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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Matthew 4

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

CHAP. IV.

Christ fasteth, and is tempted. The angels minister unto him: he dwelleth in Capernaum, beginneth to preach, calleth Peter and Andrew, James and John, and healeth all the diseased.

Anno Domini 29.


Verse 1

Matthew 4:1. Then was Jesus led up, &c.— Then, that is to say, immediately after his baptism, was Jesus led, or borne by a strong impulse of the Spirit on his mind, (see Luke 4:14.) into the wilderness: which Mr. Maundrel is of opinion was the wilderness near Jordan; a miserable and horrid place, according to his account, consisting of high barren mountains; so that it looks as if nature had suffered some violent convulsions there. Our Lord probably was assaulted in the northern part of it, near the sea of Galilee; because he is said, Luke 4:1 to be returning, or going back to Nazareth, whence he came to be baptized. See Mark 1:9. Hither Christ retired to prepare himself for the discharge of his great office; and hence obtained so much the greater glory, that he conquered the devil in a wilderness, who subdued our first parents in paradise, where with joint strength they ought to have resisted him, and might easily have overcome him. Christ, the second Adam, was to remedy all the evils of the fall. The original word διαβολου signifies properly a slanderer, or a false accuser, and answers to the Hebrew Satan: it is found in the Scripture only in the singular number, and signifies that evil spirit who tempted our first parents; and who is represented in the sacred writings as the head of the rebellious angels, and the adversary of all good men. See 1 Thessalonians 3:5. 1 Peter 5:8. The existence of good and bad spirits, is the plain doctrine of Scripture; and we must be perfect Sadducees, to doubt or deny the being of either, upon the faith and credit of the divine word. It may be proper just to observe, than an ingenious writer has endeavoured to shew that this very remarkable transaction was not real, but visionary; grounding his arguments upon the many difficulties which occur to our understandings in the literal account of it. I conceive that by the same arguments it would be easy to prove almost any part of the sacred history to be visionary. There is no intimation of any thing of this sort in the sacred historians; the detail of facts is plain, and in their usual manner: it is positively said, that Jesus was led up, that he fasted, that he hungered, &c. &c. Nor does there appear any thing in the letter whereupon to ground the idea, that what is here related was not real. That the whole event was most wonderful and extraordinary, we readily allow; and may as readily allow, that from the very short narration we have of it, it is not possible for us to enter completely into the whole meaning and purport of it. But this should be no objection against our receiving and acknowledging the truth of the fact; which, the more miraculous it is, the more it requires the submission of our faith, and the humble adoration of our minds. See more on Matthew 4:8 and Farmer's Inquiry into the Temptation of Christ.


Verse 2

Matthew 4:2. And when he had fasted forty days So much greater was Jesus than Adam. Jesus, worn down by fasting and hunger, oppressed with want, and in a wild howling wilderness, overcame the devil; by whom Adam was overcome in full strength, and abounding with all things. It was usual for persons to prepare themselves for any sacred office by fasting, and prayers so intense, as to cause a neglect of common food. See Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23. The number forty is remarkably distinguished in Scripture: Moses and Elijah fasted forty days. See also Genesis 50:3. Jonah 3:4. Ezekiel 4:6. It is a very just remark of Dr. Whitby, that to institute, or pretend to keep a fast for forty days, in imitation of this example of our Lord, is to place morality in numbers, and introduce an endless heap of superstitious follies; for it is certain, that so great and so long abstinence is inconsistent with the frailty of our nature, and so can be no duty. Better is the note of Theophylact and others, that "we are then especially to expect temptations, when we are in straits and exigencies, from which we see no ordinary way of deliverance;" which was here the case with Christ.


Verse 3

Matthew 4:3. When the tempter came to him, he said, &c.— We may infer from Mark 1:13 that during the forty days which Jesus spent in the wilderness, he was exposed to several other temptations besides those mentioned here; and therefore Dr. Doddridge very well translates and paraphrases the passage thus; "Just at that time, when he was very hungry, and entirely unprovided with food, the tempter coming to him, in a visible form, putting on a human appearance (as one that desired to inquire farther into the evidence of his mission) said, if thou art the Son of God, &c." It is only in the original, If thou be Son of God, without any article; but it seems to be properlyinserted in our version, because the miracle which the devil required of Jesus, was not that he might shew himself to be a child of God, but the Son of God; that is to say, the Messiah. The Jews were persuaded that the Messiah was to be the Son of God; and they commonly applied to him the 7th verse of the 2nd Psalm, and the 14th verse of the 7th chapter of the 2nd book of Samuel. By comparing several passages in the New Testament, it appears, that in the language of the Jews, the words Messiah and Son of God were of the same import. See Matthew 26:63. Luke 17:37. John 1:41; John 1:44-45 and Matthew 16:16 compared with Mark 8:29. Luke 9:20. Christ was tempted in all things, Hebrews 4:15 and as the things which solicit us to sin may be referred to three kinds, pleasures, honours, and riches, (1 John 2:16.) Christ, being tempted by all these, came off victorious. When he refused to command the stones to become bread, he shewed his conquest over pleasure, or the animal appetite; when he cast not himself down from the temple, he shewed his triumph over vainglory; and in the third temptation, expressing his contempt of the goods of this world, he shewed that nothing in this life could conquer his piety and integrity. See Beausobre and Lenfant, and Wetstein. We may read the last words, Command these stones to become bread.


Verse 4

Matthew 4:4. But by every word, &c.— But by every thing which the mouth of God shall ordain. Prussian Testament. The original, to which our version is agreeable, is a Hebrew expression, taken from Deuteronomy 8:3. Whatever proceedeth out of the mouth, is the same as whatever God appoints or commands. Word is not in the Hebrew, but only in the LXX, whom the evangelist has here followed. Dr. Heylin is of opinion, that the diabolical temptation did not, perhaps could not begin, till after Jesus had fasted forty days; and then, when the first fervours in the new state he was entered upon were considerably abated; when his new abilities of body and mind were greatly exhausted by so long an abstinence; when nature languished, and hunger called for the needful repair of food; then the tempter found access to him. It should be observed, that in the style of Scripture, feeding, feasting, and fasting, are applicable to the mind as well as to the body. The mind has its hunger and thirst. It feeds and ruminates on thought; and when it fails of a due supply, it palls, and sickens, and starves for want of food. Now the forlorn wilderness was as barren of what could recreate the mind, as of what could feed the body. Here Jesus sojourned, in perpetual silence and solitude, with no entertainment of sense, no secular occupation, no external objects to employ the imagination. His fast there was total; total, I mean, as to the animal part, which, wasted with long want of necessary refreshment, at last pined with hunger; and this hunger would probably be attended with dejection of spirits, or other disorders, which debilitate the mind, and lay it open to temptation. It was then the tempter came to him, and said, if, &c. So the evangelist briefly relates the substance of this first temptation; which certainly was then displayed with all the colourings of reason; and which, by way of illustration, and only to shew what might be suggested on the occasion, may be thus represented: "If you really are the Son of God, and the voice you imagine to have heard from heaven be no delusion, assert your prerogative: do not let a Son of God starve; vindicate your sonship, and justify your Father's goodness, who has not given you the miraculous powers you think yourself endowed with for nothing. If these powers are to be used, when so reasonablyas now? Can any one want them more? Can any one deserve them better than you do? Consider what you owe to yourself and your Father's glory, if you be indeed his Son. His Spirit, as you deem, led you into this inhospitable wilderness;—for what?—To perish here?—and so to frustrate all the prophesies which you conceive yourself destined to accomplish, and deprive men of the salvation you undertake to earn for them?—For your own sake, for their sake, for the sake of your Father's glory, which is so highly interested in your preservation, hearken to the just calls of nature in you: speak but the word; bid these words become bread." Jesus answered, Man, &c. The quotation is very apposite: for it is taken from Deuteronomy, where Moses, recapitulating to the Jews the hardships and temptations with which they had been exercised in the desert, the more effectually to remind them of the great lesson that he was to inculcate, says, Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee [the original here is the same word, which, in other places, is rendered, to tempt thee,] to know what was in thine heart; whether thou wouldst keep his commandments, or no: and he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna [a food before unknown], that he might make thee know, that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord, &c.; that is to say, by whatever God appoints, or by whatever way he pleases. This answer, we see, was fully to the purpose, and so decisive as not to admit of a reply; yet the adversary, though baffled, did not desist, but renewed the attack with a second temptation: whereby it should seem, that he hoped to take advantage from the total resignation wherewith Jesus confided in the divine protection, so as to drive him into some excess. See Houbigant on Deuteronomy 8:3.


Verse 5

Matthew 4:5. Then the devil taketh him, &c.— The original word παραλαμβανει, signifies no more than to lead, to take along with one; as in the LXX. Numbers 22:41; Numbers 23:27-28. See Matthew 17:1. That it has no other sense in this place, and also in the eighth verse, is plain from Luke 4:5; Luke 4:9. By the holy city is meant Jerusalem, which is frequently so called. Instead of pinnacle, Dr. Doddridge very properly reads battlement; observing, that though pinnacle agrees very well with the etymology of the Greek word πτερυγιον : yet, according to its use among us, it leads the English reader to imagine, that he stood on the point of a spire. The truth is, that the roof of the temple was flat, and had a ballustrade round it, which in some parts was so exceeding high, that one could hardly bear to look down from it. See Deuteronomy 22:8 and Joseph. Antiq. l. 15. c. 11. Somewhere on the edge of this battlement, we may suppose, was the scene of this temptation. We must not imagine, that the devil took the Lord Jesus Christ, and disposed of him as he would; but only that our blessed Saviour, who yielded to be placed in the temptation, was pleased so far to do what the devil required of him. It is a common thing to say a person does a thing, when he orders or causes it to be done.


Verse 6

Matthew 4:6. If thou be the Son of God The Jews were undoubtedly right in thinking that the Messiah is spoken of by Daniel, Daniel 7:13-14. But they fell into a gross mistake, when, interpreting that passage literally, they believed the Messiah would actually come in the clouds of heaven, and wrest the kingdom from the Romans.

See Matthew 24:30. The Pharisees, however, had the destruction of the Romans and the miraculous erection of a temporal empire in view, when they required our Lord to shew them a sign from heaven; Matthew 16:1. And the people in general were so strongly impressed with the belief of it, that they overlooked all the proper proofs of Christ's mission, and rejected him, because he did not confirm it by that sign, John 7:27. Howbeit we know this man whence he is; but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is: "No man knoweth from what particular place he shall first come:" for the doctors thought that though the Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem, he was immediately to be conveyed thence, and concealed, till Elijah the Tishbite came from heaven, and prepared matters for his reception; after which he was to be manifested in a miraculous manner: and as they expected that the Messiah was to come in the clouds of heaven, they thought his first appearance was to be in the temple; grounding this opinion on Malachi 3:1. Psalms 110:2. Isaiah 2:3. Now the second temptation, considered in the light of this popular error, had considerable strength in it; for the tempter's meaning was, "Since thou art the Son of God, thou shouldst cast thyself down from this battlement into the courts below, where the numerous worshippers, seeing thee borne up by angels, will immediately acknowledge thee as the Messiah coming to them in the clouds of heaven: for it is written, he shall give his angels charge, &c." Had not this been the devil's meaning, there was not the least reason for carrying Jesus to Jerusalem, and setting him on the battlements of the temple. He might as well have bidden him cast himself down from any precipice in the wilderness, or from the turret of any neighbouring town; where the interposition of angels in his preservation, would have been as conspicuous a proof to himself of his Messiahship as in the holy city of Jerusalem. It may be objected indeed, that the text cited by no means promises a visible interposition of ministering spirits for the preservation of the Messiah, as this sense of the temptation seems to require. But the answer is, that there was nothing to hinder the father of lies from putting an artful gloss upon a text of Scripture in order to delude; as if he had said, "Since God hath promised that his angels shall bear good men up in their hands, and particularly the Messiah, he may therefore well expect the favour, if he be the Son of God, and especially when it is necessary for the erecting of his kingdom."—And farther, the tempter's argument would have the more weight, if, as is probable, he was now transformed into an angel of light, and feigned a willingness to assist Jesus in the undertaking. See Macknight, Sherlock on Prophesy, appendix, p. 304 and the notes on Psalms 91:11.


Verse 7

Matthew 4:7. It is written again Or also. So παλιν here elegantly signifies, in opposition to the quotation that the tempter had made, which was indeed very imperfect: but many, after St. Jerome, have observed, that Satan made his advantage of quoting Scripture imperfectly and by scraps. The cause of truth, and sometimes of common sense, has suffered a great deal by those who have followed his example. Jesus repels his attack by Scripture also; which, like that cited in his former answer, again relates to the children of Israel, exercised in circumstances not unlike his own, in the wilderness, when, murmuring and impatient for want of water, as they had been before for want of food, they tempted the Lord, saying, Is Jehovah among us, or not? See Exodus 17:7. They questioned his presence with them, and wanted proofs of it by a new miracle. To tempt, is to try; and the trial they would make argued their doubt and distrust. See the note on Deuteronomy 6:16. The perfect faith of Jesus excluded all diffidence, and therefore would not admit any act on his part whereby to put the divine goodness to the test, since he already had the fullest assurance of it, "I will not provoke God, either by acting otherwise than he has appointed, or by requiring proofs of his power and veracity, after such as are sufficient, and have already been given." See Heylin, and Wetstein.

But Dr. Campbell reads, Thou shalt not make trial of, instead of, Thou shalt not tempt. What we commonly mean, says he, by the word tempting, does not suit the sense of the Greek word in this passage. The English word means properly either to solicit to evil, or to provoke; whereas the import of the Greek verb in this and several other places is to assay, to try, to put to the proof. It is thus the word is used, Genesis 22:1 where God is said to have tempted Abraham, commanding him to offer up his son Isaac for a burnt-offering. God did not solicit the patriarch to evil, for, in this sense, as the apostle James tells us, chap. Matthew 1:13 he neither can be tempted, nor tempteth any man. But God tried Abraham, as the word ought manifestly to have been rendered, putting his faith and obedience to the proof. His ready compliance, so far from being evil, was an evidence of the highest faithand the sublimest virtue. And on the present occasion, it was God's love to his only Son and faithfulness in the performance of his promise, that the devil desired our Lord, by throwing himself headlong from a precipice, to make trial of.


Verse 8

Matthew 4:8. Again, the devil taketh him, &c.— The adversary, enraged, as it should seem, with his ill success in the two former attempts, casts off all disguise in this. He speaks no more of Son of God; but desperate, and thence impudent and audacious, he offers at once his whole stock of gaudy trumperies, all worldly power, dominion, and glory, and arrogantly sets the price at which they are to be purchased. Le Clerc is of the same opinion with the author referred to on Matthew 4:1 that what is here related, may more safely be conceived to have happened to Christ in a vision or dream, than really; but this, says Dr. Whitby, is a vain dream and a vision of his own brain; and that which robs us of all the practical improvement of our Lord's temptation. For, why should Christ have been led into a wilderness to have this dream or vision? Did he fast only in a vision forty days and forty nights? Or, why is it said, that he afterwards was hungry? Why is it said, that the devil spake to him, set him on a pinnacle, upon a high mountain, &c. &c.? and looks it not far more odd to give the devil power over the fancy of our Lord, to raise such imaginations in him, and suggest such dreams to him, than barely to give him that power over our Lord's body, which neither did nor could do him any hurt? I observe again, that as God caused Moses to see the whole land of promise from the top of Nebo, either by strengthening his eyes to see it thence, or else by representing it to him as it were in a large plan or map in all the valleys round about him; so might the devil, in the valleys round about that high mountain upon which Christ stood, make a large draught of the stately edifices, guards and attendants of kings, appearing in their splendour, visible to the eyes of Christ; which appearance could not be so well made to him, or advantageously seen, had he been in a plain. Wetstein is of opinion, that the devil might point out the kingdoms of the world to him in some such manner as this; "Turn thine eyes to the east, there is the kingdom of the Persians, to whom thy ancestors were subject, and the kingdom of Arabia, rich in gold, in frankincense and myrrh: Turn to the south, there is the kingdom of Egypt, where the descendants of the patriarchs suffered so long and severe a servitude: Turn to the west, there you see Tyre and the isles, abounding in merchandize and wealth; you see Rome, the queen and empress of the world: On the north, you see Syria, whose king Antiochus once profaned the temple, and brought such evils on the Jews; you see Galilee, whose fertility you know, and where you have hitherto lived in obscurity." Thus the devil pointed out to Jesus the kingdoms of the world, and their grandeur. Macknight, with several others, is of opinion, that this prospect was confined to the land of promise; and that the mountain of Nebo, whence Moses had a prospect of the whole land, was very probably that from which the devil shewed our blessed Saviour all the kingdoms of the world, that is, the whole of promise; for so the word is used, in the literal sense at least, of Romans 4:13. The land of promise, in its largest signification, reached from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, east and west, and from Egypt on the south to beyond Sidon north-wards, Deuteronomy 11:24. In Joshua's time, that extent of country contained thirty distinct principalities, besides the Philistines and Sidonians, as Spanheim observes; and even in our Lord's time it comprehended several kingdoms, some of which are mentioned Luke 3:1. All these the devil pointed out to Jesus in the temptation; taking particular notice of their glory; that is, their great and opulent cities, their rich fields, their hills covered with wood and cattle, their rivers rolling through fertile valleys, and washing the cities as they passed along; and promised to put him in possession of the whole instantly, if he would fall down and worship him. By confining this prospect to the land of promise the third temptation in Dr. Macknight's judgment had a peculiar force. The devil, that he might know whether Jesus was the Messiah, offered to give him all the kingdoms of the land to which the Messiah, as such, had a peculiar right; see Psalms 2:8; Psalms 72:8. He hoped thus to have enticed him to commit idolatry; thinking that, if he was not the Messiah, he would eagerly embrace this, as the speediest way of accomplishing his design.


Verse 9-10

Matthew 4:9-10. All these things will I give thee "If thou be the Son of God, take care to be esteemed as such; if the kingdom of the Jews be destined for thee, add to it other kingdoms: seize the present occasion, which is the most desirable; comply with the present terms which are the most easy: fall down, and pay me homage." He requires Jesus to pay him that honour which the satrapes or inferior kings were accustomed to pay to the king of the Persians, who was therefore called "the king of kings." The word υπαγε, get thee hence, plainly expresses the authority of Jesus over Satan, as well as his detestation of so vile a suggestion. See the note on Luke 4:6.


Verse 11

Matthew 4:11. Ministered unto him The Greek word διακονειν signifies to serve or wait upon in general, and so to wait at table. See chap. Matthew 8:15. Luke 17:8; Luke 17:37. As one celestial spirit might have been abundantly sufficient for the relief of our Lord's necessities, it is reasonable to suppose, that the appearance of a number of them upon this occasion was to do him the more illustrious honour, after this horrible combat with Satan, to which, for wise and good reasons, he was pleased to condescend. See Doddridge, and the Inferences.


Verse 12

Matthew 4:12. Now when Jesus had heard, &c.— John the Baptist was not imprisoned till after the temptation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Between these two events, there happened what is related in the three first chapters of St. John's Gospel. It is commonly supposed, that the ministry of John the Baptist lasted but about eighteen months at most, and that he was in prison a year after Christ's baptism. We will just transcribe out of St. John's Gospel, for the sake of connection, what is here omitted in the history of Christ. He went from Nazareth into Judaea, where he was baptized by John, Mark 1:9. From Judaea he returned into Galilee, John 1:43; John 2:1. He went again into Judaea, and there celebrated the passover at Jerusalem, John 2:13. He baptized in Judaea while John was baptizing at Enon, John 3:22. All this time John was at liberty, ib. Matthew 4:24.; but the Pharisees having conspired against Jesus, John 4:1-3 and Jesus hearing that John had been put into prison by Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, Mark 1:14 he went again into Galilee. See Beausobre and Lenfant. Instead of, he departed, in this verse, we may read, he retired.


Verse 13

Matthew 4:13. And leaving Nazareth Namely, when they had wholly rejected his word, and even attempted to kill him. See Luke 4:29 and for an explanation of the next verses, the note on Isaiah 9:1-2 and Mede's works, p. 101, 102. Christ chose Capernaum for the place of his residence, as being a large city, and where he was likely to bring numbers of people to the knowledge of his Gospel. See chap. Matthew 11:23. For an account of the lake of Gennesareth, and the fruitfulness of the neighbouring country, see Josephus, Jewish War, b. iii. c. 18.


Verse 14

Matthew 4:14. That it might be fulfilled which Whereby was fulfilled that which. Matthew 4:15. By the way of the sea, beyond Jordan] Situate on the Jordan, near the sea. Campbell. By the way of the sea is rather an indefinite and obscure expression. What is here called sea is properly not a sea, but a lake. It was customary with the Hebrews to denominate a large extent of water, though fresh water, and encompassed with land, by the name sea. It was on this sea, that Capernaum, and some other towns of note, were situated. Here also Peter and Andrew, James and John, before they were called to the apostleship, exercised the occupation of fishermen. The sea of Galilee and the sea of Tiberias are become in scripture-style so much like proper names, that it might look affected to change them for the lake of Galilee and the lake of Tiberias. Besides, where it can conveniently be done, these small differences in phraseology which diversify the styles of the evangelists in the original, ought to be preserved in the translation.


Verse 17

Matthew 4:17. From that time, &c.— Namely of his departure into Galilee. Jesus had already preached at Jerusalem and in other parts of Judaea: see John 4:3 and the note on Matthew 4:12. But St. Matthew, having omitted this part of the evangelical history, dates the beginning of Christ's ministry from his preaching in Galilee. John the Baptist gave notice that the coming of the Messiah was at hand: the Lord Jesus Christ declares that he is come; and orders his apostles to publish the same great truth to the world. See Beausobre and Lenfant. Though Christ, as legislator and Lord, could have commanded his subjects, yet he chose rather, by the milder methods of persuasion, to teach and instruct them. See Matthew 4:23 and on chap. Matthew 5:11-12. It is the peculiar business of Christ to establish the kingdom of heaven in the hearts of men. Yet he himself begins his preaching in thesame words with John the Baptist, because the repentance whichJohn taught, still was and ever will be the necessary preparation for that inward kingdom. But that phrase is not only used with regard to the individuals in whom this kingdom is to be established, but also with regard to the Christian church,—the whole body of believers. In the former sense, it is opposed to repentance; in the latter, to the Mosaic dispensation. See more in Heylin, p. 42


Verse 18

Matthew 4:18. And Jesus, walking, &c.— Respecting the calling of Peter, &c. see the notes on Mark 1. Instead of fishers, we may read, fishermen. It appears from John 1:35; John 1:51 that they had already acknowledged Jesus for the Messiah, upon the testimony of John the Baptist.


Verse 21-22

Matthew 4:21-22. Ship Bark, or boat.


Verse 23

Matthew 4:23. Synagogues This is a general word, which in its originalmeaning signifies both civil and ecclesiastical assemblies, and also the places where these assemblies were kept. Here, as also chap. Matthew 13:54 and almost all through the New Testament, it is taken for the places or buildings where the Jews met to pray, and to hear the interpretation of the law and the prophets; and this is a common acceptation of the word synagogue. It is manifest from Acts 15:21 that there had been of a long time synagogues in each city, and that the Jews were accustomed to meet therein every Sabbath-day. These synagogues had several heads and officers, who performed different functions: that of the scribes was to teach and instruct the congregation; but it is evident from Acts 13:15 that after the reading of the law and the prophets, the heads of the synagogue desired such learned and grave persons as happened to be there to make a discourse to the people; and by virtue of this custom it was, that the Lord Jesus Christ and St. Paul were allowed to preach in the synagogues: Acts 9:20; Acts 14:1. See Beausobre and Lenfant, and the authors referred to on chap. Matthew 3:7. Respecting the different diseases, possessions, &c. mentioned in this and the next verse, we shall have occasion to speak more particularly when we come to those miracles of our Lord, where they are distinctly described. The Gospel, that is to say, the glad tidings, or joyous message, is the proper name of our religion, and will be amply verified as such to all who cordially embrace it. See Heylin, and more on this subject in the Inferences.


Verse 24

Matthew 4:24. Torments, &c.— Pains; demoniacs, lunatics, and paralytics.


Verse 25

Matthew 4:25. From Decapolis A country of Palestine, so called because it contained ten cities; concerning the names of which the learned are not agreed. It bordered upon Syria, a province near Galilee, and extended on both sides of Jordan and the lake of Tiberias. It formerly belonged to the half tribe of Manasseh. See Joseph. Jewish War, b. iii. c. 16. and Pliny's Nat. Hist. l. v. c. 18. Instead of beyond, Campbell reads; from the banks of the Jordan.

Inferences.—To have just ideas of Christ's temptations, we must consider them in two lights. First, as they were permitted by God. Secondly, as they were executed by the tempter.

The reasons for which God permitted his Son to be tempted of the devil were such as these: 1. That he might become a faithful and merciful high-priest, one who can succour his people in time of need, and pity them when they happen to fall by temptation. The apostle assigns this reason expressly, Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:15. 2. That his example might be a complete pattern of all purity, virtue, and excellence: Jesus, like a wise and valiant general, underwent himself all the hardships attending his service, that we his soldiers might be animated to sustain them together with him. He has gone before us, not only in poverty and reproach, and contempt of sensual pleasure, but was given up to be tempted of the devil, that his people might not be dismayed by such dispensations of Providence, but be taught to expect them, especially after having had proofs of the divine love and manifestations of his presence: also that we might know both what sort of an enemy we have to encounter, and the kind of temptations that he will assault us with; particularly that there is no impiety or wickedness so gross, but he will tempt even the best of men to commit it.

Farther, it was designed to shew us, that the devil, though a strong enemy, may be overcome, and by what means; and to stir us up to constant watchfulness. Hence this conflict, though managed in the sight of God and the angels only, was in due time made public for the instruction of mankind. 3. That our Lord might with the greatest advantage begin and carry on his ministry, in the course of which he was to accomplish the salvation of men, it was necessary that he should first vanquish the strongest temptations of the old serpent, who had formerly brought ruin on mankind. His sustaining the temptations of the devil, therefore, when he entered on his ministry, teaches us, that no man is so rightly qualified to preach the Gospel, as he who by temptation has been fortified against luxury, ambition, pride, lust, covetousness, and such like passions, with which the devil overthrows the minds of the unstable.

On the other hand, the motives which induced the devil to undertake this temptation, might be, 1. His general desire of seducing men to sin: 2. Some particular end which he proposed to accomplish thereby. It is reasonable to believe, that God's gracious intention to save the world by his Son, was not intirely concealed from the evil spirits. If so, they might be led by the prophesies to conjecture, that this was the period fixed in the will of heaven for the advent of God's Son. That the devils are acquainted with the Scripture is evident from the citation which we find the tempter making out of the Psalms on this occasion. Besides, they might be confirmed in their opinion, by the general expectation of the Messiah, with which the east was now filled. If therefore they had any how received intelligence of the wonderful things which accompanied the birth of Christ; or, having been witnesses to the descent of the Spirit upon him at his baptism, some of them had heard the voice from heaven declaring him the Son of God; they could not but have a great curiosity to know whether he was really the grand personage so long expected by men.

The resolution of this point was undoubtedly of the greatest moment to them; because the part they were afterwards to act, in carrying on their own projects for destroying the human race, depended in a great measure upon it. Wherefore, all the time Jesus was in the wilderness, the chief of the evil spirits, as being best qualified for the undertaking, beset him with a multitude of temptations, in order, if possible, to discover who he was: the form in which two of his temptations run, seems to favour this conjecture. If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.—If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down. Besides, unless the tempter had been in doubt as to the character of Jesus, it is not to be imagined that he should have attempted to seduce him at all.

Satan's conduct in the present instance is a lively example of what St. Peter has told us, 1 Peter 5:8. Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: the malice, the cruelty, and the fury with which the evil spirit attacks mankind, is but faintly represented by the fierceness of the most ravenous wild beasts. The devil, on this occasion, seems to have assaulted our Lord in some visible form, and with an audible voice. He could hardly do it otherwise, the human nature of Jesus being incapable of sinful thoughts. Commonly, however, his strongest temptations are those wherein he least appears; for example, when he suggests evil imaginations, in order to raise evil desires. A man, therefore, in such cases, should enter into himself, and, with the help of the Spirit of God, should courageously expel those detestable sentiments, the devil's auxiliaries, by which he takes and keeps possession of the soul. And as for the assaults which he makes upon us by means of things without us, they must be sustained and repelled by a firm resolution through Almighty grace, as waves by a rock. The Christian has good encouragement thus to exert himself with vigour; for his Master has shewed him, that there is in the word of God applied by the divine Spirit sufficient armour to preserve him invulnerable against all the fiery darts of the adversary. Farther, as Christ, after having vanquished the devil, was ministered unto by angels; his followers, who endeavour to do their duty, shall have such assistance as is necessary to their continuing im-moveable amidst the rudest shocks of temptation. They may be amid legions of devils; but their integrity shall be happily preserved. See Macknight.

We observed on Matthew 4:23 that the Gospel is glad tidings, a joyful message: and could we effectually represent the full purport of this JOYFUL MESSAGE, so as to make you sensible what a solid and superlative happiness it imports, your hopes must presently be raised, and all your desires engaged in dependence on the grace of God in pursuit of the promised good: but though all men incessantly seek after happiness, yet they are too commonly so mistaken in their notions of it, that these heavenly tidings make no impressions on them.

Consider we then, that happiness of every kind requires a proper disposition for its enjoyment. Without bodily health we cannot relish the pleasures of sense; and, for the same reason, without holiness, which is the soul's health, we cannot participate of spiritual joys. To judge, therefore, what interest we have in the Gospel, or glad tidings of the kingdom of God, consider the holy angels, who are its native inhabitants: they, doubtless, are happy in the supreme degree; but their happiness is the result of a more intrinsic part of their character, viz. holiness. And this brings to my mind a fine saying of a modern writer:

Then, to be good, is to be happy; angels Are happier than men, because they're better.

They are perfectly happy, because they are perfectly holy. Now holiness consists in having only pure desires: that is to say, just desires: they cannot desire any thing but what is just, fit, and proper for them: and thence, although their desires may be various, yet they can never be (as in the human race) inconsistent; but, being excited with due subordination and harmony among themselves, they are all fully gratified. In a word, duty and pleasure are the same in heaven. The angels have all they can wish, because they can wish only for what they ought to have. And the more intense their desires are, the higher are their graces and virtues, and the greater their beatitude.

Things are quite contrary in the present state of the human nature; for holiness is so distinct a thing from the gratification of our natural desires, that it principally consists in denying them. Our natural desires, viz. our appetites and passions, are often unjust; and so exorbitant, that, for the sake of our own ease, and the little happiness which can be found here, we are bound to resist and subdue them. And herein (quite opposite to the angelical nature) consists the human excellence. To refrain from what we wish; to choose what we are averse to; to reject the poisonous sweet, and prefer the wholesome bitter; to strive against sloth and voluptuousness, with other numberless vices and follies, to which we are prone; and climb the arduous rugged paths of duty; these are our first task, in which we shall often miscarry. But this will not always be the case: we shall not always be left to our own mismanagement; for, if we persist in using the grace bestowed upon us, God will at length take us under his more immediate and peculiar government; and, by a faithful service in a constant, simple and entire dependence on divine grace alone, we shall enter into his kingdom.

This momentous truth, grounded on the great sacrifice and intercession of Jesus, is the genuine Gospel of Christ: such are the glad tidings which he publishes; assuring us, that God's kingdom is accessible, is near; so that all may enter it, who will in true repentance lay hold of Jesus Christ in all his offices, and in simple faith cast themselves on his alone power to save.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Jesus, being now prepared for the battle, enters the lists against the great enemy of souls, whose kingdom he came to destroy. We have,

1. The time of this conflict.—Then, immediately after he had received the attestation of God to his Sonship, and the fulness of the Spirit for the exercise of his office as Mediator. Note; (1.) Before God calls us into temptation, he will furnish us with spiritual strength, with which we may conquer, if we be faithful. (2.) Great manifestations are often the prelude to our severest conflict. (3.) The confidence of our adoption of God will be the most effectual shield to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

2. The place.—In the wilderness, far from the abode of men, amid lonely wastes, where only the savages of the forest roamed, to give the enemy every advantage against him, and therein more gloriously to display his own power and all-sufficiency. The first man fell in a paradise of delights; the second man stood unmoved against every blast of temptation, firm as the rocks of the wilderness, his present dreary dwelling.

3. The preparatives to the combat. He was led up of the Spirit, by a divine impulse on his mind, into the higher, more mountainous, and uninhabited part of the country; and this with design to meet the tempter, and defeat all his wiles. And hereunto he condescended. (1.) That, feeling what sore temptations mean, he might be a compassionate high-priest, having been tempted in all points as we are, only without sin. (2.) To encourage us to trust him in every time of need. He who defeated that enemy once himself, can by the same strength make the faithful soul more than conqueror. Forty days, like Moses in the mount, he continued there alone, and without sustenance: at last he felt all those acute cravings of hunger which, as man, he was subject to in common with us, and which gave the enemy another advantage against him, and rendered the Redeemer's triumphs more illustrious. The first representative of mankind, when enjoying the utmost plenty, was tempted by one forbidden tree; the last, though famishing for want, is deaf to every solicitation of the wicked one.

4. The temptations themselves; a threefold cord, and yet broken with ease. The design of them was, to shake Christ's confidence in God, and lead him to some dishonourable step, which, had it been possible, must have utterly unqualified him for the work of redemption.

[1.] In the first temptation the devil sought to lead him to a distrust of God's providential care and goodness; and, in order thereto, the tempter came to him. He had possibly by his secret suggestions, during the forty days before, sought to disturb the mind of Jesus, but in vain; (see the Inferences;) now therefore he assumes a visible form; not such a fearful figure as our early misguided apprehensions suggest, and our delusive prints hold him forth, but some pleasing human shape, or perhaps transformed into an angel of light. The tempter well knew the circumstances of our Lord, and directs his assault where the weakest side appeared: he hoped that the cravings of hunger might lead him to some undue means of relief. Thus vigilant and crafty is the wily adversary to suit his temptation to our situation and condition; and particularly, in want and distress, to suggest some sinful expedient to extricate ourselves from our troubles, without waiting God's leisure, or consulting his will. He often says, Better steal than starve; though God says, 'Tis better die than sin. He prefaces his temptation with a sly insinuation; If thou be the Son of God, as if he doubted the fact, though so lately the voice from heaven had affirmed it; and he desired to shake the faith of Jesus, suggesting, that if this really were the case, it was inconceivable that God would leave such a one to starve in the wilderness. Or, seeing thou art the Son of God; he perhaps admits the fact, and wishes to see a present exertion of his divine power in a miracle so necessary for his own support; command that these stones be made bread. (See the Annotations.) Note; (1.) The great battery of the devil is raised against our faith; for if the foundation of our confidence be removed, the superstructure must needs fall. He is ever striking at this to make the children of God doubt their adoption; and, in order thereto, he urges against them sometimes their outward distresses, sometimes their inward weakness and infirmities, as if both the one and the other were inconsistent with the relation that they claim. (2.) If once the enemy can engage us to entertain hard thoughts of God, then he is sure to prevail.

Christ repels the assaults of the wicked one with the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and therein teaches us how to ward off the like temptations. He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. The Lord has other ways of supporting men's bodies than by bread merely; and therefore it was not so absolutely necessary for his sustenance, but that he could be supported without it; nor would he at Satan's instigation do that which might look like distrust of his Father's care, doubt of his word, or suspicion of his relation to him. Note; (1.) The written word is the only rule of our faith and practice: if Christ himself adhered to that alone, let no pretences of the Spirit's superior teaching lead us off from this sure guide. (2.) God's time is the best time, and he that believeth will not make haste; will take no rash step for his own relief under his trials, but patiently expect the salvation of God.

[2.] The first attack being repelled, a second is prepared: since he cannot lead the Saviour to distrust or despair, he will try to puff him up with presumption. So unwearied is the tempter, and often changing his wiles, according to our circumstances, from one extreme to the other.

He taketh him up by divine permission, with the consent of Jesus, or leadeth him into the holy city, Jerusalem, so called from the peculiar privileges that it enjoyed of God's worship and ordinances; and set him upon a pinnacle or wing the temple; one of the battlements probably, which was of an immense height. And since Jesus had expressed such confidence in his Father, and unshaken dependence on his word, he grounds thereon his temptation: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, and give an incontestable proof of it to the priests and people worshipping below, who will, no doubt, receive thee as the Messiah, when thus coming as if immediately from heaven into the temple: nor will there be any danger in the experiment, since, it is written, and therein thou art fully satisfied, He shall give his angels, &c. The application of which words to Christ was right; but a part of the text is artfully suppressed, in all thy ways; for out of the way of duty we may never hope for protection. And it is misapplied, being designed not to tempt men to rush into temptation, presuming upon the divine care; but to engage the believer to trust God in time of trial, assured of divine support. From all which we may observe, (1.) That one grand engine of the tempter is, to make our heads giddy by setting us up on high. The pinnacle of the temple is a dangerous exaltation. Those who are eminent in station, fortune, or reputation; advanced to dignities in church or state; or distinguished with abilities, gifts, graces, or even success in their ministry; need to tremble for themselves, and, the higher they stand, to cleave the faster to Jesus their temple, lest their exaltation prove their destruction. (2.) Though the devil can tempt, he cannot compel. Sin is our own act; and without our consent the most dire temptations fasten not the least evil on our consciences. Should we be tempted to the greatest crimes, to self-murder, or blasphemy, the Son of God was himself thus tempted, yet without sin. (3.) Scriptures may be suggested by the enemy to the minds of God's people, much to their distress and discouragement on the one hand, or, on the other, to lull their consciences in fatal security; therefore we must search the Scriptures diligently, that we may know what is God's mind therein, and be kept from those dangerous errors and delusions, which often the Scriptures are vouchsafed to patronize. (4.) We must never separate the means from the end, nor expect out of God's way the protection of his providence and grace. Though Jesus is a Saviour to the uttermost, we may not sin that grace may abound.

The same word of truth supplies our Lord with a full confutation of Satan's sophistry; for in the Scriptures there is an answer ready for every case; and we can be in no circumstance or temptation, but that word will afford us direction, strength, and comfort. It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. The tempter had said, It is written: but the Scripture cannot contradict itself; and therefore to know the mind of God, we must compare spiritual things with spiritual, and not mutilate the word of truth, nor apply it contrary to the intention of the Spirit. To trust God is duty; to tempt him is sinful. Christ needed no confirmation of what he was already assured; nor was he called unnecessarily to make an experiment of God's power in such a miraculous preservation.

[3.] Once more, though baffled, the enemy returns to the charge; and, summoning up all his force in one blow, by the most glaring display of this world's glory tempts our Lord to the horrid crime of idolatry. The severest of our temptations is sometimes reserved for the last, that God's power and grace may be more gloriously displayed, and the devil's malice most bitterly disappointed.

Again the devil taketh him up, perhaps transported him through the air, into an exceeding high mountain, that the fictitious scene he was about to display might appear real; and there he shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them. (See the critical notes.) Whatever grandeur, wealth, pleasure, reigned in them, were set before him in the most enlivened colours, to catch his fancy, and engage his admiration: and all these he proffers to bestow on him, on one condition, which thousands, without any such reward, were daily complying with; if thou wilt fall down and worship me;—a proposal so horrid as would not bear a thought, and is rejected with detestation: Get thee hence, Satan; such insolence provoked the Saviour's righteous indignation, and he drives the tempter from his presence, unable to endure such a daring attempt upon the majesty of Jehovah, the only object of worship; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Note; (1.) The minds of God's greatest saints may be sometimes harassed with the most blasphemous suggestions, and they should not count this as if some strange thing happened unto them. (2.) The glory of the world is the grand snare that the enemy lays for men's souls; and it looks very desirable to the eye of sense; but true and effective faith sees through the delusion, beholds vanity stamped on every thing beneath the sun, and scorns all this which Satan offers as dung and loss, compared with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, and the glories of his grace. (3.) Some temptations come under the guise of plausibility and harmlessness, and require recollection before we can discover the craft of the devil; others bring the brand of hell in their forehead, and would bear men down merely with the weight of the present advantage thence accruing: these must not be parleyed with a moment, but rejected with abhorrence. (4.) God is alone the object of worship; and whatever else be made the idol of our adoration, whether the horrid forms of monsters in a pagod, or the images of saints and virgins, and crucifixes in a popish chapel, it is no better than falling down to the devil.

5. Satan, now vanquished and unable to resist the commanding word of Jesus, quits the field. He found him more than man, invulnerable in every part, and feels himself a vanquished foe. Thus shall the faithful sons of God, through this great Captain of their salvation, tread Satan under their feet; enabled to wrestle with spiritual wickedness, and to prevail against the powers of darkness, Though hard the conflict, the victory is sure to all who stand fast, strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

6. The angels, the attendant servants of Jesus, now visibly appeared, and ministered unto him. They had beheld, as spectators, the conflict and triumphs of the Lord, and now congratulate his victory, and supply him with those needful refreshments which his exhausted body wanted. Note; (1.) Christ alone obtained the victory for us; his own arm hath brought salvation unto him. (2.) Though our relief be for awhile delayed, it shall assuredly come at last, if we continue to cleave to Jesus: Trust in the Lord therefore, and verily thou shalt be fed. (3.) Our Master was himself tempted, that he might feel for us, and supply us with all needful supports, when we are in like manner sore thrust at that we should fall.

2nd, Christ now having entered upon his ministry, began to publish the glad tidings of that salvation he came to procure. Many events are recorded which intervened between his temptations and his abode at Capernaum: these we shall meet with in the other evangelists. Matthew hastens forward to the time when John was cast into prison; on which occasion Jesus departed from Nazareth to Galilee, and fixed his abode at Capernaum, a city in the tribe of Nephthali, bordering on Zebulon, situate on the sea of Tiberias, called elsewhere the lake of Gennesareth. The men of Nazareth had rejected him, Luke 4:29 and therefore God justly leaves them to themselves, and sends his Son and his Gospel to a place which will more cheerfully welcome them.

1. Especial notice is taken of the fulfilment of the Scripture in this removal of our Lord; as Isaias had before of old prophesied,—that the people in these regions of Zebulon and Nephthali, called Galilee of the Gentiles from the intermixture of a multitude of strangers of other nations among the Jews; which sat in darkness, in spiritual darkness and ignorance; saw a great light, Christ the sun of righteousness arising with healing in his wings, and bringing life and light and liberty to those which sat in the region and shadow of death, dead in trespasses and sins, till quickened by the power of the Saviour's grace, and enlightened by the glorious Gospel that he preached. Note; (1.) They who are destitute of the knowledge of Christ are in darkness respecting all the things which make for their everlasting peace, and near the borders of eternal death. (2.) Christ is to the soul what the sun is to the world; yea, more; for he is not only the author of light, but gives, in the different stages of grace from initial salvation, the faculty of vision also, without which the light would shine in darkness, and the darkness never comprehend it. (3.) The way in which spiritual light is chiefly diffused is by the preaching of the Gospel.

2. We are told what was the subject of his ministry from the time he began to open his commission; Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; the same words and the same subject on which John his harbinger had preached before; for in the great essential doctrines all faithful ministers of the Gospel perfectly agree.

3rdly, Christ being now about to erect his kingdom in the world, he is pleased to make choice of certain persons to be the constant attendants of his ministry and spectators of his miracles, that they might afterwards go forth to tell of the things they had heard and seen, and spread the Gospel of their Master to the ends of the earth.

1. The persons he made choice of were such as to human view were very unfit instruments for the work; but the more evident would it be that the power was of God, and not of them, when afterwards they appeared so mighty in word and deed. They were by occupation fishermen, whom Jesus, as he walked by the sea-shore, saw employed in their honest and laborious vocation: the first two were casting a net into the sea, brethren by blood as well as business, their names Simon and Andrew, men unlettered, unknown, and unnoticed; the next two were of the like employment, and with their father Zebedee mending their nets. Note; (1.) Not only to the poor was the Gospel preached by our Lord, but from them the great pillars of the church were taken: let them therefore never be despised. (2.) It is happy in a family when brethren in blood are brethren in the Lord, and heirs together of the grace of life. (3.) Industry is highly commendable, and Jesus wills that all his servants should be found well employed: idleness is the sure characteristic of Satan's service.

2. They had, it seems, before (see John 1:37.) become acquainted with Christ; but now they are called to constant attendance upon him, Follow me; and, by an image taken from their present employment, he lets them know the more honourable service for which he designed them, I will make you fishers of men, the instruments of gathering souls by the Gospel into his church. And what he calls them to, he will qualify them for: in following him they shall learn a wisdom which the schools can never teach them. Note; (1.) Unless ministers have a divine call, they will run without being sent, and can expect no blessing in their work. (2.) None can truly preach Christ who have not first faithfully followed him. (3.) If, in our ordinary vocations diligence is necessary, how much more needful is it that fishers of men should be indefatigable and laborious, when the gain of immortal souls will so amply repay their toil.

3. These disciples immediately obeyed the call, quitting their employment, and leaving their dearest relatives to devote and attach themselves intirely to their divine Lord and Master. Note; (1.) There are seasons when, for the sake of Christ, we must be ready to part with all. (2.) Those who are employed in the ministry have especial need to detach themselves from worldly concerns, that they may give themselves wholly up to their awful trust and charge.

4thly, We have,

1. Christ's labours as a preacher. All Galilee heard his teaching; he appeared publicly in their synagogues, and published the Gospel of the kingdom, the glad tidings of salvation, exhorting his hearers to that repentance and newness of life which became those who had received the grace of God in truth.

2. His cures as a physician, wrought in confirmation of his doctrine. He did good to men's bodies as well as souls, and by a word healed all manner of sickness and diseases among the people, however violent, inveterate, or of long standing: the incurables of other physicians went from him restored to perfect health and soundness. Nor did he merely relieve the most tormenting disorders of the body, but the more deplorable ones of the mind: the lunatic recovered the perfect exercise of his reason; and the possessed, whose bodies by divine permission Satan's legions had seized and miserably harassed, were set free, and the foul fiends ejected. No painful operations, no tedious course of medicine almost as bad as the malady, were employed: a word, a touch, completed the cure; and all was freely done, without money and without price. The most wretched, the poorest, never applied in vain. No wonder that his fame spread through the adjacent coasts of Syria, and that multitudes of patients sought this great Physician's help. His cures bespoke his character, and vouched for his mission; they were innumerable, public, immediate, perfect, such as none could dispute or gainsay, his very enemies being judges. And they represent the more noble cures of men's souls by divine grace from all the diseases of sin, wherein we see the Saviour's power still displayed.

3. His popularity arising from both. An immense auditory, from all parts, near and distant, assembled, curious to hear, or desirous to be healed, or convinced by his preaching and miracles, or enviously waiting for an opportunity to destroy him. Note; (1.) The preachers of the Gospel will generally be popular; their message engages the attention of an auditory. (2.) Multitudes hear the Gospel; but too many refuse to receive it in the love of it to the salvation of their souls.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 4:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/matthew-4.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, September 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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