With the Wild Animals

With the Wild Animals

Jesus is among the beasts and the Ancient Serpent himself. But the wilderness will not dominate the Son of David. Jesus is the Last Adam, and he enters the wilderness with the power to subdue and renew. In Isaiah 43, the Lord says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me” (Isa. 43:19–20).

When Mark’s Gospel opens, Mark highlights the ministry of John the Baptist (1:2–8). But then Mark zeros in on the baptism (1:9–11) and temptation of Jesus (1:12–13), since those things preceded Jesus’s public ministry (1:14–15).

The language of Jesus’s temptations fascinates me because Mark mentions the presence of wild animals, and Mark is the only Gospel writer who does this.

12The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13And 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.

Why would the presence of “wild animals” be worth mentioning? First of all, the location of the wilderness explains the presence of wild animals. The wilderness was understood as a place for wild animals, and the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel introduced the “wilderness” idea (1:3, quoting from Isa. 40). John the Baptist was baptizing “in the wilderness” (1:4), and now in 1:12 we read that the Spirit drove Jesus out into “the wilderness.”

Second, the Old Testament prophets sometimes spoke of wild animals when their oracles portrayed a desolate or cursed setting. In Isaiah 13, the warning for Babylon’s headquarters was that “Wild animals will lie down there, and their houses will be full of howling creatures” (Isa. 13:21).

Third, these Old Testament prophets anticipated a day when the wilderness setting—marked by wild animals—would be transformed by blessing and flourishing.

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