Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on typology. Previous post.
As a young man, I would sometimes spend time talking with a family friend who was a watch expert. I was fascinated by the way in which he could quickly distinguish a true Rolex from a fake. On one occasion, my friend pointed out the seemingly microscopic initials that a watchmaker had engraved into the underside of a timepiece. It was this small detail that enabled my friend to authenticate this particular watch. I would never have thought to look for such a small and seemingly insignificant detail if he had not pointed it out to me. Similarly, the Scriptures identify the Lord Jesus as the true Israel of God by means of the smallest and seemingly most insignificant details in the records of His temptation in the wilderness.
No sooner had God brought His son (Ex. 4:22), Israel, out of Egypt and through the waters that He brought him into the wilderness for forty years—to be tested by Him and tempted by the evil one. In similar fashion, after bringing Jesus up out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15) and through the waters of baptism, the Spirit drove God’s beloved Son into the wilderness for forty days to be tested by God and tempted by the evil one. The overarching parallel is striking. But the small details recorded in the temptation accounts prove to be even more striking.
The first significant small detail about Jesus as the true Israel of God is found in Mark’s account. There we read that while He was in the wilderness, Jesus was “with the wild beasts” (Mark 1:13). Before considering how this plays into Jesus’ recapitulation of Israel’s history, we have to consider what it teaches us about Jesus as the second Adam. When God created Adam, the Scriptures tell us that he was in the garden with the animals. The Lord gave Adam the task of “tending and keeping” the garden-temple paradise and of naming the animals. When Adam sinned by eating of the tree of which God told him not to eat, Adam turned the garden-temple into a barren wilderness. The world was now a place of sin, rebellion, misery, and danger. The second Adam entered the world to undo all that Adam did. In order to do so, He had to begin His ministry as the last Adam—not in a garden but in the place that symbolized the barrenness and cursed nature of the fallen world. Jesus was not in the garden-temple paradise like the first Adam, but He was in the desert with the wild beasts.
Back to Jesus as the true Israel of God, note that when God brought Israel into the wilderness, He promised them covenant blessings and curses (Deut. 28–31). In the wilderness, He tested them. Israel failed to obey the God of redemption and, therefore, failed to obtain the covenant blessings. It was for this reason that the Son of God began His incarnate ministry in the wilderness. He came to do what Israel had failed to do. He came to the wilderness in order to regain the garden-temple paradise. When we start to see the wilderness/garden themes, we soon realize that it was not a coincidence that our Lord Jesus began His ministry by being tempted in the place of His people in the wilderness and ended it by leaving the sin of His people behind in the garden tomb.
The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness carries with it the same structure as the temptation of Adam and Israel. Satan tempted our first parents with “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil when she allowed herself to believe that it was “good for food, pleasant to the eyes and desirable to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). Likewise, Israel in the wilderness gave into the lust of the flesh (Num. 11:1–9, 31–35), the lust of the eyes (1 Cor. 10:7–8), and the pride of life (vv. 9–10). We find that when the devil came to tempt Jesus, the last Adam and true Israel, he did so with temptations that corresponded to the temptations he utilized in the garden with our first parents and in the wilderness with old covenant Israel. Jesus was tempted with the lust of the flesh (Matt. 4:3), the lust of the eyes (vv. 8–9), and the pride of life (vv. 5–6). There was one difference between the experience of Jesus and that of Adam and Israel under temptation. The protological son, Adam (Luke 3:38), and typological son, Israel (Ex. 4:22), disobeyed; the eschatological Son, Jesus (Rom. 1:4), obeyed.
The most significant detail of all is the source of the Scriptures to which Jesus appealed in battling the temptations of the evil one. Three times, Satan tempted Jesus. Three times, Jesus fought back with God’s Word. This has often encouraged believers to take up God’s Word when tempted by the evil one. However, there is something deeper and more profound in the text. Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus appealed to Scripture from the book of Deuteronomy—a book that summarizes the lessons that God taught the Israelites during the time of their sojourning in the wilderness. Jesus took what Israel should have taken—the truths God taught them in the wilderness and inscripturated in the Word of God—and did what Israel should have done in overcoming the temptations of the evil one in the wilderness.
Jesus’ obedience stands in the place of our disobedience. The true Israel merited the covenant blessings of God by His overcoming the evil one in the wilderness and by disarming the principalities and powers on the cross (Col. 2:15). In union with Christ by faith alone, we now become partakers of the covenant blessings (Eph. 1:3–14). In Him, we are given the weapons and the power to stand against the wiles of the devil (6:10–13). In Christ, we are raised up to be part of the true Israel of God (Eph. 2:1–15; see Gal. 6:16; Rom. 11:17–20)—spiritually resurrected members of His body redeemed by Christ out of every tongue, tribe, people, and nation.