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Satan in Mark

Mark's Gospel, the shortest one, mentions Satan explicitly in only four passages. The first is in Mark's introduction, which sets the tone for the rest of the book. Chapter 1 introduces Jesus as both the Spirit-baptizer (v. 8) and an example of one who experienced the Spirit in baptism (vv. 9–10). What does the Spirit do with Jesus after he is baptized? He thrusts Jesus into the wilderness, for 40 days, where he is tempted by Satan (vv. 12–13). The Spirit-empowered life is hardly portrayed as one of tranquil bliss.

For Mark, Satan is a real figure, and one of his primary roles is that of tempter. Not surprisingly, Jesus quickly begins confronting demons, Satan's agents. These confrontations provide context for Satan's next appearance.

Some of Jesus' critics accuse him of using demons to drive out demons (3:22)—a common magical practice in antiquity. Jesus responds by saying that Satan cannot drive out Satan, and that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (3:23–26). Jesus says he has overcome and tied up "the strong man"; that is why he is able to liberate what Satan has possessed (3:27). Some scholars argue that here Jesus is referring to his defeat of Satan.

Satan's next appearance in Mark's Gospel is more subtle. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explains to his disciples that Satan snatches the kingdom message from the hearts of many hearers (4:15). This suggests that Satan's activity is not limited to people directly demonized. Rather, Satan is active in the world on a wide scale: he distracts individuals from receiving the gospel. But since Satan is not omnipresent, he presumably accomplishes this through inferior evil spirits or other means of influence. Mark does not indicate that Satan has been bound from this particular role or that the solution to such distraction is casting him out. Rather, we can only keep preaching the kingdom message and keep praying that people may receive it.

Mark's final mention of Satan seems most ominous, and warns Jesus' own followers. When Peter wants to prevent Jesus' suffering, Jesus calls Peter "Satan" (8:33) and rebukes him for acting with human rather than divine motives. The kingdom without the Cross misunderstands the King's mission. One thing from this passage is clear: Avoiding the suffering that accompanies following the truth is more reflective of Satan's values than Christ's.

Satan in Matthew

Matthew provides more details than Mark about Jesus' temptation. In Matthew's account, God has just declared Jesus his Son (3:17), and this is what Satan challenges: "If you are the Son of God . . ." he says twice (4:3, 6). Satan wants Jesus to turn stones into bread (4:3). Although Jesus will later multiply food for others, here he refuses to comply with Satan. Satan also urges Jesus to call for the angels' help in a daring act (4:6). While Jesus could ask the Father for 12 legions of angels if he wished (26:53), he refuses to take matters into his own hands. As a result, the Father rewards Jesus' faithfulness: when the temptation ends, angels come to help Jesus (4:11).

Satan is cunning in his tempting. When Jesus quotes Scripture, Satan responds with the same tactic. It's a Scripture sparring match. Nevertheless, their approaches to Scripture are vastly different, including their approach to context. Because Satan challenges Jesus' sonship, Jesus starts by quoting from a passage that instructs God's children how to live godly lives, and then he offers two other quotations from the same context (Deut. 6; 8). By contrast, Satan twists the meaning of the passage he quotes. Psalm 91:11–12 promises protection for those who fall, not for those who jump.

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