In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ death appears as a tragedy, the final victory of Satan over the messenger of the coming kingdom of God. One would think that the Gospel should have a different and more positive conclusion because its story began in such a promising way. Jesus’ birth was announced by an angel as the coming of “the Son of the Most High,” to whom “the Lord will give the throne of his ancestor David” (Luke 1:32), and at his birth the angel appeared once more to proclaim: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Satan, the enemy of God, did not seem to be a problem.
To be sure, the devil appeared to Jesus in the wilderness and tempted him (Luke 4:1–12), but Jesus passed the test and “the devil departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Throughout his ministry in Galilee and Judea, Jesus is victorious over the powers of Satan, driving out demons and healing the sick, and preaches the gospel freely. When he enters Jerusalem, the crowds hail him: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38).
However, shortly thereafter things seem to go badly. The devil returns, and Luke emphasizes that he is now at work. Luke adds to his source (Mark 14:10) that it is Satan who entered into Judas Iscariot so that he would betray Jesus (Luke 22:3). Jesus announces to Simon Peter, “Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat” (Luke 22:31)—and Peter will later deny Jesus. When Jesus is arrested, he says, “This is the hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 23:53). The days that are coming are evil and the disciples are asked to be prepared: “Now the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). When Jesus is on his way to his crucifixion, the women who are following Jesus, beating their breasts and wailing for him, are told that the coming days will be even worse than this event (Luke 23:27–31). Thus it seems that Satan is victorious when Jesus dies.
Luke does not even allow the thought that, after all, Jesus’ death is meaningful because it is a sacrifice for the redemption of the people. In fact the sentence in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus says that “the Son of Man gives his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), is not reproduced by Luke. To be sure, Jesus dies nobly and in full possession of his faculties—the perfect martyr. He asks that those who crucify him be forgiven (Luke 23:34). He promises the criminal, who is crucified together with him, that his request will be granted and that he will be in Paradise with him this very day (Luke 23:39–43). Moreover, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus does not accuse God by saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mark 15:34), and there is no desperate cry at the moment of his death (Mark 15:37) but rather a pious assurance of Jesus’ compliance with his appointed fate: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Nevertheless, in Luke’s Gospel Jesus’ death stands under the sign of the power of Satan.
And yet, this grim story is in reality the confirmation of the coming of God’s kingdom. Jesus would have been defeated at the beginning of his ministry had he accepted the devil’s offer of the glory and authority of all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5–6). The kingdom of God was not designed to be given to the rich and powerful. Rather, its proclamation demonstrates that all values are changed radically. The poor, those who weep, and those who are hated and excluded are called blessed and heirs of the kingdom (Luke 6:20–22). The woman who anoints Jesus is not a friend (like Mary in John 12:3) but a prostitute (Luke 7:36–50). A despised Samaritan serves as the example of truly loving care. While the gospel is preached to the poor (Luke 7:22), Jesus’ enemies are the rich and all those who hold power in this world. Indeed, only in Luke’s Gospel can we find Jesus cursing the rich (Luke 6:24–26) and only here can we read the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31).
Jesus’ suffering and death confirms where God can be found: not among the powers of this world, who are represented in the narrative of the passion not only by the authorities of Jerusalem and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, but also by King Herod Antipas of Galilee—Luke adds Herod to his source as the third antagonist of Jesus (Luke 23:6–16; he is not mentioned in the other Gospels). The disciples are taught just before Jesus’ arrest how also the value of greatness has been turned unto its head. Luke has moved the “Dispute about Greatness,” which occurs earlier in Jesus’ ministry in the other Gospels (Mark 10:42–45; Matthew 20:25–28), into the context of the passion narrative: the discussion of the disciples as to which of them is the greatest occurs during the Last Supper, and Jesus responds, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in author ty are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become as the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 22:25–26). Even a wealthy person, who becomes famous because of 046his or her generous benefactions—the mention of benefactors is a Lukan addition to the text of his source—belongs in the kingdom of Satan, while Jesus compares himself to the servant at the table (Luke 22:27).
To follow this Jesus, who defines leadership as service, may be dangerous—not a few of Jesus’ followers were martyred, and even today those who care for those who have been marginalized by the established society are often despised and rejected. But then there are those who realized when they broke the bread in the memory of Jesus’ death, like the disciples who went to “Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35), that the Jesus who had been defeated by Satan at his crucifixion had risen and was now in their midst.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ death appears as a tragedy, the final victory of Satan over the messenger of the coming kingdom of God. One would think that the Gospel should have a different and more positive conclusion because its story began in such a promising way. Jesus’ birth was announced by an angel as the coming of “the Son of the Most High,” to whom “the Lord will give the throne of his ancestor David” (Luke 1:32), and at his birth the angel appeared once more to proclaim: “To you is born this day in the city […]