How Samson helps Luke with Jesus

Posted: September 14, 2012 by J in Bible

Theological/narrative significance

What’s the point of all this?

By framing Jesus’ story with the story of Samson, Luke achieves two big things. First, he paints Jesus as true ruler and judge of Israel. Throughout Luke, Jesus has described his arrival at Jerusalem as the time of judgement and salvation. However, his crucifixion by gentiles seemed to invalidate this claim (24:21). The Samson connection is highly relevant here, as it suggests to readers that, like Samson’s, Jesus’ death was actually his greatest act of judgement/salvation.

Second, the Samson analogy also helps us understand the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life. Samson’s prodigious strength was explicitly not his own. Also, the Nazirite instruction to avoid wine and strong drink makes it clear that Samson’s strength was not from that source: it was a different spirit, the ‘Spirit of Yahweh’ who would come upon him. These themes are repeated throughout the Samson story. More than any other OT figure, Samson is portrayed as Spirit-empowered. When the Spirit departed, he was weak like any other man (Judges 16:20).

This link helps us to know what to make of Jesus’ extraordinary power and wisdom: it is not native to him, either, but is given him by the Spirit (cf. Luke 4:1,14; 11:20). In Luke we are not taught to see Jesus as powerful in himself: quite the opposite, Luke emphasises how completely dependent his power is. Jesus is the Spirit-filled man par excellence. His power and wisdom remain with him precisely and only because the Spirit remains upon him (cf. Luke 3:22, 4:18, 10:21). This is seen in the fact that his power does vary from time to time (e.g. Luke 5:17). And more than any other factor it is this empowering and leading of the Holy Spirit that enables Jesus to carry out the mission of the Messiah.

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