After presenting the preaching of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus by John, Mark gives a brief summary of the fasting, temptation, and victory of Jesus over Satan. Since Mark is fast paced in his approach, this two verse presentation communicates the successful preparation Jesus had in the wilderness like Moses who also spent 40 days on Mount Sinai in the desert. We are also in the world with tests and temptations as we move ahead to share in the victory of Jesus.
(12) At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, (13) and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
(12) At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert
The Greek word used for at once or immediately is the adverb “euthus.” This word is used 40 times in the Gospel of Mark out of 59 times of its use in the New Testament. There are several assumptions for its frequent use in Mark.
the Spirit drove him out
When John baptized Jesus with water, he also received the Holy Spirit. Jesus then started his ministry along with the Holy Spirit and in contact with his Father. So we cannot separate Jesus from the other two persons of the Most Holy Trinity. It was the Holy Spirit that drove Jesus to the desert for his test. Hence, the fasting, test and victory was part of the divine plan. As a humble servant, Jesus was promptly submitting himself to the Holy Spirit that came upon him.
into the desert
Desert is in contrast with the garden of Eden where the first parents were tested. In Eden, Adam and Eve were companions; whereas, Jesus was alone in the desert. Test or temptation can happen in good place or bad place, in comfort with all supplies or in poverty, when in companionship or when alone. Satan has access to both type of occasions. Israelites failed to be faithful to God when they were 40 years in the wilderness and when they were in the land of Canaan that was highly fertile.
(13) and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
he remained in the desert
Desert has been considered as an ideal place for fasting, prayer, and to be in communion with God. It provided silence, seclusion, non-proximity to material goods, and concentration for prayer. Moses, Prophet Elijah, the Essenes community, John the Baptist, and many early fathers of the church selected desert as perfect place for communion with God. The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the desert for fasting, prayer and to be in communion with his Father so that he could gain strength for his public ministry.
for forty days
According to Biblical numerology 40 stands for preparation, purification, or test and is mentioned 146 times in the Bible. Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days on two occasions for receiving the laws from God. (Exodus 24:18, 34:1-28). During the same period of 40 days, Israel was tempted to fall into idolatry and they made a golden calf and sinned. (Exodus 32:1-6). Life of Moses was divided into three sections of 40 years: 40 years in Egypt under Pharaoh, 40 years in Midian, and 40 years in the wilderness. Israel was in the desert wandering for 40 years. Moses, while in the wilderness, sent 12 spies for 40 days to investigate Canaan. (Numbers 13:25, 14:34). Nineveh was given 40 days for repentance. Prophet Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah’s sins (Ezekiel 4:6). Elijah was without food or water 40 days at Mount Horeb. Jesus was in the desert with fasting and spiritual preparation for 40 days. Jesus spent 40 days after his resurrection from his death to ascension. Jerusalem was destroyed after 40 years from the crucifixion of Jesus. Others came to know of it only from the witnessing of John.
tempted by Satan
A test comes from God and temptation from Satan and not vice versa. God would never tempt a person to do evil. Whereas, the purpose of Satan is to lead us to sin against God. When God allows a person to be tested, the devil might take over as in the case of the story of Job. The Spirit led Jesus to the desert for testing his integrity as a human person. The devil took over as the tempter. Test is a challenging situation where we make a choice between acceptance or rejection of our loyalty to God. Satan might even manipulate the Word of God, to make us sin against the Divine as he did to Eve and to Jesus. Our response is significant. Adam and Eve failed where Jesus succeeded.
The Greek word for “to be tempted” (peirazein) means to assess like we test-drive a car before we buy or interview a person before an appointment. A Biblical example is Abraham who was tested before God made covenant with him as the father of all nations (Genesis 22:1). God also tested Israel for 40 years before their entry into the promised land: “Remember how for these forty years the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the wilderness, so as to test you by affliction, to know what was in your heart: to keep his commandments, or not.” (Deut. 8:2). The intention was not to lead them to sin but to prove their commitment to God and to empower them to resist future temptations in their religious journey. The first parents failed in their test and later tests were for people selected to recompense that failure.
Mark does not specify how many temptations Jesus had and when did they happen. He summarizes the temptations by saying, “he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” However, Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-14) specify that there were three temptations towards the end of the 40 days of fasting. They were:
1. To make bread out of stones to relieve his extreme hunger.
2. To jump from the pinnacle of the Temple and rely on angels to protect him.
3. To kneel before Satan and worship him to gain all the kingdoms of the world.
He was among wild beasts
Matthew and Luke does not mention the presence of the wild beasts where Jesus fasted. According to scholars, there could be panther, bear, wolf, hyena, lions, and serpents in the Judean desert. Their presence is indicative of danger and horror of the desert, the presence of demons, and the isolation of Jesus from the humans. However, none of the wild beasts hurt Jesus and he was not afraid of them.
the angels ministered to him
The Greek word “minister” is often associated with physical food (cf. Matt. 8:15; 25:44; 27:55; Acts 2:6). This recalls 1 Kings 19:6-7, where God miraculously provided food for Elijah. God’s angels had been waiting for the test to be over to minister to the unique Son of God. Once we overcome test or temptation, God will provide what we need as it happened in the case of Abraham, Job, and Israelites.