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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Matthew 4

Verse 1

4:1 Led up of the spirit denotes that Jesus was divinely instructed to go into the wilderness (same place as chapter 3:1) and submit to the test. Tempted is from PEIRAZO and has various shades of meaning in the New Testament. I shall copy most of the italicized words in Thayer's definition which constitutes his direct description of the word: "To try, i. e. 1. to try whether a thing can be done; to attempt, endeavor. 2. to try, make trial of, test. To solicit to sin, to tempt. To inflict evils [afflictions] upon one in order to prove his character and steadfastness of his faith." The context must be considered in each case to determine which part of the definition applies. The word devil is from two originals in the Greek New Testament which are DAIMONION and DIA-BOLOS. Thayer defines the first, "1. the divine Power, deity, divinity. 2. a spirit, a being inferior to God, superior to men . . . evil spirits as the messengers and ministers of the Devil." (It is the word frequently thought of for demons.) The second word is defined, "prone to slander, slanderous, accusing falsely . . . false accuser, slanderer . . . In the Bible and in ecclesiastical writings THE DIABOLOS is applied to Satan." The rule is that when the plural word "devils" is used it comes from the first word above, and if singular, "the devil," it is from the second word and means Satan.

Verse 2

4:2 A man would not have to go forty days without food to become hungry in the ordinary sense or degree. The meaning is that by the end of that period the pangs of hunger became severe.

Verse 3

4:3 Tempter is from the same word as "tempted" in verse 1, and the person doing the tempting is the devil also defined in that verse. The devil knew that the great issue at stake was the divinity of Christ, hence the suggestion he made was a challenge for Him to prove his claim. There is no doubt with us (and neither was there with the devil) as to Christ's ability to do the thing suggested. But Christ never used his miraculous power or divine character in his own behalf. He was here to set an example for his followers who were to be taught the lesson of self-denial. It would have been inconsistent to ask his disciples to resist temptation when they had only their natural powers for support, while He overcame his trials by falling back on his divine power. Another thing that would have made it wrong for Christ to turn the stones into bread is that it would have been an act proposed by the devil. It is wrong to have any fellowship with Satan in any act, even though it might be right in itself.

Verse 4

4:4 In quoting the statement that is in Deu 8:3, Jesus showed his respect for the inspired word of God and set a worthy example for others. He ignored the challenging phase of the preceding verse and based his reply on the principle that physical satisfaction is not the only thing that should interest a person in this life. One might be abundantly supplied and contented physically and yet lack the more important food which is for the inner man and is found in the words of God.

Verse 5

4:5 Thayer's definition for the original of taketh is, "1. to take to, to take with one's self, to join to one's self." The word does not mean that Jesus was carried against his will to the place, but that He accompanied the devil as a further step in the procedure of the test to which he was being put. The word pinnacle is a subject of some uncertainty in the several works of reference that I have consulted as to what part of the temple is meant. It is evident that a specific place is meant for the Greek definite article is used in the original text, making it read "the pinnacle" instead of "a pinnacle." But regardless of all these considerations the point is that it was a place high enough to have caused death to one who would fall from it.

Verse 6

4:6 Much importance has been attached by commentators to the devil's omission of the words "in all thy ways" from his citation to Psa 91:11-12. The word ways is from DEREK which Strong defines, "a course of life or mode of action," regardless of whether that course is right or wrong. The context must determine in each case whether it is the one or the other. To say that casting himself down would have been wrong is to assume the very point in question. Had it been right for him to perform such a stunt as the devil suggested, then the passage which he cited would have given the assurance of divine protection according to the passage in Psalms.

Verse 7

4:7 The word for tempt is similar to the one in verse 1 but is a stronger word and is defined by Thayer, "To prove , test, thoroughly tempt." Jesus quoted Deu 6:16 and thus it will be well to look at that passage and consider the connection. It says not to tempt God as they tempted him in Massah. That refers to Exo 17:2; Exo 17:7 where the people complained because of their thirst and questioned if the Lord was among them. It was trying (one meaning of tempt) on the patience of God to hear such attacks upon His power and goodness. That justifies the comment of Thayer in his definition of the word when he says, "by irreligion and immorality to test the patience or avenging power of Christ." God's long-suffering is infinite for people who sincerely rely on Him for help, even to the last degree of indulgence for their unusual requests. But He will not suffer being approached in the spirit of challenge just to see if He can and is willing to gratify their disrespectful curiosity.

Verse 8

4:8 If the reader will examine the various definitions of kingdom given in chapter 3:2, he will learn that the word sometimes means the territory ruled by a king; in other words, it is something that can be seen with the fleshly eye. However•, the rulership of such realms would necessarily involve much glory, so the devil called the attention of Jesus to that feature. A miracle or supernatural performance had to be done in order• to make such a display before the eyes of Jesus, but that does not present any difficulty for the Bible has numerous instances that show he has been suffered to use such power when it suited the Lord's plan to have it so.

Verse 9

4:9 In the corresponding passage in Luk 4:6 the devil makes a stronger claim than is recorded here. He says that he possesses the "glory" of all these realms of the world and Jesus does not deny it; the following passages will also bear out his claim. (Joh 14:30; Joh 16:11; Eph 2:2.) In this verse the devil promises to give up his control of the glory existing in the kingdoms of the world and turn it over to Jesus. The only condition he requires is that Jesus fall down and worship him. See the note in comments on chapter• 2:2 for• the meaning of worship. Regardless of what phase of that word the devil had in mind, to have complied with the proposition would have been sin and that would have for ever disqualified Him from being a perfect sacrifice.

Verse 10

4:10 The word satin is spelled the same in both Greek and English and the definition in Thayer's lexicon (the part written in italics) is the single word "adversary" when used as a proper name, and "a Satan-like man" when used figuratively. Jesus used it as a proper name in this verse and thus identified him with "the devil" in this account of the temptation. Get thee hence means for him to leave which he will do in the next verse. Worship is from PROSKUNEO and serve is from LATREUO, and both of them are found in the long note on the word "worship" at chapter 2:2.

Verse 11

4:11 Luk 4:13 adds the words "for a season" to the statement here that "the devil leaveth him." This is significant and adds force to the statements in Heb 2:17-18; Heb 4:15 which indicate that Jesus was subject to temptation all through his life on earth. These temptations came whenever the devil or his servants had an occasion to try their hand. For the present the devil has gone the limit of his resources, for 1Jn 2:16 says that "all that is in the world" is the "lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life." He used these three with Eve and won over her•. He used them in the temptation of Christ in the wilderness and was defeated. The item of bread was an appeal to the lust of the flesh; the display of the kingdoms of the world appealed to the lust of the eyes, and the idea of casting himself from the pinnacle appealed to the pride of life in that it would only be pride that would prompt a person to perform some sensational exploit. Having been defeated in this encounter with Jesus, the devil quit the scene to await another opportunity.

Verse 12

4:12 The account of John's im-prisonment is in the 14th chapter•, being inserted there to explain a remark that was made by the Herod who was reigning then. We are not told in this place why Jesus departed from Galilee, but the purpose is indicated in Joh 4:43-45. When Jesus had heard. Jesus did not have to obtain information about the activities of men by the ordinary means of hearing (Joh 2:23-25), so the phrase is used merely to state the occasion on which he left Judea. It means as if it said "upon the report." etc., Jesus left Judea and went to Galilee. The word hear is from AKOUO and has various shades of meaning which must be understood in each passage according to the connection. The word is so im-portant that I believe it will be well to give a quotation from Thayer's lexicon on the definitions of the word. I shall quote the parts in italics since that is his direct definition, while the words in regular type are his own comments and explanation of the definitions. I urge the reader to make note of it and be prepared to consult it as occasion suggests. "To be endowed with the faculty of hearing. To attend to; consider. To understand, perceive the sense of what is said. To get by hearing, learn. A thing comes to one's ears, to find out (by hearing), learn (hear of); to learn. To comprehend, understand. To perceive any one's voice. To give ear to one, listen, hearken. To yield to, hear to one; to listen to, have regard to. To perceive the distinct words of a voice. To yield obedience to a voice."

Verse 13

4:13 Nazareth was a town in Galilee where the parents of Jesus lived after coming back from Egypt. Now he moves his residence to another town in the same province called Capernaum. From now on when mention is made of "his own city" it will mean this place, while the term "his own country" will still mean the vicinity of Nazareth.

Verse 14

4:14 That it might be fulfilled does not always mean that a certain thing was done just so a particular prophecy might be fulfilled, although it will sometimes mean that. In every such passage it will be well to consider it in the light of saying, "and in so doing the prophecy was fulfilled which," etc.

Verse 15

4:15 The prophecy of Isa 9:1-2 is quoted which was fulfilled when Jesus took up his residence in the city of Capernaum. Sometimes more than one place would have the same name, hence the inspired writers gave several marks of identity by which the correct one would be known.

Verse 16

4:16 Heathen darkness had brooded over the communities around Capernaum, but the presence and teaching of Jesus penetrated that gloom and gave the people the benefit of spiritual light which fulfilled an important prophecy of the scriptures.

Verse 17

4:17 From that time denotes that Jesus began his public teaching after his baptism and not before. Likewise, men are not regarded as the Lord's workers today until they have been baptized. It indicates also that they are expected to begin working for Him as soon as they are baptized. In most respects the preaching of Jesus was like that of John in that its main subject was to require men to repent in view of the nearness of the king dom of heaven. Each of them taught that the kingdom was at hand which would mean that it did not exist in fact in their lifetime. Moreover, it also shows that it was soon to appear which disproves the teaching of the present day by some that the kingdom is still in the future.

Verse 18

4:18 According to Joh 1:35-42 these two brothers were disciples of John. They had not ceased their regular occupation since there was nothing wrong about It and the command of John that his disciples repent would not interfere with their business. They were fishermen by occupation and were in the act of casting a net into the water when Jesus came by. That was the principal means of fishing in those days; the other was with a hook (Mat 17:27).

Verse 19

4:19 We note that the Lord did not say anything to these men as to their personal conduct. They had already been converted by John and hence nothing was wanting along that line. John's work was to "prepare the way of the Lord" by persuading men and women to repent and be baptized. That made it entirely proper for Jesus to call upon them to enter the work for which they had been prepared. Make you fishers of men. That was a psychological appeal to these men in view of their usual occupation. Jesus did not belittle or even criticize their business, but only promised to give them an improved-opportunity to work at the trade of fishing. He intended for them to have better bait (spiritual meat) and take more valuable fish, the souls of men.

Verse 20

4:20 In leaving their nets they gave up their secular occupation for the sake of following Christ. A similar but fuller statement will soon be made of two others whom Jesus will call.

Verse 21

4:21 Zebedee is referred to in the reference works simply as a Jew who was a fisherman by trade. The information that he was the father of the two apostles, James and John, will be useful in other places for distinguishing them from other men with the same names. These brothers were called by Jesus and no particulars are given as to why they were called.

Verse 22

4:22 This contains the fuller statement referred to in verse 20; the brothers left the ship and their father. This would not have been necessary if nothing but information were the object. It would be taken for granted that they could not follow Jesus without leaving their father as well as all other objects at home. The lesson is that love for earthly relatives should not be regarded above service for Christ.

Verse 23

4:23 The word synagogue occurs many times in the New Testament and I will give Thayer's definition of the original Greek: "In the N. T. 1. an assembly of men. 2. a synagogue, i. e. a. an assembly of Jews formally gathered together to offer prayer and listen to the reading and exposition of the Holy Scriptures. b. the building where those solemn assemblies are held." The first meaning of the word is virtually the same as a congregation and then it came to be applied to the building in which the people met. Thayer says the following historically on the subject: "Synagogues seem to date their origin from the Babylonian exile. In the time of Jesus and the apostles every town, not only in Palestine but also among the Gentiles, if it contained a considerable number of Jewish in-habibtants, had at least one synagogue, the larger towns several or even many. " The law of Moses made no provision for these buildings, yet there was nothing in its teaching that would prohibit them. The national worship was conducted at Jerusalem where the tabernacle and later the temple were located. Such services, which consisted in the animal sacrifices and burning of incense, also the service of the show-bread and burning of oil on the golden candlestick, must all be conducted at Jerusalem only. But other items of Jewish worship might be performed in any place available and hence these many synagogues that are mentioned throughout the New Testament. The word gospel is from EUAGGELION, and its universal definition in the lexicons is "glad tidings" or "good news." Any specific additional meaning to be attached to it must be obtained through the connection in which it is used. Hence in the present verse the words gospel of the kingdom simply means the good news that the kingdom is at hand. There is not much difference between sickness and disease. The first especially refers to the symptoms of nausea and the second to some bodily weakness. In taking care of all manner of ailments Jesus proved his superhuman power.

Verse 24

4:24 Syria embraced most of the country including Palestine and the region north and northeast of it. Such beneficial work as Jesus was doing would naturally be reported so that would cause him to become famous. The personal interest that people would have in such subjects as sickness and other afflictions would bring them forth to have Jesus relieve them. Possessed with devils will be explained in another place.

Verse 25

4:25 The preceding verse makes a general statement of the territory from which the afflicted people came; this specifies some parts of that vast area.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Matthew 4". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.