Journeys of Jesus: Bethany Beyond the Jordan to the Wilderness

In scripture, God often reveals to us specific places where historical events took place. I’ve set out to write these articles so that I can learn more about these places and specifically the geography that plays a role in the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ.

At times, however, it pleases God to not reveal to us the specific places. Today, I’m writing about one of those times.

The three synoptic gospels all tell us that, immediately following His baptism, Christ was tempted in the wilderness.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1, also see Mark 1:12 and Luke 4:1-2)

The term “the wilderness” is not at all specific. In Israel, there are several areas that are called the wilderness. The area closest to Bethany Beyond the Jordan is the Judean Wilderness, but we don’t know if this is where Jesus was led and was tempted by the devil.

The Judean wilderness or desert lies between the hills of Judea and the Dead Sea. As clouds carrying moisture from the Mediterranean travel from west to east across the country, the high peaks seemingly scrape the water out of the clouds as rain that falls on the western slopes. East of the highlands, the land is very dry. While western Jerusalem gets about 2 feet of rain a year, the Judean wilderness averages around 4 inches of rain a year.

This land is also marked by deep ravines and rugged landscape. This is a harsh environment that has been largely uninhabited for most of history. David fled from King Saul to this area (1 Samuel 23:14; 24:1; 25:4; 26:3).

And yet, it can also be a place of beauty. In the springtime, when the normally dry wadis fill with rain, the desert bursts into life.

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad.
    The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose. (Isaiah 35:1)

But just as quickly, the dry wind blows, the grass withers and the flower fades.

The voice of one saying, “Cry!”
    One said, “What shall I cry?”
“All flesh is like grass,
    and all its glory is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers,
    the flower fades,
    because Yahweh’s breath blows on it.
    Surely the people are like grass.
The grass withers,
    the flower fades;
    but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)

It was to this desolate place that Jesus was driven to withstand the temptations of Satan. When we find ourselves in a dry and desolate place in our lives, let us remember and draw near to Him!

For we don’t have a high priest who can’t be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. 16 Let’s therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace for help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

The photo at the top of this post is titled Wilderness of Judea from Neby Mousa [i.e., Nebi Musa], close contours of hills and is from the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress

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Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain. 


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