At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12-13)
All three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) give account of the Temptation in the Wilderness. All three note that Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit and all three report that Jesus was tempted by the devil.
Mark’s account is very brief. You can read it in full above. He does not detail what the temptations were or describe how Jesus overcame them, as Matthew and Luke do. He simply but powerfully gives the highlights in an economy of words. Let’s examine them closer.
At once. Other versions translate this as “immediately.” In Mark’s telling, the Temptation comes right after Jesus’ baptism (in Mark 1:9-11). There is an urgency here which is further indicated by the next phrase.
The Spirit sent him out into the wilderness. Other versions say that the Spirit “drove him out” into the wilderness. The Greek word is ekballo and means to cast out, send out, drive out. There is a forcefulness to it. Matthew and Luke, in their accounts, say that Jesus was led by the Spirit but Mark emphasizes the he was driven by the Spirit. What happened out in the desert was something that had to happen. There was something very significant and definitive about it.
He was in the wilderness forty days. The number “forty” itself indicates a time of testing, just as Israel was tested in the wilderness for forty years before it entered into the Promised Land. It also indicates a time of preparation, just as Moses stayed up on the mountain of the Lord for forty days and nights, receiving from God the “words of the covenant,” that is, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:18 and Deuteronomy 9:11). And then again a second time (Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 9:18, 25). Elijah, also, fasted and wandered the wilderness for forty days and nights until he came to that same mountain to receive the word of the Lord (1 Kings 19:8).
Being tempted by Satan. The Greek word satana means “adversary,” one who opposes another in a contrary purpose. Satan came to “tempt” Jesus, to test him. Matthew and Luke refer to him as the devil. The Greek word is diabolos, which means one who accuses or slanders. Satan was attempting to oppose Jesus, to accuse him and turn him from his godly purpose. At this point in their narratives, Matthew and Luke describe the three temptations and show how Jesus overcame Satan. But Mark identifies the victory for us in a very different way, which we will now see.
He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. BOOM! Enemy defeated, victory won. It is not just that Jesus was “with the wild animals” but, more importantly, it is that “angels attended him.” The two statements, taken together, recall the story of Daniel in the lion’s den — with the wild animals — and how he prevailed. When King Darius hurried down early the next morning to see if Daniel’s God was able to deliver him, Daniel answered: “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty” (Daniel 6:22).
In the wilderness temptation, angels attended Jesus and shut the mouths of the “wild animals.” Likening the devil to a hungry lion, Peter reminds us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). In the temptation, Jesus defeated that lion and shut his mouth. Angels attended him, just as they did Daniel, and Jesus’ innocence and purity was demonstrated, just as Daniel’s had been. In other words, Jesus passed the test.
But what does all this mean for you and me? Quite simply, this: Jesus’ victory over the devil and his temptations is our victory over the devil and his temptations. Because everything Jesus has done, he has done on our behalf — that is the point of the incarnation, the reason God became man. The author of Hebrews explains it this way:
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted … For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15-16)Jesus’ victory over the devil in the wilderness was nailed home at the cross, where Jesus “disarmed the principalities and powers” (Colossians 2:15) and “destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:33-35, 37)The accuser could not make it stick against Jesus. He cannot make it stick against us. Jesus has more than conquered him — defeated him thoroughly and decisively — and in Jesus, we too are more than conquerors. There is now no condemnation or accusation — that matter has been settled. Jesus intercedes for us and through him we can approach the throne of God with the confidence of faith, not only to receive mercy but to find grace that will see us through any test.