Matthew 3:13–4:11; Mark 1:9–13; Luke 3:21–4:13
Jesus’ baptism has been understood as the two births of every believer—one of nature and the other of the Spirit (John 3:3–5). Some have suggested it as a manifestation of the Trinity (Ambrose Luke 2.92) or an example to live to please God (Cyril of Alexandria Luke 11; Cyprian The Good of Patience 6). To argue that Jesus needed cleansing from sin may neglect other passages that speak to Christ’s sinlessness (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). “In receiving baptism Jesus identified with the people of Israel to whom John addressed his message and started on a path that led to the cross.”
Perhaps to build upon the conclusion of his genealogy, Luke transitioned from Christ’s descent from Adam to Jesus being tempted. Whereas Adam was in the Garden of Eden and tempted to sin, Christ entered the wilderness to be tempted and thus overcame the wiles of the same adversary (cf. Rom. 5:12–21; Ambrose Luke 4.7, 14). The three greatest temptations in the Bible were that of Adam and Eve when they ushered in the fall of humanity, that of Job to distrust and curse God, and that of Christ. The frailty of human nature is seen in two, and the triumph of humanity is witnessed in Christ withstanding the powers of darkness.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, coinciding with the Spirit’s appearance and descent as a dove (Luke 3:22). The descent as a dove would have been understood as the presence of God because the Greco-Roman gods often appeared as winged animals. The dove was the symbol of peace and signified the reconciling ministry of the Spirit. One author wrote, “What is noteworthy here is that the presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life brings him into direct and immediate conflict with the forces of evil. The antithesis between the Holy Spirit and the evil in the world apparently had to be brought to light.”
Whether the forty days were literal or typological is a matter of debate. Still, on the surface, it would seem literal. Forty was undoubtedly a period of testing and trial: God poured rain for forty days (Gen. 7:4, 12); Israel wandered forty years (Num. 14:33; Deut. 8:2); a woman was to purify herself for forty days postpartum (Lev. 12:1–4); Moses (Exod. 34:28; Deut. 9:9) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) fasted for the same period as Christ too. Of course, it may be preferable to link the fasting of Christ to that of Moses and Elijah, given the upcoming scene on the Mount of Transfiguration. Intertestamental writings highlight Moses (Deut. 18:15–18) and Elijah (Mal. 4:5–6) as eschatological and messianic figureheads. At the same time, some believed that a prophet like either would be the messiah.
Jesus fasted so that he could know what it was to have a depraved desire, so some believe. Once hungry, Christ was then open to Satan’s work: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus knew and learned (cf. Heb. 5:8) through hunger what it was to be tempted, but through temptation, Jesus shows us what it is like to overcome. He did what we cannot or are unwilling to do. In the temptations, Satan tried to persuade Jesus to become something he was not because God cannot be tempted (James 1:13) to deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13).
The Lord’s first temptation of hunger would have been enticing, and when people are hungry, they are prone to do the unthinkable (cf. 2 Kings 6:28–29). The identity of Jesus is often a significant theme in the gospels, and Satan is the first to question Jesus’ identity. He did so with the enticement of food—a perceived vulnerability of Christ at the time. Several commentaries categorize the temptations of Christ as “appetite,” “boasting,” and “ambition.” John referred to them as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” in 1 John 2:16. Though Adam was overtaken by each, Christ could not be swayed. After the temptation, Satan departed, as Luke put it, until an opportune time. The next mention of Satan was when he entered Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3; cf. John 14:30). In Matthew and Mark, angels were attending to Christ similar to Elijah after his forty days of fasting (1 Kings 19:5). Jesus did what we are often too weak to do: he resisted the devil, so Satan fled from him (James 4:7).