things are that are shaping our attitudes, priorities, decisions and actions. The shift of primary loyalty (i.e. worship) is often subtle. It will only be detected when we do an audit of our priorities: which things get the first and best of our attention? What things do we spend out money on? What do we give there first and best of our time to? Questions like these need to be asked and answered candidly. Alternatively, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am a servant and worshipper of God above everything else!” See if you believe what you have said. Where is the evidence? The devil will always be coming at us convincing us we don’t have time for things that used to declare our passion for following God. In the church in my home country it is entirely possible to maintain a reputation for being a committed follower of Jesus, but do almost nothing to be successfully convicted of it by the evidence. Comparing yourself to others won’t give you a reliable reading. And if there isn’t enough evidence from the last twenty-four hours to convict you of being a worshipper of God, then I would say the enemy is winning the battle.

[1]         See Psalm 2:8

[2]         See 2 Corinthians 5:21




For quite a few years now there has been a volume of teaching under the subject of spiritual warfare.  It seems that it was one of the subjects that was packaged up with others through the charismatic renewal of the 1970s and 80s.  For a while there we were anticipating that demons were waiting to get us.  It seems we always fall foul of the problem raised by C.S. Lewis. We either put too much emphasis on him or deny his existence altogether.[1] I have been guilty on both counts during my journeying as a servant of Jesus.

As a result of a prophetic word spoken to me a few months ago, I have been re-discovering what it means to be “battle ready.”  That interest has taken me back to Ephesians 6 and 2 Corinthians 10 among other places in the New Testament.  Instead of trying to identify the work of the enemy by interposing cultural assumptions or variant meanings of Greek words, I have made the assumption that Jesus was fighting battles with these forces on most days.  What follows is the first in a series of observations from the incidents recorded in two chapters in the Gospel of Luke.

I am keen to allow these “case studies” to give us a better look at the ways in which enemy presence and work became apparent.  Then I want to notice what Jesus did to overcome the enemy and finally, to see the result.  This will give us a better definition of what Paul talks about when he says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12).  He previously refers to the same entities in 2 Corinthians 10, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).  By far the best place for us to gain insight into how these battles are engaged and won will be to look at the ministry of Jesus first and then the ministry of the apostles.



Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,  where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’


There are some things about this incident that are shrouded in mystery for us, mainly due to the limited amount of information given. The most obvious could be, “In what manner did the devil speak to Jesus ?” Was it through the thoughts in his mind? Was it in human form? Did he just appear out of nowhere? Was his identity immediately recognisable or did he show up as an ordinary man happening to be in the same place as Jesus at the same time? We will never know for sure. I have both a theory and an opinion. My theory is that when the Bible doesn’t give information either we don’t need to know, or we need to find out through our own experience. Empirical evidence seems to be limited as well. I have read on some occasions where a servant of Jesus was confronted by a metaphysical “person” whom they concluded was the devil, but there are nowhere near enough samples to be sure.

It is also possible that the devil didn’t take on bodily form at all. It is possible that Jesus heard the voice of the devil either in audible form or spoken within his own mind. What we do know for sure is that Jesus experienced the presence of the devil. It matters much less how that presence appeared. What mattered was that it was identified by what was said. Jesus was conscious that the devil said some things that challenged his identity and his mission. He was “taken” to specific vantage points and shown certain things. If we spend all our time trying to figure out the physics or metaphysics of it, we will miss the point. The point was that the challenger was identified as the devil and what he said and did was intended to deceive, sow doubt and destroy the plan of God for the whole earth that was being carried by his beloved Son, Jesus. It will become plain as we gain insight from the information we are given that the same presence and intention can happen to most of us in a hundred different ways. The challenge for us is to recognise it for what it is and to use weapons God has provided that results in the devil withdrawing from the battle.

I hope it will not be stretching anything in the text to say that the first way the presence of the devil showed up was in the context of Jesus’ hunger. Forty days without food and we are told he was hungry. I’ve heard some people say that when you fast with the right attitude, you won’t feel hungry. The super-spiritual idealism pushes speculation to an extreme. What rubbish. Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days, and his body was yelling out for his attention. When I first tried fasting, I was ploughing a paddock on my parent’s farm. Round and round and no morning tea. That was followed by no lunch. My body was in full physical rebellion. I was trying to pray, but my mind kept on thinking of what was in the refrigerator back at the house. By mid-afternoon, I was in agony. I disconnected the plough and hit full throttle for home. When I got to the back gate, I leapt off in a single bound and continued leaping till I opened the fridge door and grabbed the first item that was edible. It was the remains of a leg of lamb. I attacked it in cave man style. Having quieted the screaming of my body, I tramped slowly back to the tractor to face the remorse of thinking I had failed God. I was miserable for some days. With the patient and loving encouragement of my spiritual mentor at the time, I was able to recover and serve God again. I knew fasting was in the Bible, but at the time, I just couldn’t figure out how I was going to do it.  Having now done many fasts and some for many days, the food in the fridge doesn’t hold anywhere near as much attraction, but the idea keeps bobbing around.

The devil, an opportunist extraordinaire, saw the hunger and tried to use it to suggest to Jesus that he needed to prove that he really was the Son of God. The suggestion was that Jesus should use his supposed God-given supernatural power to create food. The case was put forward something like this:

“You are very hungry, aren’t you?”

“Don’t you think you should get something to eat right away?”

“If you really were the Son of God you will have the power to turn stones into bread.”

“Have you wondered why God would lead you to come to a place like this and to be hungry like you are. Perhaps you are not really the Son of God after all? “

“If you are the Son of God why should you go hungry like this?“

“Why don’t you put that status and identity to there test right now?”

“You could resolve those doubts right now by calling for a little divine demonstration of power from heaven.”


We know that Jesus responded to the devil’s suggestion by quoting words from Deuteronomy 8. Some people think that the power is vested in the words of Scripture themselves and would presume that to sprout words from the Bible has some power in and of itself. This is clearly not the case. The most immediate example (and one of many) is when the devil quoted Bible words but twisted to suit adversarial causes.

It makes much more sense with the immediate and broader context to conclude that Jesus was using the words of Scripture to declare testimony. The words from Deuteronomy are simple and clear: Man shall not live by bread alone.  In the parallel passage from Matthew[2], ”but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”  tell us what Jesus is sharing testimony about. The devil’s presumption about Jesus was totally wrong. He thought that because Jesus was hungry that his focus was on his physical hunger. We know from another place that Jesus had a profound detachment from the things that make people feel okay: namely plenty of food to eat, clothes to wear and a comfortable place to dwell. In John 4 when the disciples return to the well with some food from the town, they couldn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t  interested in tucking in. When they press him to eat, he replies, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work.”[3]  But the critical point to make is that none of these became a distraction. What was more important to him was hearing what his Father had to say. Rather than doubting his identity as a Son he was actively pursuing his Father – and the devil thought he was only thinking about his next meal!

This matter comes even more sharply into focus in the application of the principle. The challenge is not just to memorise Scripture. The challenge is to become what the Scripture reveals. Deuteronomy 8:3 calls on all of us to know how we were created. We were created to need regular food. If our bodies don’t get appropriately fed, they cry out for what they need. It is a self-preserving warning system called hunger. But there is something else that is even more important than physical food (and water). We are built to live according to what God has spoken. My word for that is revelation. God has told us things that we would never discover by ourselves. And we would never know them apart from a relationship with God where we can know what he has said. Not a book and not someone else’s experience. We are made to hear from God and live according to what we hear. When we don’t, the life we have been given malfunctions. The difference between the two is that my body automatically registers my need for food, but the need to know “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”  doesn’t register as readily. It is developed through intentional experience. The metaphor is helpful because when we are functioning as we are designed, the hunger for what God has said will be as real and as active as our need for food. The problem is that this sense has been shut down because we have seem so adept at living independent from God. A lot of things that should be alive are dead and need to be resurrected.


When Jesus was confronted by the devil in the wilderness, he had been living for thirty years fully dependent on every word that preceded from the mouth of God. He was hungry for it and was constantly dependent on it. As the days of fasting continued and his body started objecting the objection was noted but never became an issue. He was more hungry to gain revelation from the Father than to turn his attention on seeking food. So when the devil thought he would catch Jesus at a point of vulnerability, he was completely wrong. The victory over rulers, authorities, powers of darkness and spiritual forces in heavenly realms was already guaranteed. What was inside Jesus’ heart WAS the weapon. And the devil’s idea simply had no power.

The weapons identified by Paul in Ephesians 6 can be identified in this situation:


The TRUTH was that he was only hungry for what God had to say.

The RIGHTEOUSNESS was his sincere desire for God.

The GOSPEL was the message that he(and us as well) was designed to live by what God said.

FAITH was his total trust in God’s word as the primary necessity – more than physical food.

SALVATION was the security of his identity as the Son of God.

The WORD OF GOD was the fact that the Spirit had told him to go into the wilderness.

PRAYER is not referenced in this story, but it is not hard to think that Jesus was out there communing with his Father, as we learn from watching him through the gospel stories.

The victory here was that the devil had to think up something else to foil Jesus’ preparation for the three-year ministry he was about to begin. A one-sentence testimony was all it took.



We will see as we move through these incidents from the life of Jesus is the fact that we don’t become armed and dangerous to the devil’s schemes just be sprouting a few religious words. Notice that Jesus didn’t just rebuke the devil and cast him out. On this occasion, Jesus was simply describing what was true about his modus operandi. We will be similarly armed when we develop a lifestyle based on seeking and listening to everything God has said. When that becomes the overriding passion and the foundation, we will be armed. If all we think about is the weather, the degree of inconvenience and a host of other human centred concerns, we will be an easy target for Satan. There are always plenty of things he can do to make sure we have reasons to say, “No” and excuses and preoccupations that block our need to know everything he has said. When we common practice of subjecting what God has said to humans reason, personal preference etc. it will become our “natural posture.” But when we set our hearts to be shaped and moulded by what God has said, then this will also become our “natural posture.” And when the devil shows up and tries to point us toward going after our preferences and comfort zones, we will have the same answer as Jesus and gain the same outcome. Jesus 1 v. Devil 0.

[1] There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.    C.S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters (originally 1942; this edition: Harper Collins, 1996) ix.



[3]         See John 4:34 He goes on to explain that there is a harvest going on in a place where no Jews would entertain the wildest thought of God doing things: amongst the Samaritans. Didn’t God hate those compromised heretics? Jesus was far too engaged with the harvest that had happened through the Samaritan woman he met there than he was about eating lunch.