Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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MATTHEW - Chapter 4

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Matthew 4

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS   3-25 (continued)

1.  The Preparation  3, 1 -- 4, 11 (continued)

4, 1-11:  The Temptation.  Since "it was right that he should in all things be made like unto his brethren" (Heb. 2, 17), Christ wished to prepare Himself in a human way for His public ministry by prayer, fasting and the overcoming of temptation.  Various reasons are suggested why our Lord should have allowed the devil to tempt Him.  (a) That just as the first Adam brought sin upon us all by succumbing to the temptations of Satan, so Christ, the Second Adam (Rom. 5, 14), should redeem us all from sin by overcoming the temptations of Satan (St. Ambrose).  (b) That He might teach us by His example how to resist temptation (St. Augustine).  (c) "For in that he himself has suffered and has been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted" (Heb. 2, 18).  "For we have not a high priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tried as we are in all things except sin" (Heb. 4, 15).  These last words also show the nature of Christ's temptations: He was tempted in all things as we are but without sin; therefore (a) He did not consent in the least to these temptations, for that would be sinful; (b) His temptations did not arise from a sinful nature, as happens with us, but solely from outside Himself, from Satan.  The devil tempted Christ principally for two reasons: (a) to discover whether He was the Messias, for he had observed the scene at the baptism of Jesus (Satan would not have tempted Him at all if he had known that He was the Son of God in the strict sense of the term); (b) to check the power of this holy Man, whether He were the Messias or not, at the very outset by making Him his slave through sin.

1.  A rather late tradition identifies the scene of Christ's temptation with the desolate stretch of mountains a few miles west of Jericho, now known as Mount Quarantal, that is, the Mount of the Forty Days (Fast).    2.  The sacred number forty is of frequent occurrence in the Bible.  Moses (Ex. 34, 28) and Elias (3 Kgs. 19, 8) also fasted for forty days and forty nights.  The nights are mentioned as well as the days to show that it was an absolute fast (cf. Luke 4, 2).  It does not necessarily follow from this verse that our Lord suffered no pangs of hunger during His fast; the Evangelist emphasizes His hunger after fasting forty days to show the nature of the first temptation.    3.  The first temptation was not primarily one of gluttony, for Christ, having completed the prescribed period of fasting, was entirely at liberty to eat; it was rather a temptation to lose confidence in God's providence.  It was not the Father's will that Jesus should work miracles merely to relieve His own necessities.  The Son of God: this term was used by Satan not in the theological sense but merely as a synonym for "the Messias."  Satan re-echoes the words that he heard at the baptism of Jesus.    4.  Our Lord rejects each of the three temptations in such a manner that He does not satisfy the curiosity of the devil concerning His Messiasship.  To each suggestion He replies by quoting Sacred Scripture.  It is rather remarkable that all three quotations are from the same Book, Deuteronomy, and indeed all from the same section of that Book.  The words quoted in this verse, from Deut. 8, 3, were spoken by Moses in reference to God's gift of the miraculous manna in the desert.  The sense intended by Christ therefore is, "If God so wills, He can sustain my life miraculously without food."  These words may also be understood in an applied sense as "The food of man's true (spiritual) life is the Word of God" (cf. John 4, 34).

5.  The holy city: Matthew alone of the Evangelists uses this term as a synonym for Jerusalem.  The native Arabic name of modern Jerusalem is likewise El Quds, "The Holy."  The pinnacle of the temple was not a steeple on the house of God but a wing-like projection of one of the porches which surrounded the court of the temple; here is probably meant the southeast corner at the juncture of the Royal Porch and the Porch of Solomon (cf. John 10, 23), where there is a sheer drop of several hundred feet to the valley of the Cedron below.    6.  Throw thyself down: a temptation to presume on God's providence just as the first had been a temptation to distrust divine providence.  It was also a temptation to vain ostentation and to a manner of manifesting oneself as the Messias such as God had not intended.  Many of the Jews indeed thought, as we know from the Talmud, that the Messias would manifest himself in this way.  Since Jesus had quoted Scripture to refute the first temptation, so also the devil now abuses Scripture in support of his second temptation.  The words which Satan cites are from Ps. 90, 11 f.  The Psalmist indeed assures the just man of God's special protection but certainly not if he should rashly and without reason expose himself to danger.    7.  Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God: the sense of these words from Deut. 6, 16 is not, "Satan, thou shalt not tempt me," but, "No one should try God or put Him to a test by foolishly asking for a miracle."  The Israelites at the time of Moses had thus "tempted the Lord" by demanding water in the desert as a proof that the Lord was with them (cf. Ex. 17, 2-7).

8.  A very high mountain: we do not know what mountain this was; it would be impossible, of course, to see all the kingdoms of the world at one time from any mountain on earth.  It would seem therefore that even though we hold, as the more natural sense of the text, that Satan really appeared in bodily form and that the temptations were really presented externally and not merely internally to the phantasy of Christ, still in this case it must have been only to the eye of Christ's mind that the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.    9.  This temptation is the climax of Satan's craftiness and audacity.  Instead of saying as before, "If thou art the Son of God," Satan now cleverly assumes that this is the Messias in order to trick Jesus into confirming this assumption and thereby revealing His dignity.  The temptation consisted in offering the political dominion of the whole world, which was the best Satan could even pretend to offer, to the Messias to whom God had promised primarily the spiritual lordship of the whole world (cf. Pss. 2, 8; 71, 8-11); and the price that Satan demanded for this bargain was the abominable sin of devil-worship.    10.  Jesus hides from the devil the fact that He is the Messias by again merely quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy (6, 13) the divine prohibition of all forms of idolatry.  But because the devil had now played his trump and been beaten, Christ banishes him with the command, Begone, Satan!

2.  The Inauguration of the Ministry in Galilee   4, 12-25

4, 12-17:  Jesus in Capharnaum.    12.  This verse does not give the reason for Christ's withdrawal from Judea into Galilee, for if fear of Herod who had just arrested the Baptist had been Christ's motive, He would certainly not have left Judea where Herod had no authority, in order to return to Herod's own tetrarchy of Galilee.  Matthew here merely points out the time of Christ's departure, as Mark 1, 14a more clearly states.  John 4, 1-3 gives the immediate reason why he withdrew from Judea into Galilee: the incipient hostility of the Pharisees, which would increase now that the Baptist was out of the way.  Luke 4, 14a gives the fundamental motive: the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for it was by divine plan that most of the ministry of Jesus should be in Galilee.    13.  And leaving the town of Nazareth: these words probably refer to Christ's first preaching at Nazareth as told in Luke 4, 16 ff.  But it is doubtful whether John 4, 44 refers to this event.  (See Commentary on this v.)  He came and dwelt in Capharnaum (parallels Mark 1, 21a and Luke 4, 31a): Christ chose this town for the headquarters of His Galilean ministry because its situation was ideal for this purpose.  Its name, Kaphar-nahum, means "Village of Nahum" (as a personal name) or "Village of Consolation."  It is now almost universally identified with the mound of ruins known as Tell Hum.  The Franciscan Fathers made excavations here and partly restored its synagogue, which had probably been built a century or two after Christ but undoubtedly on the same site where the previous one had been.  Which is by the sea, that is, of Galilee; also known as the Sea of Tiberias and the Lake of Genesareth.  The territory of Zabulon and Nephthalim corresponds with Lower and Upper Galilee; Capharnaum was about on the border between these two regions.    14-16.  Some consider this prophecy of Isaias (9, 1 f) as spoken solely and directly of Christ's preaching in Galilee; others consider these words as referring directly to the deliverance of this territory from the oppression of the Assyrians, which in turn was a type of the spiritual deliverance which Christ brought here.  The first part of this prophecy is quoted somewhat freely by St. Matthew.    17.  Christ begins His preaching at Capharnaum (referred to in a general way in Mark 1, 21b and Luke 4, 31b) by repeating the words of the Baptist (Matt. 3, 2; see Commentary there).  Similar words of Christ are recorded in Mark 1, 14b-15.  From this, one should not conclude that Jesus derived His teaching from that of John.  He was rather following a sound pedagogical principle of continuing an instruction where it had been left off.

4, 18-22:  The First Disciples Called.  Mark 1, 16-20 narrates this event in almost exactly the same words.  But Luke 5, 1-11 is so different that its harmonization with Matthew and Mark is disputed.  See Commentary there.  John 1, 35-51 tells of Christ's meeting with these first disciples on a previous occasion.  As narrated in John 1 they were called in a general way to be the disciples of Christ; in the narrative of the Synoptic Gospels they are called to be His intimate followers who will accompany Him on all the journeys of His ministry.    18.  Casting a net into the sea: in the Greek text this net is called by a specific name, the "casting-net."  This consisted of a circular piece of light-weight mesh around the ends of which were attached small weights.  The fisherman gathered all the mesh carefully in his hand and standing on the shore or in a boat over shallow water, would hurl the net in such a manner that the weights spread out over the spot where he saw fish.  A different Greek word (the "drag-net") is used in the parable of The Net (Matt. 13, 47-50); this net was of an entirely different type and was probably also the type of net referred to in Luke 5, 4-6 and John 21, 6.

4, 23-25:  Mission of Preaching and Miracles.  These verses give a general summary of Christ's ministry in Galilee and serve at the same time as an introduction for the Sermon on the Mount (5-7).  A similar general summary of the Galilean ministry after the first miracles at Capharnaum is given in Mark 1, 39 and Luke 4, 44.    24 f.  Parallel accounts of miraculous cures in general and of the large crowds that gathered around Jesus are given in Mark 3, 7-12 and Luke 6, 17-19; cf. also Matt. 12, 15-21.

Confraternity Bible:

The Temptation  1 Then Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit, to be tempted by the devil.  2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  3 And the tempter came and said to him, "If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread."  4* But he answered and said, "It is written,
'Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.'"
5 Then the devil took him into the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6* and said to him, "If thou art the  Son of God, throw thyself down; for it is written,
'He will give his angels charge concerning thee;

And upon their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.'" 
7* Jesus said to him, "It is written further,
'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.'"
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.  9 And he said to him, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."  10* Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written,
'The Lord thy God shalt thou worship and him only shalt thou serve.'" 
11 Then the devil left him; and behold, angels came and ministered to him.

Jesus in Capharnaum  12 Now when he heard that John had been delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee.  13 And leaving the town of Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capharnaum, which is by the sea, in the territory of Zabulon and Nephthalim; 14 that what was spoken through Isaias the prophet might be fulfilled:
15* 'Land of Zabulon and land of Nephthalim, by the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:

16* The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light;

And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death, a light has arisen." 
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

The First Disciples  18 As he was walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen).  19 And he said to them, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."  20 And at once they left the nets, and followed him.  21 And going farther on, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.  22 And immediately they left their nets and their father, and followed him.

Preaching and Miracles  23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people.  24 And his fame spread into all Syria; and they brought to him all the sick suffering from various diseases and torments, those possessed, and lunatics, and paralytics; and he cured them.  25 And large crowds followed him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.


4: Deut. 8, 3.

6: Ps. 90, 11 f.

7: Deut. 6, 16.

10: Deut. 6, 13.

15-16: Isa. 9, 1 f.