“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12) (ESV).
“Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12) (NASB).
“At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild” (Mark 1:12) (The Message).
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What are the implications of Mark 1:12 for our understanding of the Holy Spirit? Let us begin by noting that Mark 1:12 is not a theological island. Other passages of Scripture support the general thesis that the Holy Spirit is an agent of transformative suffering. In the Old Testament, the prophets frequently speak a Spirit-inspired message of both encouragement and discomforting conviction that is aimed at the sanctification of God’s people. In John 16:8, Jesus promises that he will send the Counselor, who will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. We find this dynamic reflected in many sermons portrayed in Acts, most notably Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Peter’s listeners are “cut to the heart” and cry out in anguish, wondering how they can be saved. In Romans 8:13, Paul teaches that those who live by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh. Putting to death the deeds of the flesh is neither trivial nor comfortable.
Next we note the theological precedent Mark is establishing. Jesus is baptized, anointed with the Holy Spirit, and then immediately driven into a situation of deprivation, opposition, and testing. This sequence would be familiar to Mark’s readers. . . . like Jesus, they too would be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit, and be tested by a world hostile to them, often to the point of persecution. . . . Mark’s readers would know the sensation of being armed with power but then hurled into the fray immediately after being baptized. Therefore, Mark and his readers would need little help recognizing the parallels between Jesus’ testing and their own.
In a similar way, we can draw parallels between Jesus’ testing in the wilderness and familiar experiences we recognize in spiritual formation. To begin with, Jesus’ divine sonship is defined in the midst of temptation and testing. Christians who also desire to live as sons and daughters of God should expect the same. [The] description of salvation in Christ as a “participative journey” is helpful. It means our paths will wind through places familiar from the life of Jesus. We will walk in his footsteps.
While it is unlikely that the Spirit will expel many Christians into the physical wilderness, the principle conveyed in this verse is meaningful. When considered in a metaphorical sense, the wilderness is a place of temptation . . . .
First, it involves testing that arises as believers deal with deprivation and uncertainty. Metaphorically, the desert represents a state in which one is brought to the existential realization that all of one’s sources of comfort and livelihood either have been or could be stripped away, so that one’s faith in God’s love and care are brought to a state of crisis. Whereas many believers are familiar with this state of being, they do not commonly associate it with the agency of the Holy Spirit, especially when the Spirit is understood to be our comforter, advisor, and inspirer. Nevertheless, this is where Mark 1:12 leads.
Second, temptation can mean active conflict with evil itself. When God the Spirit expels a believer into a wilderness where she is uncertain of her very well-being, the temptation is great to turn to some other source into which she may put her trust. Because the metaphors that dominate the field of pneumatology tend to center around comfort, nurture, love and renewal, it could seem scandalous to think that the Holy Spirit is capable of expelling God’s beloved into the wilderness. Notably, there is no significant discussion within systematic theology of the implications of Mark 1:12 for pneumatology. Nevertheless,connecting the sanctifying work of the Spirit to human experiences of alienation, deprivation, and testing is well-trodden ground for the spiritual masters.
T. David Beck, “The Divine Dis-Comforter: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Transformative Suffering,” Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, 2:2 (2009): 199-218.