Fasting was an important spiritual practice in Biblical times, and Jesus himself fasted on several occasions. Though the Bible does not provide an explicit count of how many times Jesus fasted, there are a few key passages that give insight into his fasting practices. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore what the Bible says about when and why Jesus fasted.
- Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness after his baptism. This was a time of spiritual preparation as he resisted Satan’s temptations.
- Jesus likely fasted regularly throughout his ministry in accordance with Jewish customs.
- Jesus spoke about fasting being appropriate when the bridegroom (himself) was taken away, implying he expected his followers to fast in remembrance of his death.
- Jesus criticized hypocritical fasting as practiced by the Pharisees, teaching that fasting should be done with the right heart attitude.
- Jesus taught that prayer combined with fasting could help cast out certain stubborn demons.
- The early church continued fasting after Jesus’ ascension, implying it was an important spiritual discipline.
The 40 Day Fast
The clearest example of Jesus fasting is right before he began his public ministry. Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13 all record this event. After being baptized by John, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.
This passage provides key insights about fasting:
- Fasting was a way to focus intently on prayer and preparation to fulfill God’s will. Jesus used this 40 day fast to spiritually prepare for his ministry.
- Fasting created an opportunity for Jesus to resist temptation and affirm his commitment to do the Father’s will.
- By emulating Jesus’ 40 day fast, believers can also intensify their prayers and fortify themselves against temptation. This passage implies fasting can be a spiritual discipline that strengthens one’s faith.
- Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, saying “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This implies fasting is not about abstaining from food alone, but feasting on God’s Word. True fasting focuses on spiritual nourishment over physical nourishment.
So this account models how believers can practice fasting to grow closer to God and prepare for important tasks or decisions. Though most Christians may not embark on a 40 day fast like Jesus, even shorter fasts can help intensify prayer and increase focus on God’s will.
Fasting and Jewish Customs
Though the Gospels do not provide day-to-day details of Jesus’ entire ministry, it is likely he fasted routinely based on Jewish customs. The Old Testament prescribed only one official fast on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31, 23:27-32). But by Jesus’ day, additional fasting was a common practice.
The Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12) on Mondays and Thursdays. There were also community fasts to beg for God’s favor or avert calamity. In Matthew 9:14, the disciples of John asked Jesus why his disciples did not fast like them and the Pharisees. This implies Jesus may have fasted less rigorously than other Jewish sects of his day. But it still suggests he incorporated some fasting for spiritual purposes.
Jesus also would have fasted on major Jewish fast days like the Day of Atonement, mourning the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and commemorating key events like the siege of Jerusalem.
So while an exact count is not provided, we can conclude Jesus integrated fasting as part of his spiritual life consistent with Jewish customs. He saw it as a tool to draw nearer to God, not an empty ritual like some Pharisees practiced.
The Bridegroom Has Been Taken Away
One of Jesus’ teachings on fasting sheds light on why Christians fast today in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice. In Matthew 9:14-15, Jesus says to the disciples of John:
“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:14-15, NKJV)
Here Jesus implies that fasting is linked with mourning and waiting. He compares himself to a bridegroom who will one day be “taken away” via his death and resurrection. Jesus anticipated that when this happened, his followers would fast and mourn out of longing for his return.
This provides insight into why fasting is still practiced by Christians today. It is a way to remember Christ’s sacrifice and look forward to his promised return.
Some key points about this passage:
- Fasting expresses grief, mourning, and longing. Christians mourn Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. Fasting can represent that inner remorse and sadness.
- Jesus was predicting his own death and the sorrow his disciples would feel in his absence. Their subsequent fasting helped process these emotions.
- Fasting points towards watchful waiting for Christ’s promised return as King. By fasting, Christians await the upcoming “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
So the practice of fasting continues even after Jesus’ ascension because, in his absence, it facilitates mourning his death and longing for his return. It is a tangible way to wait on the Lord.
Avoiding Hypocrisy When Fasting
While Jesus clearly valued fasting for spiritual purposes, he strongly cautioned against fasting for show or making an outward display of it. In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus says:
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18, NKJV)
Here Jesus rebukes ostentatious fasting done for outward praise. He accused the hypocrites (likely the Pharisees and teachers of the law) of deliberately neglecting their appearance so everyone would recognize they were fasting. But Jesus calls his followers to fast secretly before God alone, trusting he will reward those with pure motives.
Key points about this teaching:
- Outward fasting alone is worthless. It is the inward attitude that matters most to God.
- Fasting should be done to cultivate one’s personal relationship with the Father, not earn public praise.
- Secret fasting pleases God more than public displays. Avoid calling attention to your fasting.
- Focus fasting on lament, repentance, seeking God’s will, and waiting on the Lord. Don’t fast just for show.
- God rewards those who fast with pure motives rather than selfish ambition.
This passage helps frame fasting with an attitude of humility. It is not about outward displays but the inward posture of the heart. Done rightly, fasting fosters intimacy with God.
Prayer and Fasting for Spiritual Breakthroughs
While the Gospels focus mainly on fasting as spiritual preparation and expression of grief, Jesus also discussed using prayer combined with fasting to accomplish spiritual breakthroughs not possible through prayer alone.
In Matthew 17:14-21, Jesus’ disciples tried unsuccessfully to cast a demon out of a boy after Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration. After Jesus cast out the demon, the disciples asked why they couldn’t do it. Jesus replied: “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21, NKJV).
Some key applications about fasting from this episode:
- Jesus implies that prayer alone does not always suffice in spiritual warfare. Combining fasting with prayer can amplify effectiveness.
- Fasting helps intensify focus and demonstrates spiritual earnestness. This boosts power in intercession.
- Fasting is not about twisting God’s arm, but aligning our hearts with his will to display his power. It makes space for God to move.
- Fasting for deliverance from bondage requires faith and spiritual persistence. It is not easy but brings liberation.
This example shows fasting can be paired with focused prayer when confronting stubborn spiritual opposition. Fasting is not required for every prayer, but can aid deliverance when breakthroughs are needed.
Fasting Continued After Jesus’ Ascension
The practice of fasting did not cease after Jesus’ ascension. In Acts 13:1-3, the believers at Antioch were worshipping, fasting and praying when the Holy Spirit set apart Paul and Barnabas for ministry. Acts 14:21-23 records that Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted when appointing elders in each church during their first missionary journey.
Clearly, fasting continued as a vital spiritual practice in the early church after Christ’s ascension. It aided major decisions like commissioning leaders and missionaries. The early church saw that fasting helped seek God’s guidance and empowered ministry. Their example shows fasting remains relevant for Christians today.
In summary, while the Bible does not provide an exact tally of how many times Jesus fasted, he clearly modeled it as an important spiritual discipline during his ministry. Based on his teachings and example, as well as the practices of the early church, followers of Jesus today can still benefit greatly from fasting for spiritual purposes.
Done with the right motives of seeking God rather than appearing spiritual, fasting can aid preparation for ministry, intensify mourning and waiting for Christ’s return, empower prayer for breakthroughs, and seek God’s guidance in decisions. Fasting brings believers closer to the heart of Jesus.