The Temptation of Jesus (4:1-11)
1 At the time of His baptism Jesus was about thirty years old (Luke 3:23). Immediately after the baptism He was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil, that is, SATAN.
In order for the sinless Christ to fully become man, it was necessary that He experience the temptations common to all men (see Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-15 and comments). God allows Satan to tempt and test each one of us in order that our faith might be strengthened and purified (see 1 Peter 1:6-7 and comment). In the New Testament two kinds of temptation are mentioned: first, the pain and trouble that comes from outside of us; and second, the inner desires that lead its into sin. In this verse, Matthew is talking mainly about this second kind of inner temptation. God never tempts us to sin. It is Satan who tempts us to sin, and he does so through our evil desires (see James 1:13-14 and comment). Jesus Himself had no evil desires; therefore, the Spirit had to lead Him into the desert to be tempted. To only be tempted is not a sin; the sin is to fall into temptation.12 Jesus did not fall.
Jesus was tempted by the devil immediately after His baptism. This is also the experience of many Christians. When we escape from the devil’s authority and through faith enter God’s family, the devil is furious and attacks us and tries to draw us back under his authority. One of the main ways we have of resisting the devil’s attack is by being fully assured that we are now the children of God. God had just spoken saying about Jesus: “This is my Son” (Matthew 3:17). The Spirit had descended upon Him (Matthew 3:16). He went into the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). When we face temptation, let us remember that we are sons and daughters of God, and let us pray that we might be full of the Spirit so that we, like Jesus, might overcome Satan.
2 Before being tempted by the devil, Jesus fasted for forty days. This was a sign of the forty years the Jews were tested in the Sinai desert13 after escaping from Egypt. (These years are described in the Old Testament books of Exodus and Numbers.) Just as the Jews, God’s chosen people, were tempted (Deuteronomy 8:2), so Jesus also was tempted. However, Jesus did not fall into sin as the Jews did.
The three temptations described in this section correspond to the three temptations into which the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, fell (Genesis 3:1-6). The forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom (Genesis 3:6).
The three temptations mentioned here by Matthew also correspond to the three temptations mentioned in 1 John 2:16: the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.
3 The tempter, Satan, first tried to make Jesus doubt that He was God’s Son. Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, then prove it. Do a miracle. You are hungry; you have not eaten in forty days. Turn these stones into bread.”14
Jesus had the power to turn stones into bread. Satan was tempting Jesus to use His power for His own comfort and convenience. Why should Jesus suffer hunger and pain? He could have a life of ease. Yet Jesus came into the world to suffer for us and to give His life for us (see Mark 10:45 and comment). When Jesus was hanging on the cross, those mocking Him said, “… save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God” (Matthew 27:40). The temptation to come down from the cross was essentially the same as the temptation to turn stones into bread. Because Jesus overcame Satan in the wilderness, He was better prepared to overcome Satan on the cross.
This first temptation corresponds to the cravings of sinful man mentioned by John (1 John 2:16). The forbidden fruit eaten by Adam and Eve was good for food (Genesis 3:6).
4 Jesus overcame Satan by quoting God’s word in Deuteronomy 8:3. This passage refers to the time when God fed the starving Jews in the desert with special food from heaven (called “manna”) in order to show them that they must trust only in Him and live by His word (Exodus 16:1-8,13-16,31). Man cannot live a full spiritual life by eating only bread. Man needs spiritual food, namely, the word of God (see John 6:3035,48-51).
To live by God’s word means to obey God’s word. It means to accept God’s will for our lives. Let us not complain about the “food” God gives us. The Jews in the desert complained about the manna from heaven that they were given, and as a result they were punished by a plague (Numbers 11:4-6,31-34).
5-6 Then Satan took Jesus to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem. “If you are the Son of God … throw yourself down,” said Satan. Then Satan himself quoted from Psalm 91:11-12, in order to persuade Jesus to jump. But Satan did not use the verses from Psalms correctly. The promise given in Psalms is true: God’s angels will protect us. But we cannot use this promise to demand protection from God in situations where we are not doing His will. It is very easy to misuse Scripture in this way. Quoting a verse of Scripture incompletely or out of context often gives a totally wrong meaning, and we must take care to avoid it.15
This second16 temptation was the temptation for Jesus to show He was God’s Son by doing miraculous signs and wonders. By doing miracles He could have gained the praise of everyone. In the eyes of the world, in the eyes of men, Jesus could have been like a king. This was a temptation for Jesus’ mind. It corresponds to the lust of [man’s] eyes in 1 John 2:16. The forbidden apple eaten by Adam and Eve was pleasing to the eye (Genesis 3:6).
But Jesus was not sent into the world to be an earthly king. He was not sent into the world to receive honor from men (Isaiah 53:3; Philippians 2:6-8). He was sent into the world to suffer and die for our sins. Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to reject Satan’s temptation.
7 Again, Jesus overcame Satan by quoting God’s word in Deuteronomy 6:16. This passage refers to the time when the Jews in the desert demanded a sign of God’s presence (Exodus 17:1-7). Jesus was not to tempt17 or “test” God by demanding that God use a miraculous sign to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. In the same way, we should not put God to the test by demanding special signs (see Mark 8:11-12 and comment).
8-9 The third temptation of Jesus was the greatest. Satan promised to give Christ authority over all the kingdoms of the world. It was in Satan’s power to do so. Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30). The whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). Therefore, Satan could have easily fulfilled this promise to Jesus, and Jesus could have been an earthly king of kings. He could have gained the entire world. There was only one condition: Jesus had to worship Satan instead of God.
The third temptation was the temptation to pride. This is the temptation to boasting (in some translations called the “pride of life”) mentioned in 1 John 2:16. This corresponds to the desire to be like God (Genesis 3:5) and to gain wisdom (Genesis 3:6). Without any effort, without any suffering, Christ could have had all the wisdom and power and authority in the world. All men would have bowed at His feet. Yet Jesus rejected Satan’s offer.
10 For the third time Christ overcame Satan by quoting God’s word, this time from Deuteronomy 6:13. This verse refers to the time when the Jews made a golden calf to worship in place of God (Exodus 32:1-6). Men must worship God alone and nothing else (Exodus 20:3-6).
In these temptations Jesus demonstrated how the word of God can be used as a weapon to overcome Satan and to resist temptation. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17); it is part of the armor of a Christian. If we resist Satan, he will flee from us (see James 4:7 and comment). When the tempter comes, let us say, as Jesus did, “Away from me, Satan!”
11 Then the devil left him. But not forever. According to Luke 4:13, Satan left Jesus until an opportune time. We know that Satan tempted Christ again in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross (Mark 14:32-35; 15:30-32). Satan even spoke through Jesus’ chief disciple Peter in order to tempt Jesus to avoid the cross (Mark 8:31-33).
Jesus Begins to Preach (4:12-17)
12 See Mark 1:14 and comment.
13-16 Jesus began His public ministry in Capernaum, a town on the north side of the lake, that is, the Sea of Galilee. The home of Jesus’ first two disciples, Simon and Andrew, was in Capernaum (Mark 1:21,29).
Matthew quotes from Isaiah 9:1-2 to show that the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled by Christ. In Isaiah’s time, the area of Zebulum and Naphtali in the northern part of Israel was under the control of the kingdom of Assyria.18 Isaiah prophesied about the deliverance of the people of that area from bondage: the people living in darkness have seen a great light … a light has dawned (verse 16). That light was Christ. Christ’s ministry began in Galilee in the north of Israel, just as Isaiah’s prophecy had foretold (verse 15).
17 See Mark 1:15 and comment.
The Calling of the First Disciples (4:18-22)
18-22 See Mark 1:16-20 and comment.
Jesus Heals the Sick (4:23-25)
23-25 Jesus carried out a complete ministry, teaching … preaching … and healing (verse 23). He taught in the Jewish synagogues.19 Christ preached the good news of the kingdom (see Mark 1:14-15 and comment). He healed every disease and sickness; there was no disease He could not cure. He healed not only people’s bodies, but He also healed their souls. Sin is the sickness of the soul. Jesus came to free men and women from bondage to sin. He came to forgive sins. He came to give us abundant life, both physically and spiritually (John 10:10).
Crowds came to Jesus from all over Israel, even from the Decapolis20 and from the region across the Jordan.21