The wilderness features in both the Old and New Testaments. It is a place of wandering for the people of Israel on their Exodus from Egypt; it is the place from which the voice of John the Baptist emerges and it is in the Wilderness that Jesus is tempted by Satan. The author of Luke in writing chapter four connects Christ’s time of preparation and testing with the period of preparation that Israel experienced in the wilderness. These connections are made through the parallels seen in the number of forty days and forty years spent in the wilderness as well as the temptations which echo God’s gift of mana to Israel in the desert and God’s offer to Moses to make a great nation from him.
In early Christianity monastic communities spring up in the wilderness as attempts to avoid the corruption of both the Church and State.
The Temptation of Jesus
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you, 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
Questions for reflection
- Why do you think is significant about the location of the wilderness as the site of the temptation of Christ?
- What does wilderness mean to you?
- Do you think humanity needs places of wilderness?
Roberta Bondi (1998), To Love as God Loves
Rowan Williams (2004), Silence and Honey Cakes
Roger Deakin (2007), Wildwood