David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 4:1-25 - THE TEMPTATION OF JESUS AND HIS FIRST GALILEAN MINISTRY
A. Jesus’ temptation.
1. (Matthew 4:1-2) Jesus is led to the place of temptation.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.
a. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted: After identifying with sinners in His baptism, Jesus now identifies with them in severe temptation. This was a necessary part of His ministry, so He truly was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.
i. Jesus did not need to be tempted to help Him “grow.” Instead, He endured temptation both so He could identify with us (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15), and to demonstrate His own holy, sinless character.
ii. The Holy Spirit cannot tempt us (James 1:13). But we may be led by the Holy Spirit to a place where we will be tempted. This is not to prove anything to God (who knows all things), but to prove something to us and to spiritual beings who watch us.
b. Tempted by the devil: Temptation is a certainty for everyone. Yet Jesus’ temptation was more severe. It was more severe because He was tempted directly by the devil himself, while we contend mainly with lesser demons. It was also more severe because there is a sense in which temptation is “relieved” by giving in, and Jesus never did. Therefore He bore levels of temptation we will never know by experience.
c. He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry: Matthew points out both the barren desert (the Judean wilderness was, and is, just that), and Jesus’ severe physical condition after such a long fast. It is said that when hunger pains return after such a fast (He was hungry), it indicates the subject is beginning to starve to death.
d. The period of forty days and forty nights is a familiar period of testing in the Bible, both in the days of Noah and for Israel in the wilderness. Jesus will succeed where Israel as a nation failed.
2. (Matthew 4:3-4) The first temptation: an appeal to the lust of the flesh.
Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
a. When the tempter came: Notice that Matthew writes when the tempter came. In our lives, it is not a question of if the tempter will come, but when he will come. We will face temptation until we go to glory.
b. If You are the Son of God: The question asked by Satan is more literally “since You are the Son of God,” instead of “if You are the Son of God.” Satan is not questioning Jesus’ deity, he is challenging Him to prove it through miraculous works.
c. Command that these stones become bread: This is a temptation to use God’s gifts for selfish purposes. Satan wants Jesus to use His miraculous powers to provide food for Himself.
i. Who could fault Jesus for providing food? This wasn’t a temptation to miraculously create great riches or luxuries, only bread. The Bible has many accounts of miraculous provision, some at the hands of Jesus. Yet Jesus will not command that these stones become bread, especially at the instigation of Satan.
d. But He answered: Jesus didn’t silently disagree with Satan, He answered him - and He answered him from the Word of God. When Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, Jesus shows that every word that proceeds from the mouth of God should be more precious to us that food itself.
i. What Satan suggested made sense - “Why starve yourself to death?” But what is written makes even more sense.
e. By relying on the power and truth of God’s Word, Jesus was willing to fight this battle as a man; He could have easily rebuked Satan into another galaxy, but resisted Him in a way that we can imitate and identify with.
i. Jesus used Scripture to battle Satan’s temptation, not some elaborate spiritual power inaccessible to us. Jesus fought this battle as a man in this battle, and He drew on no “special resources” unavailable to us.
ii. We effectively resist temptation in the same way Jesus did: by countering Satan’s seductive lies by shining the light of God’s truth upon them. If we are ignorant of God’s truth, we are poorly armed in the fight against temptation.
3. (Matthew 4:5-7) The second temptation: an appeal to the pride of life.
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
a. If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down: Satan is tempting Jesus to “force” the Father into a supernatural event. Satan appeals to the desire within every man to sense approval from God and to have that approval publicly demonstrated.
i. Set Him on the pinnacle of the temple: The pinnacle of the temple arose some 200 feet from the floor of the Kidron Valley. A leap from there, and the appearance of the promised angelic protection, would be quite a show!
ii. Jesus just had this kind of spectacular demonstration at His baptism (Matthew 3:17). But that must have seemed far away after forty days and nights of fasting in the wilderness.
b. For it is written: The devil can use this phrase also. He quotes Scripture, and we can trust that the devil has memorized the Bible himself, and is an expert at quoting it out of its context to confuse and defeat those he tempts. This time, the devil quoted Psalms 91:11-12, and took it out of its context to say, “Go ahead, Jesus; if You do this the Bible promises angels will rescue You, and it will be spectacular self-promotion.”
i. Sadly, many are willing to believe anyone who quotes from the Bible today. A preacher can pretty much say whatever he wants if he quotes a few “proof-texts,” and people will assume that he really speaks from the Bible.
ii. Jesus understood from His knowledge of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) that Satan was “twisting” this passage from Psalms 91:1-16. Jesus knew how to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
c. It is written again, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Jesus replied with Scripture, but applied correctly. He knew that “forcing” or manipulating God the Father into such a demonstration would tempt God, which the Scriptures strictly forbid.
i. This warns us against demanding something “spectacular” from God to “prove” His love or concern for us. He has already given the ultimate demonstration of His love for us at the cross (Romans 5:8), and He can do nothing more “spectacular” than that.
4. (Matthew 4:8-11) The third temptation: an appeal to the lust of the eyes.
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
a. All these things I will give You: Essentially, this vision invited Jesus to take a shortcut around the cross. Jesus came to win all the kingdoms of the world and their glory back from Satan’s domain, and Satan offers them to Jesus, if He will only fall down and worship him.
i. It again may seem a small thing; Jesus could lay claim to all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and do so without enduring the cross. All He would have to do is give Satan what he has been longing for ever since he fell from glorious to profane: worship and recognition from God Himself.
ii. This is a revealing insight into Satan’s heart; worship and recognition are far more precious to him than the possession of the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He is still the one who said I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. (Isaiah 14:13-14)
b. Evidently, Satan has authority over this world and its governments. The temptation could not have been real unless there is some real sense that Satan does “possess” all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
i. Adam and his descendants gave the devil this authority. God gave Adam the earth as a stewardship (Genesis 1:28-30), and Adam willingly turned it over to Satan. After that, all Adam’s descendants cast their vote of approval by their personal sin.
ii. Of course, ultimately, all things belong to God; but God allows Satan to function as the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4) for a purpose. This is why the fallen world is in the mess it is.
c. Away with you, Satan! For it is written: Jesus replied with Scripture again, and commanded the devil to leave. In the same way we can resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7). It worked for Jesus (Then the devil left Him) and it will work for us.
d. Behold, angels came and ministered to Him: God never forsakes those who endure through temptation. Even as angels came and ministered to Jesus, God will find a way to minister to us and meet our needs as we endure temptation.
e. Then the devil left Him means that Jesus won. He won because He recognized Satan’s mode of attack: lies and deception. Primarily, Satan is a deceiver, and for those who live in light of the cross, deception is his only tool, because demonic powers were disarmed at the cross of their “real” weapons and power (Colossians 2:15). But deception is extremely effective at leading us into sin, and at causing us to live lives of fear and unbelief.
i. Jesus showed the only effective counter to deception: God’s truth, not man’s wisdom. First, we must see temptation for what it is - a lie. Then, we must combat temptation with the word of God. Then, we must always build ourselves up in the truth, and have it in our heart.
ii. Each passage Jesus quoted back to Satan in this section comes from Deuteronomy chapters 6 and 8. Jesus was probably meditating on those very passages, and He fought Satan with the “fresh bread” He fed on. We should make sure we always have some “fresh bread” to answer Satan with.
B. The first Galilean ministry.
1. (Matthew 4:12-16) In fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus brings light to the region of Galilee.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”
a. He departed to Galilee: The region of Galilee was a fertile, progressive, highly populated region. According to figures from the Jewish historian Josephus, there were some 3 million people populating Galilee, an area smaller than the state of Connecticut.
i. In an area of about 60 by 30 miles, Josephus says that there were some 204 villages with none having less than 15,000 people. That gives a population of more than 3 million for the region.
ii. Galilee was predominately Gentile in its population, but with a large number of Jewish cities and citizens. Also, Galilee was known as an incredibly fertile region. Many successful farms took advantage of the good soil.
b. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet: As is his custom, Matthew sees Jesus’ ministry in Galilee as a fulfillment of prophecy. Light has come to this region, largely populated by Gentiles, and Isaiah 9:1-2 predicted this of the ministry of the Messiah.
2. (Matthew 4:17) Jesus’ message: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
a. Repent: The gospel Jesus preached began the same place that the gospel John preached began - with a call to repentance (Matthew 3:2). In fact, since Jesus waited until John had been put in prison (Matthew 4:12), He probably saw Himself as picking up where John left off. But Jesus would go further than John ever did, because John announced the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus is the Messiah.
b. For the kingdom of heaven is at hand: Some people make elaborate distinctions between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. There actually seems to be no difference at all, especially in light of the Jewish custom of often not even naming God directly, but referring to Him by the place where He lives heaven - a custom that Matthew, a Jew writing to Jews, often employs.
3. (Matthew 4:18-22) Four men are called as disciples.
And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.
a. Saw two brothers: This was not the first time Jesus met these men, and other gospels describe previous encounters. But this is when Jesus called them to leave their professions and follow Him “full-time.”
b. Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men: In that day, it was customary for a rabbi to have disciples; there was nothing “cult-like” about Jesus asking these men to be with Him constantly. In effect, He offers them scholarships in the best “seminary” imaginable.
i. This is a good way to teach someone ministry: in an “apprentice” fashion rather than through formal education and it was the customary method in Jesus’ day.
c. The immediately left their nets . . . And immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him: The immediate response of these disciples is a great example to us. Then the first disciples did what all disciples of Jesus should do: they followed Him.
4. (Matthew 4:23-25) A description of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him; from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.
a. Preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness: Jesus was a teacher who did miraculous works. The emphasis was always on His teaching ministry, both to the inner circle of His disciples and to the multitudes that would listen to Him.
b. All kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease: Jesus’ ability to heal those with all different kinds of diseases demonstrates that He has authentic power over the damage done by the fall of man. His authority over demons (and those who were demon-possessed) shows He has authentic power over all creation.
c. Great multitudes followed Him: Jesus had a purpose for allowing such dramatic miracles to attract great multitudes. He wanted to teach the multitudes, not simply to impress them with miracles.
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