Bible Commentaries

James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary

Matthew 4

Verses 1-11

PREPARATION FOR PUBLIC MINISTRY

BAPTIZED BY JOHN (Matthew 3)

For the earlier history of John the Baptist compare Luke 1. In Matthew 3:1-6 of the present lesson, however, we have the place and theme of his ministry, a statement of his official relationship to the Messiah, his description, and an account of the interest awakened by his mission.

“The Kingdom of heaven” or “the heavens” (Matthew 3:2) means the earthly kingdom promised to Israel in the Old Testament, over which the Messiah was to reign. It is “the Kingdom of the heavens” in that it is the rule of the heavens over the earth (Matthew 6:10). Compare Daniel 2:34-36; Daniel 2:44. The rejection of the Messiah caused the postponement of this Kingdom until His coming again.

In Matthew 3:7-12 we have a reference to the religious leaders of the nation at this time, and a warning of judgment awaiting them. We met with “scribes” in the preceding chapter, and here we have Pharisees and Sadducees. The scribes made copies of the sacred Scriptures, and classified and taught them (2 Samuel 8:17; Jeremiah 8:8), but by and by, they added to this other things not so necessary or lawful, and compelled the people to accept them or be charged with heterodoxy. This was the charge brought against our Lord Himself because He confined His teaching to the Scripture. Among the things they added were Hebrew legends (Gemara), and rabbinical rules on questions of ritual (Mishna), the two forming the Talmud of later times.

“Pharisee” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separate,” and identifies a sect whose origin dated from the return from Babylon. At first its object was to keep alive a reverence for the law of God, but later it degenerated into a traditionalism corresponding to the teaching of the scribes. Pharisees were zealous but self-righteous, and became the fiercest enemies of Jesus Christ. Sadducees some think were named after their founder Zadok. They were skeptics who denied the immortality of the soul. They also denied the oral tradition on which Pharisaic teaching was largely based. They were the rich and worldly people of Judea in our Lord’s time. These definitions explain the hard names and the warnings applied to the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7). Their hypocrisy is seen in Matthew 3:8, their pride of race, Matthew 3:9, their speedy judgment, Matthew 3:10.

Baptism with water (Matthew 3:11) had been practiced among the Jews in connection with the proselytism of the verses, and was the outward sign by which the latter signified the change of mind and purpose supposed to have taken place within, and which is really the meaning of “repentance.” This baptism of John, however, is not identical with Christian baptism as will be seen later.

The last clause of Matthew 3:11 refers to Christ, who baptized His disciples with the Holy Ghost, after His ascension, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 12:13); and will baptize Israel with fire when He comes again in judgment (Matthew 3:12). This is an illustration of the law of double reference of which we learned in the Old Testament.

Matthew 3:13-17 are the most important. The sinless one coming to a sinner to be baptized with sinners, how strange! No wonder John forbade Him. But it was not John’s baptism He sought, although John baptized Him. John’s baptism was the sign and seal of repentance, to escape wrath, but Jesus had no need of repentance and no fear of wrath. His baptism was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). In other words, the Father had made a covenant of redemption with the Son, in which the Son, as God Incarnate, worked out, through atoning sufferings and obedience, a perfect righteousness for sinful men. His baptism by John was the sign and seal of this covenant. It was His seal of consecration to His chosen work, and the Father’s seal of faithfulness to the sufferer, the latter being proven by the open heavens, the descending dove and the paternal voice. Thus was He inaugurated into His great office.

TEMPTED BY SATAN (Matthew 4:1-11)

It is the Holy Spirit who is referred to in Matthew 4:1, and indeed, after His anointing by the Spirit, almost everything Jesus is said to have done, was accomplished, not in the power of His own natural spirit, but the Holy Spirit. It would have been wrong for Him to have entered into this temptation on His own account. The “Devil” of the same verse we became acquainted with as a personal being, in the Old Testament. But although he possesses personality, a word synonymous with self-consciousness, that is not to say that he appeared to Jesus in human form. The form he assumed is not revealed, although the temptation was objective in character, as was that of the first Adam in Eden, with which it stands in contrast.

The temptation was three-fold, the appeal being directed to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), which is all the devil has to offer. The Father had just testified to His Sonship, but He is tempted to doubt it because He is hungry (Matthew 3:3). He has just declared His confidence in the Word of God (Matthew 3:4), and He is tempted to presume upon it (Matthew 3:5-7). He had been promised the Kingdom through the Cross, and He is tempted to obtain it in another way (Matthew 3:8-10). As Scofield says, “Satan’s one object was to induce Christ to act from Himself and independently of His Father,” and Christ defeated him “by a means open to His humblest follower, the intelligent use of the Word of God.”

This victory of Christ takes on great significance when we realize that as the second Adam He took the place of the first. What we lost in the first, we, who believe, have restored to us in the second (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49).

QUESTIONS

1. Where do we learn the earlier history of John the Baptist?

2. Define “the Kingdom of heaven.”

3. Define “scribes,” “Pharisees,” “Sadducees.”

4. Give the history of the Jewish “Talmud.”

5. What illustration of the law of double reference is found in this lesson?

6. What meaning is attached to Jesus’ baptism?

7. What is the meaning of “personality”?

8. What was Satan’s one object in the temptation of Christ?

9. What gives the temptation its great significance for us?

Verse 12

BEGINNING HIS MINISTRY

THE STARTING POINT (Matthew 4:12-17)

For antecedent and parallel events, read John 1:15-51; Luke 3:1-20; Luke 4:14-32, which explain why John the Baptist was imprisoned, and why Jesus left Nazareth. Identify Capernaum on the map, and read up its history in a Bible dictionary since it becomes important as the center of our Lord’s ministry in Galilee. Zabulon and Nephtalim, or Zebulun and Naphtali, we recognize as names of tribes of Israel and locations in Canaan, called after them. Locate them on the map, and compare Isaiah 9:1-2 RV, which is to have a completer fulfillment at the second coming of Christ. The “Kingdom of heaven” He “began to preach” (Matthew 4:17) was that which He came to set up in Israel had the nation received Him. Not a spiritual Kingdom only, but a manifested Kingdom like that of David, wherein righteousness should reign.

THE FIRST FOLLOWERS (4:18-22)

He had met these men before (John 1), and called them to be His disciples. Having believed on Him, they are now called into His service.

THE FIRST WORKS (Matthew 4:23-25)

The teaching was in the synagogues, and the preaching in the open air where the crowds gathered. Note the theme of His preaching, not the gospel of grace which now saves the sinner, but the “gospel of the Kingdom”: the good news that the earthly Kingdom promised to Israel was ready to be set up if they would have it. Later, when His rejection by Israel is confirmed, this gospel ceases to be preached, and the gospel of grace takes its place. The gospel of grace is preached in the present dispensation of the church, but when the church, the body of Christ, is complete, and caught up to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), then the gospel of the Kingdom will be again preached because the Kingdom will be drawing near a second time. The miracles of healing are in connection with the gospel of the Kingdom. That is not to say that there are no such miracles at present, but only that they are peculiar to setting up the earthly Kingdom, and doubtless will be seen again in a marked manner as the day approaches. The Satanic counterfeits of these miracles now in many places indicate the time is at hand.

THE FIRST DISCOURSE (Matthew 5:1)

Beginning here and extending to the close of chapter 7 we have what is called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1); but we are not to suppose that these words were all spoken at one time, or in their present connection. In comparison with the other Gospels suggests differently. For the purpose of the Holy Spirit in Matthew’s Gospel, however, it was desirable to group them as though they formed a single discourse. Addressing the Jew, he is showing that Jesus is the King who has come to set up His Kingdom, and in these words, chapters 5-7 sets forth at one glance the laws or code of that Kingdom. We must be clear about this. The Sermon on the Mount does not set forth the terms of salvation for sinners. Neither is it the experience which the church will perfectly attain in this age, but is primarily Jewish and pertains to conditions on the earth when the manifested Kingdom of the Messiah is in vogue. It would be wrong to press this too far, and say that the Sermon on the Mount has no application whatever to the Christian church or the times in which we live, for God is the same through all dispensations, and the underlying principles of His government never change. But just how to apply it must be determined in detail, and by the never failing light of the Holy Spirit who has been given to lead the Christian into all the truth (John 16:13).

The first twelve verses, or the Beatitudes, constitute an exordium to the discourse, in which is set forth the characteristics of the heirs of the Kingdom. There are nine beatitudes, and dispensationally viewed, show us Israel, or rather the faithful remnant of Israel, in the tribulation period awaiting the Kingdom. They will be poor in spirit, and shall get the Kingdom. They will mourn and shall be comforted. They will be meek and shall inherit the earth. They will hunger and thirst after righteousness, and shall be filled.

But in an accommodated sense the beatitudes apply to believers in the present age. There is a heavenly side and an earthly side to the Kingdom, and it is only those who are “poor in spirit,” humbling themselves on account of sin and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, who, through the new birth, receive the Kingdom. They who now mourn for their sins are comforted in forgiveness and cleansing through the blood. They who now hunger and thirst after righteousness are filled. We have here a picture of a redeemed and sanctified man, an ideal man whom the Savior is to make actual by saving him from his sin.

For private study or classroom work, it would be desirable to include the whole of the Sermon on the Mount in one lesson, but for the purpose of this commentary, we pause here.

QUESTIONS

1. Divide this lesson into four parts.

2. Did you read the scripture references for the antecedent or parallel events?

3. Have you looked up Capernaum?

4. Why does Matthew so often quote the Old Testament?

5. What is meant by the “Kingdom of heaven” in this case?

6. What is the distinction between “the gospel of the Kingdom” or “gospel of grace”?

7. What is set forth in the Sermon on the Mount?

8. What is set forth in the beatitudes?

9. What is their historical sense?

10. How do they apply to us in an accommodated sense?

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Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Matthew 4". The James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/matthew-4.html. 1897-1910.