Mark 1:12-13: 12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Why in the world did the Spirit drive Jesus, the inaugurated king, into the desert to suffer and be tempted? What’s going on here? What’s going on is that Satan (the deceiver) immediately challenges the Father’s endorsement of the Son at his baptism and there’s a war being waged. Let’s briefly get some other background elements nailed before we get into what this battle is all about.
The Judean wilderness that Jesus has been driven to by the Spirit is not like being thrust into the beautiful Cascade mountain range in Canada. He was reading books on the patio of a gorgeous log cabin in the wilderness, taking refreshing walks in the wilderness, listening to the birds singing, and the deer frolicking through the woods, coming around the bend onto a beautiful lake, listening to crickets crick, and streams running into the lake. This is not the picture of the wilderness Jesus was thrust into to have some solitude time of refreshment.
No, this was a mission of fasting that embodied a battle against all that is opposed to God. The wilderness houses ravenous animals that were a threat to humans, as well as having no shelter for shade and no water for hydration. This was suffering in desperate places at it’s finest.
At the time Mark probably wrote his Gospel, during the persecution of Nero (a tyrant and murderous ruler), Christians were dressed in the skins of beasts and eaten alive by wild dogs (Tacitus, Annales XV.44). A generation later Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50 – c. 110) was probably fed to the lions in the Coliseum. If Mark wrote in Rome, which is likely (1 Pet 5:13), the image of Jesus remaining among the wild animals unharmed might have encouraged first century Christians.
We may also interpret Jesus’ relationship to the wild animals as a vision (or prefiguring) of the Kingdom, which He is about to proclaim has drawn near (Mark 1:15). In light of Isaiah’s vision of restoration, the gospel brings healing to the world, or in today’s language, ecological flourishing. Harmony with creation evidences the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision. Jesus, then, is the new (or last) Adam, undoing what Adam and Eve began in the garden.
So it is here that Jesus is establishing a new way to be human; a new way to declare war and battle; a new way to live in peace in the midst of danger. This was Jesus giving us a foretaste of what’s yet to come, of what will be undone, of who He really is and who He is representing.
Jesus’ temptation was meant to be an encounter with Satan to undo that which has been broken: “Christ invaded the fallen world where Satan was laying claim to the kingdoms of men… it is here where the Prince of Peace begins His combat with the Prince of the world.” Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 28.
JESUS IS BREAKING CHAINS!
Jesus was at the brink of starvation living with wild creatures who live off of meat, and Adam was well fed in Paradise with all that he needed at his disposal, living with a naked woman and vegetarian lions. This is no self-help story on “How to resist temptation”! THIS IS JESUS BREAKING CHAINS THAT WE CAN’T BREAK!
What we can also learn from this text is this: notice what happens after Jesus’ identity is confirmed when He was baptized. He was attacked, tempted, Satan desired to devour Him, deceive Him, trick Him. This is a reality for all who follow Jesus and oppose evil and join in with Jesus for the CHAIN BREAKING PARTY! So with this, let’s turn to Matt. 4:1-11 and begin unpacking what’s going on here.
Matthew 4:1-3: 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Or in other words, “Since your father isn’t providing for you, you should provide for yourself!” By doing this, Satan suggests that Jesus could clear up any doubts about His own identity even though Jesus already heard the voice from heaven confirm His identity. Satan wants Jesus to doubt God’s words just like he wanted Adam and Eve to doubt it as well.
Satan was coming to Jesus to have Him act on a false belief that says, “I am what I do.” Power. You’ve got the power… use it or you are powerless. Jesus is breaking chains of control and power, and rightly applying power.
Unlike the first Adam (and us!), Jesus remains obedient and says this:
Matt. 4:4: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” In other words, my power doesn’t come from what I do or what I put into my body… my power comes from the the Word of God.
Matt 4:5-6: 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
Satan was essentially saying, “If you jump off, you will see angles come and save you and you can live by sight, right now, in this moment, not by faith. You will be prestigious among mankind. You won’t have to live any longer in this humble state that you gave up when you became a man.”
Jesus is breaking the chains of the lie that says, “I am what others say about me.” Jesus didn’t need others to see Him do great works to know who and whose He was. I’m sure Jesus clearly heard the Voice of the Father all those days in the wilderness saying, “You are my beloved Son and I am well pleased with you.” (Mark 1:11). Literally, you are worthy of my affection, I delight in you son, daughter!
Notice Satan quotes Scripture this time. It’s a reference from Psalm 91:11-12, and instead of doubting Scripture, this time Satan tempts Jesus to fulfill Scripture, and he pitched it in such a way that if Jesus doesn’t jump, then it would be because of a lack of faith in God’s word.
To Eve, Satan says: “Eat and you will not surely die, for God has lied to you.”
To Jesus he says: “Jump, and you will not surely die, unless God has lied to you.”
But Jesus said to him, listen up you dirty little scum (my interpretation), “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Mark 4:7
Matt. 4:8-9: 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
“If you fall down and worship me Jesus, you can have it all right now, and you won’t have to wait and suffer on the cross. You know it’s coming and you know you want there to be another way… well here it is… how much easier is this now… come on!”
Jesus is resisting Satan’s lie that is saying, “I am what I have.” Possessions. “All this could be yours if you abuse your Father’s glory and worship me.”
In the Garden of Eden, Satan tells Adam and Eve that the garden is good and all, but there’s a greater dominion you could have: “You could have glory greater than you could ever imagine! You could be great like God, not innocent little creatures digging ditches, pruning flowers, and taking care of God’s walled-in garden. Think of what else is out there that you’re missing out on.”
Jesus rightly divides and applies God’s word, and teaches Satan a lesson about God’s word being used properly and breaks the chains of consumerism (the drive for more possessions that tells us we are okay and we belong because we can contribute and accumulate trinkets.
Satan wanted to gain Jesus’ worship away from God, but Jesus responds, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Matt. 4:10
Jesus here is breaking chains of corrupt power, the desire and love of prestige, and the addiction to possessions. In other words, He is restoring the worship problem that humanity has… our worship of power, prestige and possessions. These, as Thomas Keating puts it, are the world’s “basic program for happiness”. We are all vulnerable to power and control; affection and esteem; security and survival.
Throughout Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He is reaffirming who He is. He is God, we are not. No other man or woman were ultimately able to fully resist these basic lies for happiness, but Jesus has. When we are quiet and still enough (the wilderness days) we can affirm that Jesus is God, and we are not, and hat we in fact are desperate for Jesus to show up.