Bible Commentaries
Matthew 4

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-11


"Fundamentally, the purpose of this first part is to introduce the reader to Jesus on the one hand and to the religious leaders on the other." [Note: Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew as Story, p. 5. He believed the first major section of the book ends with 4:16.]

The first two chapters of this section prepare the reader for Jesus’ ministry. Consequently they serve as a prologue to the Gospel.

Verses 1-11

D. The King’s preparation 3:1-4:11

Matthew passed over Jesus’ childhood quickly to relate His preparation for presentation to Israel as her King.

"The material of this section of the Gospel is particularly important since the baptism of Jesus serves as the occasion of his special anointing by the Holy Spirit for the ministry that follows, but it is also Christologically significant in that his divine Sonship is confirmed and the non-triumphalist nature of the present phase of that Sonship is indicated (Matthew 3:17 c and Matthew 4:1-11). Thus Matthew provides information that is vitally important to an understanding of the narrative that follows: what Jesus does in his ministry he does by the power of the Spirit; yet Jesus will not act in the manner of a triumphalist messiah, in accordance with popular expectation, but in his own unique way, in obedience to the will of his Father." [Note: Hagner, p. 43.]

Matthew presented four witnesses to Jesus’ messiahship in this section: John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-15), the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16), the Father (Matthew 3:17), and Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). A fifth witness follows in Matthew 4:12-15, namely, Jesus’ ministry.

Verses 1-2

The same Spirit who brought Jesus into the world (Matthew 1:20) and demonstrated God’s approval of Him (Matthew 3:16) now led Him into the wilderness for tempting by Satan.

"Just as God led Israel out of Egypt and through the waters and into the desert (Numbers 20:5; Numbers 1 Bas 12.6; Psalms 80:1 LXX; etc., all using anagein [’to lead up’]), so does the Spirit of God lead Jesus into the desert after he is baptized." [Note: W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew , 1:354. Cf. Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 8:16.]

"According to Hosea 2:14-23, the wilderness was the place of Israel’s original sonship, where God had loved His people. Yet because they had forsaken Yahweh their Father, a ’renewal’ of the exodus into the desert was necessary for the restoration of Israel’s status as the ’son’ of God. In this new exodus, God’s power and help would be experienced again in a renewed trek into the wilderness." [Note: Garlington, p. 287.]

The wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1) is the traditional site. Israel had, of course, experienced temptation in another wilderness for 40 years. The number 40 frequently has connections with sin and testing in the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:12; Numbers 14:33; Numbers 32:13; Deuteronomy 9:25; Deuteronomy 25:3; Psalms 95:10; Jonah 3:4). Jesus experienced temptation in the wilderness at the end of 40 days and nights.

The Greek word translated "tempted" (peirazo) means "to test" in either a good or bad sense. Here God’s objective was to demonstrate the character of His Son by exposing Him to Satan’s tests (cf. 2 Samuel 24:1; Job_1:6 to Job_2:7). Scripture consistently teaches that God does not test (Gr. peirazo) anyone (James 1:13). Nevertheless He does allow people to experience testing that comes from the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 7:18-24; 1 Peter 5:8). [Note: See Sydney H. T. Page, "Satan: God’s Servant," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:3 (September 2007):449-65.] God evidently led Jesus into the wilderness to demonstrate the obedience of this Son compared with the disobedience of His son Israel (Matthew 2:15; cf. Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 8:3; Deuteronomy 8:5). God tested both His sons "to prove their obedience and loyalty in preparation for their appointed work." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 112.]

Fasting in Scripture was for a spiritual reason, namely, to forego a physical need to give attention to a more important spiritual need. [Note: On the practice of fasting, see Kent D. Berghuis, "A Biblical Perspective on Fasting," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:629 (January-March 2001):86-103.] During this fast Jesus ate nothing but presumably drank water (cf. Luke 4:2). Moses and Elijah, two of God’s most significant servants in the Old Testament, likewise fasted for 40 days and nights (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8). Jesus’ fast would have connected Him with these servants of the Lord in the minds of Matthew’s Jewish readers, as it does in ours.

Verses 1-11

3. Jesus’ temptation 4:1-11 (cf. Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13)

". . . Jesus’ testing in the wilderness of Judea is one of the most significant indicators of His uniqueness. In fact it may not be stretching the point to say that the very purpose of the temptation narratives is to underscore His uniqueness." [Note: Garlington, p. 285.]

Jesus’ genealogy and virgin birth prove His legal human qualification as Israel’s King. His baptism was the occasion of His divine approval. His temptation demonstrated His moral fitness to reign. The natural question a thoughtful reader of Matthew’s Gospel might ask after reading God’s attestation of His Son (Matthew 3:17) is, Was He really that good? Jesus’ three temptations prove that He was.

"By the end of the baptismal pericope, the Jesus of Matthew’s story stands before the reader preeminently as the Son of God who has been empowered with the Spirit of God. So identified, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert to engage the devil, or Satan, in conflict in the place of his abode (Matthew 4:1-11). . . . Ultimately, the substance of each test has to do with Jesus’ devotion, or obedience, to God. The intent of Satan in each test is to entice Jesus to break faith with God, his Father, and thus disavow his divine sonship. Should Satan succeed at this, he succeeds in effect in destroying Jesus. In testing Jesus, Satan cunningly adopts God’s evaluative point of view according to which Jesus is his Son (Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6)." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 55.]

Verses 3-4

Satan attacked Jesus when He was vulnerable physically. The form of Satan’s question in the Greek text indicates that Satan was assuming that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 3:17) It is a first class conditional clause.

"The temptation, to have force, must be assumed as true. The devil knew it to be true. He accepts that fact as a working hypothesis in the temptation." [Note: Robertson, p. 1009.]

This temptation was not to doubt that Jesus was God’s Son. It was to suggest that as the Son of God Jesus surely had the power and right to satisfy His own needs independent of His Father. Satan urged Jesus to use His Sonship in a way that was inconsistent with His mission (cf. Matthew 26:53-54; Matthew 27:40). God had intended Israel’s hunger in the wilderness to teach her that hearing and obeying God’s Word is the most important thing in life (Deuteronomy 8:2-3). Israel demanded bread in the wilderness but died. Jesus forewent bread in submission to His Father’s will and lived.

"The impact of Satan’s temptation is that Jesus, like Adam first and Israel later, had a justifiable grievance against God and therefore ought to voice His complaint by ’murmuring’ (Exodus 16; Numbers 11) and ought to provide for Himself the basic necessity of life, namely, bread. Satan, in other words, sought to make Jesus groundlessly anxious about His physical needs and thus to provoke Him to demand the food He craved (cf. Psalms 78:18). In short, the devil’s aim was to persuade Jesus to repeat the apostasy of Adam and Israel. Satan wanted to break Jesus’ perfect trust in His Father’s good care and thereby to alter the course of salvation-history." [Note: Garlington, p. 297. Cf. Davies and Allison, 1:362.]

The wilderness of Judea contains many limestone rocks of all sizes and shapes. Many of them look like the loaves and rolls of bread that the Jews prepared and ate daily.

Jesus’ response to Satan’s suggestion (Matthew 4:4) reflected His total commitment to follow God’s will as revealed in His Word. He quoted the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 8:3. Its application originally was to Israel, but Jesus applied it to everyone and particularly Himself. By applying this passage to Himself, Jesus put Himself in the category of a true "man" (Gr. anthropos).

Jesus faced Satan as a man, not as God. He did not use His own divine powers to overcome the enemy, which is just what Satan tempted Him to do. Rather He used the spiritual resources that are available to all people, including us, namely, the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 4:1). It is for this reason that He is an example for us of one who successfully endured temptation, and it is this victory that qualified Him to become our high priest (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 3:1-2).

"Matthew here shows that Jesus is not God only, but an unique theanthropic person, personally qualified to be King of Israel." [Note: Toussaint, p. 76.]

Everyone needs to recognize and acknowledge his or her total dependence on God and His Word. Jesus’ real food, what sustained Him above all else, was His commitment to do the will of His Father (John 4:34).

In this first temptation Satan’s aim was to seduce Jesus into using His God-given power and authority independently of His Father’s will. Jesus had subjected Himself to His Father’s will because of His mission (cf. Philippians 2:8). It was uniquely a personal temptation; it tested Jesus’ person.

"Obedience to God’s will takes priority over self-gratification, even over the apparently essential provision of food." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 131.]

Verses 5-7

The setting for the second temptation was Jerusalem, perhaps in a vision that Satan gave Jesus. Matthew referred to Jerusalem with a favorite Jewish term, "the holy city" (cf. Nehemiah 11:1; Isaiah 48:2; Daniel 9:24; Matthew 4:5; Matthew 27:53). This suggests that the temptation would have national rather than solely individual implications. Satan took Him to a high point of the temple complex (Gr. hieron), not necessarily the topmost peak of the sanctuary. The Greek word is pterygion, which can be translated "little wing" or "high corner." The temple complex towered over the Kidron Valley far below. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of. . ., 15:11:5.] Some of the Jewish rabbis taught that when Messiah came to deliver Israel He would appear on the temple roof (cf. Malachi 3:1; John 6:30). [Note: Edersheim, 1:293.]

"Jerusalem was considered the ’center of the nations, with lands around her,’ the ’center of the world,’ whose inhabitants ’dwell at the center of the earth’ (Ezekiel 5:5; Ezekiel 38:12; . . .). Thus when Jesus stood on the pinnacle of the temple, He was, theologically speaking, at the center of the world. From that vantage point the Messiah most naturally could claim the nations as His own and rule them with a rod of iron . . ." [Note: Garlington, p. 299. Cf. Davies and Allison, 1:365; and T. L. Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology, pp. 59-61.]

Again the devil granted that Jesus was the Son of God. Satan’s words replicate the Septuagint version of Psalms 91:11-12, appealing to the authority that Jesus used, namely, God’s Word (Matthew 4:4). He omitted the words "to guard you in all your ways." Many expositors have assumed that Satan wanted to trick Jesus with this omission, but his free method of quoting was very common. Many New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament in the same loose way.

Probably Satan wanted Jesus to demonstrate His trust in God in a spectacular way to challenge God’s faithfulness. He misapplied the Scripture he quoted. The Psalms passage refers to anyone who trusts in God. That certainly applied to Jesus. The verses promise that the angels will uphold such a person as a nurse does a baby (cf. Numbers 11:12; Deuteronomy 1:31; Isaiah 49:22; Hebrews 1:14). God had revealed Himself most particularly at the temple throughout Israel’s history. Therefore what better place could there have been to demonstrate the Son of God’s confidence in His Father’s promise?

Jesus refused Satan’s suggestion (Matthew 4:7) because the Scriptures forbade putting God to a test, not because He questioned God’s faithfulness to His promise. Satan tempted Jesus to test God. Satan was tempting Jesus to act as if God was there to serve Him, rather than the other way around. Israel had faced the same test and had failed (Exodus 17:2-7; cf. Numbers 20:1-13). It is wrong to demand that God prove Himself faithful to His promises by giving us what He has promised on our terms. The proper procedure is simply to trust and obey God (Deuteronomy 6:16-17).

"Testing is not trusting." [Note: J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels, p. 78.]

Jesus refused to allow Satan to apply a valid promise so it contradicted another teaching in God’s Word. "On the other hand" or "also" (Gr. palin) has the sense of "not contradicting but qualifying." [Note: Bruce, 1:90.] Jesus as a man, voluntarily under the authority of God’s Word, proved to be faithful to its spirit as well as to its letter.

Verses 8-10

The high mountain to which Satan took Jesus next is traditionally near Jericho, but its exact location is not important. It simply provided a vantage point from which Satan could point out other kingdoms that surrounded Israel.

"The placement of Jesus on the mountain of temptation, where He refused to acknowledge the devil’s ’authority,’ is deliberately juxtaposed to the mountain (Matthew 28:16) of ’the great commission,’ on which He later affirmed that all ’authority’ in heaven and on earth had been granted to Him (Matthew 28:18)." [Note: Garlington, pp. 301-2.]

Luke’s wording suggests that Satan presented all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus in a vision (Luke 4:5). It is hard to tell if Jesus’ temptations involved physical transportation or visionary transportation, but my preference is visionary transportation. This temptation would have universal significance, not just personal and national significance, as the first and second temptations did.

Satan offered Jesus immediate control over all the kingdoms of the world and the glory connected with reigning over them (Matthew 4:9), something that God would give Him eventually as the Messiah. [Note: See ibid., p. 290.] In the will of God, Jesus would achieve universal rule (Psalms 2) but only as the Suffering Servant who would have to endure the Cross first.

God’s divine authentication of His Son (Matthew 3:16-17) drew attention to both Jesus’ Davidic messiahship and His Suffering Servant role. This temptation consisted of an opportunity for Jesus to obtain the benefits of messiahship without having to experience its unpleasant elements. To get this, however, Jesus would have to change His allegiance from God to Satan. This involved idolatry, putting someone or something in the place that God deserves. Later Peter suggested the same shortcut to Jesus and received a sharp rebuke as Satan’s spokesman for doing so (Matthew 16:23).

This was a legitimate offer. Satan had the ability, under the sovereign authority of God, to give Jesus what he promised, namely, power and glory (cf. Matthew 12:25-28; Luke 10:18; Ephesians 2:2). Israel, God’s other son, had formerly faced the same temptation to avoid God’s uncomfortable will by departing from it and had failed (Numbers 13-14). This third temptation, like the other two, tested Jesus’ total loyalty to His Father and His Father’s will. Had Jesus taken Satan’s bait He would have been Satan’s slave albeit, perhaps, a world ruler.

"Jesus was in effect tempted to subscribe to the diabolical doctrine that the end justifies the means; that, so long as He obtained universal sovereignty in the end, it mattered not how that sovereignty was reached . . ." [Note: Tasker, p. 54.]

For a third time Jesus responded by quoting Scripture to His adversary (Matthew 4:10). He banished Satan with the divine command to worship and to serve God alone (Deuteronomy 6:13).

Verse 11

Having resisted Satan’s attacks successfully, the enemy departed temporarily (cf. James 4:7). God sent messengers to assist His faithful Son (cf. 1 Kings 19:4-8). The Father rewarded the Son with divine assistance and further opportunity for service because Jesus had remained faithful to Him. This is God’s normal method.

Many have observed that Satan followed the same pattern of temptation with Jesus that he had used with Eve (Genesis 3). First, he appealed to the lust of the flesh, the desire to do something apart from God’s will. Second, he appealed to the lust of the eyes, the desire to have something apart from God’s will. Third, he appealed to the pride of life, the desire to be something apart from God’s will (cf. 1 John 2:16).

"Approaching Jesus three times in Matthew’s story, Satan urges him to place concern for self above allegiance to God." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 55.]

"Each temptation challenges Jesus’ faithfulness. Will he provide for himself independently of God’s direction and draw on his power in self-interest (bread)? Will he insist that God protect him by putting God to the test of his protection of the Son (temple)? Will the Son defect from the Father and worship someone else for his own gain (kingdoms)? In each text [sic] Jesus stresses his loyalty to the Father as he cites Deuteronomy." [Note: Bock, Jesus according . . ., p. 90.]

"All three of the tests are variations of the one great temptation to remove His Messianic vocation from the guidance of His Father and make it simply a political calling." [Note: S. Lewis Johnson Jr., "The Temptation of Christ," Bibliotheca Sacra 123:492 (October-December 1996):345.]

Each of Jesus’ three temptations related to His messiahship: the first to Him personally, the second to the Jews, and the third to all the nations (cf. Matthew 1:1). The twin themes of Jesus’ royal kingship and His suffering servanthood, which combined in the name Immanuel, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23), were in tension in the temptation. They remained in tension and created conflict in Jesus’ ministry as it unfolded.

"In the first temptation Jesus does not deny that He is hungry and able to make bread; in the second, He does not deny that He is the Son of God, and under special protection; and in the third, He does not deny the Kingdom or dominion which is to be given to Him, but only rejects the mode by which it is to be obtained. As observed, if such a Kingdom is not covenanted, predicted, and intended, the temptation would not have any force." [Note: Peters, 1:700.]

"In this pericope [Matthew 4:1-11] we encounter a theme that is vital in the theology of the Gospels. The goal of obedience to the Father is accomplished, not by triumphant self-assertion, not by the exercise of power and authority, but paradoxically by the way of humility, service, and suffering. Therein lies true greatness (cf. Matthew 20:26-28). In fulfilling his commission by obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus demonstrates the rightness of the great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5) as well as his own submission to it." [Note: Hagner, p. 70.]

"Just as the first Adam met Satan, so the Last Adam met the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:45). Adam met Satan in a beautiful Garden, but Jesus met him in a terrible wilderness. Adam had everything he needed, but Jesus was hungry after forty days of fasting. Adam lost the battle and plunged humanity into sin and death. But Jesus won the battle and went on to defeat Satan in more battles, culminating in His final victory on the cross (John 12:31; Colossians 2:15)." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:18.]

Since Jesus was both God and man, was it possible for him to sin? Most evangelical theologians have concluded that He could not since God cannot sin. They believe He was impeccable (incapable of sinning). If so, was His temptation genuine? Most have responded yes. [Note: See Joseph G. Sahl, "The Impeccability of Jesus Christ," Bibliotheca Sacra 140:557 (January-March 1983):11-20; and the major theologies.]

Henri Nouwen helpfully discussed Jesus’ three temptations in relation to leadership in ministry. He saw them as temptations to relevance, popularity, and power, and he suggested prayer, ministry, and being led as antidotes. [Note: Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership.]

In the first major section of his Gospel, Matthew showed that Jesus had all the qualifications to be Israel’s Messiah-legally, scripturally, and morally. He was now ready to relate Jesus’ presentation of Himself to Israel as her King.

Verses 12-13

The word "withdrew" (NASB) or "returned" (NIV; Gr. anachoreo) is significant. Evidently Jesus wanted to get away from Israel’s religious leaders in Jerusalem who opposed John (John 4:1-3; John 5:1-16). It is unlikely that Herod Antipas would have imprisoned John if the religious authorities had supported John. Matthew used the same Greek word, paredothe ("to be taken into custody"), later when he described Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:15-16; Matthew 26:21; Matthew 26:23; Matthew 26:25; Matthew 27:3-4). The religious leaders evidently played a significant role in both arrests.

To Matthew, Galilee had great significance for two reasons. First, it was the place where Isaiah had predicted Messiah would minister (Isaiah 9:1). Second, since it was an area where many Gentiles lived, it corroborated Messiah’s influence over the nations as well as Israel.

Jesus moved the base of His ministry from Nazareth to Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). Matthew described it as he did in view of the prophecy that Jesus’ residence there fulfilled (Matthew 4:15-16). This town stood on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:34). It was the town where Peter, Andrew, James, and John (the fishermen) and Matthew (the tax collector) worked (Matthew 8:14; Matthew 9:9). Estimates of its population in the first century range from 1,000 to 15,000. [Note: See France, The Gospel . . ., p. 141.]

"If Joseph settled in Nazareth after the return from Egypt (Matthew 2:22-23), Jesus now leaves Nazareth and moves to Capernaum (Matthew 4:12-13), which becomes ’his own city’ (Matthew 9:1). He is thus poised to begin his public ministry." [Note: Kinsgbury, p. 57.]

Verses 12-16

1. The setting of Jesus’ ministry 4:12-16

Comparison of John’s Gospel and Matthew’s shows that Jesus ministered for about a year before John the Baptist’s arrest. John had criticized Herod Antipas for having an adulterous relationship with his brother Philip’s wife (Matthew 14:3-4; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:19-20). Jesus ministered first in Galilee (Joh_1:19 to Joh_2:12) and then in Judea (Joh_2:13 to Joh_3:21). Then He returned to Galilee by way of Samaria (Joh_3:22 to Joh_4:42). Why did Matthew begin his account of Jesus’ ministry with John’s arrest? John’s arrest by Herod signaled the beginning of a new phase of Jesus’ ministry. The forerunner’s work was now complete. It was time for the King to appear publicly.

"In royal protocol the King does not make His appearance in public until the forerunner has finished his work. Matthew, emphasizing the official and regal character of Jesus, follows this procedure exactly." [Note: Toussaint, p. 81. Cf. Johnson, "The Argument . . .," p. 146.]

Verses 12-25

A. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry 4:12-25

Matthew gave much prominence to Jesus’ teachings in his Gospel. The first of these is the so-called Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5-7). To prepare the reader for this discourse, the writer gave a brief introduction to Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:12-25). In it Matthew provided a résumé of His work.

Verses 12-29


Having introduced the King, Matthew next demonstrated the authority of the King. This section includes a narrative introduction to Jesus’ teaching and then His teaching on the subject of His kingdom.

Verses 14-16

Jesus’ move to Capernaum fulfilled Isaiah 9:1, part of a section of Isaiah’s prophecy that describes Immanuel’s coming. Matthew’s quotation of this passage was a free one. Its point was that light had dawned in a dark part of Palestine. By New Testament times the old tribal divisions had little actual relevance. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 141.] When Isaiah prophesied, Galilee was under the oppressive threat of the Assyrians. He predicted that Messiah would liberate the people living there. When Matthew wrote, Galilee was under Roman oppression. The darkness was also symbolic of the absence of religious, political, and cultural advantages available to Jews who lived in Jerusalem. "Dawned" (Gr. aneteilen) suggests that the light of Messiah’s ministry would first shine brightly in Galilee (cf. John 1:9; John 12:46). [Note: Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic, p. 198.]

". . . From of old the Messiah was promised to ’Galilee of the Gentiles’ (ton ethnon), a foreshadowing of the commission to ’all nations’ (panta ta ethne, Matthew 28:19). Moreover, if the messianic light dawns on the darkest places, then Messiah’s salvation can only be a bestowal of grace-namely, that Jesus came to call, not the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13)." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 117. See Gene R. Smillie, "’Even the Dogs’: Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45:1 (March 2002):73-97.]

Whereas Galilee was a dark place in one sense, in another sense Jerusalem was even darker. There hostility to Jesus was much greater, but in Galilee the people heard Jesus gladly.

"Matthew’s story of Jesus’ life and ministry possesses a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end and hence falls into three parts: (I) The Presentation of Jesus (Matthew 1:1 to Matthew 4:16); (II) The Ministry of Jesus to Israel and Israel’s Repudiation of Jesus (Matthew 4:17 to Matthew 16:20); and (III) The Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection (Matthew 16:21 to Matthew 28:20). In the first part, Matthew presents Jesus as the Davidic Messiah-King, the royal Son of God (Matthew 1:1 to Matthew 4:16). To show that Jesus is preeminently the Son of God, Matthew depicts God as announcing within the world of the story that Jesus is his Son (Matthew 3:17). As the Son of God, Jesus stands forth as the supreme agent of God who authoritatively espouses God’s evaluative point of view." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 161.]

The divisions of the Gospel that I have used in these notes are theological more than narrative.

Verse 17

2. Jesus’ essential message 4:17 (cf. Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:14-15)

The clause "From that time Jesus" (Gr. apo tote epxato Iesous) is very significant in Matthew’s Gospel. The writer used it only twice, here and in Matthew 16:21, and in both instances it indicates a major change in Jesus’ ministry. [Note: See ibid., p. 40; and Tasker, p. 57.] Here it signals the beginning of Jesus’ public preaching that the kingdom was "at hand." Until now, His ministry had been to selected individuals and groups, which John’s Gospel records. Jesus "went public" after John had ended his ministry of preparing Israel for her Messiah. Here Jesus took up exactly the same message that John had been preaching (cf. Matthew 3:2). It is exactly the same statement in the Greek text. The better translations have also rendered these sentences identically. In Matthew 16:21, having been rejected by Israel, Jesus announced His approaching passion and resurrection. The verb "to begin" (erxato) indicates the beginning of an action that continues, or it describes a new phase in the narrative, wherever it occurs. [Note: M’Neile, p. 45.]

Jesus used the same words as John, and He, too, offered no explanation of their meaning. Clearly Jesus’ concept of the kingdom was the same as that of the prophets and John. Some commentators claim that John’s concept of the kingdom was eschatological but Jesus’ was soteriological. [Note: E.g., Shepard, pp. 62, 123.] However there is no basis for this distinction in the text. Both John and Jesus viewed the kingdom as having both soteriological and eschatological elements. Now the King began announcing the nearness of the earthly kingdom of Messiah and urged His subjects to prepare themselves spiritually.

"The kingdom being at hand meant that it was being offered in the person of the prophesied King, but it did not mean that it would be immediately fulfilled." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 38. See also Stanley D. Toussaint, "The Contingency of the Coming of the Kingdom," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, pp. 222-37; and The New Scofield . . ., p. 996. (]

"Christ came to found a Kingdom, not a School; to institute a fellowship, not to propound a system." [Note: Edersheim, 1:528.]

Normative (traditional) dispensationalists-such as Walvoord, Pentecost, Toussaint, Barbieri, Bailey, and myself-believe that the kingdom was postponed due to Jewish rejection of the Messiah. Progressive dispensationalists believe that it began with Jesus’ earthly ministry and continues through the church but that it will also have a future manifestation in the Millennium. [Note: E.g., Robert L. Saucy, "The Presence of the Kingdom and the Life of the Church," Bibliotheca Sacra 145:577 (January-March 1988):30-46.]

Matthew wrote "kingdom of heaven" whereas Mark and Luke usually wrote "kingdom of God" in the parallel passages. This was probably because Matthew wrote to Jews who used the word "heaven" instead of "God" to avoid unduly familiarizing the ear with the sacred name. [Note: Edersheim, 1:267.]

Verses 18-20

The Hebrews referred to lakes as "seas." The Sea of Galilee got its name from its district. [Note: See the map "Palestine in the Time of Jesus" at the end of these notes to locate the places mentioned in this stage of Jesus’ ministry.] Its other name, the Sea of "Gennesaret," came from the plain to the northwest of the lake (Luke 5:1) and from a town on that plain: Gennesaret. The name "Gennesaret" connects to the Hebrew work kinnor, meaning "harp." In the Old Testament this body of water was called the Sea of Chinnereth because of its harp-like shape. [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Chinnereth," by R. F. Hosking.] Sometimes people referred to the lake as the Sea of Tiberias. Tiberias was the Hellenistic city that Herod built on its west-southwest shore. This sea was approximately 12 miles long and 9 miles wide at its longest and broadest points. It supported a thriving fishing industry in Jesus’ day with nine towns on its western shore plus others elsewhere. Simon and Andrew had moved from their hometown of Bethsaida (lit. "Fishtown," John 1:44) to Capernaum (Mark 1:21; Mark 1:29).

Simon’s nickname was Peter ("Rocky"). "Simon" was one of the most common names in first-century Palestine. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 146.] The net (Gr. amphibleston, used only here in the New Testament) that Simon and Andrew were casting into the lake was a circular one. It was a common tool of Galilean fishermen. Fishing was a major industry in Galilee.

Jesus’ command (not invitation), "Follow me" (Matthew 4:19) was a summons to leave their occupations and literally follow Jesus wherever He would take them as His trainees (cf. 1 Kings 19:19-21).

"The expression ’Follow Me’ would be readily understood, as implying a call to become the permanent disciple of a teacher. (Talmudic tractate Erubhin 30 a) Similarly, it was not only the practice of the Rabbis, but regarded as one of the most sacred duties, for a Master to gather around him a circle of disciples. (Talmudic tractates Pirqey Abhoth 1. 1; and Sanhedrin 91 b) Thus, neither Peter and Andrew, nor the sons of Zebedee, could have misunderstood the call of Christ, or even regarded it as strange." [Note: Edersheim, 1:474.]

Etiquette required a rabbi’s disciples to walk behind him. [Note: Ibid., p. 147.] The phrase "fishers of men" recalls Jeremiah 16:16. There Yahweh sent "fishermen" to gather Israelites for the Exile. Here Jesus called fishermen to announce the end of Israel’s spiritual exile (cf. Matthew 1:11-12; Matthew 2:17-18) and to prepare for His messianic reign. Later, after experiencing rejection by Israel, Jesus re-commissioned these men for duty in the inter-advent age (Matthew 28:18-20; John 21:15-23).

Evidently Jesus had called Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael earlier (John 1:35-51). Probably they returned to Galilee and resumed their former work. [Note: Cf. Lenski, p. 171.] This would partially explain their quick response to Jesus here (Matthew 4:20). Furthermore, Jesus had changed water into wine in Cana, which was not far away (John 2:1-11). If the miracle of Luke 5:1-11 occurred the night before this calling, we have another reason they followed Jesus "immediately." Matthew’s interest was not in why these men responded as they did but how authoritatively Jesus called them and how they responded. They recognized Jesus’ authority and left all to follow Him.

Disciples of other rabbis normally continued their trades, but Jesus wanted His disciples to be with Him fulltime (Luke 9:61). Also, in contrast to the rabbinic model, Jesus chose His disciples; typically the disciple chose the rabbi he would follow. Furthermore, Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, not to follow the Law or teaching in abstraction.

Verses 18-22

3. The call of four disciples 4:18-22 (cf. Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)

The calling of these four men shows Jesus’ authority over people. The response of these disciples was appropriate in view of their summons by the King. They obeyed "immediately" (Matthew 4:20; Matthew 4:22). From here on in the Gospel of Matthew we will not read stories about Jesus alone; He is always with His disciples, until they desert Him in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:56).

Verses 21-22

James and John were evidently repairing (Gr. katartizo) their nets after a night of fishing (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11).

"In the Synoptics, unlike Paul’s epistles, Jesus’ call is not necessarily effectual. But in this instance it was immediately obeyed." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 120.]

The disciples left their father as well as their fishing (Matthew 4:22).

"The call of God through Jesus is sovereign and absolute in its authority; the response of those who are called is to be both immediate and absolute, involving a complete break with old loyalties. The actual shape of this break with the past will undoubtedly vary from individual to individual, but that there must be a fundamental, radical reorientation of a person’s priorities is taken for granted." [Note: Hagner, p. 78.]

Verses 23-25

4. A summary of Jesus’ ministry 4:23-25 (cf. Mark 1:35-39; Luke 4:42-44)

This brief résumé (cf. Matthew 9:35-38) stresses the varied activities and the geographical and ethnic extent of Jesus’ ministry at this time. It sets the stage for the discourse to follow (chs. 5-7) implying that this is but a sample of Jesus’ teaching (cf. Matthew 9:35).

Galilee (Matthew 4:23) covered an area of about 2,800 square miles (roughly 70 by 40 miles) and contained approximately 3,000,000 people who lived in 204 cities and villages. [Note: Josephus, The Wars . . ., 3:3:2.] As an itinerant preacher, Jesus engaged in three primary activities: teaching His disciples, preaching good news to the multitudes, and healing many who were infirm. Matthew never used the verb didasko ("teach") of the disciples until after Jesus had departed from them. He presented Jesus as the teacher during His earthly ministry. This is also Matthew’s first of only four uses of euangelion ("gospel," "good news," cf. Matthew 9:35; Matthew 24:14; Matthew 26:13). His ministry was to the Jewish people. This is clear, first, since he preached in the Jewish synagogues of Galilee. Second, He preached a Jewish message, the good news about the messianic kingdom. Third, he practiced His healing among the Jews. The Greek word laos ("people") refers specifically to "the people," that is, the Jews. [Note: M’Neile, p. 47.] Matthew was hyperbolizing when he wrote that Jesus healed "all who were ill;" He could not have healed every single individual, though His healing ministry was extensive (cf. "all Galilee").

Syria (Matthew 4:24), to the Jews in Galilee, meant the area to the north. However the Roman province of Syria covered all of Palestine except Galilee, which was then under Herod Antipas’ administration. Regardless of the way Matthew intended us to understand "Syria," Jesus’ popularity spread far north. Matthew described the painfully diseased people who sought Jesus out in three categories. There were those whom demons oppressed. Others had ailments that resulted in mental and physical imbalances that demons did not induce. Still others suffered paralyses of various kinds. Jesus’ miracles dealt with "incurable" afflictions, not just trivial maladies (cf. Isaiah 35:5-6).

". . . both Scripture and Jewish tradition take sickness as resulting directly or indirectly from living in a fallen world . . . . The Messianic Age would end such grief (Isaiah 11:1-5; Isaiah 35:5-6). Therefore Jesus’ miracles, dealing with every kind of ailment, not only herald the kingdom but show that God has pledged himself to deal with sin at a basic level (cf. Matthew 1:21; Matthew 8:17)." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," pp. 121-22.]

When Matthew wrote that multitudes followed Jesus, he did not mean that they were all thoroughly committed disciples, as the text will show. Some were undoubtedly ardent disciples, but others were simply needy or curious individuals who followed Jesus temporarily. These people came from all over Galilee, Decapolis (the area to the east of Galilee as far north as Damascus and as far south as Philadelphia), Jerusalem, Judea, and east of the Jordan River. Many of these had to be Gentiles. Matthew made no reference to Jesus ministering in Samaria or to Samaritans.

"While Jesus begins His ministry with the Jews only, His fame becomes so widespread that both Jews and Gentiles respond. This is clearly a foreview of the kingdom. The King is present with both Jews and Gentiles being blessed, the Gentiles coming to the Jewish Messiah for blessing (Zechariah 2:10-12; Zechariah 8:18-23; Isaiah 2:1-4)." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 85.]

This section (Matthew 4:12-25) constitutes a fitting introduction to the discourse that follows. The King has summoned disciples to follow Him, and huge crowds seek Him out anticipating great supernatural blessings from His hand. He has appealed mainly to the Jews, but multitudes of Gentiles seek Him and experience His blessing too. No case was too difficult for Him.

"The evangelist wants us quickly to sense the great excitement surrounding Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, where he began to preach ’the good news of the kingdom,’ before presenting him in more detail as the master teacher (chaps. 5-7) and charismatic healer (chaps. 8-9)." [Note: Hagner, p. 81.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.