Satan’s Temptation in Mark’s Gospel

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.

13 thoughts on “Satan’s Temptation in Mark’s Gospel

  1. Jaime Hancock

    “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.”

    So true.
    Yet so many on both the liberal and the conservative sides of the church are guilty of putting their idol of Jesus before the real Jesus. Some people are bothered because they don’t want people to be offended by Jesus, so they try to turn the message of Jesus in a direction they think others will want to hear. But this is idolatry.
    Others want Jesus to be offensive, especially to those with whom they disagree. But this too is a idolatry.
    Personally, I still find several aspects of Jesus offensive, and yet, I find myself confessing, like Peter, “To whom should we go? You have the words of Eternal Life.”
    I need to be sure that I am not elevating the Jesus I want over the Jesus who Is. And as a church we need to be doing the same thing. Father, Son and Spirit are in charge of drawing people to Jesus (not our congregation/denomination/etc.) so that God might be glorified and redeem His creation. We are only responsible for proclaiming in both word and deed, the Gospel of the Kingdom.

    Grace and Peace,

  2. Alastair Sterne


    Have you read Susan Garrett’s “The Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel”. I found her work to be very helpful and along the lines of what you’re saying—however she takes it a step further and argues that temptation is the hermeneutical lens by which we should read Mark’s gospel as Jewish thought believed the righteous had to be tested to be proved righteous. Hence all of Jesus’ walk—faithless disciples, cultural, challenges to his Messianic identity, forsakenness on the Cross—was the proving of his righteousness.

    Thanks for the post, our community is preaching on this passage in a few weeks.

  3. Jim Brayshaw

    The Temptation of Jesus is so lacking in specifics when the sum of all the parts in the Gospels are consdered. I would like to invite you to enjoy yet a further examination of this account. It may be contrary to much of the traditional view.

    The mandate of the Jews to test Messianic candidates is found in history. With the Spirit of God sending the Christ into the wilderness immediately after John the baptist declared Yeshua to be the lamb that takes away the sins of the world; perhaps the onlooking religious leaders put their testing process into action. After all, the word daibolos is also said to mean, prone to slander, slanderous, accusing falsely. This may be referring to a human source rather than a cosmic evil source for the temptation at hand.
    Kindly check out this chapter from my book and you may want to explore the previous chapter posted on the web site.

  4. Pingback: Tempted | devotionalwonderings

  5. Lavinia

    I wanted to know and check because I want to use it in a Contemplative Outreach Evening Prayer Visio Divina,and wondered if there were copyrights, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue. Thanks for replying so quickly.
    Lavinia ( in the UK)

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