05.02 The Introduction And Temptations Of Jesus

05.02 The Introduction And Temptations Of Jesus

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Unit 05

The Early Ministry Of Jesus


Chapter 02

The Introduction And Temptations Of Jesus


05.02.00.A. THE BAPTISM OF JESUS BY JOHN THE BAPTIST. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. (3)

05.02.00.A. THE BAPTISM OF JESUS BY JOHN THE BAPTIST. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876.  The baptism of Jesus was the official inauguration of His ministry. The opening of heaven indicates that there was no barrier between Jesus and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit came upon Him with power. The event occurred about six miles south of Jericho; a short distance north of the Dead Sea.

05.02.01 Introduction

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05.02.01 Introduction

Until this time Jesus was devoted to meeting the physical needs of His siblings and mother because His father evidently had passed away.[1]  Now He was to bring spiritual food to His people and to the whole world.

His ministry began with the announcement by John the Baptist that He is the “Lamb of God.” As previously stated, it was the custom that when a king was going to visit his people, he would send a herald to announce to the cities and villages that their king was coming.  Likewise, John the Baptist was the herald who announced to the Jews that their “king” was coming.  However, rather than referring to Jesus as a “king,” he referred to Him as the “Lamb of God.” The word “king” or “messiah” would have started a riot or revolt in this politically-charged land. Yet the people understood the term to mean the long expected messiah. For centuries, ever since 586 B.C., the Jews had been under foreign domination with the exception of about one hundred years of independence (163/142-63 B.C.). But that so-called “freedom” was a miserable life under their corrupt leaders.  Now they were under Roman authority and, while they had some religious liberties, life in general was very difficult.

As a sage or rabbi,[2] John acquired several disciples whom he instructed.[3] His Elijah imagery captured everyone’s attention, especially with the message of repentance, baptism, and living a pure and holy lifestyle.  His image was significantly different than the priestly heritage from which he came that included some comforts of wealth.  Yet John’s message was one that the temple priests failed to announce.


[1]. The demise of Joseph is one of the mysteries of the Bible.  However, since Jesus was the oldest son, it was his responsibility to care for his parents in their old age and to bury them when they passed on.  We know that He had at least four brothers: James, Joses, Judas (Jude), and Simon, and several sisters who were not named.

[2]. John the Baptist is not called a “rabbi” or a “sage” anywhere in Scripture or in extra-biblical writings.  However, the mere fact he had disciples is indicative that he functioned as a sage or rabbi.

[3]. A rabbi-disciple relationship was always a teacher-student relationship.


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05.02.02 Lk. 3:15-18 (See also Mt. 3:11-12; Mk. 1:7-8) Along the Jordan River



15 Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were debating in their minds whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.    

17 His winnowing shovel is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn up with a fire that never goes out.” 18 Then, along with many other exhortations, he proclaimed good news to the people.


The value of the perspectives of the four gospel writers is clearly evident in this case. In the public introduction of Jesus, each writer clearly reveals his passionate message.

  1. For Matthew, his message is “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2; 4:17);
  1. For Mark it is “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mk. 1:1);
  1. For Luke it was a quotation from Isaiah and concluded that all humanity will see the salvation of God (Lk. 3:6) instead of words of judgment.
  1. John’s gospel is considerably more theological. His theme is that readers would “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” and that they would “have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31). 

It has been said that the gospels are a unique genre – not a letter (Gk. epistle), but a kind of written report that functioned as an informative advertisement.[1] Jesus came to reveal that the eternal was not the future, but the unseen that exists now.  To know God is not an endless pursuit, but a condition of the present reality that is available to everyone.  God is not a philosophy or an abstraction, but a divine being with character and personality who desires all men to attain His character and personality.  However, humanity could only understand the divine message, if the Divine lived among them. To communicate this concept, the expressions of “Son of Man” and “Son of God,” express the deity of Jesus,[2] but the former title also asserts His humanity.[3]

I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals.” It was customary for a slave or servant to untie the sandals of a visitor and wash his feet when entering a house.[4]  The English word slave or servant is derived from the Greek term doulos.[5] A doulos was a common household slave who performed the most menial of all household chores.  Here the gospel writer declares that John was so humbled at the presence of Jesus, that he was not worthy to perform this most menial act of servanthood (cf. 1 Sam 25:41).[6]

Throughout the Middle East, in ancient times and today, feet are considered defiled.[7] The reason is that roads and walkways are dirty, dusty, and covered with animal dung. Throughout most of history, wherever anyone walked, livestock did likewise and, therefore, avoiding animal dung was impossible. That is why sandals were removed when entering a home and if there were no servants or slaves to wash the visitor’s feet, then it was the woman’s responsibility to do so.

“Holy Spirit and fire.”  Some scholars believe this phrase refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the followers of Jesus; being on “fire” for God. Jesus said that they would be immersed in the Ruach HaKodesh, meaning Holy Spirit,[8] which began at Acts 2:1ff. (See other opinion below.) However, the term “Holy Spirit” must be understood in the Jewish context because the full Christian understanding of it did not occur until after the ascension. In Jewish thought and philosophy the Holy Spirit had two primary functions.[9]

  1. To reveal divine truth to men, and
  1. To enable men to recognize and accept that truth.

John used the term precisely within the Jewish definition and understanding of the Old Testament time. He was preaching the divine truth and people began to follow Him, listening carefully to His teaching. He did not perform any miracles at this time.

Others believe this phrase to be a purifying event that will separate the wicked Jews from the righteous ones as described in Malachi 3:19-21; 4:1-3, and Psalm 1:6.  The separation was described in agricultural terms. When wheat was harvested, the kernel had to be separated from the wheat chaff. To accomplish this, the wheat was placed on a threshing floor and was lightly crushed with a threshing sled pulled by a donkey. The next step is called “winnowing,” when the wheat was tossed into the air so that the wind, blowing across a threshing floor, blew the chaff to the side and the heavier wheat kernels fell to the ground. The chaff was collected and burned, hence, the vivid imagery of pending judgment in hell.  The prophets stated that the Messiah would destroy His enemies with His fiery breath (cf. Isa. 11:4; 30:27-28). The apocryphal writer 4th Ezra restated this prevailing thought:

After this I looked, and behold, all who had gathered together against him, to wage war with him were much afraid, yet dared to fight. And behold, when he saw the onrush of the approaching multitude, he neither lifted up his hand or held a spear or any weapon of war, but I saw only how he sent forth his mouth as if it were a stream of fire, and from his lips a flaming breath, and from his tongue he shot forth a  storm of sparks.  All of these were mingled together…, fell on the onrushing multitude, which was prepared to fight, and burned them all up.

4 Ezra 13:8-11[10]


The Israelites always associated fire with great events in their history.  Examples are the great covenant between Israel and God was witnessed by fire (Gen. 15:17) and when God dedicated the tabernacle with fire (Ex. 40:34). When the Israelites traveled through the wilderness they were guided by a pillar of fire; God appeared in the Burning Bush (Ex. 3:2); a fire after an earthquake (1 Kg. 19:1-12); and a fire in a cloud (Ezek. 1:4).  In the Old Testament, fire was associated with judgment and destruction of the wicked,[11] as well as purification of the righteous.[12] The early church, on the Day of Pentecost experienced the Holy Spirit and fire as the presence of God.

However, other scholars say that the term “fire” in Matthew’s gospel is never associated with the Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:3) but with judgment.[13] Furthermore, fire associated with Pentecost never suggests the chaff being blown away by the wind.

“His winnowing shovel.”   As previously stated, the term “winnowing” is an agricultural term that is associated with the separation of the wheat chaff from the wheat kernel. In this process, a fork or shovel was used to toss the wheat high into the air, at which time a crosswind blew the chaff to the side and the heavier wheat kernel fell directly to the threshing floor.[14]  In this context, the winnowing fork is representative of God’s separation of the unrepentant from the true people of God.

“Clear His threshing floor.  To clear the threshing floor implied that Jesus would remove the judges of the Sanhedrin. The phrase was a common reference pertaining to divine judgment.  The Sanhedrin members sat in a semi-circular pattern[15] that resembled a threshing floor so all could see other members and consider carefully the significance of their judgments.[16]  The imagery was preserved in the Mishnah:

The Sanhedrin was arranged like the half of a round threshing floor so that they all might see one another.

Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.3


The most famous threshing floor was the floor of Ornan (1 Ch. 21:28; 22: l), which was purchased by David and where later Solomon built his temple, followed by the temple of the first century.  This was precisely where Jesus stood before Caiaphas. The image of God was not only that of a judge between the just and unjust, but also that of the Provider for His children.

He will burn up with a fire that never goes out.”  The chaff was burned in clay cooking stoves. John used winnowing as an analogy of judgment by an angry God who will separate the unfaithful from those who accepted salvation.  This imagery is common in the Hebrew Bible[17] and, therefore, was familiar to the audience.


05.02.02.A. A RECONSTRUCTED THRESHING FLOOR.  The threshing floor was where villagers would lay down their barley or wheat on the ground. A donkey would then pull a threashing sled (shown leaning against the wall) over the wheat, which would loosen the chaff from the kernel. Then the wheat was winnowed by tossing it into the air.  Photographed at the Jerusalem Pilgrim Center by the author.


Bible students have often wondered if John thought that he was living at the end of the age; the age that would bring judgment upon the enemies of Israel?  The answer is clearly affirmative – yes.  At this point, John appears to believe that the messiah is an agent of God who will bring judgment upon Israel and function as the expected political-messiah.  He does not realize that his messiah is the Messiah. As will be demonstrated later, John believed that the messiah would come with fiery judgment on the wicked, and he would most certainly overthrow the Roman tyranny.   Little wonder then, that he used such strong language.


05.02.02.B. TWO BOYS WINNOWING WHEAT. Two boys, dressed in authentic first century clothes, are winnowing wheat in an open field. It is a process of throwing the wheat up into the air so the wind can blow the chaff aside while the heavier wheat kernels fall down to the threshing floor. The kernels are then gathered and the chaff is burned. Photographed at the reconstructed Nazareth Village by the author.


[1]. Mellowes and Cran, Producers. From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. (DVD).  Part 3.


[2]. Jn. 3:13; 5:27; 6:27; cf. Mt.26:63-64; Tenney, The Gospel of John. 105.


[3]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:312.


[4]. John the Baptist used figurative language that is reflective of agriculture and desert life. Therefore, he uses terms such as brood of vipers, fruits (of repentance), the axe at the root of the tree, baptism of fire, the threshing floor, and the burning of the chaff.


[5]. Link and Tuente. “Slave, Servant, Captive, Prisoner, Freeman.” 3:589-91.


[6]. Howard, Jr., “Shoe, Sandal.” 4:491-92; Cameron, “Sandal.” 5:268; Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible.  403.

[7]. See “Defile” in Appendix 26.


[8]. Lk. 24:49; Jn. 15:26, 16:13-14; Ac. 1:8.


[9]. Barclay, “Mark.” 79-81.


[10]. Scholars debate on the classification of 3rd Ezra (a/k/a 1 Esdras) and 4th Ezra (a/k/a 2nd Esdras). Sometimes these are listed in the Apocrypha (see 02.02.03) and other times they are listed in the Pseudepigrapha (see 02.02.24). The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.


[11]. Isa. 31:9; Amos 7:4; Mal. 4:1; Jub. 9:15; 36:10; Enoch 10:6, 12ff; 54:6; 1QH 6.18-19; et. al.

[12]. Isa. 1:25; Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:2ff; 1QH 5.16.

[13]. Mt. 3:10, 12; 5:22; 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:41.


[14]. The preferred location for threshing floors was on a hill top where there was a constant cross wind.


[15]. This custom was popular in other cultures as well, such as the Roman senate was seated in a semi-circular fashion.


[16]. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.3.

[17]. Job 21:18; Ps. 1:4; Isa. 29:5, 41:16; Dan. 2:35; Hosea 13:3.

05.02.03 From Galilee to Jordan: JESUS IS BAPTIZED

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05.02.03 Mt. 3:13-17; Lk. 3:23a (See also Mk. 1:9-11) From Galilee to Jordan




Mt. 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.        14 But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”

15 Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him to be baptized.

16 After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17 And there came a voice from heaven:

This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!


Lk. 23 As He began His ministry, Jesus was about 30 years old

When Jesus left Galilee, it was not the area by the Sea of Galilee, but the Roman provincial district of Galilee which was a large area to the west of the Sea. The village of Nazareth is within that district. He went to His cousin John who was along the Jordan River a short distance north of the Dead Sea.

“To be baptized by him (John).”   The baptism of Jesus marked the beginning of His ministry.  This obedient act was performed for several reasons:

  1. Jesus was to be consecrated to the complete will of the Father.
  1. Jesus was to acknowledge the approval received from the Father (Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 42:1).
  1. Here John, the crier in the wilderness, announced the arrival of the Messiah and the beginning of His ministry.
  1. Jesus identified Himself with sinners (Isa. 53:12; II Cor. 5:21).
  1. Jesus identified Himself with and to Israel (Jn. 1:11).
  1. He set the example for others who would become believers to follow.
  1. Jesus also identified Himself with the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king.
  1. Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness.
  1. Jesus was verbally identified by the Father in a manner all present could hear.
  1. Jesus received the anointing of His ministry (Acts 10:38).


05.02.03.Q1 Why was Jesus baptized (Mt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-23a)?

Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, but there are reasons or insights that define the meaning of that phrase.  The term righteousness (Gk. dikaiosyne) is defined by a number of phrases such as uprightness, upright, just acquitted[1]  or as said in a simplified manner, as if I never sinned. But obviously everyone does sin, and baptism is the symbolic act to declare one has accepted divine forgiveness as if he never sinned.  But since Jesus never sinned, His baptism was for the fulfillment or purpose of righteousness as follows:

  1. According to the Law of Moses (Lev. 16:4) a priest was consecrated to his office by the ritual cleansing of washing with water. While Jesus was to function in the office of Messiah and not as a priest, He still took on the symbolic priestly cleansing in order to fulfill the demands of the Law, which signified He was consecrated to God and ready for public ministry. The baptism itself didn’t result in the forgiveness of sin, but rather, it was an expression of the repentance which already occurred when one accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, including the forgiveness of sin.[2]
  1. It was to identify with the preaching of the Kingdom of God.
  1. To identify with the believing remnant of John’s baptism.
  1. To identify with sinners (2 Cor. 5:21). Since Jesus took upon Himself the nature of sinful men, and placed Himself in their position, it was proper that He should submit Himself to every ordinance of God’s appointment concerning sinful men.
  1. To receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38).


His baptism was the last act of his private life and first act of his public ministry. While the baptism has symbolism (described above), so does its location. Note the following:

  1. It was the same place where Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to enter Canaan some fifteen centuries earlier.[3] Joshua’s entrance into the new land symbolized a new life for God’s people and new era. The crossing point was named “Beth-Abara,” meaning “house of the crossing.” In the course of time it was abbreviated to “Bethany,” but the term “beyond the Jordan” was also attached to it as not to confuse it with the village of Bethany located near Jerusalem, the home of Lazarus (Jn. 1:28). Therefore, the baptism at this site represented a new era; a new beginning.
  1. It was where Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire.
  1. It was where Gideon defeated the Midianites and killed two of their princes.


The Jewish people practiced two rituals in water:

  1. Baptism (which most Christians are unaware was practiced by Jewish people)
  1. Ritual immersions (which most Christians do not understand)


Baptism was a one-time event for the repentance of sin. It was usually practiced for a number of reasons,[4] such as when someone became a member of the Sanhedrin. The Essenes also baptized new members into their sect,[5] and many scholars believe the Pharisees did likewise, but evidence for a firm conclusion on this matter is still lacking.

The ritual immersion in a mikvah[6] was in response to defilement caused by a physical transgression (touching a dead body, walking over a grave, etc.), whereas baptism was for repentance of sin and the coming to faith. Since there is no Christian counterpart to ritual immersion, it is difficult for Gentile believers to understand its purpose.

“After Jesus was baptized.”  The ministry of Jesus was inaugurated with the symbolism of entering the water, which was equated with death, and then brought out of the water, which was equated with the rebirth of new life. By His baptism, he identified Himself with the sinful and lost people, in order to become the sacrificial Lamb of God.[7] As Jesus publicly dedicated Himself to do His Father’s will (Lk. 22:42; Mt. 3:15), the “voice from heaven” confirmed His calling.[8]  

At the close of His ministry, Jesus brought a sense of reality to the symbolism of death and life when He died on the cross and arose three days later.  It has been a doctrine of the church for believers to declare that they have died with Christ to the passions of the world and have been raised to live in the newness of His life.[9]  

Over the centuries there have been numerous church discussions on the mode of baptism.  Some churches today teach that a new convert needs to be completely submersed in water, because the definition of baptize in the Greek is to submerse or put under the water.  Others teach that the full meaning of the doctrine can be found in the symbolism of sprinkling water on the new believer and, therefore, submersion is not necessary.  Such discussions have, unfortunately, led to arguments and church splits, all of which could have been prevented if they had known what the early church fathers taught about the matter.  The Didache (ca. A.D. 90-120) is the earliest known book on church doctrines, rules, and procedures. The authors understood not only their language but also their culture and context.  They had an interesting interpretation concerning the mode of baptism.

As for baptism, baptize in this way: Having said all this beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. If you do not have running water, however, baptize in another kind of water; if you cannot do so in cold water, then do so in warm water.

But if you have neither, pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Before the baptism, let the person baptizing and the person being baptized and others who are able fast; tell the one being baptized to fast one or two days before.                                            

Didache 7:1-4[10]


Obviously, there was a preference as to how a baptism was to be performed.  Note that fasting was a part of baptism, probably because the church considered conversion a serious decision during a time of persecution.  Finally, it should be understood that baptism did not begin with John and Jesus, as it was an old Jewish custom for new converts. The observers of John knew precisely what he was preaching and doing.[11]

The site where Jesus was baptized was not difficult to find.  Several accounts written by visiting pilgrims centuries ago gave archaeologists strong clues as to where the event occurred. The primary difficulty with opening the area for modern tourism was that the large area was filled with explosive land mines that remained hidden since the Israeli-Jordanian wars. Once both governments cleared the area, it was opened to the public.

One of the accounts was written by a Spanish nun, Egeria, Etheria, or perhaps Atheria, in the years 381-384.[12] All that is known about her must be taken from the surviving parts of her book, The Tree of Life: A Brief History of the Cross.[13] She was not a merchant or one who held office in government or the church, but rather, she was a pious woman from northern Spain or southern France who was sincerely interesting in walking the steps where her Savior once walked.  In 384 she visited the home of Peter (06.03.04) when it was standing complete in Capernaum. In her description she said that it had been turned into a church that consisted of three concentric octagons.  She also mentioned that the small church was occupied by many monks and that,

Between the church and the [monk’s] cells was a plentiful spring which flowed from the rock.”

Pilgrim Egeria[14]


A century and a half later, another pilgrim, Theodosius, is believed to have visited the site between the years 515 and 530. He described the Church of Saint John the Baptist as being on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

At the place where my Lord was baptized is a marble column, and on top of it has been set an iron cross. There also is the Church of Saint John Baptist, which was constructed by the Emperor Anastasius. It stands on great vaults which are high enough for when the Jordan is in flood …. From the Dead Sea to the Jordan, where the Lord was baptized by John – there are about five milies.

Theodosius, De Situ Terrae Sanctae 20[15]


Like the Bordeaux pilgrim, Theodosius located the hill from which Elijah was taken up, which he called the Little Mount Hermon, across the river from the baptismal site.  He continued to say that the site was near the intersection of the Roman Jerusalem-Jericho road and the road that connected with the Via Nova Traiana on the Transjordanian high plateau located to the east.[16]

Only a few decades later, in 570, Antoninus Piacenza, a pilgrim from the Italiam village of Piacenza,[17] toured the Holy Land and was a somewhat more descriptive of the site.  He said,

We arrived at the place where the Lord was baptized.  This is the place…where Elijah was taken up.  In that place is the “little hill of Hermon” mentioned in the psalm…. By the Jordan, not far from where the Lord was baptized is a very large Monastery of Saint John, which has two guest houses.

Pilgrim of Piacenza, Itinerarium 12.4[18]


Finally, a pilgrim named Arculf, visited the site around 670 or 680 and also mentioned a church and gave this description (speaking of himself in the third person):

The holy, venerable spot at which the Lord was baptized by John is permanently covered by the water of the River Jordan. Arculf, who reached the place, and swam across the river both ways, says that a tall wooden cross has been set up on the holy place…The position of this cross where, as we have said, the Lord was baptized, is on the near side of the river bed. A strong man using a sling can throw a stone from there to the far bank on the Arabian side. From this cross a stone causeway supported on arches stretches to the bank, and people approaching the cross go down a ramp and return up by it to reach the bank. Right at the river’s edge stands a small rectangular church which was built, so it is said, at the place where the Lord’s clothes were placed when he was baptized. The fact that it is supported on four stone vaults, makes it usable, since the water, which comes in from all sides, is underneath it. It has a tiled roof. This remarkable church is supported, as we have said, by arches and vaults, and stands in the lower part of the valley through which the Jordan flows. But in the upper part there is a great monastery for monks, which has been built on the brow of a small hill nearby, overlooking the church. There is also a church built there in honour of Saint John Baptist which, together with the monastery, is enclosed in a single masonry wall.

The Writings of Arculf[19]   



05.02.03.Z THE MOSAIC MADABA MAP DEPICTING “BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN.” This section of the 6th century Madaba Map preserved the village of “Bethany beyond the Jordan” as “Ainon where now is Saphsaphas” meaning “the place of willows.” It also depicts a ferry crossing the Jordan just north of Bethany in an area where now is the Allenby Bridge. Many old maps as this one were oriented toward the east and, therefore, north is toward the left. Wikipedia Commons.



05.02.03.A. THE BAPTISMAL SITE OF JESUS. Tourists look at what historians believe to be the original baptismal site of Jesus. It is located a short distance north the Dead Sea – the same location where Joshua crossed the River to enter the Promised Land of Canaan fifteen centuries earlier. The baptism at this location marked the beginning of a new era. Across the narrow river is the Hashmonite Kingdom of Jordan. Photograph by the author.


Critics have pointed to the fact that Arculf said that the baptismal site was on the western side of the River rather than on the eastern side as all other sources indicated.  There are two possible reasons for this discrepancy.

  1. He may have made a error, as it is unknown how long after his visit he had the time and the writing material to record his comments.
  1. The distance from the lower end of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is about ninety miles, but within that ninety mile space the Jordan River winds so much that it nearly doubles its length – one hundred eighty miles. The river is known to have changed its course from time to time, especially as the result of a severe earthquake. Arculf may very well have written accurately in light of the fact that the river could have shifted. It is unknown if the earthquakes of 363 and 749 caused a change of the Jordan River, but the riverbed has certainly changed numerous times in the past thousand years.[20]


Few sites have as many ancient witnesses as does the place where Jesus was baptized.  The mosaic Madaba Map[21] these descriptions of the hill and buildings enabled archaeologists to find the old church foundations and, thus, secure the site identity.[22]

“The Spirit of God descending like a dove.”   The Holy Spirit (Shekinah Glory) [23]  came upon Jesus in a dynamic manner to empower and equip Him to do the will of the Father who voiced His delight.   The Trinity made the first dynamic action.   Just as centuries earlier the dove announced to Noah the end of the flood and death to humanity, now it had announced the beginning of eternal life through Christ Jesus. The promise of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus was the prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 11:2 and 42:1.  Luke’s intention here was not only to report the actual event of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus, but obviously, also to reflect upon a similar event that occurred in the days of Samuel the prophet. When Samuel anointed David as king of Israel, the Spirit of God came down mightily upon David (1 Sam. 16:13). In the Jewish tradition as recorded in the Talmud,[24] the Spirit of God is described as descending or hovering over the waters as a dove in Genesis 1:2 and another Talmudic passage makes the clear association between the Spirit of God and the dove.  It reads as follows:

And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters – like a dove, which hovers over her young without touching them.

Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 15a


Those who were present at the baptism, who undoubtedly included some representatives from the Sanhedrin, could not have missed this association.  Just as God ushered in a new creation (Gen. 1-2), so likewise would Jesus be the One who would usher in a “new creation” of a New Covenant.  Genesis 1:2 was predictive of the significant event that came upon Jesus.  Might not the Spirit, Who as a dove brooded or rested on a troubled earth at a crisis time produce light, life, and love?  In later years when God destroyed the inhabitants of the earth with a great flood, it was a dove that encouraged Noah to face the crisis with high hopes (Gen 8:8-12). A similar image of the Spirit of God “hovering” was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as follows:

And over the poor will His Spirit hover and the faithful will He support with his strength.

Dead Sea Scroll[25]            


The conclusion is obvious; the passage is to be interpreted as meaning that just as the Spirit of God hovered over His new creation, so the Spirit of God hovered over Jesus who was about to usher an age of new creation in men’s hearts and lives.  Unfortunately, as the church lost the heritage of its Jewish roots, it also lost spiritually enlightening insights such as this one.


“The Spirit of God descending like a dove.”  In this phrase all three persons of the Trinity are present.[26] Unfortunately, some have attempted to translate this phrase to mean “a spirit of a god.”  The key is in understanding Greek grammar, which states that it is not necessary for a noun to have an article for it to be a definite noun. Both the head noun and the genitive noun can have either an article or lack thereof and it makes little semantic difference.  The result is that the statement is a definite noun. Hence, the phrase “a spirit of a god” is clearly a misinterpretation.[27] The theological significance is enormous. Furthermore, the imagery of a peaceful dove has a clear reflection to the Old Testament account of a dove in the flood narrative (Gen. 8).


“This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!” One of the unique features of reading Scripture with Jewish eyes is how various segments of verses are tied together to create a powerful message.  One of the most profound uses is this statement spoken by God at the baptism of Jesus. The statement consists of three phrases and each one points to an Old Testament verse that intensifies its impact. See 11.01.02 concerning the same thought at the Transfiguration. The three phrases are:


  1. “This is My beloved Son.” All in attendance heard the voice from heaven. The statement is based upon Psalm 2:7.

You are My Son, today I have become your Father.

Psalm 2:7


For centuries rabbis had pondered the reference to the word “Son” and concluded it was a messianic prophecy. Therefore, this interpretation was well-established by the first century and the divine voice clearly affirmed the deity of Jesus, a fundamental doctrine of Christianity. While the voice identified Jesus as the Son, it did not confer the status or office (priest/king) upon Him at this time.[28] Note: According to Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, and 5:5, Jesus was installed into this office (priest/king) at His resurrection /ascension.


  1. “Beloved son” This phrase could also be translated as “whom I love.” It originated in Genesis 22:2 and refers to the time when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac. Today’s scholars are unsure if this passage was considered to be a messianic prophecy in the first century, but apparently the early church did recognize it as such.[29]

“Take your son,” He said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Genesis 22:2


While the phrase reflects upon the sacrifice that Abraham was about to make, after the resurrection of Jesus it was recognized to be prophetic, reflecting the future sacrifice that Jesus would make. This astounding message was sandwiched between two incredible verses and those in attendance must have wondered what kind of person this Jesus was.


  1. “I take delight in Him.” This phrase is rooted in Isaiah 42:1, which reads as follows:

This is My Servant;

            I strengthen Him,
this is My Chosen One;

            I delight in Him.
I have put My Spirit on Him;
He will bring justice to the nations.

Isaiah 42:1


Whereas Psalm 2:7 refers to a royal announcement, Isaiah 42:1 refers to a servant. First century Jews believed these two passages to be of a messianic nature, but they could not understand how a king could also be a servant. This apparent contradiction became known as the “Messianic problem,”[30] and would be resolved only when they understood the identity of Jesus as their Messiah.

Finally, theologians have often called this event the “theocratic anointing.” [31]  The term applies to a special intervention by the Holy Spirit Who equips someone who is called to fulfill a special mission.[32] Moses and the seventy elders (Num. 11:17; 25) are among several examples of the Old Testament era.[33]   


05.02.03.Q2 Why did Jesus have to wait past age 30 to begin His ministry (Lk. 3:23)?

According to Moses, the age of ministry according to Moses was from the age of 30 until 50 (Num. 4:3-43). Scripture states that Jesus was about 30 years old” which is obviously indicative that He was not age 30 when He began His ministry. That raises the question as to why Jesus waited until He was past 30 to begin His ministry.

John and Jesus were cousins who were six months apart in age. John had to obey Numbers 4:3-43 and could not begin his ministry until he was the age of 30. In the meantime, Jesus had to wait until the “time was fulfilled” (Gal. 4:4) before He could begin, and that included waiting for John to,

  1. Get his ministry established, including the acquisition of disciples, and
  1. Sufficiently proclaim that the Messiah was coming. This most certainly required more than a year, possibly two.
  1. Furthermore, since there were many itinerant preachers in the countryside, John had to establish himself as a trustworthy and respectable rabbi. Being dressed as the prophet Elijah brought people’s attention to him and his message, and distinguished him from all the others.

Therefore, it can be assumed that Jesus was probably between the ages of 31 and 33 when He began His teaching ministry. (He began with a teaching ministry and had five disciples before He performed His first miracle in Cana.)


[1]. Brown, “Righteousness, Justification.” 3:352-54.


[2]. Acts 3:19; 5:31; 10:43; 11:18; 13:38; 26:18.


[3]. Older references to the location identified it as being just south of the Sea of Galilee.  However, more recent scholarship agrees with ancient witnesses who place the location north of the Dead Sea.

[4]. For more information of various reasons for baptism, see baptism as related to Nicodemus in 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.


[5]. See 05.01.03 and 05.03.02.Q1 “Was the baptism by John similar to the baptism ritual that the Jews performed when a proselyte joined them?” 05.05.05.A “Dead Sea Scroll 4Q414 With Baptismal Liturgy;” see also chapter 7 of the Didache.


[6]. See 05.05.05.D “First Century Mikvah;” and the video of Dr. Paul Wright who discusses the mikvah at the southern temple steps (04.04.03.V).


[7]. Pentecost,  The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. (Video “B”).

[8]. Also see comments on baptism at 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.


[9]. For other references that pertain to the doctrine of baptism, see Mt. 29:19; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38, 8:36-38, 10:47-48, 16:14-15; Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12.

[10]. The Didache is a book on church order that was written within a century of the life of Jesus. For more information, see 02.02.08.


[11]. See also Allison Jr., “One Baptism of Jesus and a New Dead Sea Scroll.”  58-60; See also “A Messianic Vision.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 17:6 (Nov./Dec, 1991) 65.


[12]. Shanks, “After Hadrian’s Banishment: Jews in Christian Jerusalem.” 32.


[13]. Thiede and d’Ancona. The Quest for the True Cross. 66-67.


[14]. Quoted by Wilkerson, Egeria’s Travel’s. 120.


[15]. http://www.netours.com/content/view/255/30/. December 23, 2013. Piccirillo, “The Sanctuaries of the Baptism on the East Bank of the Jordan River.” 440.


[16]. Piccirillo, “The Sanctuaries of the Baptism on the East Bank of the Jordan River.” 439-41.


[17]. It was not unusual for people to take on the name of their town or village as a last name.


[18]. The work of Piacenza, Itinerarium, in English is Itinerary. Quoted by Wilkerson, Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades. 69; See also Piccirillo. “The Sanctuaries of the Baptism on the East Bank of the Jordan River.” 440-41.


[19]. Quoted by Wilkerson, Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It. 107.


[20]. See http://israel-tourguide.info/2011/01/10/earthquakes-history-archaeology/ Retrieved August 25, 2014. The Jordan valley is one of the most active earthquake zones in the world. There have been hundreds of minor earthquakes, and major ones have dammed the Jordan River repeatedly, sometimes for days, in 1160, 1267, 1534, 1834, 1906 and 1927. At such times, buildings are destroyed, thousands of lives are lost, and the river often redirects itself as a new river bed is formed.

[21]. See “Madaba Map” in Appendix 26; See also 14.02.03.D and 05.02.03.Z.


[22]. Khouri, “Where John Baptized: Bethany beyond the Jordan.” 36.


[23]. The Shekinah Glory appeared four times in the life of Jesus: 1) to the shepherds (Lk. 2:8-9), 2) at His baptism (Mt. 3:16), 3) at the transfiguration (Mt. 17:5)and, 4) at His ascension (Acts 1:9).


[24]. Babylon Talmud, Chagim 15a.


[25]. Allison Jr., “One Baptism of Jesus and a New Dead Sea Scroll.”  58-60; See also “A Messianic Vision.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 17:6 (Nov./Dec,1991) 65.


[26]. Erickson, Christian Theology. 861.  This doctrine is so basic to Christianity that some theologians do not single out this passage in their writings.

[27]. For passages that refer to the deity of Christ, see Mt. 1:18-25, 3:17, 17:5; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:14, 18, 33-34, 3:16-18; 1 Jn. 4:9; Isa. 9:6; Phil. 2:7-11.

[28].Wallace, Greek Grammar. 243, 250-51. For further study, see “Apopponius’ Canon and Anarthrous Constructions in Pauline Literature: An Hypothesis.”which was developed by David W. Hedges for his Master of Divinity thesis. See also Granville Sharp’s Rule at http://www.bbc.edu/journal/volume1_2/granville_sharp-baker.pdf  Retrieved January 12, 2015..

[29]. See Appendix 6 concerning Old Testament sacrifices and Jesus.

[30]. See further details in Appendix 26.


[31]. See further details in Appendix 26.


[32]. http://www.bookmanministries.com/Documents/Theocratic%20Anointing.pdf. Retrieved January 17, 2014.


[33]. Joshua, (Num. 27:18; Deut. 34:9), Othniel (Jg. 3:10), Gideon (Jg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jg. 11:29), Samson (Jg. 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14).


05.02.04 Wilderness Mountain: THE DEVIL TEMPTS JESUS

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.02.04 Wilderness Mountain: THE DEVIL TEMPTS JESUS

05.02.04 Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:13b; (See also Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13) Wilderness Mountain




1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.       2 After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. 3 Then the tempter approached Him and said, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 But He answered, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deut. 8:3) 

5 Then the Devil took Him to the holy city, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: He will give His angels orders concerning you, and they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Ps. 91:11-12; LXX)

7 Jesus told him, “It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God.” (Deut. 6:16)

8 Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 And he said to Him, “I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (Deut. 6:13)

11 Then the Devil left Him, and

Mk.13b He was with the wild animals, and the angels began to serve Him.


The temptations offered by Satan have three interesting reflections on the Roman Empire. Hellenized Jews, tax collectors like Matthew and Zachaeus, and many others were lured in by the Roman promise of the life of wealth and materialism. Caesar Augustus and the emperors who followed him gave the Roman citizens the same three temptations as Satan offered to Jesus.

  1. Satan told Jesus to turn stones into bread (Mt. 4:3); the Romans offered bread and circuses (entertainment) for the masses.
  2. Satan told Jesus angels would protect Him if He jumped off the temple pinnacle (Mt. 4:5-6); the Romans offered protection to the citizens by crushing any rival enemy.
  3. Satan offered Jesus all splendors of the nations of the world (Mt. 4:8); the Romans offered prosperity and Roman peace (Latin: Pax Romana meaning peace to Roman and quiet in the provinces).[1]

The term “wilderness”means a desert wilderness without inhabitants. The Judean wilderness was a rocky and hilly land, with mountains close to the Jordan River and Dead Sea.  The ancients believed angels were needed for protection from natural desert  elements and the wild animals that roamed there (Ps. 91:11-13).[2]  THe Dead Sea Scrolls and extra-biblical writings attest to the common belief that the wilderness was a cursed land full of wild animals and demons,[3] but God will restore the land at a future time.[4]  So to the first century Jews, when Jesus went into the desert wilderness, He was walking into the proverbial “hell on earth” to meet the devil on His own turf.

“To be tempted by the devil.” The phrase “devil” is translated from the Greek word diabolos (1228) and its Hebrew counterpart is Satan, meaning adversary, opponent, rebel or a slanderer.[5]  At times it was applied to evil men.[6] While Satan is the evil one who brings evil temptations that cause men to sin, God will test someone in certain situations to challenge his character and faithfulness.[7] Jesus was led by the Spirit to confront Satan, and the evil one responded aggressively in his attempt to test Jesus.  However, it must be recognized that the reason Jesus was led by the Spirit, was because He, Jesus, was the aggressor and Satan, eventually became the victim.

There is a need to further discuss the Greek word for tempt which is peirazein.[8]  The translation difficulty is that in English the word tempt always has a negative connotation to it.  However, it would be better translated as tested, as to prove one’s worth, faithfulness, or fidelity.[9] Jesus was tested to prove His worth or fidelity. Jesus was being tempted by Satan; any obedience to Satan is sin.

05.02.04a (2)


“If you are the Son of God.”  This phrase would be better translated “because you are the Son of God” [10]  or “since you are the Son of God,” as the indicative mood in Greek means that the question assumes Jesus was the Son of God.[11]  It is interesting that Satan did not question the deity of Jesus. Rather, he asked Jesus to tell the stones to become bread, something only God could do.[12]  Stones are found in abundance nearly everywhere and changing them into bread would meet the needs of the people for centuries to come. Bread was the staple of the ancient diet; the basic food for survival, so much so that bread became a synonym for food.[13] But Jesus never affirmed a request presented by the evil one.  Notice that Jesus never argued or debated with Satan, He simply said “It is written …” with an obvious reference to the power of the Old Testament and the will and command of God, the Father (see phrase explanation below).

The phrase, “if you are the son of God,” also demonstrated a special relationship to God, as well as a Messianic significance (Ps. 2:7).  This relationship had existed eternally. It was even more astounding when Matthew wrote this gospel to the Jews and told them that Satan recognized that Jesus was the Son of God and did not question it.[14] In this encounter the identity and power of Jesus was firmly established.

05.02.04b (2)


“Tell these stones to become bread.”  Jesus, who was very hungry, could easily have given in to the cravings of His human desires and needs (lust of the flesh) and have performed a miracle. But to obey Satan, even for a good reason, is a sin. Jesus chose not to use His Sonship for His own advantage and continued to have faith that God would provide for His needs. He recognized that the highest good for God was not to satisfy His physical urges and needs, but to obey the will of the Father. It should be noted that Jesus truly was tempted to turn stones into bread because,

  1. He had strong physical hunger and
  1. He had the power to provide food for Himself.

The pangs of hunger are more powerful when stimulated by temptations and imaginations. Jesus was not only faced with physical and spiritual challenges, but also the calling to be the sacrifice for the sins of humanity. To be starving in the desert for more than a month is bad enough; to resist the onslaught of temptation causes a horrific situation to go beyond human comprehension. The significance is constantly understated because, for mortals, it is impossible to fully understand the agonies Jesus experienced in those forty days in the desert or for an evening in Gethsemane.

“It is written.”  The term in Greek is gegraptai, and the perfect passive of grapho, that means “to write.”  The perfect tense expresses a completed action and the permanent result from it.  More specifically, Jesus said this in the perfect tense, meaning it has been written or it stands written.[15]  Therefore, “It is written” can be translated in more detail as meaning, It is written and still stands. This obviously affirms the strong and unchangeable nature of God’s Word, and that the Old Testament was not eliminated by the work of Jesus, but it was fulfilled.

When Jesus was confronted by Satan, His weapon was the written Word (Old Testament), not the Oral Law.  This quotation is from Deuteronomy 8:3, which summarizes the main ideas of the Deuteronomic teaching. The chapter has three key words: life, commandments, and sustenance.  The rabbis taught that life was based on keeping all 613 Mosaic Laws.[16]  In doing so, one served our Lord and, consequently, enjoyed prosperity.  It was believed that the study of the Torah was the essence of life and brought one into harmony with God.  However, Jesus introduced a new concept at this point, that if one was firm in his faith in God and the Torah, he could meet the challenge of Satan and win. The temptations should be understood as an opportunity to attack Satan, not as a struggle or challenge caused by Jesus. Satan thought he could tempt Jesus to sin as he did Adam, but Jesus turned the challenge around and Satan lost the contest. Throughout His ministry, Jesus always based His arguments upon the Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible.  What is significant is that Jesus conquered and rejected the temptation by expressing absolute trust in God, as written in the Old Testament. That lesson is all the more dynamic today in that He has risen from the grave and is seated at the right hand of God.

05.02.04c (2)


On the pinnacle of the temple.” The term temple referrs to the sacred complex with its porticos, courts, sacred holy of holies, and various subordinate buildings. But it can also mean primarily the most holy sacred buiding itself.  The pinnacle was the highest part of the temple, an estimated 216 feet above the rocky pavement below. There is an interesting comment recorded in the Midrash that reflects a first century messianic belief and, therefore, sheds light as to why Jesus was at the top of the temple for this temptation. Note the following:

Our teachers taught, at the time when the King Messiah will appear, he will come and stand on the roof of the temple.  He will proclaim to Israel and will say to the humble, “The time of your redemption has arrived!  If you do not believe – behold my light which shines upon you…”

Midrash, Pesikta Rabbati 36[17]


The teachers (rabbis) taught that the messiah would declare himself as such on the temple. Satan most certainly knew of it and was delighted to tempt Jesus at this point. But the evil one must have been disappointed when Jesus did not accept the invitation. That leaves a question to ponder: Shouldn’t the Jews have considered the possibility that maybe they missed the Messiah after the temple was destroyed?



05.02.04.A. THE INSCRIBED PINNACLE STONE OF THE TEMPLE.  Archaeologists working at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount discovered an inscribed stone that identified the pinnacle of the temple.   The inscription reads, leveit hateki’ah or the place of trumpeting.[18]  It was here that the trumpeter announced the opening of the city gates and the beginning of the Sabbath by the blowing of the ram’s horn trumpet.[19]  It was probably beside this stone, high upon the temple, where Jesus was tempted.  Decades later it was from this same pinnacle that James, the brother of John (Acts 12:2), was thrown to his death by angry priests and Pharisees.[20]  Photograph by the author.


05.02.04.B. AN ILLUSTRATION OF A PRIEST WITH A TRUMPET UPON THE PINNACLE.  This illustration is of a priest blowing his trumpet for daily prayers from the highest pinnacle of the temple. It was also from this point that the trumpets were blown every three hours during the night – including the 3:00 a.m. trumpeting known as “the cock’s crow.”[21] Illustration by the author.


“Throw yourself down.” This temptation was a manipulative bribe wherein the evil one quoted Psalm 91:11-12, which essentially states that if the Messiah would fall, the angels would catch Him. Satan attempted to challenge Jesus and to force God to rescue him.

 “All the kingdoms of the world.”  The Roman Empire encompassed many smaller empires. Its vast region spanned from the mouth of the Rhine River in modern Germany to southern Egypt and it belted the Mediterranean Sea. Historians have often said that the Mediterranean Sea was, in the truest sense, a Roman lake. The throne of Caesar Augustus was seen like an “exceedingly high mountain” and the Roman Empire like “all the kingdoms of the world.” Tradition says that mountain was Mount Quarantania near Jericho. If so, what Jesus saw in the distance was the oasis city of Jericho and the surrounding farmland in the midst of a desert wilderness.  What a difference this was compared to the beautiful Galilee area where He grew up and spent most of His time in ministry.

I will give You all these things.”  Satan made a legitimate offer to Jesus when he offered Him the kingdoms of this world, and Jesus did not deny that.  At one time Adam had complete reign over the earth, but when he sinned, that authority to reign was taken from him and transferred to Satan.  Since then the kingdoms of the earth have been established by force and maintained by power and deceit. These are his own degraded forms of Paradise, and Satan offered these to Jesus.

But Jesus did not wish to be the conqueror of God’s people or dominate them by deceit. God offered kingship to Jesus via the cross, which is in stark contrast to Satan who claims that he can offer “eternal life” without the cross.  But Satan’s eternal life is eternal death in flames. The kingship of Jesus begins with the Kingdom of Heaven in His believers. Any day when a soul has repented and turned to righteousness, the eternal Kingdom of Heaven has been enlarged because it has acquired a new citizen.

Beginning with this narrative, Matthew presents a number of ironies throughout his gospel; ironies that reflect the sacrifice of Jesus for our blessings that are recorded in poetic form:

He was hungry (4:2)

but He fed others (14:13-21; 15:29-39)

He grew extremely tired (8:24)

but He gave others rest (11:28)

He was the Messiah king

but He paid taxes (17:24-27)

He was accused of being the devil

but He cast demons out of others (12:22-32)

He died a sinner’s death

that sinners might live (1:21)

He was sold for the price of one slave

but gave His life as a ransom for many (20:28)

He did not turn stones into bread for Himself (4:3-4)

but He is the bread of life for the world (26:26)


Satan would eventually see Jesus perform many miracles and convince thousands of His Deity, such as the time when He would multiply great quantities of bread for thousands, so the bread would be as common as the stones (Mt. 14:18-21). He would preach of a Kingdom of God that is more glorious than any earthly kingdom.  He would not jump off a building, but simply walk across the water. Furthermore, casting evil spirits out of people was one of the most dramatic miracles of His ministry – much to Satan’s disappointment.  While the evil one thought these temptations would be the end of Jesus, instead these events turned out to be points of victory for Jesus and all those who would eventually place their faith in Him.

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” This phrase is the first of the Ten Commandments, all ten of which were eventually confirmed by Jesus.[22]

“He was with wild animals.”  The environment of nature is often forgotten in biblical studies. Many wild animals roamed freely throughout the land. It would not have been unusual for travelers to see a Syrian brown bear, a lion, or other animals that could threaten the life of a sole traveler. Furthermore, the Jordan River was known to have crocodiles.[23] Small children who strayed from their village or traveling caravan were just as vulnerable as sheep and goats, as history records that at one time two small children were devoured by ravenous wolves in a village beyond the Jordan. Communities then proclaimed a fast for mourning and divine protection.[24]

People from the communities throughout Israel came to Jerualem in festival caravans. They traveled together in groups not only for protection from bandits, but also for protection from wild predators. The Mishnah recorded that:

The wolf, the lion, the leopard, the panther, and the serpent rank as an attested danger.        

Mishnah, Baba Kamma 1.4



05.02.04.D. THE SYRIAN BROWN BEAR.  The Syrian brown bear was one of several vicious animals that Jesus could have encountered in the wilderness.  Wild animals were a constant threat to travelers and shepherds with sheep. Therefore, shepherds, travelers, and even the disciples carried swords.  Photograph by the author at the Haifa Zoological Garden.

“The angels began to serve Him.”  Unless one experiences an hour or two in the desert wilderness of Israel, he has no concept of  the potential torture that the natural elements and desert sun can have on a person.  Add to that situation the fact that Jesus fasted without food for forty days, and the confrontations with the devil.  He was completely famished and exhausted – which is why angels were needed to serve Him. BUT, He was victorious!

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Satan failed three times, but that did not deter him. Satan later tempted Jesus numerous times, especially at the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His crucifixion. Satan repeatedly influenced the disciples, such as when Jesus responded to Peter by saying, “Get thee behind me” (KJV). The Apostle Paul told the early church in Ephesus to put on the armor of God to fight Satan and his demons (Eph. 6:10ff.). Likewise the fight continues for believers today.


05.02.04.E. THE CARACAL LYNX.  This lynx was among the predators that threatened livestock and people throughout the centuries.  Photograph by the author at the Haifa Zoological Garden.


Finally, Matthew connected Jesus with the mighty men of old, Moses[25] and Elijah (1 Kg. 19:8) who were tempted prior to their divine assignment. He does not attempt to explain the evil or temptation; he makes no mention of Satan in history[26] nor does he distinguish between God’s testing and Satan’s tempting. He gives opportunity for future generations to struggle with those answers. He does, however, say that Jesus “wrestled” with Satan and won!

05.02.04.Q1 In Matthew 4:6 and Luke 4: 10, did Satan speak the truth?

Satan gave the appearance of quoting Scripture.  But a careful reading, however, reveals that he misquoted it. For example, in Matthew 4:6, Satan incorrectly quoted Psalm 91:11-12 when he failed to mention the phrase “to guard you in all your ways” in verse 11.  Satan cannot communicate divine truth, but he does very well with half-truths, misapplied truths, or revengeful truths for the purpose of deception, hurting people, and furthering his evil kingdom.

05.02.04.Q2  Was Jesus capable of committing a sin?

Absolutely! Otherwise, He would have been immune to temptations. The two most grievous struggles He experienced were at the beginning and the end of His ministry: Forty days in the desert wilderness and one night in the Garden of Gethsemane followed by six trials and the crucifixion. The miracle of Jesus is that He was tempted in every area of life as we are – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – yet He remained completely sinless (Heb. 4:15).  He was totally God and totally human, a concept that mere mortals find contradictory and impossible to understand. If He had not experienced victory over the temptations of humanity, then He would not have been the promised sinless and spotless Lamb of God.

On a related issue, Satan is the archenemy of God as well as mankind, since mankind was created in the image of God. Therefore, Satan is the archenemy of mankind as well.  Since Satan’s principal method of attack is temptation, this makes the temptations of Jesus especially significant.

05.02.04.Q3 Whose account of the temptations is accurate, Luke’s or Matthew’s (Mt. 4:1-11 or Lk. 4:1-13)?

Matthew and Luke recorded the same three temptations, but in a different order. Only Luke said earlier that he wrote his gospel in an orderly (chronological) account (Lk. 1:3). Each writer wrote from his own perspective with an emphasis on whatever he thought was significant.  Luke, a physician by trade, wrote in chronological order because that was important to him.[27]  On the other hand, Matthew, who was previously gaining personal wealth as a tax collector, emphasized the kingdoms of the world displayed before Jesus as a significant temptation.  In first century Judaism, the chronology of events was not as significant as was the meaning of the events that the writer was attempting to convey.


05.02.04.C. THE TRADITIONAL TEMPTATION SITE OF MOUNT QUARANTANIA.  This site tradition is believed to have originated with the Crusaders because from this viewpoint one can see great distances. Whatever Jesus was, the desert is known for its unforgiving heat and barrenness. Photograph by the author.

Jesus was not compelled to go into the wilderness, but He was guided by the Holy Spirit.[28]  For forty days He prayed and meditated in the desert wilderness.  The number forty appears to be associated with temptation and retribution, because for forty days Moses stayed in the Sinai[29] and Elijah stayed in the wilderness for forty days. (Both Moses and Elijah would meet Jesus later on the Mount of Temptation.) Jesus was conscious of new power within His human body as well as an overwhelming sense of being near to God. He not only had to prove Himself to God, but also to Himself and to His people.

The Jewish people believed that a man would not be seen as being great in the eyes of God unless he had first been tested – tested not to sin, but to avoid sin.[30]  They reflected upon five great men as examples.[31]  Therefore, when Jesus faced several temptations, it was not only the beginning of His leadership, but one that followed a well-established biblical pattern that was well known to the Jews. Note the following:

  1. Adam was tempted in a beautiful garden;

Jesus was tempted in a desert wilderness.

  1. Adam enjoyed delicious food;

Jesus hungered during a forty day fast.

  1. Adam was given the entire world;

Jesus was tempted with the kingdoms of the world.

  1. Satan appeared as a serpent to Adam,

but as himself to Jesus.

  1. Adam failed

but Jesus passed the tests (temptations) and was without sin.

Furthermore, there are two interesting comparisons to be considered; comparisons between Jesus and Adam as well as Jesus and Israel.

Jesus and Adam.  There are two significant temptation stories in the Bible.  The first is the temptation of Adam in the book of Genesis. It was there where God’s first created man who lived in a beautiful garden and was at peace with the animals and world around him.  Adam fell to the challenge of Satan, which brought ruin to man and the world.

Jesus, on the other hand, was the “second Adam,” and challenged Satan in the desert where there were wild and destructive beasts, symbolic of the ruin brought on by the sin of Adam.  All temptations in the history of humanity relate in some manner to these two accounts.  If we are tempted by Satan and decide to accept his temptation, we fail and fall.  However, if we resist Satan when tempted, then Satan fails and falls. The first Adam of creation failed, but Jesus, who is the “second Adam,” had victory.  Adam fell into sin in the lush green environment of the Garden of Eden.  What a contrast to Jesus who had total victory in the harsh desert wilderness after a forty day fast.[32] Adam and Eve failed the same temptation tests in the Garden of Eden. Jesus succeeded where mankind failed.[33]

At times, His baptism and the temptations have been interpreted as two separate events, but these are in fact, fundamentally interwoven. God the Father had just audibly proclaimed His approval of Jesus, after which Jesus faced Satan, His challenger. While in heaven, it was Satan who attempted to place himself in the position of God.  Later he motivated Herod the Great to kill the infant Jesus and now he desired to cause Jesus to sin.  Had Satan been successful, then the plan of God for man’s salvation would have failed. However, since Jesus successfully passed the test of temptation, His success became Satan’s failure.   It should be noted that Jesus resisted temptations throughout His entire life. However, these three temptations were radically different from other ones, because Satan not only attacked Jesus physically when He was at His weakest, but he also attacked Jesus as the Messiah to destroy His messianic calling.

Jesus and Israel. The temptations of Jesus provide clear reflections upon the history of Israel. When the Israelites left Egypt (Ex. 14), they walked across the dry bottom of the Red Sea and, thereby, went from death unto life, the symbolism of baptism experienced by Jesus.  Soon, after reaching the other side, they tempted God and were punished.  Hence, they spent forty years wandering in the desert, at the end of which Moses fasted for forty days and nights on behalf of his people. Like Israel’s testing of forty years, Jesus went into the wilderness for a time of testing for forty days.[34]

The scenic horizons of the kingdoms of the world which were shown to Jesus, although similar to the scenic beauty God showed Moses on Mount Nebo, were not parallel because Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land.  The point is that where Israel failed, Jesus accomplished victory!

Finally, the epistle to the Hebrews adds understanding to the temptation experience of Jesus. The writer said that because Jesus suffered when He was tempted and did not sin, He is able to help believers in their temptations (Heb. 2:18).  Furthermore, He is now our high priest and advocate before the Father, defending us from the accusations of the devil.

[1]. This phrase is the definition of Pax Romana. Lee, The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus. 72-73; Mellowes and Cran, Executive Producers. From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. (DVD). Part 1; See “Pax Romana” in Appendix 26.

[2]. The wilderness regions had wild animals such as the wolves, Syrian brown bears (05.02.04.D), and the caracal lynx (05.02.04.E).

[3]. Dead Sea Scrolls – 1 QM 1; Isa. 13:19-22; Ezek. 34:25; Lk. 11:24-28.  Demons and wild animals are associated with each other in the Extra-biblical works of the Testament of Issachar 7:7; Testament of Naphtali 8:4; and Testament of Benjamin 5:2.

[4]. Isa. 11:6-9; 32:14-20; 40:3; 65:35; Hos. 2:18.

[5]. Barclay, “Mark.” 22; Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:27; Vine, “Devil, Devilish.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:166.

[6]. Reference to Judas is in John 6:70, other references are in 1 Tim. 3:11 (slanderers) and in 2 Tim. 3:3 and Titus 2:3 (false accusers).

[7]. Ps. 26:2; Jn. 6:6; Heb. 11:17; 2 Cor. 13:5; Rev. 2:2.

[8]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:43-44.

[9]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:62-63.

[10]. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 4.

[11]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 122.

[12]. Willmington, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible.  22.

[13]. Cranefield, “Bread.” 37.

[14]. Lee, The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus. 18.

[15]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:28

[16]. The 613 laws were observed only during the times of the tabernacle or temple. Today, only 271 of those Mosaic commands can be observed. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 221.

  1. Quoted by Young, “The Political Messiah and the Temple.” Yavo Digest 1:5, 15, 18.

[18]. Bivin and Blizzard, Understanding the Difficult Words. 36.

[19]. Josephus, The Jewish Wars 4.9.12; Bivin and Blizzard, Understanding the Difficult Words. 36.

[20]. Macartney, Great Interviews of Jesus. 10.

[21]. For more information on the “cock’s crow,” see Appendix 16, 26, and 14.02.22.Q1.

[22]. Appendix 4.

[23]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:220-21; Farrar, The Life of Christ 59-60.

[24]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:159.

[25]. Three times Moses fasted for 40 days: Ex. 24:18; 34:28; Deut. 10:10. See also Deut. 9:9.

[26]. See Gen. 22:1 and Jub. 17:16 [cf. Heb. 11:17]; 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Chron. 21:1; Ex. 4:24 and Jub. 48:2.

[27]. See 02.02.11 and “An orderly sequence” in 04.01.04.

[28]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:287; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 8.

[29]. Three times Moses fasted for 40 days: Exodus 24:18; 34:29; Deuteronomy 10:10, and Exodus 34:28.

[30]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 8.

[31]. Noah, Joseph, Abraham, Moses, and Elijah.

[32]. On an interesting side note, the forty days of Lent observed by many Christians throughout the centuries is a tradition based upon the forty days Jesus spent in the desert wilderness.

[33]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 8-13.

[34]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 9-12.

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