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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 4

People's New TestamentPeople's NT

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SUMMARY.--Jesus in the Wilderness. The Tempter. The Temptation to Convert Stones into Bread. The Temptation to Cast Himself from the Temple. The Offer of Worldly Power and Glory. Ministering Angels. The Galilean Ministry. Disciples Called. Preaching and Healing. The Fame of Christ.

Verse 1

Then was Jesus led of the Spirit. Mark says he was driven by the Spirit, a phrase that indicates a sudden and forcible impulsion.

Into the wilderness. Tradition has placed the scene of Christ's temptation in that part of the wilderness of Judea which lies between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, and particularly in the mountain called Quarantania, from this forty days' fast.

To be tempted. Christ must be tempted-- 1. Because it was impossible that one who came to overthrow the kingdom of Satan should not be attacked by the great adversary at the very threshold. 2. It was to test him. 3. It was to prepare him, by being tempted like as we are, and yet gaining the victory, to "succor them that are tempted." 4. It was to set an example for us when we are tempted. The three great temptations mentioned by Matthew are the three great classes of temptations to which men are now exposed.

Of the devil. Here the existence and personality of Satan are placed before us in the most distinct language. The devil is, (1) A person (Eph 2:2; Eph 6:12; Heb 2:14; Jude 6); (2) A fallen angel (Joh 8:44; 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6). The word devil means false accuser.

Verse 2

When he had fasted forty days and forty nights. Moses and Elijah each fasted for the same length of time. It was a period of spiritual exaltation, of meditation and prayer, of preparation for his work, and it is hardly probable that he felt the need of food.

He was afterward an hungered. At the close of this period nature began to assert her demands, and hunger was keenly felt.

Verse 3

The tempter came to him. The devil. He chose his time craftily, as he always does when he assails man. Whether he came in a personal form or as the whisper of the evil spirit is uncertain.

If the Son of God. "If" suggests a doubt, and, perhaps, a taunt. It is a cunning appeal to Christ to work a miracle to satisfy his hunger and to display his power. It would seem an innocent thing for Christ to make bread when he was hungry, for himself, as he afterwards did for the five thousand. Why not? Because if he had availed himself of his Divine power to escape the discomforts and sufferings of humanity he would have failed to suffer as we do, to set us an example in all things, to be tempted in all points as we are; and besides, he "came to minister," never to use his Divine power for their own benefit. To have so exerted it for selfish and vainglorious purposes would have been sinful, and a distrust of God. Christ came to save others, not himself. Self-denial was the law of his mission.

Verse 4

It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone. The Lord uses the sword of the Spirit in his reply. The word quoted, found in Deu 8:3, should be used in its connection, in order to comprehend its force.

But by every word, etc. The meaning is: If it pleases God to sustain by other means than bread, it will be done. His word can be trusted. God fed Israel with manna, sent by his word, and we can trust his promises.

Verse 5

Then the devil taketh him into the holy city. What way the devil took him, whether bodily or in spirit, we are not told.

On a pinnacle of the temple. The only portion of the temple that seems to answer to the context was the lofty porch overhanging the valley of Kedron. Josephus says that from the roof to the valley below at this point was 300 feet.

Verse 6

If thou be the Son of God cast thyself down. Again the doubt is implied and the taunt uttered. Jesus had expressed his trust in the word of God. The devil now asks him to go from the extreme of distrust to that of rashly tempting God. It was, perhaps, the demand so often repeated and always refused, "to show a sign from heaven," to make a display of his power to secure popular applause. Perhaps the evil spirit whispered to him to perform one stupendous miracle in Jerusalem, in the presence of all people, and to secure such fame that he would reach the throne without treading the thorny way of the cross. To have done so would have robbed the world of its Savior. "It behooved him to die, and to rise again."

He shall give his angels charge concerning thee. The enemy, like a false adviser, quotes from Psa 91:11 to justify his request, but he garbled the Scripture, leaving out "to keep thee in all thy ways," which follows the first clause. The promise is limited to those who walk in the way appointed to them.

Verse 7

Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again the Savior replies in the words of Scripture, this time quoting from Deu 6:16. There is no argument, but a simple reply that shows what is asked is forbidden.

Verse 8

Taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain. From some lofty center he spreads before Jesus a panorama of the kingdoms of this world with all their glory. We are not to suppose that all the kingdoms were literally visible, but they are portrayed in such a way as to be present to the mental eyes.

Verse 9

All these things will I give thee. All disguise is laid aside. Satan claims to be the Prince of the world and the disposer of human kingdoms. Jesus came to be a King, but the pathway to the crown is weary, painful, beset with thorns and blood. Satan proposes an easier way. He will rally the Jewish nation around him, set him on the throne of David, make him the Messiah King of the world, if he will only consent to give up his idea of a spiritual kingdom, "not of this world," and worship the god of this world by conforming his kingdom to the worldly ideas of Israel. The temptation is to turn away from the path of self-denial, the cross and the tomb, and to establish an outward, worldly domain.

Verse 10

Get thee hence, Satan. As the tempter was revealed Jesus rebukes him. The word, "Get thee hence," "begone," expresses abhorrence. The adversary is called by name and bidden to depart. Then his reason is added, in the words of Scripture, found in Deu 6:13.

Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. This passage forbids every kind of religious adoration to any other object than Jehovah, whether it be idols, false gods, popes, Virgin Mary, saints, or angels. The three temptations had been met, three times the tempter had been baffled, three times the victory had been won. The first assault had been made through the door of appetite, "the lust of the flesh;" the second through vain glory, "the lust of the eyes;" the third through ambition, "the pride of life." All had appealed to Jesus to turn away from the pathway of self-denial and suffering marked out for him. All had been met by the shield of faith, and the tempter beaten back by the word of the Spirit.

Verse 11

Then the devil leaveth him. Luke adds, "for a season." When the devil is resisted he always flees.

Angels came and ministered to him. When he fought off the tempter, after the victory was won, angels came to minister to him. I suppose this ministry was to supply him with food, but they also would afford spiritual sympathy.

Verse 12

Now when he heard that John was delivered up. A long period lapses between the temptation and the next event recorded. Matthew does not try to follow the order of events, and he now passes over more than a year. This year had been actively employed. The intervening events are, (1) the return of Jesus from the wilderness to Bethabara, where the first disciples are called (John 1:15-37); (2) the return to Galilee and the miracle at Cana (Joh 2:1-11); (3) the first passover of the Lord's ministry in Jerusalem and the temple cleansed (Joh 2:14-25); (4) interview with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21); (5) ministry in Judea (Joh 4:3); (6) leaves for Galilee, passes through Samaria, conversation at Sychar (John 4:4-42); (7) heals nobleman's son (Joh 4:46-54); (8) a period of retirement in Galilee, John imprisoned (Mat 4:12); (9) attends feast in Jerusalem, miracle at pool of Bethesda (John 5); (10) returns to Galilee, April A. D. 28. We thus see that an interval of more than a year elapsed between the temptation and the imprisonment of John. John was thrown into prison because he rebuked Herod (Mat 14:4; Mar 6:17).

Withdrew into Galilee. From prudence (Joh 4:1). Christ had been teaching in Judea (Joh 4:2).

Verse 13

Leaving Nazareth. Because rejected there (Luk 4:16-30).

Dwelt in Capernaum. At that time a city of 30,000 inhabitants on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was one of the chief cities of Galilee, had a synagogue, a Roman garrison, and a customs station, with Matthew as the tax gatherer. It has long since disappeared. It was called "Christ's own city" because he made it an earthly home. It was on the border between the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali.

Verse 14

That it might be fulfilled. Matthew's way of saying: "Thus was fulfilled." The passage quoted is found in Isa 9:1-2.

Verse 15

By the way of the sea. The Sea of Galilee is meant.

Verse 16

The people. Those of the region just described.

Sitting in darkness. In religious ignorance.

Saw great light. Christ, the Light of the world. In the teaching of Jesus in the region described by the prophet there was a remarkable fulfillment of the prediction.

Verse 17

From that time. Probably from the time of the settlement of Jesus in Capernaum.

Jesus began to preach. This is the beginning of the Galilean ministry.

And to say, Repent, etc. The message that Jesus now preaches is identical with that of John the Baptist. See Mat 3:2. He commands repentance, and declares the kingdom of heaven is at hand, not yet come, but near. All is still preparatory. Jesus had not yet declared himself as the Messiah.

Verse 18

Walking by the sea of Galilee. So named from the province of Galilee on its western side. It is about thirteen miles long and six miles wide in the widest place. The Jordan runs through it. On its borders Jesus lived, taught, and did most of his miracles.

Saw two brethren. These two brethren, Peter and Andrew, were already disciples (Joh 1:35). Simon was the name of the first until Christ changed it to Cephas, or Peter. Their home was at Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee (Joh 1:44). They had been John's disciples, but he directed them to Jesus.

They were fishers. A humble, but honorable, occupation.

Verse 19

Follow me. Already disciples, they were now called to preparation for apostleship.

Verse 20

Straightway left their nets. They obeyed at once. Thus Christ ought always to be obeyed. No excuses for delay were offered, or should ever be.

Verse 21

Saw other two brethren. James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were fishermen also, are supposed to have been cousins of Jesus, probably were already disciples (Joh 1:29-42), but were now called to preparation for their great work.

In a ship. A small fishing vessel. The Revision says, "boat," which gives the idea.

Verse 22

They left their father. At once. They had received a higher call. No earthly preference can excuse a rejection of the call of Christ.

Verse 23

Jesus went about all Galilee. In the next three verses are condensed the labors and teaching of a long period, of which a detailed account is given in the following chapters.

Teaching in their synagogues. The synagogues, the Jewish houses of worship, where the Jews met every Sabbath, furnished Jesus a congregation and a suitable place for teaching. It was customary to read the Old Testament in course, and after the reading, a teacher or a rabbi, was usually called on to speak. The custom gave Jesus, and his apostles after him, a fine opportunity to declare the New Covenant.

THE SYNAGOGUE is so often named in the New Testament that one ought to clearly understand its character. It corresponded to the Christian congregation. Wherever ten Jews were found it was their duty to form a synagogue. It had its elders, of whom the president was called the "ruler" of the synagogue. The ruler presided over the worship, and all the elders sat on raised seats. These were "the chief seats" that the Pharisees liked to sit in. There was a set lesson from the Scriptures for each Sabbath, for they were read in order. The reader was appointed by the ruler and might be any member. On one occasion we learn that Jesus was the reader. After the reading and prayers there was an opportunity for any Jewish theological teacher to speak. Of this opportunity Jesus, and later, Paul often availed themselves. The service of the synagogue in our times is, in many respects, similar to that of the time of Christ. The officers of the synagogue had the power of scourging, of suspending, or of excommunicating (casting out) offenders.

Preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Gospel means "good news." He announced the good news of the speedy advent of the long expected kingdom of the Messiah. He did not, however, at this time proclaim himself to be the Messiah.

Healing every sickness. He sympathized with all human affliction and healed the body in order that he might heal the soul.

Verse 24

His fame went through all Syria. The great Roman province north and east of Palestine, and, at the time of our Savior, including the latter. The cities of Damascus and Antioch were in the province.

Possessed with devils. The word demon is the correct translation, and means an evil spirit. Persons were actually subject to the control of demons. Of this there is the following proof: (1) Supernatural strength (Mar 5:4). (2) Mind is not the source of blindness (Mat 12:22). (3) Insanity cannot divine (Act 16:17). (4) Demons knew Jesus (Mar 1:24). (5) Jesus addresses the demons (Mat 8:32). (6) Demoniacs confess this control (Mar 5:9). (7) Apostles assert it (Luk 10:17). (8) Jesus admitted it (Mat 12:28). (9) Peter assures use of it (Act 10:38).

Lunatics. Epileptics in the Revision.

Verse 25

Great multitudes from Galilee. The fame of his teaching and miracles caused great multitudes to gather from all Palestine.

Decapolis. A district containing ten cities east of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee. Notice, in the ministry of Jesus, (1) He was active; (2) He went where people were; (3) He went where the busiest people were--fisherman, those at work, Simon and Andrew--those preparing to work, James and John; (4) He went where worshiping people were; (5) He went where needy people were.

Bibliographical Information
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on Matthew 4". "People's New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pnt/matthew-4.html. 1891.
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