The typology of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness

If I recall correctly, I’ve seen or heard both Peter Leithart and Doug Wilson argue that Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness after his baptism reflects his status as a new Israel that succeeds, not fails. I don’t know that I had heard this correlated with Jesus as the new Adam as well. David Mathis writes about this on the Desiring God blog, taking his cue from Mark 1:12-13 (“The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals . . . .”  – Mathis’ emphasis). He wonders why Mark mentions the wild animals, and connects it back to Adam in the Garden of Eden:

The point Mark seems to be hinting at is that Jesus is a new kind of Adam, the new and ultimate Man. Instead of a beautiful garden, the ultimate Man faces his temptations in the wilderness, a wilderness created by Adam’s sin. And instead of kindly presiding over tame animals, the ultimate Man is surrounded by wild animals. This sinful world into which Jesus enters to accomplish his mission is less like a pristine garden and more like Jurassic Park.

Unlike Adam, the surroundings into which Jesus is put to live out human perfection are marred by sin’s corruption. Unlike Adam, Jesus faces a wild land and wild animals. While Adam was setup [sic] for success, Jesus must go against the grain.

But despite the conditions for our new Man being more difficult than they were for the first Man, Jesus succeeds, for our sake, in passing the test — in the wild land and among the wild animals. The new Adam does not succumb to the Enemy’s tempting, but stays his course to die sacrificially for the sin that entered in under the first Adam.

Mathis connects this to Psalm 91, from which Jesus quotes verses 11 and 12 in Matthew 4’s telling of the event. Psalm 91:13 then reads “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”

This reminded me of an early medieval depiction of Christ as a warlord that I show in my ancient and medieval Western Civ course to illustrate how the post-Roman societies depicted Christ in their own terms. I had not noticed the note on Wikipedia before, but it says that the illustration is from Psalm 91:13.


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