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Bible Commentary / Bible Study

B.W. Johnson Commentary on Matthew 4:1-11

From The People's New Testament, B.W. Johnson, 1891

The Temptation, and Christ's Ministry in Galilee.

SUMMARY.--Jesus in the Wilderness. The Tempter. The Temptation to Convert Stones into Bread. The Temptation to Cast Himself from the Temple. The Offer of Worldly Power and Glory. Ministering Angels. The Galilean Ministry. Disciples Called. Preaching and Healing. The Fame of Christ.

1. Then was Jesus led of the Spirit. Mark says he was driven by the Spirit, a phrase that indicates a sudden and forcible impulsion. Into the wilderness. Tradition has placed the scene of Christ's temptation in that part of the wilderness of Judea which lies between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, and particularly in the mountain called Quarantania, from this forty days' fast. To be tempted. Christ must be tempted--1. Because it was impossible that one who came to overthrow the kingdom of Satan should not be attacked by the great adversary at the very threshold. 2. It was to test him. 3. It was to prepare him, by being tempted like as we are, and yet gaining the victory, to "succor them that are tempted." 4. It was to set an example for us when we are tempted. The three great temptations mentioned by Matthew are the three great classes of temptations to which men are now exposed. Of the devil. Here the existence and personality of Satan are placed before us in the most distinct language. The devil is, (1) A person (Eph. 2:2; 6:12; Heb. 2:14; Jude 6); (2) A fallen angel (John 8:44; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). The word devil means false accuser.

2. When he had fasted forty days and forty nights. Moses and Elijah each fasted for the same length of time. It was a period of spiritual exaltation, of meditation and prayer, of preparation for his work, and it is hardly probable that he felt the need of food. He was afterward an hungered. At the close of this period nature began to assert her demands, and hunger was keenly felt.

3. The tempter came to him. The devil. He chose his time craftily, as he always does when he assails man. Whether he came in a personal form or as the whisper of the evil spirit is uncertain. If the Son of God. "If" suggests a doubt, and, perhaps, a taunt. It is a cunning appeal to Christ to work a miracle to satisfy his hunger and to display his power. It would seem an innocent thing for Christ to make bread when he was hungry, for himself, as he afterwards did for the five thousand. Why not? Because if he had availed himself of his Divine power to escape the discomforts and sufferings of humanity he would have failed to suffer as we do, to set us an example in all things, to be tempted in all points as we are; and besides, he "came to minister," never to use his Divine power for their own benefit. To have so exerted it for selfish and vainglorious purposes would have been sinful, and a distrust of God. Christ came to save others, not himself. Self-denial was the law of his mission.

4. It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone. The Lord uses the sword of the Spirit in his reply. The word quoted, found in Deut. 8:3, should be used in its connection, in order to comprehend [30] its force. But by every word, etc. The meaning is: If it pleases God to sustain by other means than bread, it will be done. His word can be trusted. God fed Israel with manna, sent by his word, and we can trust his promises.

5. Then the devil taketh him into the holy city. What way the devil took him, whether bodily or in spirit, we are not told. On a pinnacle of the temple. The only portion of the temple that seems to answer to the context was the lofty porch overhanging the valley of Kedron. Josephus says that from the roof to the valley below at this point was 300 feet.

6. If thou be the Son of God cast thyself down. Again the doubt is implied and the taunt uttered. Jesus had expressed his trust in the word of God. The devil now asks him to go from the extreme of distrust to that of rashly tempting God. It was, perhaps, the demand so often repeated and always refused, "to show a sign from heaven," to make a display of his power to secure popular applause. Perhaps the evil spirit whispered to him to perform one stupendous miracle in Jerusalem, in the presence of all people, and to secure such fame that he would reach the throne without treading the thorny way of the cross. To have done so would have robbed the world of its Savior. "It behooved him to die, and to rise again." He shall give his angels charge concerning thee. The enemy, like a false adviser, quotes from Psalm 91:11 to justify his request, but he garbled the Scripture, leaving out "to keep thee in all thy ways," which follows the first clause. The promise is limited to those who walk in the way appointed to them.

7. Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again the Savior replies in the words of Scripture, this time quoting from Deut. 6:16. There is no argument, but a simple reply that shows what is asked is forbidden.

8. Taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain. From some lofty center he spreads before Jesus a panorama of the kingdoms of this world with all their glory. We are not to suppose that all the kingdoms were literally visible, but they are portrayed in such a way as to be present to the mental eyes.

9. All these things will I give thee. All disguise is laid aside. Satan claims to be the Prince of the world and the disposer of human kingdoms. Jesus came to be a King, but the pathway to the crown is weary, painful, beset with thorns and blood. Satan proposes an easier way. He will rally the Jewish nation around him, set him on the throne of David, make him the Messiah King of the world, if he will only consent to give up his idea of a spiritual kingdom, "not of this world," and worship the god of this world by conforming his kingdom to the worldly ideas of Israel. The temptation is to turn away from the path of self-denial, the cross and the tomb, and to establish an outward, worldly domain.

10. Get thee hence, Satan. As the tempter was revealed Jesus rebukes him. The word, "Get thee hence," "begone," expresses abhorrence. The adversary is called by name and bidden to depart. Then his reason is added, in the words of Scripture, found in Deut. 6:13. Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. This passage forbids every kind of religious [31] adoration to any other object than Jehovah, whether it be idols, false gods, popes, Virgin Mary, saints, or angels. The three temptations had been met, three times the tempter had been baffled, three times the victory had been won. The first assault had been made through the door of appetite, "the lust of the flesh;" the second through vain glory, "the lust of the eyes;" the third through ambition, "the pride of life." All had appealed to Jesus to turn away from the pathway of self-denial and suffering marked out for him. All had been met by the shield of faith, and the tempter beaten back by the word of the Spirit.

11. Then the devil leaveth him. Luke adds, "for a season." When the devil is resisted he always flees. Angels came and ministered to him. When he fought off the tempter, after the victory was won, angels came to minister to him. I suppose this ministry was to supply him with food, but they also would afford spiritual sympathy.

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