What Is The Significance Of Number 40 in the Bible?
Background Text: Luke 24:36-49
Devotional Text: John 21:25
The number 40 appears in the Bible over 150 times. Of those times, the words 40 days and 40 nights are found 24 times. Each time, they denote a significance for God and his people.
Before we speak about the 40 days Jesus spent teaching his disciples after his resurrection, let’s look at some of the other references to 40 days and 40 nights found in the Bible to get a perspective on their significance.
From the Old Testament we start with Genesis 7:4 when God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights as Noah and his family would remain alive in the ark. Then, in Exodus 24:18 and 34:28, we find Moses going up Mount Sinai to meet with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights. When he returned to the people he brought with him the Ten Commandments from God.
Continuing with a few more from the Old Testament: In 1 Samuel 17:4-7, 16, we meet the giant named Goliath who taunted the Israelites every morning and evening for 40 days. During this time, the faith of the Israelites was severely tested until David came forward to meet the giant.
Then we find in Jonah 3:4-5, the Lord’s message that Ninevah would be destroyed in 40 days unless they repented of their evil ways. The Ninevites took the prophet’s words to heart and repented, thus saving themselves from destruction at that time.
We find that in each of these examples, something took place associated with those 40 days and 40 nights that changed the future for the various people. Now, we move onto the New Testament and the life of Jesus.
In the gospels of Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12,13, and Luke 4:1-13, we read about Jesus being led into the desert by the Holy Spirit following his baptism by John the Baptist. We are told that after he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, he was hungry. It was following his fast that satan came to tempt him, while Jesus was hungry and in need of food.
I could easily spend the rest of today’s column on this subject of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but will put it aside for another time. Today, let’s just consider this summary:
The significance of these 40 days and 40 nights speak to us about our own times of temptation when we are weak and vulnerable. Through the words of satan, the tempter, and Jesus, the Son of God, we learn how to stand up to temptations.
The power of Jesus as he used words from Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16 and 6:13, teach us that we can defuse temptations in our own lives. In Matthew 4:10, Jesus orders satan to get away from him and repeats the words of Deuteronomy 6:13, “Fear the Lord and serve him only…”
At these words, satan left the presence of Jesus, and Matthew tells us the angels then came and took care of his needs. After his time in the desert, Jesus came back to the towns and cities to begin his ministry.
Finally, we turn to the last days of the life of Jesus on earth, the 40 days after his resurrection in which he opened up the word of God to his disciples, proving that he was and is alive, and both teaching and showing them how to spread the Good News to all nations.
Let’s start with the scripture found in Luke 24:44-49. In these last verses from the gospel of Luke, following the resurrection, Jesus explained to his disciples that everything he had been telling them about his death and resurrection fulfilled what had been written about him “in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Starting with verse 45, we learn that Jesus then opened the minds of the disciples to that which had been written previously about his death and resurrection, adding, “and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in my name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what I promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then, we go onto Acts 1:1-3, which was also written by Luke, and recalls the acts of the Apostles from the time following the resurrection through the early beginnings and growth of the church. We learn in Acts 1:3 that after his resurrection Jesus “showed himself to these men and gave them many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”
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