Wild Animals and Angels
“He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” –Mark 1:13
Mark, also known as John Mark (the cousin of Barnabas), is the only Gospel writer who tells us that during Jesus’ time of temptation in the desert he was with the wild animals. Some commentators note that “in Jesus’ day there were many more wild animals, including lions, in Israel than today” (NIV Study Bible). But that doesn’t really explain why Mark thought it important enough to mention, does it?
And then I remembered something I read several years ago in a commentary written by singer/songwriter Michael Card on the Gospel of Mark. Card was mentored by theologian William Lane who labeled Mark’s Gospel, “a pamphlet for hard times.” Written in Rome to the early Christian church, Mark is the shortest gospel and the one most focused on the “ever-present shadow of the prospect of persecution.” Card notes, regarding the early believers, that “with the persecution under Nero after the fire in Rome, the prospects of being thrown to the wild beasts in the arena became very real.” Oh my, so now we’ve got some context for the inclusion, don’t we? If Jesus could survive wild animals, maybe the early Christians could, too.
According to the Asbury Bible Commentary, “wild beasts” were an Old Testament symbol for evil. Paul mentions them in the New Testament, too, saying, “I fought wild beasts in Ephesus” (1 Cor. 15:32). Here he’s referring to enemies who refuted the resurrection of the dead, not literal beasts such as lions. But we begin to understand Mark’s point of view, his need to remind his audience of the reality of the supernatural. In his telling of Jesus’ baptism and temptation, he sees a connection. Or as Michael Card says, “Baptism and wilderness… One prepares us for the other.”
After His baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, the place that’s often equated with the struggle between Satan and the test of faith. For Mark’s first readers, the conflict was personal. It’s personal for us, too, and the stakes are just as high. “Your enemy the devil,” Peter reminds us, “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But just as Jesus refuted the devil with scripture, we can, too. The sword of the Spirit is God’s Word, given to comfort, teach, and empower us. Because of the cross we have the knowledge that the battle is already won. Those things, dear friends, are the weapons no wild beast can ever destroy!