Notes Matthew chapter 4
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
The Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness 4:1-11
1. Then, i.e. at that time: the temptation of Jesus followed immediately on His baptism. This, taken together with the content of vv.3 and 5, emphasises the close relationship between the two events. In His baptism Jesus was prepared for the way of the cross, but in the temptation the devil shows Him how he might avoid it.
Jesus was led by the Spirit. God wanted Him led into temptation on the one hand to test Him, but more especially to let Him be victorious over the devil. It was a prelude to Jesus’ great victory over the devil on the cross.
Into the desert. As Israel was led through the desert for 40 years to be tested (Deut 8:2), so did Jesus spend 40 days in the wilderness. But where Israel failed, the Son of God stood firm, to bring victory for everyone.
2. Mark and Luke (Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2) indicate that Jesus was tempted during the entire period of 40 days, but the three temptations mentioned took place at the end.
Fasting forty days. Jesus fasted for 40 days, as did Moses and Elijah before him (Exod 34:28; Deut 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8). As the mediation of the old covenant was linked to a 40-day fast (Elijah’s 40-day journey to Sinai (!) reminds us of Moses as well) so too was the beginning of the new covenant.
Jesus’ fasting was complete: He ate nothing (Luke 4:2)
3. If you are the Son of God. Satan, the tempter, makes use of the situation, here Jesus’ hunger, and tries to sow the seeds of doubt in what the Father had said at Jesus’ baptism (‘This is my Son’). The subtelty of Satan’s tactics lies in the fact that he does not directly contradict God’s word, but casts doubt on it (see commentary on v.5). The devil wants to seduce Jesus into using His power as Son of God for his own purpose instead of in obedience to the Father. In this way he tries to interfere with the fulfilment of Jesus’ calling.
4. Man does not live on bread alone. God, who can raise up children from stones (Matt 3:9), can also change stones into bread. And Jesus, the Son of God, would be able to do so as well. But He does not permit Himself to be tempted to use His power for His own benefit and in this way make an end of the situation into which the Spirit has led Him. He answers with a word from Deut 8:3. Man is not dependent on bread but on God. It is more important to obey the will of God than to provide oneself with food and drink, even if this implies physical hunger. Further Jesus knows that His Father will care for Him, as He cared for the Israelites by sending manna (Deut 8:3a).
5. Then. Although Matthew and Luke do not report the events of the temptation in the same order, there is no contradiction. Apparently Matthew recounts the historical sequence, on account of ’then’ in v.5 and v.11. Luke links the temptations with the word ‘and’, which does not stress a particular sequence.
Jerusalem was called the holy city, because the Temple stood there (cf. Isa 48:2; 52:1; Rev 11:2; 21:2,10).
The highest point is a translation of a Greek word (pterugion) that literally means ‘edge’, of a house: ‘eaves’. We have to think of the eaves of one of the colonnades, apparently the Royal Colonnade on the South side, where there was a steep precipice.
6. The temptations follow the same pattern as those in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1 ff). Everything depends on casting doubt on God’s spoken word: ‘Did God really say?’ and ‘If you are the Son of God’.
After the devil had been confronted at the first temptation with the Word of God and with Jesus’ trust in the Father, he uses the same means himself, the great imitator, and attacks Jesus’ trust. He quotes Ps 91:11-12, which contains a promise for believers. The devil can indeed use Bible texts, but he uses them out of context and applies them incorrectly. Now he tries to tempt Jesus into putting the truth of God’s promise to the test. But Jesus does not accept the offer, because He trusts the Father and because demanding proof and putting things to the test denotes a lack of faith and trust. Here too the temptation is directed towards interfering with the relationship between Jesus and the Father.
7. Scripture must be set against Scripture. We must never base ourselves on isolated Bible texts, but on the whole coherent Word of God.
Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Jesus did not answer as a knowing scribe would have, but used the Word of God as a sword, as a weapon against evil. He shows from this quotation from Deut 6:16 that one may not tempt the Lord God, i.e., that one may not try God out to see how far one can go. Instead, we must put everything in His hands with faith and confidence, knowing that He will give help at the right time.
8-9. For the third temptation, the devil takes Jesus in the spirit to the invisible world, to a mountain from which he shows Him all the kingdoms of the world (cf. Rev 21:10).
The temptation consists in Satan, as prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:1-3; John 5:19) offering Jesus the rule over the world which is indeed promised to the Messiah (Ps 2:8; Dan 7:14). The price to be paid is, to worship Satan.
10. Worship the Lord your God. Jesus rejects the proposition by calling on Deut 6:13. The Messiah will establish His rule over the world not by worshipping Satan but by gaining the victory over him. Above all, the time was not then ripe (cf. Matt 28:18).
11. Then the devil left him. Whenever the devil is withstood, he always gives way (James 4:7). After this the angels came to minister to Jesus, i.e., to feed Him Who was hungry. The faith that Jesus showed in v.4 is now confirmed. The angels brought Him the food He needed, as they did Elijah (1 Kings 19:5-7).
The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee 4:12-17
12. He returned. The word Matthew uses for Jesus’ departure (ana-chre) often means with him ‘give way to danger’. (cf. Bauer, s.v.1b). As John’s successor, Jesus knew that the same could happen to Him (cf. 14:1 ff).
To Galilee. This region protected Him for the present from persecution by the authorities (see v.13 for more reasons underlying the withdrawal). When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been thrown into prison He departed for Galilee and began His public ministry there. When He heard that John had been killed, Jesus withdrew from public view and began His last Journey to Jerusalem (see 14:13).
13. He went and lived in Capernaum. The town of Capernaum (Hebrew word, litt. village of Nahum) is practically identical with the modern Tell Chum, and lay some 4 km. west of the point where the Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee, on its north-western shore. It was one of the most important towns in Galilee. There was a synagogue (Mark.1:21), a Roman policing station (vgl. Matt 8:5-13), and a frontier post (Matt 9:9).
Jesus left Nazareth when the men of His birthplace rejected Him (Luke 4:14-31). A deeper reason for the withdrawal is to be found in the prophecy of Isaiah (v.15, land of Zebulun and Naphtali.
14. Vv.15-16 is a quotation from Isa 8:23-9:1. The NT contains some 3,000 quotations from and allusions to Old Testament texts.
15. The tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali lay in the north-east of Israel, to the west and north-west of the Sea of Galilee. Later they were called Upper and Lower Galilee. V.15b gives a further description of the northern district, which is intended here.
The way. The Greek word (as a translation of the Hebrew derek) is here a Hebraism getting the function of a preposition, with the meaning ‘in the direction of’ (Bauer, s.v.). Depending on whether the Mediterranean or the Sea of Galilee is meant, this passage refers either to the district to the west of Zebulun and Naphtali, or to the district along the Sea of Galilee.
Along the Jordan (litt. ‘beyond Jordan’) is the district east of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee. The northern frontier district of Israel was called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ because many Gentiles lived there.
Galilee is a Greek form derived from the Hebrew word gelil found in Isa 8:23, which literally means ‘circle’, but also ‘district’, ‘area’.
16. Darkness and land of the shadow of death speak on the one hand of the material poverty of the land as a result of repeated hostile invasions by Syrians and Assyrians, but on the other hand of the spiritual death in those parts as a result of the continuous heathen influence. The inhabitants of the district mentioned above (v.15) who had suffered most grievously under God’s judgement (Isa 8:23; the participles in 16 emphasise the continuous: the people who are normally to be found in darkness) would have an exceptional share in the light which the Messiah would bring, according to the prophecy.
17. Jesus began to preach. The word preach (Gk. krussein), literally means ’the proclamation of a herald’.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. In the beginning Jesus concealed His true nature, and the people of Galilee heard from Him the same message as they had heard from John the Baptist, who was preaching near the Jordan, east of Jerusalem (cf. 3:2). So for the time being He will be doing the preparatory work of a prophet before revealing Himself to be the Messiah in His works (4:23).
The Calling of the First Disciples 4:18-22
18. The meeting with the disciples is described more fully in Luke 5:1-11. The Sea of Galilee was also called the Sea of Kinneret (Num 34:11; Josh 13:27), Sea of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), or Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1). The lake is about 12 km. broad, 21 km. long and lies about 212 m. above sea- level.
The nickname Peter (‘rock’) had been promised to Simon by Jesus on their first meeting (John 1:43; for its significance see commentary on Matt 10:2; 16:18-19).
19. Come, follow me. The calling which took place at this meeting was not yet appointment as apostle. That happened later, just before they were sent out as apostles (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13; cf. Matt 10:1-4). We are here concerned with a call to be a disciple of Jesus. He calls them in the same way that a rabbi invited his students, ‘follow me’.
Jesus’ unconditional call and the four men’s immediate obedience become more comprehensible when we read Luke’s more extended account (5:1-11) and consider that this was not their first meeting with Jesus. There was already a mutual relationship, and the men were aware of Jesus’ ministry (John 1:35- 42).
I will make you fishers of men. This remark refers to their future ministry. They will gather the people of God together in the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. picture of the fishing net in Matt 13:47). To become a fisher of men requires one condition: to become a disciple of Jesus and to follow Him. Jesus has used a language which these fishermen (v.18) could well understand.
20. Andrew had previously been a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:40). Andrew and his brother Simon had come into contact with Jesus at that time, but it is obvious that only now do they give up their daily work and follow Him.
21. The two brothers will later be of great significance for the early church. James became the first martyr among the apostles (Acts 12:1-3) while John apparently lived the longest.
Preparing their nets. The expression does not so much mean that they were repairing their nets as that they were getting them ready for the next catch.
22. The boat and their father. These disciples left both their source of income and their natural family to follow Jesus.
Jesus Heals the Sick 4:23-25
23. Teaching in their synagogues. The word ‘synagogue’ is a conflation of syn(’together’) and ago (’to bring’) and so literally means ’to bring together’, to ‘collect’. This Jewish institution apparently arose at the time of the Babylonian exile. They formed one of the most important institutions in Jewish society. The synagoge was principally a place of instruction. When the president agreed, anyone qualified might speak.
The good news of the kingdom. The word euaggelion (‘gospel’) which occurs here for the first time in the Gospel of Matthew, literally means ‘good news’, ‘joyful message’. The content of the joyful message is the dawning of the Kingdom of heaven (cf. v.17).
In this verse a summary of Jesus’ programme is given, which acts as an introduction to the coming chapters: 1. Teaching and Preaching, which are closely related (chs.5-7) 2. Healing (chs.8-9).
24. All over Syria. Syria lay north of Galilee, the same area as that of present day Syria and Lebanon.
Those having seizures (lit.’those who were moon-struck’) were sufferers from epilepsy, an illness thought in ancient times to be connected with the motion of the moon, and hence called moonsickness.
After the general designation of sick people, three groups are mentioned specifically: the possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics. Apparently those were the most serious illnesses of the times, and were regarded as incurable.
25. Decapolis (lit. ‘The Ten Cities’) was the area south and southwest of the Sea of Galilee. Originally there were only ten cities (including Gadara, Gerasa and Pella) which had been founded by the Greeks and were therefore strongly hellenistic.
Across the Jordan, see commentary on v.15.
The text clearly mentions great crowds of people, that have come from all over Palestine.