What kind of fasting did Jesus do?

Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judean desert before beginning his public ministry (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2). This mimicked the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 34:28) and the 40 years Israel spent wandering in the desert after the exodus from Egypt (Numbers 14:33-34). For Jesus, 40 days of fasting symbolically prepared him for ministry as the fulfillment of God’s law and prophets.

How did Jesus fast?

The Gospels specifically state that Jesus “ate nothing” and “was hungry” during his 40 day fast (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2). This indicates that he abstained from all food and drink except water. However, the Bible does not provide further details about how exactly he fasted.

Based on Jewish fasting practices of the time, Jesus likely abstained from both food and water from sunrise to sunset each day. This follows the example of Moses, who fasted during daylight hours on Mount Sinai but could drink water at night (Exodus 34:28). The prophet Daniel similarly practiced partial fasting by abstaining from “choice food,” meat, and wine for a period of time while still eating modest provisions daily (Daniel 10:2-3).

A full 40-day absolute fast from both food and water would have been humanly impossible. However, Jesus was able to undertake such a sustained fast due to the supernatural endowment of the Holy Spirit and his divine nature as the Son of God.

What was the purpose of Jesus’ 40 day fast?

Jesus fasted while in deep preparation for his ministry. By relying completely on spiritual rather than physical food, he focused his purpose on doing God’s will alone.

Specifically, the 40 day fast enabled Jesus to:

  • Seek guidance from God at the start of his ministry
  • Resist temptation by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11)
  • Establish his spiritual authority over the devil by quoting Scripture rather than acting from physical hunger or self-interest
  • Meditate and pray over his identity and mission as the Messiah
  • Set an example for believers to pursue God rather than material comforts

By paralleling the 40 day fasts of Moses and the Israelites, Jesus aligned himself with Israel’s history and God’s providential plan. His ability to complete such a fast verified his spiritual power as the Son of God.

Did Jesus fast at any other times?

The Gospels record very few details about Jesus’ eating habits, but we can infer some things about his practice of fasting:

  • He did not regularly fast like John the Baptist’s disciples (Matthew 9:14-15)
  • He observed the annual Jewish Day of Atonement fast (Acts 27:9)
  • He fasted during his other periods of intense prayer, such as his transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8)
  • He frequently withdrew to lonely places for solitude and spiritual reinvigoration (Luke 5:16)

Based on Jewish customs, Jesus likely fasted on Monday and Thursday each week. But instead of following strict Pharisaical rules, he emphasized the spiritual purpose behind fasting over mere outward observance.

What did Jesus teach about fasting?

Jesus expected his disciples to fast on occasion, but not as strictly as John the Baptist’s followers or the Pharisees (Matthew 9:14-15). He taught that the frequency and method of fasting should be based on spiritual prompting rather than mere religious duty. Jesus stressed that the spiritual attitude behind fasting was more important than the outward act.

Jesus gave instructions about fasting in his Sermon on the Mount:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

The main points were:

  • Do not fast to impress others or out of mere obligation
  • Keep your fasting between yourself and God alone
  • Focus on your heart attitude more than external practices
  • Receive your reward from your Father who sees in secret

Jesus criticized people who used fasting to gain public admiration for their piety rather than to cultivate a right heart before God. Instead, he taught fasting to be a private exercise of self-denial to seek greater communion with God.

How did Jesus’ practice of fasting compare with Jewish customs?

The Old Testament law only required fasting on the annual Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32). But by Jesus’ day, stricter fasting practices had developed among religious Jews:

  • The Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12)
  • The Zealots practiced regular fasting
  • The Essenes observed frequent ceremonial fasts
  • Fasts commemorated key events in Jewish history
  • Many practiced ritual fasts to atone for sins

However, Jesus did not insist that his disciples adhere to the strict fasting customs of the Pharisees and other groups. He focused more on instructing them about the purpose and heart attitude behind fasting.

Jesus also differed from the Pharisees in that he observed Sabbath laws with mercy rather than dogmatism. Overall, he sought to move religious practice from empty ritual to genuine relationship with God.


The 40 day fast was a key event in Jesus’ spiritual preparation for ministry. While he did not mandate regular fasting for his followers, he provided teachings and examples about fasting that emphasized right motives and simplicity over religious duty. For Jesus, fasting was meant to strengthen one’s relationship with God rather than to gain public admiration.

By looking to Jesus’ example, Christians can practice fasting in a way that honors God and furthers their spiritual growth. The focus should be a heart of repentance and seeking closeness with the Father rather than adhering to rigid rules. As with prayer, worship, and giving, fasting is meant to be an act of devotion to God coming from the inside out.


Carson, D. A. (2021). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5-10. Ada, MI: Baker Books.

González, J. L. (2015). The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Keener, C. S. (1999). A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Pentecost, J. D. (1982). The words and works of Jesus Christ: A study of the life of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House.

Rainer, T. S. (1999). Matthew. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Willard, D. (2013). The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. New York: HarperOne.

Leave a Comment