The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 3 – Luke 4

Chapters 3 and 4 of Luke contain three distinct references to the Trinity that chorus together to provide “big picture” details about the life and ministry of Jesus. One should note that whenever Jesus speaks of the Father and Spirit the Trinity is mentioned since the one speaking is One with those he mentions. But not even that subtlety is needed in the following passages.

In Luke 3:21-22 the Trinity is present at the baptism of Jesus. As this event and some of its implications were discussed in my post on Acts 10, the passage will not receive much individual interpretation. Be reminded, however, that this even happened as Jesus “began his ministry” (3:23).

Luke is not finished describing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: or, more specifically , the preface to Jesus’ ministry. After Jesus was baptized his ministry still not begin. The Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus at his baptism led him into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days (4:1). Just as the Father and Spirit were actively involved in the anointing of Jesus for ministry at his baptism, they each participated in the demonstration of his fitness for ministry in his temptation.

Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He was not led into temptation by the Holy Spirit, but led into the place where he would be tempted. Jesus did this with the fullness of the Holy Spirit: Jesus was in full communion with him.

Jesus endured the wilderness by relying on the word of his Father. The Devil’s temptations were centered on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (4:3, 9) and authority (4:6). With each temptation Jesus demonstrated his Sonship by relying on the authority of the Word of God. In each temptation, the highest concern of Jesus was to honor his Father: to honor his word (4:4); to honor his absolute deity (4:8) and to honor his holiness (4:12).

What was declared at his baptism was demonstrated at his persecution: Jesus was God’s Son anointed by the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s will.

After such declaration and demonstration Jesus begins his ministry of teaching in the synagogues throughout the land of Galilee (4:14-15). While Luke does not present the lesson and aftermath in 4:16-30 as Jesus’ first message, it is the first lesson he presents. The hermeneutical idea of “the law of first reference” takes some abuse as the rule itself is easy to be abused. Yet the principle does have validity. Luke recounts this lesson of Jesus first for a reason: it continues the theme begun with Jesus’ baptism and continued with his temptation.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-19)

The Father and Spirit did not commune with the Son at his baptism and temptation only to leave him for the next three years. In this sermon on the text of Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus teaches that his entire ministry is fulfilled in communion with the Father and the Spirit. For the next three years Jesus will proclaim and demonstrate good news, liberty, and God’s favor. For the next three years he will do all of these things in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ references to the anointing of the Holy Spirit and to the ministry of Elijah form an unmistakable parallel (inclusio) to the account of his baptism by John. With such a construction Luke frames these events as paradigms for the entire life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus lives and serves in communion with and empowered by the Father and the Spirit.

Theologians speak of the perichoresis of the Trinity. This is the teaching that each member of the Trinity mutually dwells in or penetrates through the other members of the Trinity. Each member has complete unity with the others without being “mixed.” Whatever God is, the Father is. Whatever God is, the Son is. Whatever God is, the Spirit is. But the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father. The Son is not the Spirit, nor the Spirit the Son. The Spirit is not the Father, nor the Father the Sprit.

While these passages in Luke do not teach perichoresis, indeed no single passage does, they do form something of a support for it. Jesus never acted alone, in his own power, or on his own authority. Yet it was Jesus who acted, not the Father or the Spirit.