The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Matthew 4

Mat 4:1

Vv 1-11: The temptation: "The most important, memorable, and mysterious battle in history."

Who is the tempter/devil/Satan? Possibly a representative from the Sanhedrin who came to check Jesus' credentials, much as the "credentials" of John Baptist were checked. Cp John 1:19: "Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was." This could have led, directly, to their need to "examine" the would-be "Messiah" -- to whom John pointed (John 1:23-29).

All other refs to tempters in the gospels are to external tempters: Mat 16:1; 19:3; 22:15-18; 26:59-63; John 8:6; Luk 11:15,16.

LED BY THE SPIRIT: Cp Rom 8:14: sons of God led by the Spirit. It was not for Jesus to bask in the glory of the Father's blessing through the Spirit...

Prophets were led by the Holy Spirit to receive visions: Rev 21:10; Eze 8:3; 37:1; 40:2; 2Co 12:2.

INTO THE DESERT: Jesus is baptized, and immediately taken by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. Cp this with Moses' Psa 90:5-12: his commentary about the generation that was first "baptized" in the Red Sea, and then afterward perished in the wilderness. Secondly, compare this with Joshua's (this is a guess) Psa 91:1-7: a commentary about the generation that survived the wilderness to enter the Promised Land. Other points of comparison: (a) cp the 40 years there with the 40 days here. (b) Psa 91:11,12 refers to the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. (c) Psa 91:13: Cp with Mark 1:13 (Psa 8:6,7; Gen 1:28: Jesus exercises dominion over the wild beasts).

Mat 4:2

FORTY DAYS: // 40 years. Temptation of Christ // temptation of God's "firstborn" nation. Note similarities in Deu 32:8-20. Where the national "Israel" failed, the singular "Israel" succeeded.

Mat 4:3

THE TEMPTER: Poss a member of the delegation from the High Priest and other authorities (cp Mat 3:7), who see Christ baptized, anointed as the "Lamb of God" (Joh 1:29), and hope to find a way to neutralize his influence: 'Come, join with us, and you will "succeed" far beyond your expectations!'

If? See Luk 3:22; Mat 26:63.

Mat 4:4

See Jer 15:16; Job 23:10-12; Joh 4:32-34.

Mat 4:5

TOOK HIM: This Gr word has the idea of accompanying another person (cp also v 8).

THE HIGHEST POINT OF THE TEMPLE: See Eze 8:3. It was here also that James (the Lord's brother) stood to address the crowds -- before being thrown down and clubbed to death (WGos 74).

" 'Our Rabbis give this tradition: In the hour when King Messiah cometh, He standeth upon the roof of the Sanctuary, and proclaims to Israel, saying, Ye poor (suffering), the time of your redemption draweth nigh. And if ye believe, rejoice in My Light, which is risen upon you... Jesus stands on the lofty pinnacle of the Tower, or of the Temple-porch... whence the view into the Kedron Valley beneath was to the stupendous depth of 450 feet... Possibly it may have been the extreme corner of the 'wing-like' porch, or ulam, which led into the Sanctuary. Thence a Priest could easily have communicated with his brethren in the court beneath... [This place was] presumably that on which every day a priest was stationed to watch, as the pale morning light passed over the hills of Judaea far off to Hebron, to announce it as the signal for offering the morning sacrifice. If we might indulge our imagination, the moment chosen would be just as the Priest had quitted that station. The first desert-temptation had been in the grey of breaking light, when to the faint and weary looker the stones of the wilderness seemed to take fantastic shapes, like the bread for which the faint body hungered. In the next temptation Jesus stands on the watch-post which the white-robed priest had just quitted. Fast the rosy morning-light, deepening into crimson, and edged with gold, is spreading over the land. In the Priests' Court below him the morning-sacrifice has been offered. The massive Temple-gates are slowly opening, and the blasts of the priests' silver trumpets is summoning Israel to begin a new day by appearing before their Lord. Now then let him descend, Heaven-borne, into the midst of priests and people. What shouts of acclamation would greet his appearance! What homage of worship would be His! The goal can at once be reached, and that at the head of believing Israel. Jesus is surveying the scene. By his side is the tempter [a representative of the Sanhedrin?: GB], watching the features that mark the working of the spirit within. And now he has whispered it" (Eder).

The beauty of this would be -- from the viewpoint of the tempter -- that, if Jesus were not the Messiah, he would plunge to his death, and the leaders of Israel would be rid of a potential threat and rival. And if he did succeed, the leaders of Israel would have an "in" with this new "king" -- he would be "one of them"!

Mat 4:6

Cp 2Co 11:14: "Satan" masquerading as an "angel of light".

Mat 4:8

TOOK HIM: Cp v 5n.

A VERY HIGH MOUNTAIN: Other prophets received visions thusly: Rev 21:10; Eze 40:2.

ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD AND THEIR SPLENDOR: At the least, all the "kingdoms" of the Promised Land! From traditional mount of temptation, in north of Jeshimon: looking to east, one might actually see the whole of Transjordan: riches of Petra in the south, the castle of Herod, Moab-Ammon in center, Decapolis (Greek influence) to north. All around also was the power of Rome (Baly 185). Cp Abraham surveying Land in Gen 13:14,15.

Mat 4:9

Could the "orthodox" "Devil" give Jesus all these things?

Mat 4:10

Quoting Deu 6:13, which warns against serving other gods. Thus, to serve the "flesh" is to serve another "god"!

WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD: "Even a dog can show the beauty of total devotion, with no hope of reward beyond a kind word and a pat on the head. If a human being with the potential intelligence it has been given, cannot use that God-given intelligence to show total devotion to the Highest manifestation of Goodness, Beauty and Love in the universe (with the assurance of infinite reward), it is not worth as much as a dog" (GVG).

AND SERVE HIM ONLY: "To serve God and be a useful, active part of His eternal purpose is man's greatest privilege and wisdom, and should be his greatest joy. God's work alone has any permanence or meaning or value or satisfaction. Everything else is silly little baby games -- fine indeed for babies, but pitiful for supposedly mature adults" (GVG).

Mat 4:12

If the herald is treated thusly, what is to become of the King himself?

Mat 4:13

LEAVING NAZARETH: Because his life was threatened (Luk 4:29).

HE WENT AND LIVED IN CAPERNAUM: Christ now made Capernaum his preaching headquarters: "his own city" (Mat 9:1). Further away from Herod than was Nazareth?

Mat 4:15

GALILEE OF THE GENTILES: "Gelil hagoyim" = the circle of the Gentiles. Many Samaritans. In Galilee the influence of the Jewish religious leaders was much less powerful.

Mat 4:17

A divine deferment of God's plan, due to Jewish unbelief?: "Had the nation continued to obey the Lord's voice and keep the covenant, and when Christ came receive him as King on the proclamation of the gospel, they would doubtless have been in Canaan until now; and he might have come ere this, and be now reigning in Jerusalem as king of Jews and Lord of nations" (Elp 112).

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR: "In what way had the kingdom come near? To the eastern mind a kingdom is not a kind of constitutional pyramid with a king at its decorative apex; the kingdom emanates from the king, it is the extension of his kingly power" (SMk 21).

Mat 4:18

Background: John Bapt had been recently imprisoned (Mar 1:14). Now Jesus calls John's former followers to follow him (Jesus) instead.

Cp Exo 18:21: Moses chooses 70 elders, to assist him.

Mat 4:19

FOLLOW ME: They could no longer follow John (Mat 4:12). Not merely an offer, but a summons! These men were already disciples of Jesus (ie Joh 1); now they receive a call to permanent, full-time discipleship.

FISHERS OF MEN: "How do you account for the fact that so many of the apostles were chosen from this class of fishermen? It could not have been accidental. There was, no doubt, an adaptation, a fitness in the occupation of these men to develop just those attitudes of character most needed in the apostolic office. There are various modes of fishing, and each calculated to cultivate and strengthen some particular moral quality of great importance in their mission. Thus angling requires patience, and great perseverance and caution.... Fishing with the hand net... requires a keen eye, an active frame, and great skill in throwing the net. Such a fisherman , too, must be patient, watchful, wide awake, and prompt to seize the exact moment to throw. Then there is the great dragnet, the working of which teaches the value of united effort. No one occupation of humble life -- not even that of the shepherd -- calls into exercise and develops so many of the elements necessary for... a religious teacher as this of fishing" (LB 401-403).

"Recently we have had the good fortune to spend some time fishing with some brethren who are real experts. It is interesting to notice how the modern day fisherman is so well equipped. He often has a boat or kayak; he has expensive fishing poles, reels and a tackle box chuck full of all kinds of hooks, lures, sinkers, etc, all designed to help him catch the big one. In addition to being fully equipped, he is also knowledgeable of the habits of the fish he is trying to catch. He knows just what type of lure or bait to use for each kind of fish, where they are apt to be, and the time they are most likely to be biting. An avid fisherman thinks nothing of rising long before daybreak and traveling sometimes great distances over land and water to be at what he hopes will be the right place at the right time to accomplish his goal, catching his limit.

"Now when Jesus told us that he would make us fishers of men, he certainly would expect us to be as diligent in knowing the habits of those we want to attract to the Truth as the fisherman is in knowing the characteristics of his fish. Paul tells us he was all things to all men and he did this in an effort to catch men for Christ.

"We can imagine the complaints we would get if we asked brethren to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning to go out to preach the Truth, yet if we change it to a fishing trip watch their eyes light up at the prospect of 'goin' fishin'. Now this example is not intended to condemn in any way the fine sport of fishing, but only to show that Christ wants us to also be as willing and ready to 'fish for men.'

"The fisherman is careful to offer the kind of bait that the fish love best. When the fish has swallowed the hook the fisherman's job is not over; in fact, the fun has just begun. Now he carefully plays the fish allowing it to run, and reeling in at every opportunity. If he does not do his job well, the fish will get away. He is very patient to play the fish until he can land him. The good fisherman is intent on doing this to the very best of his ability and he would look with scorn on someone who had a good fish on the end of the line and failed to make an attempt to reel him in. Why is it that we are sometimes so unskillful in our fishing for men? Someone asks us, 'What is a Christadelphian, what do you believe?' and we proceed to tell them that 'we don't believe in the Trinity, we don't believe in the Devil, we don't believe in an immortal soul, we don't believe in going to heaven when we die.' No doubt the person asking the question wonders why we told him all the things we don't believe when he asked us what we do believe. As a fisher for men we should develop as much skill as possible in first attracting him with the right kind of bait and then playing him carefully when he begins to show interest. To do this requires that we know as much about him as possible -- just as the fisherman knows the habits of the various kinds of fish in the lake, river or ocean. It next requires us to use skill and tact in drawing him near to us rather than scare him away with a whole lot of negatives. He would much rather hear that we do believe in the coming Kingdom, peace on earth and good will among men, the end of war, the end of sorrow and pain and death, and the glories of the coming age. When our listener acquires a little more knowledge and love for the Word there will be ample time to discuss the fact that his dead grandmother whom he thinks is in heaven is peacefully asleep in the grave.

"Every fisherman knows that if he wants to catch fish he must go to them. No one ever caught a fish sitting in his living room. If we want to fish for Christ then we must go where they can be found. This may mean the use of television, radio, newspapers, door to door, open air and talking the truth at lunch time in the company cafeteria. We can't sit back and wait for them to come to us anymore than the fisherman can. The good fisherman has a well stocked tackle box filled with goodies that attract fish and the good fisherman for Jesus has a well marked, well thumbed Bible. He also studies so that he will have an answer for the hope that is within him. The fisherman doesn't wait until he is an expert to begin, he casts his line and learns from his mistakes. Whoever we are and wherever we are, let us begin today to fish for Christ. Don't wait until we know everything, or we will never begin. 'Be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the Lord our God is with us whithersoever we go.' God knows where the fish are even as Jesus instructed his disciples where to cast their nets and if we ask God to guide us then he will bless us and give the increase. Remember 'he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins' " (MM).

Mat 4:20

About this time Jesus establishes his right to be a teacher of "fishers of men" by the miraculous draught of fish (Luk 5:1-11).

Mat 4:21

PREPARING THEIR NETS: "Mending" (AV). The nets had been broken in the miraculous haul of fish (Luk 5:6).

Mat 4:22

THEY LEFT THE BOAT: Mar 1:20 adds "with the hired men", suggesting some wealth. Zebedee's family was quite prosperous, having a house in Jerusalem.

Mat 4:25

The "seed of Abraham" was asserting his right to the whole Land of Promise.
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