In Luke 4:1-13 and Matthew 4:1-11, the Gospels record that Jesus fasts in the wilderness for 40 days. My understanding is that fasting is linked with mourning. Why then did Jesus fast for 40 days in the wilderness? Also, why 40 days as opposed to 1,7, or 21 etc...? What is the significance of this number?


5 Answers 5


There have been instances when fasting was used as a tool to gain spiritual strength. When the disciples of Christ were unable to cast out a spirit, they take part in the following discussion recorded in Matthew 17:19-21 (KJV)

19Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?

20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

We see here that fasting seems to have been necessary to give the disciples the spiritual fortitude required to cast out the vexing spirit.

Also, fasting is a method used to draw closer to God and seek answers. For example, in Daniel 9:3 (KJV):

3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:

So it may be that Christ spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness to receive spiritual strength for the coming temptation, ministry and crucifixion ahead, and draw closer to God the Father to seek answers.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. If you haven't done so already, be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. In particular, pay attention to what constitutes a good answer and make sure your answer meets those guidelines. Please note that "showing your work" is required. This is not a comment on the quality of your answer, but rather a standard welcome message. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 4:56
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    +1. Don't forget Nehemiah. See his book, chapter 1, verses 4-11; also, chapter 2, v.4 (which was probably an impromptu, quickie prayer!). Fasting (not to mention sleep deprivation) had an obvious effect on his mood and facial expression (see 1:6 and 2:1-2). Don Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 23:16

The earliest story of Jesus going into the wilderness occurs in Mark 1:13. Adam Winn (Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative) says that all the details of Jesus' temptation narrative find parallels in the wilderness experiences of Elijah. Both Elijah and Jesus are in the wilderness for forty days, both are tempted, both are attended by angels and both are in the presence of wild animals. In the case of Elijah:

1 Kings 19:5,8: And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat... And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

This also brings into play another allusion, to Moses when he fasted for 40 days while he wrote the words of the Ten Commandments on tablets:

Exodus 34:28: And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

I notice a close parallel to this event later in the gospel. Just as this allusion to Elijah and Moses follows the baptism of Jesus and the voice of God from heaven (Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased), so Mark makes the disciples privileged to see Jesus talking to Elijah and Moses at the Transfiguration and hearing the voice of God from heaven (This is my beloved Son: hear him). The baptismal events and the temptation in the wilderness introduce the new reader to the mission of Jesus, then the events surrounding the Transfiguration confirm this.

Nearly all New Testament scholars accept Mark to have been a source for Matthew and Luke. Adam Winn says (The Purpose of Mark's Gospel) that in the first eight years of this century, at least eight significant critical commentaries on Mark’s Gospel have been published; all eight assume Markan priority as a starting point. So Luke 4:1-13 and Matthew 4:1-11 are based on the Markan account, with some details added regarding the nature of Jesus' temptations.

  • Good answer. +1. Oh, don't forget Nehemiah, who led the effort to rebuild the derelict walls and gates of Jerusalem. When he heard of the condition of the walls in Jerusalem, he said in 1:4 ff. - "I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. . . ." Yes, there was mourning and repentance involved in his fasting, but there was also a good deal of beseeching and pleading with God, as well as confessing his and his compatriots' sins to God. This indicates to me that fasting is a way of showing God how serious we are regarding our supplications. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 23:12
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    @rhetorician I read my answer just now and realised it may have been read that I thought Jesus' fast was foreshadowed by the prophets. So, I hope you understood that Adam Winn was saying (as do others I could have cited) that Mark created this account, based on what he knew from the OT. If you're happy with that, great! If not, you may wish to retract your UV in this instance :) Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 2:16
  • Dick, Dick, Dick . . .. I really have no idea why you are deflecting my approbation and praise. Possibly, the only offensive word I find in your answer is the word "created,." since the word may imply Mark made up the account of Jesus' temptation out of whole cloth! I believe firmly Mark was an EYEWITNESS to much of Jesus' public ministry. He may not have been with Jesus in the wilderness but he certainly had "face time" with Jesus, after the fact, when Jesus "filled him in," so to speak. If you tell me that Mark (acc. 2 your understanding) wrote fiction, THEN I'll retract my downvote! Don Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 23:19
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    @rhetorician I appreciate both your approbation and your praise, and thank you for them. However, when I saw your comment, I thought you read my citation of Winn as implying foreshadowment. I only wished to ensure that I was not receiving credits unfairly - I'll work as hard as the next contributor towards praise and votes as long as they are fairly earned. So, to my loss, I do have to say that Winn says this passage was a literary creation. :( . . PS Nothing in the Bible says that Mark was ever an eyewitness to any of Jesus' public ministry. Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 23:44
  • I shan't retract. Only someone who is familiar with your presuppositions (as I am) would likely focus on the word "created" and then discount your entire answer. However, another someone, who believes firmly in the historicity of the NT documents but is not yet sensitized to the "critical" approach taken by some folks (like you) who do not believe in the historicity of the NT documents, might gloss over the word "created" and conclude you're also a believer in Mark's historicity. If that happened, and if I knew that it did, I'd have given you TWO or MORE up votes! Don Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 0:15

This also brings into play another allusion, to Moses when he fasted for 40 days while he wrote the words of the Ten Commandments on tablets, Dick Harfield:

Exodus 34:28: And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Mat 11:19

Exact. Jesus came eating bread and drinking wine, unlike John the Baptist. The number forty for fasting in the desert, is a detachment of the flesh from Jesus of his generation, to start the ministry.

  • + 1 Restoring the position of Moses and/or the Law is a frequent theme, especially in Matthew, where Jesus come "out of Egypt" and leads the new "chosen people" on the foundation of an update Law (Sermon on the Mount etc.) to the new Promised land of the heavenly kingdom. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 17:25

Adding to Dick Harfield's and Andrew NC's beautiful answers :

  • There is a limit to how long a man can survive without eating, and forty days is cutting it close.

  • In forty days, God vanquished all sinful flesh in the time of Noah. So also Christ subdues His human flesh by a period of forty days of fasting.


What is the significance of number 40?

The number 40 stands for pregnancy, because a woman is pregnant for 40 weeks.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but can also be born in us.

Gal 4:19 (NIV) "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you".

Jesus said that his disciples would fast when he was removed from them.

Mat 9:14,15 (NIV) "Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast".

Gal 5:24 (NIV) Paul: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires".

1 Cor 9:27 (NIV) "... I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave ..."

1 Cor (9:27 (DRB) Paul: "... I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection ..."

1 Cor 9:27 (WEB) Paul: "... I beat my body and bring it into submission ..."

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