“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” (Mark 1:12–13, ESV)
Mark’s version of the temptation of Jesus is markedly shorter than either Matthew’s or Luke’s version. Mark doesn’t record the individual temptations, nor does he record the fact that Jesus was victorious over Satan. Why? Was Mark in such a hurry he didn’t have time to record more than a passing reference? He didn’t think it was all that important? He didn’t really know the facts?
Mark’s version of Christ’s temptation is different because his purpose in recording it is not the same as Luke’s or Matthew’s. We know that he felt it was important because Mark puts it in the prologue of his gospel. Indeed, one might argue that these two verses are the key to understanding all of Mark!
Jesus is driven out by the Spirit into the wilderness. He is compelled to go out and there he is tempted by Satan. One the one hand we have Christ, compelled by the Spirit to go out into the wilderness with the angels ministering to him. On the other hand we have Satan, desert places, and wild beasts. In Israel’s history and in the Scriptures, wilderness and wild beasts are symbols of testing and danger, of conflict and difficulty.
The Holman New Testament Commentary points out:
“This seems to indicate that Jesus’ entire ministry would be a continuous encounter with Satan—not limited to this one experience in the desert. In fact, Mark uses the term Satan (adversary) as opposed to Devil (accuser), which is used by the other Gospel writers. Mark is getting ready to write about the mighty works of the sacrificial servant, but in the process Jesus will continually be striving with his “adversary”—Satan.
Mark truncates the temptation of Jesus because this is only the beginning of the conflict. It is round one in a titanic battle between good and evil that will reach its climax at the cross. Sure Jesus wins round one, but the rest of Mark is filled with conflict in which Jesus is opposed: by the Pharisees, by the Herodians, by sickness and death, by demon possession, and by unbelief from his own people.
Here is the shocking truth. Mark sets us up in these two verses to understand that when Jesus faces opposition, whether from people, illness, or demons, the opposition is always allied with the great force that opposed him from the first. The one who tempted him in the wilderness, his adversary, Satan.