‘Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.’
Jesus was ‘led up of the Spirit’ into the wilderness. The Spirit knew how important it was that He understood how to approach His future, and guided Him to find a quiet place. ‘Led up’ suggests that leaving the Jordan valley He climbed up onto the slopes of the wilderness of Judaea. And there He was to be tempted by the Devil.
It was not that temptation was the prime purpose of the Spirit Who led Jesus into the wilderness, but rather that it was the inevitable consequence of His doing so. For He could not possibly face up to His life work without facing up to the Tempter, who would continually be one of His main opponents. He would ever be lurking in the background ready to pounce when he felt that he could trip Jesus up, and ever fearful that this One Whom God had raised up and anointed, Who had a unique relationship with God that he did not fully understand, would one day prove his downfall, and would meanwhile be carrying out assaults on his own cosy position. But Jesus was being led by the Spirit. And He knew that if He walked step by step by the Spirit He would be led into all truth.
But who were the main players in this drama? We should now perhaps pause to consider each of them.
1). The first is Jesus Himself. Born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit, truly human, and yet ‘God with us’ (Immanuel), descended from Abraham and aware of the promises made to Abraham which He Himself must bring to fulfilment; a son of David, and of the royal line, and thus destined to be the everlasting King Who would deliver His people; yet also the Son of the living God and His beloved; the One named Jesus Who was to save His people from their sins; and the One Who as a man among men represented His people in Himself, as God sought through Him to bring all His purposes to completion. On their behalf He had been taken into Egypt, and on their behalf had ‘returned from exile’. On their behalf He had been baptised. Now He was needing to lead them out of the spiritual exile which still gripped their hearts.
2). The second is the Spirit of God, through Whose activity Jesus had been born, and Who had set Jesus apart for His God-appointed task (had anointed Him) and would be continually with Him in it.
It was He Who had hovered over creation when all things began. It was He Who had given wisdom, first to Moses, and then to the elders in the wilderness (Numbers 11:17), as the people were led through towards their triumphal entry into Canaan. It was He Who when they were in dire straits from their enemies had empowered charismatic leaders to deliver them from bondage (regularly in Judges). It was He Who had empowered their first kings, and especially David, the man of God’s choosing (1 Samuel 16:13), and whom God had appreciated. And when the kings had ceased to enjoy His empowering, beginning with the failure of Solomon, He had inspired prophets to bring the word of God to the people, and the Psalmists to inspire the people to worship. Always working invisibly He had been revealed by His actions. And He had continually maintained in Israel a minority of faithful, believing people, who had remained true to God. And now He was commencing the final surge which would bring all God’s purposes to fulfilment. Working in and through Jesus, the Spirit anointed King (Isaiah 11:1-4), Servant (Isaiah 42:1-6) and Prophet (Isaiah 61:1-2) of Isaiah, and later through His Apostles and His new community of people, He would reach out into the world with the word of God, bringing to God those who were His chosen, a multitude which no man can number, until one day the full number will have been gathered in.
3). The third is the Devil, or Satan (‘adversary’) revealed in Scripture as a powerful fallen spirit, by no means omniscient or omnipresent, but long lasting and devious, and ruler of a host of fallen spirits like himself, with whose assistance he was struggling to prevent the success of the purposes of God which he knew would lead to his eventual downfall.
It was he who in the shadows of the Plain of Eden had used the snake to lure the Man and the Woman into their failed rebellion against God (Genesis 3). It was he, through his minions, who had infiltrated the world of humans by ‘possession’ so that God had had to destroy the large part of mankind in the Flood (Genesis 6:1-4). It was he with his princes whose shadowy figure lay behind much of the turbulent history of mankind (Daniel 10). It was he who at times received authority to test the faith of those who were faithful to God (Job 1-2). It was he who sought to oppose and prevent the deliverance of God’s people from sin (Zechariah 3). And now he was engaged in his greatest struggle, the prevention of the success of this One Who had been raised up by God, Whoever He might be, (for he was not quite sure). But one thing he did know and that was that He had been declared to be God’s own beloved Son, whatever that might mean. And it was necessary somehow to prevent His success.
And now here they were together in the wilderness, as the final purposes of God, to which the prophets had looked, began to unfold. And only God knew how long these ‘last days’ were going to last.
a Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, and when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered (Matthew 4:1-2).
b And the Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3).
c But he answered and said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
b Then the devil takes him into the holy city, and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and says to him, “If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge concerning you,’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest it happen that you dash your foot against a stone’ ” (Matthew 4:5-6).
c Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not make trial of the Lord your God’ ” (Matthew 4:7).
b Again, the devil takes him to an extremely high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and he said to him, “All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9).
c Then says Jesus to him, “Get you hence, Satan, for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’ ” (Matthew 4:10).
a Then the devil leaves him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him (Matthew 4:11).
Note that following the patterns used in the Pentateuch threefold events are treated in sequence within a chiasmus (see for example our commentary on Numbers 22:15-40; Numbers 22:41 to Numbers 24:13). In ‘a’ He goes into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil, and hungers, and in the parallel the Devil leaves Him, having been defeated, and the angels minister to Him. And then follows a threefold pattern of attack and riposte, (b and c) with Jesus each time citing Deuteronomy.
‘And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered.’
Throughout His forty days and nights, (that is, for over a moon period), Jesus fasted, His body weakened but His spirit intensified, and during it He prayed and thought and planned, and during it He was conscious of thoughts being continually fed into His mind seeking to direct Him in the wrong ways. And as His resolution grew stronger, and His resistance greater, so did the temptations, as the Tempter gathered for his final assault. We do not know exactly what form it took. Certainly it was largely in the mind, for what is described went beyond the possibility of literal human fulfilment (there is no mountain from which the whole world can be seen, except in the mind). It is, of course, always possible that Satan arranged for a desert dweller, even possibly one connected with Qumran, to approach and feed His mind with false ideas. It is even possible that Satan himself appeared in human form. But this is a mystery into which Jesus did not permit His disciples to enter. All they knew was that He had met him in ‘face to face’ combat.
‘Forty days and forty nights.’ This phrase probably means ‘for longer than a moon period’. It was the period of initial judgment at the Flood when the rains were unceasing. It was the time spent twice by Moses in the Mount as he received the Law of God and enjoyed the ecstasy of His veiled presence (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28 : Deuteronomy 9:9; Deuteronomy 9:18). It was the time spent by Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:8) when he was supernaturally sustained. It was the time for which Israel trembled in front of Goliath before David emerged victorious (1 Samuel 17:16). It spoke of crucial encounters with God, and with God’s enemies. It possibly also has in mind the forty years of Israel’s hunger and thirst in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2-3), preparatory to establishing the Kingly Rule of God in Canaan, a period that in a way Jesus was now duplicating.
It would seem that over the period Jesus was so taken up with His time with His Father that He was not conscious of weakness or hunger, and it was not therefore until He came out of that state that He ‘became hungry’. As His period of meeting with His Father was coming to an end He became conscious of a great need for food.
‘And the tempter came and said to him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” ’
Then He became conscious of a malevolent presence, probably speaking in His mind. For forty days and nights He had been considering the significance of the words at His baptism, and now came the challenge. ‘You are hungry. If you really are the Son of God look around you. See these flat white stones that look like bread. Did not God provide manna in the wilderness? Why do you not turn them into bread and feed yourself, ensuring your preservation for the sake of mankind? It is after all important that you keep yourself fit and well. And at the same time you will be able to prove to yourself what you can do. Turning these stones into bread can only give you greater confidence in God. It can only be for good. You have done well. Now reap your reward.’
Jesus would be aware of what John had said about God turning stones into the sons of Abraham. The thought may be, if God can consider doing that, what harm can there be in the Son of God turning stones into bread? But it was not the act that would be wrong. It would bewhy it was done. Later He would turn a few small loaves into sufficient to feed a large crowd. But that would be in order to confirm that they were a new covenant community whom God promised to feed spiritually (Matthew 14:15-21; Matthew 15:32-38). Here, however, it would simply be in order to satisfy His own needs in a way not available to others. By it He would cease to be a man among men. He would fall at the first hurdle.
‘But he answered and said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” ’
But Jesus searched the Scriptures in His mind, especially conscious that He was in the wilderness as His people had once been, and no doubt guided by the Spirit, and He found what He sought. Bread is good, and man needs bread. But bread is not the most important thing in life. More important is it to feed on and obey the words of God. The basis for the words are found in Deuteronomy 8:3. They reminded Him, and remind us all, that what must be preeminent in our lives is to hear the word of God and keep it. Here then was His first victory of these final three temptations (a threesome which sums up the whole). It would result in a mindset that would mean that He would not at any time allow any material consideration to interfere with His heeding and obeying the words of God. Like all of us, each victory would prepare Him for the next. From now on (as it had always been for Him) it would be, ‘Your will be done’.
Had Jesus failed here He would have proved that He was unsuited for what lay ahead, for it was necessary for Him to undergo the sufferings of the world to the full. He could not in any way seek to use His powers to prevent His facing up to the Father’s will and the world’s sufferings. For their sake He was enduring something of what Israel had endured in the wilderness.
No doubt important in this was the overall lesson that His powers must not be used simply for Himself. They were a trust from God, not a personal power bank. They must be used only in accordance with His direction. To do otherwise would be to sin. Personal considerations must not come into it. It would be to misappropriate what God had given Him. (It would be the equivalent, but of course at a much higher level, of His being tempted to steal the office stationery and appropriate it for His own use).
Note His words, ‘it is written.’ Because ‘it was written’ (gegraptai) in the Scriptures (graphais) He saw it as the infallible word of God.
‘Then the devil takes him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple,’
But now His thoughts were turned again towards the question of success in His mission. How was He to gain the support of the Temple, and the Temple authorities. How was He to obtain the attention of the Teachers and the people? One possible way was a spectacular demonstration of His powers, for no one loved signs more than the Jews. They were renowned for it (1 Corinthians 1:22). Indeed He knew that they would demand them. They believed in a God Who had constantly given signs to His people. Why not give them a great sign that they would never forget? And to aid Him in this the Devil took Him into the holy city and set Him on the small wing of the Temple. We are not told whether it was in His mind, or in reality. Note the mention of ‘the holy city’. In Isaiah 52:1 it describes what we might call the Messianic city, the city from which all uncleanness has been removed. It may hint at the fact that the Devil was seeking to surround what he was doing with an aura of holiness. In the holy city such a presentation of His Messiahship must surely be holy? In mind here as well may have been Ezekiel’s similar visit to the Temple, which also took place by extraordinary means, in Ezekiel 8:1-3; Ezekiel 11:24.
‘The pinnacle of the temple.’ Literally ‘the small wing’. We cannot certainly identify it but it was possibly a projection on the part of the Temple that towered over the Kidron valley far below. It would have made a spectacular fall.
‘And says to him, “If You are the Son of God, cast yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge concerning you,’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest it happen that you dash your foot against a stone’ .” ’
So Satan again approached His mind with a suggestion, taking Him in His mind to the temple precincts. Why not throw Himself from the topmost tower which towered over the valley beneath, in front of all the festal crowds. As He stood there ready to jump the whole of Jerusalem would quickly gather to watch what He was doing. The Chief Priests, and the great Teachers, and the aristocratic elders, and everyone who counted, (even no doubt the Roman representatives) would be there. They would all gather. Then He could spectacularly launch Himself, confident that He would be upheld by angels. If He really was the Son of God, and really believed it, that is what He would do, so that all might know Him for what He was.
Note the deliberate possibility of doubt he was seeking to sow in Jesus’ mind. He was not expressing specific doubt. He was emphasising what he knew that Jesus believed. But it left open the possibility of doubt, and if he could get Him to doubt that He was the Son of God so that He was not sure whether He could do it, he would have achieved his goal. Alternately his hope was that it would spur Him to foolish action. For Satan knew perfectly well that what he was suggesting would have aligned Jesus on his side. It was exactly in accordance with his own methods. Win men’s hearts by giving them what they want, whether it will do them good or not. Act for the short term and leave the future to look after itself.
And this time he had a Scripture to back it up. Was it not God’s promise that He would protect His true people who trusted in Him, and put His angels in charge of them? (Psalms 91:11). Had He not specifically promised that angels would bear His people up and prevent them being dashed on the stones? (Psalms 91:12). Surely, applied to One Who was the Son of God, that must be a guarantee of total protection? And its clear and practical fulfilment could only bring honour to the Scriptures. What better visual aid than that?
To many of us that sounds a very sensible idea. That is precisely what we are constantly wondering. Why did God not do something like this, for if we could, that is precisely what we would have done. For many do often ask, why does God not do something spectacular to win the belief of men and women? How easily He could gain support if He did so. How easily He could force everyone to believe. The only atheists left would be the ones who were trying to work out what strange wind forces had made it happen. And even they would be baffled, although their minds would be set against belief. (Those who do not want to believe will always find some excuse). But the question was, how many of the people who saw Him do it would have been any better for it? How many wowuld have become men changed at heart? A few short months and it would have to be done all over again.
We must be content with the fact that both God, and the Devil knew what the result of his proposal would be (the Devil would not have suggested it if he had thought that it would work). Both know that such belief would not change men’s hearts. Both know that a world won in that way would go on as it had before, wanting to be pandered to by constant miracles, and never changing at its heart. It would possibly have produced a show of godliness, but not true godliness. Such a world would honour Him with its mouth, but its heart would be far from Him. It would basically be left just as it was before.
‘Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, You shall not make trial of the Lord your God.” ’
But Jesus again drew on the reserves of Scripture, this time found in Deuteronomy 6:16. His years of careful study of the Scriptures was standing Him in good stead. And He declared, “Again it is written, You shall not make trial of the Lord your God.” It was true that He had powers to use in God’s purposes and in God’s way, but not in order to make a trial of God. That could never be right. That would again be to misuse what God had given Him.
The passage has in mind the testing of Israel at Massah when Israel, desperately short of water, had said, ‘Is the Lord with us or not?’ It gives Jesus’ reply to the Devil’s similar attempt to throw doubt in His mind. He did not need to test God. He knew that the Lord was with Him and would accomplish His will.
‘Again, the devil takes him to an extremely high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.’
Matthew then describes last the temptation that centred on what he has described in the previous chapters, the kingship of Jesus. In vision, or in His mind’s eye, Satan takes Jesus onto ‘a very high mountain’ from which all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. Even granted that this meant all the kingdoms of the known world, or of the Roman world, this was not physically possible. But in the mind’s eye anything is possible. And there, stretched before Him, Jesus visualised all the nations of the world. And before His vision was brought also the fullness of their glory. He knew that the promises of God for Him included dominion over the whole world and its glory (Daniel 7:14). And here it all was now in front of Him awaiting, His pleasure.
Matthew may intend us to contrast this high mountain with that in Matthew 17:1. On this high mountain Jesus was offered the kingdoms and the glory of the world. On the high mountain in Matthew 17:1 He would manifest the glory of God that was truly His. There He would manifest His true Kingly Rule to those who were to establish it on earth.
There was something of a parallel here with Moses on Mount Nebo when God showed him the country of Canaan (Deuteronomy 34:1-4), but if so it is in order to hint to Jesus that He could succeed where Moses had failed. It is possibly significant that Moses had been there because of his own failure to trust God and walk in humble obedience. And now, humanly speaking, Jesus on this high mountain could make the same mistake.
‘And he said to him, “All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” ’
Then the Devil assured Him that if only He would submit to him and his ways, he could show Him how all this could be His by using His powers and winning His way into high favour, on which He would then be able to extinguish all opposition. All that was necessary was that He pay him homage, and do things his way. How far we stress ‘worship’ is questionable. It is doubtful if the Devil thought that Jesus would literally worship him, at least not yet. But there might have been in mind the idea of offering incense to Roma and the emperor. And included in it would be an acknowledgement of the Devil’s superiority. But in the end any activity in this way would have been worship. For it would have been to give to the Devil the honour that was due to God.
It is often questioned whether the Devil has such authority over the kingdoms of the world. And in one sense the answer is probably no. But the Devil knew, and Jesus knew, that the Devil could sway the world to his will. He had been doing it for centuries. He knew precisely how Jesus could be given the powers he was describing, for he knew how to manipulate the world (compare John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19). If we think that this was not a very subtle temptation we should consider how easily man always falls for it. Manipulation in order to get our own way is at the very heart of man’s thinking (even of believers), and especially of politicians.
‘Then Jesus says to him, “Get you from here, Satan, for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
For the final time Jesus calls on Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:13). And with it He despatches Satan from Him. Satan had promised Him authority. Now He called on His own authority. He had been strengthened, not weakened, by His temptations. Satan must now leave at His command. Note His final exposure of ‘Satan’ as being the source of all His trouble. He was an ‘Adversary’ (satanas) indeed.
As Matthew has made clear, Jesus had come into the world as one born to be King. His birth had been signalled by creation, and His kingship proclaimed by the readers of the heavenly bodies (the Magi), and the angels. His destiny was sure. But it had to be achieved in God’s way, and that was not the way that Satan had in mind.
And Jesus pointed out that to the one who knows God, God must be everything. He alone must be the object of their worship and their homage. All else must take second place. And that meant hearing His voice and doing His will, and not turning to expediency, or listening to other voices than His. He must be all in all. Jesus would yet receive His kingship. In a sense He was already ‘born King of the Jews’. But it must only be in God’s way and in God’s time. There could be no short cuts.
‘Get you out from here Satan.’ This must indicate the end of the temptations. Having sought to overcome Him Satan finds himself defeated and has to submit to His will. This serves to confirm that this was the final temptation. It explains why Luke drops this sentence. He does so when he alters the order of the temptations, in order to place emphasis on the Temple.
‘Then the devil leaves him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.’
And then in obedience to Jesus’ dismissal Satan left him (for a while) and angels came and ministered to Him. How they ministered we are not told. Perhaps the imperfect tense ‘were ministering’ informs us that their ministry had been withdrawn for a while so that Jesus had had to face Satan alone (something we never have to do), but that now they had returned again to provide their continual assistance. But they clearly now provided what was necessary for Him to recover from His ordeal. Ironically this fulfilled the promises in Psalms 91:11. The promises did apply for those who were faithful to God. However, not as something to be tested out facetiously. We are reminded here also of how Elijah was similarly sustained by God in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:5-8). Whether this time in the case of Jesus it was also with food we are not told. But whatever it was His Father met Him at the point of His need, as He always does.
‘Now when he heard that John was delivered up (or ‘arrested’), he withdrew into Galilee, and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali.’
Note how this geographical description is later paralleled at the end of the passage by further detailed geographical description in the chiasmus. Both indicate that this is intended to be a historical description of an historical ministry.
Jesus’ ‘withdrawal’ on John’s arrest hints at His previous ministry alongside John in Judaea which the first three Gospels ignore, the reason being that it was of historical interest but not of theological interest. For it was not until John was arrested that Jesus felt free to strike out on His own on His greater ministry, so that it was then that the Messianic ministry began. It should be noted that ‘when He heard’ is a time note. Matthew is not actually saying that John’s imprisonment was the reason why He went into Galilee. After all Galilee was under the same ruler as the one who had imprisoned John. It may rather be that the imprisonment of John was seen by Him as releasing Him from responsibility in Judaea, and it may even be that Jesus wanted to indicate to Herod that He was not afraid.
There is on the other hand an interesting contrast here between Jesus bold entry into the wilderness to face Satan down (Matthew 4:1-11), and His possible strategic withdrawal into Galilee at the top north west end of the Sea of Galilee. It suggests that He knew that there is a time to be bold, and a time for discretion. Whichever way we take it the delivering up of John to prison was both a warning, and an indication that now His own unique ministry must begin in earnest, and He thus made His choice where He considered that it would be best for Him to commence His ministry, in the towns that bordered the Sea of Galilee. These were both populous and on the trade routes. It should be noted that the whole of Galilee was itself a heavily populated area, and that there were large numbers of Jews there, mingled with many Gentiles.
Thus He left his home in isolated Nazareth, for that was no centre from which to reach out to Galilee, (and as we know from both Mark and Luke He was basically unwelcome there), and took up His quarters in Capernaum. This was by the Sea of Galilee ‘in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali’, and being on the trade routes was more open and willing to receive new things. This description is given at least partly in order to prepare us for the verse that follows. Capernaum was in fact in Naphtali. But Zebulun bordered on Naphtali, and was included in His wider outreach. And Nazareth was in Zebulun.
a Now when He heard that John was delivered up, He withdrew into Galilee, and leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali (Matthew 4:12-13).
b That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying,’
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,
The people that sat in darkness saw a great light,
And to those who sat in the region and shadow of death,
To them did light spring up. (Matthew 4:14-16).
c From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, “Repent you, for the Kingly Rule of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
d And walking by the sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen (Matthew 4:19).
e And He says to them, “You come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him (Matthew 4:20).
d And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him’ (Matthew 4:21-22).
c And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the good news of the Kingly Rule, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people (Matthew 4:23).
b And the report about Him went forth into all Syria, and they brought to Him all who were sick, gripped with many various diseases and torments, possessed with demons, and epileptic, and palsied, and He healed them (Matthew 4:24).
a And there followed Him great crowds from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judaea and from beyond the Jordan (Matthew 4:25).
Note how in ‘a’ the sphere of His ministry is emphasised with geographical detail (partly preparing for the quotation from Isaiah), and in the parallel are described those who came to hear Him, with some geographical detail emphasising the wideness of His impact. In ‘b’ the promised light is declared to have come to those in darkness and the shadow of death, and in the parallel the arrival of this light is described in terms of the fulfilment of prophecies concerning the Coming One, He heals the sick and delivers captives from darkness (Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 49:9; Isaiah 45:13; Isaiah 49:25; Isaiah 61:1). It should be noted that we have now entered the special section where citations from Isaiah as a named prophet are central (Matthew 3:3; Matthew 4:14; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:17; Matthew 13:14). See introduction. In ‘c’ Jesus proclaims the nearness of the Kingly Rule of Heaven and in the parallel He teaches in their Synagogues and preaches the good news of the Kingly Rule. In ‘d’ and its parallel we have the calling of the two sets of brothers to follow Him, which they immediately do. In ‘e’ and centrally they have been called to be ‘fishers of men’. There is here an interesting parallel with a feature of Old Testament chiasmi, a phrase followed by a repetition of a similar phrase in the second part of a chiasmus, in this case slightly different, ‘And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him’, ‘And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him’.
‘That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying,’
Note again the emphasis that it is Isaiah’s prophecy that is being ‘filled to the full’. And similarly to Luke (in Luke 4:18) he wants us to recognise that here we have the anointed King as described by Isaiah, for in Isaiah ‘the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2) comes prior to ‘the child has been born and the son has been given’ (Isaiah 9:6) who was to rule from David’s throne for ever (Matthew 1:1; Matthew 1:18; Matthew 1:21; Matthew 1:23; Matthew 1:25; Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 11:1-4). And also that we have the anointed Prophet of Isaiah, as the One Who was to go about ‘preaching good news to the meek, and deliverance of captives’ -- ‘and of the afflicted’, -- with ‘the Spirit of the Lord on Him’ (Isaiah 61:1-2). For Jesus comes preaching the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, healing the sick and afflicted, and releasing the captives of evil spirits (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 4:23-24 compare Isaiah 61:1-2). It is seen as important that the Kingly Rule of Heaven be established by drawing men under God’s Rule.
Note the parallels with the ministry of John and yet the great differences. Both ministries are introduced by a quotation from Isaiah, but one comes as a herald and preparer of the way, the other as the shining light who arrives and lightens the darkness (Isaiah 9:2). It is He Who is the child Who is born, and the Son Who is given (Isaiah 9:6 - compare Matthew 1:18; Matthew 1:21; Matthew 1:25; Matthew 2:15; Matthew 3:17 - the implication can hardly be missed) as Matthew has already explained. Both seemingly proclaim the same message, ‘repent for the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2 with Matthew 4:17). And yet it is patently not the same message, for John has made clear that while he has introduced the shadow, Jesus is to reveal the sun, for while he has baptised in water, Jesus baptises in the Holy Spirit and fire. It is the same basic message, but it is one that is advancing and expanding. The one has pointed forward to the other.
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,
The people that sat in darkness saw a great light,
And to those who sat in the region and shadow of death,
To them did light spring up.
Matthew’s main emphasis in the use of this quotation is to indicate that Jesus has commenced His new ministry in the very place where God said it would take place, and then to bring out the wonder of that ministry. To Matthew it helps to explain why God has begun here. Originally the idea in Isaiah was that these were the furthest outposts of Palestine which were ever the first to be subjected to invading forces, and the point was that with the coming of the child who would be born to be king those fears would disappear, so that where there was darkness and death there would now be light.
Thus now that the Child has been born and the Son has been given, the people who have been in darkness, will now experience a great light, as Isaiah had said. Light and life will come to those who sit in darkness and death, and to such an extent that they too, having received that light, must themselves let it shine out to men (Matthew 5:16). Jesus’ ministry is to be a ministry of light (compare Matthew 5:45, ‘God causes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good’; Matthew 6:22, ‘if your eye is single your whole body will be full of light’; Matthew 17:2, ‘He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothing became white as light’; Matthew 24:17, ‘for as the lightning comes forth from the east, and is seen even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be’). For those who respond to Him are to become the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), a light revealed by the purity and goodness of their lives, which shines permanently because they are truly His (Matthew 25:4). It is thus in order to receive this light that men must open their eyes, for the alternative will be pitch darkness (Matthew 6:22-23). This makes clear that these words are very closely associated with the message in the Sermon on the Mount through which the light is revealed as shining. But note that those to whom He is speaking in the Sermon on the Mount are mainly those who have already received this light (although some of them may be responding hypocritically - Matthew 7:13-27). Their eyes have already been opened and they have become disciples.
‘Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan’ may be intended to suggest the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) and the borders of the Jordan, illustrating the width of Jesus’ ministry. Or Matthew’s idea may be to relate ‘the Sea’ to the Sea of Galilee. ‘Beyond Jordan’ can refer to both sides of the Jordan for it was a popular name for the land around the Jordan. But these place names and ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ are mainly cited because they were contained in the quotation, which is probably taken from a Hebrew text of Isaiah of a type predating the LXX. It is Naphtali and Zebulun that Matthew mainly draws attention to. On the other hand we may certainly gather from all this a further implication (compare Matthew 2:1-2) that the Gentiles are at some stage to be involved in the coming of the light, for as well as mentioning ‘Galilee of the nations’ (Isaiah 9:2) Isaiah had also pointed out that the Servant of the Lord would be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). And the very fact that He preaches in this very mixed region reveals the magnitude of His thinking. Nevertheless it will be made clear that there are lost sheep of the house of Israel out there (Matthew 10:6), and that they have the first claim on His attention, before He can reach out to the Gentiles (Matthew 15:24; Matthew 15:27).
His Light Having Shone On Them (4:16) His Disciples Are To Be The Light Of The World.
In Matthew 4:16 a great light was seen as having come into the world in Jesus Christ, and as having shone on Galilee, revealing God and Himself to the people. Now the disciples are to recognise that they have a similar function, to be a light to the world (note the oneness implied by the singular noun). And they must ensure that that light shines for one purpose only, to bring glory to God in Heaven. It is not accidental that Matthew spoke of the coming light, before describing Jesus’ teaching about them as the light of the world. We may reasonably assume from what Matthew said that Jesus had also prepared them for this by speaking in a similar way.
a You are the light of the world.
b A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
c Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel measure, but on the stand.
d And it shines to all who are in the house.
c Even so let your light shine before men,
b That they may see your good works,
a And glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Note that in ‘a’ they are the ‘light’ of the ‘world’, and in the parallel they ‘glorify’ their Father in ‘Heaven’. By their actions on earth they are to bring Heaven to earth. In ‘b’ they are like a city on a hill visible to all, and in the parallel their good works are to be visible to all (for the right reasons, not in the same way as the Pharisees). In ‘c’ men light a lamp, and in the parallel the disciples are to let their light shine before men. Centrally in ‘d’ it is to shine to all who are in the house.
But note also that there is the prime statement followed by the progression. They are the light of the world. They cannot therefore be hidden. Nor should any attempt be made to hide it. Rather it should be allowed to shine out. Then men will glorify God in Heaven. (The twofold pattern continues).
‘From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, “Repent you, for the Kingly Rule of heaven is at hand.” ’
From that time.’ That is from the time of John’s imprisonment, which provided Jesus with the opportunity and necessity of establishing His own ministry. What must have seemed a disaster for the true people of God was in fact to be the beginning of an even greater work of God, as so often happens in God’s planning.
Jesus’ preaching is deliberately given by Matthew in the same words as John’s. Matthew thus makes clear that Jesus has not supplanted John, but is carrying on where he had left off. For while we are not as much aware of it as they were in those days, we should recognise that John’s ministry had had a huge impact, affecting many people in Judaea, Peraea and Galilee (among them some of those who would now be Jesus’ disciples) and reaching out far into the Dispersion. Thus when the Gospel eventually did go out among the nations there would be many disciples of John who would gladly receive it (and, such is the perversity of human nature, some who would even consider John, in spite of what he himself had said, superior to Jesus).
But while the words are the same the content of their messages is in fact to be seen as very different, for John could only look to the future, while for Jesus it had become the present. In Him ‘the last days’ were here. And we can see quite clearly the way in which Jesus’ message expanded by considering His discourses, especially chapter 13. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, backs up His calls for awakening and repentance, and bases those calls on a new interpretation of the Law that John would never have dreamed of. The parables of the Kingly Rule of Heaven proclaim the Kingly Rule of Heaven in more depth, and greatly expand on the idea. What a contrast Jesus’ teaching and ministry is with John’s message. John spoke with the authority of the Old Testament prophets, and with the authority of his calling, but Jesus speaks on His own authority, an authority that is beyond that of the prophets. He alone can declare, ‘I say to you’. John proclaims the Kingly Rule of Heaven that is coming, without expanding the idea very much further, although we must recognise that in his preaching of the way of righteousness many entered into it (Matthew 21:31-32). Yet that Kingly Rule is still to him, as a prophet, something to come in the future, even though near at hand, for ‘he who is least in the Kingly Rule of Heaven is greater than he’ (Matthew 11:11), and this is true even though the tax-collectors and prostitutes under his ministryhaveentered it (Matthew 21:31-32, compare Matthew 23:13). But we may see it as probable that as a humble sinner responding to his own preaching, on the same terms as the tax-collectors, he was able to enter it without necessarily realising it, for after all the King was now present.
Jesus proclaims the Kingly Rule of Heaven and expands on it and explains it in great detail and reveals that it is now present. John does no miracle (John 10:41), for the Kingly Rule was not yet manifested. But once Jesus arrives in Galilee He is constantly doing miracles (seemingly He would not do so while John was preaching, out of deference to John). Thus it is revealed that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was now not just promised, but was definitely present in power! Consider Matthew 4:23-25; Matthew 11:4-5; and the expectancy that He would heal as ‘the Son of David’ (Matthew 9:27-31; Matthew 12:22-23; Matthew 20:29-34; Matthew 21:14-15).
‘Repent and believe the Good News.’ What Matthew is saying is that this was, as with John, the essence of His message. But it must be quite obvious to anyone who thinks at all that Jesus must have said much more than this at the time. He was not just a one verse preacher. Prior to the Sermon on the Mount He must clearly have had a considerable preaching ministry. He must therefore have said many things. But in essence, says Matthew, basic to His message (as with John) was that He was calling on men to repent, to turn to God from sin, to find forgiveness (this is the assumption from the requirement to repent, and is assumed in, for example, Matthew 6:12; Matthew 9:2) and to respond to the Kingly Rule of Heaven now present among them, (which they could not have done without forgiveness). What the fuller content was we must gather by reading on in Matthew’s Gospel. But it was sufficient to gain Him a good following of ‘disciples’, that is, of those who followed Him because they had responded to His words and in order to learn more.
‘And walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.’
Jesus knew, of course, where to look for the ones whom He was about to call for He knew that they were fishermen and lived in Capernaum, having originally come from Bethsaida (John 1:44). Thus He went walking by the sea where the boats of the Capernaum fishermen could be found. And there he found Peter and Andrew industriously casting their round throwing nets from the shore in order to try to catch some fish. (Matthew gives us none of the detail. He is only interested in the end in view, and in preparing for Jesus’ next words). In terms of their day Simon and Andrew would not have been seen as poor, but they were certainly not wealthy or politically influential. Thus they would class among ‘the poor’ spoken of by the Psalmists, the lowly and unimportant. Simon’s name was Hebrew, but Andrew’s was Greek, reflecting the mixed culture of Galilee. Both names had clearly been seen as equally natural to their parents.
‘The Sea of Galilee.’ A not very large fresh water lake, twenty one kilometres by eleven kilometres (thirteen miles by seven miles), which was in the Jordan rift valley about 700 feet below sea level and was fed by the Jordan, abounding in fish but subject to infamous sudden storms. All fishermen knew of friends who had perished in such storms.
Jesus Begins To Establish The Basis Of His New Community (4:18-22).
Jesus’ plan for the future now begins to unfold. He begins to call men to follow Him, men whom He can instruct and train, with the intention of them becoming ‘fishers of men’. He already has in mind His new community (His congregation of the new Israel - Matthew 16:18) The first ones that He called, as far as Matthew is concerned, were men whom He already knew, men who had served with Him while He Himself was supporting John the Baptiser, and who had come back to Galilee with Him earlier. (Philip may well, however, have also been with Him, as described in John 1:43).
The calling of these four symbolises the call of all His disciples. They are probably mentioned because of their importance, for Peter, James and John are regularly selected out for special experiences (Mark 5:17 - Jairus’ daughter; Matthew 17:1 - the Transfiguration, Matthew 26:17 - in Gethsemane). But we learn later that others are called on to follow Him in the same way, men such as Matthew (Matthew 9:9), an unknown disciple (Matthew 8:22) and (unsuccessfully) the young man (Matthew 19:21). We are probably to see these as examples of what must have included many others (compare Matthew 8:19; Luke 8:2; Luke 9:57-62).
We should note that Jesus method of seeking out the disciples who would become prominent, rather than waiting for them to approach Him, parallels Elijah’s call of Elisha. In the case of Elisha, Elijah sought him out and called him to follow him, and Elisha then did leave all and follow him, having first said goodbye to those at home, and having destroyed any temptation to return home (1 Kings 19:19-21). This copying of Elijah, but in more abundance, may suggest that He saw His disciples as intended to be the prophets of the new era.
‘And he says to them, “You come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” ’
So Jesus approached them and called them to leave everything and follow Him. Once they had done so, He promised, He would make them ‘fishers of men’. All knew what He meant. He was calling them to a long term commitment. They were to learn from Him and then become evangelists and teachers, themselves calling men to follow Him, and passing judgment on those who refused to do so (Matthew 10:14). By this He was making clear His own unique authority, and His right to call men to do His bidding without question. Only Someone very conscious of God’s authority would have felt able to behave in this way, for we note that the only reward was to be that they would be fishers of men, in His Name (Matthew 5:11).
The call for them to become fishers of men may be seen as connecting with Jeremiah 16:16, which were words spoken concerning ‘the last days’ (and therefore, to the Gospel writers, the days of Jesus). ‘Behold I will send for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they will fish them’. However, the words of Jeremiah primarily had judgment in mind, and while that would certainly be one of the responsibilities of the disciples (Matthew 10:14) it was only the darker side. For Jesus had now come with a more positive message as well. Before judgment must come the offer of salvation (Isaiah 61:2 a, compare its use by Jesus in Luke 4:19-20). In contrast to Jeremiah we have the prophecy in Ezekiel 47:10 where the outflowing of the river of life from the Temple results in many fish which will be fished by the Lord’s people who will spread their nets to take them. So the acceptable year of the Lord and of salvation is to precede the Day of vengeance (Luke 4:19). And as always when God is about to judge men, some are also to be won to righteousness by His judgments. Thus these Apostles will have a twofold ministry, being called to win men to righteousness, while also consigning those who refuse their words to judgment. Even while taking men alive for Christ, they would necessarily become the cause of judgment on those who refused (Matthew 10:14). For they are drenched not only with the Holy Spirit but with fire (Matthew 3:11).
We can also compare here the parable of the casting of the net in Matthew 13:47-50. That too has fishers of men in mind. But there those who cast the net are the angels at the end of the age. Nevertheless the same principles apply. The net catches both good and bad, and those caught are judged by how they have responded to the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. By this it is made clear that what the people of God will begin and continue, the angels will finalise.
‘And they immediately left the nets, and followed him.’
The response is seen to be brief and to the point. Theyimmediatelyleft their nets and followed Him. They needed no second bidding. From now on their lives would be dedicated to His service, and their nets would be left to others. Fishing nets would be of no use in the fishing of men. We are given no background of any other arrangements that were made for their departure. They mattered nothing to Matthew. What mattered was their instant response and obedience to the King, and their leaving of all to follow Him, a response required of all men. Nothing else was now to matter to them but to serve Jesus.
‘And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.’
With His two new disciples following him He then walked further along the shore and came to where two other brothers were sitting in their boats with their father mending their nets. And He called them in the same way. Their father was no doubt well aware of their enthusiasm for Jesus and His message, and he seemingly made no effort to stop them. He recognised the inevitable, and probably even rejoiced at heart, for they were seemingly a godly family, even if their mother was, like most mothers, ambitious for her sons (Matthew 20:20-21). They were indeed quite a prosperous family, for we learn elsewhere that they had hired servants to assist with the fishing (Mark 1:20).
It may be that the mention of their ‘mending their nets’ in this case (as with the ‘casting of nets’ of Simon and Andrew) is intended to be an indicator of their future work of caring for the people of God.
‘And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed him.’
Responding to the same voice of authority they left their boat and their father and followed Him. So whether it was nets, boats or family, all had to take second place to Jesus. Thus was revealed that there was a shout of a king among them (Numbers 23:21). It was recognised that here was One Who had the right to commandeer men’s lives. Other teachers gained a following from those who chose to follow them. It was only Jesus Who claimed the right to demand it of whom He would, demonstrating that He saw His position and ministry as unique. These men had already previously entered under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, but now they were brought to see that that commitment must be total.
‘And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the good news of the Kingly Rule, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people.’
In the chiasmus above this parallels His proclamation concerning the need to repent because of the presence of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. The Kingly Rule of Heaven is now being manifested in His teaching, in His preaching of the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and in His works of heavenly power which revealed that Kingly Rule as now present among them (compare also Matthew 9:35 and Matthew 11:4). He has come among them as the Spirit-filled Prophet promised by Isaiah 61:1-2, proclaiming the Good News to the poor, and releasing those who were captives and bound. By this means He is now building up a following of many disciples.
‘Their synagogues.’ That is, the synagogues of the people of Galilee (compare ‘their Scribes’ in Matthew 7:29). His ministry is at this stage concentrated on the Jews. Matthew is looking at the synagogues (and the Scribes) from the point of view of the people. They saw them as ‘ours’. Each synagogue was locally owned (and therefore would be very much seen by the people as ‘theirs’) and was watched over by a group of elders who would have appointed a ‘ruler of the synagogue’ to manage its affairs. It was a place where the people met on the Sabbath to pray and hear the Scriptures read. They could also meet there for prayer during the week. Any prominent visitor could be called on to preach on the Sabbath once the Law had been read, and at this stage Jesus was regularly offered the opportunity of doing so. The synagogue was also available for daily prayer and reading of the Scriptures, and Jewish children would be taught to read the Scriptures in the synagogue schools.
‘Preaching the Good News of the Kingly Rule.’ The reference to ‘Good News’ primarily has Isaiah 61:1-2 in mind (compare Luke 4:18). But see also Isaiah 41:27; Isaiah 52:7. The Good News of the Kingly Rule was that God was now at work among them by His Holy Spirit through the One Whom He had sent (Matthew 3:11), calling to repentance and forgiveness, and to a new way of life (Matthew 4:17; Isaiah 45:23). Forgiveness was an essential aspect of the expected Kingly Rule (Isaiah 1:16-18; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22, compare Mark 1:4), and it had to lead on to forgiving others (Matthew 6:12). They were therefore to respond with the faith typical of little children (Matthew 18:3-4), submitting to the authority of the One Whom God had sent, the One Who was their Lord and Who required their full obedience to His words (Matthew 7:21-27).
‘And healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people.’ This was a further evidence that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was now here and that the Coming One had arrived, the One Who would ‘take their infirmities and carry their sicknesses’ (Matthew 8:17; Matthew 11:4-6). He was present among them restoring those who were sick and diseased. As Matthew will point out later this was very much the activity of the Servant of the Lord (Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4) and of the Coming One (Matthew 11:4-5; Isaiah 35:5-6) as Jesus went among men taking their afflictions and diseases on Himself.
The continuity of Matthew’s Gospel comes out in the way that what regularly appears to close off a section, also becomes the opening to the next section. For Matthew 4:23-25 can be seen as not only closing off the previous section but also as opening up an inclusio. This commences with Matthew 4:23 ‘And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the good news of the Kingly Rule, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people’, and can be seen as closing with Matthew 9:35, ‘and Jesus went about all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the good news of the Kingly Rule, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness’.
In between those two parallel statements we find first an example of Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 5:3 to Matthew 7:12), summed up in proclamation concerning the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 7:13-27), which is then followed by examples of His healing of ‘all manner of disease and all manner of sickness’ (Matthew 8:2 to Matthew 9:34), put in the context of a quotation from Isaiah 53 (Matthew 8:17).
Furthermore within this section we have two halves. It opens up with the ‘great crowds’ (Matthew 4:25), who are deliberately left behind so that Jesus can speak to His disciples up in the mountain (Matthew 5:1). Some of the crowds meanwhile filter up into the mountain to hear what Jesus is saying, which helps to explain the severity of Jesus ending to His words (Matthew 7:13-27), of whom there are so many that they can be spoken of as ‘crowds’ (Matthew 7:28), but not ‘great crowds’ (Matthew 8:1). Then He comes down from the mountain and is once again involved with the ‘great crowds’ (Matthew 8:1). with which He continues to be involved (Matthew 8:18), until this time He escapes across the sea (Matthew 8:18; Matthew 8:23; Matthew 8:28).
The Setting of the Sermon on The Mount.
‘And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the good news of the Kingly Rule, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people. And the report of him went forth into all Syria, and they brought unto him all who were sick, bound with many kinds of diseases and afflictions, possessed with devils, and epileptic, and palsied, and he healed them.’
25 ‘And there followed him great crowds from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judaea and from beyond Jordan, and seeing the crowds, he went up into the mountain, and when he had sat down, his disciples came to him.’
In these words we have a summary of Jesus preaching, which is partly repeated in Matthew 9:35, which draws attention to its overall nature, and to the great crowds that He attracted (for commentary on these words seepart 1 ). This work clearly went on for some time, until at length Jesus recognised that it was time for Him to get those who had become committed alone so that He could give them deeper teaching, and show them what would be required of disciples. But even here He was circumvented by some of the crowds arriving to listen in on what He was saying.
‘And the report about him went forth into all Syria, and they brought to him all who were sick, gripped with many various diseases and torments, possessed with demons, and epileptic, and palsied, and he healed them.’
In the chiasmus this parallels the shining forth of the great light. The mention of Syria might be seen as suggesting that the news of Him spread among the Jews throughout the whole Roman province of Syria, which included all Palestine apart from Galilee, or alternately it may indicate that it went beyond the borders of Galilee into the district of Syria to the north and north west. The former seems more likely in view of the fact that it stands by itself, and presumably therefore covers most of the areas in Matthew 4:25. And the crowds responded to Him in faith and trust, bringing their sick and afflicted, and He healed them there. Light had come out of darkness. The Messianic age, when all would be put right, was beginning. The sick were being cured. Diseases and afflictions were being removed. Those possessed by demons were being liberated. The mentally ill and paralysed were being restored. All were being made whole. All these afflictions were seen as being the result of sin, and here was the One Who had come to bear their sins (Matthew 8:17; Matthew 1:21). Thus this now suggested that the One Who would finally deal with sin was here. For that was why His name was Jesus. It was because He would save His people from their sins.
‘And there followed him great crowds from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judaea and from beyond the Jordan.’
And soon great crowds had gathered coming from far afield. They came from all over Galilee, from Decapolis, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and from Jerusalem and Judaea to the south. They flocked from every quarter. There were huge crowds wherever He went, so much so that it was difficult for Him to give special teaching to His new disciples. The idea of ‘great crowds’ is repeated in Matthew 8:1; Matthew 8:18.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany