In Matthew 4 we see the temptation of our Lord. He Who is the born King must first be subject. His right to rule must be demonstrated in His joy to obey. He Who has the exclusive right to command, first takes the place of a servant. If God wants to have a redeemed creation that has enduring stability and of which every part will be without the stain of sin or shadow of imperfection, then He, Who will keep everything together, must be put to the test. The beginning and guarantee of that new creation is Christ. But He must be tested, and in a way no one else will ever know.
1 - 2 Tempted by the Devil
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
Before the Lord is tempted, two things have been clearly established in the preceding verses (Mt 3:16-17): He is the Son of God and He is sealed as Man with the Holy Spirit. This also applies to the believer. Temptations are part of the Christian’s life. Before we are confronted with them, we see how the Lord has gone before us in this.
Christ has to deal with three temptations. In the first temptation He is tempted as Man, in the second as Messiah and in the third as the Son of Man. The first temptation is about dependence on God, the second is about trust in God and the third is about worship and service for God (cf. 1Jn 2:16).
The Spirit, Who has just recently come upon Him, leads Him up into the wilderness into the devil’s presence. The devil is not a ‘bad principle’, but is as much a person as the Lord Jesus. From Genesis 3 onwards he is used to deceiving people by addressing their lusts and pride. He does not find this with the Lord Jesus.
God has not placed any special protection around His Son, so that He would remain free from being tempted by the devil. Christ is tempted by the devil for the full period of forty days, that is, as long as He is in the wilderness. Only the last three temptations are recorded in the Bible.
In the temptations that the Lord Jesus undergoes, there are two kinds. The first kind of temptation is not general for man, but especially for Him. They are not described because they do not include lessons for us. The second kind is those which He goes through at the end of the forty days. These are the three temptations described from verse 3 onwards. Such temptations are also our portion.
The purpose of the temptations Christ goes through, is not to see if He can sin. He can’t. With Him, the temptations prove that in the most extraordinary circumstances He does nothing other than obey and fully trust the Word of God. He overcomes where the first man in much more favorable circumstances has failed. For after all, Adam and Eve handed down the Word of God to the devil, while the Son of Man withstands through the Word of God.
Throughout the entire forty-day period, the Lord has fasted. When He speaks of fasting in one of the following chapters (Mt 6:16-18), He speaks out of experience. He is perfectly aware of the enormous power of the temptations of the devil and what is at stake. Everything shows that He is truly Man. Nor is he above the consequences of fasting. He becomes hungry. He goes through everything that can happen to a person.
3 - 4 The First Temptation
3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”
The first temptation of the enemy is on the terrain of bodily needs. Hunger is a bodily need. The devil proposes that the Lord satisfies His bodily needs by using the power He possesses to make bread from stones. It is an impressive thought to see that the Lord Jesus really has a need for something that He could otherwise provide for Himself with the power He possesses. Here again we see the unfathomable mystery of His Person that He is completely Man and also truly God.
It is not a sin to be hungry, nor is it a sin to eat, nor is it a sin for the Lord to use His power. But He is the dependent Man. It would be a sin for Him if He provided His food without God having said it. The temptation here is to perform an act in independence from God. The world has been ruled since the fall by acts of this nature. They prove that the man who loses God becomes an egotist, someone who thinks only of himself.
With the words “if You are the Son of God”, the devil challenges Him to prove it by ordering the stones to become bread. But His Father did not tell Him to do so. Therefore He does not do it. This also applies to us. If we don’t have a clear instruction from God to do something, we should always wait for Him to give it. Faith, trust, proves itself by waiting for God to reveal His will.
The Lord has taken the place of a servant, and that is not the place to command. Personally He has the power to make bread from the stones. We do not have that power. However, we can also make bread from stone in a spiritual sense. We do so when we use the beautiful, attractive things in the wilderness of the world to satisfy our needs. That raises the question: What do we fill our mind with, with what food?
The Lord does not want to use His power for Himself, in independence from God. It is a constant feature of the work of the Holy Spirit in the children of God that they do not use miraculous powers for themselves or their friends. Paul did not use that power for himself or his fellow-workers.
The power of the Lord’s actions lies in the Word of God. With this He answers the devil, without entering into discussion with him. In His answer He shows that true life can only be found in what God has said (Deu 8:3). If we focus on this, we will be preserved from acting in our own power and the damaging acts that result from it.
5 - 7 The Second Temptation
5 Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,
6 and *said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;
‘ON [their] HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,
SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”
The second temptation is not directed at the physical, but at the religious needs. For this the devil takes the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem, the holy city, to the most holy place in that city, the temple. He lets Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple. Then He does what the Lord has done. He cites something that is written. But when the devil cites the Word of God, it is always to misuse it and he always misquotes it.
The text quoted by the devil in order to seduce the Lord to commit a reckless act (Psa 91:11-12) refers to God’s promise that He will protect the Messiah from disaster. By quoting this text, the devil says, as it were: “Here is a word from God for You.” The distortion of the Word is that the devil omits the word “in all Your ways”. Again the devil wants Him to do something without walking in the way of God.
But his guile goes even further. He wants Christ to challenge God to prove that He will preserve and protect the Messiah. This is evident from the Lord’s answer, an answer that again consists of a quotation from Scripture (Deu 6:16). Here too He does not enter into discussion with the devil. In His answer, He indicates that He trusts in God unconditionally and that it is sin to ask in unbelief whether God is worthy of His trust. We distrust God if we want Him to prove His care through outward actions.
The first two temptations show two principles that lead to victory. The first principle is simple and absolute obedience. The second is complete trust in the way of obedience. To have the courage to obey, we need trust. But trust is found only in the way of obedience.
8 - 10 The Third Temptation
8 Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”
For the third temptation, the devil takes the Lord to a place from where he offers Him an overview of the whole world. When the devil shows something beautiful and impressive and also offers it, he does so to get someone in his grip. In a way, the kingdoms of this world do belong to the devil. Adam has lost authority over it and handed the world over to the devil. Therefore, since the fall of man, the devil has been “the god of this world [lit. age]” and “the ruler of the world” (2Cor 4:4; Jn 14:30). This situation will continue until the Lord Jesus comes back. Only then will His kingdom begin (Rev 11:15).
The temptation is that Christ can get the kingdoms without having to suffer for them. The devil shows Him the inheritance that awaits Him. He offers it on the condition that the Lord Jesus kneels before him. How many times have people kneeled for the devil for much less. The devil reveals himself as satan by stating outright that Christ can get “all these things” if He falls down and worships him. Satan places himself as an object of worship in the place of God. In exchange, he offers things from the area he rules over.
The Lord rejects him as “Satan”, which means ‘adversary’. He resists him. We must never allow anything or anyone to place themselves between our hearts and God and thus take the place of God. This is also what Peter hears when he wants to turn the Lord away from His pathway of obedience (Mt 16:22-23).
All quotations from the Word which the Lord uses to answer the devil, come from the book of Deuteronomy. In that book the responsibility of Israel is seen in connection with the possession of the land and the privileges of the nation. There we see that all blessings for the nation are based on obedience.
11 The Devil Defeated
11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and [began] to minister to Him.
The Lord has resisted the devil and defeated him with God’s Word. The devil is the loser and leaves Him without having achieved any of the results he desired. He cannot get any hold on the Lord because He remains dependent, obedient, trusting and devoted in everything. Through this the Lord Jesus has bound the strong one. Now He can continue to go through the land to take away from the strong man his goods, that is to say, to set free from the devil those who are under his power (Mt 12:29).
The devil’s place is directly taken by angels. How breathless they must have watched when their Creator was tempted by the devil in this way. How they would have loved to defend Him. One day they will wage war against the devil and his angels (Rev 12:7). This is not yet the case here. Now they come to the Lord to minister to Him, possibly with food that He did not want to take at the instigation of the devil.
12 - 17 Start of Service in Galilee
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee;
13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.
14 [This was] to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:
15 “THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI,
BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES—
16 “THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT,
AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH,
UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The imprisonment of John is the time for the Lord to begin His public ministry. The rejection of John casts the shadow of His own rejection forward. John is the forerunner of the Lord, both in his mission and in his rejection (Mt 17:12).
The area where He will carry out His ministry is outside Jerusalem and Judea. He goes to the north of the country. The north is a transit route for the nations. There live the poor and despised of the flock, the remnant, who are already clearly distinguished from the rulers of the people in Matthew 3-4.
The area where He is going is foretold by Isaiah (Isa 9:1-2). With His coming a great light shines for a people walking in darkness. For those in the land of the shadow of death a light dawns. With Him hope dawns in a hopeless situation.
He will live and work there. His preaching is the same as that of John (Mt 3:1). The voice of John has been silenced, but the Lord takes over the preaching and continues it more powerfully.
18 - 22 Calling of the First Disciples
18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He *said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the [son] of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.
The Lord calls people to Himself to learn from Him. He is the only One Who has this right. He calls them to Himself to follow Him completely in His ministry and temptations. This means that they connect themselves with Him and share in everything that is His portion. To do this, they have to give up everything else. When He calls, His rights go beyond those of nature. Only when His call goes out can a person leave his work and even his family. Such a calling is unique. For it is customary for someone to serve the Lord in his ordinary daily circumstances (1Cor 7:24).
It is always important that, as soon as His will is clear, we act “immediately”. This is what both Peter and Andrew and James and John do. At the moment they are called, they are busy practicing their profession. The Lord Jesus does not call lazy people, but active people.
Their activities during their calling are symbolic for the work they will later do for the Lord. Peter and Andrew are busy casting a net into the sea. They are later used as fishers of men to bring people to Christ. James and John are busy mending their nets, that is, repairing them and thus putting them in order for the next catch. They are later used to put relations between believers in order. Peter and Andrew are more evangelists, James and John are more shepherds.
No human education makes someone fit to do the Lord’s work. To go with Him through the land, He does not choose people in high positions, or people who are rich or learned (cf. Acts 4:13). The most important qualification is whether someone wants to be dependent on Him.
The people He gathers around Him represent the God-fearing remnant of Israel. The mass of the people does not want Him, but there are those who believe in Him. There are only a few, a remnant in the midst of the unbelieving mass. To Him they are the true Israel. He sees this in the disciples He gathers around Him.
23 - 25 The Lord Teaches, Proclaims and Heals
23 Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. 24 The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and [the] Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and [from] beyond the Jordan.
The Lord’s ministry consists of teaching, proclaiming the gospel and healing the sick. Healings are the power that accompany the proclamation. Through healings the general attention is firmly drawn to His entire service consisting of His teaching, His preaching and His works. In the healing of people lies the proof that the power of the kingdom of God is present in Him. It is the power of God that is revealed in goodness on earth. He proclaims the kingdom and pairs this with the evidence of the power that is able to establish that kingdom. We can see miracles as a bell that attracts a hearing, after which the message is brought.
Through His teachings and works many come to Him. In the following chapters, Matthew 5-7, He speaks to them about the principles of the kingdom of heaven.