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Matthew 4

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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It is in every way credible that the baptism of Jesus with its connected incidents should be followed by a season of moral trial, or, to express it more generally, by a period of retirement for earnest thought on the future career so solemnly inaugurated. Retirement for prayer and meditation was a habit with Jesus, and it was never more likely to be put in practice than now. He had left home under a powerful impulse with the Jordan and baptism in view. The baptism was a decisive act. Whatever more it might mean, it meant farewell to the past life of obscurity and consecration to a new, high, unique vocation. It remained now to realise by reflection what this calling, to which He had been set apart by John and by heavenly omens, involved in idea, execution, and experience. It was a large, deep, difficult subject of study. Under powerful spiritual constraints Jesus had taken a great leap in the dark, if one may dare to say so. What wonder if, in the season of reflection, temptations arose to doubt, shrinking, regret, strong inclination to look back and return to Nazareth?

In this experience Jesus was alone inwardly as well as outwardly. No clear, adequate account could be given of it. It could only be faintly shadowed forth in symbol or in parable. One can understand how in one Gospel (Mk.) no attempt is made to describe the Temptation, but the fact is simply stated. And it is much more important to grasp the fact as a great reality in Christ’s inner experience than to maintain anxiously the literal truth of the representation in Matt. and Luke. In the fight of faith and unbelief over the supernatural element in the story all sense of the inward psychological reality may be lost, and nothing remain but an external, miraculous, theatrical transaction which utterly fails to impress the lesson that Jesus was veritably tempted as we are, severely and for a length of time, before the opening of His public career, in a representative manner anticipating the experiences of later date. All attempts to dispose summarily of the whole matter by reference to similar temptation legends in the case of other religious initiators like Buddha are to be deprecated. Nor should one readily take up with the theory that the detailed account of the Temptation in Matt. and Luke is simply a composition suggested by O. T. parallels or by reflection on the critical points in Christ’s subsequent history. (So Holtzmann in H. C.) We should rather regard it as having its ultimate source in an attempt by Jesus to convey to His disciples some faint idea of what He had gone through.

Verse 1

Matthew 4:1 . Τότε , then, implying close connection with the events recorded in last chapter, especially the descent of the Spirit. ἀνήχθη , was led up, into the higher, more solitary region of the wilderness, the haunt of wild beasts (Mark 1:13 ) rather than of men. ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος . The divine Spirit has to do with our darker experience as well as with our bright, joyous ones. He is with the sons of God in their conflicts with doubt not less than in their moments of noble impulse and heroic resolve. The same Spirit who brought Jesus from Nazareth to the Jordan afterward led Him to the scene of trial. The theory of desertion hinted at by Calvin and adopted by Olshausen is based on a superficial view of religious experience. God’s Spirit is never more with a man than in his spiritual struggles. Jesus was mightily impelled by the Spirit at this time ( cf. Mk.’s ἐκβάλλει ). And as the power exerted was not physical but moral, the fact points to intense mental preoccupation. πειρασθῆναι , to be tempted, not necessarily covering the whole experience of those days, but noting a specially important phase: to be tempted inter alia . πειράζω : a later form for πειράω , in classic Greek, primary meaning to attempt, to try to do a thing ( vide for this use Acts 9:26 ; Acts 16:7 ; Acts 24:6 ); then in an ethical sense common in O. T. and N. T., to try or tempt either with good or with bad intent, associated in some texts ( e.g. , 2 Corinthians 13:5 ) with δοκιμάζω , kindred in meaning. Note the omission of τοῦ before infinitive. ὑπὸ τ . διαβόλου : in later Jewish theology the devil is the agent in all temptation with evil design. In the earlier period the line of separation between the divine and the diabolic was not so carefully defined. In 2 Samuel 24:11 God tempts David to number the people; in 1 Chronicles 21:1 it is Satan.

Verses 1-11

Matthew 4:1-11 . The Temptation (Mark 1:12-13 ; Luke 4:1-13 ).

Verse 2

Matthew 4:2 . καὶ νηστεύσας . The fasting was spontaneous, not ascetic, due to mental preoccupation. In such a place there was no food to be had, but Jesus did not desire it. The aorist implies that a period of fasting preceded the sense of hunger. The period of forty days and nights may be a round number. ἐπείνασεν , He at last felt hunger. This verb like διψάω contracts in α rather than η in later Greek. Both take an accusative in Matthew 5:6 .

Verse 3

Matthew 4:3 . προσελθὼν , another of the evangelist’s favourite words, implies that the tempter is conceived by the narrator as approaching outwardly in visible form. εἰπὲ ἵνα : literally “speak in order that”. Some grammarians see in this use of ἵνα with the subjunctive a progress in the later Macedonian Greek onwards towards modern Greek, in which νά with subjunctive entirely supersedes the infinitive. Buttmann ( Gram. of the N. T. ) says that the chief deviation in the N. T. from classic usage is that ἵνα appears not only after complete predicates, as a statement of design, but after incomplete predicates, supplying their necessary complements ( cf. Mark 6:25 ; Mark 9:30 ). εἰπὲ here may be classed among verbs of commanding which take ἵνα after them. οἱ λίθοι οὗτοι , these stones lying about, hinting at the desert character of the scene. ἄρτοι γέν ., that the rude pieces of stone may be turned miraculously into loaves. Weiss (Meyer) disputes the usual view that the temptation of Jesus lay in the suggestion to use His miraculous power in His own behoof. He had no such power, and if He had, why should He not use it for His own benefit as well as other men’s? He could only call into play by faith the power of God, and the temptation lay in the suggestion that His Messianic vocation was doubtful it God did not come to His help at this time. This seems a refinement. Hunger represents human wants, and the question was: whether Sonship was to mean exemption from these, or loyal acceptance of them as part of Messiah’s experience. At bottom the issue raised was selfishness or self-sacrifice. Selfishness would have been shown either in the use of personal power or in the wish that God would use it.

Verses 3-4

Matthew 4:3-4 . First temptation , through hunger.

Verse 4

Matthew 4:4 . ὁ δὲ ἀποκ . εἶπεν : Christ’s reply in this case as in the others is taken from Deuteronomy (Matthew 8:3 , Sept [14] ), which seems to have been one of His favourite books. Its humane spirit, with laws even for protecting the animals, would commend it to His mind. The word quoted means, man is to live a life of faith in and dependence on God. Bread is a mere detail in that life, not necessary though usually given, and sure to be supplied somehow , as long as it is desirable. Ζῆν ἐπὶ is unusual, but good Greek (De Wette).

[14] Septuagint.

Verses 5-7

Matthew 4:5-7 . Second temptation . τστε παραλαμ .… τοῦ ἱεροῦ : τότε has the force of “next,” and implies a closer order of sequence than Luke’s καὶ (Matthew 4:5 ). παραλαμβάνει , historical present with dramatic effect; seizes hold of Him and carries Him to. τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν : Jerusalem so named as if with affection ( vide Matthew 5:35 and especially Matthew 27:53 , where the designation recurs). τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ : some part of the temple bearing the name of “the winglet,” and overhanging a precipice. Commentators busy themselves discussing what precisely and where it was.

Verse 6

Matthew 4:6 . βάλε σεαυτὸν κάτω : This suggestion strongly makes for the symbolic or parabolic nature of the whole representation. The mad proposal could hardly be a temptation to such an one as Jesus, or indeed to any man in his senses. The transit through the air from the desert to the winglet, like that of Ezekiel, carried by a lock of his hair from Babylon to Jerusalem, must have been “in the visions of God” (Ezekiel 8:3 ), and the suggestion to cast Himself down a parabolic hint at a class of temptations, as the excuses in the parable of the Supper (Luke 14:16 ) simply represent the category of preoccupation . What is the class represented? Not temptations through vanity or presumption, but rather to reckless escape from desperate situations. The second temptation, like the first, belongs to the category of need . The Satanic suggestion is that there can be no sonship where there are such inextricable situations, in proof of which the Psalter is quoted (Psalms 91:11-12 ). γέγραπται , it stands written, not precisely as Satan quotes it, the clause τοῦ διαφυλάξαι σε ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ὁδοῖς σου being omitted. On this account many commentators charge Satan with mutilating and falsifying Scripture.

Matthew 4:7 . Jesus replies by another quotation from Deut. (Matthew 6:16 ). πάλιν , on the other hand, not contradicting but qualifying: “Scriptura per scripturam interpretanda et concilianda,” Bengel. The reference is to the incident at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1-7 ), where the people virtually charged God with bringing them out of Egypt to perish with thirst, the scene of this petulant outburst receiving the commemorative name of Massah and Meribah because they tempted Jehovah, saying: “Is Jehovah among us or not?” An analogous situation in the life of Jesus may be found in Gethsemane , where He did not complain or tempt, but uttered the submissive, “If it be possible”. The leap down at that crisis would have consisted in seeking escape from the cross at the cost of duty. The physical fall from the pinnacle is an emblem of a moral fall. Before passing from this temptation I note that the hypothesis that it was an appeal, to vanity presupposes a crowd at the foot to witness the performance, of Which there is no mention.

Verses 8-10

Matthew 4:8-10 . Third temptation . εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν : a mountain high enough for the purpose. There is no such mountain in the world, not even in the highest ranges, “not to be sought for in terrestrial geography,” says De Wette. The vision of all the kingdoms and their glory was not physical. τοῦ κόσμου . What world? Palestine merely, or all the world, Palestine excepted? or all the world, Palestine included? All these alternatives have been supported. The last is the most likely. The second harmonises with the ideas of contemporary Jews, who regarded the heathen world as distinct from the Holy Land, as belonging to the devil. The tempter points in the direction of a universal Messianic empire, and claims power to give effect to the dazzling prospect.

Verse 9

Matthew 4:9 . ἐὰν πεσὼν προσκυνήσῃς μοι . This is the condition, homage to Satan as the superior. A naïve suggestion, but pointing to a subtle form of temptation, to which all ambitious, self-seeking men succumb, that of gaining power by compromise with evil. The danger is greatest when the end is good . “The end sanctifies the means.” Nowhere is homage to Satan more common than in connection with sacred causes, the interests of truth, righteousness, and God. Nothing tests purity of motive so thoroughly as temptations of this class. Christ was proof against them. The prince of the world found nothing of this sort in Him (John 14:30 ). In practice this homage, if Jesus had been willing to render it, would have taken the form of conciliating the Pharisees and Sadducees, and pandering to the prejudices of the people. He took His own path, and became a Christ, neither after the type imagined by the Baptist, nor according to the liking of the Jews and their leaders. So He gained universal empire, but at a great cost.

Verse 10

Matthew 4:10 . ὕπαγε σατανᾶ . Jesus passionately repels the Satanic suggestion. The ὕπαγε σ . is true to His character. The suggestions of worldly wisdom always roused in Him passionate aversion. The ὀπίσω μου of some MSS. does not suit this place; it is imported from Matthew 16:23 , where it does suit, the agent of Satan in a temptation of the same sort being a disciple. Christ’s final word to the tempter is an absolute, peremptory Begone. Yet He condescends to support His authoritative negative by a Scripture text, again from Deut. (Matthew 6:13 ), slightly adapted, προσκυνήσεις being substituted for φοβηθήσῃ (the μόνῳ in second clause is omitted in Swete’s Sept [15] ). It takes the accusative here instead of dative, as in Matthew 4:9 , because it denotes worship proper (Weiss-Meyer). The quotation states a principle in theory acknowledged by all, but how hard to work it out faithfully in life!

[15] Septuagint.

Verse 11

Matthew 4:11 . τότε ἀφίησιν : then , when the peremptory ὕπαγε had been spoken. Nothing was to be made of one who would not do evil that good might come. καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄγγελοι . The angels were ministering to Him, with food, presumably, in the view of the evangelist. It might be taken in a wider sense, as signifying that angels ministered constantly to one who had decidedly chosen the path of obedience in preference to that of self-pleasing.

Verses 12-13

Matthew 4:12-13 . ἀκούσας δὲ … Γαλιλαίαν : note of time. Jesus returned to Galilee on hearing that John was delivered up, i.e. , in the providence of God, into the hands of his enemies. Further particulars as to this are given in chapter 14. Christ’s ministry in Galilee began when the Baptist’s came to an end; how long after the baptism and temptation not indicated. Weiss (Meyer) thinks that in the view of the evangelist it was immediately after, and that the reference to John’s imprisonment is meant simply to explain the choice of Galilee as the sphere of labour.

Verses 12-25

Matthew 4:12-25 . Beginnings of the Galilean ministry (Mark 1:14-15 ; Luke 4:14-15 ). In a few rapid strokes the evangelist describes the opening of the Messianic work of Jesus in Galilee. He has in view the great Sermon on the Mount, and the group of wonderful deeds he means thereafter to report, and he gives first a summary description of Christ’s varied activities by way of introduction.

Verse 13

Matthew 4:13 . Ναζαρέτ . Jesus naturally went to Nazareth first, but He did not tarry there. κατῴκησεν εἰς Καπερναοὺμ , He went to settle (as in Matthew 2:23 ) in Capernaum. This migration to Capernaum is not formally noted in the other Gospels, but Capernaum appears in all the synoptists as the main centre of Christ’s Galilean ministry. τὴν παραθαλασσίαν , etc.: sufficiently defined by these words, “on the sea (of Galilee), on the confines of Zebulun and Naphthali”. Well known then, now of doubtful situation, being no longer in existence. Tel Hûm and Khan Minyeh compete for the honour of the site. The evangelist describes the position not to satisfy the curiosity of geographers, but to pave the way for another prophetic reference.

Verses 14-16

Matthew 4:14-16 . Jesus chose Capernaum as best suited for His work. There He was in the heart of the world, in a busy town, and near others, on the shore of a sea that was full of fish, and on a great international highway. But the evangelist finds in the choice a fulfilment of prophecy ἵνα πληρωθῇ . The oracle is reproduced from Isaiah 8:22 ; Isaiah 9:1 , freely following the original with glances at the Sept [16] The style is very laconic: land of Zebulun and land of Naphthali, way of the sea ( ὁδὸν absolute accusative for דֶּרֶךְ = versus , vide Winer, § 23), Galilee of the Gentiles, a place where races mix, a border population. The clause preceding, “beyond Jordan,” is not omitted, because it is viewed as a reference to Peraea, also a scene of Christ’s ministry.

[16] Septuagint.

Verse 16

Matthew 4:16 . ἐν σκοτίᾳ : the darkness referred to, in the view of the evangelist, is possibly that caused by the imprisonment of the Baptist (Fritzsche). The consolation comes in the form of a greater light, φῶς μέγα , great, even the greatest. The thought is emphasised by repetition and by enhanced description of the benighted situation of those on whom the light arises: “in the very home and shadow of death”; highly graphic and poetic, not applicable, however, to the land of Galilee more than to other parts of the land; descriptive of misery rather than of sin.

Verse 17

Matthew 4:17 . ἀπὸ τότε … κηρύσσειν . After settling in Capernaum Jesus began to preach. The phrase ἀπὸ τότε offends in two ways, first as redundant, being implied in ἤρξατο (De Wette); next as not classic, being one of the degeneracies of the κοινή . Phrynichus forbids ἐκ τότε , and instructs to say rather ἐξ ἐκείνου (Lobeck’s ed., p. 45). κηρύσσειν , the same word as in describing the ministry of the Baptist (Matthew 3:1 ). And the message is the same Μετανοεῖτε , etc. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The same in word but not in thought , as will appear soon. It may seem as if the evangelist meant to represent Jesus as simply taking up and continuing the arrested ministry of the Baptist. So He was in form and to outward appearance, but not in spirit. From the very first, as has been seen even in connection with the baptism, there was a deep-seated difference between the two preachers. Even Euthy. Zig. understood this, monk though he was. Repent, he says, with John meant “in so far as ye have erred” = amendment; with Jesus, “from the old to the new” ( ἀπὸ τῆς παλαιᾶς ἐπὶ τὴν καινήν ) =a change from within. For the evangelist this was the absolute beginning of Christ’s ministry. He knows nothing of an earlier activity.

Verses 18-22

Matthew 4:18-22 . Call of four disciples . The preceding very general statement is followed by a more specific narrative relating to a very important department of Christ’s work, the gathering of disciples. Disciples are referred to in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1 ), therefore it is meet that it be shown how Jesus came by them. Here we have simply a sample, a hint at a process always going on, and which had probably advanced a considerable way before the sermon was delivered. περιπατῶν δὲ : δὲ simply introduces a new topic, the time is indefinite. One day when Jesus was walking along the seashore He saw two men, brothers, names given, by occupation fishers, the main industry of the locality, that tropical sea (800 feet below level of Mediterranean) abounding in fish. He saw them, may have seen them before, and they Him, and thought them likely men, and He said to them, Matthew 4:19 : Δεῦτε … ἀνθρώπων . From the most critical point of view a genuine saying of Jesus; the first distinctively individual word of the Galilean ministry as recorded by Matthew and Mark. Full of significance as a self-revelation of the speaker. Authoritative yet genial, indicating a poetic idealistic temperament and a tendency to figurative speech; betraying the rudiments of a plan for winning men by select men. Δεῦτε plural form of δεῦρο = δεῦρʼ ἵτε , δεῦρο . being an adverb of place with the force of command, a verb of commanding being understood: here! after me; imperial yet kindly, used again in Matthew 11:28 with reference to the labouring and heavy-laden. δεῦτε and ἁλιεῖς (= sea-people) are samples of old poetic words revived and introduced into prose by later Greek writers.

Verse 20

Matthew 4:20 . he effect was immediate: εὐθέως ἀφέντες . This seems surprising, and we naturally postulate previous knowledge in explanation. But all indications point to the uniquely impressive personality of Jesus. John felt it; the audience in the synagogue of Capernaum felt it on the first appearance of Jesus there (Mark 1:27 ); the four fishermen felt it. δίκτυα : ἀμφίβληστρον in Matthew 4:18 . In Matthew 13:47 occurs a third word for a net, σαγήνη ; δίκτυον (from δικεῖν , to throw) is the general name; ἀμφίβληστρον ( ἀμφιβάλλω ), anything cast around, e.g. , a garment, more specifically a net thrown with the hand; σαγήνη , a sweep-net carried out in a boat, then drawn in from the land ( vide Trench, Synonyms of N. T., § 64).

Verse 21

Matthew 4:21 . ἄλλους δύο , another pair of brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee, the four together an important instalment of the twelve. The first pair were casting their nets, the second were mending them, ( καταρτίζοντες ), with their father.

Verse 22

Matthew 4:22 . οἱ δὲ εὐθέως ἀφέντες . They too followed immediately, leaving nets, ship, and father ( vide Mark 1:20 ) behind.

Verses 23-25

Matthew 4:23-25 . Summary account of the Galilean ministry . A colourless general statement serving as a mere prelude to chapters 5 9. It points to a ministry in Galilee, varied, extensive, and far-famed, conceived by the evangelist as antecedent to the Sermon on the Mount; not necessarily covering a long period of time, though if the expression “teaching in their synagogues” be pressed it must imply a good many weeks ( vide on Mk.). The ministry embraced three functions: διδάσκων , κηρύσσων , θεραπεύων (Matthew 4:23 ), teaching, preaching, healing. Jesus was an evangelist, a master, and a healer of disease. Matt. puts the teaching function first in accordance with the character of his gospel. The first gospel is weak in the evangelistic element compared with the third: διδαχή is more prominent than κήρυγμα . The healing function is represented as exercised on a large scale: πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν , every form of disease and ailment. Euthy. Zig. defines νόσος as the chronic subversion of health ( ἡ χρονία παρατροπὴ τῆς τοῦ σώματος ἕξεως ), μαλακία as the weakness in which it begins ( ἀρχὴ χαυνώσεως σώματος , προάγγελος νόσου ). The subjects of healing are divided into two classes, Matthew 4:24 . They brought to Him πάντας τ . κ . ἐχ . ποικίλαις νόσοις , all who were Afflicted with various diseases (such as fever, leprosy, blindness); also those βασάνοις συνεχομένους , seized with diseases of a tormenting nature, of which three classes are named the καὶ in T. R. before δαιμον . is misleading; the following words are epexegetical: δαιμονιζομένους , σεληνιαζομένους , παραλυτικούς = demoniacs, epileptics (their seizures following the phases of the moon), paralytics. These forms of disease are graphically called torments. ( βάσανος , first a touch-stone, lapis Lydius , as in Pindar, Pythia, x. 105: Πειρῶντι δὲ καὶ χρυσὸς ἐν βασάνῳ πρέπει καὶ νόος ὀρθός ; then an instrument of torture to extract truth; then, as here, tormenting forms of disease.) The fame, ἡ ἀκοὴ , of such a marvellous ministry naturally spread widely, εἰς ὅλην τὴν Συρίαν , throughout the whole province to which Palestine belonged, among Gentiles as well as Jews. Crowds gathered around the wonderful Man from all quarters: west, east, north, south; Galilee, Decapolis on the eastern side of the lake, Jerusalem and Judaea, Peraea. With every allowance for the exaggeration of a popular account, this speaks to an extraordinary impression.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/matthew-4.html. 1897-1910.
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