CHAPTER XX

THE OPENING SCENES OF THE MINISTRY OF JESUS

ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
(Matthew 4:1-25)


4 Then Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. 2 And having fasted forty days and forty nights, He later became hungry. 3 And the tempter came to Him and said, If Thou art the Son of God, command that these stones may become bread. 4 But He replied and said, It is written, not upon bread only shall man live, but upon every word proceeding through the mouth of God.¹ 5 Then the devil took Him to the holy city, stood Him on the small wing of the temple, 6 and said to Him, If Thou art the Son of God, throw Thyself down; for it is written:

To His angels will He give instructions concerning Thee:
and Upon their hands they will bear Thee,
Lest perchance Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.²

¹ Deuteronomy 8:3.
² Psalm 91:11,12.

7 Jesus then said, Again it is written, You shall not make trial of the Lord your God.³ 8 Again, the devil took Him into an exceedingly high mountain, and showed to Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, 9 and said to Him, all these things will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then Jesus said to him, Be gone, Satan; for it is written, The Lord your God you shall worship, and to Him only shall you render service.4
11 Then the devil left Him; and, behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

³ Deuteronomy 6:16.
4 Deuteronomy 6:13.

12 When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, He departed into Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 in order that the word might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah, the prophet, saying: 15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, The way of the sea beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16 The people who sat in darkness Have seen a great light, And to those sitting in the region and shadow of death, Light has arisen to them.5 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

5 Isaiah 9:1,2.

18 And as Jesus was walking along the sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, throwing their casting net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, Come, follow me, and I will make you fishermen of men. 20 Then immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 And as He went from there, He saw other two brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, repairing their nets; and He called them. 22 And immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.

23 And He went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every malady* among the people. 24 And the report of Him went forth into all Syria, and they brought to Him all those who were sick with various diseases and were suffering from torturing afflictions—demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics—and He healed them. 25 Great multitudes followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and beyond the Jordan.

* i.e., every type of disease and malady among them.



Whenever God moves forward in His majestic tread through the centuries, Satan becomes especially active, attempting to counteract what God is doing. This fact was quite evident when the Almighty delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and brought His beloved people to Sinai in order to make His revelation known to them. As soon as Moses began to perform miracles, the magicians began to duplicate them. They were able by the power of Satan to produce miracles similar to those of Moses, but they soon reached a point beyond which they could not go.

When Jesus of Nazareth, the Hebrew Messiah, came into the world to redeem fallen, lost humanity, God began to step forward in a majestic manner in executing His plan of the ages. The devil was present and endeavored with his utmost ingenuity, power, and skill to thwart God at every turn. But, of course, he could not. In Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 are accounts of this titanic struggle between the Lord Jesus and the devil.

I. SATAN'S ACTIVITIES


A. Satan's Attack on God

On every hand there is evidence of conflict with and enmity against God. When God created the universe, it was in perfect order, for all His works are perfect (Deut. 32:4). There is abundant evidence throughout the earth that a mighty struggle has raged between opposing forces and continues to the present time. God and those who are on His side are for order and for the good. There is also an evil kingdom recognized in the Scriptures, led by that mighty being Satan, who is opposing God and all that is good. (What is seen, generally speaking, in the physical world can be understood only by what is found in the Scriptures.) In Ephesians 6:10-20 one learns much concerning this kingdom of darkness, over which Satan rules. Satan is a personal being. Concerning his creation and his fall, much is recorded in Ezekiel 28:10-19. He was the highest, most powerful creature whom God in His omnipotence and omniscience could bring into existence. He was called the anointed cherub, the cherub that covereth, and was in command of the great hosts of God. On account of his high official position in the government of God and of his beauty, wisdom, strength, and power, he became puffed up with pride. He conceived the idea that he could match swords with the Almighty and attempted to do so. Thereupon he was cast from his high and holy position and was demoted to an inferior position in the universe. He still has great power and is indeed wise and sagacious. Though in a fallen condition, he has access to the throne of God. This fact is quite evident from a perusal of Job, chapter 1. Like Hannibal of old, who swore eternal vengeance against Rome, Satan has sworn everlasting vengeance against God, Israel, and all who are on the Lord's side.

B. Satan's Attack on Israel

A prophetic utterance showing his hatred against Israel appears in Zechariah 3:1-5.

1 And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of Jehovah, and Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary. 2 And Jehovah said unto Satan, Jehovah rebuke thee, 0 Satan; yea, Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? 3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the angel. 4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take the filthy garments from off him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with rich apparel. 5 And I said, Let them set a clean mitre upon his head. So they set a clean mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments; and the angel of Jehovah was standing by.

Israel is called God's servant, especially by Isaiah. In the servant passages of the Scriptures, the significance of this term can be determined only by the facts of each context. Without question the servant of Isaiah 42:18-22 is the nation of Israel. Any individual or group that sustains such a relationship to the Almighty is an object of Satan's hatred and activity.

Frequently God presents truths and spiritual realities under the imagery of material objects and scenes. In Zechariah 3:1-5 a court trial yields itself most favorably to the expression of the thought. The judge seated on the bench is none other than "the angel of Jehovah," who is one of the divine personalities constituting the Trinity. This fact is proved by an examination of the various occurrences of this expression. See my volume Messiah: His Nature and Person, Chapter II.

The prosecuting attorney is Satan, who is standing at the right hand of Joshua the high priest to be his adversary. Like some unprincipled attorney, Satan distorts facts and truths in an effort to make a plausible case against the defendant. This fact is echoed in the statement of the judge: "Jehovah rebuke thee, 0 Satan." The defendant is "Joshua the high priest." Is one to understand that "Joshua the high priest" is to be interpreted literally? No. This truth is shown by the following fact: When Satan hurls his charges against Joshua the high priest, Jehovah the judge rebukes him, saying: "Jehovah rebuke thee, 0 Satan; Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" Joshua the high priest, therefore, symbolizes Jerusalem and the Jewish people.

Joshua the high priest is clothed "with filthy garments." Doubtless these garments symbolize, in this case, moral and spiritual filth. One may be certain that Satan bases his entire case against Joshua upon his being clothed with filthy garments, for the judge in reply orders the court attendants—probably the angels—to remove the filthy garments from the defendant. When they do so, the judge declares: "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with rich apparel" (Zech. 3:4). Furthermore the judge orders the attendants, saying: "Let them set a clean mitre upon his head." Thus the trial results in the removal of the filthy garments from Joshua, clothing him in clean raiment, and placing the priestly mitre on his head.

This entire symbolic presentation sets forth, therefore, Satan's prosecution of Israel and the nation's final acquittal by Jehovah, the Judge of the universe, who always does right (Gen.18:25).

This presentation assumes, therefore, that the people of Israel take the right attitude toward Jehovah and rectify, as far as possible, the wrongs of which they are guilty. In other words, the penitent remnant repudiate the national sin of rejecting Messiah and, looking to Him, plead for Him to return and to deliver them (Zech. 12:10-13:1).

C. Satan's Attack on Jesus

After God had acknowledged Jesus as His Son in a unique and special manner, the Spirit of God led Him out into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. As one learns from Mark 1:12,13, the devil tempted Him for forty days. During this time, He was in the desert with the wild animals and Satan. After forty days, the devil delivered his three major strokes, trying to tempt Jesus through the desire of the flesh, through the desire of the eye, and through the vainglory of life (I John 2:16).

A fast of forty days is a grueling experience. When these days were ended, hunger seemed to grip Jesus in a very special and peculiar manner. Matthew and Luke state that He became hungry. Doubtless He was hungry all the time, but at the end of the period the hunger began to gnaw at His vitals as never before.

Since Jesus, being in the form of a man, was in this weakened condition, Satan came to Him and said, "If Thou art the Son of God, speak to these stones that they may become bread." This statement is a first-class conditional sentence in the Greek and assumes that the condition is true. In other words, I could paraphrase the thought and reasoning of Satan in the following manner: "Since Thou art the Son of God, speak to these stones that they may become bread," Satan knew what God had said at the baptismal scene with reference to Christ's being His Son in a unique and special manner. Satan's course of reasoning was probably as follows: "God admits that Thou art His Son, and Thou likewise believest it. He is supposed to take care of all His creatures, but look at the condition in which Thou findest Thyself; Thou hast not had any food for forty days. Is that the way He treats His Son?" Temptation could not have been put more subtly and more powerfully. But Jesus, having set His face like a flint to do the will of God, spurned this suggestion, taking His stand upon the written Word of God, saying, "It is written, not upon bread only shall man live, but upon every word proceeding through the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4 and Deut. 8:3).

Satan then took Him to the Holy City. They went out on a wing of the Temple, which overlooked the deep valley on the east side of the city. In the presence of the throng of worshipers there assembled, Satan tried to get Jesus to leap from this height into what was, at that time, a deep gorge below, calling His attention to what is written of Him in Psalm 91 concerning God's taking care of Him:

    To His angels will He give instructions concerning Thee: and,
    Upon their hands they will bear Thee,
    Lest perchance Thou dash Thy foot against a stone
    (Ps. 91:11,12 as quoted in Matt. 4:6).

Instantly Jesus replied, "You shall not make trial of the Lord your God." If Jesus had taken the suggestion of Satan, He would have leaped from the pinnacle of the Temple into the yawning gorge below; but, by this act, He would have been putting God to a test as to whether or not He would fulfill the promise. But to leap from this place in making trial of God was contrary to the spirit and the teaching of the Scriptures. Hence Jesus spurned the suggestion, calling Satan's attention to that which had been written.

Satan's third and last attempt on this occasion was to take Jesus to an exceedingly high mountain and to show him in a moment of time the kingdoms of the world, all of which would be His, if He would simply prostrate Himself and worship Satan—just one time. This short cut to power, the tempter thought, would appeal to Jesus; for had it not been to snatch the kingdoms of the world out of his grasp that Jesus had come to earth? Satan, therefore, volunteered to surrender everything to Jesus if He would only bow the knee in worship. To do so would be conceding to Satan divine authority and prerogatives. Such a thought Jesus spurned with contempt and again took His stand upon that which was written: "You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve."

Thus, defeated each time, Satan left the Lord—but only for a season. He will come to everyone who is on God's side and will do all in his power to discourage and to lead into forbidden paths anyone who is trying to serve God. He will come in disguise, for he transforms himself as an angel of light.

13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. 15 It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works (II Cor.11:13-15).

II. JESUS ESTABLISHING HIS HEADQUARTERS IN CAPERNAUM
(Matthew 4:12-16)

When John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas, Jesus left Judea and went into Galilee. The ministries of John and Jesus overlapped for a while. But upon John's being thrown into prison, Jesus established His headquarters at Capernaum (Matt. 4:12-16).


III. THE BEGINNING OF THE MINISTRY OF JESUS
(Matthew 4:17-25)

According to Matthew 4:17, Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." He struck the same note which John the Baptist sounded.

After being tempted, Jesus came back to the place where John was baptizing. At that time He gained four or five of His early disciples who followed Him in the beginning of His ministry, and who with Him attended the first Passover of His ministry (John 2:13ff.). When Jesus went to Jerusalem at that passover season, He continued His ministry in Jerusalem and in Judea for approximately six months. Then He went northward through Samaria into Galilee. But His early disciples seem to have left Him in Samaria, preceded Him to Capernaum, and resumed their old occupation of fishing. When Jesus arrived in Capernaum, He saw these disciples fishing and called them again. They immediately responded and continued with Him to the very end.

Jesus engaged in a preaching, teaching, and healing ministry. He laid emphasis upon the teaching and the preaching. He engaged in a healing ministry because He was God in human form and His heart went out to suffering humanity. His healing ministry as recorded in the New Testament differs vastly from the healing campaigns which we often see today.