The Defeat of the Devil

“And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness”, Mark 1. 12. This is a remarkable verse. The dove-like Spirit becomes the driving Spirit, brooking no delay. The word “immediately” suggests that time was at a premium. The divine Son of God may not linger at the river. It is remarkable that we are permitted this sacred glimpse of the Spirit’s compulsion and the Son’s submission. Indeed the Members of the Godhead are in action in these verses. The Father acclaims the Son, and then the Spirit drives Him. We must remember that the Son had voluntarily entered into this lowly relationship. Paul declares that He had “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant”, Phil. 2. 7. Having taken this form. He totally accepted its implications.

The word “immediately” is, of course, a key word in this Gospel, for Mark is telling the story of a busy Man and a devoted Servant. The Revised Version, with its consistent use of “straightway” to translate the word, helps us to feel the impact of its repeated use in this chapter: “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder”, v.10, “And straightway the Spirit driveth him forth”, v. 12; “And straightway they left the nets, and followed him”, v. 18; “he saw James … and John … And straightway he called them”, vv. 19. 20; “And they go into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue and taught”, v. 21, “And straightway there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit”, v. 23 R.V.; “And the report of him went out straightway everywhere”, v. 28; “And straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew”, v. 29; “Now Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell him of her”, v. 30.

But the word’s use in verse 12 is remarkable. Jesus never wasted an hour in His life, so why do we read of Him being driven so urgently into the desert here? It may well indicate the divine resolve quickly to engage Satan in conflict, in order to rout him, and then to embark on the programme of blessing which God had in mind for Israel and for the world beyond. We recall that when the religious leaders later attributed to Satan the Lord’s ability to cast out demons, He refuted this by saying, among other things, “No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house”, 3. 27.

On the threshold of His years of public ministry, therefore, which were to involve a sustained assault against the power of Satan in the world, the Lord began by meeting and routing the devil himself. But we still have to account for the word “driveth”. Later, the Lord was to teach His disciples to pray “Lead us not into temptation”. He knew that for them temptation involved the hazard of failure, and He therefore counselled them to pray for a pathway free of its pitfalls. There was no hazard for Him however, since He could not fail, as Mark in his own vivid way brings out in verse 13. The writer to the Hebrews sheds light on this matter when he declares, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted “, Heb. 2. 18. For the Lord Jesus then, temptation was going to mean suffering. To His holy mind the maintained barrage of Satan’s evil suggestions that He endured in the wilderness must have been repulsive to a degree that we cannot appreciate. To suggest evil conduct to a pure mind brings offense and pain. We need not be surprised that, after His baptism, the Lord shrank from entering the foetid atmosphere of Satanic intrigue, from being assailed by vile and subtle Satanic suggestions, and from being encouraged by Satan to sin against His Father.

Temptation involves suffering for Christians as well, though not quite of the same kind. To resist temptation is much more demanding than to succumb to it. To be continuously confronted by an apparently desirable (and perhaps enjoyable) course of action, and to have to maintain a steadfast refusal to pursue it because it is wrong, is not pleasant (though it does yield the compensation of a clear conscience). Resolutely to do the right thing when our instincts and desires would prefer the wrong thing can involve a keen sense of deprivation and pain. Moreover for a godly Christian who is going forward spiritually, evil desires may be repugnant to his new nature in a manner similar to (though not as intense as ) their offensiveness to the Lord Himself.

The Saviour had no inclination to listen to the tempter’s evil counsel. In a sense this foreshadowed His experience in Gethsemane, where He prepared for something infinitely worse. He was going to bear the sins of men and to receive their consequences. We sometimes sing of “the loathsomeness of sin”, and we may feel it keenly at times. But the vast mystery before us is that the pure and holy Son of God, to whom the very suggestion of sin was vile beyond our understanding, was to be “made sin for us”. Isaiah’s prophecy was to be fulfilled, “the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all”, Isa. 53. 6. This was to be so real that He would be forsaken by His God. and would sustain the full fury of the divine judgment which sin deserved. Those who meditate in such scriptures as Psalm 22. and glimpse something of the desolation and grief of the divine Sin-bearer, will realize that His atoning work was unspeakably demanding, and costly far beyond our measuring.

On the outset of His public ministry, then. He shrank from hearing Satan’s suggestions of sin; but during His last hours on earth He shrank far more from the prospect of taking on Himself the sins of His creatures. He who would commit no sins of His own finally became answerable for the sins of His people.

If Mark 1. 12 is of amazing content, the verse that follows contains riches indeed! First the Saviour meets the adversary, then He meets the animals, and finally He meets the angels. We shall review these encounters in turn, beginning with

(i) The Adversary. Mark sums up and dismisses Satan’s assaults upon the Lord with amazing brevity. “And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan”. He omits all the details found in the accounts of Matthew and Luke. Luke’s narrative implies that for forty days the devil used all the temptations of which he was capable against the Lord, the bulk of which are unrecorded until making his three final thrusts in which he urged the Lord to turn stones into bread, then to worship him in order to secure the kingdoms of the world, and then to cast Himself down from a pinnacle of the temple. Not only does Mark omit all this information; he does not even state the outcome of the temptations. Matthew writes that the Lord was left by the devil after his final failure. Matt. 4. 11, and Luke is more explicit in that he declares that “when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season”, 4. 13. But Mark is silent about the results of the temptations. Here is his record again, “And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan”. Why does he leave it at that? Surely he does so because he believes nothing need be added. For Mark the result was inevitable; so much so, that it can be taken for granted. He felt no need to mention it. No other result was possible. Satan’s efforts were futile, and were doomed to failure before they began. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. Now this silence of Mark at this point is very impressive. It speaks volumes about the unassailable perfection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This may be an appropriate point at which to remember that the Bible teaches that there are a few things which God cannot do. which the omnipotent and omniscient God of the universe cannot do. “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself”, 2 Tim. 2. 13; “in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began”, Titus 1. 2; “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man”, James 1. 13. These are powerful statements. They state not merely that God does not deny Himself, that He does not lie, that He is not tempted with evil; but that He cannot deny Himself, cannot lie and cannot be tempted with evil. James’ words can be rendered “God is not temptable”. Those three statements, then, present inherent impossibilities. For God to deny Himself, to lie or to be temptable are impossible because they are incompatible with His nature and being. To argue that they are possible would be to argue that God can cease to be God

(ii) The Animals. Mark’s next few words are totally unexpected, “and was with the wild beasts”. Mark does not identify these beasts, but is content to say that they were wild. And just as in his reference to the temptation period, so in this matter; he says nothing about the consequences of this encounter. He does not add “and they were quiet before Him”, or “and He subdued them and they became harmless”. We are left to assume that the Lord’s safety was a foregone conclusion, just as we are meant to gather that Satan had no success in his attempts to tempt the Lord. It goes without saying! Mark trusts his readers to take the Lord’s safety “as read”. Some of the wild beasts of Palestine were very formidable. References scattered in the Old and New Testaments mention wolves, lions, bears, leopards as well as some dangerous reptiles. Men could be killed or mained by such animals - but not this Man. He was their Maker and Master. Mark’s brief words indicate that He was content to be among these creatures of His, which made no attempt to molest Him.

We should savour the whole verse up to this point, “And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts”. Perhaps the animals came as the devil departed. We know that the angels came after Satan’s departure, and it is significant that Matthew and Luke say nothing of the animals in their detailed account of the climax of the temptation period. Whenever they appeared, the Lord remained undisturbed, and indeed the fact that He “was with the wild beasts” suggests that He enjoyed being among them. He loves all His creatures, and doubtless preferred the presence of unsinning animals to that of the fallen adversary. He had not originally created them in a ferocious and dangerous condition, but it seems that they became wild as part of the results of the fall In the desert the Lord quietly reversed the effects of that catastrophe on these animals He is, after all, the second Man, the last Adam. Eden returned fora little while in the wilderness. In a coming day, when He establishes His millennial kingdom, it seems that the whole animal creation will resume its original peaceful and docile state, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lions shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”, Isa. 11. 6-9.

Every tiger madness muzzled,
every serpent passion killed,
Every grim ravine a garden,
every blazing desert tilled.
Robed in universal harvest,
up to either pole she smiles.
Universal ocean softly
washing all her warless isles.

(A. Naismith, 1200 Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes, page 132)

(iii) The Angels. “And the angels ministered unto him.” Once again in this verse we are impressed by the tantalizing brevity of Mark’s words. In what ways did these angels serve their Lord? Did they come to strengthen Him after His prolonged fasting, as one 6f their number appeared to Him during His agony in Gethsemane and strengthened Him? How many went to Him, and for how long? Did He call them, or did they go unbidden? We remember that during the temptation period the devil had urged the Lord to rely on angelic help in making a spectacular leap from a pinnacle of the temple; but of course the Lord refused, and indeed stood alone throughout His conflict with the devil. He had not needed angelic or human help during that period. Later on the Lord said to the disciples that “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many”, Mark 10. 45. Mark’s Gospel, as mentioned earlier, emphasizes this aspect of the Lord’s life, and depicts Him as the unfailing Servant of both God and men But here, at the outset of His years of service, His angels come and serve Him, as though to assert their allegiance to Him after the onslaught by Satan the rebel. The status of the angels, as the Lord’s creatures and subordinates, is taught clearly in Hebrews 1. 6-8, “let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, 0 God, is forever and ever”. At the end of that great chapter we read concerning the angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” v. 14.

There in the wilderness, then, the Lord met the adversary, animals and angels. He vanquished the adversary, subdued the animals and welcomed the angels.

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