In this chapter, Satan tempts Jesus, and the Lord passes the tests and tells him to go. Jesus leaves Nazareth behind and moves to Capernaum, where he begins his ministry. He calls his first disciples. In a summary passage, he is shown to speak to large crowds, heal all their diseases, and expel demons. His basic message is, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who do not have access to or cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
The Temptation of Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11)
1 Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after he had fasted forty days and forty nights, then he was hungry. 3 And approaching him, the tempter said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread!” 4 But in reply, he said, “It is written:
‘Not by bread alone shall humankind live,
But by every word coming out of the mouth of God.’” [Deut. 8:3]
5 Then the devil took him into the holy temple and stood him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself below! For it is written:
‘He shall command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘in their hands they shall lift you up,
and in no way will you strike your foot against the stone!’” [Ps. 91:11-12]
7 Jesus told him, “However, it is written, ‘You shall not test the Lord your God!’” [Deut. 6:16]
8 Again the devil took him on a really high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things, if you fall down and worship me!” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written:
You shall worship the Lord your God
And him alone shall you serve.’” [Deut. 6:13]
11 Then the devil left. And look! Angels came and were ministering to him.
This pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section or unit of Scripture parallels the children of Israel in the wilderness or desert and Jesus in the wilderness or desert. I like this comment quoted by France: This new “Son of God” will not fail and the new Exodus (to which we have seen a number of allusions in [Matt. 2]) will succeed. ‘Where Israel of old stumbled and fell, Christ the new Israel stood firm’” (p. 128). Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT, whether by quoted verses or by patterns and themes.
And this one by Turner after saying that the verb “testing” can also mean “tempting” is insightful: “Both nuances are pertinent here in that the Father through the Spirit leads Jesus to be tested in order to confirm him in his role as messianic Son and servant, yet the devil tempts Jesus to achieve messianic status by using his prerogatives selfishly in disobedience to the Son-servant paradigm. The Father’s aim is to accredit Jesus, the devil’s to discredit him” (comment on 4:1).
It is the Spirit who led Jesus to be tempted by the devil. Are you ready to trust God when he allows Satan to tempt you? Can you fight back as Jesus did? Or will you become confused and weak and forget the weapons of your warfare? (See my comments on v. 4).
“devil”: it means “slanderer” or “accuser.”
Theologically, the Spirit is more than an “It.” He is a person.
Here are some of my posts on a more formal doctrine of the Spirit (systematic theology):
No doubt the Spirit was taking orders from the Father, because the Father wanted to test and even allow his Son to be tempted. It also brings up an issue, because God can never be tempted (or even tested in a human sense) (Jas. 1:13). So if Jesus is God in the flesh, how can he be tempted. Yes, he is God in the flesh, but he is also true man. It was his human nature that was tempted. Next, why did God want his Son to be tempted? To relate to our own weakness:
17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb. 2:17-18, ESV)
Yet he passed the testing and temptation without sinning.
There was a purpose of being led out into the wilderness-desert: to be tempted by the devil.
“tempted”: It comes from the verb peirazō (pronounced pay-rah-zoh), and it can mean both “tempted” and “tested” in the right context. Here are the nuanced meanings and their verses: “try, attempt” (Acts. 9:26; 16:7; 24:6); “try, make trial of, put to the test” (Matt. 16:1; 22:18, 35; Mark 10:2; John 6:6; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 13:5; Heb. 2:18; 11:17; Rev. 2:2; 3:10); make trial of God, which is not a good idea (Acts 5:9; 15:10; 1 Cor. 10:9; Heb. 3:9); “tempt, entice to sin (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2; Gal. 6:1; 1 Thess. 3:5; Jas. 1:13; Rev. 2:10). The context determines the nuanced meanings. Jas. 1:13-14 says God does not tempt people because he cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone in that way. But God will allow us to go through testing and even to be tempted by the devil, as God allowed for his Son. Will we pass the test / temptation as Jesus did? James writes: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial [noun of peirazō] because having stood the test [different word]; that person will receive a crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (Jas. 1:12, NIV). Will we receive this crown for standing up during our time of trial? The way to pass the temptation is to love the Lord and know Scripture.
See my posts about Satan in the area of systematic theology:
Temptation: To provoke you to do evil, in order to ruin and sideline you
Testing: To find out what is in your character, in order to improve and grow you up
When you are tempted and fall, however, God can restore you.
After he fasted for forty days, he got hungry. Then the devil tempted him. For some reason I had thought he tempted Jesus throughout the forty days in the desert (the movies). No. The devil tempted him after his forty days of fasting; Luke agrees (4:1-13).
“Forty days”: it corresponds to Moses being forty day and forty nights on top of Mt. Sinai (Exod. 24:18; 34:28; Deut. 9:9). Elijah spent forty days in the wilderness on Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God, in other words, Mt. Sinai (1 Kings 19:8). The number forty can refer to hardship (Gen. 7:4; Ezek. 4:6; Jonh. 3:4; Acts 1:3).
And so it is reasonable to conclude that the most effective way to resist satanic temptation is to be full of the Spirit and to do spiritual disciplines. No, not legalism, but spiritual disciplines are an effective way to crucify the sin nature (Gal. 5:24) and beat down the body, as Paul encouraged the Corinthians to do (1 Cor. 9:24-27). One discipline is to read Scripture regularly. Another is to limit worldly input, like turning off the TV once in a while. Two other disciplines: regular private prayer and worship and regular public prayer and worship—fellowship, in other words. A really important way to fight the devil, as seen by Jesus’s struggle and victory over Satan, is to know Scripture. It helps sort out the mental battle. It has been truly said that the mind is the battlefield. And if you don’t have God’s thoughts, then you cannot sort out his thoughts from your own or the devil’s awful ideas.
There are different kinds of fasts, like fasting from social media or TV or from coffee and snacks and rich foods. Or it can be total. I have known people who fasted forty days without food. They came through all right. Let the Spirit lead and monitor your health, strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be foolish.
Satan tempted Jesus by doubting his God-given identity: “If you are the Son of God.” Some scholars say that the phrase could be “Since you are the Son of God ….” That may work grammatically, but Turner is on target. “Satan may not have doubts about Jesus’ sonship in principle, but he denied Jesus’ sonship in practice. So the issue is what kind of son will Jesus be? Will Jesus use his sonship selfishly or will he submit to the Father, who will meet his needs” (comment on 4:3; see Keener, p. 139). The devil was challenging God’s public announcement at Jesus’ baptism and his identity. He was the Son of God and his Father loved and delighted in and accepted him.
Don’t let the devil tempt you away from your God-given identity. If you were born a boy, you are a boy. If you were born a girl, you are a girl. God’s plan is opposite-sex attraction, not same-sex attraction. Now let’s go long-range. He calls you his son and daughter (John 1:12-13). That is now your new identity in Christ.
The devil tempted him at his weakest point after a forty-day fast—hunger. The lesson: the devil will tempt you at your weakest point: chemical dependency, sex, and other personal vices like anger and unforgiveness. Follow those spiritual disciplines, know Scripture, and be full of the Spirit. Crucify the flesh / sin nature.
Satan recognized that he was the Son of God. Let’s look into some systematic theology. Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
Jesus presents a life-lesson for us all. Scripture has power to sustain you. I was severely attacked and tempted back in the old days, especially during my graduate school days and afterwards. After a series of dreams, I learned that Satan was the source of the attacks. Of course I was a (low-level) intellectual, so I did not follow Christ’s simple counterattack. He used Scripture. I didn’t. He hid it in his heart and mind. I forgot what I had memorized. He quoted it. I didn’t back then. Finally, after years went by I relearned Eph. 6:16. Now here’s my daily prayer based on it: “I pray over my mind a shield of faith that quenches the fiery arrows of the enemy.” It works! You don’t have to rebuke Satan himself or a demon every moment of every day, though you may have to do this once in a while if you have identified the evil spirit attacking you. Rather, just focus on Scripture and let it renew your mind. Jesus held these Scriptures deeply in his heart and quoted them. So should you and I.
“There is no part of God’s Word that is not essential for living right before God, and it is incredibly dangerous for churches to neglect the depth of that Word” (Osborne, comment on 4:4). I agree.
“word”: Yes, Scripture has to sustain you, but it must come alive. The noun here is rhēma (pronounced rhay-mah), and the rhē– stem is related to speaking, and the –ma suffix means “the result of.” So combined, the noun means a “spoken word” (though it does not always mean that in every context, or it is sometimes synonymous with logos). Here it means a living, vibrant word from God through Scripture.
“humankind”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only “men.” However, throughout Greek literature written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context (Matt. 4:4; 10:36; 12:11, 12; 12:43, 45; 15:11, 18). So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say. So I chose “humankind.”
The Father had willed that his Son undergo temptation, and he told the Spirit to lead him towards that goal. The devil, then, was allowed to “take” Jesus (in the present tense in Greek for more immediate impact on the listeners and readers). I believe this is a visionary experience, not a literally taking him to the pinnacle.
On an historical note, the pinnacle of the temple was about 15 stories or 150 feet (45.72m). But Satan may have taken him up there by proxy or by showing him in a vision, much like he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in one panorama. However, if it was literal, then so be it. I’ve got no quarrel with the scene being literal.
In the ancient world, some believed that magicians could fly. This monstrosity was how Satan tempted Jesus, because in his case, angels would lift him up and let him down gently. “Go for it! God will command his angels about you!” Float down to the ground gently! You can do this! Dream big!” This, again, is probably a visionary experience, not a literal climb up a mountain.
Again Jesus came back at him with Scripture. If your mind does not know Scripture, you will not be able to resist temptation because you can’t sort out your thoughts from the devils implanted thoughts and from God’s thoughts. Scripture has to be the deciding judge. You choose God’s thoughts, over even your own. Deut. 6:16 refers to Israel’s doubting of God’s provision of water in Exod. 17:7. Deut. 6:16 was misapplied. Jesus resists the publicity stunt to show Matthew’s readers that he summarizes an event in Israel’s history but with better results (Turner, comment on 4:7)
The devil led him up to a high mountain. (The Greek tense is again in the present: “The devil leads him,” and “shows him,” which reveals the immediacy of the action.) I believe God allowed Satan to show all of the kingdoms of the inhabited world in some sort of vision or in a panorama outside of his mind. After all, Luke 4:5 says all the kingdoms “in one moment.” However, does this mean Jesus’s mind was polluted, so that he sinned? No. He had no sin nature, due to his heavenly Father through his power and the Spirit ordaining his conception to be supernatural. Just because thoughts cross one’s mind does not mean one is sinful. Jesus had to go through even death, just to identify with us and win the victory over it (Heb. 2:17). Similarly, this moment was an encounter that Jesus had to go through, so he could be tempted in every way we are, yet without sin (Heb. 2:18). He won.
One hyper-prosperity preacher shouted to the camera and said, “Money, come forth!” (Evidently, he based his shout on Jesus’s prayer for dead Lazarus in John 11:43: “Lazarus, come out!”). And now the hyper-prosperity preacher is richer than his wildest dreams. However, who guarantees that God provided the money for him, particularly when the preacher shouted out of his greed—clearly out of his greed. Who’s to say that Satan didn’t provide him with his riches?
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim. 6:6-10, ESV)
Verse 9 is important. Those who desire to get rich fall into temptation that may lead to ruin and destruction. In v. 10, “craving” could be translated as “greed.” Satan works through our vices. Greed is a vice. Therefore Satan can work through that vice. Satan may have made this hyper-prosperity preacher fabulously wealthy.
Back to the commentary. This passage teaches that Satan rules over the kingdoms of the world, yet God’s kingdom is far above Satan’s worldly kingdoms, in authority and power. We do know that the whole world is under the sway of the devil (1 John 5:19), and he is the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). The tension between God’s right to rule and Satan’s right to rule with a limited scale and scope and humankind’s right to rule with a limited scale and scope by using his free will can never be fully resolved until Jesus returns and sweeps aside all earthly kingdoms and eventually throws Satan in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).
“worship”: it is the verb proskuneō (pronounced pros-koo-neh-oh), and it literally means “kiss toward.” Further, it can mean, depending on the context, “(fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully.” The Bible shows that people do those things to humans (Matt. 18:26; Acts 10:25; Rev. 3:9); to God (Matt. 4:10; John 4:20, 23; 12:20; Acts 24:11; 1 Cor. 14:25; Heb. 11:21; Rev. 4:10; 14:7; 19:4); to idols (Acts. 7:43); to the devil and Satanic beings (Matt. 4:9; Luke 4:7; Rev. 9:20; 13:4; 14:9, 11); to Christ (Matt. 2:2, 8, 11; 8:2; 9:18: 14:33; 20:20; 15:25; 28:9, 17; Mark 5:6; 15:19; Luke 24:52). Welcoming people respectfully is appropriate. However, the only appropriate beings to whom worships belongs and is due are God and Christ, not humans or devils or idols. Here it means “bow down,” but I chose “worship.”
Don’t do foolish things by honoring Satan; you do this by getting involved in magical, demonic practices. See my post on the topic:
The temptation asks Jesus to break the first commandment. It is a reminder that Israel devolved into idolatry, even while the law was delivered (Exod. 32). What will Jesus do? The next verse explains.
Jesus replied to Satan’s temptation by quoting Scripture. Are you seeing a pattern?
Jesus also commanded Satan to “Go!” or “depart!” I believe the Father through the Spirit communicated to the Son that the devil’s temptation was up; it was over. Time to move forward. Your trial / temptation has a time limit on it. Tell Satan to leave!
Jesus says one must worship God exclusively. No idolatry that Israel got into! “If he is to rule the world, it will be by the path of obedience to the Father. Later in Matthew, it becomes clear that this path leads to the cross, a fact that is difficult even for Peter to grasp (Matt. 16:21-26)” (Turner, comment on 4:10).
“Look!” This replaces the outdated “Behold!” (though I admit I like “Behold!” It introduces a new event in the pericope. Pay attention! Something significant is happening. Yes, Matthew is borrowing from the OT’s “behold,” but it is clear that he intends his Gospel to read out loud, as he moved his storyline along.
So Satan did what Jesus commanded. And then angels ministered to him. Jesus mentions angelic ministries in 13:39, 41, 39; 16:27; 18:10; 22:30; 24:31; 25:31, 41.
Renewalists believe that God still speaks in dreams. He even sends angels to appear in them, as we saw in Joseph’s life back in Matt. 2.
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11, ESV). So God sent his angels in the right context and at the right time. Satan had said God would send angels to catch Jesus if he would jump. Wrong. But God did send angels after his Son overcame Satan.
Here is a multi-part study of angels in the area of systematic theology, but first a list of the basics.
(a) Are messengers (in Hebrew mal’ak and in Greek angelos);
(b) Are created spirit beings;
(c) Have a beginning at their creation (not eternal);
(d) Have a beginning, but they are immortal (deathless).
(e) Have moral judgment;
(f) Have a certain measure of free will;
(g) Have high intelligence;
(h) Do not have physical bodies;
(i) But can manifest with immortal bodies before humans;
(j) Can show the emotion of joy.
See my posts about angels in the area of systematic theology:
In Joel Green’s commentary on the Gospel of Luke (The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. [Eerdman’s, 1997], he sees these parallels between Israel’s desert wandering and Jesus’s temptation scene (I change the references from Luke to Matthew).
- Israel was divinely led in the wilderness (Deut. 8:2); Jesus was led by the Spirit (Matt. 4:1);
- forty years (Exod. 16:35; Num. 14:34; Deut. 8:2); forty days (Matt. 4:2);
- Israel as God’s son (Exod. 4:22-23); Jesus as God’s Son (Matt. 4:3, 6);
- Testing of Jesus is like the testing of Israel; note that the texts Jesus quotes refers to Israel’s testing (Deut. 6-8);
- Israel rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit and disobeyed God (Is. 63:10); Jesus was full of the Spirit (Luke 4:1) or led by the Spirit (Matt. 4:1) and obeyed his Father (Matt. 4:1-11).
Jesus’ temptations therefore illustrate the precious truth that he was indeed tempted in every way common to human experience (Heb 2:17–18; 4:15). This does not mean that he underwent every conceivable temptation but that he experienced every major kind. Someone who appreciates the insidious lure of one addictive drug, for example, need not be tempted by every other drug in order to empathize with those temptations. But the three temptations Matt 4:1–11 presents encompass a remarkable amount of human experience. (comment on 4:11)
Yes, this successful resistance to Satan’s temptation launches Jesus’s ministry. But Jesus is also binding the strong man or Satan (Matt. 12:29-32). A “new sheriff” is in town.
Some readers will notice the different sequence between this passage here and in Luke 4:1-13. The second and third temptations have been switched. Why? It is anyone’s guess. So which one is the “true” sequence? Matthew uses the more specific time marker tote (pronounced toh-teh), “then,” while Luke does not have this word. This means that Luke was not going for strict chronology. However, an objector can still claim that the two temptations are switched and demand that they must not be. Another possible answer: Luke had a different source. However, an objector could point out that Luke’s source still does not match Matthew’s account. Round and around the objections go.
Many postmodern critics read these ancient documents in bad faith, believing that the authors were liars and plagiarists. The critics employ no subtlety or finesse and look for ways to put these ancient texts down. They will never be satisfied. They belong to their own hyper-skeptical age.
The best answer to these objections is that it just does not matter. We get the main point of the two passages: Jesus was led in the wilderness by the Spirit–for testing / temptation–he used Scripture to rebuke Satan–Jesus won. Jesus is launching an attack on the kingdom of Satan, and as the Son of God ushers in the kingdom of God. Jesus is binding the strong man or Satan (Matt. 12:29-32). Go for the spirit and essence of this passage, even in their switched sequence. In this way, Matthew’s and Luke’s versions are the same and do not contradict each other.
As I noted in my commentary on this section of Scripture, we can learn how to fight Satan by surrendering to God.
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (Jas, 4:7, NIV)
Evidently, James, Jesus’s (half-)brother, heard about Jesus submitting to God and then resisting the devil. We must do the same. Don’t overlook the submission to God first; then resist the devil. That’s the essential message of Matthew and Luke in the temptation scene, which we can learn and practice.
We must not let our faith be so brittle that it snaps in two when these differences present themselves. It would be foolish to throw out the entire Bible, as some uptight pastors and teachers demand. “If the Bible were to be wrong in one historical detail, then we cannot trust it about God and theology and our faith and practice!” That’s an overreaction. The Bible is not brittle, and nor should your faith be. We can still learn wonderful truths from the Bible about God and his redemptive plan of salvation in Christ and how we can live our lives in him. The American church of the more restrictive variety needs to relax a lot more.
My view of Scripture: It’s very high, but I don’t believe in “total inerrancy” or “hyper-inerrancy”; I allow for the inspired authors to rearrange the material, without their taking away from the truth of the passage (and so do many ‘total’ inerrantists).
Begin a series on the reliability of the Gospels. Start with the Conclusion which has quick summaries and links back to the other parts
The Gospels have a massive number of agreements in their storylines, so focus on and celebrate them:
See this part in the series that puts differences in perspective (a difference ≠ a contradiction):
Including data points in one Gospel
Omitting data points in another Gospel
= Differences ≠ Contradiction
= Differences ≠ errors
I urge everyone to see the postmodern critics for who they are and not take them seriously.
GrowApp for Matt. 4:1-11
A.. Please read Eph. 6:16 (and even vv. 10-15). How can you pray for God to raise up a shield of faith over your mind? How did Jesus defeat Satan?
B.. Read James 4:7. Jesus fasted for forty days. How would the spiritual disciplines like praying and worshipping in private and at church help you submit to God? What about living without some luxuries once in a while, or turning off the TV and social media for a period of time?
The Galilean Ministry Begins (Matt. 4:12-17)
12 When Jesus heard that John was handed over, he departed for Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth behind, he went and settled in Capernaum on the lake in the vicinity of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 in order that what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah would be fulfilled, saying,
15 The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, path of the lake, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
16 The people sitting in darkness have seen a great light.
And to those sitting in the land even of shadowy death,
A light dawns on them. [Is. 9:1-2]
17 From then on, Jesus began to proclaim and say, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has drawn close!”
John was arrested and put in prison for preaching against Herod Antipas, who had married his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. Jump ahead to Matt. 14:1-12 to find out the sordid story of the unjust plot against John. He will be beheaded.
After Jesus was baptized, he apparently went back to Nazareth to say his good-byes. He left his hometown behind. I like to picture Jesus as a tidy man, as he worked in the carpentry shop or atelier. He put away his tools where they belonged, took off his work apron, and folded it up, and walked out the door and left, never to return to his old profession. His bothers could run the family business. Then he settled in a town by the lake of Galilee. It was larger than Nazareth. He set up his base there, but he won’t stay long.
You can google where Zebulun and Naphtali on a map of first-century Israel.
Professional NT scholars estimate that Capernaum ranged in population from 1000 to 10,000. A centurion lived there (Matt. 8:5) and a custom post was stationed there (9:9), so it was an administrative center. So it was probably closer to 10,000 than to 1000. (Keener says it was closer to 1,000-2,000, p. 145, note 210.) It was traditionally a Jewish town, unlike other towns in Galilee, which had been Hellenized (Greek) or Romanized (Roman). Jesus at first ministered only to his fellow Jews, but Matthew repeatedly stresses the mission to Gentiles, either implicitly (Matt. 1:3, 5-6; 2:1; 5:47; 6:32; 15:28; 22:9) or by open teaching (8:10-12; 21:43; 24:14; 28:19). Galilee represents Jews and Gentiles. So of course the Jerusalem establishment, extra-pure Jews, looked down on them. Some of the extra-pious saw them as foreigners, and they will oppose Jesus the Galilean, not just for geographical reasons, but for his confrontational style and his opposition to the temple complex.
Turner notes that politically Israel’s prospects were dark when Jesus arrived on the scene and were “symptomatic of her need for the redemption from sin available through Jesus the Messiah” (comment on 4:14-16).
Once again Matthew has a high regard for Scripture. He quotes it devoutly, though specialist scholars say he approximated the quotation in these two verses from Is. 9:1-2. But Scripture is Matthew’s foundation. His writings and the rest of the NT and the OT, properly interpreted, should also be our foundation.
It is not only about quoting Scripture to demonstrate how Jesus fulfills it. He also fulfills it by its patterns and themes and principles. Example: the kingdom is greater than the temple; his crucifixion is a ransom for many, thus abrogating (canceling) the old sacrificial system.
Messianic Prophecies (a long table of quoted verses)
I really like this verse and its poetry. It calls those two regions “path of the lake.” Apparently that phrase means that the lake is within those two regions. For centuries, more Gentiles (non-Jews) lived in Galilee (north) than in Judea (south and contained Jerusalem), which is in the south and the province containing Jerusalem. Judeans were therefore suspicious of the mixture both racial and cultural of Galileans.
Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). Light chases way darkness. The poetry of this verse is rich: people sit in darkness, even the shadowlands. This means people are easily confused. They need more light.
Here’s a literal translation to catch the poetry:
The people sitting in darkness have seen a great light;
On those sitting in darkness in the region and shadow of death,
A light has dawned on them. (Matt. 4:16)
People “sitting” means they were residing or living in darkness. Maybe the heavy Gentile mixture proved to bring darkness on people. Yes, the pronoun “them” at the end is repeated in Greek, even though the phrase “on those sitting” could handle the verb “has dawned.”
Okay! Now his ministry begins in earnest. He is launched. We should pause to reflect. He just left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum. Surely he said goodbye to his mother, possibly his father, if he was still alive, and his brothers and sisters. Did they wonder what he was doing? Why was he leaving? He has a good business going here, a growing concern. The town of Tiberias was nearby, and surely the people there bought some of his products and used his services. But he left it all behind.
What was his message, the main theme in his “song” or ministry? “Repent! The kingdom of God has come close!”
“Repent!” it is the verb metanoeō (pronounced meh-tah-noh-eh-oh), and “to repent” literally means “to change (your) mind.” And it goes deeper than mental assent or agreement. Another word for repent is the Greek stem streph– (including the prefixes ana-, epi-, and hupo-), which means physically “to turn” (see Luke 2:20, 43, 45). That reality-concept is all about new life. One turns around 180 degrees, going from the direction of death to the new direction of life. In discipleship, it is the turning of one’s whole being towards God.
“kingdom of heaven”: Matthew substitutes “heaven” (literally heavens or plural) nearly every time (except for 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43, where he uses kingdom of God). Why? Four possible reasons: (1) Maybe some extra-pious Jews preferred the circumlocution or the roundabout way of speaking, but this answer is not always the right one, for Matthew does use the phrase “kingdom of God” four times; (2) the phrase “kingdom of heaven” points to Christ’s post-resurrection authority; God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth (beginning with Jesus’s ministry) is now mediated through Jesus (28:18); (3) “kingdom of God” makes God the king (26:29) and leaves less room to ascribe the kingdom to Jesus (16:28; 25:31, 34, 40; 27:42), but the phrase “kingdom of heaven” leaves more room to say Jesus is the king Messiah. (4) It may be a stylistic variation that has no deeper reasoning behind it (France). In my view the third option shows the close connection to the doctrine of the Trinity; the Father and Son share authority, after the Father gives it to him during his Son’s incarnation. The kingdom of heaven is both the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom of the Messiah (Carson). And, since I like streamlined interpretations, the fourth one also appeals to me.
Now let’s go for a general consideration of the kingdom of heaven / God. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
GrowApp for Matt. 4:12-17
A.. Jesus had to leave behind his old and comfortable way of life in Nazareth. Have you had to leave your old life behind? What’s your story?
B.. How has the light of Jesus dawning on you changed your life?
The Calling of Four Fishermen (Matt. 4:18-22)
18 Walking along the Lake of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting their net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 Then he said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of people.” 20 And they left their nets and followed him. 21 Then he went ahead from there and saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, repairing their net, and he called them. 22 And instantly they left the boat and their father and followed him.
These three men—Peter, James and John—will form the inner core of Jesus’s twelve apostles (see Matt. 17:1; 26:37). Apparently, he saw something in them that was special. Peter will turn out to be the lead apostle. Sidebar comment: I wonder how it would feel to be Peter’s brother, Andrew? Let’s hope Andrew admired his brother and was not jealous.
“Lake”: it is most often translated as “sea,” because of the Greek word, but the Shorter Lexicon offers the option of “lake.” And since the body of water in Galilee is a lake, I chose this term. The old traditional title, “The Sea of Galilee,” to modern readers, makes no sense when they see it on an online map; the term is inaccurate, unless it has an expanded meaning in the original.
“Come after me”: Etiquette required the disciples of a rabbi to walk behind him, literally. That social reality is revealed in the Greek construction: “come after me.” Many translations say “follow me,” which also shows people walking behind the leader. “The call to discipleship … is an unconditional, unexplained demand, not a polite, reasoned invitation. For the first disciples the following of Jesus entails both literally traveling with him and ethically obeying his teaching and modeling God’s will, which leads to hardship and peril (8:19, 22; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21)” (Turner in his comment son 4:19).
Jesus practice of itinerancy (traveling around) goes back to the OT prophets (1 Sam. 7:16-17; 2 Kings 4:8-10) (Keener p. 155).
Matthew compressed his narrative. If you want to read an expanded version, go to Luke 5:1-11. In Luke’s version, the four men were business partners. In his version, Jesus performed a miracle. That’s why Peter and Andrew and James and John were convinced to follow Jesus instantly.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus, saying, “Depart from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord!” 9 For fear overcame him and everyone with him at the catch of fish which they caught. 10 Likewise also for James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. (Luke 5:8-10)
No wonder they followed him.
“people”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos, and see v. 4 for more comments.
“Discipleship is a life of obedience (this is not a suggestion but an absolute demand) and following the example of Jesus” (Osborne on 4:19).
In the previous pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section of Scripture, Jesus was the great light. Light shining out of the soul and spirit of Jesus can draw people. They felt something coming from him. Add the miraculous catch of fish, and of course their response was “instant.”
I wonder, however, how Zebedee felt about his two sons leaving him with the fishing business. Sometimes people just have to make great sacrifices. It could be that Zebedee appreciated Jesus and his miracles. Or it could be that Zebedee was surprised to see his sons walk on down the path near the lake, going out of sight.
His wife followed Jesus too, with other women from Galilee (Luke 8:2-3). On route to Jerusalem she asked Jesus if her two sons could sit on Jesus’s right and left hands, when he comes in his kingdom (Matt. 20:20-28). Of course, he replied that he could not guarantee it. It was a mild rebuke or push back. She went all the way to Jerusalem to see Jesus be crucified and then resurrected (Matt. 27:56). She was bold and committed.
“In Matthew, following Jesus is repeatedly put in tension with family relationships (cf. 8:21-22; 10:21, 34-37; 12:46-50; 19:20)” (Turner in his comments on 4:21-22).
GrowApp for Matt. 4:18-22
A.. How did Jesus call you to follow him? Has he called you into formal ministry, or is your ministry reaching out to your needy neighbors? How do you carry out his calling on your life?
Ministering to a Great Multitude (Matt. 4:23-25)
23 And he circulated throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every malady among the people. 24 And the report about him went out to all of Syria, and they brought to him everyone having illnesses, various sicknesses and pains—those being tormented and suffering from being demonized and having seizures and paralytics—and he healed them. 25 Huge crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and beyond the Jordan River.
This is a summary section or pericope, which we also find in Matt. 8:16-17 and 9:35. So Turner sees 4:23 and 9:35 as an inclusio or bookends that frame a major section.
“teaching”: this is different in delivery from proclaiming. Jesus will tell his disciples to teach in the great Commission (Matt. 28:20), when Jesus is no longer on earth but ascended into heaven.
“gospel”: it is the Greek noun euangelion (pronounced you-ahng-gee-on, and the “g” is hard as in “get”). It simply combines “good” or positive” (eu) and “report” or “news” or “announcement” (angelion). So literally it means “good news” or “good report” or “good announcement.” The gospel is good news, not bad news. Never forget it, ye old harsh preachers.
“kingdom”: see v. 17 for more comments. Part and parcel of the kingdom coming and being manifested is healing and deliverance. Jesus was ushering it in. Renewalists (Pentecostals and Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics) believe that they too, by the power and authority of Jesus, can see healings and deliverances from demons. They too can pray for the sick and demonized, and they shall recover.
“healing”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.” “This (and ‘all their sick’ in v. 24) does not means he healed every ill person in Galilee but rather everyone who was brought to him. This is an example of hyperbole, so favored in the first century. Moreover, this authority was passed to the disciples in 10:1. The church is to relive the life and authority of Jesus” (Osborne, on 4:23).
“their”: Here we have the first instance of their (see 7:29; 8:34; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54; 22:7; 22:16). Why does Matthew keep saying “their synagogue or their city or their teachers of the law? My opinion: his community has moved well past Judaism and must distinguish between the newly formed Christian community and the Jewish community.
“It is clear from Matt. 4:23-25 that Jesus’s ministry is holistic. He deals with both physical and spiritual needs, the former sometimes evidently preceding the latter. Although he demands repentance, he does not make repentance the prerequisite for healing. Jesus has compassion on the needy crowds and acts to help them, evidently in many cases before they hear him preach” (Turner in his comments 4:23). Then Turner quotes two other commentators: “The first act of the Messiah is not the imposition of his commandments but the giving of himself.” Perfectly said. Matthew intends this ministry model for the ministry of the disciples (Osborne, ibid.).
Syria is pretty far north, considering that many people had to walk. It is stunning to me that they brought the paralytics all the way from there. They must have rigged up some carts and harnessed oxen to pull them.
“everyone”: this is rhetorical, because if we take it literally, then every sick person in Syria would have swamped his ministry (see Keener, p. 155-56). Maybe we can say he healed everyone who came to him, but not everyone in the entire region.
“having illnesses”; it literally says “having bad or evil.” I decided not to render a literal translation because Grammarian Olmstead says it is an idiom meaning “ill.” However, for the record I believe a Greek listener would have registered the word “badly” in their minds, as really bad illnesses.
“demonized”: the one verb is translated simply. There are two main ways in the Greek NT to express demonic attacks to varying degrees, from full possession to just attacks: “have a demon” and “demonized.” The latter term is used often in Matthew: 4:24; 8:16, 28, 35; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22, but only once in Luke (8:36), and Mark four times (1:32; 5:15, 16, 18). John uses the term once (10:21). In Luke 8:26-39, Luke uses both “have a demon” and “demonized,” so he sees the terms synonymously. “Demonized” comes from the verb daimonizomai (pronounced dy-mo-nee-zo-my), which just adds the suffix –izo to the noun daimōn (pronounced dy-moan). It is a very convenient quality about Greek (English has this ability too: modern to modernize). Just add this prefix to a noun or adjective, and it turns into a verb. So it looks like “have a demon” and “be demonized” are synonyms. The context determines how severe the possession was. In this verse it is used generally, without precision as to the depth of possession.
Whatever the case, the answer was the same: deliverance by the power and authority of Jesus.
“seizures”: they could be epileptics. It is sad that kids have seizures, due to a brain malfunction. Parents need to lay hand on their children and pray regularly for them. They should do it every day for ten or more years, if necessary. They need to pray that the loving Father rewires the brain. They need to rebuke any satanic activity lurking behind the physical affliction.
“paralytics”: They were paralyzed in some way. It is so wonderful to see Jesus healing them. I like to picture how Jesus did this. Was it just a word? Did he lay hands on them? Did he rub oil on them? Yes, to all of those ways. Lord, give us more!
“healed”: see v. 23 for more comments.
Healing is the dinner bell to draw the big crowds. But notice that he preached the gospel of the kingdom, first. Miracles and healings confirm the Word, not the other way around. But sometimes, as noted, miracles happened without the Gospel recording that he taught first. Notice, too, in v. 23, that he circulated around that region. He was not a fly-by-night evangelist. He did not just hold big meetings, heal people, collect an offering, and move on. He kept his ministry within a geographical area at first, and then he will expand it as his ministry goes on.
In short, Jesus was a man of the people, not a holier-than-thou unapproachable healing evangelist. He got his “hands dirty” doing miracle work. It can be rough.
These three verses are summaries. We will read that many people did not repent, even after they saw the miracles. Capernaum, his adopted hometown, will be particularly pointed out as stubborn (11:23-24). Nazareth, Joseph’s hometown and where Jesus grew up, also rejected him, even though they saw the mighty works he did (13:53-58). Mark reports that his mighty works were few because of the hometown’s unbelief; all he could do is heal a few sick people. He marveled at their unbelief (Mark 6:5-6).
We should therefore be careful about over-interpreting these summary verses. On the other hand, let’s not discount them either. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that sometimes people just are not healed down here on earth, so let’s not freak out when the healing doesn’t happen.
Please see my post on why this is:
One last point in the areas of systematic theology and practical ministry:
Jesus ministered by the power and anointing of the Spirit, according to the main message of Scripture (Acts 10:38), though some theologians say that he used his divine nature. It is likely that the Father and the Spirit cooperated with his divine nature, so the first and third persons of the Trinity is working together in the Son of God. His entire ministry was about doing what the Father did and in a similar manner. 19 “Jesus then replied and said to them, “I tell you the firm truth: The Son is unable to do anything on his own, unless it is something he sees the Father doing, for the things that he does—the Son also does those things in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows to him everything that he himself is doing” … (John 5:19). “Unable” should not be over-interpreted, but simply means that in his ministry, the Father empowered him.
GrowApp for Matt. 4:23-25
A.. Jesus had a healing ministry. Has he healed your soul or body? Tell your story.
Summary and Conclusion
Osborne is right:
Repentance is a total change of mind and heart that involves a new lifestyle as well as a new allegiance to God and Christ. It is the heart of the message of the NT as a whole, for without a mourning for sin and a complete turning from sin to God, there can be no new life in him. We enter the kingdom on our knees. The reason is that sin is antithetical to God; that is why Christ had to die on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for sin. Paul says that faith is the necessary response (eighteen times in Rom 3:19-4:25), and repentance is the first step of faith. (p. 145)
Some have seen these parallels. First let’s quote 1 John 2:16 and Gen. 3:6:
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:16, ESV)
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Gen. 3:6, ESV)
|1 John 2:16||Eve (Gen. 3:6)||Jesus Christ’s Temptations|
|Cravings of sinful people||Good for food||First (stones to bread)|
|Lust of the eyes||Pleasing to the eye||Third (kingdoms)|
|Boasting||Desirable for gaining wisdom||Second (throw yourself down)|
|Osborne, p. 137|
In the above table, you can connect the dots.
Let’s look at other theological points we can gain from the testing / temptation of Jesus.
First, Jesus is the model for victory over Satan. It is odd that some scholars say that memorizing Scripture is not a path to victory, but I disagree. It is difficult for redeemed humans to sort out God’s thoughts from human thoughts and Satan’s implanted thoughts. If we memorize Scripture, we can get our minds transformed; then it is easier to sort out the confusion, So, for example, if we are tempted to place a person or object above God, we can remember that Jesus said to worship only God.
Second, Jesus does not go for attention because he is not self-centered. As much as I don’t like to say it, platform speakers and singers often seek attention. They seem to say: “God’s Spirit will flow through me to you. I’m the superstar. You depend on me. I won’t teach you how to pray. Only I get to ‘do the stuff!’” No. As one balanced “signs and wonders” guy said, “Everyone gets to play.” I add: Only Jesus gets the glory for healing.
Third, Jesus did not acquire kingdoms of the world through Satan, who would have inspired Jesus to raise a military and attack people. Islam won a large swathe of the world through military conquest, and Islam became rich. Jesus and his followers did not do this for hundreds of years.
Fourth, Jesus began his ministry in his own region. Before we reach the world, let’s help out those closest to us. What was his message at the first? Repent, for the kingdom of God has drawn near. But that was just the beginning. In the next three chapters, he will tell us what the fruits worthy of repentance look like.
Fifth, when Jesus called his disciples, he did not choose the high and mighty, but ordinary fishermen. He was going to teach them what discipleship was about: Follow him to the very end. Give up your old life and follow him. Learn his teaching, and then go out and teach. Learn how to heal the sick and cast out demons, and then go out and do the same. It is a radical call to submission to God.
Sixth, I really like the summary passage about healing and deliverance. Healing is a dinner bell, and people from far and wide will come to be healed and to see their loved ones healed. The main point about the summary is what I said in the fifth point. Observe and do. So are these power gifts available today? Cessationists say no, for, as their name implies, the gifts, particularly in 1 Cor. 12:7-11, have ceased after the apostolic age. Continuationists say yes, and as their name implies, the gifts continue for today.
For me the issue is clear. I can find nowhere in Scripture where the gifts have ceased. No, 1 Cor. 13:10 does not teach that the “perfect” that is to come is the Bible, so the partial things have been completed and are no longer needed. One has to damage Scripture in context to prove this theory. Paul didn’t even realize there was a canon of Scripture that was going to be completed. He died before John’s epistles were written, for example. Nowhere in Scripture is it assumed that the gifts of healing and deliverance died out. We Renewalists have witnessed them with our own eyes, without manipulation or fakery: blind eyes have been opened, the deaf hear, and yes, the lame walk; people with cancer are healed.
In any case, the gifts are for today, and we all “get to play.”
Osborne, pp. 136-38; 144-46; 150-52; 156-58
Please begin my series on the Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:7-11:
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew. The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdman’s 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdman’s 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 1-14: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).