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Jamieson Commentary on Matthew 4:1-11

From the Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871)

Mt 4:1-11. Temptation of Christ. ( = Mr 1:12, 13; Lu 4:1-13).

1. Then—an indefinite note of sequence. But Mark's word (Mr 1:12) fixes what we should have presumed was meant, that it was "immediately" after His baptism; and with this agrees the statement of Luke (Lu 4:1).

was Jesus led up—that is, from the low Jordan valley to some more elevated spot.

of the Spirit—that blessed Spirit immediately before spoken of as descending upon Him at His baptism, and abiding upon Him. Luke, connecting these two scenes, as if the one were but the sequel of the other, says, "Jesus, being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from Jordan, and was led," &c. Mark's expression has a startling sharpness about it—"Immediately the Spirit driveth Him" (Mr 1:12), "putteth," or "hurrieth Him forth," or "impelleth Him." (See the same word in Mr 1:43; 5:40; Mt 9:25; 13:52; Joh 10:4). The thought thus strongly expressed is the mighty constraining impulse of the Spirit under which He went; while Matthew's more gentle expression, "was led up," intimates how purely voluntary on His own part this action was.

into the wilderness—probably the wild Judean desert. The particular spot which tradition has fixed upon has hence got the name of Quarantana or Quarantaria, from the forty days—"an almost perpendicular wall of rock twelve or fifteen hundred feet above the plain" [Robinson, Palestine]. The supposition of those who incline to place the temptation amongst the mountains of Moab is, we think, very improbable.

to be tempted—The Greek word (peirazein) means simply to try or make proof of; and when ascribed to God in His dealings with men, it means, and can mean no more than this. Thus, Ge 22:1, "It came to pass that God did tempt Abraham," or put his faith to a severe proof. (See De 8:2). But for the most part in Scripture the word is used in a bad sense, and means to entice, solicit, or provoke to sin. Hence the name here given to the wicked one—"the tempter" (Mt 4:3). Accordingly "to be tempted" here is to be understood both ways. The Spirit conducted Him into the wilderness simply to have His faith tried; but as the agent in this trial was to be the wicked one, whose whole object would be to seduce Him from His allegiance to God, it was a temptation in the bad sense of the term. The unworthy inference which some would draw from this is energetically repelled by an apostle (Jas 1:13-17).

of the devil—The word signifies a slanderer—one who casts imputations upon another. Hence that other name given him (Re 12:10), "The accuser of the brethren, who accuseth them before our God day and night." Mark (Mr 1:13) says, "He was forty days tempted of Satan," a word signifying an adversary, one who lies in wait for, or sets himself in opposition to another. These and other names of the same fallen spirit point to different features in his character or operations. What was the high design of this? First, as we judge, to give our Lord a taste of what lay before Him in the work He had undertaken; next, to make trial of the glorious equipment for it which He had just received; further, to give Him encouragement, by the victory now to be won, to go forward spoiling principalities and powers, until at length He should make a show of them openly, triumphing over them in His cross: that the tempter, too, might get a taste, at the very outset, of the new kind of material in man which he would find he had here to deal with; finally, that He might acquire experimental ability "to succor them that are tempted" (Heb 2:18). The temptation evidently embraced two stages: the one continuing throughout the forty days' fast; the other, at the conclusion of that period.

First Stage:

2. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights—Luke says "When they were quite ended" (Lu 4:2).

he was afterward an hungered—evidently implying that the sensation of hunger was unfelt during all the forty days; coming on only at their close. So it was apparently with Moses (Ex 34:28) and Elijah (1Ki 19:8) for the same period. A supernatural power of endurance was of course imparted to the body, but this probably operated through a natural law—the absorption of the Redeemer's Spirit in the dread conflict with the tempter. (See on Ac 9:9). Had we only this Gospel, we should suppose the temptation did not begin till after this. But it is clear, from Mark's statement, that "He was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan" (Mr 1:13), and Luke's, "being forty days tempted of the devil" (Lu 4:2), that there was a forty days' temptation before the three specific temptations afterwards recorded. And this is what we have called the First Stage. What the precise nature and object of the forty days' temptation were is not recorded. But two things seem plain enough. First, the tempter had utterly failed of his object, else it had not been renewed; and the terms in which he opens his second attack imply as much. But further, the tempter's whole object during the forty days evidently was to get Him to distrust the heavenly testimony borne to Him at His baptism as THE Son of God—to persuade Him to regard it as but a splendid illusion—and, generally, to dislodge from His breast the consciousness of His Sonship. With what plausibility the events of His previous history from the beginning would be urged upon Him in support of this temptation it is easy to imagine. And it makes much in support of this view of the forty days' temptation that the particulars of it are not recorded; for how the details of such a purely internal struggle could be recorded it is hard to see. If this be correct, how naturally does the Second Stage of the temptation open! In Mark's brief notice of the temptation there is one expressive particular not given either by Matthew or by Luke—that "He was with the wild beasts" (Mr 1:12), no doubt to add terror to solitude, and aggravate the horrors of the whole scene.

3. And when the tempter came to him—Evidently we have here a new scene.

he said, if thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread—rather, "loaves," answering to "stones" in the plural; whereas Luke, having said, "Command this stone," in the singular, adds, "that it be made bread," in the singular (Lu 4:3). The sensation of hunger, unfelt during all the forty days, seems now to have come on in all its keenness—no doubt to open a door to the tempter, of which he is not slow to avail himself; "Thou still clingest to that vainglorious confidence that Thou art the Son of God, carried away by those illusory scenes at the Jordan. Thou wast born in a stable; but Thou art the Son of God! hurried off to Egypt for fear of Herod's wrath; but Thou art the Son of God! a carpenter's roof supplied Thee with a home, and in the obscurity of a despicable town of Galilee Thou hast spent thirty years, yet still Thou art the Son of God! and a voice from heaven, it seems, proclaimed it in Thine ears at the Jordan! Be it so; but after that, surely Thy days of obscurity and trial should have an end. Why linger for weeks in this desert, wandering among the wild beasts and craggy rocks, unhonored, unattended, unpitied, ready to starve for want of the necessaries of life? Is this befitting "the Son of God?" At the bidding of "the Son of God" surely those stones shall all be turned into loaves, and in a moment present an abundant repast."

4. But he answered and said, It is written—(De 8:3).

Man shall not live by bread alone—more emphatically, as in the Greek, "Not by bread alone shall man live."

but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God—Of all passages in Old Testament Scripture, none could have been pitched upon more apposite, perhaps not one so apposite, to our Lord's purpose. "The Lord … led thee (said Moses to Israel, at the close of their journeyings) these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no. And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only," &c., "Now, if Israel spent, not forty days, but forty years in a waste, howling wilderness, where there were no means of human subsistence, not starving, but divinely provided for, on purpose to prove to every age that human support depends not upon bread, but upon God's unfailing word of promise and pledge of all needful providential care, am I, distrusting this word of God, and despairing of relief, to take the law into My own hand? True, the Son of God is able enough to turn stones into bread: but what the Son of God is able to do is not the present question, but what is man's duty under want of the necessaries of life. And as Israel's condition in the wilderness did not justify their unbelieving murmurings and frequent desperation, so neither would Mine warrant the exercise of the power of the Son of God in snatching despairingly at unwarranted relief. As man, therefore, I will await divine supply, nothing doubting that at the fitting time it will arrive." The second temptation in this Gospel is in Luke's the third. That Matthew's order is the right one will appear, we think, quite clearly in the sequel.

5. Then the devil taketh him up—rather, "conducteth Him."

into the holy city—so called (as in Isa 48:2; Ne 11:1) from its being "the city of the Great King," the seat of the temple, the metropolis of all Jewish worship.

and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple—rather, "the pinnacle"—a certain well-known projection. Whether this refers to the highest summit of the temple, which bristled with golden spikes [Josephus, Antiquities, 5.5,6]; or whether it refers to another peak, on Herod's royal portico, overhanging the ravine of Kedron, at the valley of Hinnom—an immense tower built on the very edge of this precipice, from the top of which dizzy height Josephus says one could not look to the bottom [Antiquities, 15.11,5]—is not certain; but the latter is probably meant.

6. And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God—As this temptation starts with the same point as the first—our Lord's determination not to be disputed out of His Sonship—it seems to us clear that the one came directly after the other; and as the remaining temptation shows that the hope of carrying that point was abandoned, and all was staked upon a desperate venture, we think that remaining temptation is thus shown to be the last; as will appear still more when we come to it.

cast thyself down—"from hence" (Lu 4:9).

for it is written—(Ps 91:11, 12). "But what is this I see?" exclaims stately Bishop Hall. "Satan himself with a Bible under his arm and a text in his mouth!" Doubtless the tempter, having felt the power of God's Word in the former temptation, was eager to try the effect of it from his own mouth (2Co 11:14).

He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands—rather, "on their hands."

they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone—The quotation is, precisely as it stands in the Hebrew and the Septuagint, save that after the first clause the words, "to keep thee in all thy ways," are here omitted. Not a few good expositors have thought that this omission was intentional, to conceal the fact that this would not have been one of "His ways," that is, of duty. But as our Lord's reply makes no allusion to this, but seizes on the great principle involved in the promise quoted, so when we look at the promise itself, it is plain that the sense of it is precisely the same whether the clause in question be inserted or not.

7. Jesus said unto him, It is written again—(De 6:16), as if he should say, "True, it is so written, and on that promise I implicitly rely; but in using it there is another Scripture which must not be forgotten."

Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God—"Preservation in danger is divinely pledged: shall I then create danger, either to put the promised security skeptically to the proof, or wantonly to demand a display of it? That were 'to tempt the Lord my God,' which, being expressly forbidden, would forfeit the right to expect preservation."

8. Again, the devil taketh him up—"conducteth him," as before.

into—or "unto"

an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them—Luke (Lu 4:5) adds the important clause, "in a moment of time"; a clause which seems to furnish a key to the true meaning. That a scene was presented to our Lord's natural eye seems plainly expressed. But to limit this to the most extensive scene which the natural eye could take in, is to give a sense to the expression, "all the kingdoms of the world," quite violent. It remains, then, to gather from the expression, "in a moment of time"—which manifestly is intended to intimate some supernatural operation—that it was permitted to the tempter to extend preternaturally for a moment our Lord's range of vision, and throw a "glory" or glitter over the scene of vision: a thing not inconsistent with the analogy of other scriptural statements regarding the permitted operations of the wicked one. In this case, the "exceeding height" of the "mountain" from which this sight was beheld would favor the effect to be produced.

9. And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee—"and the glory of them," adds Luke (Lu 4:6). But Matthew having already said that this was "showed Him," did not need to repeat it here. Luke (Lu 4:6) adds these other very important clauses, here omitted—"for that is," or "has been," "delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it." Was this wholly false? That were not like Satan's unusual policy, which is to insinuate his lies under cover of some truth. What truth, then, is there here? We answer, Is not Satan thrice called by our Lord Himself, "the prince of this world" (Joh 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)? Does not the apostle call him "the god of this world" (2Co 4:4)? And still further, is it not said that Christ came to destroy by His death "him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb 2:14)? No doubt these passages only express men's voluntary subjection to the rule of the wicked one while they live, and his power to surround death to them, when it comes, with all the terrors of the wages of sin. But as this is a real and terrible sway, so all Scripture represents men as righteously sold under it. In this sense he speaks what is not devoid of truth, when he says, "All this is delivered unto me." But how does he deliver this "to whomsoever he will?" As employing whomsoever he pleases of his willing subjects in keeping men under his power. In this case his offer to our Lord was that of a deputed supremacy commensurate with his own, though as his gift and for his ends.

if thou wilt fall down and worship me—This was the sole but monstrous condition. No Scripture, it will be observed, is quoted now, because none could be found to support so blasphemous a claim. In fact, he has ceased now to present his temptations under the mask of piety, and he stands out unblushingly as the rival of God Himself in his claims on the homage of men. Despairing of success as an angel of light, he throws off all disguise, and with a splendid bribe solicits divine honor. This again shows that we are now at the last of the temptations, and that Matthew's order is the true one.

10. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan—Since the tempter has now thrown off the mask, and stands forth in his true character, our Lord no longer deals with him as a pretended friend and pious counsellor, but calls him by his right name—His knowledge of which from the outset He had carefully concealed till now—and orders him off. This is the final and conclusive evidence, as we think, that Matthew's must be the right order of the temptations. For who can well conceive of the tempter's returning to the assault after this, in the pious character again, and hoping still to dislodge the consciousness of His Sonship, while our Lord must in that case be supposed to quote Scripture to one He had called the devil to his face—thus throwing His pearls before worse than swine?

for it is written—(De 6:13). Thus does our Lord part with Satan on the rock of Scripture.

Thou shalt worship—In the Hebrew and the Septuagint it is, "Thou shalt fear"; but as the sense is the same, so "worship" is here used to show emphatically that what the tempter claimed was precisely what God had forbidden.

the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve—The word "serve" in the second clause, is one never used by the Septuagint of any but religious service; and in this sense exclusively is it used in the New Testament, as we find it here. Once more the word "only," in the second clause—not expressed in the Hebrew and the Septuagint—is here added to bring out emphatically the negative and prohibitory feature of the command. (See Ga 3:10 for a similar supplement of the word "all" in a quotation from De 27:26).

11. Then the devil leaveth him—Luke says, "And when the devil had exhausted"—or "quite ended," as in Lu 4:2—"every (mode of) temptation, he departed from him till a season." The definite "season" here indicated is expressly referred to by our Lord in Joh 14:30 and Lu 22:52, 53.

and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him—or supplied Him with food, as the same expression means in Mr 1:31 and Lu 8:3. Thus did angels to Elijah (1Ki 19:5-8). Excellent critics think that they ministered, not food only, but supernatural support and cheer also. But this would be the natural effect rather than the direct object of the visit, which was plainly what we have expressed. And after having refused to claim the illegitimate ministration of angels in His behalf, oh, with what deep joy would He accept their services when sent, unasked, at the close of all this temptation, direct from Him whom He had so gloriously honored! What "angels' food" would this repast be to Him! and as He partook of it, might not a Voice from heaven be heard again, by any who could read the Father's mind, "Said I not well, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased?"

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