[Note: This is the “Old” version of the Grace Commentary on Luke. It will be updated to the new version soon.]
Luke wastes no time showing how Jesus fulfilled Luke 4:18-19 (Isa 61:1-2a). While the entire Gospel focuses on how Jesus preached the gospel to the poor, brought healing to the brokenhearted, proclaimed liberty to captives, gave sight to the blind, set free those who were oppressed, and proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord, Luke 4:31¬–6:11 shows how Jesus fulfilled these things Himself. However, in 6:12 Jesus begins to teach and train disciples to carry on the work He began.
As followers of Jesus ourselves, we can benefit from seeing what Jesus did to carry out His mission, and how He taught and trained His immediate followers to continue this same mission in their own lives. In this first episode, Jesus proclaims the gospel and then sets free a man who was enslaved to a demon. By leading with this event, Luke shows that while the Kingdom of God is for the benefit of this world, it is not primarily against or opposed to the human rulers of this world, but rather the spiritual forces that have this world in bondage (cf. John 18:36; Eph 6:12). This would have been a relief to Luke’s original reader, Theophilus. Though Jesus is the rightful ruler and heir of the world, He did not come to start a revolution against Caesar. While the teachings and miracles of Jesus are a challenge to the claims and aspirations of Caesar, they are not intended to overthrow Caesar or raise a rebellion. Instead, Jesus was here to challenge and overthrow Satan, the temporary ruler of the world (John 12:31; 16:11). The first miracle recorded in Luke’s gospel reveals the fundamental reason Jesus for His ministry: He came to provide freedom from the power of evil (Bock 1994:426).
4:31. After His time in Nazareth, Jesus went northeast to Capernaum, a city on the shore of the sea of Galilee. From what is recorded in the Gospels, Capernaum served as a base of operations for much of the rest of the ministry of Jesus. While Jesus was in Capernaum, He was teaching them on the Sabbaths. Unlike in His hometown of Nazareth, His teaching appears to have been accepted here, since He is not chased out of town, but remains and teaches for multiple Sabbaths.
4:32. And here, unlike in Nazareth, rather than get criticism for speaking graciously about Gentiles and for being the son of a carpenter, they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority. Jesus taught the Bible in ways that the average teacher of that day did not. Rather than simply quote the various Jewish teachers and commentaries as most of the teachers did (Pentecost 1981:144), Jesus taught the actual Word of God. He read the Scriptures, and then translated and explained them so that the people could understand. While there is nothing wrong with reading commentaries and listening to other teachers—and as a Rabbi, Jesus certainly did lots of this—when Jesus taught, He didn’t quote lots of Rabbis as proof that what He was saying was true (Barclay 1975:51; Pentecost 1981:145). Nor did He simply state the numerous views on any one passage and leave it at that. Rather, He clearly stated what the Scriptures said, and based His interpretation on His own authority rather than on tradition (Bock 1994:429).
But the authority of Jesus’ word was not just in proclamation, but also in powerful signs that accompanied His teaching (cf. 4:36). It was these signs that the people of Nazareth wanted Him to perform, but He refused. Miracles are not parlor tricks to be performed on demand as a show. Rather, the Spirit moves as He wills, in accordance with the clear teaching of the Word of God.
4:33. On this particular Sabbath, in the synagogue where Jesus was teaching, there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon.[/b] There are many theories about demon possession, especially since it does not seem to occur today, or at least, not as openly or frequently as in the days of Jesus (Edersheim 1988:483). Some believe demon possession was simply a pre-scientific way of describing various physical and psychological disorders (cf. Evans 2003:96). Others believe that demon possession was something that only took place around the time of Jesus, as a way to help Jesus reveal His authority over the devil. Some believe it happens just as frequently today, but the “symptoms” are different because our culture and worldview are different. The best approach is one of cautious humility:
If we are asked to explain the rationale of the phenomenon, or of its cessation—if indeed, it has wholly and everywhere ceased—we might simply decline to attempt that for which we have not sufficient data, and this, without implying that such did not exist, or that, if known, they would not wholly vindicate the facts of the case (Edersheim 1988:482).
It should be noted as well that “demon possession” is not really a biblical term. A better translation or understanding of what is occurring in Scripture might be “demonized” or “demonization.” The state of demonization does not seem to be permanent, but comes and goes; is not a result of immorality on the part of the demonized, yet at the same time does not leave the demonized person without fault in their actions, and finally, the removal of the demonic influence is not dependant on the faith of the one who is demonized (cf. Edersheim 1988:481-484, 770-776).
Also, from a thematic perspective, the unclean spirit here should be read in contrast to the Holy Spirit which Jesus received at His baptism (cf. 3:22). Also, this unclean spirit is understood to be in league with the devil, who tempted Jesus in the wilderness (4:1-13). Though the devil departed from Jesus until an opportune time (4:13), Jesus will still have numerous encounters with various minions of the devil.
Whatever the case may be, this man, according to Luke, had an unclean demon, and as a result, issued a challenge to Jesus.
4:34. The man (under the influence of the demon) said, ”Let us alone!” Up to this point in the Synagogue meeting, Jesus hadn’t done anything but preach, and yet this demon wants to be left alone. He is afraid of what Jesus might do to him (Bock 1994:431). He speaks of himself using the plural us.The man is not possessed by multiple demons (as in the case of Legion in Luke 8:30). While it is possible that the demon is referring to himself and all other demons who will be destroyed by Jesus, it seems more likely that the demon is referring to himself and to the man he possesses. He is issuing a challenge to Jesus, saying in effect that the only way Jesus can get to the demon is by destroying the man as well (Bock 1994:432; Green 1997:223). Jesus has come to help humanity, not harm it, and so the demon advises Jesus to Let us alone. The implication is that if Jesus does not leave them alone, the demon will hurt, harm, and even destroy the man.
The man with the unclean demon goes on to ask, ”What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?” The demon clearly understands that the goals of Jesus and of Satan are at odds. Light has nothing to do with darkness. The two are so at adds, the demon asks Jesus, ”Did You come to destroy us?” It may be that Jesus had been teaching how He came to destroy the devil’s work (cf. 1 John 3:8). Certainly, in light of what Jesus taught in Luke 4:18-19, part of the task of Jesus was to deliver those who were in bondage to Satan. This demon knows that its destruction will come through Jesus, and seems to think that now is the time (cf. Matt 8:29).
The demon then says, ”I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” There was a belief in that day among street magicians and those who tried to practice sorcery that you could gain power over a person by naming them. So this demon, by naming Jesus as the Holy One of God, is trying to gain power over Jesus. The term Holy One most often refers to God, but here, the term (Gk. hagios) might be better translated as Holy Man and therefore refers not to Jesus as divinity, but Jesus as a prophet (Malina 2003:244). Either way, whatever the demon understood about Jesus, it is unlikely that the Jewish audience would have understood the title as a reference to the deity of Jesus. Most of the audience probably understood the title as a way of referring to Jesus as an anointed king (cf. Psa 16:10), a holy messenger from God (Dan 4:13, 23; 8:13), or the promised Messiah (Wright 2004:52).
4:35. Jesus refused to allow the demon to speak, and rebuked the demon, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The phrase be quiet comes from the Greek word phimōthēti, and is used of muzzling an animal. Jesus effectively muzzles this demon, forcing it to be silent against his will. There are various theories as to why Jesus wanted the demon to cease speaking, but the general consensus seems to be that Jesus did not want to be declared as the Holy One, the Messiah, by a demon (cf. Bock 1994:434).
There were no theatrics or magical incantations and rites which were familiar among other exorcists. Jesus simply commands the demon to be quiet and come out. And the demon, after he threw the man in the midst of the crowd, came out of him and did not hurt him. The implication seems to be that in coming out of the man, the demon tries to hurt him, but failed even in this. Though the demon had threatened to hurt the man, it was unable to do anything other than throw him down in the midst of the crowd. Jesus is in complete control—even over the disruptive and destructive intentions of demons.
4:36. The crowd was amazed at what they say, and said, “What a word this is! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” Similar statements are made here as were said about the authority of Jesus’ teaching (cf. 4:32). His authoritative word was accompanied by powerful miracles.
4:37. As a result of this event, the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region. News about Jesus continued to spread, and questions about Him would continue to be raised. They seem not to understand who He is or why He has come, but they love what He is doing. This disconnect becomes more clear in 4:38-44.