Matthew 4:1.Then Jesus was led. There were two reasons why Christ withdrew into the wilderness. The first was, that, after a fast of forty days, he might come forth as a new man, or rather a heavenly man, to the discharge of his office. The next was, that he might be tried by temptation and undergo an apprenticeship, before he undertook an office so arduous, and so elevated. Let us therefore learn that, by the guidance of the Spirit, Christ withdrew from the crowd of men, in order that he might come forth as the highest teacher of the church, as the ambassador of God, — rather as sent from heaven, than as taken from some town, and from among the common people.
In the same way Moses, when God was about to employ him as his agent in publishing his law, was carried into Mount Sinai, withdrawn from the view of the people, and admitted, as it were, into a heavenly sanctuary, (Exodus 24:12.) It was proper that Christ should be surrounded by marks of divine grace and power — at least equally illustrious with those which were bestowed on Moses, that the majesty of the Gospel might not be inferior to that of the Law. If God bestowed singular honor on a doctrine which was “the ministration of death,” (2 Corinthians 3:7,) how much more honor is due to the doctrine of life? And if a shadowy portrait of God had so much brightness, ought not his face, which appears in the Gospel, to shine with full splendor?
Such also was the design of the fasting: for Christ abstained from eating and drinking, not to give an example of temperance, but to acquire greater authority, by being separated from the ordinary condition of men, and coming forth, as an angel from heaven, not as a man from the earth. For what, pray, would have been that virtue of abstinence, in not tasting food, for which he had no more appetite than if he had not been clothed with flesh? (304) It is mere folly, therefore, to appoint a forty days’ fast, (as it is called,) in imitation of Christ. There is no more reason why we should follow the example of Christ in this matter, than there formerly was for the holy Prophets, and other Fathers under the law, to imitate the fast of Moses. But we are aware, that none of them thought of doing so; with the single exception of Elijah, who was employed by God in restoring the law, and who, for nearly the same reason with Moses, was kept in the mount fasting.
Those who fast daily, during all the forty days, pretend that they are imitators of Christ. But how? They stuff their belly so completely at dinner, that, when the hour of supper arrives, they have no difficulty in abstaining from food. What resemblance do they bear to the Son of God? The ancients practiced greater moderation: but even they had nothing that approached to Christ’s fasting, any more, in fact, than the abstinence of men approaches to the condition of angels, who do not eat at all. Besides, neither Christ nor Moses observed a solemn fast every year; but both of them observed it only once during their whole life. I wish we could say that they had only amused themselves, like apes, by such fooleries. It was a wicked and abominable mockery of Christ, to attempt, by this contrivance of fasting, to conform themselves to him as their model. (305) To believe that such fasting is a meritorious work, and that it is a part of godliness and of the worship of God, is a very base superstition.
But above all, it is an intolerable outrage on God, whose extraordinary miracle they throw into the shade; secondly, on Christ, whose distinctive badge they steal from him, that they may clothe themselves with his spoils; thirdly, on the Gospel, which loses not a little of its authority, if this fasting of Christ is not acknowledged to be his seal. God exhibited a singular miracle, when he relieved his Son from the necessity of eating and when they attempt the same thing by their own power, what is it but a mad and daring ambition to be equal with God? Christ’s fasting was a distinctive badge of the divine glory: and is it not to defraud him of his glory, and to reduce him to the ordinary rank of men, when mortals freely mix themselves with him as his companions? God appointed Christ’s fasting to seal the Gospel: and do those who apply it to a different purpose abate nothing from the dignity of the Gospel? Away, then, with that ridiculous imitation, (306) which overturns the purpose of God, and the whole order of his works. Let it be observed, that I do not speak of fastings in general, the practice of which I could wish were more general among us, provided it were pure.
But I must explain what was the object of Christ’s fasting. Satan availed himself of our Lord’s hunger as an occasion for tempting him, as will shortly be more fully stated. For the present, we must inquire generally, why was it the will of God that his Son should be tempted? That he was brought into this contest by a fixed purpose of God, is evident from the words of Matthew and Mark, who say, that for this reason he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. God intended, I have no doubt, to exhibit in the person of his Son, as in a very bright mirror, how obstinately and perseveringly Satan opposes the salvation of men. For how comes it, that he attacks Christ more furiously, and directs all his power and forces against him, at the particular time mentioned by the Evangelists, but because he sees him preparing, at the command of the Father, to undertake the redemption of men? Our salvation, therefore, was attacked in the person of Christ, just as the ministers, whom Christ has authorized to proclaim his redemption, are the objects of Satan’s daily warfare.
It ought to be observed, at the same time, that the Son of God voluntarily endured the temptations, which we are now considering, and fought, as it were, in single combat with the devil, that, by his victory, he might obtain a triumph for us. Whenever we are called to encounter Satan, let us remember, that his attacks can, in no other way, be sustained and repelled, than by holding out this shield: for the Son of God undoubtedly allowed himself to be tempted, that he may be constantly before our minds, when Satan excites within us any contest of temptations. When he was leading a private life at home, we do not read that he was tempted; but when he was about to discharge the office of Redeemer, he then entered the field in the name of his whole church. But if Christ was tempted as the public representative of all believers, let us learn, that the temptations which befall us are not accidental, or regulated by the will of Satan, without God’s permission; but that the Spirit of God presides over our contests as an exercise of our faith. This will aid us in cherishing the assured hope, that God, who is the supreme judge and disposer of the combat, (307) will not be unmindful of us, but will fortify us against those distresses, which he sees that we are unable to meet.
There is a slight apparent difference in the words of Luke, that Jesus, full of the Holy Ghost, withdrew from Jordan They imply, that he was then more abundantly endued with the grace and power of the Spirit, in order that he might be more fortified for the battles which he had to fight: for it was not without a good reason that the Holy Spirit descended upon him in a visible shape. It has been already stated, that the grace of God shone in him the more brightly, as the necessity arising out of our salvation became greater. (308) But, at first sight, it appears strange, that Christ was liable to the temptations of the devil: for, when temptation falls on men, it must always be owing to sin and weakness. I reply: First, Christ took upon him our infirmity, but without sin, (Hebrews 4:15.) Secondly, it detracts no more from his glory, that he was exposed to temptations, than that he was clothed with our flesh: for he was made man on the condition that, along with our flesh, he should take upon him our feelings. But the whole difficulty lies in the first point. How was Christ surrounded by our weakness, so as to be capable of being tempted by Satan, and yet to be pure and free from all sin? The solution will not be difficult, if we recollect, that the nature of Adam, while it was still innocent, and reflected the brightness of the divine image, — was liable to temptations. All the bodily affections, that exist in man, are so many opportunities which Satan seizes to tempt him.
It is justly reckoned a weakness of human nature, that our senses are affected by external objects. But this weakness would not be sinful, were it not for the presence of corruption; in consequence of which Satan never attacks us, without doing some injury, or, at least, without inflicting a slight wound. Christ was separated from us, in this respect, by the perfection of his nature; though we must not imagine him to have existed in that intermediate condition, which belonged to Adam, to whom it was only granted, that it was possible for him not to sin. We know, that Christ was fortified by the Spirit with such power, that the darts of Satan could not pierce him. (309)
Matthew 4:3.And when he, who tempteth, had approached to him. This name, ὁ πειράζων, the tempter, is given to Satan by the Spirit for the express purpose, that believers may be more carefully on their guard against him. Hence, too, we conclude, that temptations, which solicit us to what is evil, come from him alone: for, when God is sometimes said to tempt or prove, (Genesis 22:1; Deuteronomy 13:3,) it is for a different purpose, namely, to try their faith, or to inflict punishment on unbelievers, or to discover the hypocrisy of those who do not sincerely obey the truth.
That these stones may become loaves. Here the ancients amused themselves with ingenious trifles. The first temptation, they said, was to gluttony; the second, to ambition; and the third, to covetousness. But it is absurd to suppose that it arises from the intemperance of gluttony, (310) when a hungry person desires food to satisfy nature. What luxury will they fancy themselves to have discovered in the use of bread, that one who satisfies himself, as we say, with dry bread, must be reckoned an epicure? But not to waste more words on that point, Christ’s answer alone is sufficient to show, that the design of Satan was altogether different. The Son of God was not such an unskillful or inexperienced antagonist, as not to know how he might ward off the strokes of his adversary, or idly to present his shield on the left hand when he was attacked on the right. If Satan had endeavored to allure him by the enticements of gluttony, (311) he had at hand passages of Scripture fitted to repel him. But he proposes nothing of this sort.
4.Man shall not live by bread alone. He quotes the statement, that men do not live by bread alone, but by the secret blessing of God. Hence we conclude, that Satan made a direct attack on the faith of Christ, in the hope that, after destroying his faith, he would drive Christ to unlawful and wicked methods of procuring food. And certainly he presses us very hard, when he attempts to make us distrust God, and consult our own advantage in a way not authorized by his word. The meaning of the words, therefore, is: “When you see that you are forsaken by God, you are driven by necessity to attend to yourself. Provide then for yourself the food, with which God does not supply you.” Now, though (312) he holds out the divine power of Christ to turn the stones into loaves, yet the single object which he has in view, is to persuade Christ to depart from the word of God, and to follow the dictates of infidelity.
Christ’s reply, therefore, is appropriate: “Man shall not live by bread alone. You advise me to contrive some remedy, for obtaining relief in a different manner from what God permits. This would be to distrust God; and I have no reason to expect that he will support me in a different manner from what he has promised in his word. You, Satan, represent his favor as confined to bread: but Himself declares, that, though every kind of food were wanting, his blessing alone is sufficient for our nourishment.” Such was the kind of temptation which Satan employed, the same kind with which he assails us daily. The Son of God did not choose to undertake any contest of an unusual description, but to sustain assaults in common with us, that we might be furnished with the same armor, and might entertain no doubt as to achieving the victory.
It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone. The first thing to be observed here is, that Christ uses Scripture as his shield: for this is the true way of fighting, if we wish to make ourselves sure of the victory. With good reason does Paul say, that, the sword of the Spirit is the word of God,” and enjoin us to “ take the shield of faiths” (Ephesians 6:16.) Hence also we conclude, that Papists, as if they had made a bargain with Satan, cruelly give up souls to be destroyed by him at his pleasure, when they wickedly withhold the Scripture from the people of God, and thus deprive them of their arms, by which alone their safety could be preserved. Those who voluntarily throw away that armor, and do not laboriously exercise themselves in the school of God, deserve to be strangled, at every instant, by Satan, into whose hands they give themselves up unarmed. No other reason can be assigned, why the fury of Satan meets with so little resistance, and why so many are everywhere carried away by him, but that God punishes their carelessness, and their contempt of his word.
We must now examine more closely the passage, which is quoted by Christ from Moses: that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live, (Deuteronomy 8:3.) There are some who torture it to a false meaning, as referring to spiritual life; as if our Lord had said, that souls are not nourished by visible bread, but by the word of God. The statement itself is, no doubt, true: but Moses had quite a different meaning. He reminds them that, when no bread could be obtained, God provided them with an extraordinary kind of nourishment in “manna, which they knew not, neither did their fathers know,” (Deuteronomy 8:3;) and that this was intended as an evident proof, in all time coming, that the life of man is not confined to bread, but depends on the will and good-pleasure of God. The word does not mean doctrine, but the purpose which God has made known, with regard to preserving the order of nature and the lives of his creatures. Having created men, he does not cease to care for them: but, as “he breathed into their nostrils the breath of life,” (Genesis 2:7,) so he constantly preserves the life which he has bestowed. In like manner, the Apostle says, that he “upholdeth all things by his powerful word,” (Hebrews 1:3;) that is, the whole world is preserved, and every part of it keeps its place, by the will and decree of Him, whose power, above and below, is everywhere diffused. Though we live on bread, we must not ascribe the support of life to the power of bread, but to the secret kindness, by which God imparts to bread the quality of nourishing our bodies.
Hence, also, follows another statement: by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall men live. God, who now employs bread for our support, will enable us, whenever he pleases, to live by other means. This declaration of Moses condemns the stupidity of those, who reckon life to consist in luxury and abundance; while it reproves the distrust and inordinate anxiety which drives us to seek unlawful means. The precise object of Christ’s reply is this: We ought to trust in God for food, and for the other necessaries of the present life, in such a manner, that none of us may overleap the boundaries which he has prescribed. But if Christ did not consider himself to be at liberty to change stones into bread, without the command of God, much less is it lawful for us to procure food by fraud, or robbery, or violence, or murder.
Matthew 4:5.Then the devil taketh him. It is not of great importance, that Luke’s narrative makes that temptation to be the second, which Matthew places as the third: for it was not the intention of the Evangelists to arrange the history in such a manner, as to preserve on all occasions, the exact order of time, but to draw up an abridged narrative of the events, so as to present, as in a mirror or picture, those things which are most necessary to be known concerning Christ. Let it suffice for us to know that Christ was tempted in three ways. The question, which of these contests was the second, and which was the third, need not give us much trouble or uneasiness. In the exposition, I shall follow the text of Matthew.
Christ is said to have been placed on the pinnacle of the temple. It is asked, was he actually carried to this elevated spot, or was it done in vision? There are many, who obstinately assert, that the body was really and actually conveyed: for they consider it to be unworthy of Christ, that he should be supposed to be liable to the delusions of Satan. But it is easy to dispose of that objection. There is no absurdity in supposing, that this took place by the permission of God and the voluntary subjection of Christ; provided we hold that within, — that is, in his mind and souls, — he suffered no delusion. What is next added, that all the kingdoms of the world were placed in the view of Christ, — as well as what Luke relates, that he was carried to a great distance in one moment, — agrees better with the idea of a vision, than with any other supposition. In a matter that is doubtful, and where ignorance brings no risk, I choose rather to suspend my judgment, than to furnish contentious people with an occasion of debate. It is also possible, that the second temptation did not follow the first, nor the third the second, in immediate succession, but that some interval of time elapsed. This is even more probable, though the words of Luke might lead to the conclusion, that there was no long interval: for he says, that Christ obtained repose for a time.
But the main question for our consideration is, what was Satan’s object in this kind of temptation? That will be best determined, as I have lately hinted, by our Lord’s reply to Satan. To meet the stratagem of the enemy, and to repel his attack, Christ interposes, as a shield, these words: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Hence it is evident, that the stratagems of the enemy were intended to induce Christ to exalt himself unduly, and to rise, in a daring manner, against God. Satan had formerly attempted to drive Christ to despair, because he was destitute of food, and of the ordinary means of life. Now, he exhorts him to indulge a foolish and vain confidences, — to neglect the means which are in his powers, — to throw himself, without necessity, into manifest danger, — and, as we might say, to overleap all bounds. As it is not proper for us to be discouraged, when we are pressed by “the want of all things,” (Deuteronomy 28:57,) but to rely with confidence on God, neither are we at liberty to raise our crests, or ascend higher than God permits us. The design of Satan, we have now ascertained, was to induce Christ to make trial of his divinity, and to rise up, in foolish and wicked rashness, against God.
6.He will charge his angels concerning thee. We must observe this malice of Satan, in misapplying a quotation of Scripture, for the purpose of rendering life deadly to Christ, and of converting bread into poison. The same kind of stratagem he continues daily to employ; and the Son of God, who is the universal model of all the godly, chose to undergo this contest in his own person, that all may be industriously on their guard against being led, by a false application of Scripture, into the snares of Satan. And undoubtedly the Lord grants such a permission to our adversary, that we may not remain in indolent ease, but may be more careful to keep watch. Nor ought we to imitate the madness of those who throw away Scripture, as if it admitted of every kind of interpretation, because the devil misapplies it. For the same reason, we ought to abstain from food, to avoid the risk of being poisoned. Satan profanes the Word of God, and endeavors to torture it for our destruction. But it has been ordained by God for our salvation; and shall the purpose of God be frustrated, unless our indolence deprive his word of its saving effect?
We need not dispute long on these matters. Let us only inquire, what Christ enjoins on us by his example, which we ought to follow as a rule. When Satan wickedly tortures Scripture, does Christ give way to him? Does he allow him to seize and carry off the Scripture, with which he formerly armed himself? On the contrary, he quotes Scripture in his turn, and boldly refutes Satan’s wicked slander. Whenever Satan shall cover his deception by Scripture, and ungodly men shall labor to subvert our faith by the same means, let us borrow our armor exclusively from Scripture for the protection of our faith.
Though the promise, he will charge his angels concerning thee, (Psalms 91:11,) relates to all believers, yet it belongs peculiarly to Christ, who is the Head of the whole Church, possesses authority over angels, and commits to them the charge of us. Satan is not wrong in proving from this passage, that angels have been given to Christ, to wait on him, to guard him, and to bear him on their hands. But the fallacy lies in this, that he assigns a wandering and uncertain course to that guardianship of angels, which is only promised to the children of God, when they keep themselves within their bounds, and walk in their ways. If there is any force in that expression, in all thy ways, (Psalms 91:11,) the prophet’s meaning is wickedly corrupted and mutilated by Satan, when he applies it, in a violent and wild and confused manner, to extravagant and mistaken courses. God commands us to walk in our ways, and then declares that angels will be our guardians: Satan brings forward the guardianship of angels, for the purpose of advising Christ to put himself unnecessarily in danger, as if he would say: “If you expose yourself to death, contrary to the will of God, angels will protect your life.”
7.It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. The reply of Christ is most appropriate. There is no other way, in which we have a right to expect the assistance promised in that passage, than when believers humbly submit themselves to his guidance: for we cannot rely on his promises, without obeying his commandments. God is tempted in many ways: but in this passage, the word tempt denotes the neglect of those means which he puts into our hands. Those who leave the means which God recommends, and resolve to make trial of his power and might, act as absurdly as if one were to cut off a man’s arms and hands, and then order him to work. In short, whoever desires to make an experiment of the divine power, when there is no necessity for it, tempts God by subjecting his promises to an unfair trial.
8.The devil taketh him to a very high mountain. We must keep in mind, what I have already stated, that it was not owing to any weakness of Christ’s nature, but to a voluntary dispensation and permission, that Satan produced this effect upon his eyes. Again, while his senses were moved and powerfully affected by the glory of the kingdoms which was presented to them, no inward desire arose in his mind; whereas the lusts of the flesh, like wild beasts, are drawn, and hurry us along, to the objects which please us: for Christ had the same feelings with ourselves, but he had no irregular appetites. The kind of temptation here described was, that Christ should seek, in another manner than from God, the inheritance which he has promised to his children. And here the daring insolence of the devil is manifested, in robbing God of the government of the world, and claiming it for himself. All these things, says he, are mine, and it is only through me that they are obtained.
We have to contend every day with the same imposture: for every believer feels it in himself and it is still more clearly seen in the whole life of the ungodly. Though we are convinced, that all our support, and aid, and comfort, depend on the blessing of God, yet our senses allure and draw us away, to seek assistance from Satan, as if God alone were not enough. A considerable portion of mankind disbelieve the power and authority of God over the world, and imagine that every thing good is bestowed by Satan. For how comes it, that almost all resort to wicked contrivances, to robbery and to fraud, but because they ascribe to Satan what belongs to God, the power of enriching whom he pleases by his blessing? True, indeed, with the mouth they ask that God will give them daily bread, (Matthew 6:11) but it is only with the mouth; for they make Satan the distributor of all the riches in the world.
10.Depart, Satan. Instead of this, Luke has, Depart behind me, Satan. There is no use for speculating about the phrase, behind me, which Christ addressed to Peter, Go behind me, (Matthew 16:23,) as if the same words had not been addressed to Satan. Christ simply bids him go away; (315) and now proceeds with the same kind of defense as before, employing Scripture as a shield, not of reeds, but of brass. He quotes a passage from the law, that God alone is to be adored and worshipped, (Deuteronomy 6:13.) From the application of that passage, and from the circumstances in which it is introduced, it is easy to conclude what is the design of adoration of God, and in what it consists.
Papists deny that God only ought to be adored; and evade this and similar passages by sophistical arguments. Latria , ( λατρεία,) they admit, is adoration, which ought to be given to God alone: but Dulia , ( δουλεία,) is an inferior kind of adoration, which they bestow on dead men, and on their bones and statues. But Christ rejects this frivolous distinction, and claims for God alone προσκύνησις, worship; by which he warns us to attend more to the matter than to expressions, when we have to do with the worship of God.
Scripture enjoins us to worship God alone: we must inquire, for what end? If a man takes any thing from his glory, and ascribes it to creatures, this is a heinous profanation of divine worship. But it is very evident that this is done, when we go to creatures, to receive from them those good things, of which God desired to be acknowledged as the only Author. Now, as religion is strictly spiritual, and the outward acknowledgment of it relates to the body, so not only the inward worship, but also the outward manifestation of it, is due to God alone. (316)
11.Then the devil leaveth him. Luke expresses more: when all the temptation had been finished. This means, that no truce or relaxation was granted to Christ, till he had been fully tried by every species of contest. He adds, that Christ was left for a season only. This is intended to inform us, that the rest of his life was not entirely free from temptations, but that God restrained the power of Satan, so that Christ was not unseasonably disturbed by him. In like manner, God usually acts towards all his people: for, after permitting them to be sharply tried, he abates, in some measure, the violence of the strife, that they may take breath for a little, and gather courage. What immediately follows, the angels waited on him, I understand as referring to comfort, that Christ might feel, that God the Father took care of him, and fortified him, by his powerful assistance, against Satan. For the very solitude might aggravate the dreariness of his condition, when he was deprived of the kind offices of men, and was with the wild beasts, — a circumstance which is expressly mentioned by Mark. And yet we must not suppose, that Christ was ever forsaken by the angels: but, in order to allow an opportunity for temptation, the grace of God, though it was present, was sometimes hidden from him, so far as respects the feeling of the flesh.
Matthew 4:12.When Jesus had heard. These words appear to be at variance with the narrative of the Evangelist John, who declares, that John and Christ discharged the office of public teachers at the same time. But we have to observe, that our three Evangelists pass over in silence that short space of time, because John’s course was not yet completed, and because that course was intended to be a preparation for receiving the Gospel of Christ. And, in point of fact, though Christ discharged the office of teacher within that period, he did not, strictly speaking, begin to preach the Gospel, till he succeeded to John. Most properly, therefore, do the three Evangelists admit and declare, that the period, during which John prepared disciples for Christ, belonged to his ministry: for it amounts to this, that, when the dawn was passed, the sun arose. It is proper to observe the mode of expression employed by Luke, that Jesus came in the power, or, by the power, of the Spirit into Galilee: for it is of great consequence, that we do not imagine Christ to have any thing about him that is earthly or human, but that our minds be always occupied, and our feelings affected by his heavenly and divine power.
13.And having left Nazareth I have thought it proper to introduce this passage of Matthew, immediately after Luke’s narrative, which we have just examined; because we may gather from the context that, as Christ had hitherto been wont to frequent the town of Nazareth, so, in order to avoid danger, he now bade a final adieu to it, and dwelt in Capernaum and the neighboring towns. There would be no difficulty in this history, were it not that there is some appearance, as if Matthew had put a wrong meaning on the quotation from the prophet. But if we attend to the true meaning of the prophet, it will appear to be properly and naturally accommodated to the present occasion. Isaiah, after having described a very heavy calamity of the nation, soothes their grief by a promise that, when the nation shall be reduced to extremity, a deliverance will immediately follow, which shall dispel the darkness, and restore the light of life.
The words are:
“Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness shall see a great light” (Isaiah 9:1.)
The Israelites had been twice visited by a heavy calamity: first, when four tribes, or thereby, were carried away into banishment, by Tiglath-Pileser, (2 Kings 15:29;) and, secondly, when Shalmaneser completed the destruction of the kingdom of Israel, (2 Kings 18:9.) There remained a third desolation, which — the prophet had foretold towards the close of the eighth chapter — would be the most dreadful of all. And now follows, in the words which we have quoted, what is calculated to soothe their grief. God will stretch out his hand to his people, and, therefore, death will be more tolerable than the previous diseases were. “ Though the whole nation,” says he, “shall be destroyed, yet so brilliant shall be the light of grace, that there will be less dimness in this last destruction than in the two former instances, when the ten tribes were ruined.”
The promise ought to be extended, I have no doubt, to the whole body of the people, which might seem to be, to all appearance, lost and destroyed. It is very absurd in the Jews to confine it to the deliverance of the city of Jerusalem. as if the light of life had been restored to it, when the siege was raised by the flight of King Sennacherib, (331) (2 Kings 19:36.) Certainly, it is evident from the context, that the prophet looks much farther; and, as he promises a universal restoration of the whole church, it follows that the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and Galilee of the Gentiles, are included in the number of those, to whom the darkness of death would be changed into the light of life. The commencement of this light, and, as we might say, the dawn, was the return of the people from Babylon. At length, Christ, “ the Sun of Righteousness,” (Malachi 4:2 ,) arose in full splendor, and, by his coming, utterly “abolished” (2 Timothy 1:10) the darkness of death.
In the same manner, Paul reminds us, that it was a fulfillment of what occurs in many passages of the prophets, “ Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,” (Ephesians 5:14.) Now, we know that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and, therefore, the light of salvation which it brings, and all the assistance which we derive from it, must correspond to its nature. Hence it follows, that our souls are plunged in the darkness of everlasting death, till he enlightens them by his grace. The prophet’s discourse relates, no doubt, to the destruction of the nation, but presents to us, as in a mirror, what is the condition of mankind, until they are delivered by the grace of Christ. When those, who lay in darkness, are said to have seen a great light, a change so sudden and remarkable is intended to enlarge our views of the greatness of the divine salvation. Lower Galilee is called Galilee of the Gentiles, not only on account of its vicinity to Tyre and Sidon, but because its inhabitants were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, particularly after that David had granted some cities to King Hiram. (332)
Matthew 4:18.And Jesus walking. As this history is placed by Luke after the two miracles, which we shall afterwards see, an opinion has commonly prevailed, that the miracle, which is here related by him, was performed some time after that they had been called by Christ. (336) But the reason, which they allege, carries little weight: for no fixed and distinct order of dates was observed by the Evangelists in composing their narratives. The consequence is, that they disregard the order of time, and satisfy themselves with presenting, in a summary manner, the leading transactions in the life of Christ. They attended, no doubt, to the years, so as to make it plain to their readers, in what manner Christ was employed, during the course of three years, from the commencement of his preaching till his death. But miracles, which took place nearly about the same time, are freely intermixed: which will afterwards appear more clearly from many examples. (337)
That it is the same history, which is given by the three Evangelists, is proved by many arguments: but we may mention one, which will be sufficient to satisfy any reader, who is not contentious. All the three agree in stating, that Peter and Andrew, James and John, were made apostles. If they had been previously called, it would follow that they were apostates, who had forsaken their Master, despised their calling, and returned to their former occupation. There is only this difference between Luke and the other two, that he alone relates the miracle, which the others omit. But it is not uncommon with the Evangelists, to touch slightly one part of a transaction, and to leave out many of the circumstances. There is, therefore, no absurdity in saying, that a miracle, which is related by one, has been passed over by the other two. And we must bear in mind what John says, that, out of the innumerable miracles “which Jesus did,” (John 21:25,) a part only has been selected, which was sufficient to prove his divine power, and to confirm our faith in him. There is therefore no reason to wonder, if the calling of the four apostles is slightly touched by Matthew and Mark, while the occasion of it is more fully explained by Luke.
Matthew 4:22.And they immediately left the ship. The first thing that strikes us here is the power of Christ’s voice. Not that his voice alone makes so powerful an impression on the hearts of men: but those whom the Lord is pleased to lead and draw to himself, are inwardly addressed by his Spirit, that they may obey his voice. The second is, the commendation bestowed on the docility and ready obedience of his disciples, who prefer the call of Christ to all worldly affairs. The ministers of the Word ought, in a particular manner, to be directed by this example, to lay aside all other occupations, and to devote themselves unreservedly to the Church, to which they are appointed.
Matthew 4:23.And Jesus went about all Galilee. The same statement is again made by Matthew in another place, (Matthew 9:35 .)But though Christ was constantly employed in performing almost innumerable miracles, we ought not to think it strange, that they are again mentioned, twice or thrice, in a general manner. In the words of Matthew we ought, first, to observe, that Christ never remained in one place, but scattered every where the seed of the Gospel. Again, Matthew calls it the Gospel of the kingdom, by which the kingdom of God is established among men for their salvation. True and eternal happiness is thus distinguished from the prosperity and joys of the present life.
When Matthew says, that Christ healed every disease, the meaning is, that he healed every kind of disease. We know, that all who were diseased were not cured; but there was no class of diseases, that was ever presented to him, which he did not heal. An enumeration is given of particular kinds of diseases, in which Christ displayed his power. Demoniacs ( διαμονιζομένοι) is a name given in Scripture, not to all indiscriminately who are tormented by the devil, but to those who, by a secret vengeance of God, are given up to Satan, so that he holds possession of their minds and of their bodily senses. Lunatics ( σεληνιαζομένοι) (342) is the name given to those, in whom the strength of the disease increases or diminishes, according to the waxing or waning of the moon, such as those who are afflicted with epilepsy, (343) or similar diseases. As we know, that diseases of this sort cannot be healed by natural means, it follows that, when Christ miraculously healed them, he proved his divinity.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany