The Temptation of Christ
About two years ago Kevin Osborn told me about an app that he really liked called “1 Second Everyday.” The idea is that you take a one second video clip from each day, or even several different clips within a day, which will document that period of time in short clips. So for example you could document a whole year of your life in 365 seconds. On a much smaller scale, you could chronicle a vacation. A seven-day vacation could be summarized in seven (or more) seconds. And so I used the app when we went to Disney in 2016. Obviously we don’t have every second of the trip documented, but the 41-second video is enough to bring back a flood of memories.
As we’re now three weeks into our study of the Gospel According to Mark, I’m sure you can already tell that compared to the other three gospels, Mark is a lot like the “1 Second Everyday” app. Mark moves fast. He’s not always concerned with the details of Matthew, Luke, and John. He’s more often concerned with action. As we read the temptation of Christ you can see that Mark is terse compared to Luke and especially Matthew.
Moving through different pericopes in Mark we always want to keep Mark’s purpose and structure in mind. Mark is writing to remind suffering Christians that Jesus of Nazareth is the King of the nations. Remember the analogy mentioned by Tim Keller: King’s Cross, that world-famous train station in London. The first half of Mark reveals to us that Jesus is the King. The book turns on Peter’s confession in chapter 8, and at that point the King heads toward the cross. Jesus is both the triumphant messiah and the suffering servant. He is the king who’s moving rapidly toward the cross. With that fresh reminder, let’s look at Mark’s rendition of the temptation of Christ.
The first emphasis that we notice in Mark’s version is the divinity of Christ and the activity of the supernatural. Unlike Matthew’s account, Mark is not emphasizing the ways in which Jesus was victorious in his temptation; merely that he was victorious. The emphasis is on the activity of the supernatural. The Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. The same Spirit that was a sign of peace, like a dove, two verses ago is now aggressively driving Christ out into the wilderness. The same Spirit that was a sign of anointing at Jesus’s baptism now leads him to the adversary. Satan was tempting Jesus in the wilderness. The Greek σατανᾶ is transliterated from the Aramaic word which means ‘adversary’ Jesus is also ministered to by the angels. The word for ministered is διηκόνουν, which is where we get the title “deacon.” The angels are basically being deacons to Jesus as he fasts and is tempted for 40 days.
We saw with his baptism that this Jesus of Nazareth is no ordinary man. The Holy Spirit descended on him and the Father declared his love for him. And now in his temptation we are shown that his ministry will be no ordinary ministry. This man is driven by the Holy Spirit. He has angels on his side and he’s warring against Satan. Who do the angels serve? The answer in the OT is YHWH. Mark is cluing us in here that this man is not merely the servant of the LORD, but he is YHWH himself.
Not only does Mark reveal to us that Jesus is the God of the OT, but he’s also revealing to us that Jesus is also the fulfillment of the biggest names in the OT. Jesus is the better Israel. He’s everything that Israel was called to be. Just as Israel (who is called the “son of God” in the Exodus account) is brought through the Red Sea and into the wilderness, now Jesus is brought through the waters of baptism and into the wilderness. Again, we want to always be training ourselves to read the Bible with the whole story in mind. Like he did at the beginning of chapter 1, Mark now uses the word “wilderness” twice in 2 verses. And not only is Jesus in the wilderness, but he’s in the wilderness for 40 days, as Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years.
What Mark is revealing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that is Israel. Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s entire story. Their history was providentially governed to prepare the world for the Son of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s scriptures. In Luke 24 Jesus himself declares that the OT is entirely about him. Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s identity. There’s a sense in which Jesus is more Israel than the nation itself.
The nation of Israel was elected by YHWH to be his light to the nations. They failed. They were called to keep God’s law and they failed. Jesus is true Israel. He is not only the light to the nations, but the king of the nations. He is the only man who ever perfectly kept God’s law. He is the final prophet, priest, and king. Every promise to and about Israel was kept and fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And where Israel failed, Jesus succeeds. Israel was tested in the wilderness. YHWH led them out of slavery and then tested them with the spies in Jericho and Israel failed. They were not ready to enter the Promised Land and that’s why they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and he succeeded. He is the true and better Israel.
But Jesus is not merely the better Israel; he is also the better Adam. Mark mentions that Jesus was in the wilderness with the wild animals and the angels. It was Adam who had fellowship with tame animals, but failed when Satan tempted him. This caused God to drive Adam from the garden and into the wilderness. God insured that Adam wouldn’t reenter Eden by placing a cherubim and flaming sword at the entrance of the garden.
Christ goes into the wilderness and instead of the peaceful relationship that Adam had with the animals, he’s with wild animals. It’s dangerous. This isn’t a peaceful desert retreat. Keller notes that when Christian persecution began in the 1st century, some Christians were fed to wild dogs as a form of martyrdom. Mark is encouraging the church that Jesus stands with them in their tribulation. He was with the wild animals.
Unlike Adam, Jesus wasn’t barred by the angels; he was served by the angels. He is like Adam in that he is a man. He is unlike Adam in that he is God. The angels stood against Adam because he failed. The angels stood with Jesus as he succeeded. Not only is he greater than John the Baptizer, he’s also greater than the angels and that’s why they’re serving him.
Mark’s point is that Jesus is the 2nd Adam. Jesus is the true and belter Adam. Adam was tempted by Satan and failed. Jesus was tempted by Satan and succeeded. This is why Jesus is the head of the new humanity. As all died in Adam because he sinned, so now all can live in Christ because he didn’t. Like Jesus’ baptism, his temptation is part of what we call his active obedience. Jesus never faltered in temptation; never sinned. This is why his death and resurrection have power. It’s not enough that Jesus died for people. If he were a sinner his death would’ve been ineffective. Jesus’ death was acceptable because his life was sinless.
And so the call of the gospel is to place your trust in the one who was tempted and victorious on your behalf. Know in your head that Jesus withstood the temptation of Satan. Believe in your heart that he was victorious in your place and that after actively obeying in his temptation, he passively obeyed by dying on the cross in the place of sinners. And that’s why God resurrected him from the dead. As the true Israel and the true Adam he was and is everything that God created us to be.
And after you know and you believe, may the works of your hands, in word and deed, follow the example of Jesus Christ. Let me simply give you a practical way that you can fight temptation and identify with Jesus in his. Before, during, and after any given temptation pray as Jesus instructed you in the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus told us to pray lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one. Don’t you dare let those words become trite religious sayings! Those words fell from the lips of the one who was led into temptation by the Holy Spirit of God and was tempted by the evil one. And he commanded us to pray in that way. Meditate on those words and trust the Spirit to faithfully protect and guide you.
Mark’s temptation narrative is a lot like that “1 second everyday” app. It doesn’t have the detail of Matthew and Luke, but these two verses flood us with a big picture of Jesus. He is God. He is true Israel. He is the 2nd Adam. Jesus is the one who was tempted by Satan and victorious. And you have to know that as Satan was tempting Christ in the wilderness he had those word from the garden rolling around in his head. He will bruise your head and you will bruise his heel. Jesus’ got a glimpse of his bruised heel in the wilderness, with the wild animals, the hunger, and the temptation. But Satan also got a taste of the bruised head when for the first time in human history a man was tempted as we are, yet without sin.