Mark 1:12-15

Jesus turning away from temptations of bread, worldly kingdom, and pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple.

 "Jesus turning away from temptations of bread, worldly kingdom, and pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


The Gospel reading for Lent I is always the temptation of Jesus. The parallels to Mark 1:12-13 are Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. See the author's Notes on these parallels in Series A and C for Lent I. The Notes on Mark l:12-15 do not repeat what is said there. The Gospel of John records neither Jesus' Baptism nor His Temptation. But both are found in the Synoptics. Matthew treats the Temptation in 11 verses, Luke in 13 verses, Mark in only 2.

The longer the author of these Notes studies the Gospels, the more he becomes convinced that the two-source hypothesis (Mark and Q), as the basis of the composition of Matthew and Luke, is false. The Gospels were very likely written in the order in which they stand in the manuscripts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) quite independently of each other. A quote from Lenski is in place:

The idea that Mark presents the original tradition, out of which the longer accounts of Matthew and Luke were elaborated, is cancelled by the other idea of the critics that Mark is the one who brings the detailed touches which Matthew especially is thought to lack. In this narrative the reverse holds true. The fact is that, even while heavily abbreviating, Mark adds touches that neither Matthew nor Luke has. What he wrote so briefly is plainly an independent product.

Furthermore, how did Matthew, Mark, and Luke know about this Temptation? Only Matthew of the three, was a disciple of Jesus. It is commonly accepted that Mark wrote upon information received from Peter. Did Jesus tell the disciples about the Temptation? There is no record of that. And, it is obvious that they were not there. The critics resort to a nebulous "tradition" idea. But whence the tradition? The only sensible and Scriptural answer is that the Holy Spirit gave this information to these individual writers. See John 16:13.14.

The reading for today includes verses 14-15. Note the "for" in the Nestle/Aland Greek text between verses 13 and 14. The entire early Judean ministry of Jesus, not recorded by the Synoptics, lies between these verses, of about a year's duration. The exposition of verses 14-15 has already been covered in the Notes for the reading for  Epiphany 3 Gospel Series B. Very likely these verses are included with this reading because Lent is a season of repentance, beginning with Ash Wednesday. We shall comment briefly on these verses after the exposition of verses 12- 13.

The Temptation of Jesus reminds one immediately of Genesis 3:15 and Luke 10:18. The first thing that God spoke in the presence of Adam and Eve, naked in body and convicted of sin in the conscience, was spoken to Satan. First He told Satan that the serpent, cursed, would henceforth crawl on his belly. And then He personally told Satan that the Seed of the woman would crush his (Satan's) head. Victory was announced then and there. In Luke 10:18 Jesus told the seventy that He saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven, completely conquered. Commentators differ among themselves as to the exact point of time meant. It is beyond our comprehension. But, from Jesus' point of view, victory was already assured.

The evolutionist denies Scripture from Genesis 1:1 on. Those who deny the existence of the devil and the person and work of Jesus, begin their denial at Genesis 3:15. There isn't much difference between the two denials.

Mark 1:12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert,

"At once," immediately after Jesus' baptism. Jesus and the Baptist didn't stand around chatting needlessly. They did speak important words to each other before the baptism.

The Holy Spirit, Who had anointed Jesus for His work, is the subject of this sentence.  "Sent" from "drive," a stronger verb than used by Matthew and Luke, doesn't mean that Jesus went against His own will. On this point read Hebrews 10:5-10 and John 10:17-18. One of our Lenten hymns begins. "A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth." 

The Father was not tempted, nor the Holy Spirit. Only the incarnate Son was tempted. Now read John 4:34. Hebrews 10:9-10 brings out that truth. In verse 9 it's the will of the Father. In verse 10 it's the will of the incarnate Christ. These wills are absolutely consonant.

Lenski: The idea is not that Jesus was forced against His will, or that he was reluctant to go and thus had to be driven. The intention is rather the opposite. The strong urge of the Spirit met the consent of Jesus. He did not go into this temptation against his will. But more is brought out by the verbs which the evangelists use: Jesus did not throw himself into this temptation of his own accord, when, in human judgment, at the beginning of his ministry he might have been wise to avoid such a decisive conflict. We often rashly put ourselves into temptation. Jesus was brought into his by his Father's own Spirit.

Commentators are exercised over the fact that Jesus was already in the wilderness. That is mentioned about the Baptist in verse 3, where it literally means "in the wilderness." But Mark has not mentioned that specifically in verses 9-11, the baptism of Jesus. Furthermore, Mark is stressing the fact that the Spirit drove Jesus into an area which was uninhabited. The meaning is an area which was desolate and uninhabited by people. That's all.

Mark 1:13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

This verse involves us in three separate thoughts. The subject of the first two clauses is Jesus. Luke 4:2 makes very clear that the temptation lasted forty days. "Satan," "THE Adversary," an Old Testament expression, which means "the one who lies in ambush for." The devil did not entrust this job to one of His underlings. He did it himself.

"With wild animals." This clause has evoked much discussion. There are three interpretations:

  1. One view is that here we have a touch of Paradise, that Jesus walked among the wild animals as did Adam in Paradise. On this Hendriksen remarks: "The idea that the animals gathered about Jesus as a friend runs contrary to the context which stresses the difficult and terrible conditions surrounding the Lord." Some extend this idea in that they say that here Jesus is restoring the sin-cursed creation to its pristine innocence. But all the passages which deal with the state of Jesus ' humiliation militate against such a thought.

  2. A second view is that espoused by Lenski: "These wild animals prowled around Jesus, more or less endangering him. And Mark throws these dangerous animals into contrast with the blessed angels who finally ministered unto him." 

  3. A third view is espoused by Ylvisaker and Fahling. The former says: "Mark says that Jesus was with the wild beasts in the desert. This would emphasize the circumstance that Jesus was separated from His fellow men at the time of His temptation. No human being should, nor could, help Him." And Fahling: "The wild beasts are not mentioned to hint at the danger in which our Savior was, but rather to indicate the uninhabited nature of that region." 

It is surprising to find that even Bengel espoused the first view:

Jesus even now, at the very height of His humiliation, exercised over the beasts the dominion which Adam had so soon suffered himself to lose; how much more so, when exalted, Psalm 8:8 etc.

These  Notes  consider view #3 the correct one.

Here we must add some observations on the Temptation of Jesus. There are those who say that if victory for Jesus was already promised (Genesis 3:15; Luke 10:18) and assured to Him, then the Temptation of Jesus on this occasion was a mere sham, a mere going through motions, needless motions.

If that were true, parallel examples would be true too. For example: At Mark 8:31 Jesus told His disciples that it was necessary that the Son of man suffer, be rejected, be killed, but would rise again on the third day. Was that death a sham death, going through needless motions? Perish the thought! According to that view all of Isaiah 53 would be a sham. Genesis 3:15 and the promise at Psalm 16:10-11 would become sham promises.

Lenski makes some pertinent observations at this point:

The Son could be tempted, because he became man. . . He alone (of the three persons of the Trinity), by his human nature, was made dependent on His Father. . . Temptation was possible for Jesus only from the side of his human nature. . . The greatness of the strength tested changes nothing about the reality of the test to which it is subjected. The strain applied is just as real when the strength endures it, as when the strength is too weak to endure it. Jesus as the Stronger stood unmoved under all the force that Satan, the strong one, could bring to bear against him. . . The test or temptation was real in every way and no illusion. . . When the test was made, the outcome was not in doubt for a single moment. Yet the agony and the death was real, though Jesus bore them triumphantly.

Well said. Lenski does not mean, of course, that the divine nature of Jesus was not operative in His Temptation. Just as we say that in the case of Jesus, the God-man, God truly died for us, so we also say that in the case of Jesus, the God-man, God was truly tempted for us. But He truly endured all that we justly deserved and all the forces of hell which are against us. He endured victoriously. We are more than conquerors through Him (the God-man) Who loved us. Romans 8:37.

The Temptation of Jesus is a great comfort for us. He was tempted vicariously for all men, though He was sinless. Read Hebrews 2:14-18 and 4:14.15. He was tempted IN ALL THINGS JUST AS WE ARE TEMPTED but He was without sin. What a comfort!

Furthermore, Satan tempted Jesus during His entire earthly life. For example, when the people wanted to make Him an earthly king (John 6:15), He dismissed the disciples and the people and went to the mountain alone to pray. And when Peter objected to His suffering and dying, Jesus turned on Peter, telling him that, as Satan's agent, Peter was presenting a trap for Jesus. Satan worked through Jesus' enemies and Jesus plainly told them so at John 8:44, where He described Satan as a murderer and liar. So thoroughly wicked and vicious is Satan that he thought He could conquer God Himself and he used and still uses people to try to accomplish this.

The final clause of Mark 1:13 reads "and the angels were serving Him (Jesus)." This implies that Jesus conquered Satan when He was tempted. These angels were not sent to help Jesus in His temptation. Matthew 26:53-56 rules that idea out. Jesus could have asked the Father for the help of legions of angels. But He did not. He was tempted and suffered alone, all alone, in our stead. Matthew 4:11 makes it very clear that only after Satan had left did the angels come and serve Him. And, because of what Jesus did for us, Hebrews 1:14 is a wonderful comfort. He sends His angels to serve us. Our struggle in this life is not with people. It's with Satan and all his hellish forces. On this point read Ephesians 6:10-17.

The Word of God is the sole instrument which we must use in our constant fight with Satan. That's what Jesus used in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. People cannot win in their struggle with their own flesh and Satan unless they hear the Word of God and keep it.

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15  "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" 

As noted above, verses 14-15 have already been covered in the  Notes  for The Gospel for Epiphany III. Therefore, they are not treated here. But several observations are made here.

There is a sense in which the Temptation of Jesus and also His suffering and death is the preaching of Law. They show us how dearly it cost the Son of God to redeem us from sin, death and the devil. He came not to be served but to serve, to give His life as a ransom for many, which means all. The sinless Son of God took my place when He was actually and severely tempted by Satan for forty days. The sinless Son of God took my place when He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The sinless Son of God took my place when He laid down His life and took it again. If it cost Him that dearly I must confess my sins. But I must also believe the Gospel. "If ever we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 53-56. Used with permission.

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