II. Baptism, Temptation, and the Start of Ministry (Matthew 3:1–4:25)
II. Baptism, Temptation, and the Start of Ministry (3:1–4:25)
3:1-3 All four Gospels testify to the ministry of John the Baptist (3:1). He was the front man for Jesus, the one who came to prepare his way. John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea and calling people to repent (3:1-2). Here Matthew quotes Isaiah who prophesied that this voice . . . in the wilderness would come to prepare the way for the Lord (3:3).
The wilderness (then and now) is not a place of comfort and excitement. It’s a barren place of preparation and development for what God is planning to do. John preached a revival in the wilderness, essentially telling the people, “The Messiah is coming, so you’d better get ready!” Repentance is essential for experiencing the presence and grace of God. It involves changing the mind in order to reverse direction. It is the inner resolve and determination to turn from sin and turn to God. So what’s the motivation for repenting? The kingdom of heaven has come near (3:2). John wanted people to know that the King had arrived, and his promised earthly kingdom was ready to burst on the scene. Heaven had come to visit earth.
3:4-6 John’s austere lifestyle, odd wardrobe, and confrontational preaching were reminiscent of another of God’s messengers: Elijah (see, for example, 2 Kgs 1:3-17). As the people from Jerusalem and Judea heard John’s message, they were baptized by him and confessed their sins (3:5-6). To confess means to agree with. So by confessing their sins and being baptized, the people were making a public declaration that they had changed their minds and agreed with what God said about their sins. If you want to experience heaven’s visitation in your history, true repentance can get you there.
3:7-10 The Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, also came to hear John. But they got an earful when he called them a bunch of venomous snakes (3:7)! Why did John accept other people but not this group? Because, although they were OK with listening to his message, they wanted their lives left alone. Like some people today, they didn’t mind attending a church service as long as it didn’t affect how they were running their own affairs. They wanted information, but not transformation. That’s why John challenged them to produce fruit consistent with repentance (3:8).
Genuine repentance is confirmed by actions. When I travel, I tell the airline agent, “I’m Tony Evans, and I have a reservation.” The agent then asks, “Can I see your proof of identification?” They don’t want mere communication that I am who I claim to be; they want authentication. Therefore, they want to see something that verifies what I affirm. Similarly, shouting, “Hallelujah! Amen! Praise the Lord!” is fine but insufficient. Repentance shows up in your hands and feet, not just in your lips. Without the fruit, the visible proof of true heart repentance, judgment is coming (3:10).
3:11 In light of the people’s repentance, John baptized them with water. But the one . . . coming after him would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. John’s declaration corresponds to the promise of the prophets (see Ezek 36:27; Joel 2:28), and the confirmation of Jesus (see John 14:16-17; 15:26; Acts 1:4-5), and the fulfillment in the early church (see Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-45).
The triune God is one God in three persons. The person at work on earth today is the Holy Spirit. Without a relationship to God the Holy Spirit, in fact, there is no relationship to God the Son. And without a relationship to God the Son, there is no relationship to God the Father. It is your relationship to the Holy Spirit that determines how much of Jesus the Son and God the Father you experience today.
3:12 John described the Messiah as having a winnowing shovel . . . in his hand. Such an implement was used to separate wheat from chaff. A farmer would winnow the grain by tossing it in the air. The wind would blow away the chaff—the useless husks—while the wheat would fall to the threshing floor. The wheat would then be gathered up, and the chaff would be burned. Those who will not repent and receive Jesus will experience the eternal wrath of God for their sins with fire that never goes out.
3:13-15 When Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan River, John tried to stop him (3:13-14). Since John’s message was about repentance, he considered it inappropriate and inconceivable that he would baptize the Messiah, because Jesus had nothing to repent of. Instead, John told him, I need to be baptized by you (3:14). But Jesus insisted on being baptized because doing so was the way . . . to fulfill all righteousness (3:15).
In his substitutionary death on the cross, Jesus would bear the transgressions of sinners and credit them with his perfect righteousness (see 2 Cor 5:21). So as his ministry began, he intended to identify with sinful humanity on whose behalf he would perfectly fulfill all the demands of God’s law. This baptism would also identify Jesus with John and affirm his kingdom message.
3:16-17 At Jesus’s baptism, we see a Trinitarian affirmation. All three members of the Godhead inaugurated Jesus’s public ministry. As Jesus rose from the water, the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove (3:16), and the voice of God the Father proclaimed, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased (3:17). No other ministry commissioning service can compare to this one. The Father and the Spirit publicly endorsed the Son for his kingdom mission. Thus, he was prepared for battle with the enemy (4:1-11).
4:1 The first thing to notice about the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11 is that it was God’s idea: Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This tells us God was not on the defensive in this matter. He was on the offensive, demonstrating the superiority of his Son over Satan.
In fact, this is why God allows us to be tempted by the devil—so he can demonstrate the superiority of Jesus Christ. God created humanity constitutionally lower than the angels (see Heb 2:7)—including fallen angels like the devil—to show what he could do with less (humans) when that less is committed to him, than he could with more (angels) when that more is in rebellion to him. Temptation, then, provides you with an opportunity to validate this truth: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Why did God test his Son this way? The Bible describes Jesus as the “second Adam” or “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45, 47). The first Adam was tested in the garden, gave in to Satan, and got the human race kicked into the wilderness. The second Adam went into the wilderness to defeat Satan so that he can escort us back to the garden.
4:2 Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights. To fast is to give up a physical craving to fulfill a greater spiritual need. It involves a switching of priorities. Fasting prioritizes prayer and fellowship with God to feed the spirit instead of the stomach. After forty days, Jesus was hungry—and ready for battle.
4:3 The tempter began by saying, If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. This tells us the devil had been watching Jesus go without food. He knows what you’re up to, too, and directs his temptations accordingly. In this situation, Satan questioned the provision of God: Jesus was hungry. God hadn’t fed him. Why shouldn’t Jesus just make what was needed?
4:4 How did Jesus respond? By quoting Scripture: It is written. If Jesus, the living Word, needed to use the written Word to deal with the enemy of the Word, how much more do you? He gave you the Bible so you could wield it like a sword (see Eph 6:17).
Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. In this passage, Moses explained to Israel how they survived through the wilderness: by God’s provision. They didn’t survive merely because of the manna but because of the one who provided it. Was Jesus hungry? Yes. But he was willing to trust God to provide rather than to act independently of him.
4:5-6 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem to the pinnacle of the temple and said, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down (4:5-6). Challenging Jesus to jump to his death doesn’t sound like much of a temptation. But notice that he supported his appeal by quoting God’s promise of angelic protection in Psalm 91:11-12 (4:6). Jesus, then, had an opportunity to demonstrate he was the Messiah for all Jerusalem to see. The problem was that doing so ignored God’s plan. Satan urged Jesus to fulfill God’s will for his life in a way that would bypass the cross.
Oh, yes—the devil knows the Bible, and he uses it. If he can’t convince you to act independently of God, he’ll work through your religion. But God doesn’t need Satan’s help to get you where he wants you to go.
4:7 Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16: Do not test the Lord your God. In other words, he knew we are never to use disobedience to back God into a corner in order to force him to fulfill his plan.
4:8-9 Finally, the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor (4:8). Then he quit playing around and got to the bottom line: I will give you all these things if you will fall down and worship me (4:9). In the end, Satan wants your worship; he wants you to bow. That’s what he got from Adam and Eve in the garden, and that’s what he seeks from you. He’ll make nice offers to get you to do so, but it’s never worth the price.
4:10 Jesus had finally had enough: Go away, Satan! His absolute authority is on display in this command. Then Jesus quoted once again from Deuteronomy: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him (Deut 6:13). Worship is reserved for the one true and living God.
If you’re a Christian, you have no obligation to the devil, and you have Jesus’s delegated authority against Satan. “Resist the devil [with the word and in obedience to God], and he will flee from you [as he fled from Christ]” (James 4:7). Too often we come to worship God on Sunday and then serve lesser agendas and gods the rest of the week. But if Jesus is the ultimate authority in the universe, he deserves your exclusive worship and service.
4:11 How did this battle end? The devil left him, and angels came and began to serve him. Satan is unable to handle a righteous life that consistently confronts him with God’s Word. The true King has all authority and perfectly obeyed God. So the usurper had to retreat. When the fallen angel left, faithful angels came and fulfilled their rightful role: serving Christ and giving him the worship he deserved.
4:12-17 John the Baptist was arrested by Herod Antipas (see Matt 14:1-12), so Jesus withdrew into Galilee and lived in Capernaum . . . in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali (4:12-13). This fulfilled Isaiah 9:1-2, which said that those living in darkness in Galilee would see a great light (4:14-16). That’s when Jesus’s public ministry officially began, and he preached in continuity with the kingdom message of John: Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near (4:17; see 3:2).
4:18-22 In these verses we have the calling of the first disciples: Peter and his brother Andrew (4:18-20), and James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee (4:21-22). All four men were fishermen. And when Jesus called them to follow him, he said, I will make you fish for people (4:19).
There’s an important principle here. If you’re not fishing, you’re not following. If your Christian life does not involve evangelizing the lost, you’re not functioning like the disciple Jesus intends you to be. Evangelism includes sharing the gospel and intentionally seeking to convert the hearer to faith in Jesus Christ.
When called, Peter, Andrew, James, and John immediately left their jobs and followed Jesus (4:20, 22). Not every believer is called to a full-time Christian vocation, but every believer is called to be a full-time Christian. That means that following Christ must be your number one priority.
4:23-25 Matthew tells us the hallmarks of Jesus ministry as he traveled throughout Galilee: teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (4:23). Teaching involves clearly articulating the content of the message. Preaching includes calling for a response to what is taught. Healing consists of a visible demonstration of the power of the message. As Jesus did these things, the news about him spread, and large crowds followed him (4:24-25). When he taught, preached, and healed, there was standing room only.