Tempted in the Wilderness

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 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.”

- Mark 1:12-13

Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). What followed was our Lord’s temptation by Satan, an event that is one of the most important keys for unlocking the meaning of the work of Christ. Anyone familiar with the Old Testament will quickly see the many parallels between Jesus’ time in the wilderness and the history of Israel. There is an apparent parallel between Jesus’ passing through the water before going into the wilderness, which suggests that we are to see Jesus as the new Israel who fulfills God’s purposes for His old covenant people. Another parallel exists between Israel’s testing for forty years in the wilderness and Jesus’ being tempted for forty days in the same place (Deut. 8:1–2; Mark 1:13). Second, Moses, the representative of Israel, spent forty days on Mount Sinai at a critical point in his ministry. Thus, we see another parallel in that Jesus, the representative of Israel, also spent forty days in the wilderness at a critical point in His ministry (Ex. 24:15–18; Mark 1:13). Furthermore, Elijah, a representative old covenant prophet, also stayed forty days in the wilderness; so, it is appropriate that the chief Prophet, Jesus Christ, parallels Elijah’s life by spending forty days in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:1–8; Mark 1:13).

Hosea 11:1 tells us that old covenant Israel was God’s son by adoption, which further connects Jesus, the Son of God by nature, to Israel’s history. But Scripture also calls Adam the “son of God” (Luke 3:38), so Christ is also the last Adam, the obedient Son who succeeded where Adam failed. Satan, as a serpent, tempted our first parents in Eden, and Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Gen. 3:1–5; Mark 1:13; Rev. 12:9). Yet, whereas Adam fell despite having every advantage in a lush garden, Jesus persevered in the harsh wilderness and never gave in to temptation (Gen. 3:6–7; Luke 4:1–13). He never sinned, thereby guaranteeing the restoration of God’s fallen creation. In Jesus, therefore, God has created a new Israel and a new humanity. Christ embodies everything the Lord created Adam—and all humans—to be, and in Him alone we find our full humanity.

All of these fulfillments happened under the superintendence of our Creator. He created Adam and Israel, and He gave them their missions in which they ultimately failed. He also gave Jesus His mission, driving Him into the wilderness, where He stood against all temptation for the sake of our salvation (Mark 1:12–13).

Coram Deo

In his commentary Mark, Dr. R.C. Sproul notes how Jesus’ victory over temptation in the wilderness would have been particularly relevant to first-century Christians. They faced persecution and death for holding firm to their confession, and in Jesus they had an example of One who refused to worship any but the one true God even when He was promised the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5–8). This same Jesus will give us strength to persevere in faith if we seek His face.

Passages for Further Study

Matthew 4:1–11
Romans 5:12–21

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