“Jesus and the Wild Animals”: Second Adam, True Israel, Active/Passive Obedience

It has always been interesting to me that in the opening chapter of Mark’s gospel he mentions Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness but doesn’t record much detail about it and the details he does mention are kind of strange. Here is Marks account of Jesus’ temptation:

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 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” (Mark 1:12-13).

Thats it? Nothing about his dialogue with the devil? Nothing about whether or not he passed the test? Why even mention it at all? Well, I think David Mathis over at the Desiring God blog is on to the significance of Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation (read his blog post “Jesus and the Wild Animals” and then return here). He sees it as highlighting Jesus as the second and final Adam and I think this is correct. There are definitely second Adam themes in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and Mark’s reference to the wild animals (see also Psalm 8 and Heb. 2:5-9). And praise God, where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded!

But  there are more connections with the Old Testament that are worth mentioning in addition to Adam. Not only is Jesus the second and final Adam, he is also true Israel. You can especially see this in Matthew and Luke, but it’s even in Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation as my former professor Dr. S.M. Baugh pointed out to me while in seminary. In “Gospel and Acts” class he said this:

“Mark does not detail Jesus’ temptation at all as Matthew and Luke does. In Mark, we barely get any introduction. Jesus just appears on the scene, gets baptized and enters the wilderness. There is a strong connection to Isaiah 40 of the gospel going out, and the repeated reference to the wilderness in the temptation narrative points to the theme of a new exodus. The heavens are rent in the baptism of Jesus, a sign in Isaiah 66 of the new creation. . .While Luke notes that Jesus was being led the whole time by the Holy Spirit, Mark describes the Holy spirit as “driving” Jesus there. . .Mark is the only reference to wild animals in the wilderness temptations. The dominant theme of wild animals in the Old Covenant were concerning judgment in Lev 26:21-22 and Deut 28:26. It is interesting then that Jesus, upon his baptism is ejected into the wilderness, the place of curse. This has been compared with the ejection from the Garden of Eden. This anticipates his cross: he is baptized into his ministry in order to become a curse so that the blessing may come to his people. So then by taking the curse; as in Isaiah, the wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard with the young goat, the lion and the fattened calf (Isaiah 11:6; 65:25). This is why Mark mentions the fact of the temptation, but doesn’t detail the encounter.” (We could also add that wild animals are mentioned as part of God’s judgment in Isaiah 13:21-22 and 34:14).

So Jesus is our second and final Adam AND he is true Israel. These of course are connected themes as Israel was like a second Adam in the promised land pointing to the need for Christ to come and obey. And just as Adam failed they certainly failed being fallen in Adam and corrupt by nature (Rom. 3:23; 5:12-21).

All of this also has the theme of sonship running through it. Adam was the “son of God,” and Israel was God’s “firstborn son,” neither of which were pleasing to God due to their disobedience (Luke 3:38; Ex. 4:22). But when Jesus steps on the scene, God says at his baptism and transfiguration “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). The amazing thing is that, although our conscience accuses us that we have grievously sinned against God, through faith in Christ God says to wretched sinners like you and me, “you are my beloved son/daughter, with you I am well pleased” (Gal. 4:4-7; 1 Jn. 3:1-2). Jesus’ righteousness is imputed to us by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 3:21-4:25). And in Him we are God’s beloved children who are called to obey him, not to earn anything, but simply out of gratitude by the Spirit’s enabling power (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 2:12-13).

One final thing to mention, from a systematic theology perspective, is that while Matthew and Luke seem to highlight the active obedience of Christ (his fulfilling the law perfectly. . .i.e. he passed the test!), Mark’s account seems to highlight his passive obedience (his suffering the curse of the law on our behalf). Jesus’ passive obedience is in Matthew and Luke as well, but Mark’s account especially highlights his suffering the curse of the law in our place. Amazing stuff in two little verses!