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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 4

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-25

IV 1-11 The Messias challenged: the Temptations (Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13)—1-2. The Spirit who had appeared at the Baptism now leads Jesus to his encounter with the personal power of evil, naturally hostile to the Messianic plan. The sihgle combat is to be engaged on the devil’s own ground—the desert; cf. 12:43. According to a tradition dating back to the 5th cent. this is the lonely, barren, mountainous district between Jerusalem and Jericho.

3-4. First Temptation. Our Lord’s unbroken fast of forty days (model of our Lenten fast, and cf. Moses in Exodus 34:28; Elias in 3 Kg 19:8) provides the occasion for the first temptation. The devil has evidently heard the Voice, 3:17, because he echoes its phrase: Son of God. His words’ If thou be the Son of God’, though perhaps only half-understood, are only an affectation of doubt. They seek to goad our Lord to a self-assertive and unnecessary (11) display of power. The word ’tempt’ (lit. ’to put to the test’) is therefore here to be understood in its usual sense of stimulating to evil rather than in the possible sense of seeking information, 22:35 note. Our Lord, who later was to create bread for the multitudes, refuses to work such a miracle in his own interest and declines to demonstrate his powers to the devil. He is content with a quotation from Holy Writ, Deuteronomy 8:3, to show his perfect detachment from everything but God’s will. The text in its original setting declares that the manna had shown that God could dispense with the ordinary means of sustenance when necessary; its basic lesson is calm trust in God. Our Lord refuses to anticipate God’s providence and later, 11, his trust is amply vindicated. In the circumstances, his retort, unlike the dictum of John 4:34, refers rather to physical life than to the life of the spirit.

5-7. Second Temptation. The devil now takes our Lord to Jerusalem, c 20 m. from the traditional site of the first and third temptations. He causes him to stand (?st?se, cf. 18:2) on a projection of the temple roof (pte?????)—probably on the SE. corner of the outer temple about 300 feet above the valley of the Kedron. Jesus has already used a Scriptural text to express his confidence in God; the devil adroitly joins issue on this very point. But the situation (’cast thyself down’) would turn the confidence of the psalm quoted, 90:11, into presumption. Our Lord counters with a quotation (Deuteronomy 6:16 referring to the incident of Exodus 17:7) which supposes that the Son will not thus seek to wrench a miracle from the Father. Miracles must not be the condition of our trust in God: such an attitude is ’tempting’ God, i.e. ’putting him to the test’.

8-11. Third Temptation. Satan stakes all. The traditional scene is Djebel Qarantal, a few miles NW. of Jericho. This mountain, walling-in the plain of Jericho, looks eastwards across Jordan to the hills of Moab. The devil now appeals to earthly ambition and his boast of political power (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4) does not today appear empty.

10. But this is the only power he can offer and our Lord refuses it. His kingdom is not of this world. He names the devil for what he is—Satan. (In Heb. satan—rendered d??ß???? in Gk—means an enemy, 1 Kg 29:4, or legal accuser, Psalms 108:6, and in post-exilic literature the archenemy of man, 1 Par 21:1, and his accuser before God, Job 1:6-; Job 2:7.) Jesus quotes the great principle of Hebrew monotheism, Deuteronomy 6:13, anticipating his own declaration that it is impossible to serve two masters, Matthew 6:24. Satan leaves him’ for a time’, Lk, to return in other guise, Matthew 16:22 f., Luke 22:3, Luke 22:53. The ’ministry’ of the angels appears in Mark 1:13 (’were ministering’ WV) to extend over the forty days’ fast. It is evidently not a ministering of food. In Mt also it is possible that the service (d?a???eî?) is to be taken in the more general sense, 25:44, of a support which rendered food unnecessary.

Notes on the Temptations. (a) Messianic Significance. —There are three occasions of temptation, but the underlying suggestion is one: to take the crown without the cross. But since this is directly opposed to the divine plan (cf.Isaiah 53:2-12; Zach 12:10 ff.) the crown can only be an earthly one. The devil, fully aware of the Messianic atmosphere, seeks to make the approaching attack on his kingdom harmless. Experience had taught him all he had to lose when men took the hard way and the prophets had pointed this way to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. It was for him to urge the easy and deceptive way. There is a crescendo in his temptations. He’suggests first the reasonable satisfaction of bodily needs (certainly not gluttony after forty days’ fast) by means of a miracle before one witness only. The second is an invitation to a more spectacular display of power. The choice of the distant temple for the scene of the second temptation evidently has point: it suggests the achievement of popular Messianic acclaim by means of a public prodigy worked in the sacred precincts. In each case our Lord is called upon for an unwarranted provocation of God’s power. The instinct of the tempter is sound: he probes for the defects which normally accompany human qualities, assuming that where he finds great trust in God he will find presumption. Having failed, in the first two temptations, to reveal presumption he begins to suspect the strength of the quality of which it is usually the defect. The third temptation, therefore, attacks the quality of trust. It invites to total apostasy from God and reliance upon Satan himself. (b ) Mode of the Temptations. It seems clear that the evangelists intend to describe temptations with the three distinct, objective actions mentioned. They do not convey the impression of a general ’psychological struggle from which Christ emerged with a clearer and higher idea of his Messianic mission’. But how did Satan communicate his suggestions? The texts hint (but do not formally state) that Satan was visible—probably in human form (cf. pa?a?aµß???, i.e. to take as companion, 4:5, 8). The vision of ’all the kingdoms of the earth’ appears to be presented as a miracle worked upon the imagination, Luke 4:5. On the other hand, the journey to the temple seems more than visionary (though see Lebreton in DBV(S) 4 990. There is, however, no suggestion of levitation in Satan’s action. The verb pa?a?aµß??µ, like its Aramaic equivalent debar, in no way implies taking hold of another physically, by the hand for instance (Joüon). (c ) Nature and further Purpose of the Temptations. By reason of the hypostatic union our Lord was incapable of sin nor, being without original sin, could he be tempted from within by concupiscence (i.e. by the inordinate desire consequent upon original sin). He could be tempted, therefore, not by the lower nature itself, but only by the exterior suggestion of the Enemy; cf. ST 3, 41, 1, ad 3. The devil’s proposition could be presented to our Lord’s senses or imagination and so to his judgement. But, in virtue of the hypostatic union, the judgement being affected by no intrinsic unbalance would unerringly perceive, and the will inflexibly reject, the inordinate suggestion. In allowing even this satanic approach our Lord warns us that the holiest may be tempted but leaves us a model of firmness in dealing with Satan. Lastly, he draws as near to our condition as his sinlessness would permit so that, through human experience, he could ’sympathize’ with us, Hebrews 4:15 cf. ST 3, 41, 1 corp.

C. IV 12-XlII 58 The Messianic Light shines on Galilee. IV 12-25 Introductory. IV 12-17 Capharnaum and Opening of the Ministry (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:14-15—Mt briefly introduces us to the Public Ministry with a glance at its first scene, 4:12-17, its first collaborators, 4:18-22, its first acts and their initial effect, 4:23-25. The Temptations had followed immediately upon the Baptism, but some months now elapse (for the events of this interval, cf. John 1:19-; John 3:36) at the end of which Jesus withdrew from Judaea to Galilee. The immediate occasion of this withdrawal was the arrest of the Baptist (cf. 14:3-12); the silenced herald is succeeded by his Master and the work of the kingdom goes on.

13. By way of Samaria, John 4:3 ff., and Cana, John 4:46 ff., our Lord went back home to secluded Nazareth; cf.Luke 4:16 ff. He soon left there to make his headquarters in Capharnaum (Tell Hum on the north-west shore of the ’sea’ of Galilee) a busy little market-town on the DamascusEgypt highway and situated in the old tribal district of Nephthali which bordered on that of Zabulon; both districts lie north and west of the Lake.

14-16. Mt solemnly announces the advent of the Messianic age. He calls attention to the Messianic (Emmanuel) section of Isaias from which he has already quoted, 1:22 f. The text, Isaiah 8:23-; Isaiah 9:1, contrasts the Assyrian devastation of northern Palestine, in 734 b.c., with the future Messianic deliverance. ’The way of the Sea’ (?dUò? Ta??ssð?: better ’on the sea-road’ KNT) probably describes, in the original text, the district of Zabulon and Nephthali through which the road (the ’Via Maris’ of the Crusaders) passes from Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea at Acre. For Mt, however, thinking of Capharnaum-on-Sea (pa?a?a?assía, 13), the ’searoad’ is apparently that which runs along the west coast of the ’sea’ of Galilee. The district called ’BeyondJordan’ is doubtless the province of Gilead on the east side Jordan facing Zabulon and Nephthali; this too was overrun by the Assyrians. Galilee of the Gentiles’ (the Isaian gelîl,i.e. ’district of the Gentiles had become a proper name) probably refers to a nonJewish district of western Galilee. These precisions are of lsaias rather than of Mt who quotes the prophecy as a whole, content to see it broadly verified in the fact that our Lord’s ministry opens formally in Galilee.

17. The Messianic age (our Lord uses the same words as the Baptist in 3:2) has passed from prophecy to fulfilment. It is’ at hand ’—a phrase probably equivalent in itself (as certainly in the context, cf.Mark 1:15 ’the time is accomplished’) to ’is here’.

18-22 Call of the First Four Disciples (Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)—Mt here (though cf. 8:14-17) passes over the first miracles, Mark 1:23-34, being content with a general reference, 23 f. But he evidently regards the call of the Four (introduced parenthetically) as a necessary part of his summary introduction to the Galilean ministry. The ready obedience of the Four is more easily explained if we bear in mind their previous familiarity with Jesus, John 1:35 ff. For the detail, cf.Mark 1:16-20 notes.

23-25 Epitome of our Lord’s Missionary Activity (Mark 1:39; Mark 3:8-10; Luke 4:44; Luke 6:17-19)— The verses are a summing-up, and in part an anticipation, of our Lord’s missionary activity before the evangelist proceeds to present the great charter of the new kingdom, 5:1-7:29, and the power of its founder, 8:1-9:34, 23, repeated almost exactly in 9:35, appears to prelude the personal ’work of Jesus as 9:35 introduces the mission of the apostles (Lagrange). His activity, doctrinal and miraculous, spreads from Capharnaum throughout Galilee and his reputation as a wonderworker beyond the borders of Israel (’ Syria ’—probably the non-Jewish district to the south of Hermon). The preaching is the good news (’gospel’, e?a???????) of the kingdom. The miracles were of all kinds: ’too numerous and too varied to be explained by faithhealing. It is incredible that all the sick laid in the streets were neurotic patients’, *Plummer. Attempts to ascribe the miracle-narratives to the pious inventive genius of the later Christian community are not only gratuitous, but overlook the fact that the miraclenarratives formed part of the very earliest Christian teaching, e.g.Acts 10:38.

25. By way of immediate introduction to the Sermon Mt suggests the audience. Crowds follow our Lord; they come not only from Galilee, but from the Ten Towns (’Decapolis’). This last was a confederation of Greek-speaking cities, all east of Jordan facing Galilee except Scythopolis; cf. Schürer, 2, 1, 94-6. They come also from Judaea, even from its capital, and from the district (Peraea) which faces it across Jordan.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 4". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-4.html. 1951.
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