Since the Fall, humans have been inherently susceptible to the luring of Satan. Because our humanness is corrupted by original and natural (i.e., our sin nature) sin, we have a base of operations from within us which is inclined to listen to the lies of Satan and his false promises, and which is disinclined to believe God and the satisfying future He offers us by His grace. It is the way of humanity to listen to demonic counsel, believe it, and act accordingly in our thoughts, words, attitudes, and choices.
Naturally, if we are to be set free in position (our standing before God in His court) and practice (our actual behavior) from both sin and our susceptibility to it, we need external, divine help. Our human nature is too corrupted by sin to overcome the flesh in our own power, and God is thoroughly against us when we are outside of Christ because of His holiness, so all of His omnipotence is set athwart us in the service of His wrath. For our position to change, we need a representative and a substitute. For our practice to change, we need divine power, for only God’s power can overcome the flesh. But if God is against us in His wrath, how could He give us His power to be transformed? For that would be an act of grace and mercy to the undeserving! So even our transformation requires a perfect substitute outside of us.
In Mark 1:12-13, we see another aspect of that perfect substitution wrought for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, this time in His perfect resistance of temptation.
A. Jesus’ Mission Means He Submits to the Father’s Will (v. 12)
Recall that our Lord has just come from a zenith in His personal experience and in His ministry. The beginning of His public ministry as Messiah is His baptism, where He identifies with sinners and the Father voices His affirmation while the Holy Spirit anoints Him and fills Him without measure. He is anointed to work and rule as divine, Davidic king and the Father embraces and affirms the God-Man in His nature and position.
The same Holy Spirit with whom Jesus will baptize sinners (v.8), the same Holy Spirit who has rested fully upon and in His sinless humanity, is now impelling Him into the wilderness to further His identification with and substitution on behalf of sinners. He is inaugurated into His kingly position at His baptism, and He must go to the wilderness to complete His preparation for the next three years that will culminate in the cross. He must be a pure sinless offering, and that testing of His purification begins now.
Jesus instantly submits to the Spirit’s forceful leading. And He will submit again and again over the next three years. He did this for us, for we needed a perfect substitute with perfect righteousness that we might be welcomed by God. Jesus must be baptized to identify with sinners and fulfill all righteousness. He must be tempted and win—He must obey where we fail. That way, there can be grace for us when we sin, and power to obey.
Recall that Jesus lived from eternity past as Yahweh God, the eternal, omniscient, omnipotent Creator God. All riches, glory, and perfection was His by right. Yet He laid aside His manifest glory, the independent exercise of His divine attributes, became dependent on a human woman He created for life and breath, and limited Himself to His humanness so that He could be our perfect righteousness, received by faith alone. Praise God for such a wondrous Savior!
B. Jesus is Exposed to Temptation and Testing (v. 13a)
It is fitting our Lord went to the wilderness for this kind of work. For in the Old Testament, God brought Israel to the wilderness to form them into His people and give them His law-word. Indeed the wilderness is a place of testing in the Old Testament (Deut. 8:1-3). The Lord brought them there to reveal and to refine—and they failed. Further, Israel was God’s corporate son in that they were His creation and His loved people.
Jesus is the true Son of God (in His eternal divine nature, in His human incarnation fathered by God, and in His authoritative position) as well as the true Israelite (while He does not replace or supersede the nation Israel, Jesus is the True Israelite par excellence and represents the nation as its substitute and in what it is called to be by God). He, too, must go to the wilderness before His work can start., But unlike Israel, this Son and Israelite succeeds where they failed. He is tested and refined, and only perfect holiness comes out.
Israel, too, was to be God’s servant, representing Him and bringing Him to the Gentile nations. The true Servant comes where Israel failed. He will make a way for both Jews and Gentiles to serve Him and one day restore the nation Israel to a position in the plan of God.
Most notably, all of humanity once had a representative. In the Garden, all of humanity was in Adam because he was the extent of humanity. As such, what he did, humanity did. So when he was tested and failed, all of humanity received the propensity to sin and came under divine condemnation. It only needed to be actualized in the birth of the first sinners, Cain and Abel. The Second Adam—the new representative, the head of the new humanity—has come. Like the old Adam, all of humanity is in this One because He is the firstfruits of all who will be raised immortal (even OT saints will not be resurrected to glory apart from the Lord Jesus who is their Savior). As such what He does, the new humanity does. So when He faces temptation from Satan, He is representing us even as He is confirming His own divine identity.
For that is what was being tested. These temptations were not everyday temptations that we all experience. These actions were direct attacks by the Enemy on the identity of Jesus. For Satan knows that Jesus is God’s Son. But he wants to find out what kind of Son Jesus is. Will He be obedient, submissive to the authority of the Father in the power of the Spirit? Or will He fail and seek to circumvent the Father’s will? (The kingdoms of the world and supernatural power are Jesus’ birthright, of course. The point is whether Jesus will disobey the Father by taking these things for Himself apart from His will and timing, and if He will do so by swearing allegiance in unbelief to Satan, who is the god of this world.)
Only a sinless, faithful, divine, human Son could do all that is prophesied of Jesus in the OT. Jesus must be confirmed in His sinlessness to prove He is in fact the One whom God has sent. And Satan knows if Jesus is faithful to His mission and to His Father that his days are numbered. Jesus will take rule of the earth back from Satan and place the crown rightfully on His own head.
Nothing less than the glory of God and His eternal plan for the world are at stake in the lonely wilderness.
- Jesus is Triumphant Over God’s Enemies (v. 13b)
Because Jesus was and is sovereign eternal God, many believers think that His resistance of temptation (not just here but throughout His ministry) was the result of His deity. Some wonder how His temptations could be fair or real if He was God, since God cannot be tempted. But humans can be. And while Jesus had nothing in His humanness that was susceptible to temptation in a fallen sense (He had no sin nature), Satan could appeal to natural desires that Jesus had as a human. Further, Jesus did not resist temptation out of His personal deity but as a human in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why He has the Spirit without measure. He must do His work as a man filled with the Spirit, not as eternal God (though again, I stress He is the one eternal, sovereign God in flesh).
And it is as that perfect Spirit-filled man our Lord defeats every temptation of the Enemy. The plan of God is secure, His identity is confirmed to be who God and John have declared Him to be. Satan seeks to subvert God’s rule though His anointed Son and overthrow His plan of world redemption. But Jesus is victorious.
The wild beasts are of note. These are certainly literal animals. After all, the Judean wilderness was known as a haunt for dangerous, untamed animals full of teeth and venom and aggression. For Jesus to be there as a human being was no small task. But wild bests in the OT are often an image of demonic forces (Ezek. 34:5; Psa. 22:12—Bashan was a cultic site within the northern region of the territory of Dan and thus became associated in the OT with anything demonic, idolatrous, or supernaturally evil). To use wild beast imagery here, Mark is underscoring something more than jackals and mountain lions are at work.
But just as fallen angels are here helping Satan, so also there are elect, holy angels helping the incarnate God. “Ministering” is in the imperfect tense, implying the angels were serving Him and strengthening Him throughout the forty days. Isn’t it wonderful to know that as a human Jesus could benefit from angelic aid! Doubtless they were used by the Father to encourage him and remind Him of who He was and what He had left heaven to do.
After the forty days of temptation and testing, Jesus emerges. He is full of the Spirit’s power and the Word of God, and knows the weight of the Father’s blessing and approbation. He faces the next three years with fresh faith and renewed vigor, knowing the outcome is as secure as ever.
And what are this confirmed sinless Savior-King’s next recorded words?
“The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The King has come. He has won the right to rule and to proclaim His present and future kingdom. But He has also won the right to be our righteousness. For His has squared off with Satan attacking the very root and essence of His identity and mission, and He walks away perfectly unscathed. Do you see why Jesus, and Jesus alone, must be your righteousness before a holy God? Do you see why you have no hope of saving yourself? Jesus alone is your Savior before a holy God. All you can do is look to Him in faith and surrender, placing your trust in what He has already accomplished in your place long before you were born.
And Christian, your transformation and perseverance unto final salvation is rooted only in the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus received by faith alone. For only on that basis can God show transforming power to a sinner! Look to Christ each day for your perfect righteousness, and for your power to follow Him as Lord. Only then can the full glory of what He accomplished over those forty days be truly exalted!