The Temptation of Jesus, 1-11

4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Led by the Spirit – rather ‘in the Spirit’. The Spirit ‘led him as a champion into the field, to fight the enemy that he was sure to conquer.’ (Henry)

Mt 4:1–11 = Mk 1:12,13; Lk 4:1–13

‘Three times did the Lord conquer Satan; three times did he repulse him (in the temptation) and drive him off, lawfully vanquished. And thus Adam’s breach of the law of God was cancelled by the obedience of the Son of man, keeping the statutes of God.’ (Irenaeus)

The link between Jesus’ sojourn in the desert and that of Israel is very striking:- ‘Matthew begins by noting ‘forty days and forty nights.’ Except for 1 Kings 19:8 and the flood account, every time this phrase is used in the Old Testament it refers to Moses on Sinai. Matthew notes this detail because he is quite aware of the parallel. Notice also that all of the responses Jesus gives come from Deuteronomy 6-8, where Moses is exhorting the Hebrews after narrating the story of Israel in the wilderness. So in Deut 8:3 we read, ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. The reference is to the manna, which was given when the people were hungry and did not trust God, but instead demanded food. Jesus trusts God and does not demand food. Deut 6:13, quoted in this passage, follows Deut 6:12 “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” This verse reminds us of the golden calf at Sinai (the reason for Moses second fast of forty days) when Israel got tired of waiting for Moses and instead made the calf, of which they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Ex 32:4) Again, we have a reference to the failure of Israel in the wilderness. Finally, look at the full context of Deut 6:16 “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.” Again we have a reference to Israel’s failure in the wilderness.’ (Hard Sayings of the Bible)

‘Satan’s intention in the temptation was to make Christ sin so as to thwart God’s plan for man’s redemption by disqualifying the Savior. God’s purpose (note that the Spirit led Jesus to the test) was to prove his Son to be sinless and thus a worthy Savior. It is clear that he was actually tempted; it is equally clear that he was sinless.’ (2 Cor 5:21) (Ryrie)

Jesus Tempted

  1. Appetite: the desire to enjoy things, Mt 4:2ff; Lk 4:2ff.
  2. Ambition: the desire to achieve things, Mt 4:5f; Lk 4:5ff.
  3. Avarice: the desire to obtain things, Mt 4:8ff; Lk 4:9ff.

(Source unknown) Compare 1 Jn 2:16

4:2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. 4:3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

For forty days – This may well refer to the length of time spent in the desert, rather than to the length of time he was tempted by the devil. So Hendriksen, J.B. Phillips, etc. Cf Mt 4:2-3. This whole period was used, no doubt, for deep reflection on his life and ministry to date, and especially the divine commissioning which took place at his baptism. Such reflection would naturally have led to a consideration of what might lay ahead. Such solitariness was experienced by Moses (40 years in Midian); Elijah (40 days en route to Horeb, 1 Kings 19:8); John (during his exile on Patmos).

According to N.W. Goodacre, ‘the forty days spent in the wilderness by Jesus constitute the authority for the Christian use of retreat’ (Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, art. ‘Retreats’).

“If” – ‘What force there is often is a single monosyllable! What force, for instance, in the monosyllable “If,” with which this artful address begins! It was employed by Satan, for the purpose of insinuating into the Saviour’s mind a doubt of his being in reality the special object of his Father’s care, and it was pronounced by him, as we may well suppose, with a cunning and malignant emphasis. How different is the use which Jesus makes of this word “if” in those lessons of Divine instruction and heavenly consolation, which he so frequently delivered to his disciples when he was on earth! He always employed it ot inspire confidence; never to excite distrust. Take a single instance of this:- “If God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” What a contrast between this divine remonstrance and the malicious insinuation of the great enemy of God and man!’ (Daniel Bagot)

The Temptation of Jesus Is Not About Your  Battle With Sin

A voice from heaven had just announced the divine sonship, 3:17. But now a doubt is introduced; a challenge is issued. Born in a stable;- hurried off to Egypt for fear of Herod;- raised the son of a carpenter in an obscure Galileean town;- can that heavenly voice really be believed? So don’t just take God at his word – prove your sonship by supernaturally satisfying your hunger.

‘Let it be noted that the first temptation contained an appeal to a fleshly appetite, like the temptation in Eden. Adam and Eve were tempted to eat unlawfully, and so also was our Lord.’ (Ryle)

Jesus refused to perform the miracle (a) because it was Satan who challenged him to do it, and he would not give place to the devil. Miracles are performed in order to confirm faith, and Satan has no faith to be confirmed; (b) because the miracle would have served his own needs, and eased his own situation, and he did not come to please himself, but to serve and to suffer for others; (c) there was indeed a demonstration of Christ’s divine Sonship, and this was neither a turning of stones into bread nor even coming down from the cross: it was in his glorious resurrection from the dead; (d) he wished to be identified with his brothers, hungering as they hunger, and suffering as they suffer, that he might be the more fully prepared and equiped for his role as High Priest.

‘Some of the devil’s strongest temptations involved his encouraging Christ to rely on his miraculous power to avoid the way of suffering and the road to the cross. (Lk 4:1-12) Gethsemane is the most powerful testimony in all of Scripture to the divinely ordained necessity of not always receiving protection from suffering. (Lk 22:39-46) In his epistles Paul echoes this theology. (esp. 2 Cor 4:7-18 6:3-10) Not all receive or benefit from gifts of healing, and Paul personally and agonizingly learns the lesson that God’s grace is sufficient for him and that God’s power is made perfect in Paul’s weakness.’ (2 Cor 12:8) (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

‘Man does not live on bread alone’Ian Paul observes: ‘the NRSV, committed to gender-inclusive language use for humanity, rather clumsily translated Matt 4.4 as ‘One does not live by bread alone’, which made use of the closest English has to a UGASP [an UnGender Assigned Singular Pronoun], but in doing so made Jesus sound like the Queen on a picnic.’

‘If it is true, as Jesus said, endorsing Deuteronomy, that human beings do ‘not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’, (Mt 4:4 Deut 8:3) it is equally true of churches. Churches live, grow and flourish by the Word of God; they wilt and wither without it. The pew cannot easily rise higher than the pulpit; the pew is usually a reflection of the pulpit.’ (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian)

Jesus answers the devil from Scripture, Deut 8:3. Whatever does not agree with Scripture does not come from God.

‘Though he had the Spirit without measure, and had a doctrine of his own to preach and a religion to found, yet it agreed with Moses and the prophets, whose writings he therefore lays down as a rule to himself, and recommends to us as a reply to Satan and his temptations. The word of God is our sword, and faith in that word is our shield.’ (Henry)

4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, 4:6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 4:7 Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Luke reverses the order of the second and third temptations.

The highest point of the temple – The exact location is uncertain. It may have been the roof of Herod’s portico, which overhung the Kedron Valley and looked down some 450 feet (Josephus calls this a ‘dizzy height’).

“If you are the Son of God” – The devil challenged Jesus to prove his credentials. So might people today ask for more proof than God has been pleased to give. Cf Lk 16:29.

“For it is written” – ‘But what is this I see? Satan himself with a Bible under his arm and a text in his mouth!’ (Bishop Hall). The devil himself quotes Scripture on this occasion, Ps 91:11-12, but in doing so twists it to fit his purpose.

As before, Jesus repels this temptation by an appeal to Scripture, Deut 6:16. Some people are suspicious of all use of ‘proof texts’. Jesus shows us here that it is the mis-quotation and the mis-use of Scripture which is wrong, and that there is an appropriate, and very important place, for citing the Word of God to support an argument.

The devil might have found a text of Scripture to appeal to in support of this temptation. But the general tenor of Scripture is to condemn ‘rashness, a trifling with providence, an impetuous rushing into totally unwarranted danger’ (Hendriksen). Satan quotes a text which promises divine protection; Christ counters by asserting that such protection must not be presumed upon by rushing headlong into danger. To do so is to ‘put the Lord you God to the test.’

There are many ways in which people today are prone to ‘put God to the test.’ We presume upon his love and mercy when we pray for good health, and yet fail to take sensible measures to take care of ourselves; we expect God to save our souls, and yet do not use the means of grace; we pray that God would ‘deliver us from evil’, yet put ourselves in the way of temptation; we hope that God will bless our children, yet fail to take proper care for them ourselves.

“Our Saviour teaches us that our better way, either with perverse men, in asserting their errors, or with Satan in his assaulting us with misalleged scripture, is not so much to subtilize about the place or words abused. It may be so cunningly done sometimes, that we cannot well find it out; but this downright sure way beats off the sophistry with another place, clearly and plainly carrying that truth which he opposes and we adhere to. Though thou canst not clear the sense of an obscure text, thou shalt always find a sufficient guard in another that is clearer.” (Leighton, quoted by Ryle)

4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur. 4:9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.” 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ”

The devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world – Are to suppose that Jesus, in his wearied condition, was made to climb a very high mountain?  And (to stretch credulity even further) are we meant to imagine a mountain so high that ‘all the kingdoms of the world’ could be seen from its top?  Hardly.  Better to understand this as some kind of vision.

As Blomberg comments: ‘Even the more limited geographical knowledge of people in the first-century Roman Empire included awareness that one couldn’t come close to seeing all of the known world from any mountain in Israel— or any other mountain for that matter. This detail is more likely the Gospel writers’ way of letting their readers know that Jesus is not literally climbing a tall mountain in his emaciated state after a prolonged fast. That itself would require the kind of miracle Jesus is refusing to perform during his temptations! Rather it suggests a visionary experience— no less real for Jesus but not something any time traveler with a video camera could have recorded.’  (The Historical Reliability of the New Testament)

‘We have to contend every day with the same imposture: for every believer feels it in himself and it is still more clearly seen in the whole life of the ungodly. Though we are convinced, that all our support, and aid, and comfort, depend on the blessing of God, yet our senses allure and draw us away, to seek assistance from Satan, as if God alone were not enough. A considerable portion of mankind disbelieve the power and authority of God over the world, and imagine that every thing good is bestowed by Satan. For how comes it, that almost all resort to wicked contrivances, to robbery and to fraud, but because they ascribe to Satan what belongs to God, the power of enriching whom he pleases by his blessing? True, indeed, with the mouth they ask that God will give them daily bread, (Mt 6:11) but it is only with the mouth; for they make Satan the distributor of all the riches in the world.’ (Calvin)

“I will give you…” – Satan’s promises are generous: to Eve he had said, “You shall be as Gods.” But his promise to Eve was a lie, and to Christ an attempted deception. To both, he promised what was not his to give. He has no power to give anything that is worth having.

“If you will will bow down and worship me…” – Here is the sting in the tail of this temptation. ‘Perhaps he does not mean so as never to worship God, but let him worship him in conjunction with God; for the devil knows, if he can but once come in a partner, he shall soon be sole proprietor.’ (Henry)

To accept a kingdom from Satan would mean using Satan’s methods, recognising his authority, and, ultimately, worshiping him. But Jesus’ kingdom was entirely different, Jn 18:36-37. His was the humble, lowly path. He refused to accept the crown without enduring the cross. Cf. Php 2:9, …therefore God exalted him to the highest place…

Again, Jesus appeals to Scripture, Deut 6:13. ‘What? worship the enemy of God whom I came to serve? and of man whom I came to save?’ (Henry)

God alone is to be worshiped and served. Indeed, the essence of conversion is to turn to God from idols, of every kind 1 Thess 1:9.

‘For groups rejecting the deity of Jesus Christ, this verse is important. Only God is to be worshiped. When compared with other passages, this verse actually presents a case for Jesus’ divine nature, not an argument against it. Scripture is clear in saying that Jesus received worship from a leper (Mt 8:2), from a disciple (Jn 20:28), and from angels (Heb 1:6). If God alone is to be worshiped, then Jesus must be God.’ (Apologetics Study Bible)

4:11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.

The devil left him – (cf Jas 4:7) but not for good, Lk 8:12; 10:18; 11:18; 13:16; 22:3,31. One victory over Satan does not mean that there will not be more battles to be fought.

Preaching in Galilee, 12-17

4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, he went into Galilee.
4:13 While in Galilee, he moved from Nazareth to make his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 4:14 so that what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled:
4:15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
4:16 the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned.”

According to Lk 4:16-30, he left Nazareth because they tried to kill him.

Capernaum – A flourishing city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and the base of his ministry in Galilee.

To fulfill – Isa 9:1-2. (cf. Isa 42:6-7).  For Colin Nicholl, the underlying imagery of the Isaiah passage is of a bright comet, and Matthew would have us see this fulfilled in the person and ministry of Christ (The Great Christ Comet, p212).

4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

From that time – Jesus had been preaching and teaching prior to this, in Judea, and had made and baptised many disciples, Jn 4:1. But here is the beginning of a new phase in Jesus ministry, and here is introduced a section of Matthew’s Gospel which extends to Mt 16:20, and which concentrates on Jesus’ public ministry in and around Galilee. What follows indicates what it was that Jesus preached first and most frequently. Cf v23.

Repent – the message here is essentially the same as that of John the Baptist, Mt 3:2, and would later be echoed by the disciples, Mt 10:7. The gospel is a message of repentance, not only as it comes from the lips of John, who some considered to be melancholy and morose, but from the lips of Jesus, who was full of sweetness and graciousness. Some consider ‘repent’ a poor translation, on the grounds that (a) it represents the negative (forsaking sin), but not the positive (fruit-bearing), aspects of what is intended; (b) it too strongly suggests an activity of the emotions, rather than of the mind and will also. Hendriksen prefers, ‘be converted’. The message is similar to that of the OT prophets who summoned Israel to forsake their disobedient ways and to return to God. The gospel is the same in all ages. Preachers should seek no new terms upon which to offer God. ‘Christ had lain in the bosom of his Father, and could have preached sublime notions of divine and heavenly things, that should have alarmed and amused the learned world, but he pitches upon this old, plain text, ‘Repent’. This message is ‘good news’ (cf v23), for it is an unspeakable privilege that room is left for repentance.

‘Repentance should never be confused with penance. That was an unfortunate error committed by Christians throughout the Middle Ages. They took Jesus’ call to repentance in preparation for the kingdom (Mt 4:17) as an obligation to perform acts of self-denial in order to gain grace and find forgiveness. True repentance, however, is more inward than it is outward. It begins with the repudiation of one’s own spiritual worth and only then moves to any expression of self-denial.’ (Bruce Shelley, Theology for Ordinary People)

The kingdom of heaven – is the Messianic Age; God’s kingly rule, established in judgement and in salvation. The great events in the arrival of the kingdom are: (a) the coming of Jesus; (b) the outpouring of the Spirit; (c) the world-wide harvest of souls; (d) the final consummation.

But not the earthly kingdom which even Jesus’ disciples persisted in expecting, but the peaceful rule of God in the hearts of men, Lk 17:21. Of course, the primary meaning of the Aramaic term used by Jesus was not ‘kingdom’ but ‘rule’ or ‘sovereignty’.

‘Near’ means not so much, ‘it will be along shortly’, but ‘is dawning right now’.

‘The idea of present fulfilment and of a new age comes out particularly in the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God, one of his central themes. He used the term in a wide variety of contexts, so that its essential meaning needs careful definition. It means the sovereignty of God, the situation in which God is in control, his rule or reign. Now while in one sense God is always in control, it is also a fact that man rejects his sovereignty and rebels. The ‘coming of the kingdom’ therefore denotes the practical implementation of God’s rule in human affairs, and it was this coming of the kingdom which Jesus announced as he began his ministry. (Mk 1:15) Other sayings reinforce the message that his coming already brought into operation the rule of God. (e.g. Mt 12:28; Lk 17:20f) Thus he could already speak of people ‘entering’ or ‘receiving’ the kingdom, (Mk 10:15,23-25; Lk 12:31 16:16) and assure his disciples that ‘Yours is the kingdom of God’ (Lk 6:20; cf. Mt 5:3,10).’

The Call of the Disciples, 18-22

Mt 4:18–22 = Mk 1:16–20; Lk 5:2–11; Jn 1:35–42
4:18 As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). 4:19 He said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.” 4:20 They left their nets immediately and followed him.

“Come, follow me” – ‘This was their call to service and illustrates the directness, profundity, and power of Christ’s commands (cf. “go…,” Mt 28:19 “Love one another,” Jn 13:34).’ (Ryrie)

‘Follow’ – think of what they left in order to follow Jesus: home, family, friends, security, income, reputation.

‘Me’ – think of who it is who was calling them.  Up until this point in Matthew’s Gospel we have been presented with some 20 names, titles, and descriptions of Jesus (beginning with Mt 1:1 – ‘Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham’).

First and last things

Here we have the first thing that Jesus said to his disciples. Look at the last thing he said to them, Mt 28:16-20. What is similar about these?

4:21 Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. Then he called them. 4:22 They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him.

Zebedee – he was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee and father of James and John, two of Jesus’ first disciples. (Mk 1:19-20) Based at Capernaum on the north shore of the sea, Zebedee ran a considerable fishing business which included several hired servants, Simon Peter, and Andrew. (Lk 5:10) his wife, Mary, also followed Jesus and ministered to him. (Mk 15:40-41) The Bible does not say if Zebedee ever became a believer, but he did not stand in the way of his sons or wife becoming Jesus’ disciples.

Undesigned coincidence?  ‘Where did Zebedee go? James and John are originally with Zebedee (Matt 4:21) but he appears nowhere later even though their mother is mentioned several times (Mt 20:20; 27:56). This is explained by an unnamed disciple’s father dying (Mt 8:21), especially since the mother is not referred to as the wife of Zebedee.’ (Source)

Mending their nets

Undesigned coincidence?  Why were they mending their nets?  Jesus had performed a miracle (recorded in Lk 5, but not mentioned by Matthew) which produced so many fish that the nets broke.  This miracle helps also to explain their eagerness in following Jesus.  (Source)

Immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him – ‘The first thing that strikes us here is the power of Christ’s voice. Not that his voice alone makes so powerful an impression on the hearts of men: but those whom the Lord is pleased to lead and draw to himself, are inwardly addressed by his Spirit, that they may obey his voice. The second is, the commendation bestowed on the docility and ready obedience of his disciples, who prefer the call of Christ to all worldly affairs. The ministers of the Word ought, in a particular manner, to be directed by this example, to lay aside all other occupations, and to devote themselves unreservedly to the Church, to which they are appointed.’ (Calvin)

Try re-telling this story from the point of view of Zebedee, the father of Peter, James and John.

Jesus’ Healing Ministry, 23-25

4:23 Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people. 4:24 So a report about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons, and he healed them. 4:25 And large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan River.

Teaching in their synagogues – ‘Jesus taught and preached with authority. Jesus soon developed a powerful preaching ministry and often spoke in the synagogues. Most towns that had ten or more Jewish families had a synagogue. The building served as a religious gathering place on the Sabbath and as a school during the week. The leader of the synagogue was not a preacher as much as an administrator. His job was to find and invite rabbis to teach and preach. It was customary to invite visiting rabbis like Jesus to speak.’ (HBA)

Preaching the gospel of the kingdom – ‘The pervasive NT practice of associating “preaching” specifically with the “kingdom of God/heaven” (e.g., Mt. 4:23; 10:7; Acts 20:25; 28:31) makes sense when preachers are understood as envoys sent into enemy territory ahead of their kingdom’s approaching armies, bearing their Lord’s terms for peace.’ (G. P. Hugenberger, ISBE, rev. ed., art. ‘Preach’)

All who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons – This does not imply any causative link between seizures and demon-possession.  They are distinct ailment.  In Mt 17:14-18, however, the case is different: the epilepsy results from demonisation.

Decapolis – A district, originally containing 10 cities, S of the Sea of Galilee, mainly to the E of the Jordan River. These were cities with Gentile populations and typical Greco-Roman structures-pagan temples, hippodromes, etc.’ (Ryrie)