Commentary on St. Matthew - Chapter 4

Verse 1: (Mark 1:13, Luke 4:1-2) Led by the Holy Spirit, to be subjected to constant moral & physical trials.

Matthew only mentions three occasions of temptation. Our Lord could not be tempted through the lower faculties (other 6 of 7 Deadly Sins) since He was without original sin, like Adam before the fall. "For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Romans 8:14

Why did Christ fast?

1. "So that He might be "tempted as we are in all things except sin" (Hebrews 4:15)

2. That by prayer and fasting He might prepare Himself for His work of preaching, and teach us to do the same.

3. Objectively, that by the hunger consequent upon His fasting, He might afford the devil an opportunity of tempting Him; and by the same fasting might arm Himself, and teach us to arm ourselves against temptations. So St. Basil.

4. That by macerating His flesh, He might make satisfaction for Adam's eating the forbidden fruit, and for all the gluttony of his posterity.

5. That He might dispose Himself for holy contemplation, and show that fasting is as wings, whereby the soul is carried upward to celestial things. (St. Chrysostom)

6. That He might teach us to despise corporal for the sake of spiritual delights; and that by the contemplation of divine things, and the joy which arises from that contemplation, the longing for carnal pleasures is quenched, and the thought of food and drink taken away. Whence the Abbot John, as Cassian testifies, was so fed with the pleasures of contemplation, that he could not remember whether he had eaten the day before or not.

By the devil. Syriac, by the accuser, Greek, accuser, calumniator. For Satan is he who accuses men before God perpetually, that he may gain them for himself and hell.

The Holy Ghost would show that there is no temptation which may not be overcome by grace, by prayer and fasting, by repeating the words of Scripture, the precepts and promises of God. Christ, who was often tempted by Satan, thus showed Himself to be like unto all other men, His brethren, as the Apostle teaches, Heb. 4:15. Also, that He might show that those who are about to become doctors, preachers, prelates, apostles, must be first proved by temptations, and be strengthened by prayer and meditation in solitary retreats, and there drink in a large supply of the Spirit, which they may afterwards poured on others. They who be wise, first go apart with Christ into the wilderness of prayer and meditation.

Verse 2: In imitation of Moses and Elias who fasted 40 days - Moses, before giving the Old Law, Elias before reforming it - Jesus before giving the New Law. He voluntarily submitted to suffer the pangs of hunger in His human nature, in order to prove His humanity, and to allow the devil to tempt Him.

Verse 3: That the devil might make trial to find out if He were God's own Son in very deed, and that he might entice Him to sin. As Lucifer through Eve, tempted Adam, and overcame him, so he tempted Christ, and was overcome by Him. We are here taught that when the devil foresees any one will be an illustrious doctor of the Church, he is accustomed to assail him with various temptations, that he may cast him down, and destroy the harvest of souls which he sees he may reap, that he may choke the fruit in the seed, as now he strove to strangle all Christians in Christ their Parent.

His enticement was geared to have Christ make a vain boast of his power.

This first temptation was to the concupiscence of the flesh. The devil was not certain of the Divinity of Christ.

Verse 6: This second temptation was to the pride of life. Jesus didn't have a guardian angel - He had ministering angels.

Verse 7: quoting Deut. 6:16 - don't provoke God to anger or useless trials.

Verse 8: Satan, growing impatient with Christ, took Him up - carried Him through the air to the pinnacle of the Temple. So SS. Jerome, Gregory, Thomas say that Christ suffered the devil to deal with Him in this manner, since He suffered Himself to be crucified by the devil's members - the Pharisees. Nor did the demon expose himself by this, or, he cared little now about exposing who he was, since he already suspected and feared that he was thoroughly known. And so in this third temptation he boldly threw off all disguise of an angel of light, and unveiled his Satanic arrogance.

For the demon thought that if Christ were the Son of God, He would not allow Himself to be taken up and carried through the air, and by this would know whether He were the Son of God or not. Christ, studiously concealing from the devil that He was the Son of God, eluded all his arts and devices, and kept him in doubt and suspense, so that he should not know in what way he might tempt Him. Therefore we can learn not to make known to every one the secrets of our soul, lest we be hindered of the devil. In battles, the crown of victory is his who can conceal his own plans, and discover those of the enemy. A Christian learns by frequent experience that heroic acts of virtue are easily accomplished, if the determination of them be kept secret in the mind, and they are suddenly brought out into the sphere of action, before the demon has been able to get scent of them and oppose them. This is the art of deluding the demon.

How, then, did he present all kingdoms before the eyes of Christ? 1. Origen understands kingdoms mystically, as the reign of the devil, in which he rules in some men by anger, in others by pride, in others by gluttony, and so on. "The devil showed Him innumerable multitudes of men whom he held in his dominion, and said unto Him, 'I know that Thou art come to fight against me, and take my subjects from under my sway. I ask You not to contend with me. You need not trouble Yourself to fight. One thing only do I ask, that Thou shouldst fall down and worship me, and then receive all my empire.'" This is a mystical interpretation, not literal.

St. Cyprian is of opinion that they were not shown to the senses, but to the imagination. But this whole series of temptations was external (verse 3), not internal, and that the devil had no power over the imagination of Christ.

Euthymius and others, with St. Thomas (3 p., q. 41, art. 4) say that the devil took Christ up on a lofty mountain, that he might show Him, at least in a confused way, the situation of each kingdom, as by saying: "There in that direction is Asia; there is Europe, here is Syria, there is Italy" and all this in a moment, as Luke says, that is, in an extremely brief space of time (Luke 4:5).

Verse 11: The devil, having been once thoroughly vanquished either by Christ or Christians, only departs from them for a season, as S. Luke says (11:24, "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walks through places without water, seeking rest: and not finding, he says: I will return into my house whence I came out."), and returns whenever another occasion offers to try them by a similar, or even by the same temptation.

Serving Angels came in visible form with food to relieve the suffering Saviour.

(It is a good idea to acquire a few titles on the subject of the Devil in order to understand his nature and limitations - please see our sponser)

Verse 12: During this first year of Christ's ministry He had also turned the water into wine, drove the buyers and sellers out of the temple, and had His discourse with Nicodemus. These all took place before the imprisonment of the Baptist, and are related only by St. John. Before his imprisonment Christ had committed to John the work of preaching, but now He took that office upon Himself. Moreover, when Christ heard of John's imprisonment, He departed out of Judaea into Galilee, because He fled from Herod, that he might not imprison Him as he had done John. In Galilee, therefore, he began solemnly to preach, that He might fulfil Isaiah's prophecy.

Herod reigned in Galilee, but the Pharisees ran to him through fear of a rising of the people who flocked to John. John was probably preaching on the border of the two cities (Galilee/Judaea), and so Herod was able to intervene.

St. Chrysostom: He withdrew into Galilee, that is, out of Judaea; both that he might reserve His passion to the fit time, and that He might set us an example of flying from danger.

Verse 14-16: Isaiah 9:1. There were two Galilees, one, Lower Galilee in the tribes of Issachar and Zabulon, in which was Nazareth: and Upper Galilee in the tribes of Aser and Nephtali, in which was Capharnaum, and which was called Galilee of the Gentiles, because it bordered upon Phoenicia, and was largely peopled by Gentiles. A considerable portion of it was given by Solomon to Hiram, king of Tyre. (See I Kings 9:11.)

John states the Lord went into Galilee before John was cast into prison (John 4:3). John is speaking of the Lord's first coming into Galilee before the imprisonment. John does speak in another place of His second coming into Galilee, and the other Evangelists only mention this second coming, and not the first.

Verse 18: And Jesus walking by the sea, &c. This is not the first calling of Peter and Andrew. The first is related by S. John (1:36), among the events of the first year of Christ's ministry. This second calling of Peter and Andrew was after the Baptist's imprisonment, when they surrendered themselves at Christ's call to become His disciples; and they constantly stay with Him, never return to their former occupations. This second calling of these Apostles is related both by Matthew and Luke.

Casting a net. From S. Luke, chap. 5, we know that Christ went up into Peter's ship, and taught the multitudes from there, and after that He bade Peter cast a net into the sea, which immediately caught a vast number of fishes, so that the net broke, that by this miracle Peter was converted, together with Andrew, James, and John, that then Christ said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men," as S. Matthew here records.

Verse 19: Fishers of men. S. Ambrose translates, "make them live." As though Christ had said, "Fishermen take fishes for death, that they may kill them, but thou, O Peter, shalt catch men unto life, that they may begin a new life, and live unto God in holiness."

Verse 20: Leaving the nets. Under the term "nets" understand also ships, houses, occupation, servants, parents, relations, and all other things whatsoever, according to that saying of S. Peter to Christ, "Lo! we have left all things and followed thee." When then we read that after Christ's death the Apostles went fishing (John 21:3), we do not understand that they went back to their old vocation, but only did it to pass the time, and to divert their minds from the affliction which they were enduring at the loss of their Master.

Verse 22: The historical sequence is as follows Christ having been carried in Peter's boat, and having landed on the shore, then called Peter and Andrew. Going on a little further, he saw James and John mending the nets which had been broken by the miraculous draught of fishes; then He called these two, saying, "Follow me." They, being moved by the miracle, and the example of their partners, straightway left their father and all things, and followed Christ. St. Augustine.

Verse 23-25: And he cured them. From none of these did Christ require faith, says S. Chrysostom, for He had not yet manifested His power; and those who came from far had as yet but small faith in Him. But afterwards He required faith on the part of the sick, as will appear in the sequel. "Clouds of miracles," says S. Chrysostom, "does S. Matthew pass over in few words, a few of which he afterwards relates more at length." Decapolis i.e., the region of ten cities.

Back to Main Page