Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Baptism and Temptation of Jesus

One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized Him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, He saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on [into] Him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are My dearly loved Son, and You bring Me great joy.” The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of Him. Mark 1:9-13 (NLT)

At Mark 1:9, Mark tells us Jesus came from Galilee and He was baptized by John the Baptist (see parallel at Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22). Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of His public ministry on earth. Jesus began His public ministry in AD 27 when He was approximately 30 years (Luke 3:23; see also Numbers 4:3). Prior to the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus worked in a small-town carpenter's shop and waited for God’s divine timing before beginning His ministry. Before His public ministry, Jesus spent most of His life in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23; Luke 4:23). Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown (Matthew 21:11; Matthew 26:71; Luke 2:39; Luke 4:16; John 1:45-46). Although Jesus was born in Bethlehem just outside Jerusalem, He was brought up in the city of Nazareth in Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23; Luke 1:26; Luke 2:39). Nazareth was a small town in the Galilean region (northern Israel) located about between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea.

You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. Acts 10:37-38 (NLT)

The account of Jesus’ baptism by John created controversy in the early church as seen in early church writings. The early church had to wrestle with this issue of Jesus’ baptism. In the early church, some argued that Jesus was just like any other human with sins. Christians understood baptism not a baptism of ritual cleansing but a baptism that marked a newness of life, a turning from sin and an acknowledgement for forgiveness of sins (Matthew 3:8). If baptism is a sign of new life and acknowledgement for forgiveness of sins, the early church wanted to know why Jesus had to be baptized. The four Gospels do not answer this controversial issue regarding Jesus’ baptism but simply gives Jesus’ baptism as a statement of fact (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34). Also, Matthew’s Gospel states Jesus’ baptism fulfilled “all righteousness,” which means to accomplish God's mission or will (see Matthew 3:15). The Holy Scriptures amply confirmed that Jesus was sinless and holy (e.g. see John 1:29, 36; Acts 3:14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Although Jesus did not need forgiveness of sins, He was baptized to begin His Messianic ministry to bring the message of salvation to all people through faith. Also, by allowing John to baptize Him, Jesus identified Himself with sinful humanity whom He came to seek and save. Jesus’ baptism completely identified Himself with humanity’s sin and failure.

Immediately, after Jesus came out of the water, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit appeared (Mark 1:10; see also Isaiah 42:1-2). The Holy Spirit normally was not discussed much with Mark’s Gospel. However, the Holy Spirit is heavily associated with Luke’s Gospel and the Book of Acts, which is also written by Luke. Luke emphasized the Holy Spirit not only in His Gospel (e.g., Luke 1:35, 41, 67; Luke 2:25-27; Luke 3:16, 22) but also in the Book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit is mentioned fifty-seven times. Yet, Mark prominently mentioned the Holy Spirit. With Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon or into Him and anointed Him for His public ministry (see Luke 4:18, 21; John 1:32-33). Also, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus to empower Him for His missionary work as Messiah (the “Anointed One”) (Acts 10:37-38; see also Isaiah 61:1-3). At Jesus’ baptism, all three Persons of the Trinity were present: (1) God the Father spoke, (2) God the Son was baptized, and (3) God the Spirit descended onto Jesus (Mark 1:10-11). As a side note, all faithful followers (disciples) of Jesus are also anointed with the Holy Spirit through their genuine love, faith, and obedience to Him (John 14:15-17; John 15:26-27; John 16:13; 2 Corinthians 1:21; 1 John 2:20).

During the baptism, God spoke directly from heaven declaring Jesus as His unique and beloved Son (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Also, the Gospel writers recorded God’s voice from heaven addressing Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35) and in the Temple area during Jesus’ final week on earth (John 12:28-29). Jesus’ declaration as God's divine Son is the foundation of Mark’s Gospel (e.g. see Mark 1:1, 11; Mark 3:11; Mark 5:7; Mark 9:7; Mark 12:1-11; Mark 13:32; Mark 14:61-62; and Mark 15:39). Mark did not write his Gospel about just any man. He wrote his Gospel about Jesus – the very Son of God who came from heaven to die for the sins of the world!

Based on this scene in Mark, only Jesus sees and hears God’s glorious voice speaking from heaven. Mark gives no account of John the Baptist or the people seeing and hearing God’s voice because Jesus is central to this scene in his Gospel. For Mark, John the Baptist was just a vessel, an instrument, or messenger as Jesus is central to his Gospel. However, John’s Gospel records both Jesus and John the Baptist hearing God’s voice and seeing the Holy Spirit descend onto Jesus as a dove (John 1:29-34). God’s declaration from heaven reminds us of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1.

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. Mark 1:12-13 (NLT)

One of the most fascinating features of Jesus’ baptism and temptation is the Holy Spirit’s compelling of Jesus into the wilderness. Immediately (Mark’s favorite term), Mark notes “the Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12 NLT). Matthew and Luke’s Gospels said “Jesus was lead out” into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1). But Mark’s Gospel said Jesus was “cast out” or “compelled” into the wilderness to be tempted and tested. Compelled reflects Mark's forceful style, while the other Gospel writers use "led"). The Greek word is “ekballō,” which may be translated “lead.” Mark translate the Greek word “ekballei” or “ekballō” as a forceful thrust of Jesus into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the same Holy Spirit that endowed and equipped Jesus for His Messianic ministry also “casted” or “compelled” Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted and tested. This is Mark's way of showing the intensity or immediacy of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus had no time to bask in the glory of the heavenly voice or the presence of the heavenly dove. Instead, Mark shows Jesus’ active ministry in first century Galilee. As typical with Mark’s Gospel, Mark’s account of the temptation is the briefest of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Matthew and Luke give more details surrounding Jesus’ testing and temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13).

Since we have a great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, who has gone into heaven, let us hold on to the faith we have. For our High Priest is able to understand our weaknesses. When He lived on earth, He was tempted in every way that we are, but He did not sin. Let us, then, feel very sure that we can come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we can receive mercy and grace to help us when we need it. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NCV)

Jesus was tempted and tested for forty days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2). However, Jesus did not sin but remained faithful and obedient to God (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15). The forty days of testing and temptation recalled the experiences of Moses (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) as well as the forty years of Israel’s temptation (testing) in the desert. The Lord God led Israel into the wilderness (desert) forty years. Jesus was subjected to a similar test as Israel and showed Himself to be the true Israelite who lived “on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Although Israel of the Old Testament failed when they were tested, Jesus succeeded victoriously by triumphing over evil and temptation. The second picture of the wilderness scene was that of the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). The first Adam was tested in the beautiful Garden and failed. However, Jesus as the “second Adam” won the victory over evil and temptation through obedience and faith in God (Romans 5:12-21). Jesus was faithful and demonstrated His qualification to become Savior of the world. As the One who remained faithful and obedient to God in temptation and testing He became the Model for all believers when we are tempted and tested to remain faithful and obedient to God.

Moreover, the Scripture referenced that Jesus “was with the wild beasts” (Mark 1:13). This reference that Jesus “was with the wild beasts” is only recorded in Mark’s Gospel. Some biblical scholars comment that because there is no parallel in the other three Gospels that Jesus was “with the wild animals” or “wild beast” is Mark’s deliberate allusion to Nero’s persecution of Christian in Rome. During Christian persecution in the AD 60s, Roman Emperor Nero draped Christians with the skins of wild animals and the Christians were treated like a sport. Roman athletics would fight the Christians as wild animals until their death. Thus, this reference to the “wild beast” or “wild animals” is similar to Christian persecution by Nero and is a deliberate allusion to Mark’s audience who were suffering unjustly at the hands of Nero. Yet, Mark also said “angels took care of Him” as a reference of encouragement (Mark 1:13 NLT). God will take care of His people during times of suffering, trials and mistreatment in the wilderness.

Implicit in Mark’s Gospel is the question of unjust suffering. Mark wrote His Gospel message to Christians living in Rome and their only crime was their faith in Jesus Christ. Even today, some people that believe and follow Jesus are subjected to mistreatment and injustice and their only crime is faith in Jesus. As Mark tells his story of Jesus, Mark’s audience was suffering even though they are following God. In Jesus Himself, Jesus had a most glorious experience with a declaration of being God’s Son. Then immediately, Jesus is in the wildernesses facing temptation, testing and suffering. Many Jewish sources believe that the wilderness was a place of abandonment by God as the wilderness is a place in testing and temptation. Also, the wilderness alludes to the book of Numbers and Israel’s testing in the wilderness. Thus, Mark’s Gospel shows the readers Jesus’ highest point (God’s declaration and empowerment of the Holy Spirit) and Jesus’ lowest point (Jesus’s testing and temptation in the wilderness). Mark shows his readers that they too will experience highpoints and low points as genuine followers (disciples) of Jesus. As Jesus was tested during the wilderness testing and temptation, we must follow His example of continual trust, dependence and faith in God and God’s Holy Spirit.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12 (NLT)

Believer’s Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995).
Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Due West Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2015.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary (Victor Books, 1989).

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