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How long did Jesus fast?

How long did Jesus fast?

in Bible Study

Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. 

The Devil Tempts Jesus

In Matthew 4:1-11, this chapter section is titled “The Temptation of Jesus.” This chapter of the Bible tells the story of Jesus before he began his ministry. He was brought to a desert where he fasted for forty days and forty nights, and was tempted by the devil.

In verse 2, it notes that Jesus was hungry and that is when the devil came to tempt him. The devil tested Jesus’ hunger and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” In response, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 which says, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Jesus could have done what the devil asked him to do as the Messiah, he was able to perform signs, miracles, and wonders. But if he obeyed the devil, then Jesus would no longer belong to God. He would fall for the devil just as Eve was tempted by the serpent and would no longer be able to carry out the work he was supposed to do. Jesus had the Word in his heart, depended on it like it was food, and was able to outwit the devil. After this, Jesus began his ministry.

True Food & Time for Fasting

In John 4:31-34, Jesus continues to explain how the Word, or the work of God, is like food to him. John 4 is the chapter where Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well. Worried about Jesus, as it mentions in verse 6 that he was “tired from the journey,” the disciples demanded him to eat something.

This dialogue with the disciples occurs shortly after Jesus’s rigorous period of fasting, a significant event in His spiritual life. According to the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, an act that preceded the start of His public ministry (Matthew 4:1-2, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2). This extensive fast was not merely a ritual but a profound period of spiritual preparation, enabling Jesus to align closely with God’s will and fortify Himself against future temptations. The 40-day fast underscores the theme of spiritual sustenance that Jesus later articulates to His disciples in John 4, highlighting the principle that true nourishment and strength are found in commitment to fulfilling God’s purposes.

Therefore, Jesus’s teaching in John 4:31-34, coupled with the earlier account of how long Jesus fasted, deepens the understanding of fasting from a Christian perspective. It portrays fasting not just as an act of physical abstinence but as a symbolic gesture of prioritizing spiritual needs and divine calling over bodily demands. Jesus’s example and His words encourage believers to reflect on the sources of their spiritual nourishment and to seek fulfillment in alignment with God’s will, much like Jesus did during His time on earth. This narrative invites followers of Christ to contemplate the profound nature of spiritual fulfillment that surpasses physical sustenance, urging them to live in a manner that earnestly seeks to do God’s work and complete His mission.

But what was Jesus’ response?

  • “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” The disciples question what this food is or where he got it from (they think Jesus is referring to physical food!). Then, Jesus continues, saying, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

We can see that Jesus’ references to food in the Bible go beyond mere physical food, but is regarding something spiritual. Of course, physical food is still important we could not survive without it but the greater of these things is spiritual because it will last for eternity. 

crucifix illustration
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The Importance of Physical Food

  • Physical food is undeniably crucial for human survival. It provides the energy and nutrients necessary for health, growth, and the maintenance of bodily functions. Without it, physical life cannot be sustained. The Bible acknowledges the importance of physical sustenance, with numerous passages reflecting God’s provision of food to His people, from the manna in the wilderness to the miracles of feeding the multitudes. These instances not only demonstrate God’s care for the physical needs of humanity but also serve as opportunities to reveal deeper spiritual lessons.

The Primacy of Spiritual Nourishment

  • However, Jesus’ teachings elevate the concept of spiritual nourishment to a higher plane, illustrating that the ultimate purpose of human existence transcends the physical realm. Through His dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:13-14), where He contrasts water that quenches physical thirst with “living water” that offers eternal life, Jesus elucidates the transient nature of physical needs in comparison to the enduring value of spiritual fulfillment. Similarly, when Jesus declares, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), He emphasizes that spiritual truths and divine revelation are the true sustenance that nourishes the soul and sustains spiritual life.

The Eternal Nature of Spiritual Food

  • The spiritual food that Jesus refers to encompasses the Word of God, His teachings, the practice of faith, and the pursuit of righteousness—elements that foster a deep, personal relationship with God. Unlike physical food, which satisfies temporarily, spiritual nourishment promises eternal satisfaction and life. It prepares individuals for an eternal destiny with God, offering hope and fulfillment that surpass the temporal confines of this world. The emphasis on spiritual nourishment reflects a fundamental Christian belief in the resurrection and the life hereafter, where the soul’s condition is of paramount importance.

Other Biblical Figures Who Fasted

Many other biblical figures fasted as well. Moses also fasted for forty days and forty nights when God gave him the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28).

Nehemiah also fasted. In Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah breaks down after hearing Jerusalem is in trouble. “For some days,” Nehemiah says, “I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).

Moses: Fasting on Mount Sinai

Moses, the leader of the Israelites and a central figure in the Old Testament, fasted for forty days and forty nights on two significant occasions. The most notable instance is recorded in Exodus 34:28, during his time on Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments from God. This period of fasting was not merely an act of physical abstinence but a profound spiritual preparation and purification, enabling Moses to receive the law directly from God. This event underscored the sanctity of the covenant between God and His people and highlighted fasting as a means of consecration and direct communion with the divine.

traditional jewish matzo
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Nehemiah: Fasting for Jerusalem’s Restoration

Nehemiah, serving in the Persian court as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, exemplifies another instance of fasting linked to deep emotional and spiritual burdens. Upon hearing the news of Jerusalem’s desolation and the vulnerability of its returning exiles, Nehemiah’s heart was so moved that he engaged in a period of mourning, fasting, and prayer, as recorded in Nehemiah 1:4. His fasting was a response to the dire situation of his people and the city of Jerusalem, demonstrating a profound sense of solidarity and intercession. Nehemiah’s fasting accompanied his prayers for mercy, guidance, and the successful restoration of Jerusalem’s walls, highlighting fasting as a powerful component of seeking God’s intervention and favor.

The Role of Fasting in Spiritual Life

These examples, among others in the Bible, illustrate fasting as a multifaceted spiritual discipline. It serves various purposes:

  1. Preparation: 

Just as Moses fasted in preparation to receive the law, fasting can prepare individuals spiritually to undertake significant tasks or receive divine revelations.

  1. Mourning and Repentance:

 Nehemiah’s fasting in response to Jerusalem’s plight underscores fasting as an expression of grief, repentance, and a desire for restoration.

  1. Intercession: 

Fasting often accompanies prayers for divine intervention, as believers seek God’s guidance, help, or forgiveness on behalf of themselves or others.

  1. Consecration:

 Fasting is a means of consecrating oneself to God, setting aside physical desires to focus more fully on spiritual commitments and the pursuit of holiness.
Daniel and his three friends also fasted from the food and drink that the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, offered them (Daniel 1) because they did not want to defile themselves. God was well pleased with Daniel and his friends who had refused the royal food from Babylon and granted these four men knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning, and Daniel was able to understand visions and dreams (Daniel 1:11-17).

Why Do Believers Fast Today?

Throughout these examples of fasting, we can see that it was done during a time of testing, mourning, or out of reverence for God. Today, Christians follow the same tradition.

There are many stories Christians have regarding times of fasting, when they did so, how long, etc, but many fast for forty days and forty nights to honor Jesus. To Christians, it is like a sacrificial offering to God.

Often believers will fast themselves of people or things that distract them from God as a show of devotion to God, but even in thinking of what can lead people astray from God, then it is also imperative to consider false teachings.

Modern-Day Fasting Practices

Today, believers fast for a variety of reasons, drawing inspiration from Jesus’s example:

Spiritual Growth

  • Many Christians fast as a means of drawing closer to God, believing that abstaining from food or other pleasures can help sharpen their spiritual awareness and reliance on God’s strength, rather than their own.

Repentance and Penance: 

  • Fasting is often undertaken as an act of penitence for sins or moral failings, serving as a tangible expression of sorrow and a commitment to spiritual improvement.

Intercession and Prayer

  • Fasting is sometimes combined with prayer as a way to intensify one’s petitions or intercessions to God. It is believed that by fasting, believers can demonstrate the sincerity of their prayers and their earnestness in seeking God’s intervention or guidance.

Physical and Spiritual Purification

  •  Apart from its spiritual benefits, fasting is also seen as a way to purify the body and mind, helping believers to detach from worldly concerns and focus more fully on their spiritual well-being.

Solidarity and Empathy 

  • Fasting can also serve as a means of expressing solidarity with those who are suffering or in need, reminding believers of the hardships faced by others and inspiring a more compassionate and charitable outlook.

For what did Jesus first say in his response to the disciple’s question of what the signs would be for his second coming? In Matthew 24:4-5, Jesus responds, “Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.” As these words were spoken as a warning to believers today, then what actions must be taken to heed and obey these commands?

Last Thoughts….

With a large amount of speculation regarding the mysterious called the Bible, there are copious amounts of books filled with commentaries and interpretations attempting to dissect the thoughts of God.

However, as said in 1 Corinthians 2:11, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Rather than relying upon the ideas of man to explain the higher thoughts of God (Isaiah 55:8-9), the standard for learning and understanding the word must come from the Bible which contains God’s heart and will for humanity. 

While fasting is a tradition that is carried out today by various churches and denominations all across the globe, are believers able to understand the reason why it is done? What is the “food” that God desires us to fast from today?

Understanding the Purpose of Fasting

Fasting is more than a religious ritual; it is a powerful spiritual discipline designed to draw believers closer to God. It is a time for introspection, prayer, and recommitment to living a life aligned with God’s will. The purpose of fasting goes beyond the physical act of giving up food or drink; it involves a deeper spiritual journey toward purification and enlightenment. However, the true essence of fasting can sometimes be overshadowed by ritualistic practices, leading to a gap in understanding its significance.

The Spiritual “Food” God Desires Us to Fast From

When considering what God desires us to fast from today, it is essential to look beyond the literal interpretation of food. In a metaphorical sense, the “food” represents anything that distracts believers from their spiritual path or diminishes their relationship with God. This can include a wide range of behaviors, habits, and even thoughts or attitudes that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Here are several types of “food” that believers are encouraged to fast from:

  1. Sinful Behaviors: 

Habits or actions that are explicitly against God’s commandments, such as dishonesty, greed, envy, and hatred.

  1. Excessive Materialism:

 An unhealthy focus on acquiring material possessions or allowing wealth to dictate one’s life and choices, forgetting the spiritual calling to live simply and generously.

  1. Negative Emotions: 

Feelings like anger, bitterness, resentment, or unforgiveness poison the heart and hinder spiritual growth.

  1. Distracting Entertainment: 

Media or activities that consume excessive time and energy, diverting attention from prayer, meditation, and service to others.

  1. Harmful Relationships: 

Associations that lead believers away from God, whether through peer pressure, toxic dynamics, or encouragement of sinful behaviors.

The Goal of Spiritual Fasting

Story of Rahab: Lessons LearnedToggle panel: Linksy

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