What was the purpose of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness?

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The purpose of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness was manifold. One element is that He was in the wilderness. As I feel the texture of the Gospel narratives, one thing they indicate refers back to Adam. Adam was placed in a beautiful garden. All the animals were subservient to him. Everything in the garden was a delight, and he turned it into a wilderness.

When Christ came to be our Savior, the pattern is that He had to go into the wilderness. There is a note in Mark’s gospel where it says that Jesus was surrounded by wild beasts (Mark 1:13). That seems to be a strange thing to say, but I think it’s Mark’s hint to us: “Do you see what He is doing? He has come into the wilderness created by sin in order to fight the way back to the garden of Eden and, ultimately, to glory.” So, one element is the shadow of Eden.

The second element is the shadow of Israel in the wilderness. The number forty is significant.

The third element is this: the Gospel writers tell us that it wasn’t Satan who drove Jesus into the wilderness. Nor did Jesus decide, “I think I should go into the wilderness.” Rather, He was led there by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was entering into the territory Satan had occupied. He fasted for forty days and, in His humanity, was inconceivably weak so that out of the depth of His weakness He might overcome the power of the Evil One.

We often look at the temptations of Jesus to answer the question, “What can I learn about dealing with temptation?” While you can learn a lot of things about dealing with temptation, you also need to realize that Jesus was doing something unique. He was crushing the head of the serpent, beginning chiefly in the wilderness and ending in His death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God. It was all part of the restorative, recreating work of God, going back to the beginning to undo what Adam had done and do what Adam had failed to do.

This transcript is from a live Ask Ligonier event with Sinclair Ferguson and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.