Exegetical Notes - Matthew 4.1-11



A. Comparison of texts:

v. 2 - he was famished (NRSV)

- was afterward an hungered (KJV)

- he then became hungry (NASB)

v. 4 - every word that comes from (NRSV)

- every word that proceedeth out (KJV)

- every word that proceeds out (NASB)

v. 6 - He will command his angels concerning you (NRSV)

- He will give his angels charge concerning thee/you (KJV, NASB)

v. 7 - Do not put the Lord your God to the test (NRSV, NASB)

- Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God (KJV)

v. 10- Away with you Satan (NRSV)

- Get thee hence Satan (KJV)

- Be gone Satan (NASB)

v. 11 - angels came and waited on him (NRSV)

- angels came and ministered to him (KJV, NASB)

- angels came and took care of him (Phillips)

- angels came and attended him (NIV)

B. Greek criticism: v. 1: brought up, lead up; v. 3 & 6: can also be rendered "since" or "in view of the fact that" (as in Mt 6.30); v. 7: can be rendered, "do not test or tempt God" different words in v. 1f while in v. 10.

C. Rough Translation: 1 Then Jesus was brought up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and was hungered. 3 The one who tempts came and said to him, "If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by only bread, but by every word that comes out of God's mouth." 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the highest point of the temple, 6 saying, "If you are the son of God, throw down yourself; for it is written, 'He will order his angels concerning you' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" 7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not test the Lord your God.'" 8 Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and pointed out to him all the kingdoms of their glory; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me." 10 Jesus said to him, "Away with you Satan! For it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'" 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and took care of him.


A. Genre: Douglas Hare (Interpretation series), et al, suggests that we gain insight into this text by comparing it with similar rabbinic traditions. He says that it is part of the "haggadic midrash," which is a tool for interpreting scripture through use of story. In this light, the story is less a historical depiction of a struggle between Jesus and the devil/satan as it is an affirmation of the person of Christ, specifically, who he is in relation to God.

B. Personal interaction/questions & observations: It's interesting that the spirit that has descended upon him at his baptism is now leading/bringing him to the wilderness to be tested. Is this just another example of other-worldy beings doing battle (good vs. evil)? What is the significance of 40: purity? Connection to Essene community (significance of desert & purification rites)? Is this another commissioning or another epiphanic event? If epiphanic,what is the significance? What does this text reveal about the nature of Jesus' mission/ministry?

C. Organization: The spirit is apparently "testing" Jesus, while the devil is "tempting" him. This is an ambiguous use of the verb, but the difference is clear. This text is full of inquisitive material: the conflict between Jesus & the devil/tempter/satan; the nature of his mission & divine sonship; the role of the spirit; his refusal to perform miraculous works simply by demand; allusions to testing of God's people.


A. Immediate Context: This periscope lies after the baptism narrative and before John the baptizer's arrest, calling of the first apostles, and the beginning of the Galilean ministry.

B. Organization of the compositional whole: This story appears to be a link between the baptism and the beginning of his ministry. It's sort of a last "basic training" event not only to prepare him for his mission/ministry, but also to further define and clarify his roles as one who comes from God, the messiah.

C. Authorship issues: Matthew affirms that Jesus is the messiah. This story is no different in that the affirmation given at the baptism is confirmed by his power to overcome the tempter. This also defines the nature of his ministry that is contrary to the world's, the tempter's, expectations.


A. Primitive Christianity: Mark's gospel tell us Jesus is "driven" by the spirit to the desert. Matthew and Luke have the story after the baptism narrative.

B. Old Testament & Judaism: There is parallel with Israel's testing in the wilderness (Exod. 34.28; Deut. 9.9, 18) for 40 days & nights and also with the 40 year sojourn in the wilderness. The first temptation parallels the gift of bread from heaven in Exod. 16.1-4, and the nature of the test found in Deut. 8.2-3. The second temptation parallels Deut. 6.16, "You must not put your Lord God to the test as you did at Massah." The third temptation dealing with idolatry parallels Deut. 6.13-14, as well as Exod. 32.1-6, Judg. 2.17, etc.

C. Hellenistic World: The third temptation has connections with idolatry. The gods of the Greco-Roman world were a pantheon rejected by Jews as idolatrous. Some Jews were tempted to participate in the political and economic structures of the Roman establishment. For example, Tiberius Alexander, nephew of Jewish philosopher Philo, left his Jewish heritage to enter Roman service. This was obviously viewed by fellow Jews as falling into idolatry.


A. Summary of salient features: I think this passage reveals something that is very much related to the season which it introduces "Lent." In the first temptation, Jesus reminds the devil that God's sustenance is not merely food, but God's word also feeds us. In the second temptation, Jesus rejects the opportunity to draw attention to himself through a performance of great ability or miraculous power. And in the third temptation, Jesus rejects the riches of the world as the object or worship. I also find it interesting that this interaction is not really a battle of sorts after all (at least that's not the image I get) Rather is appears to be a conversation between two friends, and though Matthew refers to the tempter as devil, Jesus calls him by name. This say to me that perhaps these temptations were not merely chosen at random to see if Jesus would buckle. And when we look closer, we see that we too are rather familiar with these temptations as well.

B. Smooth translation: Then Jesus was compelled by the spirit to the wilderness: chance to gather his thoughts. He camped out for 40 days and nights eating just enough to stay alive, and just enough to feel the pangs of hunger. A former acquaintance who always tried to get him into trouble showed up and said, "Since you're God's son, turn these stones into bread. You know how many hungry people there are out there." But Jesus responded, "It's more than just food that satisfies us. We're also fed by God's word." Then the troublemaker took him to the top of the steeple of the temple and said, "Since you're God's son, go ahead and jump. You know is says, 'His angels are ordered to watch over you.' They'll surely catch you and protect from hurting yourself, won't they?" And Jesus responded again, "It also says that putting God to the test is missing the point altogether. Let's not go there." Finally, the troublemaker took him to the highest mountain peak around and showed Jesus all the fame and fortunes of the world and said, "See all that? It's yours. All you have to do is come over to my side. Be one of my boys." At this point Jesus had enough, and said, "Enough already! Get lost. You know there is the one Lord God who is worthy of our devotion. None others, not even you; make that, especially not you!" The troublemaker left and suddenly angels appeared and hung out with him for a while.

C. Hermeneutical bridge: The bridge for me comes in the way that we relate this text to our Lenten experience and ultimately our life of discipleship. Just as in the Lenten season, fasting reminds us that God's sustenance is more that physical food. Practical ways of expressing this can be seen in the excessive, gluttonous habits of our culture. We truly miss out on God's blessings when we become so obsessed with food. Secondly, the temptation to draw attention to ourselves certainly runs contrary to Lenten spirituality. The focus is take a serous introspective look within ourselves. The goal of this inner focus is not to boost our egos, but rather to find God. Lent helps us remember our true humanity and our true need and hunger for God. The way Jesus dealt with this temptation foreshadows the ways he interpreted the signs and wonders he did in his ministry. It was never a cause to draw attention to himself as a magician. His intentions were always to reveal God's presence ( ". . . if I cast out demons, the kingdom of heaven is at hand" i.e., God is here and it is God who did this). This also challenges our ministries in the ways we are tempted to climb our own denominational ladders of success. Finally, the third temptation to gain the riches and prestige of the world still haunts us. One of the things I try to do during Lent is to take on something that makes my life simpler. We are so bombarded with materialism that without even knowing it we find that our devotions often rest in things. Jesus reminds us, as does Lent, to focus on true devotion to God. The message of this story, for me, is timeless. Yes, it reveals a struggle that Jesus overcame, but it also reveals a call for us to do the same. His "passing the test" has merit in the way it reveals his power as messiah. In the same way, we are still empowered by God to overcome the struggles and temptations of our world. We all know that there are still plenty of troublemakers around, and we all know that we still need God's help to make in these days.


A. Description of audience: I teach an adult Sunday School class at the church we attend (Woodway FUMC). They agreed to journey through these texts during Lent and through Easter. They are mostly in business-related fields and others are educators. I think this text will speak to especially the business people. I also hope that they will be challenged to do something during Lent as a result.

B. Intended goals for address: It would be my desire that Lenten commitments would such that they would result in permanent changes and growth for those who take on these spiritual disciplines.

C. The address: