Reflecting on Mark for the First Sunday of Lent

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 1:12-15


As Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden (Gen 3:24), Jesus is driven out into the desert, the barren wilderness around the Dead Sea. There he remains for forty days, a number that signifies a time of testing, as Israel was tested during Moses’ forty days on Mount Sinai (Exod 24:18; 32:1), and during the forty years in the desert (Deut 8:2). Jesus relives the story of Israel, but as an obedient Son who is totally faithful in his own trial in the desert.

The desert is depicted in Scripture as the realm of evil powers, symbolized by the predatory beasts that lurk there (Lev 16:10; Isa 35:7–9; Ezek 34:25). Jesus goes there to be tempted (or “put to the test,” NJB) by Satan, that is, to be tested in his resolve to carry out his messianic mission in accord with the Father’s will. He faces the same decision as Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen 3:1–6) and Israel in the desert (Exod 15:25; 16:4)—but unlike them, he rebuffs temptation and stands fast in his determination to please the Father.

“Satan” means “adversary” and is synonymous with the devil, the prince of demons (Mark 3:23–26), who will oppose Jesus at every turn. Jesus enters into Satan’s territory deliberately, to begin his campaign against the powers of evil. He is looking for a fight! Yet he will confront Satan not with a blast of divine lightning, but in his frail human nature, empowered by the Spirit.

Mark’s mention that Jesus was among wild beasts, evidently without harm, recalls Isaiah’s prophecy that at the coming of the Messiah even wild beasts would be tamed (Isa 11:1–9; see Ezek 34:25–28), restoring God’s order to creation. The angels ministered to him, just as they had accompanied Israel in the desert (Exod 14:19) and provided food for Elijah (1 Kings 19:5–7).

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.