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According to Luke 4:1-2, Jesus, after his water baptism at the Jordan river, was full of the Spirit and was led by the Spirit to a 40-day fast:

Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He was hungry. [Luke 4:1-2 NASB]

The details of the 40-day fast are well known by everybody and can be found in verses 3-13. However, verse 14 says something interesting:

14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding region.

In other words, we have the following sequence of events:

  1. Water baptism
  2. Full of the Spirit
  3. 40-day fast
  4. Return in the power of the Spirit
  5. News about Jesus spreading everywhere.

Question: Is there a causal relationship between points 3 and 4? Was the 40-day fast a necessary condition for Jesus to unleash greater levels of power in the Spirit in order to carry out his powerful ministry?


Related questions

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    Dear down-voter: would you be so kind as to explain the reasons that led you to express discontent towards my question? I'm eager to learn from your constructive criticism.
    – user38524
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 14:28
  • Maybe one day I'll have sufficient rep to down-vote your question(s), but for now, I'll just ask why you would trace something spiritual to something natural. Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 14:31
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    @TheChaz2.0 - you have to watch/read more testimonies, this is a pattern I've seen in lots of them. But in any case, I'm asking, I'm not claiming it to be the case. You can respond with "No, there is no causal relationship" and explain your reasons in an answer.
    – user38524
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 14:40
  • @Constantthin, Why 20kg? Presumably he wasn't running around the desert or expending much energy beyond what was necessary to sustain basic life functions. Couldn't it have been significantly less if he had spent the time doing nothing but resting? Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 2:58
  • Great question - lots of interesting stuff to explore here
    – Marshall
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 8:11

6 Answers 6

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Yes - effectively the 40 days in the wilderness follows the archetype of a "Rite of passage". Rites of passage are present among almost every historical society and also often within groups or organisations - most especially spiritual ones. They marked the transition of a person from one status or role within the society or group. They often involved tests or trials to ascend to a higher position. They were very clearly present in Judochristian Spiritual lineage and the primary process God used on key people or groups of people before they take on positions of power or authority.

In scripture they follow a very distinct, consistent and repeating 4 part pattern and are usually symbolically associated with the number "40".

In general most "Rites of passage" involve a ritual or ceremony which signals the beginning of the testing process. In Judochristian tradition that ritual is usually "Baptism in water". It is effectively a "symbolic recreation" of Noahs flood. Passing through the "purging" flood and emerging victorious on the other side. We see the same symbology with Moses as a baby in the basket on the river nile. We see it with the Israelites in Exodus where as the apostle Paul says they were "baptised" in the red sea (1 Corinthians 10:3)before entering into their 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus followed the same pattern before entering into his rite of passage and trials. Water baptism followed by 40 days in the wilderness.

The pattern the rite of passage follows has been studied extensively. Famous french Ethnographer Arnold Van Gennep classifies them in his seminal work as consists of 3 parts 1: Separation 2: Testing, 3 Return which potentially includes the 4th "the ascension" to a higher role if the person undergoing the trial is successful.

(The Rites of passage - Arnold Van Gennep 1909)

Phase 1. Separation: The individual is separated from the society- their existing support structures and the protections of the group and God and forced into isolation\wilderness to fend for themselves and survive.

EG: 2 Chronicle 32:31

God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.

"God left him to himself" is typically the way all of these rites of passage begin. "There is often a detachment or "cutting away" from the former self in this phase, which is signified in symbolic actions and rituals. Going into the wilderness (Jesus/David). Going into the desert (Moses). Loss of his Robe and going into slavery (Joseph). In modern times we still do this For example, the cutting of the hair for a person who has just joined the army. He or she is "cutting away" the former self: the civilian. Many theoligians associate the purging "waters" of Noah, Exodus and the NT baptism with the same symbology of "cleansing" or "purging" process of the "old self".

Phase 2. Testing: The individual has to go through a series of arduous tests to show mastery of themselves and skills or attributes seen as required to survive / thrive and lead without others assistance.

  • In Noahs case its building and surviving on the Ark
  • In Joseph's story this is shown in his testing in captivity/slavery
  • In Moses story its shepherding the priest of Midians flock in the desert.
  • In King Davids case its protecting his flock and defeating the wild animals in the wilderness and then Goliath as well as dealing with the attacks of previous king Saul

In Christs case its symbolically shown as fasting and living in the wilderness with the "wild beast" which throughout scripture represent "demonic forces"

Phase 3/4. The return and ascension: If the individual succeeds in passing these tests and survives they return to the group and ascend to a higher station and level of responsibility and power within the group.

  • After passing through his trial Joseph becomes the Vizor of Egypt
  • Moses becomes the leader of Israel
  • David becomes King of Israel

Christ comes into the full power of his ministry through the Holy Spirit - but I personally believe that his "water baptism" and the 40 days in the wilderness actually symbolically representing his crucifixtion, death, resurrection and subsequent asscension. They are symbolically showing the "true baptism" he would later go through on the cross to take up his spiritual "Kingship" and authority over the earth.

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Good observation:

we have the following sequence of events: 1) water baptism, 2) full of the Spirit, 3) 40-day fast, 4) return in the power of the Spirit, 5) news about Jesus spreading everywhere.

Is there a causal relationship between points 3 and 4?

I'd say so:

NASB Matthew 17

19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. 21 But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

Fasting seems to be a training practice for the increase in faith.

Was the 40-day fast a necessary condition for Jesus to unleash greater levels of power in the Spirit in order to carry out his powerful ministry?

By hindsight, we know that God did it this way for Jesus.

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I don't think that's something clear in the text. The 40 days in the desert was for preparation, and in particular testing, but Jesus was already 'full of the Holy Spirit' when he entered the desert.

Having said that, extended fasting has definite physiological effects. After several days, a person typically will have an increase in calm, focus, and euphoria. This continues until their body fat is below a certain level (which varies), at which they develop a 'wolf's appetite' (typically about 30 days in). See The 5 Stages of Fasting. This could have been useful for the work that needed to be done in preparation for his Ministry.

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  • This could have been useful for the work that needed to be done in preparation for his Ministry. - would you mind elaborating on this? I'm struggling to see how this is true.
    – user38524
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 23:47
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator If it was useful in this preparatory phase to have higher levels of calm or focus - for example, to pray more effectively, perhaps. Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 23:55
  • But receiving the spirit doesn't mean it stays. We have previous examples of that like King Saul for example was given the holy spirit (1 Samuel 10:8-9). But then after this he sinned and it says the spirit departed from him. (1 Samuel 16:14) In Jesus case the spirit came - and Jesus was then immidiately lead to be tested. Because he passed the tests it remained and he then returned and entered into his ministry in the power of the spirit
    – Marshall
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 5:37
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We have the following scenario -

  • Jesus receives the spirit from God
  • He is led by this spirit to be tempted by the ultimate source of evil
  • He is successful in overcoming the evil by the spirit in him.

The beginning of Jesus' ministry starts with a preparation and a preliminary testing through 40 days of temptation. We know this was preliminary as the testing continued 'all the days of his flesh' Heb 5:7 and he was only able to withstand and repel temptation through the spirit God provided.

in the days of his flesh, having offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One being able to save him from death, and having been heard because of reverent submission Heb 5:7

He was incapable of doing so on his own.

our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph 6:12

He desperately needed God's spirit all the way to the final breath on the cross.

Jesus' return in the power of the Spirit, is a celebration that he had been successful by relying on God for success and not on himself, on God's perfect provision and not on whatever he thought he had - it would never be enough.

Only through severe fasting could he arrive at this place of complete desperation and total need of God's provision - the flesh is useless!

It is the spirit giving life; the flesh profits nothing. John 6:33

The only good the flesh has is submission to God - this is what Jesus did - over and over till the bitter, yet triumphant, end.

The relationship between 'fasting' and his 'return in the power of the Spirit' is undeniable. He could not 'return in power' without the humbling preparation.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 14:11

We are not talking about Jesus exercising his power - it is God's power. God does not force it through Jesus - Jesus submits, and the power flows unabated.

"Jesus returned in the power of THE spirit" which came from God.

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When it comes to the gift of the Holy Spirit, we must recall that God is extremely eager to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit, but not all are prepared to receive such a wondrous gift.

Luke 11:11-13 - What father among you, if his son asks for a fish,d will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

In Luke 4, Jesus (who was perfect and sinless, Heb 7:25-27) set us an example of being prepared to receive heaven's gifts. It is God who decides these gifts via the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12 repeatedly). That is, we humans do NOT decide to get something from heaven by doing some act of pennance or other good work - God decides alone.

At the same time, God does not impart gifts to those unprepared to receive them, especially the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus fasted for 40 days - a period symbolizing trial followed by victory (see appendix below) so that He was prepared to receive the gift He knew He would need for His ministry.

CONCLUSION

Thus, while it is God alone who gives the Spirit and the associated power of the Christian life, it is our decision about whether we are prepared to receive that gift at all and the extent to which we are willing to receive, and be used by, that precious gift!

Jesus' 40 days of preparation (Luke 4) showed how much, even the perfect Son of God was prepared to do to get "in tune" with God's wishes for His mission and understand how He was to serve. A salutary, exemplary lesson indeed.

APPENDIX - 40 day significance in the Bible

There is little question that a number of significant events occurred over a period of "forty days" such as:

  • Gen 7:4, 12, 17 - forty days of rain at Noah's flood
  • Gen 8:6 - forty days before Noah open the window of the Ark
  • Gen 50:3 - forty days to embalm the body of Joseph
  • Ex 24:18, 34:28, Deut 9:11, 25, 18, 10:10 - Moses was in the mountain forty days
  • Num 13:25, 14:34 - the spies explored the promised land forty days
  • 1 Sam 17:16 - forty days Goliath defied Israel
  • 1 Kings 19:8 - Elijah traveled forty days into the desert
  • Eze 4:6 - Ezekiel had to lie on one side forty days
  • Jonah 3:4 - Jonah predicted the destruction of Nineveh in forty days
  • Matt 4:1, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:1, 2 - Jesus was in the Desert fasting for forty days
  • Acts 1:3 - Jesus appeared to His disciples after the resurrection over a forty day period

In some of these cases, these forty day periods corresponded to forty year periods as well.

All that can be said about this repeated use of the "forty-day" period is its clear significance - any such period occurs at a time of great trial followed by victory. Indeed, Ellicott suggests this in his comments on Gen 7:4 -

(4) Forty days.—Henceforward forty became the sacred number of trial and patience, and, besides the obvious places in the Old Testament, it was the duration both of our Lord’s fast in the wilderness and of His sojourn on earth after the Resurrection.

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    Are you really addressing what Luke wrote? "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness...And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country." (4:1, 14) Shouldn't you address the difference (or show they ae the same) between being full of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit? Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 7:19
  • @RevelationLad - Fair comment. I shall try to decide how to improve the answer.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 9:21
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During his Holy Spirit led extended fast Jesus would have performed an adequate measure of exercise needed to keep muscles, joints and organs healthy. This minimum of required exercise he would have achieved when shifting between places of shade depending on the time of the day, and when moving between waterholes and secure sleeping spots.

After 40 days of fasting and moderate exercise Jesus would have lost about 15 kg of weight. Most of this would have been fat deposits. An already slim person wouldn’t be able to fast for 40 days. Consequently, Jesus was obese, or at least overweight, before his 40 days fast.

It is surmised that Jesus throughout his ministry displayed the idea of the crucifixion of the flesh in his slimmed body. This idea is supported by a modern day preacher like Derek Prince, who God told to lose weight for successful ministry.

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  • After 40 days of fasting and moderate exercise Jesus would have lost 16 - 20 kg of weight. Most of this would have been fat deposits. An already slim person wouldn’t be able to fast for 40 days. Consequently, Jesus was obese, or at least overweight, before his 40 days fast. - Any sources to back this up?
    – user38524
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 14:33
  • This idea is supported by a modern day preacher like Derek Prince, who God told to lose weight for successful ministry. - Any sources to back this up?
    – user38524
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 14:34

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