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The Son of God Tempted in Our Place (Luke 3:21–4:13)

So often we read events in Jesus’ life as mere examples from which we can draw principles for common experiences, rather than as once-for-all accomplishments that he underwent in our place and as our representative. In other words, we tend to read Jesus’ actions in a sort of W.W.J.D. framework, instead of as gospel news with Jesus standing and succeeding where we have fallen and failed. No gospel story demonstrates this better than Jesus’ wilderness temptations (Lk. 4:1-13). Did Luke include this story because he primarily wanted us to know certain principles on how to stand up against temptation in our own lives? Or does Luke want to tell us something about the once-for-all accomplishment of Jesus as our representative? Let’s take a look at Luke’s account and the content leading up to it to see why we should affirm the latter.

Did you ever find it peculiar that between Jesus’ baptism (Lk. 3:21-22) and the temptation narrative (Lk. 4:1-13) Luke decides to insert a genealogy that traces Jesus’ ancestry all the way back to Adam? While it might seem random at first and we may want to just skip over it, it’s actually playing an important role in disclosing to us Jesus’ identity before he is led by the Spirit in the wilderness.

At Jesus’ baptism the voice of the Father breaks out from heaven, saying, “You are my beloved Son…” (3:22). Jesus’ identity, then, consists of him being the Son of God. When we hear this title being attributed to Jesus we immediately want to see it as a claim to his divinity: he is the Second Person of the Trinity eternally begotten of the Father (which would be correct). But Luke wants us to see something more about this title, and that’s where the genealogy comes into play. Notice that when Luke comes to the end of it he says, “the son of Adam, the son of God.” Adam was considered also to have held the title “son of God.” Why? Because he was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and was, therefore, tasked with ruling over the created order as his representative and extending the bounds of the garden until they encompassed the whole earth (Gen. 1:28). That the one formed in the image of God is the son of God is confirmed in Gen. 5:1-3. There we again read that “God made [man] in the likeness of God.” Right after this we read, “[Adam] fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Because sonship and likeness go hand-in-hand, Adam was the son of God.

So what does this mean for understanding Jesus’ identity in Luke as he heads into the wilderness? It means that Jesus heads into the wilderness as the second and last Adam (see 1 Cor. 15:45). In the Garden, Adam had represented all of mankind, so that when he fell, he brought with him all of his posterity. That’s the big point of Romans 5:12-21. Adam was the federal head of all of mankind, so that his actions affected the rest of us. As Paul says, “[Adam’s] one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Rom. 5:18). Jesus, then, emerges on the scene as the representative of a new humanity, the federal head of the elect people of God. And this means that Jesus is going to have to stand where Adam fell, if he is to secure for us “justification and life” (Rom. 5:18).

Luke wants us to see that the wilderness temptation is nothing less than a re-run of Eden. As the serpent launched his fiery arrows at Eve with her husband standing by, tempting her to doubt the goodness of God and his word, so he is at it again with Jesus, the son of God. But unlike Adam and Eve who, with full stomachs, were surrounded by a luscious garden, Jesus is to endure the trial in a barren wilderness having fasted now for forty days. The serpent had infiltrated the domain where Adam was to reign as God’s representative, but now Jesus wages a counterattack by infiltrating the domain of Satan. He has entered the house of the strongman to bind him, so that he might plunder his goods and reclaim those whom he has taken captive.

Jesus undergoes all of this not merely to provide us with principles to overcome temptation in our lives, but as our representative. That is the good news of the gospel: Jesus has stood where I have fallen; he has resisted the lies of the devil where I have been deceived and so has obtained for me salvation. The story is not ultimately about what I need to do, but about what Christ has done for me, in my place, and on my behalf! Christ has stood in my place with his unwavering commitment and trust in God’s word. In him the truth of God triumphs over against the deceptive lies of the evil one.

It is because of this I can have confidence that when temptations array themselves directly against me, when I feel doubt regarding God’s promises rising up in me, I can stand in the power of the Spirit of Christ against them and continue to trust God’s word. When the devil accuses me, I can appeal to Christ who has succeeded as my substitute and who has brought his heel down upon the serpent, so that he must limp away in defeat, until his final execution.

For a rich biblical-theological discussion of the son of God title from Luke 3-4 listen to Dr. Lane Tipton’s address from our 2015 Theology Conference. Also, consider attending this years conference on October 7-9, which will be on the image of God. The early bird rate ends on August 15.

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