Time in the Desert


Mark 1:10-12 NIV

“Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

This account was written probably around 60-70 AD, and many feel it was the earliest gospel on record. Mark’s method of describing the events is specifically geared to the past, as his references are meant to show parallels that remind his readers how significant Jesus is in the story from the beginning.

The passage is of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist, and describes the spirit of God coming out of heaven like a dove. This in itself is unusual, as usually the spirit of God is depicted as wind or air. However, there is one other reference of the spirit as a dove which comes from the Targum, which was the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew scriptures that Mark’s audience would have read. The Targum translated the creation story from Genesis 1:2 as “the spirit of God fluttered above the face of the waters like a dove”.  Thus using this description it would have referenced all the way back to creation, the first time the trinity appeared together (God, spirit, word of God) and now all three again (God, spirit, and Jesus (word of God).

Vs 12 then says at once, or immediately, the spirit sent him out. This is a mild translation for the Greek word ekballo, which really means to eject or drive out. This was a forceful kicking into the wilderness. The Greek for wilderness is eremos which means lonesome, desert, solitary. It is the isolation that makes this important.

Mark mentions there were wild animals there, which other gospels leave out. Many think this reference is meant for Mark’s audience, as the persecution of early Christians by being fed to wild animals was a reality of that time. It also symbolizes true danger, as Christ was not just isolated but surrounded by potential harm as well.

Then Jesus is tempted or tested, and although Mark doesn’t recount the details, Matthew’s gospel does. We know that the three temptations centered around refuting God’s authority; The first being about bread, the second about testing God and the third about worshiping self over God.

The parallels are many, for in Genesis, after creation comes immediate testing of Adam and Eve, and what three things were at issue? 1) The fruit (bread), 2) Testing God “Did God really say…?”(Gen 3:1) and 3) Self worship, “and you will be like God” (Gen 3:5)

There is another parallel with Israel, who after being rescued from Egypt was sent to be tested in the desert. They too were tempted with issues of 1) Bread (mana ordeal Ex 16), 2) Testing God and 3) Worshiping others/self with their golden idols (Ex 32).

To Mark’s readers these parallels would have been proof of Jesus’s credibility as the Son of God. To us, there is much to heed. We will have times of testing, perhaps even ejected into something we never chose for ourselves. These times are fraught with the same issues Christ had – times of isolation, times when danger is near, and times when we are tempted to distrust God and rely on our own self reliance.

Like Christ, in these times, there are often angels ready to serve us. Sometimes just opening our eyes to see the friends, neighbors and even strangers ministering to us, helps us persevere through the desert times.

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