MATTHEW CHAPTER 4.
The Temptation in the Wilderness. Matt. 4, 1-11.
Jesus, by His baptism and the accompanying supernatural manifestations, had been formally and publicly inaugurated into His ministry. But He was not to begin His preaching at once. V. 1. Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. "Then," immediately after His baptism, as soon as He had received the extraordinary communication of the Spirit. This same Spirit now filled His humanity and directed His actions, leading Him up, first of all, into the wilderness, causing Him to make the journey into the solitude of the desert the haunt of wild beasts rather than the abode of men, Mark 1, 13. It was a voluntary trip on the part of Jesus, His single concern being to fulfill, in all things, the will of His heavenly Father, Ps. 40, 7. 8; Heb. 10, 7. 9, though the weakness of His human nature may have required some urging, Mark 1, 12. For the object of this retirement was not merely to afford an opportunity for blessed rest and joy, nor to offer a chance for weighty contemplation as to the methods of revealing Himself to His people after the manner of a Buddha or a Mohammed, but to be tempted of the devil. The entire period of solitary living was occupied with this temptation. Mark 1, 13; Luke 4, 2. This combating of the devil was a part of the office and work for which He was sent by God and anointed with the Spirit. As the arch-enemy of mankind had tempted and overcome the first Adam, thus plunging the entire human race into condemnation, so he now proposed to vanquish the second Adam by hindering or frustrating the work of redemption. "Led up of the Spirit": "tempted of the devil" — a powerful contrast!
A severe test, even from the standpoint of Christ's physical nature: V. 2. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungred. The expression indicates that it was a spontaneous, voluntary desisting from food, the severity of the trials, the mental preoccupation caused by the temptation, stifling the ordinary desire for nourishment, somewhat after the manner of Moses, Ex. 34, 28, and Elijah, 1 Kings 19, 8. But this entire abstinence from food, which possibly included also drink, was not in the nature of an ascetic exercise "That is also the reason why the evangelist at the beginning with great care sets down and says: He was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit that He fast and be tempted there, in order that no one may follow the example from his own choice and make a selfish, self-willed, and assumed fasting out of it, but wait for the Spirit; He will send him enough of fasting and temptation." 30)
Of the many and various assaults which the devil employed during the forty days, Matthew and also Luke mention three incidents which took place at the end of this period. Note that the chronological sequence of the events here narrated is a minor consideration. The evangelist's chief aim is to picture the cunning manner of the temptation: V. 3. And when the tempter came to Him, he said, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. The word tempter applied to the devil fittingly describes his evil work, his constant occupation, his ceaseless attacks, Luke 22, 31; 1 Thess. 3, 5. The time and the form of this temptation were chosen with crafty calculation. Hunger naturally diminishes the resistance of the body, both physically and mentally; it enfeebles and irritates the mind and interferes with sound judgment. The wily suggestion might therefore easily find a favorable reception. Even the phrasing of the devil's insinuation should be noted in harmony with his character, couched in the form of a question, implying a doubt, both as to the divine sonship of the Savior and as to His ability to provide food for Himself by miraculous means. As though he were saying: "I cannot believe that Thou art the Son of God; give me some proof. Speak, in order that these stones lying about on the desert floor may be turned, by a miracle, into loaves." To yield to the request would have meant giving up to the spirit of evil and darkness, lack of trust in the divine Providence and support, letting selfishness rule rather than practicing self-sacrifice.
The Savior equal to the occasion: V. 4. But 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 most powerful and effective weapon: a simple statement of Scripture truth, Deut. 8, 3. Jesus readily concedes the usual order of things, the dependence of man upon food for the ordinary means to live. But He declares that God is not bound by these means, but may support life by a word of His mouth. He thus frankly puts His trust in His Father, depending for the keeping of His earthly life, not on any foolish intermeddling with God's ways, nor on satanic device and agency, but on the power of His Word alone. And this is true in general. "All creatures are God's masks and mummeries, whom He will permit to work with Him and help carry out various things, which He otherwise, without their assistance, can do and actually does, in order that we may depend upon His Word alone, thus: If bread be there, that we do not have the more trust; or if none be there, that we on that account do not despair the more; but use it when it is there, and do without when it is not there, in full assurance that we yet live and are nourished at either time through the Word of God, whether there be bread or no bread. With such faith avarice, gluttony, and temporal worry concerning food is vanquished." 31) "He who would guard himself against such temptation may learn here from Christ that a person has two kinds of bread. The first and best bread, which comes down from heaven, is the Word of God; the other and more unimportant is the earthly bread which grows out of the ground. If, now, I have the first and best, the bread from heaven, and do not permit myself to be diverted therefrom, then the earthly bread will also not fail or remain away, the stones must rather turn to bread." 32)
Repulsed, but not routed, the devil seeks a new line of attack: V. 5. Then the devil taketh Him up into the Holy City, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the Temple, v.6a. and saith unto Him, If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down. His attempt to produce distrust in God's ability to sustain life under unusual conditions having failed, Satan tries to plant the seed of self-glorification and presumption in the heart of Jesus. He shows greater boldness, taking the Lord to himself as his companion, practically seizing hold of Him, and carrying Him along to Jerusalem, called by the evangelist, as with affection, the Holy City. Here he set Him on the pinnacle of the Temple. This refers either to the southwest corner of the Temple court, where Herod had erected a gallery of great height, from whose dizzy top the depth of the Kidron Valley below was intensified to the eye, in which case the dangerousness of a leap would have given added force to the devil's urging; or Matthew has in mind the high roof of the Most Holy Place, the highest elevation of the Temple proper. A daring jump, an ostentatious miracle it would have been if Jesus, in the presence of the assembled multitude, had cast Himself down from this prominent point and reached the ground unharmed. By yielding to the devil at this suggestion, He might in an hour have gained more followers than the entire number of disciples amounted to whom He gathered by the laborious method of teaching.
Having been rendered cautious by his first experience, the enemy determined to ward off a second quotation from Scriptures by quoting a passage in his own favor: V. 6b. for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee; and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone. The devil truly can quote Scriptures to his purpose, in the manner peculiar to him, with the omission of an essential part. For in the text referred to, Ps. 91, 11. 12, the words, "To keep Thee in all Thy ways," are indispensable for a correct interpretation. It is not in the ways of a man's own choosing that the protecting hand of God is assured him, but in the ways which agree with the rational order and the laws of the universe.
This is implied in the answer of the Lord. Note that He does not even take the trouble of rebuking Satan for misquoting Scriptures: V. 7. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord, thy God. He offers, not a contradiction, but a qualification, to emphasize the necessity of explaining Scripture through Scripture. A significant fact: Jesus quotes the passage to which He refers, Deut. 6, 16, in the singular, thus making application of its truth to Himself in this instance. The leap from the pinnacle just then would not only have meant seeking escape from the cross at the cost of duty, but it would have been a bold challenge of Providence upon false understanding of the Bible, and so sinful in itself. The Lord's method of handling the situation must be that of every Christian. "Now, this is such a temptation as no one understands unless he has tried it. For just as the first drives to despair, so this one drives to presumption and to such works as surely do not have God's word and command. There a Christian should choose the golden mean that he neither despair nor be bold, but remain simply with the Word in true trust and faith. Then shall the good angels be with him; otherwise not." 33)
And still the devil is not overcome: V. 8. Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Once more the tempter attacks; there is no ceasing in his efforts to destroy God's work, 1 Pet. 5, 8. And he has great power, he controls, to some extent, the forces and the wealth of the earth, as a prince of the power of the air, Eph. 2, 2. Cp. John 12, 31; 14, 30; 16, 11; Eph. 6, 12. A stratagem of magic the devil here employed, to conjure up the wealth and the glories of all earth's kingdoms in an alluring, almost irresistibly appealing picture, all in a moment of time, Luke 4, 5. The location of the exceeding high mountain here referred to is immaterial, also the question whether the picture was a physical demonstration or a mental suggestion. The main fact in Matthew's narrative is the refined subtlety, but also the extreme denseness of the tempter: V. 9. And saith unto Him, All these things will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me. For an ordinary human being no proposition, in itself, could have been more attractive. What a dazzling picture of absolute sway over the world and possession of its glory was here offered to the lowly and rejected descendant of David! But what folly to presume upon the unlimited disposition of the wealth and grandeur of the world in the presence of Him who of right holds all the nations of the earth as His inheritance and the utmost ends of the world as His possession! The condition of Satan demanding homage to him as the superior was therefore almost naively awkward. But he staked all on this last powerful appeal to worldly ambition, involving the willful yielding to the most heinous form of idolatry.
Jesus meets the insult with proper dignity: V. 10. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written. Thou shalt worship the Lord, thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. Here Jesus rises in the power of His supreme authority, and passionately repels the Satanic suggestion. In the Greek we have here a single word: Begone! Out of My sight! It is a peremptory command. It terminates the disagreeable companionship which the devil had thrust upon the Lord. He applies the epithet "Satan" to the tempter, that is, adversary, enemy, 1 Kings 11, 14; Ps. 109, 6, since he not only interferes with Christ's Messianic work, but is, from the beginning, the arch-enemy of all mankind. Yet He condescends to support His majestic dismissal with a Scripture text, Deut. 6, 13, adapting it to the present circumstances. Jehovah alone is worthy of honor and glory and adoration; to Him only shall the ministering of divine service, of religious veneration, be made.
This last demonstration of almighty authority decided the day: V. 11. Then the devil leaveth Him; and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him. The enemy's rout was complete, the glorious supremacy of the Lord, not only over man, but also over the spiritual world, had been established. For a season, at least, the devil departed from Him, Luke 4, 13. And angels came and acted as His servants, not primarily in bringing Him food, but in giving Him the assurance of the sympathetic understanding and the heavenly support which He now enjoyed on the part of all good spirits, thus ministering to Him with a comfort destined to sustain Him in the days to come. All Christians should take note: "This, however, is written for our consolation, that we know many angels serve us, whereas only one devil tempts us; if we but fight gallantly and stand, God will not let us suffer want. Rather must the angels come from heaven and become our bakers, waiters, and cooks, and serve us in every necessity. It is not written for the sake of Christ, who is not in need of it. If the angels have ministered unto Him, let them also serve us.... We should therefore be well equipped with God's Word, in order that we may defend and sustain ourselves with it. Our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself conquered these temptations for our sakes, give us strength that through Him we may overcome and be saved." 34)
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry and the Call of the Four. Matt. 4, 12-25.
With a few rapid strokes the evangelist now sketches the opening of the Messianic work of Christ in Galilee. He is not so much concerned about offering a chronological sequence of events as about grouping the incidents so as to present a continuous narrative. He here omits the return of Jesus to the Jordan, John 1, 35, His journey to Galilee, John 1, 41, the marriage at Cana, the trip to Capernaum and that to Jerusalem before the imprisonment of John, and His ministry in Samaria, John 3 and 4. He gives a summary of Christ's varied activities in the North by way of introduction: V. 12. Now, when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee. In his usual fearless manner, John the Baptist had felt no hesitation about reproving Herod Antipas, the ethnarch of Galilee and Perea, for his adulterous union with Herodias, his niece and already the wife of his half-brother, Herod Philip. The consequence was that the enraged princess caused his imprisonment, Luke 3, 19. 20; Mark 6, 17. John's last field of activity had been in Aenon, John 3, 23, and he probably had extended his labors into Galilee. When the mouth of this faithful witness had been silenced, Jesus knew that the time had come for Him openly to enter upon His work as prophet. His ministry in Galilee began when the Baptist's came to an end, John 3, 30.
His home town naturally came first: V. 13. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim. The unpleasant reception which was accorded Him at Nazareth, Luke 4, 16-30, caused Him to make His stay there very brief. He went to settle, to make His home, in Capernaum, which appears throughout the gospel accounts as the center of the Lord's Galilean ministry. It was a thriving city on the Sea of Galilee, on the great road from Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea. In fulfillment of Christ's prophecy, Matt. 11, 23, this commercial metropolis was later so utterly destroyed that its very site in a region of ruined towns is doubtful. Tell Hum being now commonly conceded to have been the ancient location. 35)
The evangelist locates the city only sufficiently exactly to pave the way for another prophetic reference: V. 14. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, v. 15. The land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; v. 16. the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. What Isaiah had written, chapter 8, 22; 9, 1. 2, found its fulfillment in the ministry of Jesus in this region. Here the tribes Zebulun and Naphthali had formerly had their homes; their country lay towards or alongside of the sea; it was a place where races mix, a border population, mainly on this side, the west side of the Jordan, according to Hebrew usage of the word, or beyond Jordan, according to the Greek usage, containing a reference to Perea, which was also a scene of Christ's activity. Of this mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, in whose midst the Greek rulers had founded new cities with heathen customs and institutions, the evangelist says, in applying the words of the prophet, that they sat in darkness. The spiritual condition of the people was such as to represent an increase in religious blindness even over the time of Isaiah, nearly 700 years before. And the evangelist repeats the verb "sat." Theirs was an indifferent, sluggish attitude. The shadow of spiritual death had enveloped them. It effectually shut out the light of life streaming from the Old Testament prophecies. But now "Jesus Christ, the true Light, shone forth in the beauty of holiness and truth. Christ began His ministry in Galilee and frequented this uncultivated place more than He did Jerusalem and other parts of Judea. Here His preaching was peculiarly needful, and by this was the prophecy fulfilled." 36)
The form of Christ's message was familiar to the people: V. 17. From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It had been uttered by John the Baptist in his urgent appeal for a change of heart. But with Jesus it had a greater significance. He must needs preach repentance in order to prepare the way for the proclamation of salvation. He acted, not as a guide to a distant and coming salvation, but as the herald of the kingdom of grace now at hand in Himself. His plea was for a change from the old to the new, from the prophecy and type to the fulfillment. In this way the day-star arose in Christ and His Gospel, and had now begun to shine upon those that were covered with darkness, in order that they might see this light and rejoice in its merciful illumination and warmth.
The calling of disciples one of Christ's first official acts: V. 18. And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. The Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Gennesaret, Luke 5, 1, and Sea of Tiberias, John 21, 1, is a small body of water formed by the river Jordan, having an average length of thirteen and an average width of about seven miles. Its water is fresh and clear, and contains an abundance of fish. The hills on its western shore are low and calcareous in nature; the mountains rising along the eastern shore are much more prominent. Jesus deliberately followed the path along the shore out from Capernaum, attended by a great multitude that insisted upon His preaching to them, Luke 5, 1. It was then that He saw Simon, whom He had called Cephas at the first meeting, John 1, 42, the Aramaic equivalent of Peter, and his brother Andrew, of Bethsaida, plying their trade as fishermen. Both of these men were not unknown to the Lord, having been with Him in the plains of the Jordan, John 1, 40-42, and later at Cana. Having come with Jesus into the neighborhood of their home, they had returned to their old occupation. At His word also they cast their nets into the sea for the miraculous draft, Luke 5, 4-6.
But the Lord had need of them: V. 19. And He saith unto them, Follow Me, I will make you fishers of men. V. 20. And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him. This was not a request for mere companionship, but an authoritative, though genial call to apostleship, couched in language which would appeal to their unlearned minds. They had been His disciples, but without special obligation as to attending Him; they were now chosen as His steady followers, to be trained for their great and high calling. "That was the beginning and the first call, namely, to hear the Gospel of Christ the Lord. For should they preach to others, they must first hear and learn it. Afterward, when they should preach to others, the Lord calls them by another call and gives them command how and wherein they should comport themselves. Matt. 10." 37) Jesus calls them, most appropriately, "fishers of men," since He wanted to train them to gain immortal souls for heaven, though they were but simple, unlearned men, "in order that the power and strength of God be indicated in this that He began such a great work with such lowly, simple people, and also performs it; in order that every one should understand that this is not done out of human power, but out of divine power and might." 38) In this way their secular employment served as the emblem of their spiritual calling. How deeply the presence and teaching of Christ had impressed these poor Galilean fishermen appears from the fact that there was no hesitation, no conferring with flesh and blood. At once they left their nets, gave up their earthly calling, forsook all, and followed Him, became His disciples and theological students.
Others joined them on the same day: V. 21. And going on from thence, He saw two other brethren, James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, in a ship with Zebedee, their father, mending their nets; and He called them. V. 22. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him. This occurred in the same neighborhood as the event just recorded and in immediate conjunction with it, Luke 5, 10. John had probably been among those that followed Jesus at the Jordan, John 1, 35-40, and had, in the mean time, also told his older brother James of his wonderful experience. Therefore, although they were busily engaged with the routine of their calling, and although the call of Jesus implied the severing of family ties, there was just as little hesitation on their part. The honor of serving their Lord, even in poverty and humility, outweighs any and all temporal considerations.
With these men, as the nucleus of a loyal band of disciples, Jesus now entered upon His Galilean ministry, of which Matthew here gives a summary, in the form of an introduction to the succeeding chapters: V. 23. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogs, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease among the people. All of Galilee was His field of activity, not only Upper Galilee with its fertile valleys, but also Lower Galilee with its many prosperous villages dotting the landscape. In His journeyings back and forth Jesus was busily engaged, continually active, in the three functions of His ministry. He taught in the synagogs, or schools, of the Jews, principally by expounding the Old Testament; He preached the Gospel of the kingdom, the glorious news of the Messianic redemption; He healed the sick, not merely by mental suggestion, as many would have it, but by deliberate application of His divine power, for every form of disease and ailment was represented.
The result was natural: V. 24. And His fame went throughout all Syria. And they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them. Throughout the Syrian country, most likely along the road frequented by caravans, the accounts of the Lord's miraculous powers were spread. And so all those that were tormented or afflicted with any kind of ailment were brought to Christ by their relatives or friends. There is a formal catalog of diseases. There were minor painful disorders that required the touch of His healing hand. There were demoniacs, such as were subject to disease through the influence of unclean spirits; there were lunatics, or epileptics, upon whom changes in the sidereal bodies, especially the phases of the moon, had an ill effect; there were paralytics, those that were palsied as the result of nervous disorders and atmospheric changes. And of them all the evangelist has the same to say, telling it in just three words: "He healed them." The power of the sickness had to yield before the omnipotence of the divine Healer.
With His fame grew the number of His followers: V. 25. And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond Jordan. The extraordinary impression which this Prophet of Nazareth created was not confined to Galilee. People came from Decapolis, the southern part of Gaulanitis, southeast of Lake Gennesaret, whose population was predominantly Grecian. They thought nothing of the long journey from the extreme South, from haughty Judea, from exclusive Jerusalem, from far-distant Perea, beyond the Jordan from Judea. All wanted to see and hear the man whose miracles were astounding the nation.
Summary. Jesus, having successfully withstood the temptation of the devil after His forty-day fast, entered upon His Galilean ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing, Peter, Andrew, James, and John being His first disciples.