Sermon: Jesus’s Temptation | Mark 1:12–13
We're going to be talking about the temptation of Jesus from Mark 1:12–13. We can’t have a savior who might falter. If He’s the Second Adam, will He eventually sin like the first? What if He isn’t obedient to the Law His whole life? What if He isn’t obedient to the point of the cross? What if He decides not to save those the Father gives to Him? Even given all of that, how can He be a sympathetic High Priest if He’s never endured temptation? In order for Christ to launch His earthly ministry, He had to be tested and proved.
I. Jesus had to be tempted
II. Jesus had to be tempted worse than we are
III. Jesus had to be tempted and emerge victorious
I. Jesus had to be tempted
II. Jesus had to be tempted worse than we are
III. Jesus had to be tempted and emerge victorious
· As we read about Your temptation, we think of our own temptations.
· Help us to see how Your victory changes our own times of temptation.
This change in mood surprises us. After all, in the previous verses, we saw Jesus’s baptism and His affirmation from heaven. The Spirit rested on Him and the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Now, we have Jesus immediately, without delay, going into the wilderness to experience humiliation!
He didn’t have time to fellowship with John or to meet with John’s disciples. If He reflected on the exaltation of the Father and the anointing from above, it was in loneliness and hunger. Spiritual high-points are often followed by low-points—and your grasp of Scripture and preparation of faith in God will carry you through.
The temptation account is brief. Of the three gospels that record Christ’s temptation, Matthew, Luke, and Mark, this account is the shortest. Remember, though, what we’ve learned from the early church fathers—Mark was written as a kind of synopsis of Matthew and Luke. As such, Mark doesn’t need to repeat the same information. He instead gives fresh information in that there were wild animals with Jesus in the wilderness.
What is the point of this period of temptation? It’s essential because we can’t have a savior who might falter. If He’s the Second Adam, will He eventually sin like the first? What if He isn’t obedient to the Law His whole life? What if He isn’t obedient to the point of the cross? What if He decides not to save those the Father gives to Him? Even given all of that, how can He be a sympathetic High Priest if He’s never endured temptation? In order for Christ to launch His earthly ministry, He had to be tested and proved.
I want us to see three points from this passage along those lines. First, Jesus had to be tempted. Second, Jesus had to be tempted worse than we are. Third, Jesus had to be tempted and emerge victorious. We’ll also see how this applies to us as we go along, so let’s look at the first of those.
II. First, Jesus had to be tempted
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
Matthew and Luke talk about Jesus’s being led into the wilderness to be tempted. The word here is more potent—it’s same word used later when Jesus will “drive out” demons (Mk 1:34, 39). Since the Spirit is with Christ, it doesn’t carry a negative connotation (God also sends forth laborers into the harvest this way, Mt 9:38). The point is that the Holy Spirit knew this must take place, so He pushes our Savior out away from anyone else for this moment.
There’s some speculation over where the Spirit pushes Jesus. The “wilderness,” if you remember, is where John is baptizing. But this area is unpopulated and full of wild beasts. As such, it’s probably away from any trade routes or roads where people may still be coming to John. Since Satan tempts Jesus to turn a rock in bread, perhaps it is even away from normal food sources (though Jesus chose to fast, so this may not be the case).
There’s one traditional spot dating to the times of the Crusades. Ever since then, people go out there to try a fast themselves. Vincent says, “Tradition fixes it near Jericho, in the neighborhood of the Quarantania, the precipitous face of which is pierced with ancient cells and chapels, and a ruined church is on its topmost peak. Dr. Tristram says that every spring a few devout Abyssinian Christians are in the habit of coming and remaining here for forty days, to keep their Lent on the spot where they suppose that our Lord fasted and was tempted.”
Most of what I read, though, says that the spot is unknown. One commentary says that the “temptation occurred in the Transjordanian wilderness. But none of the traditional sites deserves to be taken seriously.” Where ever it was, this was the Lord’s temptation, not one we have to replicate.
In fact, it may well be that Jesus was replicating previous fasts. Moses fasted for forty days when he received the tablets of the Law (Dt 9:9)—obviously, a key point in biblical history. He did so again to intercede for the people after they had sinned and broke the Law (v. 18). Elijah also fasted for forty days on his way to Horeb (1 Kgs 19:8). So, it’s interesting that our Lord would follow suit, associating Himself with their priestly and prophetic ministries. MacArthur points out here that it was “those two same Old Testaments saints who later met with Jesus at His transfiguration (Matt. 17:3).”
This is why I said this isn’t a fast meant for us. There are certainly reasons to fast, but the Lord was establishing His own ministry here. It’s like saying we should also be crucified because He was (although, sadly, some people do that, as well). We may be baptized like He was because we are commanded to be baptized, but nowhere does the Lord command such a fast of New Testament believers.
He needed to be tempted, and that is the point here. This verb can refer to a tempting or a testing, a testing to fail or a testing to verify. Here, it’s a testing to sin, but this doesn’t mean that the devil only tempted our Lord during this period. In the parallel account in Luke 4:13, we read, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The Pharisees sought to “test” Him in this way (Mk 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Jn 8:6). We, too, face tempting from Satan (1 Cor 7:5; Gal 6:1; 1 The 3:5; Rv 2:10), but the point is what He had to endure from Satan.
He had to be tempted. This, by the way, destroys the fundamental belief of the Word-Faith heresy. After the glory of the previous verses, we see that the Holy Spirit sends Christ right into the wilderness to be tempted. The idea is that God wants us healthy and happy, and if you have enough faith, only good will come. As a sad example of this, I saw a picture from a church worship service that had changed the words of the song from its scriptural referent, “You give and take away” to the more positive “You give and make a way.” Well, right now, a lot has been taken away from Jesus for this moment of tempting.
Not only did He have to be tempted, but…
III. Second, Jesus had to be tempted worse than we are
13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals…
One of the key principles of Christ’s ministry as High Priest is that He understands our temptation. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” As His baptism was consecration for His priestly ministry, now He experiences a season of particularly harsh temptation, acquainting Him with some of the worst elements of the human experience.
Even so, He wasn’t tempted in the same degree as we are—He was tempted worse. We never experience temptation to the fullest degree because we give in at some point. It’s as though someone hands us a barbell, we decide the weight is too heavy, and drop it.
He carried the full weight of temptation the full time of His earthly sojourn without faltering. It’s even more than that. While Jesus was holding the barbell over His head, Satan added weight to it. Jesus not only endured temptation like we never do, He endured an amount we could never imagine.
What do I mean? Let’s turn to Matthew 4, a parallel account of the temptation. We read in vv. 1–2, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” My understanding is, after a few days without food, our bodies are designed to adjust to the lack of calories and nutrition and go into a kind of survival mode. Nearing the end of this fast, though, Jesus’s hunger would have returned in earnest. This isn’t a it’s-been-twelve-hours-kind-of-hunger, but a painful, life-or-death cry. Most of us have never known such critical hunger, but it’s humanly possible to endure.
What’s not humanly possible is what comes next. Verse 3, “And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” It’s at this point we realize that He will have to endure far more than we could imagine, because we don’t have such power. Our Lord, suffering as He is at this point, could speak bread into existence just as easily as He had created the world.
Yet, He places His trust in the Lord; “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ ” (v. 4). At each point of the temptation, even He trusts in the sufficiency of Scripture to get Him through times of temptation! If He came back to Scripture, how much more do you and I need to understand and trust in the Bible when Satan tempts us?
Look at how sly the devil is. Satan says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’ ” (v. 5). These are promises ultimately to the Messiah, but we can recognize here is a twisting of their intended meaning. As one commentator points out, Satan poisons the bread of God’s Holy Word. Even so, Jesus understands the Scripture well, and He replies with appropriate Scripture; “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
The name “Satan” is straight from the Hebrew, and it means “adversary.” Here, of course, it’s used of a literal, angelic being. We need to know that there is a lion on the prowl, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pt 5:8). We must recognize that he’ll come to us if we don’t know Scripture, and if we know it, he’ll distort it.
Well, the Second Adam is doing far better than the first Adam and Eve did when they were tempted—far better than any of us. Yet, this is only the beginning for the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, and perhaps Satan understands that. From a worldly perspective, Satan gives Jesus an easy way out—“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” ’ ” (vv. 8–10).
Jesus had to complete His mission. This won’t be the last time He’s tempted, and it is so much more than we could endure in His place. Up until the end! While He was on the cross in Mt 27:41, “the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.’ ”
He had to be tempted more than us. If He could not endure in the wilderness, He would not endure on the cross. But He did, which brings us to our final point.
IV. Third, Jesus had to be tempted and emerge victorious
… and the angels were ministering to him.
There’s a bit of debate as to what this means. Perhaps the angels were protecting Jesus throughout His time in the wilderness, ensuring the wild animals remained at bay. The word for “ministering” can mean to serve food, and Mt 4:11 seems to indicate that they came after Satan left. One thing is clear—Satan tried to trick Jesus into calling upon the angels for His own end, but the angels now come after He has successfully emerged from temptation. Jesus has overcome, and the angels bring Him what He needs like the ravens fed Elijah.
There’s a doctrine in theology called the impeccability of Christ. It’s not over the question of whether Jesus sinned, but whether He was able to sin. Jesus had two natures, a human and divine nature, unmixed and indivisible. So, while His human nature experienced temptation in the flesh, in His divine nature, He is God and therefore incapable of sin. While it is theoretically possible that Jesus could create a division in the Trinity by seeking His own will, the reality is that it could never happen. Only God in human flesh could endure such tremendous temptation and testing.
If He can be victorious over the temptations of the wilderness, then we know He can provide the hope and protection we need even in this present state. Let me read some comments I read this week:
I am inclined to see in the reference to the wild beasts a very specific point of contact with Mark’s Roman readers. Tacitus spoke of Nero’s savagery toward Christians in the sixties of the first century in these words: ‘they were covered with the hides of wild beasts and torn to pieces by dogs’ (Ann. 15.44). Given the ravaging of Christians by ferocious animals during Nero’s reign, it is not difficult to imagine Mark including the unusual phrase ‘with the wild beasts’ in order to remind his Roman readers that Christ, too, was thrown to wild beasts, and as the angels ministered to him, so, too, will they minister to Roman readers facing martyrdom.
This consideration leads us to some final thoughts.
V. Final Thoughts
Jesus remained faithful because of Who He is. He is God, the Light of the world, in Whom there is no shadow. He is holy, righteous, and completely without sin.
When we face temptation, we must remember this for two reasons. First, He is our righteousness, even when we don’t overcome temptation. We need Him to be our righteousness because we are unfaithful, we sin, and we compromise. The devil might tempt you to sin, but don’t believe him when he says God doesn’t love you anymore. Jesus is our righteousness in heaven, guarding us in Him until the day of glory.
Second, He shares that righteousness with us. We can begin to overcome sin in this life. God won’t let us be tempted in this way beyond our ability (1 Cor 10:13), and He knows our temptation and will help (Hb 2:18; 4:15). We’ll always face temptation on this side of the vale, but by God’s grace, we don’t have to give into sin. The same Jesus Who overcame sin on this earth shares His divine nature with us (2 Pt 1:3–4), so that we don’t need to walk powerless under the bondage of sin.
As Romans 6:11–13 says, “11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
So, while we’re thankfully not called to go into the wilderness for forty days of fasting, we learn an essential truth about temptation from our Lord—trust in what the Word of God reveals! At every temptation, He comes back to Scripture, not allowing Satan to twist it, and so should we. Know the Word well enough to recognize twisting so that you won’t be lead astray. Read and believe what the Bible says about Jesus covering our sins, and trust it when it says believers have access to His power to overcome temptation. It’s only then that we have a hope when the enemy of our souls comes knocking.
· Thank You for remaining faithful in the midst of tremendous temptation.
· Thank You for making You victorious Spirit available to us.
· May we walk in complete faith in Your Word, trusting You for our righteousness and our strength to overcome sin.
 Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 163.
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 56.
 John MacArthur, Mark 1–8. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 2015), 44.
 John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 218.
 James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002), 41–42.