Matthew 4 Study Notes


4:1-2 The temptation of Christ highlights numerous parallels between Jesus and OT Israel. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 says that the Lord led Israel into the wilderness to be tested for forty years. Similarly, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested for forty days. The three temptations Jesus faced parallel the tests Israel faced in the wilderness, and every Scripture that Jesus quoted in response to his temptations was drawn from God’s message to the Israelites about their wilderness test (Dt 6-8). Israel failed its tests, but Jesus passed his and in doing so “fulfilled all righteousness” (see Mt 3:15). Thus he is qualified to create a new spiritual Israel. Several features of Matthew confirm Jesus’s intention to gather a new people for God. He chose twelve disciples to parallel Israel’s twelve tribes. This was a conscious effort to identify his followers as the new Israel. The fact that Jesus was hungry shows that he was truly human as well as divine.

4:3 The stones that littered the wilderness floor resembled small round loaves of bread in shape, size, and color. Interpreters disagree as to why it would have been wrong for Jesus to transform and eat the stones. Most suggest that he was tempted to exercise supernatural power rather than depend on God’s provision. Clues in the text suggest that the Spirit, who led Jesus into the wilderness, commanded this fast. Thus, breaking the fast prematurely would have been an act of disobedience, preventing Jesus from fulfilling every act of righteousness (3:15). Jesus aimed to end his fast when the test was over and no sooner. God would signal the end by providing food. Matthew 4:11 shows that at fast’s end, angels came and “began to serve” Jesus. The verb serve means “to serve as a table-waiter” and implies that the angels fed Jesus. During their wilderness wanderings, Israel failed to trust God to provide food and water. Jesus, the embodiment of the new Israel, had unwavering trust in God’s care. On Son of God, see note at 3:17.

4:4 Jesus quoted Dt 8:3. His reference to every word that comes from the mouth of God recalls the OT theme that God’s words are not idle but are to be received as commands. Deuteronomy 8:1,6 emphasize the need to obey God’s commands, and Dt 8:1 teaches that man lives by following God’s commandments just as 8:3 says that man lives by what comes from God’s mouth (Dt 6:24). Thus the OT text that Jesus quoted teaches that obeying God is more important than being well-fed. Israel struggled to learn this truth (Ex 16:3; Nm 11:4-5). In contrast, Jesus hungered for righteousness more than bread and thirsted for obedience more than water. He urged his disciples to have the same priority (Mt 5:6).

4:5-7 Satan quoted Ps 91:11-12 out of context, trying to convince Jesus that the Father would supernaturally protect him even if he gambled with his life. Jesus responded by quoting Dt 6:16 which refers to the time when Israel, angry and thirsty, questioned God’s presence until he miraculously produced a stream of water from a rock: “They tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Ex 17:7). Had Jesus succumbed to Satan’s temptation, it would indicate that his faith was frail and depended on God’s miraculous action. Jumping from the pinnacle of the temple would test God by attempting to force him to perform a miracle.

Satan implied that God is trustworthy only when he rescues us from suffering and danger. Jesus knew better. God is trustworthy even when he allows us or even causes us to suffer. True faith recognizes this and perseveres through hard times. When Jesus suffered on the cross (27:41-44), those who tormented him used arguments similar to that of the devil: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” They even quoted Ps 22:8 to argue that Jesus would be rescued if God really loved him, much as Satan quoted Ps 91:11-12 to argue that God would rescue Jesus from a deadly fall if he were really God’s Son. Again, Jesus knew better. He trusted God even through a brutal scourging, even when nails were driven through his limbs, and even when God let him suffer a horrible death.

4:8-9 Although Satan exercises some authority over the world (Lk 4:6; Jn 12:31), the kingdoms of the world belong to God, and he promised to give them to his Son (Ps 2:8).

4:10-11 Jesus responded to Satan by quoting from Dt 6:14 and 10:20. If Jesus had worshiped Satan in order to gain worldly power, it would have indicated that he valued creation more than the Creator and the kingdoms of the earth more than the kingdom of God. Jesus insisted that only God is worthy of worship. After citing Dt 6:13, Jesus’s reception of worship later in this Gospel (8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9,17) without rebuking the worshiper (cp. Ac 10:25-26; 14:11-15) strongly implies his deity. That the angels came to serve Jesus further implies his superior status.

4:12 John the Baptist had been arrested because he dared to say that Herod Antipas’s marriage to his brother’s wife was immoral. As tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (Lk 3:1), Herod did not have jurisdiction over Judea, the locale of Jesus’s baptism and wilderness temptation. Thus Jesus fearlessly marched into the heart of Herod’s territory when he heard of John’s arrest. In Lk 13:31-33, the Pharisees urged Jesus to leave Galilee in order to escape arrest by Herod. Jesus replied by calling Herod “that fox” and insisted that he would travel to Jerusalem only because it was necessary for him to die there, not to flee Herod. Jesus caused kings to tremble (2:3; 14:1-2), but he himself feared no man.

4:13 At this point Jesus made an important strategic move by shifting his headquarters from Nazareth to Capernaum. Nazareth was an obscure village, but Capernaum was a much larger fishing center on the shores of Lake Galilee. It boasted a tax collection station and a Roman garrison of at least a hundred soldiers. By the sea alludes to Isaiah’s prophecies, which describe the area as “the way of the sea,” an ancient trade route stretching from Damascus down to Caesarea Maritima on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. By the time of Christ, the Romans had built a stone road along the route, allowing caravans to travel from Syria and pass through Capernaum on the way to Caesarea. Since Capernaum was on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, it also provided easy access to every other city along the Galilean coast. Thus by choosing high-traffic Capernaum as his headquarters, Jesus was able to reach many Jews and Gentiles.

4:14-16 Matthew’s quotation of Is 9:1-2 highlights the international focus of Jesus’s ministry by describing Galilee as Galilee of the Gentiles. Second Kings 15:29 and 17:24-27 show that after the Jews were deported from the northern kingdom of Israel, foreigners flooded into Galilee. For instance, reports from the geographer Strabo and first-century Jewish historian Josephus show that Egyptians, Arabians, Phoenicians, and Greeks lived in Galilee. The Apocrypha (1 Macc 5) says Galilee’s population was largely Gentile and heathen. Jesus’s move to Galilee and the strategically located city of Capernaum shows his intention to save Gentiles as well as Jews. Matthew’s application of Is 9 also shows that Jesus was the great King called “Mighty God” who would reign from David’s throne over a universal and eternal kingdom, liberate God’s people from spiritual slavery, and bring peace and joy to the world (Is 9:3-7).

4:17 On the significance of the words from then on Jesus began to, see “Structure” in the Introduction to Matthew. Jesus’s message was identical to the message proclaimed by John the Baptist before his arrest. This identifies Jesus as the one who came after John (3:11) whom John had identified as the Lord God himself (Is 40:3; see note at Mt 3:3).

4:18-22 Jesus’s command, Follow me, urged the disciples not just to accompany him on his travels but to follow his example and emulate his character. Following Jesus involved significant sacrifice for Simon . . . Andrew . . . James, and John. They abandoned their careers as fishermen. The words they left . . . their father indicate that following Jesus also required the disciples to place commitment to Jesus above commitment to their own families (10:37; 19:29).

4:23 Jesus’s ministry in the synagogues shows that he initially focused his ministry on the Jewish population of Galilee, but this focus then widened to include Gentiles from there and beyond. The good news of the kingdom, the primary topic of Jesus’s preaching, was that the long-awaited Christ, the human ruler through whom God would establish his reign on earth, had come at last. This was the message proclaimed by John the Baptist (3:2), preached by Jesus (4:17), and emphasized by Matthew through his mention of Jesus’s Davidic lineage, the account of his miraculous birth, and his record of the visit of the magi. Jesus healed every disease and sickness among the people. The adjective “every” shows that no type of ailment was beyond Jesus’s power to heal. In the Greek text, the adjective “every” is repeated, placing emphasis on Jesus’s unlimited power to heal (9:35).

4:24 Syria was located just north of Galilee. Not surprisingly, word of Jesus’s healings quickly spread to that region, crossing geographical and language barriers. Soon Syrians began bringing their sick for Jesus to heal. By consenting to this, Jesus distinguished himself from some later Jewish interpreters who urged Jews to give no aid to a drowning Gentile or a Gentile woman giving birth (Maimonides). Matthew says Jesus healed demon-possessed people, but some scholars argue that these people were just epileptics. However, this verse distinguishes epilepsy from demon possession, which proves that the ancients differentiated between the two conditions.

4:25 Jesus’s earliest followers hailed from Jewish and Gentile regions. Jerusalem and Judea were Jewish regions, Galilee had a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, and the Decapolis was a group of predominantly Gentile cities. These geographical references and the diverse peoples entailed by them demonstrate Jesus’s desire to serve, heal, teach, and save all the nations of the earth (28:18-20). He came as the world’s Messiah.