Mark 1:12-15

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 1

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Los Angeles Times ran a fascinating online article entitled “21 creepiest abandoned amusement parks.” The article consists of a brief introduction followed by numerous pictures of amusement parks that are no longer in operation.

The surreal graveyards of abandoned amusement parks pique our curiosity with their juxtaposition of once pulsating kinetic energy eerily frozen in time.

Trashed by trespassers, tagged by vandals and reclaimed by Mother Nature, the deteriorating and collapsing Ferris wheels, carousels and roller coasters transform with each passing season into rusting and rotting still-life portraits of benign neglect.

The once brightly colored playgrounds of whirling rides, turreted castles and bizarre attractions were inevitably brought low by some combination of bad planning, poor timing, negligent management, financial ruin, changing times, ill-conceived ideas, natural disaster or even man-made tragedy.

Some of the deserted theme parks operated for a century or more. Others never opened their doors to the public. Most closed in the past three decades.[1]

The pictures are indeed very creepy. There is just something unsettling about an abandoned, decaying amusement park. The article says it well: the creepiness of the images are rooted in the juxtaposition between the “once pulsating kinetic energy” of the parks and “the surreal graveyard” of their current, decayed form.

A juxtaposition is a jarring and unsettling contrast between two very different things. When the two images are dramatically at odds – like, say, children laughing at an amusement park and a decaying, nightmarish, abandoned amusement park – the reaction can be quite visceral and outright frightening.

That juxtaposition between “once pulsating kinetic energy” and “the surreal graveyard” is the same juxtaposition that is inherent between say, a garden and a wilderness, or, say, the Garden of Eden and the wilderness. It was a juxtaposition that the Jews knew well, which is why they popularly saw the wilderness as a wild wasteland haunted by demonic forces and wild beasts. The Garden of Eden once pulsated with kinetic energy. The wilderness was a surreal graveyard.

It was to the wilderness that Jesus was taken by the Spirit of God immediately after His baptism, and it was there that Mark gives us our next picture of the significance of Jesus.

Jesus is God stepping into the wilderness ruins of the life we destroyed through our own foolishness and wickedness.

As we approach Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan, we need to understand that oftentimes the biblical writers tell the same story with different emphases in order to make different points. The wilderness temptation of Christ is recounted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew and Luke describe the episode with more detail, describing the exact nature of the temptations and describing Jesus’ victory of Satan. There are other differences in the details as well.

None of these differences are contradictions, mind you. The three accounts are not at odds. They simply are trying to make different points, points that, when put together, serve to offer us an even fuller picture of what was happening in the wilderness. This is the beauty of having four gospels.

There are two notable differences between Mark’s account and Matthew and Luke’s account. The first difference is Mark’s brevity. Mark’s account is very brief. It consists of only four clauses:

(1) “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

(2) “And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.”

(3) “And he was with the wild animals”

(4) “and the angels were ministering to him”

That is it. We naturally want to fill in this seemingly skeletal framework from the details of Matthew and Luke, and we would not be wrong to do so as far as having a more comprehensive account of the details is involved. But let me suggest that we should avoid doing that initially and ask instead why it is that Mark recounts this episode in just this way.

I would like to propose that what Mark is doing is kind of “fly over” for the purpose of making a bigger and wider point about Jesus: who He is and why He came. We can get at this by understanding a second difference between Mark’s account and Matthew and Luke’s account. I am referring to the fact that Mark alone mentions that Jesus “was with the wild animals.” Matthew’s account is much longer than Mark’s and has a lot more details, but Matthew does not mention that Jesus was with wild animals in the wilderness. Luke’s account is much longer than Mark’s and has a lot more details, but Luke does not mention that Jesus was with wild animals in the wilderness.

So why does Mark mention the wild animals? Why, in an account so brief that it consists of only four clauses, does Mark devote one of those four clauses, or twenty-five percent of his account, to this reference to Jesus being with wild animals?

It is because of what Mark is trying to tell us about Jesus.

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

There are some important words in this account that we need to define properly. The first is the word “immediately.” Mark is a gospel of rushing. A lot of things happen “immediately.” Michael Card calls the word “immediately” (eutheos) “Mark’s favorite word,” points out that it is used eleven times in Mark 1, and then says that “immediately,” for Mark, “is the verbal razor blade he uses for the quick cuts of his fast-paced portrayal of Jesus’ life.”[2] That is well said, thought we do not need to rush so quickly we miss the point.

The second word is “drove him out” in “the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.” Ronald Kernaghan observes that “the Greek word translated ‘sent out’ [‘drove’] is a particularly forceful term” that “appears most often in reports of the exorcisms that Jesus performed, where it is translated ‘cast out.’”[3] We saw in the account of Jesus’ baptism that Mark uses a violent, forceful verb, schizo, to describe the rending of the heavens. Here he uses another forceful verb to describe the Spirit taking Jesus to the wilderness. It almost has a connotation of something being hurled, as if Jesus was hurled into the wilderness. This should not be read to mean that Jesus did not desire to go into the wilderness. He did. But it means that this was an intense movement of action in which Jesus is taken quickly and decisively further into the wilderness.

Then we have the animals: “he was with the wild animals.” Robert Gundry has made the fascinating observation (an observation, he points out, that “is rarely if ever remarked upon)” that “Mark does not put the wild beasts with Jesus; rather, Jesus with them.” This wording, Gundry argues, “suggests therefore that Jesus was an object of the wild beasts’ unfriendly threat just as he was an object of Satan’s unfriendly temptation.”[4]

So Jesus, cast into the wilderness, the realm of demons and danger and wild beasts, is surrounded by wild animals (who do not harm him) and is tempted by Satan (before whom He refuses to abandon the Father).

We can already tell that Mark is doing more here than just offering us a thumbnail sketch. He is not writing briefly because he does not have much to say. Rather, he is writing very precisely, very carefully, and trying to get his readers, then and now, to see something.

What is he getting us to see? He is trying to get us to a see a picture, a picture that will help us understand something. And what is this picture? Well, consider the components:

  • Wilderness
  • Jesus
  • Wild Animals
  • The tempter, Satan

Ok, but what is Mark doing with those elements?

Juxtaposition. Specifically, the juxtaposition between “once pulsating kinetic energy” and “the surreal graveyard.”


  • Wilderness
  • Jesus
  • Wild animals
  • The tempter, Satan


  • The garden
  • Adam
  • Naming the tame animals
  • The tempter, Satan

Many of the early church fathers saw in Mark’s account of Jesus’ wilderness temptation echoes of and a juxtaposition with Adam in Eden. Joel Marcus has argued that “the primary biblical model for our passage’s portrait of Jesus is…Adam” and “our passage is strongly stamped with an Adamic typology.” In defense of this, he and other commentators point to:

  • In Mark 1:1, Mark is possibly nodding toward Genesis 1:1 with his opening, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…”
  • Adam is in a garden. Jesus is in a ruined garden, a decayed garden, an anti-garden: a wilderness.
  • Adam and Eve are led into temptation by Satan. Jesus is tempted by Satan but refuses to be disobedient.
  • Adam and Jesus were both around animals, and “in the OT and later Jewish writings the enmity between human beings and wild animals is regarded as a distortion of the original harmony that existed between them in Eden.”
  • In some Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25 and Hosea 2:18, wild animals living at peace and not harming human beings is depicted as a sign of God’s healing of falling creation.
  • One Jewish legend stated that Adam’s meals in Eden were provided by angels. Jesus was ministered to by angels.
  • In “an influential pseudepigraphal account of the Fall,” the number forty appears. Jesus was in the wilderness forty days.
  • Adam and Jesus both leave their Eden after their respective encounters with the Tempter.[5]

In the beginning of Mark’s gospel, we saw in the figure of John the Baptist interesting parallels to Israel’s wilderness wanderings in the exodus. There are echoes of Israel’s wilderness wanderings here as well. In a sense, Mark is depicting Jesus as a second Moses who likewise goes into the wilderness to liberate us, his people.

But the image of Adam is the primary image here, and it is an important one. It is an image that Paul himself will draw. Thus, it is a thoroughly New Testament idea: Jesus as the second Adam.

“For as in Adam all die,” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” He made an even fuller statement about this in Romans 5:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Jesus is therefore the second Adam. The first Adam was put in a garden and left in a wilderness. The second Adam was put in a wilderness and calls us to a garden. The first Adam was tempted and fell and brought ruin. The second Adam was tempted and did not fall and brought life. The first Adam was put among peaceful beasts and through his sin turned them wild. The second Adam was a lamb who was put among wild beasts but they could not harm him. The first Adam is the broken link through whom all that is miserable and horrible entered the world. The second Adam is the obedient Son through whom all this is beautiful and good enters the world.

Jesus is God stepping into the wilderness ruins of the life we destroyed through our own foolishness and wickedness. Where the garden once stood there is now only demonic wilderness, but Jesus the God-man stepped into the wilderness in order to do battle with the forces of darkness and announce that the darkness does not win.

This depiction of Jesus as the second Adam entering the ruins of the garden we destroyed through our sin helps us understand what Mark shows us next and why he shows it.

Jesus is the re-creating Creator God who offers new life in the midst of the ruins through the path of repentance and belief.

Having entered the wilderness ruins of paradise lost, what does Jesus, the second Adam, announce after he refuses to fall before Satan?

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The action continues in Mark’s account. Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness ends, John is arrested, Jesus goes into Galilee, and then he proclaims: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Standing there in the wilderness ruins of the paradise we destroyed, Jesus pronounces a kingdom.

“The kingdom of God is at hand!”

There are fourteen references to “kingdom of God” in Mark’s gospel, all but two of which appear to be referring to the Kingdom as present as opposed to future.[6] Ben Witherington has written that “kingdom” “seems to refer to an activity, in this case God’s divine activity, when used of something happening in the present” and that it “involves the idea of God taking control of a human being or human situation such that his reign becomes manifest and his intentions become fulfilled on the human scene.”[7]

That is a good definition. The kingdom of God is the transforming reign and rule of God. It is new creation, a realm in which the healing and restoring powers of God are loosed upon all who enter. It is also a kingdom of righteousness, a kingdom where the will of God is done, a kingdom of holiness, a kingdom in which there is no darkness or wickedness or evil or suffering or pain. It is the kingdom whose King is God Himself, the Kingdom in which the people of God find their rest in service to Him and find their joy in worshiping Him.

This is the kingdom…and Jesus pronounces, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand!”

In Christ, the kingdom has come and in the coming Christ the kingdom will come with finality. That is to say, the kingdom is “already/not yet,” to use the language of theologians who try to stress this point. It is here and it is coming. It has arrived and it will arrive.

And how are we who are lost in the ruins of Eden to enter the kingdom of God?

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

“Repent and believe in the gospel.”

Repent. Turn around. Stop loving the wilderness and its darkness. Learn to see the sinfulness of the fallen world for what it is: a curse that destroys us. Repent. Turn around!

Believe. Believe what? Believe that the Hero has come into the wilderness to bring the kingdom. Believe that the Lamb has come and laid down His life to save us and to forgive us. Believe that the Son who was killed on the cross yet overcame sin, death, and hell on that first Easter morning and now offers us a path through the wilderness, a road to glory. Believe that the second Adam has undone and is undoing the damage that the first Adam wrought. Believe that Jesus is going to put a garden where the wilderness is, is going to usher in the Kingdom of peace and restoration. And believe that He has even now begun that great work – here, now, through his people, in and through the church – and will complete it.

Believe all of these good tidings, this gospel. Repent and believe in the gospel…and enter the Kingdom! The door has been kicked off the hinges and now all who repent and believe may enter.

See our King there in the wilderness! He has conquered. He is conquering. His weapons are love and truth and grace and mercy and righteous judgment. And his invitation is to you…and to you…and you!

Behold our God, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.



[2] Michael Card, Mark. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), p.31.

[3] Ronald J. Kernaghan, Mark. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Ed., Grant R. Osborne. Vol.2 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p.39.

[4] Robert H. Gundry, Mark. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), p.55,58.

[5] Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8. The Anchor Bible. Vol.27 (New Haven, CT: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2005), p.168-171. R.T. France notes that there has been an “interesting movement of opinion” on this point and mentions a number of modern commentators who now adopt it. He also points out that the view has strong patristic attestation. The Gospel of Mark. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Gen. Eds. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), p.86. Ben Witherington sees an allusion to Eden as “unlikely” but notes that “the association of wilderness, animals, and temptation, coupled with the term ‘beginning,’ makes such a connection a possibility.” The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), p.76, n.28.

[6] James A. Brooks, Mark. The New American Commentary. Gen. Ed. David S. Dockery. Vol.23 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1991), p.47.

[7] Ben Witherington III, p.78.

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