Pastor David B. Curtis


The Temptation of Christ

Mark 1:12-13

Delivered 10/16/2005

Last week we looked at the baptism of Jesus. Today we will look at His temptation. Mark said that when Jesus came, he came in this two-fold way: Verse 9-13 records the baptism and temptation of Jesus. Jesus came, He was baptized, and He was tempted, says Mark. Mark puts the latter two in the passive voice, i.e., they were done to Jesus. This indicates, therefore, something in the way of preparation for His ministry. Two things were necessary before He began: He needed to be baptized and to be tempted.

Like so many things in Mark, this passage seems highly abbreviated when compared to the other synoptic gospel accounts. Matthew and Luke add many details of the temptation.

We saw last week that at His baptism the Spirit descends upon Jesus and that same Spirit immediately leads Him into the wilderness of temptation. No sooner had He been endued with the Spirit than He faced the need to rely upon the Spirit to resist temptation. Here we find the Son of God as truly man as anyone of us, buffeted by temptation, but conquering at every turn.

What was happening in the temptation? This is one of the most amazing scenes we find in the Gospels. The Gospel writers do this so that we might understand the humanity of Jesus Christ. "God cannot be tempted by evil" (James 1:13). Yet the God-Man, Jesus Christ, was tempted:

Mark 1:12-13 (NASB) And immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.

Here again we see one of the favorite terms of Mark the word "immediately." This is the Greek word eutheos. Mark uses this term 40 times.

Mark tells us that the "Spirit impelled Him"- The Greek word translated "impelled" is from the word ekballo. It is a compound word from ek, which means: "out of," And ballo, which means: "to throw." Mark uses this verb 17 times, often in the context of exorcisms. The force of the verb "impelled" is not captured by the NASB. We are not to think that Jesus is reluctant to experience this chapter of His life, but to see the strong hand of the Spirit leading Jesus in His ministry. There is a divine compulsion. He is driven by One whom He cannot resist.

The inference here isn't that Jesus thought it would be a good idea if He wandered about in the wilderness for a period of time in order to prove to God that He was serious about the ministry that He was being called into. No - the Scriptures actually say that it was at the Spirit's compulsion that Jesus found Himself thrust into the Judean Wilderness away from inhabited communities to wander without food for forty days.

Three key words occur here in these two verses: Wilderness; Temptation; and Forty. Why are these words significant? These three words occurred in the Exodus generation that came out of Egypt. The children of Israel were in the wilderness forty years and were tempted.


These three words would have stood out to John's audience of Jews.

Matthew's record seems to imply that the temptation began after the fast, while Luke and Mark both imply that the whole period of fasting was also a time of temptation. Mark gives the impression of continual temptation.

The word tempt in English usually means: "to entice to sin." The Greek word used here is peirazo, which means: "to test in the sense of proving and purifying someone to see if they are ready for the task at hand." It originally meant: "to make an experience of, to pierce or search into." We test pilots to see that they are fit to fly. We test people not to make them sin, but to prove their strength. Likewise God tests his servants to see if they are fit to be used by Him. So Jesus was impelled to go into the wilderness to be tested and tried, and proved.

It seems to be a principle of God's dealings with men that there is always a wilderness experience in our preparation for service. Just as Jesus was tried in the wilderness, so are we. To help you see that this wilderness experience was not simply isolated to Jesus, but that it is a principle in how God deals with men, let's look at the history of God's dealing in the lives of a few men.

Adam was the first man. And Adam is a type of Christ, the second Adam. The first Adam was blessed by God. God created him. He was in the family of God. He was given dominion over all the created realm. But there was a test, a temptation to prove him. What was Adam's test? Obey God and don't eat the fruit. The first Adam failed. The first Adam was tempted in his territory and fell. The second Adam was tempted in the Devil's territory and stood. But the testing was there for both.

Abraham was given a promise by God, but he had to endure the test of time in waiting for a child. Then he had the wilderness test of whether he was willing to obey God and offer up his only child, Isaac, or not. The test was there for Abraham.

Joseph had seen a vision from God, but he had to endure the test of captivity in Egypt. Would he continue to trust God in the midst of his Egyptian captivity? What was Joseph made of? Joseph, himself, would say later that this was God's doing. The test was there for Joseph.

Moses was thrust into the wilderness even before He was sent into Egypt to deliver Israel. Most often we think of Moses' wilderness experience being with the people of Israel for forty years. But we fail to remember that Moses was in the wilderness for forty years before his ministry began. Although he had risen to prominence in the courts of Egypt and availed himself of all the Egyptian education and training, he was not yet ready to be used by God until he was tried. There was a test for Moses.

Israel, as a people, were taken into the wilderness to be tried before they could enter the promised land. God said, in Psalm 81:7, "I proved thee at the waters of Meribah." The test was there for Israel.

David was forced to endure the wrath of Saul, even after he was given the promise of the kingdom by God. If you remember Samuel is told to go to Bethlehem and to anoint the next king of Israel who is residing there along with his father (I Sam 16:1). Though Samuel gets it rather wrong by thinking the outward appearance of a man is what marks him out for selection (I Sam 16:6-7), eventually David is brought before him and is anointed as king over Israel (I Sam 16:12-13).

One would have forgiven David for thinking that all was now cut and dried, and that all he need do is to grow in stature and power until, naturally, he would become the next king acknowledged by all. But, through a succession of trials and misfortunes ranging from the current king attempting to kill him to having to flee the land of promise for a foreign land that was an adversary of Israel, he finds himself exiled away, he thinks, from the promise of God, even considering that the Lord's promise was now no longer able to come about (I Sam 27:1).

He is even tempted twice to assassinate the currently reigning king and take the throne by force (I Sam 24:3-7, 26:6-12), and he could indeed have been forgiven for thinking that. As the anointing had left king Saul (I Sam 16:14-15), it was only fitting and right that he commit such an act and establish himself as king in accordance with the Word of God. But David waited not for the opportunity to establish himself as king, but for the Lord to raise him up to be the king that He'd promised.

We see here, then, that between the promise being given and the event becoming a reality, there was a lengthy time through which David had to survive the best he could (yet always under the protection of God!) until the day would come when God would fulfill all that He'd promised.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul was also one who experienced a long period of time between receiving the promise of God and of seeing it fulfilled.

As many believers throughout time have discovered, there is no way, it would appear, to achieve something worthwhile for God without first going through a time of testing.

In Jesus' life, the situation was no different. Between the anointing of the Holy Spirit and Jesus moving in His power came the temptation in the wilderness. Similarly, before we are used of God, we may be led by God through a wilderness experience where we learn to depend upon the power of God.

As we react in faith and obedience to the test or trial or temptation, our faith grows. This is what Jesus did, and He is our example. As we overcome each trial, we are strengthened. Our faith grows. Our confidence in the power of God to strengthen us increases. Our patience becomes greater. Our assurance of the promises of God rises and we are made ready for ministry, effective ministry. We are prepared, like steel is tempered so it will not break under pressure.

But how do we handle trials successfully? How do we overcome? Jesus is our example of how to overcome. We ought to handle the trials which come our way in the same manner in which Jesus did - by trusting in God and His Word. Each time the Devil came with his subtle temptation, Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus responded with the Word of God. And we must remember that these were very real temptations.

So many people today have the idea that if you are really walking in the Spirit, there is no struggle, no hard time, no rough decision. But that is simply not true. As a matter of fact, you should be glad it isn't true. The reason is because you need to struggle to grow. Much like an emerging butterfly needs to struggle its way out of its cocoon in order to have the strength to fly, so we need to struggle to overcome the flesh we find in us. Just as when you cut open the cocoon to release the butterfly of its struggle, only to find that without it, it dies; so when we gain the things of God without struggle, we become irresponsible with their use and begin to take the Lord for granted.

Let me ask you a question that is very controversial, During His temptation could Jesus have sinned? Theologians are divided on this. I am of the opinion that He could NOT have sinned. This is what, in theology, is called Impeccability - Jesus Christ was not liable to sin, exempt from the possibility of doing wrong. Christ was tempted in His humanity:

Hebrews 4:15 (NASB) For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

He was tempted more that any person on earth. The human nature of Christ is temptable and peccable but combined in hypostatic union with the divine nature, He is temptable but impeccable.

The doctrine of the Hypostatic union is the doctrine of the personal union of the two natures of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is undiminished Deity and true humanity in one person forever. Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man. He is the Theonthropic person - one person with two natures.

Illustration: If a man in a row boat attacks an Aircraft carrier, is it really an attack? Yes. Does he have a chance of defeating the carrier? No!

Can you bend a coat hanger? Sure. If I took the same coat hanger and welded it to a steel I beam, could you still bend it. NO! Have you ever been tempted and not given in to it and sinned? I hope so. Was the temptation still real? Yes, of course!

There are those who object to this view, so let's look at some of the objections. It is objected that unless one is capable of sinning, he cannot be legitimately tempted to sin. Have you heard that?

Hodge writes, "This sinlessness of our Lord, however, does not amount to absolute impeccability. If Jesus Christ was a true man, he must have been capable of sinning. Temptation implies the possibility of sinning. If from the constitution of His person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then His temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with His people."

Is Hodge right? I don't think so! He has a false view of the nature of temptation. The reality of a given temptation does not depend on the possibility of falling or succumbing to it on the part one tempted.

To say that you must be able to sin in order to be tempted is as absurd as saying that an army cannot be attacked if it cannot be conquered. I don't believe that an army could conquer the United States, but that is not to say they couldn't attack us. The power of the U.S. military is capable of resisting all attacks.

I think that the trouble that we have in understanding this is that we understand the word tempt to only mean: "to entice to sin." But the Greek word peirazo means: "to test in the sense of proving and purifying someone to see if they are ready for the task at hand."

Mark 1:12 (NASB) And immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness.

All three Gospel records tell us that Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the Wilderness (Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:12 and Luke 4:1-2). This is a key word in our verses.

The wilderness, or desert, is a familiar motif in the Bible as a whole. In the Old Testament, the desert was the experience between deliverance from Egypt and the conquest of the Promised Land. It was a place of cleansing and purification through testing and often painful trial. The Prophets looked back at the desert as the time of Israel's true "romance" with God; the time when God prepared his people to be his covenant bride.

As I said earlier, these three words: Wilderness; Temptation; and Forty occurred in the Exodus generation that came out of Egypt. There is something significant here that I want you to see. Many prophetic passages, which initially refer to the nation of Israel, can be rightly applied to Jesus.

Hosea 11:1 (NASB) When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.

Who is this verse speaking about? Well, Matthew applies this passage to Jesus:

Matthew 2:15 (NASB) and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON."

How is it possible that Matthew can point to this passage and claim that Jesus fulfills it? The solution lies not in the passage of the Scripture, but in the situation in which Israel found itself in the early years of its existence when God called them to be a special nation devoted solely to Himself and His ways. The nation Israel was a type of Messiah in its early years. Jesus is the anti-type of Israel. He was the fulfillment of all that Israel was supposed to be.
1. The birth of the nation had been in Abraham in Canaan - their birth had come from

one man. In Jesus is the birth of the new nation:

1 Peter 2:9 (NASB) But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

2. The exile of the nation had been in Jacob into Egypt - the foundation of the nation had been built upon the twelve sons of one man. In Jesus, through the twelve apostles, is the foundation of the new nation (1 Peter 2:6, 1 Cor 3:10-11, Rev 21:14).

3. The return of the nation had been under Moses/Joshua into Canaan - the deliverance from bondage had come through just one man and the possession of their inheritance had, similarly, come through just one man. In Jesus is the deliverance of the new nation (Col 1:13, Gal 5:1).

Colossians 1:13 (NASB) For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,

Jesus, then, is Israel fulfilled. What the emerging nation of God's people had experienced at its inception foreshadows the One who was to come, who would be the true representation of all that God had intended for Israel to achieve. Similarly, just as from the Israelite nation all its citizens sprang, so too from Christ all the new nation's citizens spring. Jesus becomes the foundational source of the new nation created through His work on the cross, resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven, and His return in glory.

The Scripture citation of Hosea 11:1 is demonstrative of the birth of a new nation in Him, and His replanting into the Promised Land is indicative that, in Jesus, everything that Israel should have been - and more besides - will find its fulfillment. Jesus, then, is the true Israel of God, and His people are also called by this title (Gal 6:16) seeing as they have sprung from the true source of all that the nation was promised.

It is not without significance that Jesus, in answering satan, uses Scriptures that were specifically drawn from the Israelites' wilderness wanderings (Deut 8:3, Deut 6:16 and Deut 6:13) and which were all spoken by Moses at the time of their second opportunity to gain possession of the Promised land having failed through unbelief some 38 years previously (Numbers chapters 13 and 14).

Mark 1:13 (NASB) And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.

Mark tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness for "Forty Days" - Of all the types and shadows of the Old Testament, none is as pervasive, and therefore important, as the shadows revealed in the relationship between "forty" and the fulfillment of promises.

Moses was in the mountain forty days and forty nights to receive God's covenant and His instruction (Exodus 24.18; 34.28), and Elijah was in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights when he fled for his life, and God spoke to him and renewed his commission (1 Kings 19.8). Both of these were 'forty days and forty nights'.

There is one period of forty days in their experience which is extremely relevant. When the Israelites came to the borders of Canaan - the land which God had already promised to give to them - twelve spies were sent out into the land to observe all that was there and to bring back a report of the goodness of the land (Num 13:1-3).

Numbers 13:25 (NASB) When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days,

As they heard from successive spies about all the horrors of the land and how there were giants, and, even when there weren't any of them, the land simply ate its inhabitants for supper, their hearts melted (Num 13:28-29, 31-33).

This period of forty days in the wilderness was a time of both testing and waiting when the nation was able to observe all that they had been promised but, at that time, could not grasp it until they put their faith in the promises of God and pressed on in to lay hold of it.

However, instead of resting securely in what God had spoken and on the impossibility of God being a liar, they decided to turn round from pursuing after God and flee for the safety of what they'd previously known - a life of slavery back into the nation of Egypt (Num 14:1-4).

Jesus' forty days in the wilderness, again, is seen to be a type of the nation's testing throughout their wilderness wanderings - a testing that the first generation seriously failed, not only in Numbers chapters 13 and 14, but in most of their dealings with God and the situations in which they found themselves.

Where Israel failed in the wilderness by turning tail and running, Jesus, the perfect representation of all that Israel should have achieved, succeeds and wins victoriously over the testing.

We ought to beware of those who believe God can be manipulated by imitating 40-days of prayer or fasting. Such ascetic imitation may be impressive, but it is not the point of the passage. Jesus was in the wilderness long enough for God to prepare him for His destiny.

The Bible actually talks about two forty year exodus periods. The first exodus period is one familiar to all of us. Israel, after the flesh, was removed from bondage to Egypt at Passover, and they were put in the wilderness on a physical journey to a physical promised land. Now, the more important, the anti-type, is the spiritual exodus. This exodus runs from the Cross to A.D. 70. In this exodus, Israel, after the Spirit, left its bondage to the law of sin and death (Ro. 8:2) and begins a forty year spiritual journey to a spiritual inheritance; the kingdom of God or the New Heavens and New Earth.

Luke 9:29-31 (NASB) And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. 30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Moses and Elijah appear in glory, and they speak of Jesus' departure. The word for "departure" is the Greek word exodos. There was an exodus that was to begin at the cross and start another forty year journey.

The experience of Jesus as a Spirit-filled and Spirit led human being is important for Christians. In order to keep a real doctrine of the humanity of Christ, we must confess that the Spirit's work in and through Jesus is not substantially different than in the life of the believer.

Mark is clearly telling his readers that their testings and temptations are part of their experience as God's children. Jesus went by that same road. We should beware of any version of Christianity that speaks of uninterrupted bliss without God-sent experiences of testing and temptation.

Since that is so, how do we deal with the temptations of life? Paul tells us in:

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NASB) No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.

The word temptation is peirasmos, it means: " to test, and prove." It can mean a trial or test or it can be used as a solicitation to evil. Whether it is a trial or a temptation depends on our response.

Temptation is "common to man" - Christians, every temptation that you face is something that is common to man. You will never face any thing new. Whatever your trial or temptation is today, it is common to man, there is nothing unique about it. There are many who have gone before us who, through the strength of God, have stood victorious in the temptation.

Deuteronomy 8:2 (NASB) "And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.

The privations of the wilderness were designed by God to test His people, to bring out their true character. The temptations that we face today can serve the same purpose.

Notice what Paul says, "God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able...." Paul encouraged the Corinthians by reminding them of God's faithfulness: He would protect and provide for them just as He did for Israel. Paul was also refuting any complaint that they "couldn't help" sinning. God knows what you are able to bear and He tailor makes your trials and tests so that they will never be more then you are able to bear, as long as you are relying on His strength. God is faithful.

Paul goes on to say, "...but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it." , The phrase "the way" is formed by the definite article and a singular noun. In other words, there is only one way. In early Greek use the term "way," ekbasis, had the sense of a landing place. It was a nautical term. The idea is not that He will enable us to escape temptation, but that He will enable us to land safely on the other side victoriously. God has not promised to remove the temptation, since we need such experiences to grow in faith and patience (James 1:2-4, 12), but he guarantees that it will never be too strong for us to resist.

"Endure" - The Greek is, "bear up under it" or "bear against it." The escape is that the Christians are able to endure the temptations through the power of God.

For you to say, "I cannot take this any longer, I cannot go on in this trial any longer," is for you to call God a liar and to accuse Him of being unfaithful. He is faithful. He will give you the strength to bear it if you will trust in Him. The writer of Hebrews tells his readers to run with endurance the race that is set before them:

Hebrews 12:2 (NASB) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We have the resources of the living Christ when we trust Him. The only way that any of us can stand is in His strength and not our own. We can only live the Christian life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord learned to depend upon the Holy Spirit in the face of temptation. He was able to defy temptations, knowing that "the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness." He would be sustained and enabled by the same Holy Spirit in the process. This is no less true for us. The Spirit comes to our aid too if we live in dependence upon Him.

If we look at the other synoptic gospels we see that the most notable element of our Lord's response to temptation is His use of the Word of God. Several things are clear. First, He used the Word of God legitimately. He did not take it out of context or use as a mere proof-text. The passages quoted from Deuteronomy 6-8 have as their background the temptations of Israel in the wilderness. They were passages that fit the situation perfectly.

Second, Jesus Christ believed in the infallibility and inerrancy of Holy Scripture. The formula He used, "it is written," utilizes a perfect passive verb, showing that the truth of God's Word has been written, and it stands forever. If you do not believe that what God has spoken stands forever, then you will not be able to stand on it in the time of temptation.

Third, Jesus Christ knew the Word of God. He had studied it, learned its context, memorized it, and applied it to His own life. The Son of God did this! How much more so should we devote ourselves to the Word of God! You will not be able to use the truth of the Word that you do not know. Get it in your heart and mind. Read it daily. Study the Word. Meditate upon the Word. Memorize it. And apply it constantly in your life.

Mark 1:13 (NASB) And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.

"Wild beasts" - One of the details that Mark gives us that none of the other gospel writers give us is that Jesus was also among the wild beasts. The reference to the animals has been controversial. Are they part of the temptation? The word "wild" probably indicates this is a threatening aspect of the temptation. Mark is showing us Jesus as the second Adam. The animals, who surrounded Adam in paradise, now surround the second Adam in temptation. Where Satan succeeded in defeating the first Adam, he is defeated by the second Adam.

Mark also tells us that "the angels were ministering to Him." It is interesting that angelic guardians and wild beasts are also found in:

Psalms 91:11-13 (NASB) For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. 12 They will bear you up in their hands, Lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is visited by the Lord on a mountain, and the angels serve Elijah food, just as they "minister" to the needs of Jesus.

Is there any hope for us to be delivered from temptation's snare? Our hope is found in Jesus Christ! Having suffered temptation in greater fashion than we can imagine, He is able to come to our aid:

Hebrews 2:18 (NASB) For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.

The word "tempted" is the Greek word peirazo. No matter what the temptation, trouble, or trial, Jesus is able to help, for He has faced it for you already.

You might say, "My spouse left me, what does Jesus know about that? It never happened to Him." However, Jesus knows about betrayal, desertion, unfaithfulness, and rejection. He faced these experiences and feelings. He is able to help!

Robert Hick's makes a controversial statement in his book, The Masculine Journey, that those struggling with homosexuality could take hope that Jesus was tempted in all ways like we are, yet without sin. Hicks was not implying that Jesus was tempted to homosexual sin, but the temptation to sexual disobedience is, at its core, common to every person. I believe every person can look to Jesus as a friend who has struggled with the very essence of their personal struggles, no matter what they are.

When you are tempted to give in to sin, Jesus is able to help you. When you feel ashamed and unholy, Jesus is able to help you. When you feel too weak to go on and you are ready to give up on God's design for your life, Jesus is able to help you. When the fear of death is holding you back and clouding your vision, Jesus is able to help you.

The Scriptures do not say: "God helps those who help themselves." The Scriptures say, "God helps those who call upon the Name of the Lord!"

Remember that whatever you face, Jesus has already faced it and come through it in victory. Remember that wherever you go, Jesus has been there before you. When the going gets tough, you can pray, "Lord, do you remember what you went through when you were here? I'm going through it now." And He will say: "Yes, I know. I understand. I will help you." He knows our weaknesses; He understands the pull of human desires. Trust Him! Depend upon Him for all the strength you need!

In the first 13 verses of this book, Mark is saying that we need to understand that this is Jesus the Savior, the long-awaited Christ, the Messiah. This is Yahweh; this is Elohim. This is the Son of God in the flesh who has come to be identified with us and our sin. In launching that mission, it was so spectacular that literally the heavens were ripped apart. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit all came together for the launching of this eternity-changing mission. Then Jesus was proven in the testing of the wilderness.

That is his introduction to the ministry of Jesus. That is pretty spectacular. All throughout the Gospel of Mark, the first century people will struggle to try and figure out who this Jesus is. But we, as the readers, will not struggle. Mark has told us in the very opening paragraph that Jesus Christ is Lord, He was tested and came through victoriously. And this same Jesus stands ready to help you get through any trial if you will in faith look to Him. He has the power to change your life forever.

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