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Friday, September 29th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Matthew 4

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Verse 1

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.

Led up of the Spirit … does not mean that the Spirit provided the temptation, because God does not tempt any man (James 1:13). However, the Holy Spirit did desire that Jesus’ temptation should take place at this particular time. Jesus’ two great temptations were this one in the wilderness and that in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:39); but he was tempted at other times (Luke 4:13), and perhaps at ALL times (Hebrews 2:18).

Into the wilderness … Dummelow saw in this wilderness temptation a contrast to the temptation of the first Adam. "The temptation of the first Adam took place in a garden … the temptation of the second Adam took place in a wilderness."J. R. Dummelow, One Volume Commentary (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 632. The fruits and flowers of Eden contrast with the wild beasts and the disorder of the howling wilderness. Thus, the victory of Christ was made more wonderful.

To be tempted of the devil … The identity and person of Satan have long afforded fruitful fields for conjecture; although, in the present generation, there is a widespread tendency to reduce Satan to the status of a mere influence, or personification of evil.H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Matthew (Nashville, Tennessee: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1961), p. 96. However, it is plainly declared in the Holy Scriptures that Satan is actually a person, a being higher in the order of creation than man, but fallen from his first estate (Jude 1:6). Satan is held in awe even by angels and appears to have been cast out of his domain because of conceit and ambition (1 Timothy 3:6). Satan is the enemy that sows tares (Matthew 13:28); snatches the word out of men’s hearts (Matthew 13:19); and, by means of countless snares and devices, takes men captive to do the devil’s will (2 Timothy 2:26). Nevertheless, Satan is restricted and limited. He does not share control of the universe with God and may not even tempt one little child of God more than the child is able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Temptation is in itself no sin. This is implicit in the fact that Christ was tempted. The oft-repeated lie of Satan that it is as wrong to desire to do evil as it is actually to do evil is frustrated by this passage. It is not temptation to do wrong that constitutes sin, but YIELDING to that temptation.

Verse 2

And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered.

Fasted forty days, etc. … In this, Christ appears as "that prophet" like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). In fact, two Old Testament types of Christ carried out 40-day fasts, namely, Moses and Elijah (Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8).

Afterward hungered … Out of that hunger rose the first of Jesus’ great temptations. More than an ordinary call of the appetite is seen in this. Christ was in the wilderness, sufficiently removed from society as to jeopardize his earthly life. He MUST eat, but HOW? Satan was ready with an illegal plan to meet the situation.

Verse 3

And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.

This "if" is characteristic of Satan. He always cast a doubt if possible. Satan himself had no doubt that Christ was indeed the Messiah; but the devil tried to raise a doubt in the heart of Christ himself! The tempter appeared in this passage as the Lord’s antagonist in three different guises, giving rise to the impression that Satan too has a triune nature. Three names characterize Satan in the book of Revelation. He is called the devil, the beast, and the false prophet (Revelation 20:10). He appears in three guises: as a serpent (Revelation 20:2), as a lion (1 Peter 5:8), and as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). This same triple pattern is seen in the temptation of Adam and Eve, through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life (1 John 2:16). It is noteworthy that the temptation of Christ followed this same three-phase pattern.

Command that these stones become bread … This was the first temptation, and it struck through the basic hunger of the body. Hunger is the body’s great passion. Every other appetite or desire may be and has been subordinated to this instinctive need. The outstanding example of how this is so terribly true is seen in the tragic behavior of Jerusalem mothers (2 Kings 6:28). Hunger is the first and the last appetite of the body. By pressing the attack in this quarter, Satan attempted to steal into our Lord’s heart as a serpent. Much more than mere physical hunger entered into this temptation, although the hunger itself must have been very great. Like all temptations, this one had reference to filling a genuine need, legitimate enough in itself. Christ surely required food that he could be strengthened and returned to the thousands who would attend his ministry. Christ did not know at that point how his need would be met. Satan’s proposal was sinful because it would have involved Jesus in the use of supernatural powers for the ease and comfort of his own body. Also, it would have shown a lack of trust on Jesus’ part if he should have taken things into his own hands and performed a miracle in order to eat.

Verse 4

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Jesus’ answer to temptation was, "It is written … it is written … and again, it is written!" Fortunate are the Lord’s followers when they are able to meet every crucial test of life with a like response. This places the highest stamp of approval upon the Bible. It is simply unthinkable that the Christ of God would have relied upon a merely human and fallible book in his encounter with the Prince of Evil. Jesus’ use of the Scriptures in this situation plainly marks them as the words OF GOD! Indeed, in this very verse, this principle is dogmatically asserted, "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."

Man shall not live by bread alone, etc. … This has a wealth of significance. Mere physical existence apart from the true life of the spirit is not really LIFE (John 10:10). The quotation Jesus used in this reply is from Deuteronomy 8:3. The Christian should receive as his never-to-be-rejected authority in spiritual matters, the word of God, the word only (Matthew 8:8), every word (Matthew 4:4), and nothing but the word (Matthew 15:9). Note the three places of these temptations, the wilderness, the temple, and the high mountain. The extremes were employed by Satan in a strong effort to win this encounter. Having lost the first round, Satan switched both the scene and the approach. Since Christ trusted the Father, Satan would try to make that very trust the basis of sin, presumptuous sin. The scene is also changed from the roaring wilderness to the sacred precincts of the temple, indicating that there are peculiar temptations to sin in close proximity to faith.

Verse 5

Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple.

The expression "holy city" is peculiar to Matthew and shows his love and affection for Jerusalem. The exact location of the pinnacle of the temple is not determined; but the context indicates that it was of sufficient height that only a miracle could prevent death to anyone who leaped from it.

Verse 6

And he saith unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Note the same employment of doubt as an instrument in temptation. "IF" is a big word in Satan’s weaponry of deceit. A paraphrase of this second temptation is as follows: "Since you have so much faith in God, that is fine; just call all the people together in the temple and perform an outstanding miracle in the sight of all. For example, you could leap from the pinnacle of the temple unhurt, and the people would instantly hail you as the Messiah. You can see that this is a genuine time-saver, a shortcut that will enable you to achieve the necessary recognition without the time-consuming labor and pains of teaching and preaching."

For it is written, He shall give his angels charge, … Satan reinforces the temptation with a plausible appeal to Scripture itself, quoting in this place from Psalms 91:11,12. Christ did not charge Satan with misquotation or misapplication of the Scripture. As a matter of fact, the words do apply to Christ. Christ rejected the temptation, not on the grounds that Satan had misused the word of God, but on the grounds that it would have constituted an unnecessary presumption and would have, in fact, been making trial of God. Christ instantly cited the Scripture forbidding such presumption, Deuteronomy 6:16.

Verse 7

Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God.

Again it is written … This is the key to the Scriptures! Every passage of the word of God is to be understood in the light of other passages bearing on the same subject. No isolated, proof-text method of interpreting the Scriptures is valid. God’s will on any subject is to be understood in the light of ALL that is written. Christ made that principle clear in his words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus when he said, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25). Nevertheless, the devil likes to quote Scripture. "Take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake!" "Be not overly righteous!" "Eat, drink and be merry!" - who has not heard Satan quoting such passages as these? Satan’s purpose in quoting Scripture is not to heed God’s word but to circumvent it. May the child of God have the grace to answer, over and over, in all of life’s confusing situations, "It is written … it is written … and again, it is written." This was Jesus’ method, and he won the day. So shall his disciples win the contest if they use his method!

Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God … Jesus did not argue with Satan but simply announced the word of God forbidding the thing Satan suggested. In this temptation, Satan appears as an angel of light, quoting the word of God, pretending to be interested in a "shortcut" victory for Christ. This was a dramatic change from the subtle insinuation of the first temptation. Failing in both maneuvers, Satan changed again; and, in the following temptation, attempted to overpower Christ, appearing before him as a roaring lion, arrogant, overbearing, and pretending to have world dominion.

Verses 8-9

Again the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

The mystery of how Satan could do such a thing remains unknown. McGarvey is doubtless correct in pointing out the imagination as a key factor in this temptation. No literal mountain answers the specifications here. Christ, in some way unknown to us, was transported through Satanic power to a great eminence where the devil made all the kingdoms of the world to pass in review, as it were, before the mind of Jesus. As McGarvey expressed it, "If they were presented only to his mental vision, it might have been accomplished by a vivid description, such as Satan is capable of, aided by the excited imagination of Jesus as he looked abroad from the top of the exceeding high mountain."J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew (Delight, Arkansas: The Gospel Light Publishing Company), p. 42.

All these things will I give thee … What did Satan mean by that? Did the devil propose a union of his forces with the powers of Jesus for the purpose of establishing a world dominion with Christ as the nominal head but with Satan as the real ruler? Or was Satan’s proposition an unqualified lie? This commentator recognizes that many distinguished students of the word of God are of a contrary opinion; nevertheless, it is the conviction of a lifetime that Satan lied to Jesus Christ in this third temptation. McGarvey saw no unwarranted assumption of power in the devil’s claim to control over all the kingdoms of the world.Ibid., p. 43. Also, H. Leo Boles believed that Satan could have delivered on his promise to Jesus, if Christ had yielded.H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 103. However, Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). The Bible specifically refutes the idea that Satan has at his disposal all the world kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar was compelled to eat grass with the beasts of the field until seven times had passed over him; and WHY? Only that he might learn a simple truth, namely, "That the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:25). It is impossible to suppose that Christ was ignorant of the truth mentioned in Daniel or that he was in any sense ignorant of the falsity of Satan’s claims. How, then, could he have been tempted? Any tempted saint can answer that Satan’s lies have the power to seduce even when they are known to be lies. No sinner ever did wrong but Satan promised him pleasure, but no sinner ever got what he expected. "The wages of sin is death," not pleasure. Here, therefore, in the temptation of our Lord was the handiwork of that original artificer of the phenomenon that flowered in Nazi Germany under Adolph Hitler, the strategy of THE BIG LIE. It must be admitted that in this case, Satan told such a big lie that God-fearing men still believe it, nearly two thousand years after the fact! Face the truth: If Christ had yielded to Satan, Christ would not have won the kingdoms of this world; Satan would have won them, and God’s redemptive work would have failed.

Verse 10

Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Christ rejected Satan’s proposal without regard to its truth or falsity. Satan’s promise, whether true or false, had no bearing on the conduct of the Lord which was regulated altogether by the word of God, not by Satan’s words. Christ quoted from Deuteronomy 6:13. Significantly, Christ applied that Old Testament passage to include devil worship. The prohibition is, in fact, against all worship except the worship of Almighty God through Jesus Christ. It is sinful to worship the devil, or angels (Revelation 19:10), or a man (Acts 10:26), or any object or being other than the Infinite God through Christ. It will be recalled that the wise men worshipped, not Mary, but Jesus (Matthew 2:11).

Verse 11

Then the devil leaveth him, and behold angels came and ministered unto him.

Christ won the encounter. In the third temptation, no less than in the other two, Satan was vanquished. As the roaring lion, he audaciously demanded that the Son of God fall down and worship the devil! There is a bold arrogance without precedent. As a serpent, as an angel, or as a lion, Satan brought all his cunning into play against the Christ, but to no avail. "Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Then the devil leaveth him … This, of course, was not the end of Christ’s temptations which were to continue without abatement until the cross itself appeared upon Golgotha. And yet, there is a devilish cunning in the Satanic method of leaving, for a season, and returning in full force another day. Luke indicated that this is what Satan did (Luke 4:13). Satan always seeks the opportune time to exert his evil power. He blows softly with the south wind to entice the unwary ship out of its haven and then to smite with the fury of Eraquilo! (Acts 27:13,14).

Angels came and ministered unto him … Thus, God did not leave Christ to die in the wilderness, after all. He was fed of angels. Satan’s proposal to change stones into bread was as unnecessary as it was sinful. Christ, who is introduced in the New Testament’s very first verse as "the son of Abraham," found in dire extremity the same truth uttered by Abraham on Mount Moriah, "Jehovah-Jireh!" "The Lord will provide!" (Genesis 22:14).

Verse 12



Matthew 4:12-13:52

Now when he heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee. (Matthew 4:12)

Delivered up refers to the imprisonment of John the Baptist by Herod. Christ’s withdrawal into Galilee was precautionary, to avoid an untimely martyrdom, and to set his disciples an example for staying out of trouble with authorities, provided it can be avoided honorably. Christ’s withdrawal into Galilee gave occasion for the Master’s Galilean ministry, all of which Matthew omits, probably because Matthew was not an eye-witness of the events of that ministry. The following summary of the events of the Galilean ministry is given by Johnson:B. W. Johnson, The People’s New Testament (St. Louis, Missouri: Christian Board of Publication, 1891), p. 32.

Christ returns to Bethabara (John 1:15-17)
He returns to Galilee, miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11)
The first Passover and the cleansing of temple (John 2:14-35)
The interview with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21)
Jesus’ ministry in Judaea (John 4:2)
Jesus leaves Galilee, via Samaria, and has a conversation at Sychar with the woman at the well (John 4:4-52)
He heals the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54)
Jesus miracle at Bethesda (John 5)

Verse 13

And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Between the last words of Matthew 4:12 and the first words of Matthew 4:13 there was an interval of at least one year’s time. LEAVING NAZARETH is a reference to the rejection at Nazareth by the townspeople of that village who despised him because of what they supposed to be his humble origin and environment. The choice of Capernaum as his residence may have been due to the fact that it was the chief city of Galilee, the site of a Jewish synagogue, a Roman tax station, and the headquarters for a Roman garrison. At least five of the Twelve resided there: Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew. Capernaum also rejected Christ and was denounced by him (Matthew 11:23).

Which is by the sea … is the body of water usually called the Sea of Galilee, but also known as Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), the Sea of Chinnereth (Numbers 34:11), Chinneroth (Joshua 11:2), and Tiberius (John 6:1). This remarkable body of water is actually an extension of the Jordan River, lying 700 feet below sea level, and extends some twelve miles in length and six miles in width.

In the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali … Capernaum was located in the territory of Zebulun near the border with Naphtali, and Matthew quickly saw in this a fulfillment of the great prophecy of Isaiah 9:1,2, which is quoted here, not verbatim but nearly so. The thought which impressed Matthew is that from the contemptuous borders of these minor tribes should arise the Light of all nations, a fact clearly prophesied by Isaiah.

Verse 14

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying:

As always, Matthew made it clear that Isaiah was not the speaker, but only the prophet through whom God spoke. Matthew, who doubtless had a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew prophecies, quoted the passage from Isaiah:

Verses 15-16

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, The people that sat in darkness saw a great light, And to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, To them did Light spring up.

Beyond the Jordan … Jesus fulfilled this prophecy by crossing the sea many times. The trans-Jordan territory was called "Perea" by the Romans.

Galilee of the Gentiles is a proverb emphasizing the low estate of those people in Galilee. Gentile customs, morals, and culture prevailed; and these were far lower than those of Jerusalem; and thus, the wretched and despised state of the citizens of Galilee, and especially of Nazareth, was proverbial.

The people that sat in darkness … is a reference to the spiritual poverty and ignorance of Galilee. Boles said, "The language expresses a symbol of hopeless gloom."H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 110. It was a peculiar providence of God that those who were in such gross darkness enjoyed the amazing benefit of our Lord’s earthly residence in their midst. How marvelous are God’s ways! Darkness has ever been a symbol of moral destitution and spiritual blindness. All people must remain in darkness until the Light shines in their hearts through faith.

In the shadow of death … is an expression that occurs a number of times in the Old Testament (Job 10:21; Psalms 23:4; Jeremiah 2:6, etc.). In this place it is only a further reference to the moral and spiritual condition of the people of Galilee.

Verse 17

And from that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Christ’s first preaching has a ring similar to that of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2). Repentance was the prime need of that generation. People had grown hard and indifferent to spiritual values. John’s great call to repentance had been heeded by many, but significantly the leaders of the people despised John and set his teachings at naught. Christ’s first move was to place the endorsement of God squarely upon John’s clarion call for repentance. Repentance is still the prime need of this age and of every age. There must be repentance, even before the true life in Christ can begin. Christ’s indication in this place that the kingdom of heaven was at hand is important. Moffatt translated this place: "Repent, the reign of heaven is near."

Verse 18

And walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers.

Jesus called BUSY men to follow him. Dummelow noted that "He called them while actually at their work, as he called Matthew (Matthew 9:9), in order to show that no idle or useless person can be a Christian."J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 634. It is wrong to think that these men were of an ordinary or degraded social position. True they were not members of the aristocracy; but Luke shows these four men, including James and John, to have been partners in a business (Luke 5:7); Mark mentions two hired servants in the boat (Mark 1:20); and it is evident from John 18:16 that John was favorably known to the high priest. Such considerations make it imperative to think of these men as far above ordinary persons. Socially, they were of the stable middle class which constituted at that time, and perhaps in every time, the solid portion of the entire social order. Reference to the apostles as "unlearned and ignorant" men (Acts 4:13) should be understood in a relative sense when they were contrasted with the sophisticated doctors of religion, and also as the usual taunt expressed by intellectuals against those who disagree with them.

Simon who is called Peter … This apostle was also called "Cephas" or "Stone" by our Lord (John 1:42; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 15:5; Galatians 2:9).

And Andrew his brother … Peter is always mentioned first in the New Testament references to the apostles, although his brother Andrew was a follower before Peter. Matthew telescoped many events, chronologically, in arriving so quickly at the call of these fishermen. All these men had been present at Cana of Galilee where Jesus performed his first miracle and had been faithful followers of Christ for at least a year. The significance of the call mentioned in this passage is that, henceforth, these men were to forsake all and follow Christ to the exclusion of every earthly interest (Matthew 19:27). This they had not previously been called upon to do.

For they were fishers … Augustine said, "They did not lay aside their nets but changed them!" Certainly, Christ did indicate a similarity between fishing and soul winning. Following are some of the similarities: skill is required; patience is essential; cooperation is helpful; methods vary with conditions; results cannot be accurately predicted; and, under some situations, an attractive bait is absolutely necessary. Ministers should ever strive to make the kingdom of God as attractive to men as possible, though never by a compromise of its principles. Just as a skilled fisherman provides an attractive lure for the fish, a gospel preacher should seek to entice the attention of men with as attractive and intelligent a presentation of truth as is humanly possible. One may well wonder if, at times, the very opposite procedure has been followed. A few have so flagrantly violated this principle as to bait the end of the pole, cast the naked hook into the water, and dare the fish to come out on the bank and fight!

Verse 19

And he saith unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men.

After me … That is, after Christ, is every disciple’s true place. The place of every disciple is behind his Lord, as a follower. Later, Peter was to forsake this place and be rebuked by Christ who said, "Get thee behind me, Satan!"

Verse 20

And they straightway left the nets and followed him.

We have already noted that these men had been unofficial followers of Christ for a year or more. Matthew, in this place, records the bold facts without regard to many of the details some might have considered pertinent. It is a characteristic of the Scriptural writings that some events are sensationally abbreviated, while others, seemingly inconsequential, are elaborately detailed.

Verses 21-22

And going on from thence, he saw two other brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they straightway left the boat and their father, and followed him.

James was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom, and John was the last to die. These extremes suggest a mystical fulfillment of the request their mother made of Jesus that one of them should sit on the right hand and one on the left hand in his kingdom (Matthew 20:21). Both James and John belonged to that inner circle within the Twelve who were permitted in the bed chamber when Jairus’ daughter was raised (Mark 5:37), on the mountain of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), and with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37).

Zebedee … was the brother-in-law of the virgin Mary, according to H. Leo Boles.H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 113. The inference is from Matthew 27:56 and John 19:25. Although some have disputed it, Alford, Meyer, and others have received this deduction as true. This would make James and John cousins of our Lord, their mothers, Mary and Salome, being sisters. Zebedee is never mentioned as a disciple.

Verse 23

And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people.

All Galilee … indicates an intensive preaching tour in that area.

In their synagogues … indicates the usual places where Jesus did most of his formal teaching.

The gospel of the kingdom … indicates the subject matter. Note that the message of the kingdom was "good news," indicated by the very term GOSPEL, a word derived from roots that mean "good news." This can only mean that the kingdom was to be established in the lifetime of the peoples then living. It would have been no "good" news to them that it would be set up in say, 1914, or long after they were dead!

Verses 24-25

And the report of him went forth into all Syria: and they brought unto him all that were sick, holden with divers diseases and torments, possessed with demons, and epileptic, and palsied; and he healed them. And there followed him great multitudes from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judaea and from beyond the Jordan.

The various cities mentioned in this place were the ones that provided the vast multitudes that followed Christ in this phase of his ministry. The various diseases, etc., mentioned show that Christ’s power to heal extended to every possible condition of suffering and handicapped humanity. McGarvey noted that "The facts of this section (Matthew 4:12-25) furnish another argument in favor of the claims of Jesus (as the Messiah): (1) They show that his dwelling place was where the prophet Isaiah had predicted the appearance of a great light; (2) and that Christ was such a light. (3) That he was so great a light that some people left all things to follow him; and (4) that multitudes came from all surrounding regions to receive his blessing and enjoy his instruction. No clearer proof could be given that he was the Great Light whose rising had been predicted by the prophet."J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 48.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 4". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/matthew-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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