"The Wild Beasts" Bible Study on Mark 1:9-15
February 18, 2021, 12:24 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Mark 1:9-15 (New Revised Standard Version).

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The first thing we notice in Mark's account of the temptation of Jesus is not only how very, very brief this account appears but how it has little in common with Matthew's or Luke's narration of this same episode from the life of Jesus.  Our great challenge in interpreting this passage is to let Mark's account speak in its own distinctive way rather than be overshadowed by the temptation stories in Matthew or Luke.

Mark ties Jesus' temptation directly to his baptism.  Just like Israel began its life by first going into the wilderness after Egyptian enslavement, so Jesus is thrust immediately into the wilderness after his baptism.  Forty days is also a linkage with Moses' time on Mt. Sinai in Exodus.  Mark indicates that Jesus did not go into the wilderness to be on a silent, contemplative retreat.  Jesus is literally driven out into the wilderness where he is put through trials, though Mark does not tell us just what those trials were.  Who were these "wild beasts" that were with Jesus out in the wild?  Isaiah 34:8-14 says that wild animals and demons are in the wilderness -- perhaps Mark is making the connection?

Some have argued that these wild animals are not necessarily threatening Jesus.  Perhaps we are seeing enacted that time that Isaiah predicted when the wolf and the lamb will lay down together (Isaiah 11:6), and there shall be peace in the new age.  But that interpretation of these "wild beasts" is unlikely.

I think more likely that we are seeing enacted here the struggles of the one Hebrews 4:15 says has been tested and tempted "in every way as we are."

Israel was tempted and tested in the wilderness and often flunked the exam.  Ezekiel 20:13-22 speaks about Israel's failure and the justly deserved punishment by God upon them.  Reading the story of Jesus in the wilderness, compared with Israel's bittersweet memories of its time in the wilderness, reminds us that the wilderness is a place of struggle.  Who will survive and triumph in this time of testing?

Although Mark gives us no details about the content of the tests, we will see in Mark's Gospel the ways Jesus was tested by the popularity and the criticism of the crowds, by the political establishment, and by his own followers.  In a way this time in the wilderness is a preview of the struggles and testing that await Jesus.

This Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent, and we're in the wilderness.  Lent will end in the Garden of Gethsemane, but that garden was also a wilderness, a time of testing and struggle for Jesus.

Our own attempts to follow Jesus will surely have some of the same character of tempting and testing with which Jesus struggled at the beginning of his ministry.  So here at the beginning of Lent, we have an opportunity to be honest about some of the trials and temptations of the Christian life and the way that Jesus, victor over temptation, strengthens us in our times of testing.

Prayerfully Yours,

Pastor Greg Rupright



02-19-2021 at 7:48 PM
Pat May
Excellent! Thank you for this wonderful introduction to Lent 2021!
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