Jesus in the Wilderness

Jewish Perspective

Not unlike Jesus, Harry Potter had to enter the Forbidden Forest in order to accomplish his mission of sacrifice and death. He had to go where the wild things were and where his enemy was awaiting.

However, Harry knew what he was going to endure there. He at least knew who was waiting for him and he knew what he had to accomplish. Jesus going into the wilderness was nearly the same but there is something we miss as modern readers today that we should make every effort to grasp. When we read the follower passage a few things may happen. We may think oh Jesus is going into the desert, He is going to speak with the Satan, He is going to fast and start His ministry. While that is true it misses a massive point that Jewish readers would NOT miss and neither should we.

Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, 2 and after he* had fasted forty days and forty nights, then he was hungry. 3 And the tempter approached and* said to him, “If you are the Son of God, order that these stones become bread.” 4 But he answered and* said, “It is written, ‘Man will not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God.’ ”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the highest point of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down! For it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

‘On their hands they will lift you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand it is written, ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

8 Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, 9 and he said to him, “I will give to you all these things, if you will fall down and* worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan, for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and began ministering to him. (LEB)

The wilderness played a massive in Jewish Literature and Theological motif while at the same time extended into the New Testament. In Lev 17 we read that Moses had to instruct Israel to no longer make sacrifices to Goat Demons and in Chr 11 we read the idolatrous King Jeroboam by appointing High Priests for goat and calf idols. Yes, this is an extension of Egyptian slavery but that is neither here nor there in this article.

The motif of “goat demons” and “wilderness” and the idols of the “wilderness” is plentiful throughout ANE and The Old Testament. The wilderness was a place for foreign idols as we read in Isaiah 34. Every term in that passage is a direct term used for false gods within the Ancient Near East and we should align ourselves with that type of mindset when reading such typological scriptures.

Fast forwarding to the New Testament era we find that Jews associated the wilderness with demons and it was deep into their understanding. Most demonic encounters within the New Testament are drawn in the desert (Luke 8:29; 11:24; Matt 12:43). So, when Jesus embarks on the wilderness journey which doesn’t last long textually it solidifies something extremely important to a Jewish reader - that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament and taking on the darkness their ancestors endured.

He steps out into the wilderness, reflective of Old Testament Israel, finds himself with the tempter, as so Israel did in the Old Testament and Christ doesn’t create a new theological saying but rather quotes Deut 6:13; 16; 8:3 in order to ward off such darkness. He does so by quoting specific Scriptures that set the precedent that Jesus is claiming to be YHWH.

So a ten to eleven verse segment that we, today, may read as “Jesus was tempted by Satan” is actually much deeper theologically and much more important when read from the Jewish perspective. Christ claims to be LORD, Christ conquers temptation and darkness and the wilderness, and Christ lives on the WORDS of God rather than bread alone.