An Unconventional God— Part Fifteen

An Unconventional God— Part Fifteen November 25, 2020

BEN: I realize your focus is on the relationship between the Spirit and Jesus, and I agree the Spirit is rambunctious—driving Jesus into the wilderness for the testing, but staying with or in Jesus through the testing, and he passes the tests in a way that Adam and Israel did not, and Job mostly did not, though Job repents in the end and covers his mouth. What really surprised me about this chapter is no focus on the temptations themselves. These are temptations that distinguish Jesus from any predecessors. He is being tested as the unique, indeed divine (and as was later understood, pre-existent) Son of God, not as the suffering servant, not as the messianic king per se, not as Israel. I’ve known people who could turn bread into stones, but mere mortals who are sane are not tempted to turn stones into bread, to throw themselves off the pinnacle of the temple etc. No, Satan is trying to get Jesus to push the God button, which he indeed has as the divine Son of God. Jesus resists this temptation using the resources we have as humans the Word of God, and though it is not emphasized here, the Spirit of God. Had Jesus given way to those special temptations he would have obliterated his identity with us, as sadly we have no God button to get out of such situations. We don’t even have an easy button. Jesus remains an example of how to endure such trials and temptations because he resisted the Devil using the same resources we have. Likewise, the temptation the garden to avoid the cross, to avoid drinking the cup of God’s wrath on behalf of a ransom to be provided for many is not a normal temptation for mere mortals. It is one that only a unique God-man would face. Why did you not spend some time focusing on the temptations themselves?

JACK: Good question. Thanks for it. Let me treat the gospels separately.


Mark’s gospel has the Holy Spirit throw Jesus out, like a demon or money-changers in the temple, into the desert. The Greek word is ekballein, as in exit+ballistic missile. The Spirit does not accompany Jesus during the testing, according to Mark’s gospel. To say that the Spirit is present is misleading.

Matthew and Luke

You already put your finger on this when you wrote, “though it is not emphasized here, the Spirit of God.” The presence of the Spirit is not emphasized with respect to the specific temptations. I think far more key here is the overarching presence of the Holy Spirit rather than the specific prompting of the Spirit. I definitely think Isaiah 63:7-14 lies behind this text: the Holy Spirit guided Israel to the promised land. I hope readers will look at this entire chapter of An Unconventional God, since I find the backdrop of Isaiah 63 just riveting! It is the general presence of the Holy Spirit, the same presence that accompanied Israel, which is so essential to the temptation scene. That presence, of course, is the foundation for Jesus’ ability to resist the devil’s subtle seductions.

BEN: Your study of Jesus as Spirit-filled teacher is important, and it is interesting that Mark early on quotes Jesus as saying that his main mission was not to come and heal people all over the place, but rather to proclaim the Good News. He went to teach, but he stayed to heal where there was need and his miracles were largely acts of compassion, not demonstrations trying to wow people into believing in him. He was wary of people seeking signs and wonders, and rightly so. One of your interesting insights is comparing Lk. 10.21 to the way his mother is characterized in Lk. 1.47. Whereas Lk. 10.21 refers to Jesus rejoicing in the Spirit (Spirit with the definite article) this is not true in Lk. 1.47 where you suggest Mary in her own spirit is rejoicing. Just so, and I think this is a fundamental point for Luke. Whereas God’s spirit is working on figures before Jesus comes along and they respond variously, Jesus is the first person to have the Holy Spirit dwell within him. Would you agree? Why or why not?

JACK: I don’t think I’d agree. But why? First, in the Old Testament, people are already filled with the Spirit (e.g., Exodus 28:3; 35:31-36:3). I devote a chapter of A Boundless God to Spirit-filling in the Old Testament. Second, in some Jewish authors outside of the gospels, like Philo Judaeus, the Spirit is said to fill people. So Israelite and early Jewish literature makes claims to filling with the Spirit before the gospels do. Third, I do not think the definite article is necessary to describe filling with the Spirit. It is promised that John the Baptist will be filled with (the) Spirit (Luke 1:15). Zechariah (Luke 1:67) and Elizabeth (1:41) are filled with (the) Spirit, so that they praise or prophesy. The idiom, “filled with (the) Spirit,” especially when followed by praise or prophecy, is different in this respect from ek pneumatos hagiou in Matthew 1:18 and 20, which can be interpreted to mean either “from a holy Spirit” or “from the Holy Spirit.”

[N.B.  Here I, BW3, would add that it seems to me that the language about filling particularly in the OT, and also sometimes in the NT refers to being inspired by the Spirit, or empowered by the Spirit to say or do something. I don’t think it is claim that the Holy Spirit indwelt them, so here I think there is a real difference in our interpretation of the meaning of those OT texts]

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