Mark 1:13 with its clause, “and he (i.e. Jesus) was with the wild beasts,” has intrigued me over the years. Here are some thoughts on it. In brief, the references “he was with the wild beasts” and “the angels were ministering to him” are allusions to Old Testament texts that show (1) that Jesus obeyed the Father and consequently he was blessed and (2) that he dealt a fatal blow to Satan in the wilderness. Here is the text of Mark 1:13:
Mk 1:13 καὶ ἦν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τεσσεράκοντα ἡμέρας πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ σατανᾶ, καὶ ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.
And he was in the wilderness forty days being tested by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to him.
According to Mark, Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days being tempted by Satan. Most readers immediately see that Mark draws a contrast between Jesus, the new Israel, the beloved Son par excellence (Mark 1:11), and Israel. Where Israel failed in the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus succeeded for 40 days. But does Mark show that Jesus succeeded? Of course, the reader assumes that Jesus succeeded. But Mark’s narrative may actually be more clear on this point than we normally think. The reference, “and he was with the wild beasts,” may provide the resolution we seek, if we read it as an allusion to Leviticus 26:6. Here is that text:
OG Lev 26:6 καὶ πόλεμος οὐ διελεύσεται διὰ τῆς γῆς ὑμῶν, καὶ δώσω εἰρήνην ἐν τῇ γῇ ὑμῶν, καὶ κοιμηθήσεσθε, καὶ οὐκ ἔσται ὑμᾶς ὁ ἐκφοβῶν, καὶ ἀπολῶ θηρία πονηρὰ ἐκ τῆς γῆς ὑμῶν.
And battle shall not pass through your land, and I shall give peace in your land, and you shall sleep, and there shall not be one who causes you alarm, and I shall destroy harmful beasts from your land.
In Leviticus 26:6, one of the signs (note them in vss. 4–13) that the Lord will have blessed Israel for obedience in the land is that the Lord will remove harmful beasts from the land.
If Mark alludes to Leviticus 26:6, then the picture is of Jesus, the Son of God, as blessed and living in peace with the wild beasts. As the obedient Son, he is blessed and will not be bothered by the wild beasts. In other words, Jesus passed the test and obeyed the Father, and subsequently he experienced the blessing of God (cp. Job 5:22–23 where the blessed man, disciplined by God, also lives at peace with the wild beasts). The theme of blessing appears to dovetail with the allusion to victory in the next clause in Mark’s account.
The temptation of Jesus in Mark ends with a reference to angels ministering to Jesus. Certainly, Matthew 4 alludes to Ps 91(OG 90), and probably Mark does too. Here are the relevant verses from Ps 90:
Greek Ps 90:11-13 ὅτι τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται περὶ σοῦ τοῦ διαφυλάξαι σε ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ὁδοῖς σου· 12 ἐπὶ χειρῶν ἀροῦσίν σε, μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου· 13 ἐπ᾽ ἀσπίδα καὶ βασιλίσκον ἐπιβήσῃ καὶ καταπατήσεις λέοντα καὶ δράκοντα.
For he shall give charge to his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they shall lift you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. Upon asp and cobra you shall tread, and you shall trample lion and dragon under foot.
In Psalm 90, the Psalmist describes the blessing of the angels’ protection of the one who has made the Lord his refuge. And the protection is further described in terms of the Davidic king treading upon asp and cobra and trampling lion and dragon under foot—wild beasts, indeed. With this allusion, Mark may indicate that Jesus was not only dwelling in the shelter of the Most High, but since he was, he also trampled under foot Satan, the dragon and ancient serpent, in the wilderness. Jesus was not primarily an example for his people in the wilderness; rather, he dealt a unique, decisive blow to the enemy as the allusions to Leviticus 26:6 and Psalm 90(EV 91):11–13 show.
In summary, Mark’s brief account of Jesus in the wilderness is pregnant with meaning. The allusions to the Old Testament are actually the key to understanding the brief pericope itself. The allusions indicate that Jesus as Son obeyed under temptation and trial, was consequently blessed, and dealt a decisive blow to Satan in the wilderness.