Bible Commentary / Bible Study
From Matthew Henry's Commentary
Matthew Chapter 4
John Baptist said concerning Christ, He must increase, but I must decrease; and so it proved. For, after John had baptized Christ, and borne his testimony to him, we hear little more of his ministry; he had done what he came to do, and thenceforward there is as much talk of Jesus as ever there had been of John. As the rising Sun advances, the morning star disappears. Concerning Jesus Christ we have in this chapter, I. The temptation he underwent, the triple assault the tempter made upon him, and the repulse he gave to each assault, ver. 1-11. II. The teaching work he undertook, the places he preached in (ver. 12-16), and the subject he preached on, ver. 17. III. His calling of disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John, ver. 18-22. IV. His curing diseases (ver. 23, 24), and the great resort of the people to him, both to be taught and to be healed.
Opening of Christ's Ministry.
12 Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; 13 And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: 14 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 15 The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; 16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
We have here an account of Christ's preaching in the synagogues of Galilee, for he came into the world to be a Preacher; the great salvation which he wrought out, he himself began to publish (Heb. ii. 3) to show how much his heart was upon it, and ours should be.
Several passages in the other gospels, especially in that of St. John, are supposed, in the order of the story of Christ's life, to intervene between his temptation and his preaching in Galilee. His first appearance after his temptation, was when John Baptist pointed to him, saying, Behold the Lamb of God, John i. 29. After that, he went up to Jerusalem, to the passover (John ii.), discoursed with Nicodemus (John iii.), with the woman of Samaria (John iv.), and then returned into Galilee, and preached there. But Matthew, having had his residence in Galilee, begins his story of Christ's public ministry with his preaching there, which here we have an account of. Observe,
I. The time; When Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, then he went into Galilee, v. 12. Note, The cry of the saints' sufferings comes up into the ears of the Lord Jesus. If John be cast into prison, Jesus hears it, takes cognizance of it, and steers his course accordingly: he remembers the bonds and afflictions that abide his people. Observe, 1. Christ did not go into the country, till he heard of John's imprisonment; for he must have time given him to prepare the way of the Lord, before the Lord himself appear. Providence wisely ordered it, that John should be eclipsed before Christ shone forth; otherwise the minds of people would have been distracted between the two; one would have said, I am of John, and another, I am of Jesus. John must be Christ's harbinger, but not his rival. The moon and stars are lost when the sun rises. John had done his work by the baptism of repentance, and then he was laid aside. The witnesses were slain when they had finished their testimony, and not before, Rev. xi. 7. 2. He did go into the country as soon as he heard of John's imprisonment; not only to provide for his own safety, knowing that the Pharisees in Judea were as much enemies to him as Herod was to John, but to supply the want of John Baptist, and to build upon the good foundation he had laid. Note, God will not leave himself without witness, nor his church without guides; when he removes one useful instrument, he can raise up another, for he has the residue of the Spirit, and he will do it, if he has work to do. Moses my servant is dead, John is cast into prison; now, therefore, Joshua, arise; Jesus, arise.
II. The place where he preached; in Galilee, a remote part of the country, that lay furthest from Jerusalem, as was there looked upon with contempt, as rude and boorish. The inhabitants of that country were reckoned stout men, fit for soldiers, but not polite men, or fit for scholars. Thither Christ went, there he set up the standard of his gospel; and in this, as in other things, he humbled himself. Observe,
1. The particular city he chose for his residence; not Nazareth, where he had been bred up; no, he left Nazareth; particular notice is taken of that, v. 13. And with good reason did he leave Nazareth; for the men of that city thrust him out from among them, Luke iv. 29. He made them his first, and a very fair, offer of his service, but they rejected him and his doctrine, and were filled with indignation at him and it; and therefore he left Nazareth, and shook off the dust of his feet for a testimony against those there, who would not have him to teach them. Nazareth was the first place that refused Christ, and was therefore refused by him. Note, It is just with God, to take the gospel and the means of grace from those that slight them, and thrust them away. Christ will not stay long where he is not welcome. Unhappy Nazareth! If thou hadst known in this thy day the things that belong to thy peace, how well had it been for thee! But now they are hid from thine eyes.
But he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which was a city of Galilee, but many miles distant from Nazareth, a great city and of much resort. It is said here to be on the sea coast, not the great sea, but the sea of Tiberias, an inland water, called also the lake of Gennesaret. Close by the falling of Jordan into the sea stood Capernaum, in the tribe of Naphtali, but bordering upon Zebulun; hither Christ came, and here he dwelt. Some think that his father Joseph had a habitation here, others that he took a house or lodgings at least; and some think it more than probable, that he dwelt in the house of Simon Peter; however, here he fixed not constantly, for he went about doing good; but this was for some time his head quarters: what little rest he had, was here; here he had a place, though not a place of his own, to lay his head on. And at Capernaum, it should seem, he was welcome, and met with better entertainment than he had at Nazareth. Note, If some reject Christ, yet others will receive him, and bid him welcome. Capernaum is glad of Nazareth's leavings. If Christ's own countrymen be not gathered, yet he will be glorious. "And thou, Capernaum, has now a day of it; thou art now lifted up to heaven; be wise for thyself, and know the time of thy visitation."
2. The prophecy that was fulfilled is this, v. 14-16. It is quoted from Isa. ix. 1, 2, but with some variation. The prophet in that place is foretelling a greater darkness of affliction to befal the contemners of Immanuel, than befel the countries there mentioned, either in their first captivity under Benhadad, which was but light (1 Kings xv. 20), or in their second captivity under the Assyrian, which was much heavier, 2 Kings xv. 29. The punishment of the Jewish nation for rejecting the gospel should be sorer than either (see Isa. viii. 21, 22); for those captivated places had some reviving in their bondage, and saw a great light again, ch. ix. 2. This is Isaiah's sense; but the Scripture has many fulfillings; and the evangelist here takes only the latter clause, which speaks of the return of the light of liberty and prosperity to those countries that had been in the darkness of captivity, and applies it to the appearing of the gospel among them.
The places are spoken of, v. 15. The land of Zebulun is rightly said to be by the sea coast, for Zebulun was a haven of ships, and rejoiced in her going out, Gen. xlix. 13; Deut. xxxiii. 18. Of Naphtali, it had been said, that he should give goodly words (Gen. xlix. 21), and should be satisfied with favour (Deut. xxxiii. 23), for from him began the gospel; goodly words indeed, and such as bring to a soul God's satisfying favour. The country beyond Jordan is mentioned likewise, for there we sometimes find Christ preaching, and Galilee of the Gentiles, the upper Galilee to which the Gentiles resorted for traffic, and where they were mingled with the Jews; which intimates a kindness in reserve for the poor Gentiles. When Christ came to Capernaum, the gospel came to all those places round about; such diffusive influences did the Sun of righteousness cast.
Now, concerning the inhabitants of these places, observe, (1.) The posture they were in before the gospel came among them (v. 16); they were in darkness. Note, Those that are without Christ, are in the dark, nay, they are darkness itself; as the darkness that was upon the face of the deep. Nay, they were in the region and shadow of death; which denotes not only great darkness, as the grave is a land of darkness, but great danger. A man that is desperately sick, and not likely to recover, is in the valley of the shadow of death, though not quite dead; so the poor people were on the borders of damnation, though not yet damned-dead in law. And, which is worst of all, they were sitting in this condition. Sitting in a continuing posture; where we sit, we mean to stay; they were in the dark, and likely to be so, despairing to find the way out. And it is a contented posture; they were in the dark, and they loved darkness, they chose it rather than light; they were willingly ignorant. Their condition was sad; it is still the condition of many great and mighty nations, which are to be thought of, and prayed for, with pity. But their condition is more sad, who sit in darkness in the midst of gospel-light. He that is in the dark because it is night, may be sure that the sun will shortly arise; but he that is in the dark because he is blind, will not so soon have his eyes opened. We have the light, but what will that avail us, if we be not the light in the Lord? (2.) The privilege they enjoyed, when Christ and his gospel came among them; it was as great a reviving as ever light was to a benighted traveller. Note, When the gospel comes, light comes; when it comes to any place, when it comes to any soul, it makes day there, John iii. 19; Luke i. 78, 79. Light is discovering, it is directing; so is the gospel.
It is a great light; denoting the clearness and evidence of gospel-revelations; not like the light of a candle, but the light of the sun when he goes forth in his strength. Great in comparison with the light of the law, the shadows of which were now done away. It is a great light, for it discovers great things and of vast consequence; it will last long, and spread far. And it is a growing light, intimated in that word, It is sprung up. It was but spring of day with them; now the day dawned, which afterward shone more and more. The gospel-kingdom, like a grain of mustard-seed or the morning light, was small in its beginnings, gradual in its growth, but great in its perfection.
Observe, the light sprang up to them; they did not go to seek it, but were prevented with the blessings of this goodness. It came upon them ere they were aware, at the time appointed, by the disposal of him who commandeth the morning, and causes the day-spring to know its place, that it may take hold of the ends of the earth, Job xxxviii. 12, 13.
III. The text he preached upon (v. 17): From that time, that is, from the time of his coming into Galilee, into the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, from that time, he began to preach. He had been preaching, before this, in Judea, and had made and baptized many disciples (John iv. 1); but his preaching was no so public and constant as now it began to be. The work of the ministry is so great and awful, that it is fit to be entered upon by steps and gradual advances.
The subject which Christ dwelt upon now in his preaching (and it was indeed the sum and substance of all his preaching), was the very same John has preached upon (ch. iii. 2); Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; for the gospel is the same for substance under various dispensations; the commands the same, and the reasons to enforce them the same; an angel from heaven dares not preach any other gospel (Gal. i. 8), and will preach this, for it is the everlasting gospel. Fear God, and, by repentance, give honour to him, Rev. xiv. 6, 7. Christ put a great respect upon John's ministry, when he preached to the same purport that John had preached before him. By this he showed that John was his messenger and ambassador; for when he brought the errand himself, it was the same that he had sent by him. Thus did God confirm the word of his messenger, Isa. xliv. 26. The Son came on the same errand that the servants came on (ch. xxi. 37), to seek fruit, fruits meet for repentance. Christ had lain in the bosom of the Father, and could have preached sublime notions of divine and heavenly things, that should have alarmed and amused the learned world, but he pitches upon this old, plain text, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. [1.] This he preached first upon; he began with this. Ministers must not be ambitious of broaching new opinions, framing new schemes, or coining new expressions, but must content themselves with plain, practical things, with the word that is nigh us, even in our mouth, and in our heart. We need not go up to heaven, nor down to the deep, for matter or language in our preaching. As John prepared Christ's way, so Christ prepared his own, and made way for the further discoveries he designed, with the doctrine of repentance. If any man will do this part of his will, he shall know more of his doctrine, John vii. 17. [2.] This is preached often upon; wherever he went, this was his subject, and neither he nor his followers ever reckoned it worn threadbare, as those would have done, that have itching ears, and are fond of novelty and variety more than that which is truly edifying. Note, That which has been preached and heard before, may yet very profitably be preached and heard again; but then it should be preached and heard better, and with new affections; what Paul had said before, he said again, weeping, Phil. iii. 1, 18. [3.] This he preached as gospel; "Repent, review your ways, and return to yourselves." Note, The doctrine of repentance is right gospel-doctrine. Not only the austere Baptist, who was looked upon as a melancholy, morose man, but the sweet and gracious Jesus, whose lips dropped as a honey-comb, preached repentance; for it is an unspeakable privilege that room is left for repentance. [4.] The reason is still the same; The kingdom of heaven is at hand; for it was not reckoned to be fully come, till that pouring out of the Spirit after Christ's ascension. John had preached the kingdom of heaven at hand above a year before this; but now it was so much the stronger; now is the salvation nearer, Rom. xiii. 11. We should be so much the more quickened to our duty, as we see the day approaching, Heb. x. 25.
Christ Calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. 21 And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. 22 And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
When Christ began to preach, he began to gather disciples, who should now be the hearers, and hereafter the preachers, of his doctrine, who should now be witnesses of his miracles, and hereafter concerning them. Now, in these verses, we have an account of the first disciples that he called into fellowship with himself.
And this was an instance, 1. Of effectual calling to Christ. In all his preaching he gave a common call to all the country, but in this he gave a special and particular call to those that were given him by the Father. Let us see and admire the power of Christ's grace, own his word to be the rod of his strength, and wait upon him for those powerful influences which are necessary to the efficacy of the gospel call—those distinguishing influences. All the country was called, but these were called out, were redeemed from among them. Christ was so manifested to them, as he was not manifested unto the world. 2. It was an instance of ordination, and appointment to the work of the ministry. When Christ, as a Teacher, set up his great school, one of his first works was to appoint ushers, or under masters, to be employed in the work of instruction. Now he began to give gifts unto men, to put the treasure into earthen vessels. It was an early instance of his care for the church.
Now we may observe here,
I. Where they were called—by the sea of Galilee, where Jesus was walking, Capernaum being situated near that sea. Concerning this sea of Tiberias, the Jews have a saying, That of all the seven seas that God made, he made choice of none but the sea of Gennesaret; which is very applicable to Christ's choice of it, to honour it, as he often did, with his presence and his miracles. Here, on the banks of the sea, Christ was walking for contemplation, as Isaac in the field; hither he went to call his disciples; not to Herod's court (for few mighty or noble are called), not to Jerusalem, among the chief priests and the elders, but to the sea of Galilee; surely Christ sees not as man sees. Not but that the same power which effectually called Peter and Andrew would have wrought upon Annas and Caiaphas, for with God nothing is impossible; but, as in other things, so in his converse and attendance, he would humble himself, and show that God ha chosen the poor of this world. Galilee was a remote part of the nation, the inhabitants were less cultivated and refined, their very language was broad and uncouth to the curious, their speech betrayed them. They who were picked up at the sea of Galilee, had not the advantages and improvements, no, not of the more polished Galileans; yet thither Christ went, to call his apostles that were to be the prime ministers of state in his kingdom, for he chooses the foolish things of this world, to confound the wise.
II. Who they were. We have an account of the call of two pair of brothers in these verses—Peter and Andrew, James and John; the two former, and, probably, the two latter also, had had acquaintance with Christ before (John i. 40, 41), but were not till now called into a close and constant attendance upon him. Note, Christ brings poor souls by degrees into fellowship with himself. They had been disciples of John, and so were the better disposed to follow Christ. Note, Those who have submitted to the discipline of repentance, shall be welcome to the joys of faith. We may observe concerning them,
1. That they were brothers. Note, It is a blessed thing, when they who are kinsmen according to the flesh (as the apostle speaks, Rom. ix. 3), are brought together into a spiritual alliance to Jesus Christ. It is the honour and comfort of a house, when those that are of the same family, are of God's family.
2. That they were fishers. Being fishers, (1.) They were poor men: if they had had estates, or any considerable stock in trade, they would not have made fishing their trade, however, they might have made it their recreation. Note, Christ does not despise the poor, and therefore we must not; the poor are evangelized, and the Fountain of honour sometimes gives more abundant honour to that part which most lacked. (2.) The were unlearned men, not bred up to books or literature as Moses was, who was conversant with all the learning of the Egyptians. Note, Christ sometimes chooses to endow those with the gifts of grace who have least to show of the gifts of nature. Yet this will not justify the bold intrusion of ignorant and unqualified men into the work of the ministry: extraordinary gifts of knowledge and utterance are not now to be expected, but requisite abilities must be obtained in an ordinary way, and without a competent measure of these, none are to be admitted to that service. (3.) They were men of business, who had been bred up to labour. Note, Diligence in an honest calling is pleasing to Christ, and no hindrance to a holy life. Moses was called from keeping sheep, and David from following the ewes, to eminent employments. Idle people lie more open to the temptations of Satan than to the calls of God. (4.) They were men that were accustomed to hardships and hazards; the fisher's trade, more than any other, is laborious and perilous; fishermen must be often wet and cold; they must watch, and wait, and toil, and be often in perils by waters. Note, Those who have learned to bear hardships, and run hazards, are best prepared for the fellowship and discipleship of Jesus Christ. Good soldiers of Christ must endure hardness.
III. What they were doing. Peter and Andrew were then using their nets, they were fishing; and James and John were mending their nets, which was an instance of their industry and good husbandry. They did not go to their father for money to buy new nets, but took pains to mend their old ones. It is commendable to make what we have go as far, and last as long, as may be. James and John were with their father Zebedee, ready to assist him, and make his business easy to him. Note, It is a happy and hopeful presage, to see children careful of their parents, and dutiful to them. Observe, 1. They were all employed, all very busy, and none idle. Note, When Christ comes, it is good to be found doing. "Am I in Christ?" is a very needful question for us to ask ourselves; and, next to that, "Am I in my calling?" 2. They were differently employed; two of them were fishing, and two of them mending their nets. Note, Ministers should be always employed, either in teaching or studying; they may always find themselves something to do, if it be not their own fault; and mending their nets, is, in its season, as necessary work as fishing.
IV. What the call was (v. 19); Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. They had followed Christ before, as ordinary disciples (John i. 37), but so they might follow Christ, and follow their calling too; therefore they were called to a more close and constant attendance, and must leave their calling. Note, Even they who had been called to follow Christ, have need to be called to follow on, and to follow nearer, especially when they are designed for the work of the ministry. Observe,
1. What Christ intended them for; I will make you fishers of men; this alludes to their former calling. Let them be not proud of the new honour designed them, they are still but fishers; let them not be afraid of the new work cut out for them, for they have been used to fishing, and fishers they are still. It was usual with Christ to speak of spiritual and heavenly things under such allusions, and in such expressions, as took rise from common things that offered themselves to his view. David was called from feeding sheep to feed God's Israel; and when he is a king, is a shepherd. Note, (1.) Ministers are fishers of men, not to destroy them, but to save them, by bringing them into another element. They must fish, not for wrath, wealth, honour, and preferment, to gain them to themselves, but for souls, to gain them to Christ. They watch for your souls (Heb. xiii. 17), and seek not yours, but you, 2 Cor. xii. 14, 16. (2.) It is Jesus Christ that makes them so; I will make you fishers of men. It is he that qualifies men for this work, calls them to it, authorizes them in it, gives them commission to fish for souls, and wisdom to win them. Those ministers are likely to have comfort in their work, who are thus made by Jesus Christ.
2. What they must do in order to this; Follow me. They must separate themselves to a diligent attendance on him, and set themselves to a humble imitation of him; must follow him as their Leader. Note, (1.) Those whom Christ employs in any service for him, must first be fitted and qualified for it. (2.) Those who would preach Christ, must first learn Christ, and learn of him. How can we expect to bring others to the knowledge of Christ, if we do not know him well ourselves? (3.) Those who would get an acquaintance with Christ, must be diligent and constant in their attendance on him. The apostles were prepared for their work, by accompanying Christ all the time that he went in and out among them, Acts i. 21. There is no learning comparable to that which is got by following Christ. Joshua, by ministering to Moses, is fitted to be his successor. (4.) Those who are to fish for men, must therein follow Christ, and do it as he did, with diligence, faithfulness, and tenderness. Christ is the great pattern for preachers, and they ought to be workers together with him.
V. What was the success of this call. Peter and Andrew straightway left their nets (v. 20); and James and John immediately left the ship and their father (v. 22); and they all followed him. Note, Those who would follow Christ aright, must leave all to follow him. Every Christian must leave all in affection, set loose to all, must hate father and mother (Luke xiv. 26), must love them less than Christ, must be ready to part with his interest in them rather than with his interest in Jesus Christ; but those who are devoted to the work of the ministry are, in a special manner, concerned to disentangle themselves from all the affairs of this life, that they may give themselves wholly to that work which requires the whole man. Now,
1. This instance of the power of the Lord Jesus gives us good encouragement to depend upon the sufficiency of his grace. How strong and effectual is his word! He speaks, and it is done. The same power goes along with this word of Christ, Follow me, that went along with that word, Lazarus, come forth; a power to make willing, Ps. cx. 3.
2. This instance of the pliableness of the disciples, gives us a good example of obedience to the command of Christ. Note, It is the good property of all Christ's faithful servants to come when they are called, and to follow their Master wherever he leads them. They objected not their present employments, their engagements to their families, the difficulties of the service they were called to, or their own unfitness for it; but, being called, they obeyed, and, like Abraham, went out not knowing whither they went, but knowing very well whom they followed. James and John left their father: it is not said what became of him; their mother Salome was a constant follower of Christ; no doubt, their father Zebedee was a believer, but the call to follow Christ fastened on the young ones. Youth is the learning age, and the labouring age. The priests ministered in the prime of their life.
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