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Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 4

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

The Temptation of the King

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit: Matthew says that Jesus is "led" (anechthe) by the Spirit into the wilderness. Mark, however, uses a stronger word (ekballo--impelled, driven) indicating the necessity of the temptation. Mark notes that Jesus’s temptation occurs immediately after His baptism (Mark 1:12). Jesus’s life is not one of idleness; much has to be accomplished during His short ministry. After His baptism, the work immediately begins.

into the wilderness: The wilderness of Judea is a desolate area stretching between the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. It is approximately thirty-five miles long and fifteen miles wide. It is a barren place where the limestone hills reflect the blistering sun, and its environment is suitable only for wild animals. To this parched land, the "Water of Life" is driven.

The first man, Adam, meets and succumbs to temptation in a beautiful garden. In a place where God provides abundance, Adam’s sin lays bare his vulnerability. In a place that symbolizes goodness, Adam forsakes God’s love. The second Adam meets and overcomes His temptation in a vastly different environment. In the wilderness, an apt symbol of the curse of sin, Jesus’ obedience demonstrates His inner righteousness. The first man, Adam, through disobedience, leaves the world with thorns. The second Adam, through obedience, wears those thorns as a crown. The paradise lost by Adam is regained by Jesus.

to be tempted: Having been proclaimed the Son of God, Jesus is tested. The Greek word (peirazo) means to test or try. The word is morally neutral, but here it is obviously used to mean to entice to do evil. Lenski points out that the aorist infinitive form used in verse 1 (peirastanai) denotes completeness. In other words, Jesus is tested to the finish with the full extent of Satan’s power (Lenski 139).

Jesus’ triumph over temptation stands as a hallmark of faithfulness. Because Jesus dwells in the flesh (John 1:14), He faces the same kinds of temptation we face today. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that He is tempted in all points as we are yet without sin. He is not immune to being tempted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life but rather overcomes them (1 John 2:16).

The two greatest temptations of Jesus occur at either end of His ministry. The first is in a desert, the last in a garden. In the first Satan tries to derail Jesus with the pride of life. In the last he tries to overcome Him with the fear of death (Matthew 26:39).

Had Satan been successful at either the beginning or the end of Jesus’ ministry, salvation could not have been won. At the beginning Jesus has the difficult trail of ministry ahead of Him. At the end the path takes a steeper turn and leads upwards to Golgotha. On the mount of temptation, Jesus proves His dedication to God. On Calvary’s mount, He proves His dedication to man. A totally sinless life is needed from beginning to end. Jesus lives that life. In both temptations He relies on God’s will. In the desert He quotes scripture—in the garden he says, "Thy will be done."

to be tempted of the devil: The devil has many names in the Bible: the ruler of this world (John 12:31), the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the old serpent (Revelation 12:9). The term Matthew uses here (diabolos) means accuser or slanderer and is the most common name of the devil in scripture.

Verse 2

And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.

And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights: Matthew does not reveal what Jesus does during this long period of time, but He probably communes with God. While His body fasts, His spirit feasts.

Fasting is an activity associated with suffering or dedication to God (Psalms 35:13). Moses fasts forty days and forty nights while he receives the Decalogue. Elijah participates in a similar fast (1 Kings 19:8), and the people of Nineveh proclaim a fast and repent at Jonah’s preaching. Throughout scripture God’s people abstain from the physical in order to focus on the spiritual.

In Jesus’ day fasting is an important part of everyday Jewish life. John the Baptist’s disciples fast frequently (Matthew 9:14), and the Pharisees fast twice a week (Luke 18:12). The problem with the Pharisees, however, is that they take a personal and pious act and turn it into a spectacle (Matthew 6:16). Jesus condemns this.

Fasting in the scripture varies in length and type. Unger says that in a single day fast, one abstains from food of every kind (Unger 345). In longer fasts, however, one abstains only from certain foods or liquids. In the case of Jesus, scholars disagree as to whether His fast is total or relegated to only those meager foods afforded by the desert. Luke, however, settles the matter explaining, "He ate nothing" (Luke 4:2). Jesus’s abstinence is total.

he was afterward an hungered: McGarvey, Alford, and others assume that "afterward" implies that Jesus’ appetite is miraculously suspended during the forty days. Lenski maintains that Jesus forgets about His hunger because He is so engrossed with the continual temptation. The gospel writers do not specifically say that Jesus feels no hunger during the forty days. While Jesus certainly communes with God, He does so in a physical body (Hebrews 2:14; Hebrews 2:17). Thus, there is no reason to assume that Jesus is unaware of His physical condition. Matthew’s comment is designed to introduce the first temptation rather than to suggest that Jesus is miraculously guarded from hunger.

Verse 3

And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

And when the tempter came to him: What now follows are three recorded temptations that apparently come at the end of Jesus’ forty days of fasting. Lenski maintains the temptation should not be restricted to these three but Satan tempts Jesus throughout the period (Lenski 140). Mark and Luke use the present participle peirazomenos (being tempted) to indicate the three temptations are perhaps selected as typical examples of a broader range of sinful suggestions (Fowler 131).

The three recorded temptations illustrate the three areas in which man is weakest: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). Satan tempts Jesus with the lust of the flesh by asking Him to turn stones to bread. Secondly, he tempts Him with pride of life by asking Him to make a self-honoring display. Third, Satan tempts Jesus with the lust of the eye by offering Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

he said, If thou be the Son of God: This expression is designed to cast doubt on Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan wants Jesus to prove His power. It is human nature to respond to such a challenge with showmanship and miracles. Jesus, however, does not respond as Satan wants. To take Satan’s challenge would imply deity needs to prove its power. Jesus does not enter such a conflict with the devil. Jesus’ authority is supreme.

command that these stones be made bread: To turn stones into bread will be to abandon His mediatory work and His common lot with humanity. Thus, He must overcome temptation without using divine power. Satan seems to insinuate that if Jesus is divine then He is too good to suffer hunger. Since the first Adam sinned, Satan now tempts the second Adam. Adam and Eve are tempted with food, and they fall. Jesus is tempted with bread, and He withstands. The fruit in the garden is pleasant to the eyes, and Adam and Eve focus on selfish desire. Though bread would be pleasant to Jesus’ eyes, He focuses on God’s will.

Verse 4

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

The first words of Jesus’ public ministry declare the authority of scripture. By quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, He says man is more than flesh and bones with physical needs: he is a spiritual being (Genesis 2:7). Though the outward man perishes, the inward man must be renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).

In quoting the Pentateuch, Jesus demonstrates the verbal plenary inspiration of the Old Testament. He further shows the importance of committing God’s word to memory. David says, "Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee" (Psalms 119:11).

Verses 5-6

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in [their] hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

The underlying appeal of this test is two-fold. First, Satan tries to entice Jesus to make a public display of His power. Second, he tries to persuade Him to test God’s promised care.

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city: How the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem is not revealed, but the temple is a significant setting for this temptation. Satan might use any number of isolated mountainous places provided in the wilderness, but instead he chooses a populated environment. He is about to suggest that the way Jesus should begin His ministry is with a shortcut. Rather than pain and sorrow, Satan offers pomp and circumstance and immediate popularity from frenzied crowds witnessing the event.

and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple: The Temple at Jerusalem sits on a high mount with the eastern side reaching an elevation of some 450 feet over the Kidron Valley below. The term "pinnacle" literally means "little wing" and may refer to Herod’s royal portico that overlooks the valley. A fall from such a dizzying height would mean sure death. Tradition holds that it is here the Lord’s brother James is martyred.

And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: Again Satan tests Jesus and insinuates that some miraculous proof is necessary to demonstrate His divinity.

for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in [their] hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone: Satan here shows his power to quote scripture. This ability should not be a surprise because Paul warns that Satan can take on even the appearance of an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Satan and his servants may use God’s word in three ways to lead the faithful astray: denying God’s word as Satan did to Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:4), misquoting God’s word, and wresting it from the context of God’s revelation.

Although Satan accurately quotes from the Septuagint version of Psalms 91:11, he removes it from its true application. Psalms 91 deals with the security of abiding in God’s presence. It is designed to encourage faith not presumption. Satan here invents a test to prove God’s faithfulness. In so doing, however, he denies faith. Faith in God demands that we trust Him in everything. To enter a situation of known danger for the express purpose of testing God’s care is in reality to deny him from the beginning. Testing is not trusting.

Verse 7

Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Jesus said unto him, It is written again: Jesus again meets Satan with God’s word.

Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God: Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 and refers back to Israel’s wilderness wanderings. At Massah Israel puts God’s care to the test by murmuring for water (Exodus 17:7). Because of this great sin, God is very displeased.

Leo Boles accurately notes that Jesus’ quote qualifies and interprets the one the devil uses (Boles 102). Satan violates a basic rule of interpretation: pitting one scripture against another.

Verse 8

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them

Again: James promises that if we resist the devil he will flee (James 4:7). Yet Jesus, after twice resisting, is tempted again. The solution to this apparent contradiction is found by understanding the complete nature of Satan. Scripture shows he is constantly on the prowl (1 Peter 5:8). He is not easily dissuaded and continually looks for entrance into our lives. James’ promise does not indicate that Satan will cease temptation when we have singularly resisted and won, but it shows we must continually resist him. Individual battles may be won against Satan, but the Christian’s life is one of continuous war (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Luke records that Satan flees from Jesus after the third temptation but only temporarily (4:13).

the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them: Just as Satan previously tempts Jesus with a shortcut to popularity (verses 5-6), so here he offers Jesus a shortcut to kingship. What Satan offers fits well with contemporary Jewish thought. The Jews expect a powerful, ruling Messiah to arise, destroy the Romans, and return Israel to a world power. With Satan’s methods Jesus is promised this immediately. In reality Jesus is already king of all. His kingdom, however, is not of this world.

Verse 9

And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee: Does Satan have the legitimate right to offer Jesus such a prize? In some sense the world belongs to Satan or else this third temptation is irrelevant. Furthermore, Jesus does not deny Satan’s claim but rather sets about to overcome the temptation by giving His allegiance to God. In Luke’s account Satan says, "For it hath been delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it" (Luke 4:6). Satan claims no absolute power but has only that power which God allows. God is ultimately in control, and even within his own kingdom, Satan only acts as God allows.

Verse 10

Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: The significant difference in Jesus’ third rebuttal is that He calls Satan by name. In this way Jesus shows His intense disdain of "the adversary," and commands Satan’s complete attention. When Jesus says, "Get thee hence," He demonstrates His genuine power over the god of this world. He is literally demanding, "Be gone, get out of my sight" (Boles 105).

Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve: Although Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:13-14 while suffering, the passage originally warns Israel in the midst of blessing. The abundance of the Promised Land would tempt them to forget the true God and serve selfish interests. In hardship and in blessing there is a tendency to serve self. God demands full allegiance in both conditions.

Verse 11

Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

Then the devil leaveth him: Luke notes that Satan leaves Jesus "for a season" (4:13). Though beaten, Satan does not retreat forever.

and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him: God is always ready to strengthen those who weary themselves in spiritual battle. Here He literally sends angels to minister to Jesus. God does not remove the temptation, but He does provide the resources to remain strong.

Verse 12

Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee;

Chronologically John 1-3 may be inserted between verses 11 and 12. Thus, about one year passes between Jesus’ temptation and his departure into Galilee.

During this interim, John the Baptist continues to prepare the way for Jesus (1:23); Jesus makes His first acquaintance with Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael (1:35-47); Jesus performs His first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee (2:1-11); Jesus changes His residence to Capernaum (2:12); He cleanses the temple in Jerusalem at the Passover (2:13-22); and He meets with Nicodemus by night (3:1-21).

Though Jesus’ and John’s ministries overlap, Jesus’ begins to blossom, and John’s begins to fade. John predicts this when he says, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).

Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison: John is cast into prison for preaching against the marriage of Herod Antipas. Herod, then tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, has taken his half-brother Philip’s wife (Matthew 14:3). John’s message, "It is not lawful for you to have her," greatly angers Herod. Cowering under John’s accusing finger and the tide of public support for his preaching, Herod casts him into prison. John’s imprisonment is probably at Machaerus on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea where Herod has a palace.

he departed into Galilee: When Jesus hears of John’s imprisonment, He begins His trip northward to Galilee. During this journey, Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4).

Matthew uses the term anachoreo (departed or withdrew) to convey the thought of escaping danger and finding refuge. Jesus, however, does not go north for fear of His life because Galilee is ruled by Herod Antipas, an extremely ruthless king. John tells us the reason for Jesus’ departure: "When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee" (John 4:1-3). Jesus’ previous close association with John the Baptist makes Him a prime target for Pharisaic hostility. John has severely rebuked the Pharisees; but because of his popularity, they have taken little action against him. The Pharisees now watch with pleasure as Herod imprisons John. When they learn Jesus is gaining even more popularity, their hatred shifts toward Him. Thus, Jesus makes His way to the north.

Every act of our Lord’s ministry is well planned and executed. To avoid any premature confrontation, Jesus retreats from the "ivory towers" of Jewish philosophy in the south to the calmness of northern rural Galilee. Eventually Jesus will return and denounce the Pharisees even more harshly than John did. For now, however, the Master does not spend time among the thorns of Judea but sows the seed in fertile Galilean hearts.

Verse 13

And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:

And leaving Nazareth: Upon returning to Galilee, Jesus again visits his boyhood home of Nazareth. Some scholars believe His mother (perhaps now a widow) still resides here because she is present at the marriage feast in Cana, about nine miles northeast of Nazareth (John 2). If so, then it is possible Jesus has other family here as well. Though a hometown boy, Jesus is not well received in Nazareth. As he teaches in the synagogue and exposes their spiritual destitution, they try to murder him (Luke 4:16). He escapes and comes to Capernaum. The heart-breaking words of Jesus tell the story, "Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country" (Luke 4:24).

he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast: Capernaum means "village of Nahum" and is possibly named for the prophet Nahum. "Nahum" means "compassion," and the city may get its name because of its people’s character. Later on during Jesus ministry, he condemns the people of this city. He does not condemn them, however, for hostility but for complacency. This may be a village so tolerant of ideas and so busy with everyday schedules that the people overlook the gospel. These people witness the miracles and hear the preaching, but their hearts are unaffected.

Matthew paints a stark contrast between Nazareth and Capernaum. Nazareth hears the word and actively seeks to destroy the messenger. Capernaum hears the word but sits idly and seeks to do nothing.

which is upon the sea coast: Capernaum, located on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, has its own synagogue and a Roman garrison stationed there. It is on the great trade route, the Via Maris, which extends from Damascus and the East to the Mediterranean coast, making it a strategic location for taxation. Here Jesus later calls Matthew from his seat of custom (9:9). It is a natural center for Jesus’ work and is the home of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: The mentioning of Zabulon and Nephthalim indicates that Galilee is actually the same territory given to these two ancient tribes (Joshua 19:10; Joshua 19:32). Capernaum lies specifically in the ancient tribal area of Nephthalim. By Jesus’ day the exact boundary lines cease to exist, but Matthew uses these territories to call attention to a prophecy that finds its fulfillment in this same general area.

Verse 14

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,

Matthew again appeals to the Jewish mind by quoting messianic prophecy.

Verses 15-16

The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, [by] the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; 16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

The quote is from Isaiah 9:1-2. Jesus not only comes to live in Capernaum to fulfill prophecy but also to extend His masterful teaching and love. Isaiah, through inspiration, foretells this event hundreds of years earlier. Now a new day dawns for Galilee. No longer is this northern rural territory, so oft despised by the Jewish rabbis, to be rejected. Here the Master Rabbi comes to reveal God’s glory.

The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, [by] the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: Zabulon, Asher, and Nephthalim receive this northern territory as their inheritance when Israel settles Canaan. In violation of God’s command, they do not expel all the Canaanites from the territory but, instead, intermarry. These marriages bring spiritual regression, influencing Israel to idolatry. Consequently, God punishes Israel. In the eighth century B.C., Tiglath-pileser and the Assyrian army capture the northern kingdom. Tiglath-pileser not only carries away many of Israel’s inhabitants but also replaces them with Assyrians and other non-Jews (2 Kings 15:29). Not until the Maccabean era (c. 164 B.C.) do these provinces again gain any substantial independence from foreign control.

Thus, through the centuries before Jesus, this part of Palestine becomes synonymous with non-Jewish ways. Those of "enlightened" Jerusalem find little use for those they consider to be in spiritual ignorance and deplorable darkness. Isaiah’s prophecy is one of hope for this people.

The people which sat in darkness saw great light: Throughout scripture Jesus is described as the Light of the world: "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). John the Baptizer is also one who bears witness to the Light that all through Him might believe (John 1:6-7). Jesus is described as the true light who gives light to every man (John 1:9). And Jesus says of himself, "I am the light of the world, He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life" (John 8:12). Jesus’ followers enjoy freedom from the darkness of sin when they enter the kingdom (Colossians 1:13).

and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up: Matthew’s words are vivid. Nowhere is there a more beautiful prophecy. Here the very essence of God’s love and the Messiah’s mission is revealed. Vincent says Matthew’s use of the phrase "which sat" (ho kathemenos—lit: the one sitting) indicates these people habitually sit in darkness (Vincent 30).

Jesus’ beginning His ministry in this northern territory rather than in Jerusalem emphasizes the universal nature of the gospel. The idea of a Galilean Messiah, however, is a ludicrous concept to most Jews—it contradicts Jewish expectation. Galileans are considered second-class citizens, country folks. Common knowledge holds that spiritual leaders come only from Jerusalem. Not only do Galileans speak differently than Judean Jews (cf. Matthew 26:73), but Josephus observes that they are fond of innovations and by nature are disposed to change.

Verse 17

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

From that time Jesus began: This passage introduces Jesus’ Galilean ministry. This is not the first time Jesus preaches. Previously Jesus taught and performed miracles in the region of Judea (John 2:13 to John 4:3).

to preach: The word for "preach" (kerusso) means "to herald or proclaim" (Vine 201). It always signifies to announce publicly (Lenski 167). Both John and Jesus publicly proclaim God’s message. Without entangling Himself with theological wrangling, Jesus preaches the simple message of the kingdom. His simplicity confuses and angers the Pharisees but brings God’s love to the common man (Matthew 13:10-17). Lenski’s words are significant:

"The point to be noted is that to preach is not to argue, reason, dispute, or convince by intellectual proof, against all of which a keen intellect may bring counteragrument. We simply state in public or testify to all men the truth which God bids us state. No argument can assail the truth presented in this announcement or testimony. Men either believe the truth as all sane men should, or refuse to believe it as only fools venture to do" (Lenski 168).

Repent: Repentance (metanoeo) literally means a change of perception—a change in the way people see themselves, their condition, and God. Such a change begins in the heart; but unless the heart is fertile, the gospel seed will find little root (Matthew 13:23). Jesus realizes this fact and calls men to make necessary inward preparation to receive His lordship.

for the kingdom of heaven is at hand: Like John, Jesus’ message includes words about the nearness of God’s kingdom. Mark notes it is to come during the apostles’ lifetime (Mark 9:1). Longing for the coming messianic kingdom, Israel anxiously awaits what they believe will be a glorious arrival of an earthly king. Matthew’s phrase "kingdom of heaven," however, reminds his audience that Jesus’ kingdom is spiritual in nature (John 18:36). Until the day of Pentecost, Jesus’ kingdom is spoken of as being still in the future. After Pentecost, however, the kingdom is spoken of as being in existence (Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28; Revelation 1:9). Those today who look for Jesus to return a second time to reign over an earthly kingdom misunderstand both the nature and truth of Jesus’ teaching.

Verse 18

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee: The Sea of Galilee is a pear-shaped body of water nearly 700 feet below sea level about eight miles wide and thirteen miles long. It is also called the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), Sea of Chinnereth (Numbers 34:11), and the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1). A major contributor to the local economy, it provides food and livelihood. Josephus records that in Jesus’ day at least 240 boats regularly fished the waters of the lake (McArthur 115).

saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother: Mark and Luke also record the call of Jesus’ first four apostles. Mark’s account is almost identical to Matthew’s (Mark 1:16-29). Luke, however, indicates Jesus teaches from Simon’s boat and aides in a miraculous catch after which the four are called (Luke 5:1-11). All of these events occur relatively early in Jesus’ ministry. At the end of Jesus’ earthly stay, a similar event occurs as Peter and others return to their nets. In both places Jesus’ words to Peter are, "Follow me" (John 21:19).

The differences in the synoptic accounts regarding the call of these apostles pose no difficulty. Matthew and Mark, because of their topical arrangement, place the call of the four at the entrance of Jesus into Galilee. Mark places the call immediately before the busy day of miracles (Mark 1:21-38), and Luke places it afterwards. The synoptic writers do not necessarily arrange their material chronologically. Matthew, for example, often records events thematically. In this instance it makes little difference whether Jesus performs the miracle before or after He calls the apostles. In either case, by demonstrating His divinity, Jesus proves He is worthy to lead and able to meet their needs.

Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother: Here, as in all New Testament references to the apostles, Peter’s name is mentioned first. Andrew, however, actually follows Jesus before Peter does (John 1:40). Peter is called by different names in the scriptures: Peter, Simon, Simeon, and Cephas, the name given to him by Jesus (John 1:42). Simeon and Cephas are Semitic in origin while Simon and Peter are Greek, Cephas being the Aramiac equivalent to Peter (petros—stone) (Harpers Bible Dictionary 541).

casting a net into the sea: The fisherman’s trade depends on his nets. Two principle types of nets are used in New Testament times. One is the dragnet (sagene), which is strung between two boats in deep water. The second is the cast net (amphiblestron), the one used here. The Greek word for this net is like our word amphibious, something that relates to both land and water. It is so named because the person using the net stands on or near the shore and casts it into deeper water where the fish are. The net is large, about nine feet in diameter, and is weighted along its perimeter.

for they were fishers: Mark tells us James and John work for their father Zebedee, who runs a small fishing business. Apparently his business enjoys some measure of success because it includes hired servants (Mark 1:20).

Verse 19

And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

And he saith unto them, Follow me: This call may seem sudden; however, John records that both Simon Peter and Andrew already believe in Jesus. These disciples have accompanied Jesus to Cana of Galilee about a year earlier and have witnessed His first miracle (John 2:2). No doubt they have also been with Him during the controversial Temple cleansing (John 2:13). After these events Simon and Andrew apparently return to their fishing business and later heed the formal call to be "fishers of men."

and I will make you: These words are important. Jesus can make us that which we cannot become on our own. Men like Peter might seem of little use for the kingdom, but Jesus sees their potential. When men dedicate their hearts to Jesus, He will transform them into vessels fit for His service.

fishers of men: In the call of Peter and Andrew, the Lord draws on the imagery of their livelihood. Just as they understand the toil and long hours of fishing, so now they are called to give the same dedication to bringing men to heaven’s shore. The call of Peter and Andrew comes while they are busy. God does not seek men who are idle but men who are accustomed to the rigors of labor and toil.

Verse 20

And they straightway left [their] nets, and followed him.

And they straightway left [their] nets: The response to the call is as remarkable as the call itself. Jesus does not beg these men to follow Him, yet immediately they do. They leave their nets and former livelihood entirely. These who had once relied on their own skills now give themselves totally to the Lord. Jesus calls many during His ministry, but not all are willing to make this kind of sacrifice (Matthew 18:19-22; Luke 18:18).

and followed him: "Followed" is from akoloutheo, which conveys the idea of following as a disciple who is committed to imitating the one he follows.

Verse 21

And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James [the son] of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.

James [the son] of Zebedee, and John his brother: Three of the first four apostles Jesus calls become his closest companions. Peter, James, and John, sometimes called the "inner circle," have a unique relationship with Him. While all apostles have the same rank with Jesus, these are pictured intimately with Him on several occasions (Matthew 17:1; Matthew 26:37; Mark 5:37; Mark 9:2).

James and John, like Andrew and Peter, are fishermen. They, too, accept the call to trade their physical nets for spiritual nets to catch men. Ultimately, James is the first apostle to suffer martyrdom while John is the last to die. James, called "the elder or greater" to distinguish him from James the less, is beheaded by Herod Agrippa about A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2). John, whose name means "the grace of God," is called the disciple "whom Jesus loved." His life is a picture of faithfulness and dedication. He is the writer of the fourth gospel, the three epistles that bear his name, and Revelation.

in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them: Since much of the fishing is done at night, when Jesus calls the brothers, they are helping the crew prepare the nets for the evening’s venture. The word "mending" (katartizo) carries with it the idea of not only repairing but adjusting the nets (Robertson 36).

Verse 22

And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.

Matthew’s use of the word "immediately" gives insight into the dedication of James and John. They do not hesitate when called but leave both ship and father, thus exemplifying Jesus’ words, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37).

Verse 23

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

And Jesus went about all Galilee: This verse gives an overall picture of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. As subsequent chapters will reveal, Jesus visits every part of Galilee. He probably does not visit every city but travels throughout the entire region. All who are interested have ample opportunities to hear Him. Robertson says this verse refers to the first of the three tours Jesus makes throughout Galilee (36). On this first trip, He is accompanied by the four. On His second trip, He takes the twelve. On His third trip, He sends the twelve ahead of Him in pairs. Matthew’s phrase, "went about" is from the Greek "periago" and is in the imperfect tense, indicating repeated and continuous action (Robertson 36). Jesus is constantly on the move preaching the gospel.

teaching in their synagogues: Jesus’ ministry focuses on the Jewish synagogues. Wherever there is a Jewish community of any size, a synagogue will be found. These places of study, community life, and worship are scattered throughout Palestine and are believed to have developed during the Babylonian exile. During the inter-testament period, their popularity spreads, and by the first century many cities in the Roman Empire have synagogues. Because so many Jews live thousands of miles from Jerusalem and the Temple, these centers of worship become vital to Jewish piety. They do not replace the Temple but are an addition to it. Worship is held every Sabbath in the synagogue, the Torah and the prophets being the focal point of reading and study. Prayers and singing accompany the service, rabbis expound on the scriptures, and often visiting dignitaries are given the honor of teaching. Both Jesus and Paul take advantage of this tradition on numerous occasions (Luke 4:16-17; Acts 13:15-16).

As Jews confess Jesus, however, they face the real threat of being banned from the synagogue and ostracized from Jewish life. The gospel of John indicates that some the rulers believe in Jesus but will not openly confess him for fear of being cast out of the synagogue (John 12:42).

and preaching the gospel of the kingdom: The gospel of the kingdom is the good news about its coming. "Preaching" is from the word "kerusso," which emphasizes the idea of crying or heralding (Thayer 346-1-2784). Jesus, like His forerunner John, proclaims the good news of the messianic age.

and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people: Jesus’ miracles accomplish four objectives: First, they prove His divinity (John 14:11). Second, they manifest His genuine compassion for humanity. Third, they demonstrate His divine authority (Matthew 28:18). Fourth, they prove He is the Messiah and His kingdom is near (Matthew 9:35; Matthew 11:4-5).

Verse 24

And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.

And his fame went throughout all Syria: As soon as Jesus begins to perform these wonderful acts, His fame spreads throughout Palestine and Syria. It is not easy to know exactly the bounds of the territory Matthew calls "Syria," but in Old Testament times Syria is a small country just north of Palestine. Following the expansion of Alexander the Great and the Maccabean period, Syria refers to the entire area from Egypt northward to the Orontes River and Antioch (Fowler 178). Matthew probably uses this term more specifically to denote the region just to the north of Galilee. His point is that Jesus’ fame is not confined to Palestine.

and they brought unto him all sick people: Robertson says "those that were sick" (tous kakos echontas) may be literally translated "those who had it bad." In other words these were the cases the doctors could not cure (Robertson 36).

that were taken with divers diseases and torments: "Taken with divers diseases and torments" (poikilais nosois kai basanoio sunechomenous) conveys the idea of difficult and chronic cases. "Taken" (sunechomenous) emphasizes the weight of suffering and literally means "held together or compressed" (Vincent 32). It is the same word used in Luke 8:45 to describe the pressing crowd. The word "divers" (poikilais) carries the idea of great variety or color such as one might use to describe flowers or paintings (Robertson 36).

and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them: Matthew paints for his reader a vivid description of some of the torments Jesus cures. His list is in descending order of violence.

First, Jesus restores those who are demon possessed (diamonizomenous). During Jesus’ day Satan is given allowance to afflict men through the operation of demons (Matthew 12:24-29; Matthew 17:18; Mark 9:18; Luke 18:16). Jesus has power over these demons as do those who possess spiritual gifts in the early church (1 Corinthians 12:10; Acts 8:6-7; Acts 16:18). There is no reason to assume that demon possession exists longer than the power to exorcise the demon; therefore, when spiritual gifts cease, so does demon possession.

Jesus also heals lunatics (seleniazomenous—literally: moon struck). Many ancient cultures believe the mentally ill to be under the power of the moon. The ASV more correctly translates this word as "epileptic." "Epileptic seizures supposedly followed the phases of the moon. Our word lunatic is from the Latin luna (moon) and carries the same picture as the Greek seleniazomai from selene (moon)" (Robertson 37).

A third group Jesus cures is those with palsy. Matthew’s word choice (paralytikous) may be more accurately translated "paralytics." The three categories Matthew lists demonstrate Jesus’ power over the spiritual, the mental, and the physical realms.

The miracles of Jesus and the miracles of the early church stand in stark contrast to the alleged miracles of modern day "faith healers." At least seven distinctions characterize the miracles of the New Testament:

1. Jesus heals men directly without a touch, without prayer, and at times without even being physically present.

2. Jesus heals completely. Never does the subject need to return for further treatment, prayer, or laying on of hands. Those who are crippled walk perfectly because their limbs are fully restored. For example, Malchus’ severed ear is restored (John 18:10).

3. Jesus heals instantaneously.

4. Jesus heals without discrimination. His miracles do not depend on the subject’s faith but on His divine power.

5. Jesus heals congenital and organic illnesses. Even those who have been blind from birth receive their sight in full.

6. Jesus raises people from the dead. This is a feat that modern day "healers" demur to try.

7. In every case Jesus’ miracles are visible and verifiable. All who see, know without doubt healing has taken place, unlike modern "healers" whose claims cannot be verified.

Verse 25

And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and [from] Decapolis, and [from] Jerusalem, and [from] Judaea, and [from] beyond Jordan.

And there followed him great multitudes of people: "Great multitudes" (ochloi polloi) is plural in the Greek, indicating "crowds and crowds" (Robertson 37). From all directions people flock to Galilee to hear the master teacher.

from Galilee, and [from] Decapolis: Galilee refers to the Jewish part of northern Israel. Decapolis, however, refers to a region in the northeastern part of Palestine on the east and southeast of the Sea of Galilee, an area that includes ten major cities. Matthew mentions this area separately because it is inhabited mostly by Greeks and Romans, having been formed by the Romans on their first conquest of Syria in 65 B.C. (Ellicott 44). It is near one of these ten cities, Gadera, that Jesus encounters two demon-possessed men from the tombs (Matthew 8:28).

and [from] Jerusalem, and [from] Judaea, and [from] beyond Jordan: Crowds also come from Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. Jesus is already somewhat known to those in Jerusalem (John 2:13 to John 4:3). Judea has reference to the southern division of Palestine. The area "beyond Jordan" is the area east of the Jordan River, more commonly called Perea.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 4". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-4.html. 1993-2022.
 
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