Mark only briefly mentions Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Whereas Matthew and Luke elaborate the three-fold temptation, Mark has merely this:
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 (Mark 1:12-13, NIV).
It may be that Mark wants his readers to interpret the Satanic temptation in light of Jesus’ later interchange with Peter:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Mark 8:31-33, NIV).
It is not that Peter doesn’t want Jesus to be Messiah. He objects to Jesus’ messianic mode, the means whereby Jesus must accomplish his mission.
Peter wants a Messiah of power, one who will drive out Israel’s enemies in a spectacularly triumphant display.
Jesus is familiar with this temptation and he knows just where it’s coming from. He heard it before in the wilderness. Satan’s strategy was not to get Jesus to surrender his identity, to pursue something other than being Messiah. Satan’s aim was to keep Jesus from going to the cross, to get him to accomplish his messianic goals through power and spectacular triumph.
The more I read Mark, the more I’m struck its counter-cultural power. It is so radically subversive, calling into question our idolatries and our distortions of Christian identity.
We see power and prestige as unmixed goods. Mark would have see them as threats, perhaps even Satanic temptations.
Mark 1:9-15 was the Gospel text in the lectionary for this past Sunday. Here’s the prayer:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.