Jesus’ public ministry began with being tempted. This immediately followed his baptism, which is clearly shown in the Synoptics, but not so clearly in John. In the Gospel of John Jesus’ public ministry began with the marriage feast at Cana, immediately following his baptism (implied) by John in chapter one.
Matthew and Luke give a descriptive account of Jesus’ temptations, while Mark merely mentions his 40 day experience in the presence of wild beasts. There are two things I wish to mention as food for thought. First, the term ‘wild beast’ in the KJV can refer to people. For example, in Acts 10 Peter was offered wild beasts to kill and eat. It was only a short time later that he realized the beasts in the vision represented men who would later receive the Gospel. Paul also mentions the term as referring to the Cretans in Titus 1:12. The point is: I believe the term ‘beasts’ is a term meaning men, dangerous men who wished to control Jesus’ ministry. I think it was in this fashion that Jesus was tempted. His temptations were not as obvious as the appearance of a powerful spirit-being coming to challenge him, but came more in the natural every day type experiences you and I might find troublesome.
John had announced Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:36) and immediately two of John’s disciples began to follow Jesus. There may have been a very troublesome encounter immediately following Jesus’ baptism. John wanted Jesus to take over his own ministry and he would serve him, but Jesus told him it wouldn’t work that way. John didn’t understand, but submitted to Jesus’ wishes. Others who were with John, and not always friendly, might not have been so humble. For example, some humanitarians whose focus was on the needs of the people wanted Jesus’ ministry to focus on satisfying those needs (Matthew 4:3). They would have been more to the point, however, saying that any messiah who could not or would not meet the needs of the people could never be the Son of God—who are you trying to kid?
Still others might claim the Messiah was to be a miracle worker and Jesus’ focus should be on signs and wonders. Any messiah who could not or would not perform a sign on command could not be the Son of God! The proof is in the pudding. Moses came and proved he was of God through signs and wonders when the people complained—the Messiah could be no different.
Finally, the zealots who monitored John’s ministry would announce their demands, saying the Messiah was to free Israel from bondage and make her the leader of the nations. Any messiah worth his salt would begin with Rome. Get rid of the Romans and make this world righteous and you would be Messiah indeed—such a thing, of course, would ‘clean’ up Satan’s world, helping Satan’s will for one world order come into existence. This would involve Jesus worshiping the enemy rather than the enemy coming to worship at Jesus’ feet.
All three temptations had one thing in common, namely man’s desire to control God, causing God to do what men wanted done. This was what Israel tried to do upon coming out of Egypt, but they all died in the wilderness, never obtaining the promises.
John begins Jesus ministry with a marriage feast (John 2), but the same idea is present. The ‘mother’ of Jesus (viz. Israel) told Jesus there was something needed, and the implication is that Jesus should do something about it. The difference in John, however, is that Jesus’ mother didn’t try to control how the need should be met; she left that up to Jesus. Faith is present here where it is not present in the Synoptics. The result is the ‘need’ was met. Six water pots were filled with water, six, being a number which represents man. What Jesus did was: he changed the substance. Wine changes behavior and often represents the power of the Holy Spirit in changing man in the NT. What occurred here, in my opinion, is Jesus spent a time—40 days—in the wilderness of unbelief, men who slandered him, disowned him, or otherwise couldn’t believe him or trust in his leadership, but out of this wilderness came a few men who listened and believed. They were ‘changed’ and couldn’t go back to the old way of thinking. Those who trusted him were called to be with him.
I am simple enough to believe that Jesus is doing the very same thing today. Out of a world who wants to be in control, he calls those willing to submit. Out of the wilderness of unbelief, he calls for trust. Out of a multitude of wild beasts who do not number Jesus as one of their own, he calls those willing to be changed and numbers them with himself. May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear.