Mark 1:13 Commentary | Wilderness Test, Spiritual Contest

Mark Commentary

Mark 1:13 Text & Translation

καὶ ἦν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τεσσεράκοντα ἡμέρας πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ Σατανᾶ, καὶ ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.1

And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan, and He was with the wild animals and the angels were serving Him. (Mk 1:13, AT)

Forty Days

Forty days could just be an expression for a “long but limited period” (cf. 1 Sam 17:16; Ac 1:3;2 cf. Num 13:25; Jon 3:4).3

It rained for forty days during the Flood (Gen 7:4),4 the Israelite spies scouted the Promised Land for forty days (Num 13:25), Goliath challenged the Israelites for forty days (1 Sam 17:16), Jesus appeared to His disciples for forty days after the Resurrection (Ac 1:3)…5

In Scripture, forty is a very common number that can often just refer to an interval of time that’s a little over a month.

That being said, forty may have some deeper significance — especially since, as we have seen, there is a special emphasis in this prologue of Mark on the wilderness (cf. Mk 1:3, 4, 12, 13).

The wilderness is the place of the prophetic promisefulfilled by John the Baptist (cf. Mk 1:3-4; Is 40:3-5). It is also the place of Israel’s testing (cf. Dt 8:2).

Furthermore, Moses (Ex 3:1-2; 15:22) and Elijah (1 Ki 19:3-4) both spent time in the wilderness. And they both had special forty day periods associated with Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb cf. 1 Ki 8:9; 2 Ch 5:10; Ps 106:19; Mal 4:4).6

For example, in Exodus we read that:

28 Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments. (Ex 34:28, NIV7 cf. Ex 24:28;8 Dt 9:9)9

Also, in 1 Kings we read:

8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he [Elijah] traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Ki 19:8, NIV).10

And, as we have stated previously, Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years.11 (cf. Dt 8:2;12 Dt 2:7; Ps 95:10)13

34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you (Num 14:34, NIV)14

Israel was called God’s son (Ex 4:22; Hos 11:1). Like Israel, Jesus — the one-of-a-kind Son of God — faces trials in the wilderness.

Later, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah will all meet up at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Mk 9:2, 4).

The Temptations

Interestingly, the baptism and anointing did not lead to celebration, but temptation.15

Tempt (πειράζω | peirazō) can mean to “entice to improper behavior”16 (cf. Heb 2:18, 4:15).17

For example, in Hebrews, about Jesus it is written:

17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted [peirazō], he is able to help those who are being tempted [peirazō]. (Heb 2:17-18, NIV)/18

and

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted [peirazō] in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Heb 4:15, NIV).19

However, this word can also mean to “try”,20 “test, put on trial”.21

For example, later Mark, we find that:

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test [peirazō] him, they asked him for a sign from heaven (Mk 8:11, NIV; cf. Mk 10:2, 12:15).22

(The) Satan

Satan intends to tempt Jesus in the first sense23 — to try to entice Him to sin.

Satan (Σατανᾶς | Satanas) is the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic satana’ .24 In the Old Testament, שָׂטָן (śāṭān) literally means “adversary”25 or “accuser”26 or “opponent” (cf. 1 Ch 21:1; Job 1:6-12, 2:1-7; Zec 3:1-2).27

In the Old Testament, this word does not always refer to (the) Satan; sometimes it refers to human adversaries. For example:

14 Then the LORD raised up against Solomon an adversary [śāṭān], Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom (1 Ki 11:14, NIV cf. 1 Ki 5:4, 11:23, 25).

Eventually, however, Satan became the proper name associated with the chief divine adversary28 — to whom all other demons were subordinate.29

So, in the New Testament, Satan refers to the devil (διάβολος | diabolos)30 (cf. Mt 4:1; Lk 4:2). Mark only uses the term Satan (cf. Mk 4:15),31 and Jesus notably assigns the name to Peter (Mk 8:33).32

Tempting vs. Testing

Jesus faced physical and spiritual adversity33 right after His baptism. This may have been encouraging for Mark’s readers who may have been facing persecution in Rome (if Mark is writing in the 60’s AD). 34

God may test His people (cf. Jn 6:6, Heb 11:17)35 As we have already mentioned, Israel was tested in the wilderness (cf. Num 14:34). In Deuteronomy, it reads:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test  you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (Dt 8:2, NIV).36

Before Jesus feeds the five thousand in John, we read that:

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test [peirazō] him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. (Jn 6:5-6, NIV).37

And we should test people to examine their sincerity — even ourselves! As Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor 13:5, NIV).38

As Jesus tells the church of Ephesus in Revelation:

2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested [peirazō] those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false (Rev 2:2, NIV).39

I say all that to say, there is a difference between tempting and testing. Satan tempts us; God tests us. The intent differs40 (cf. Gen 3:1-7 vs. Dt 8:2).41

Thanks be to God, we can pray that we will not be led into temptation (Mt 6:13),42 and we know that:

13 No temptation [πειρασμός | peirasmos] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted [peirazō] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted [πειρασμός | peirasmos], he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Cor 10:13)43

Good, Beastly Company?

Mark is the only gospel writer to mention the wild animals.44 Safety among wild beasts often demonstrated the protection of God.45

For example, in Daniel, he says:

22 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.” (Dn 6:22, NIV; cf. Eze 34:25).46

Some say this is an allusion to Adam in the Garden of Eden.47

In Genesis 2, it says:

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Gen 2:19, NIV).48

Thus, some believe this to be a picture of Jesus living in harmony among the wild animals — like Adam.

Others point to the great prophecies of Isaiah that speak of God’s new creation. For example:

17 “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD. (Is 65:17-25, NIV)49

In addition, especially since Isaiah 11 speaks of the messianic, royal descendant of David having the Holy Spirit resting on Him (Is 11:1-2), and since that prophecy was just fulfilled when the Spirit descended into Him after His baptism (Mk 1:9-11), many point to another prophecy of Isaiah 11, which speaks of the harmonious reign of the Messiah (i.e., the Christ, the “Anointed One”):

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. (Is 11:6-8, NIV)50 cf. Job 5:22-23;51 cf. Hos 2:18)52

Therefore, since the Messiah, the Son of God has come (cf. Mk 1:1), it is possible that he has started to bring about this reign of peace and harmony with the wild animals in the wilderness.

Bad, Beastly Company?

That being said, the mention of the wild animals (θηρίον | thērion) likely does not mean that this was a paradise-like experience.53

In Scripture, wild animals are often bad news (cf. Is 13:21, Ps 91:11-13; Job 5:22f54 (cf. Lev 26:21-22; Ps 22:12-21; Eze 34:8; Dan 7:1-8;55 cf. Num 21:6; Dt 8:15)56 – they are probably hostile.57

In Ezekiel 34, when the LORD condemns the bad shepherds (i.e., leaders) of Israel for not caring for His sheep. The Good Shepherd says:

5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals [thērion]. (Eze 34:5, NIV)58

Some say wild animals are mentioned because, at the time of Mark’s writing, Christians were actually being persecuted in Rome under the Emperor Nero in the 60’s AD — and were being torn apart by wild animals.59

Moreover, the presence of both wild animals and angels likely alludes to Psalm 91:

9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, 10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. (Ps 91:9-13, NIV)60

The Matthew and Luke accounts of Jesus’ temptation allude to this Scripture more explicitly since Satan quotes it (cf. Mt 4:5-6; Lk 4:10-11)61out of context!

As pointed out in a previous study on Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation (Lk 4:1-13), it reads:

9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Lk 4:9-11, NIV)

Good, Godly Company

Furthermore, this scene likely alludes somewhat to Elijah’s wilderness experience, in which he was attended to by an angel of the LORD:

3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. (1 Ki 19:3-8, NIV)62

The word translated serve (διακονέω | diakoneō) means “to… minister, help”63 and here likely refers to “providing care”.64

Originally this described waiting on someone at a table. Later, it referred to any kind of service in general.65

We can see this earlier meaning reflected in Acts 6:

1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on [diakoneō] tables. (Ac 6:1-2, NIV cf. Lk 12:37, 17:8)66

Mark does not mention fasting like Matthew (Mt 4:2) and Luke (Lk 4:2). Yet, here the angels’ service likely entails providing food.67

Also since the verb is in the imperfect tense, this suggests that the angels ministered to him throughout the forty days.68

This likely confirms that Jesus was not in a sort of paradise with the wild animals. If He was in a paradise, He would not need to be attended to!69

All in all, Marks paints a picture of Satan and wild animals on one side, with Jesus and the angels on the other.70

As it’s been said:

“Mark’s point is to emphasize that the struggle Jesus is engaged in is a spiritual one. Jesus’ initial conflicts with Satan ([Mk 1:12]) and demons lay the framework for all that follows. Jesus is not here to conquer the Roman legions, but to take on the powers of evil, sin, and death.”71

As we mentioned previously, we are not told of a decisive victory over Satan. This is Round 1, so to speak.72

The spiritual battle will continue throughout Mark73 – and, in a way,  it continues even today (cf. Eph 6:12)!

Nonetheless, as we see here, Jesus, the Stronger One (cf. Mk 1:7-8) is stronger than Satan!74

Conclusion

Jesus is tempted in the wilderness (a place of both promise and testing in the Old Testament) by Satan for forty days (a number that recalls important moments in the ministry of Moses and Elijah).

Satan and the wild animals are on one side, while Jesus and His attending angels are on the other. This spiritual battle will continue through Mark.

Thanks be to God, Jesus endured temptation that He can empathize with (Heb 4:15) and help us (Heb 2:18) in our temptations. And God will never let us be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13).

For more commentary on Mark, please visit the Book Study Overview page. For the sources cited, please see the bibliography.

Sources

  1. Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014), Mk 1:13.
  2. Schnabel, 47
  3. France, 85 cf. Judg 13:1; Ac 7:23,30)
  4. Schnabel, 47; Guelich, 38; France, 85; cf. Gen 7:12; Stein, 63
  5. Schnabel, 47; Brooks, 44; France, 85
  6. “The mountain is also called Horeb, mostly in Deuteronomy (see also 1 Kgs 8:9; 19:8; 2 Chr 5:10; Ps 106:19; Mal 4:4).”

    Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Sinai, Sina,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1969.

  7. English, 44; Bock, 408; Edwards, 40; Guelich, 38; Lane, 60; Stein, 63
  8. Brooks, 44
  9. France, 85
  10. English, 44; Bock, 408; Brooks, 44; Edwards, 40; Guelich, 38; Lane, 60; France, 85; Stein, 63
  11. English, 44
  12. Edwards, 40
  13. Stein, 63
  14. Bock, 409; Straus, 74
  15. Edwards, 39. Cf. “Mark’s presentation of Jesus’ baptism and temptation does not offer any encouragement to advocates of a ‘me-first’ Christianity. Marks draws too strong a connection between the baptism of the Spirit and the confrontation with evil for anyone to be glib about having the Holy Spirit.” Kernaghan, 40-41
  16. BDAG, 793
  17. Stein 64
  18. Stein, 64
  19. Stein, 64
  20. EDNT, 64)
  21. NIDNTTE, 694 cf. Witherington, 80; Brooks, 44; France, 85; Strauss, 73
  22. UBS, 33; Stein, 64
  23. Stein, 64
  24. UBS, 33
  25. UBS, 33 cf. BDAG, 916; Bock, 408; Brooks, 44; Edwards, 40; Stein, 64; Strauss, 74
  26. UBS, 33
  27. Strauss, 74
  28. Schnabel, 47; Stein, 64
  29. “As God’s adversary, Satan endeavors to subvert God’s reign as it is manifested through his beloved Son. In Mark, Jesus’ first miracle ([Mk 1:21–28]) and parable ([Mk 3:27]) are offensives against Satan as “the strong one.” The summary capsule of 1 John that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” ([1 Jn 3:8]) is equally descriptive of Mark’s Gospel.”Edwards, 40.
  30. UBS, 33
  31. NIDNTTE, 266; Edwards, 40; Stein, 64; Strauss, 74
  32. France, 84
  33. Witherington, 75
  34. Cole, 109. Though some reasonably argue that Christ’s death and Resurrection would have served to be more encouraging to persecuted Christians: Stein, 65
  35. Stein, 64)
  36. Edwards, 40; Guelich, 38; France, 85
  37. Stein, 64
  38. Stein, 64
  39. Stein, 64
  40. Witherington, 80
  41. Guelich, 38
  42. Witherington, 80
  43. Stein, 64
  44. English, 44; Brooks, 44; Lane, 60; Guelich, 38
  45. Keener, 130
  46. Keener, 130; Cole, 109
  47. Kernaghan, 40; Garland, 50; Lane, 61; cf. Rom 5:12-21; Lk 3:38; 1 Cor 15:22, 45-49; Guelich, 39; Strauss, 74; contra Stein, 64
  48. Garland, 50; Edwards, 40; cf. Gen 1:28; Schnabel, 47; cf. Is 65:17-25; Guelich, 39; France, 86
  49. Guelich, 39 cf. Schnabel, 47
  50. English, 44; Kernaghan, 41; Bock, 408; Garland, 50; Guelich, 37; France, 86; Stein, 63
  51. Edwards, 40
  52. Schnabel, 47
  53. EDNT, 148-149; Witherington, 75; Garland, 50; Brooks, 44; Lane, 61; Edwards, 41;Stein, 63; contra Guelich 38, 39
  54. UBS, 33-34 cf. Bock, 408; Brooks, 44; Guelich, 38; Stein, 63
  55. Garland, 50
  56. France, 86
  57. Edwards, 41; France, 86. Cf. “Significantly, when the wilderness is transformed into a paradise no ravenous beast will be in it (Isa. 35:9; Ezek. 34:23–28).” Lane, 61.
  58. Bock, 408
  59. Kernaghan, 40; Edwards, 41
  60. Witherington, 76; Bock, 408; Garland, 50; Guelich, 39; France, 86; Strauss, 74
  61. Witherington, 76; Strauss, 74
  62. UBS, 34; Witherington, 81; Bock, 408; Schnabel, 47; Lane, 61; Guelich, 39; Stein, 65
  63. NIDNTTE, 701
  64. EDNT, 302
  65. UBS, 34 cf. Lk 12:37, 17:8, Ac 6:2; Stein, 65
  66. Stein, 65
  67. UBS, 34; Schnabel, 47; cf. Mt 4:11; France, 88; Stein, 65.
  68. Guelich, 39; cf. Mt 4:11; Edwards, 42
  69. Edwards, 41
  70. France, 83, 86
  71. Strauss, 74
  72. “Mark also may frustrate us in telling nothing about Jesus’ victory over Satan in the desert. He simply reports that Jesus is among the beasts and that angels come and attend to him. Jesus does not order Satan to leave, and the devil does not run off, tail between his legs. This could signify that the desert sojourn is only the first round in Jesus’ struggle with evil. The battle is not over; the decisive victory is yet to come. The confrontation with the foremost of the demonic forces will therefore extend throughout his ministry. At the same time, however, Satan never reappears in the story, and Mark probably intends to depict a decisive defeat of evil.” Garland, 54.
  73. Strauss, 74
  74. Stein, 66
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