Matthew 4:1-2, Jesus Fasts

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.

//According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, immediately after his baptism by John, Jesus heads off into the desert to be “tempted by the devil” for forty days. This contradicts the Gospel of John, which reports that Jesus came back to the Jordan River the very next day, but let’s not get bogged down in details.

What I find interesting is not whether Jesus fasted for one day or forty, but why he decided to fast at all. Apparently, according to Matthew, Satan wouldn’t or couldn’t show up until Jesus is delirious in his hunger. But once Jesus is properly prepared, Satan makes his entrance and tempts Jesus, first suggesting Jesus change some rocks into food. Then Satan tempts Jesus with fame and kingship over the earth, which Jesus refuses (so much for the book of Revelation). 

Luke flavors his story a little differently, suggesting that Satan tempted Jesus throughout the forty days. Only Matthew and Luke tell how Jesus was tempted (Mark simply reports without elaboration that Jesus was tempted by Satan), but somehow, their stories of the temptation are similar.

Did this desert experience really happen? Was it a fast-induced hallucination? Or a series of temptations Jesus struggled with throughout his ministry, such as the time the people wanted to raise him as their king, and which Gospel writers creatively turned into one temptation experience?

I’d be curious to hear opinions.

1 Comment

  1. “Apparently, according to Matthew, Satan wouldn’t or couldn’t show up until Jesus is delirious in his hunger”

    I’m not sure about that. I read it as Jesus requiring the fast to have the strength to deny Satan. Satan’s temptations were always there, and in order to defeat them thoroughly and gain mastery over his own desires and values, Jesus needed to fast for 40(?) days. So, it’s not that Satan was waiting out there for Jesus in the Wilderness, it’s that the way of overcoming him was waiting out there.

    This matches the experience that many people describe when they fast: they gain mental accuity, strength of conviction, and spiritual and mental discipline.

    I haven’t fasted much, but when I have, I’ve also noticed these things. I was generally more peaceful and gracious to people. I remember one time when a motorist rudely and abruptly cut me off, and I effortlessly remained calm and took it in my stride, and said to myself “that’s ok, it’s not the end of the world”. That’s when I knew the fast was doing something, because I normally would have beeped the crap out of him and spent the next 2 minutes swearing to myself.

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