The story of Jesus fasting in the wilderness is one of the popular stories in his ministry. It is worth discussing since many Christians wonder whether fasting is mandatory. They also ask, why did Jesus fast for 40 days?
Matthew 4:1 explains that the Holy Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness. He fasted for 40 days to be with his Father and focused on prayer after being baptized by John the Baptist, as explained in Matthew 3:13. While in the wilderness, the devil tempted him three times.
What is special about 40 days? Did Jesus know the devil would tempt him in the wilderness? Did Jesus eat in the forty days he fasted? These are some of the questions that this article will cover. By the end of it, one can also learn what the Bible says about fasting. Read on to find out more!
What is special about 40 days?
The number 40 shows up in different passages in the Bible. Though the number 40 does not have a special meaning, some Christian scholars assume that God chose this number to emphasize hardship. In the New Testament, we read that Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. Some Christians who associate the number 40 with hardship quote verses such as Matthew 4:2, which talks about Jesus fasting. During his period in the wilderness, he was tempted by the devil.
Some scholars also associate 40 days with judgment since, in the Old Testament, when God destroyed the earth with water, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. The book of Genesis 7:12 says, And rain fell upon the earth for forty days and 40 nights.
Other Theologians believe that 40 days represent a change in one’s life. They explain this by giving examples of a verse like Acts 1:3, which discusses the period between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension to heaven. This verse says He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the Kingdom of God.
Those who believe that 40 days represent change also quote Exodus 24:18, which talks about Moses on Mount Sinai for 40 days. This verse says, Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. While on Mount Sinai, Moses wrote the Ten Commandments to bring change to the Israelites.
Did Jesus know the devil would tempt him in the wilderness?
There is nowhere in the Bible that states that Jesus knew the devil would tempt him in the wilderness. Though the scripture is not clear on this, some Christians assume that Jesus knew that the devil would tempt him since he is the son of God, as explained in Mark 3:11. This verse says, And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, you are the Son of God.
Others also quote John 21:17 to show that since the Lord knows everything, he probably knew that the devil would tempt him in the wilderness. This verse says, He said to him the third time, Simon, son of John, do you love me? Peter was grieved because he said to him, do you love me and he said to him, Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you. Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.‘
Though the Bible does not state that Jesus knew that the devil would tempt him in the wilderness, what is clear is that Jesus resisted the temptations. Some Christians argue that Jesus knew since he was well-prepared and counter-attacked the devil with Bible verses.
Matthew 4:1-11 explained that after Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights, the devil approached him and tempted him thrice. He first said if you are the son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread. Though Jesus was hungry, he said, It is written, one does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:3)
Even when the devil continued tempting him, Jesus resisted until the devil left. Some Christians argue that Jesus knew he was about to be tempted based on how well he handled the situation.
Did Jesus eat in the forty days he fasted?
The Bible suggests that Jesus did not eat in the forty days he fasted in the wilderness. This is explained in Matthew 4:1. This verse says, Then Jesus was led up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward, he was famished. The reason why he was famished is that he spent 40 days without eating.
Though Jesus had the power to command the stones to become loaves of bread like the devil said, he did not do it. This was because fasting for Jesus symbolized spiritual discipline. That is why he told the devil in Matthew 4:4 that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
He had been led by the Holy Spirit to be with his Father in the wilderness and pray after John the Baptist baptized him, as explained in Matthew 3:13. This verse says, Then Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan to Jon to be baptized.
So the reason why Jesus had to abstain from food for 40 days was not that he could not get food but because he was completely devoted himself to seeking God. This process would strengthen his spirit.
What does the Bible say about fasting?
Fasting is a practice that has been mentioned in the Bible. For instance, the Book of Ezra 8:2 suggests that fasting can strengthen one’s prayer. This verse says, So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. The link between fasting and prayer is also explained in Luke 2:37. This verse says, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.
The story of Jesus fasting in the wilderness, explained in Matthew 4:1-11, implies that fasting can help Christians overcome temptation and help them dedicate themselves to God.
Fasting is also mentioned in Matthew 6:16-18. These verses explain how Christians should fast and urges them not to do it to show off their spirituality. This verse says, when you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
The Bible also suggests that one should also humble themselves while fasting, as explained in Psalm 35:13. This verse says, Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting when my prayers returned to me unanswered.
1st Samuel 7:6 teaches Christians to confess their sins as they fast. It says, When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day, they fasted, and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as the leader of Israel at Mizpah.
Should you fast as a Christian?
Though the Bible talks about fasting in different scriptures, it does not command Christians to do it. Since no verse in the Bible demands Christians to fast, this should be voluntary. In the verse we quoted earlier, Matthew 6:16, Jesus says to his disciples, “When you fast.” He did not use words like “You must fast.” Jesus did not command his disciples to fast, but he expected them to do so
Even though fasting is not mandatory for Christians, the Bible gives steps one should follow if one chooses to do it, as explained in Matthew 6:16-18. The Holy Scripture also presents fasting as a good and beneficial thing to do for believers. The Book of Acts records believers fasting before making crucial decisions. For instance, Acts 14:23 says, And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.
If a Christian decides to fast, they should do it as a way of humbling themselves before God. 1st Peter 5:5 says, But when they were sick, I wore sackcloth, I afflicted myself with fasting, prayed with my head bowed on my chest. Though not mandatory, fasting can help a Christian have a stronger relationship with God.
- Jesus is Tempted to Abandon Serving God (Luke 4:1-13)
- Why did Jesus Fast?
- Why did Moses Go Up to Mt.Sinai for Forty Days
- The Temptation of Jesus
- What is the Significance of 40 days in the Bible
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.