Satan, Temptation, Spirit

OVERVIEW - The Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tested; he succeeded where Israel had failedMark 1:9-13

Desert - Photo by Dekeister Leopold on Unsplash
In the gospel of Mark, the first appearance of Jesus was at his baptism by John in the River Jordan. The passage identifies him with his hometown,
Nazareth, a small village in Galilee of no significance. However, its very insignificance plays an important role in the narrative - Jesus is the Messiah who does not fit any of the popular messianic expectations. - [Photo by Dekeister Leopold on Unsplash].

"In those days”; that is, at the time John was baptizing suppliants in the Jordan. Rather than recount the details of his baptism, the text stresses the events that came afterwards, including the opening of the heavens, the divine voice, the descent of the Spirit “like a dove,” and the temptation by Satan.

Israel failed its test during the forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. In contrast, Jesus overcame every temptation thrown at him by Satan during his forty days in the wilderness.
  • (Mark 1:9-13) - “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And straightway, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rending asunder and the Spirit as a dove descending to him. And a voice came out of the heavens: You are my Son, the Beloved. In you I delight. And straightway, the Spirit was urging him into the wilderness; and he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to him.”
John “saw the heavens being rent asunder” and the Spirit descending “like a dove” on Jesus. “Rent asunder” translates the Greek verb schizō, meaning “split, rip open, tear apart; to rend asunder” (Strong’s - #G4977). The same verb occurs only once more in Mark, after the death of Jesus, when the veil of the Temple “was rent” in two. The verbal link is deliberate:
  • (Mark 15:36-39) – “But Jesus, sending out a loud voice, ceased to breathe. And the veil of the Temple was rent into two from top to bottom. Now the centurion who was standing near, out over against him, seeing that thus he ceased to breathe, said: Truly, this man was God’s son!
The “rending of the heavens” meant the arrival of the Son of God was an event of cosmic significance. “Heaven,” the realm of God, was opened, and therefore, now accessible to humanity.

It was Jesus who saw the Spirit descend “like a dove” and heard the heavenly voice. That he saw the Spirit and heard the voice demonstrate this was an actual event, not a mystical or visionary experience.

The preposition applied to the descent of the Spirit stresses movement “into” or “onto” something (eis). Perhaps the Spirit entered Jesus at this point, although the verb and preposition more probably point to the Spirit coming to rest upon him.

The gospel account employs a simile - The descent of the Spirit was “like” that of a dove. It does not say the Spirit was a dove or was shaped like a dove; instead, its gentle descent was analogous to the flight of a dove.

Jesus heard the voice acknowledge him as “Son.” The voice of God is heard only one more time in Mark, when it makes a similar declaration. The heavenly voice combined words from two Old Testament passages:
  • (Psalm 2:7) - “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me, You are my Son, today, I have begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1) - “Behold, my servant whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
Both passages are messianic. By combining them, Mark defines the identity and mission of Jesus. He was God’s “Son” and the ‘Suffering Servant’ from the book of Isaiah. Unjust suffering would characterize his messianic calling and son-ship.

The descent of the Spirit signified the equipping of Jesus for his messianic role. The heavenly voice demonstrated divine approval for this mission, not just because of who he was, but, even more importantly, because of his submission to the baptism of John; his mission began with an act of obedience to God.

The Spirit “drove” him “out” into the wilderness. “Drive out” translates a strong Greek verb, ekballō, the same verb used elsewhere for Jesus “casting out” or “driving out” demons. The Spirit drove him relentlessly into the wilderness, a compulsion he could not ignore - (Mark 1:34-39).

He went into the wilderness “immediately” after the descent of the Spirit, and for the express purpose of facing temptation, something in accord with the plan of God. The only details provided by Mark are the length of the temptation (forty days), the tempter’s identity (Satan), that Jesus was with “wild animals,” and angels ministered to him. “Satan” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “adversary.”
A forty-day period is another echo from the story of Ancient Israel, the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai, and the forty-year sojourn of Israel in the wilderness. Israel failed its test in the wilderness. Jesus would succeed precisely where Israel failed, and most miserably.

The text does not explain the significance of the “wild beasts,” a feature not mentioned in the parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke. “Wild beasts” may allude to a passage from Isaiah. If so, the presence of the “beasts” would provide further confirmation that Jesus was the promised Messiah:
  • (Isaiah 43:19-20) – “Behold me! doing a new thing. Now will it spring forth, Will you not take note thereof? Surely, I will set in the desert a way, in a desolate land, rivers; the wild beast of the field will honor me. Jackals and ostriches, because I have given in the desert waters, rivers in desolate land, to give drink unto my people, my chosen ones.
The passage does not state whether Jesus overcame the Devil at this point, although it infers it, an example of the use of understatement in this gospel. ‘Mark’ expects us to draw the correct conclusion, Jesus overcame the Devil. However, his victory over the “strong man” would not become clear until his first encounter with demons in the land of Galilee - (Mark 1:23-28).


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