Introduction to the Gospel According to St. Matthew
Why study Matthew?
Some of the most beloved passages of the Bible are found in Matthew—the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and many of the parables, teachings, and miracles of Jesus. The Prophet Joseph Smith often quoted from Matthew in his sermons.
Who wrote Matthew?
The earliest Christian writers to mention this Gospel all agreed that its author was Matthew, who was one of the Savior’s Twelve Apostles and an eyewitness to many of the events he described. This is supported by the title given to his Gospel in the Joseph Smith Translation: “The Testimony of St. Matthew.” Before his conversion and call to the apostleship, Matthew was a publican, or tax collector, known as Levi, the son of Alphaeus (see Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27–32).
When and where was Matthew written?
Some evidence suggests that Matthew used Mark’s Gospel as a source. Matthew may have placed confidence in Mark’s account because Mark had relied heavily on Peter’s eyewitness accounts of the Master’s life. Matthew edited, corrected, reorganized, and added significantly to the material he obtained from Mark; he may also have drawn upon other oral and written sources. Most scholars date the writing of the book of Matthew to A.D. 70–90.
To whom was Matthew written and why?
Matthew appears to have written to a Jewish audience (to both Jews who may have accepted Jesus as the Messiah and those who did not) to show that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecy. Matthew frequently referred to Old Testament prophecies and used the phrase “that it might be fulfilled.” In his Gospel, Matthew employed the term “Son of David” 12 times as testimony that Jesus Christ was the rightful heir to King David’s throne and the fulfillment of messianic expectations.
Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ traces His lineage through David, Judah, and Abraham (see Matthew 1:1–3), demonstrating Jesus’s right to rule and His role as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Matthew’s inclusion of significant events and teachings involving Gentiles also seems to have had the purpose of encouraging his readers to accept the work being done among the Gentiles at the time he wrote (see Matthew 8:5–13; 15:21–38; 28:19–20).
What are some distinctive features of Matthew?
Though a large amount of Matthew’s material is also found in Mark and Luke, about 42 percent of Matthew’s Gospel is unique. A major theme in Matthew is that Jesus Christ came to establish His kingdom. Matthew mentioned “the kingdom of heaven” numerous times, and he is the only Gospel author to include teachings of Jesus mentioning the “church” (see Matthew 16:18; 18:17). As part of his focus on the Savior’s establishment of His kingdom, Matthew emphasized Jesus Christ’s authority in the following ways:
Jesus was born through a recognized line of authority (see Matthew 1:1–17).
He announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (see Matthew 4:17).
He delivered the Sermon on the Mount, describing the characteristics of exalted beings and the laws that govern His kingdom (see Matthew 5–7).
Through parables, He foretold the establishment of His kingdom, followed by a period of apostasy and a restoration of the kingdom in the last days (see Matthew 13). During His ministry, He invited all people to be a part of His kingdom on earth.
The Gospel of Matthew helps us see parallels between the ministries of Moses and Jesus Christ. Both were saved as infants from attempts of a king to slay them (see Exodus 2:1–10; Matthew 2:13–18). Both came out of Egypt. Both came to deliver their people. There are five books of Moses (Genesis–Deuteronomy), and Matthew recorded five great sermons that Jesus Christ gave (Matthew 5–7; 10; 13; 18; 24–25). Moses revealed the lesser law; Jesus restored the higher law, fulfilling the law of Moses (see Matthew 5:17–48). Matthew seems to have organized his Gospel in a way that would have helped his Jewish readers recognize Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Moses’s prophecy: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15; see also Acts 3:22).
The Gospel of Matthew shows that God had not abandoned His people, Israel. Matthew referred to the Son of God as Emmanuel, or “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). The Savior’s actions, teachings, and miracles illustrate that God was with the people of Israel and had sent them His Son. Matthew concluded his Gospel with the promise Jesus gave His disciples: “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
Introduction and Timeline for Matthew 1–4
Matthew 1–4 constitutes a prelude to the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 1–2, you will have the opportunity to study about the birth and childhood of Jesus Christ. One of the messages of these chapters, in keeping with Matthew’s theme of fulfillment of prophecy, is that the Savior’s birth fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. In Matthew 3, John the Baptist declared that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and “he that cometh after me is mightier than I” (Matthew 3:2, 11). These declarations prepare the reader for the baptism of Jesus Christ, at which time Heavenly Father declared that He was “well pleased” with His Son (Matthew 3:17). In further preparation for His public ministry, Jesus Christ went into the wilderness “to be with God” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 4:1 [in Matthew 4:1, footnote b]). Satan also tempted Jesus in the wilderness—but Jesus promptly rejected each of his temptations.
Commentary for Matthew 1–4
Matthew 1:1, 17. Jesus Christ Was a Descendant of David and Abraham
Old Testament prophecies declared that the Messiah would be a descendant of David (see 2 Samuel 7:12–13; Isaiah 9:6–7; Jeremiah 23:5–6) and that an offspring of Abraham would bless “all the nations of the earth” (Genesis 22:18; see also Abraham 2:11). Some scholars have suggested that Matthew’s inclusion of three sets of 14 generations (see Matthew 1:17) was purposeful and is significant because the number 14 is associated with the name-title “David.” Hebrew and other ancient languages used letters of the alphabet to represent numbers as well as sounds. The Hebrew letters in the name David carry a numeric value of 14 (the letters in the name David [D-V-D] are 4 and 6 and 4 = 14). Since the promised Messiah was to be born into the lineage of David, some scholars have speculated that Matthew may have divided the genealogy as he did to subtly emphasize that Jesus Christ was the long-awaited Davidic Messiah. Also, the number 14 is double the number 7, which is the number signifying perfection and completeness. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of divine perfection and completeness.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught about messianic expectations at the time Jesus was born: “No single concept was more firmly lodged in the minds of the Jews in Jesus’ day than the universal belief that their Messiah would be the Son of David. … They looked for a temporal deliverer who would throw off the yoke of Roman bondage and make Israel free again. They sought a ruler who would restore that glory and worldwide influence and prestige which was enjoyed when the Son of Jesse sat on Israel’s throne” (The Promised Messiah , 188).
Matthew 1:1–17. The Genealogy of Jesus Christ
Both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke record genealogies of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–38). Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed these genealogies: “The consensus of judgment on the part of investigators is that Matthew’s account is that of the royal lineage, establishing the order of sequence among the legal successors to the throne of David, while the account given by Luke is a personal pedigree, demonstrating descent from David without adherence to the line of legal succession to the throne through primogeniture or nearness of kin. Luke’s record is regarded by many, however, as the pedigree of Mary, while Matthew’s is accepted as that of Joseph. The all important fact to be remembered is that the Child promised by Gabriel to Mary, the virginal bride of Joseph, would be born in the royal line” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 86).
Though both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts are correct, the most important aspect of Jesus Christ’s genealogy has been made clear on several occasions by God the Father: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5; see also Matthew 3:17; 3 Nephi 11:7; Joseph Smith—History 1:17).
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) declared his testimony of the Savior’s divine birth: “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal, living God. … I believe that He was born of Mary of the lineage of David as the promised Messiah, that He was in very deed begotten of the Father, and that in His birth was the fulfillment of the great prophetic declaration of Isaiah: ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder’ [Isaiah 9:6]” (“The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 50).
Matthew 1:3, 5–6, 16. Women in the Genealogy of Jesus
Several women are mentioned in Matthew’s pedigree of Jesus Christ. Tamar was from Adullam in Canaanite territory (see Genesis 38); Rahab was a Canaanite of Jericho (see Joshua 2:1–7); Ruth was a Moabitess before converting to Judaism (see Ruth 1:4); and Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, a Hittite (see 2 Samuel 11:3). Thus, all four were either non-Israelites or associated with non-Israelites. What can we learn from Matthew’s inclusion of these four women in the genealogy of Jesus Christ? (see 2 Samuel 11:3).
First, it demonstrates that God had worked through Gentiles in the past, thus preparing Matthew’s readers to appreciate the commission to “teach all nations” that would come at the end of his Gospel (Matthew 28:19). Second, the mention of these particular women, each of whom figured in a controversy of some sort in the Old Testament, shows that in Israel’s past, God had worked through people and situations that the Jews would not have expected, thus preparing Matthew’s readers for the account that is immediately to follow—Mary and the virgin birth. Third, it shows all of us today that personal righteousness is not dependent on possessing the “perfect” lineage, since Jesus Christ’s lineage was not perfect. Finally, the inclusion of women in the Savior’s pedigree reflects the important truth that men and women are equal in the eyes of God.
Matthew 1:18. “Mary Was Espoused to Joseph”
Marriage between a young man and a young woman was arranged and agreed to by the heads of the respective families—usually the fathers. Once a prospective wife had been identified by the groom’s father or family head, negotiations were begun. They focused on, but were not limited to, the size of the “bride price,” a kind of dowry in reverse, paid by the groom’s father or family head to the bride’s family. Once the marriage was agreed upon, the wedding consisted of two stages: betrothal (also called espousal; see Matthew 1:18) and a wedding ceremony.
Painting by Lyle Beddes
Betrothal was legally and religiously more significant than the subsequent marriage ceremony, after which the couple began living together. Betrothal was regarded as the final part of a solemn covenant. It carried the force of a covenant to be honored between God-fearing parties (see Genesis 2:24; Ezekiel 16:8; Ephesians 5:21–33). Though betrothed couples were legally regarded as husband and wife (see Deuteronomy 22:23–24), between the time of betrothal and the wedding ceremony, a strict code of chastity was enforced (see Matthew 1:18, 25). At the time of betrothal the young man took legal possession of the young woman, but not physical possession.
Matthew 1:18–25. Joseph Was a Righteous Man
When Mary was found to be with child, Joseph, knowing he was not the father, had several options. First, he could have subjected Mary to a public divorce and perhaps even execution, for people would have presumed that Mary was guilty of adultery—a crime punishable by death under the law of Moses (see Leviticus 20:10; John 8:5). Second, Joseph could have had his betrothal to Mary privately annulled before two witnesses. A third option was to proceed with the marriage. Joseph was inclined to show mercy to Mary by quietly annulling the betrothal agreement (see Matthew 1:19). However, when assured by an angel that Mary’s child was the Son of God, Joseph elected to marry her, though doing so could have brought upon him public shame and ridicule (see Matthew 1:20–25; Luke 3:23; John 8:41).
Gerald N. Lund, who later became a member of the Seventy, discussed Joseph’s visions and spiritual sensitivity: “Matthew tells us that [Joseph] was of the lineage of King David, that he was a just and considerate man, that in a dream an angel told him who Jesus would be, that he was obedient, and that he gave Jesus his name, which means savior. (See Matt. 1.) We know that he took Mary to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. (See Luke 2:4–6.) Less than two years later, Joseph took his family into Egypt to escape Herod, after being warned in a dream. In Egypt, a dream again told him when to return, and another dream told him to go to Galilee. (See Matt. 2:13–15, 19–22.) Four dreams from God! Joseph must have been an exceptionally visionary and spiritually sensitive man” (Jesus Christ, Key to the Plan of Salvation , 51–52).
Matthew 1:20. “That Which Is Conceived in Her Is of the Holy Ghost”
Alma explained the role of the Holy Ghost in the conception of Jesus Christ: “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God” (Alma 7:10).
Matthew 1:21. “Thou Shalt Call His Name Jesus: for He Shall Save His People from Their Sins”
The name Jesus comes from Iēsous, a Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua (Joshua in English). Yeshua means “Jehovah saves,” and the long form of the name, Yehoshua, means “Jehovah is salvation.” Both forms of the name bear witness of the identity and mission of Jesus Christ, who was Jehovah in the premortal life. Matthew described the Savior’s mission of salvation by declaring, “He shall save his people from their sins” (see also Helaman 5:10).
Matthew 1:23; 28:20. The Savior’s Mortal Ministry Affirms That God Is with His People Always
The first chapter in Matthew announces that Jesus Christ would be called, in Hebrew, Emmanuel, “which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23; italics added). The last verse in Matthew contains the Savior’s promise to His disciples: “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20; italics added). By placing these parallel declarations at the beginning and the end of his Gospel, Matthew may be identifying a message running throughout the Gospel of Matthew—God will not forget us; He is with us always.
Matthew 1:25. The Year of Christ’s Birth
Concerning the year in which Jesus Christ was born, “the Church has made no official declaration on the matter” (J. Reuben Clark Jr., Our Lord of the Gospels , vi). The calendar currently used throughout most of the world was created many centuries after Jesus Christ lived, and experts disagree about how to use existing historical information to calculate the year of His birth. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “This is not a settled issue. Perhaps also it does not matter too much as long as we have an accepted framework of time within which to relate the actual events of [Christ’s] life” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 1:350).
Luke 3:23 states that the Savior began His ministry when He “began to be about thirty years of age.” Recorded scriptural events help us understand the length of His ministry. Jesus attended at least three annual Feasts of Passover—one described in John 2:13, another in John 6:4, and one at the time of His Crucifixion, described in John 11:55–57. Based on that information, Jesus’s ministry lasted two years, at the very least. Because of multiple recorded events that took place between the Savior’s baptism and the first Passover that He attended, most scholars place the length of His ministry at about three years. The Book of Mormon account of the physical upheavals at the time of the Savior’s Crucifixion attests that the Crucifixion occurred in the beginning of the 34th year after Jesus’s mortal birth (see 3 Nephi 8:5–11:14).
Matthew 2:1–12. The Wise Men
While there has been much speculation about the identity, origin, number, and names of the Wise Men, Matthew did not provide these details. Matthew used the Greek word magoi, which originally referred to religious wise men from Persia or Babylon, but by Matthew’s day the word encompassed a variety of religious practitioners.
Regarding the identity and origin of the Wise Men, Elder Bruce R. McConkie observed: “It would appear they were true prophets, righteous persons like Simeon, Anna, and the shepherds, to whom Deity revealed that the promised Messiah had been born among men. Obviously they were in possession of ancient prophecies telling of the rise of a new star at his birth. That they did receive revelation for their personal guidance is seen from the inspired dream in which they were warned not to return to Herod after they had found and worshiped the Son of Mary” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:103).
Matthew’s account of the Wise Men makes clear that they were familiar with prophecies about the Savior. The Wise Men asked King Herod where they could find the Messiah (see Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 3:2 [in Matthew 2:2, footnote a]). The star they had seen “in the east” was interpreted by them as a sign of the Messiah (see Matthew 2:2; Helaman 14:5). As a result of the Wise Men’s inquiry, Herod called together the chief priests and scribes, who quoted to him from the prophet Micah, whose prophecy declared that the One the Wise Men were seeking would “rule” in Israel (see Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6). Also, the name Bethlehem (Matthew 2:6), which means “house of bread,” was the place where the “Bread of Life” would be born.
Regardless of who the Wise Men were or where they came from, their visit shows that those who should have been aware of the signs accompanying the birth of Jesus Christ failed to recognize them, while righteous people from other lands, directed by the Holy Ghost, not only noticed the signs but acted upon them.
The exact time of the Wise Men’s visit is unknown; however, Matthew 2:11 suggests that some time had passed since the birth of Jesus Christ, for the Wise Men found Jesus in a “house,” not a manger, and He was a “young child,” not a baby.
Matthew 2:12–13, 19, 22. Dreams as a Form of Revelation
Matthew 2 records dreams received by the Wise Men and by Joseph that contained revelation from God. President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) confirmed that dreams are an avenue of revelation:
“The Lord warned Joseph in a dream to take the young child Jesus and his mother into Egypt, and thus he was saved from the wrath of Herod. Hence there are a great many things taught us in dreams that are true, and if a man has the spirit of God he can tell the difference between what is from the Lord and what is not. And I want to say to my brethren and sisters, that whenever you have a dream that you feel is from the Lord, pay attention to it.
“… The Lord does communicate some things of importance to the children of men by means of visions and dreams as well as by the records of divine truth. And what is it all for? It is to teach us a principle” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham , 285–86).
Matthew 2:12–16. Slaughter of Innocent Children
Herod’s attempt to kill the baby Jesus (see Matthew 2:12–16) was one of a number of violent actions committed by Herod the Great. Like Jesus, Moses escaped miraculously from an attempt on his life when he was a baby—one of many ways in which Moses’s life has parallels with Jesus’s life (see Exodus 1:17–2:10).
Matthew 2:23. Childhood of Jesus Christ
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible provides added details into the childhood and youth of Jesus Christ:
“And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come.
“And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.
“And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 3:24–26 [in the Bible appendix]).
The phrase “for he needed not that any man should teach him” (italics added) indicates that Jesus was taught, but not by man. The Savior explained that He was taught by His Father in Heaven (see John 8:28–29).
Matthew 3:2. “The Kingdom of Heaven”
Matthew 3:6. John the Baptist Taught the People to Repent and Prepare for the Savior
As the time for the Savior’s ministry drew near, John the Baptist began preaching to the people about the need for repentance. He was the promised forerunner to the Messiah (see Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; 2 Nephi 31:4; see also the commentary for Luke 1:14–19, 26). He taught the people that confession of sins was an important part of repenting and preparing to receive Jesus Christ. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles similarly taught about the essential role of confession in repentance:
“True repentance also includes confession: ‘Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers.’ (Ezra 10:11.) One with a broken heart will not hold back. As confession lets the sickening sin empty out, then the Spirit which withdrew returns to renew. …
“All sins are to be confessed to the Lord, some to a Church official, some to others, and some to all of these. A few may require public confession. Confessing aids forsaking” (“Repentance,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 31).
Matthew 3:9. “God Is Able of These Stones to Raise Up Children unto Abraham”
For an explanation of God being “able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham,” see the commentary for Luke 3:8. The main discussion of John’s life and ministry will be presented in the commentaries for Luke 3.
Matthew 3:11. The Baptism of Fire
John the Baptist taught that baptism “with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” is necessary following baptism with water (Matthew 3:11; see also Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16). President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) of the First Presidency described the effect that the “baptism of fire” has upon the soul: “The baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost … effects the great change in the hearts of men referred to by Alma [see Alma 5:14]. It converts them from carnality to spirituality. It cleanses, heals, and purifies the soul. … It is the spiritual rebirth spoken of by Jesus to Nicodemus [see John 3:3–5]. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and water baptism are all preliminary and prerequisite to it, but it is the consummation. To receive it is to have one’s garments washed in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ” (Learning for the Eternities, comp. George J. Romney , 133).
Matthew 3:12. “Whose Fan Is in His Hand”
Photograph by Richard L. W. Cleave
The “fan” referred to in Matthew 3:12 is a winnowing fan that was used to toss wheat into the air. This allowed the wheat to be separated from the chaff. Wheat kernels would fall back to the ground while the wind blew the lighter chaff away. The wheat was then gathered into a garner, or storehouse, and the chaff was burned with fire. John the Baptist taught that the Savior, who would come after him, would separate believers from nonbelievers in the same way that wheat was separated from chaff.
Matthew 3:13–17. Jesus Christ’s Baptism Teaches about the Godhead
At the baptism of Jesus Christ, all three members of the Godhead were separately manifest: Jesus was in the water, the voice of Heavenly Father was heard from heaven, and the Holy Ghost descended upon the Savior like a dove (see also Luke 3:22–23). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized that the doctrine of the Godhead is repeated throughout the scriptures:
“We declare it is self-evident from the scriptures that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons, three divine beings, noting such unequivocal illustrations as the Savior’s great Intercessory Prayer … , His baptism at the hands of John, the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the martyrdom of Stephen—to name just four.
“With these New Testament sources and more ringing in our ears, it may be redundant to ask what Jesus meant when He said, ‘The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do’ [John 5:19; see also John 14:10]. On another occasion He said, ‘I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me’ [John 6:38]. Of His antagonists He said, ‘[They have] … seen and hated both me and my Father’ [John 15:24]. And there is, of course, that always deferential subordination to His Father that had Jesus say, ‘Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God’ [Matthew 19:17]. ‘My Father is greater than I’ [John 14:28].
“To whom was Jesus pleading so fervently all those years, including in such anguished cries as ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me’ [Matthew 26:39] and ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me’? [Matthew 27:46]” (“The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 41).
To help you visualize the importance of the Savior’s baptism, review the video segment (2:55) from The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos, available on LDS.org. This segment covers Matthew 3:13–17.
Matthew 3:15. “To Fulfil All Righteousness”
Matthew 3:16. The Holy Ghost Descended like a Dove
For insights on the Holy Ghost descending like a dove, see the commentary for Luke 3:22.
Matthew 3:17. Voice of the Father
The voice of Heavenly Father was heard at the time of the Savior’s baptism—one of the few times when the voice of the Father is recorded in scripture (see Matthew 3:17; 17:5; 3 Nephi 11:7; Joseph Smith—History 1:17). In each of these instances, He spoke to introduce His Son to a mortal man.
Matthew 4:1, 5, 8. Jesus Went into the Wilderness “to Be with God”
The Joseph Smith Translation makes important corrections to these verses. Jesus Christ did not go “into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1), nor did the devil have power to transport Jesus Christ in order to tempt Him (see Matthew 4:5, 8).
“Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be with God. …
“Then Jesus was taken up into the holy city, and the Spirit setteth him on the pinnacle of the temple. …
“And again, Jesus was in the Spirit, and it taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 4:1, 5, 8 [compare Matthew 4:1, footnote b; Matthew 4:5, footnote a; Matthew 4:8, footnote a]).
Photograph by James Jeffery
Elder Bruce R. McConkie added these insights into why Jesus went into the wilderness: “Jesus did not go into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil; righteous men do not seek out temptation. He went ‘to be with God.’ Probably he was visited by the Father; without question he received transcendent spiritual manifestations. The temptations came after he ‘had communed with God,’ ‘after forty days’ [Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 4:1–2; Luke 4:2]” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:128).
Matthew 4:2. The Savior Fasted to Prepare for His Ministry
Fasting was an important part of the Savior’s preparation for His ministry, as taught by President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95): “Soon after his baptism Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wild, uncultivated wilderness. There he remained for forty days and nights, preparing himself for the formal ministry which was then to begin. The greatest task ever to be accomplished in this world lay before him, and he needed divine strength. Throughout these days in the wilderness he chose to fast, that his mortal body might be completely subjected to the divine influence of his Father’s Spirit” (“The Temptations of Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 17).
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described some blessings that come from fasting: “Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation. Fasting and prayer can help develop within us courage and confidence. They can strengthen our character and build self-restraint and discipline. Often when we fast, our righteous prayers and petitions have greater power. Testimonies grow. We mature spiritually and emotionally and sanctify our souls. Each time we fast, we gain a little more control over our worldly appetites and passions” (“The Law of the Fast,” Ensign, May 2001, 73).
It is of interest to note that when the number “forty” is mentioned in the scriptures, it can be understood literally or figuratively. In some instances, forty days can refer to a long period of time.
Matthew 4:1–3. Satan Tempts When We Are Vulnerable (see also Luke 4:2)
When God has revealed Himself to a mortal, as recorded in the scriptures, Satan has often also revealed himself, seeking to diminish God’s influence (see Moses 1:12–24; Joseph Smith—History 1:15–16). At the beginning of His ministry, the Savior went into the wilderness “to be with God” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 4:1 [in Matthew 4:1, footnote b]). While He was there, Satan came to tempt Him at a time when He was weakened by hunger (see Matthew 4:1–3).
President Howard W. Hunter explained that Satan’s temptations are often strongest when we are vulnerable: “When Jesus had completed the fast of forty days and had communed with God, he was, in this hungry and physically weakened state, left to be tempted of the devil. … Such a time is always the tempter’s moment—when we are emotionally or physically spent, when we are weary, vulnerable, and least prepared to resist the insidious suggestions he makes. This was an hour of danger—the kind of moment in which many men fall and succumb to the subtle allurement of the devil” (“The Temptations of Christ,” 17).
Matthew 4:2–10. The Nature of Jesus Christ’s Temptations (see also Luke 4:2–13)
Bishop Keith B. McMullin of the Presiding Bishopric spoke about the temptations Jesus Christ experienced and about how we face the same type of temptations today:
“The temptations He suffered at the outset of His ministry typify those that beset us. Speaking of these temptations—to turn stones into bread, to cast Himself from the temple’s pinnacle, and to sell His soul for earth’s treasures (see Matt. 4:2–10)—President David O. McKay said, ‘Classify them, and you will find that under one of those three nearly every given temptation that makes you and me spotted … comes to us as (1) a temptation of appetite; (2) a yielding to the pride and fashion and vanity of those alienated from the things of God; or (3) a gratifying of the … desire for the riches of the world, or power among men’ (in Conference Report, Apr. 1911, 59)” (“Welcome Home,” Ensign, May 1999, 80).
Matthew 4:3–10. Jesus Christ Gave No Heed to Satan’s Temptations (see also Luke 4:4–13)
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said of the Savior’s example in resisting temptation: “By emulating the Master, who endured temptations but ‘gave no heed unto them’ [D&C 20:22], we, too, can live in a world filled with temptations ‘such as [are] common to man’ (1 Corinthians 10:13). Of course Jesus noticed the tremendous temptations that came to Him, but He did not process and reprocess them. Instead, he rejected them promptly. If we entertain temptations, soon they begin entertaining us!” (“Overcome … Even as I Also Overcame,” Ensign, May 1987, 71).
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) taught that showing interest in sin can make us more vulnerable to being tempted: “It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the devil to enter a door that is closed. He seems to have no keys for locked doors. But if a door is slightly ajar, he gets his toe in, and soon this is followed by his foot, then by his leg and his body and his head, and finally he is in all the way” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball , 106–7).
Matthew 4:4–11. Scripture Study and Obedience Help Us Overcome Temptation
The Savior’s response to each of Satan’s temptations included the phrase, “It is written” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; see also Luke 4:1–13). Christ’s knowledge of the scriptures was part of what had prepared and strengthened Him to turn aside from temptation. The Savior later taught, “Whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived” (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:37). While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder Merrill J. Bateman noted the strength that scripture study provides against temptation: “There are certain blessings obtained when one searches the scriptures. As a person studies the words of the Lord and obeys them, he or she draws closer to the Savior and obtains a greater desire to live a righteous life. The power to resist temptation increases, and spiritual weaknesses are overcome” (“Coming unto Christ by Searching the Scriptures,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 28).
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin explained that following the Savior’s example of obedience helps us overcome temptation: “Willing obedience provides lasting protection against Satan’s alluring and tantalizing temptations. Jesus is our perfect example of obedience. Learn to do as He did when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. Even though He was weakened by fasting, His answer was quick and firm: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ [Luke 4:8]. … When Satan comes calling, cast him out as quickly as possible” (“Live in Obedience,” Ensign, May 1994, 40).
Matthew 4:13–16. “The Land of Zabulon, and the Land of Nephthalim”
In Matthew 4:13–16, Matthew was referring to Isaiah 9:1–2. Jesus Christ spent the majority of His life and ministry in the villages of Galilee—places like Capernaum, Nain, Nazareth, and Bethsaida. During Old Testament times this area was the inheritance of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Over the centuries, numerous battles were waged to secure control over this strategic region. Some have suggested that because so many people lost their lives in battle here, Isaiah referred to the people of this region as “them which sat in the region and shadow of death” (Matthew 4:16). Isaiah prophesied that in this death-stricken land a “great light” would spring up (Isaiah 9:2). That light is Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Matthew wanted his readers to know that the Savior’s ministry in the land of Galilee was a fulfillment of this messianic prophecy.
Matthew 4:18–22. The Calling of Early Disciples
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin helps us see a modern application of the experience the early disciples had in leaving their nets and following the Savior:
“They were fishermen before they heard the call. Casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee, Peter and Andrew stopped as Jesus of Nazareth approached, looked into their eyes, and spoke the simple words, ‘Follow me.’ Matthew writes that the two fishermen ‘straightway left their nets, and followed him.’ … ‘If the Savior were to call you today, would you be just as willing to leave your nets and follow Him?’ I am confident that many would. …
“… We might define a net as anything that entices or prevents us from following the call of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Nets in this context can be our work, our hobbies, our pleasures, and, above all else, our temptations and sins. In short, a net can be anything that pulls us away from our relationship with our Heavenly Father or from His restored Church.
“Let me give you a modern example. A computer can be a useful and indispensable tool. But if we allow it to devour our time with vain, unproductive, and sometimes destructive pursuits, it becomes an entangling net.
“Many of us enjoy watching athletic contests, but if we can recite the statistics of our favorite players and at the same time forget birthdays or anniversaries, neglect our families, or ignore the opportunity to render acts of Christlike service, then athletics may also be an entangling net. …
“It is impossible to list the many nets that can ensnare us and keep us from following the Savior. But if we are sincere in our desire to follow Him, we must straightway leave the world’s entangling nets and follow Him” (“Follow Me,” Ensign, May 2002, 15).
Matthew 4:23. Teaching That Leads to Healing (see also Mark 1:39; Luke 4:43)
Matthew 4:23 states that Jesus went about “preaching” and “healing.” In later chapters, Matthew recorded Jesus’s preaching in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5–7) and His healing of numerous individuals (see Matthew 8–9). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles linked preaching and healing together when he taught that gospel teaching has the potential to heal the soul:
“This is what Matthew says: ‘And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people’ (Matthew 4:23; emphasis added).
“Now, the teaching and the preaching we know and would expect. But we may not be quite as prepared to see healing in the same way. Yet from this earliest beginning, from the first hour, healing is mentioned almost as if it were a synonym for teaching and preaching. At least there is a clear relationship among the three. In fact, the passage that follows says more about the healing than the teaching or the preaching. …
“Now, let me make myself absolutely clear. By ‘healing,’ as I have been speaking of it, I am not talking about formal use of the priesthood or administration to the sick or any such thing as that. That is not the role of those called as teachers in our Church organizations.
“But I believe our teaching can lead to healing of the spiritual kind. … As with the Master, wouldn’t it be wonderful to measure the success of our teaching by the healing that takes place in the lives of others?
“… Could we try a little harder to teach so powerfully and so spiritually that we really help that individual who walks alone, who lives alone, who weeps in the dark of the night?” (“Teaching, Preaching, Healing,” Ensign, Jan. 2003, 33–34, 37).
The Joseph Smith Translation makes clear that the Savior healed all manner of sickness and disease “among the people which believed on his name” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 4:22 [in Matthew 4:23, footnote f]).
What are some things you can do to make the birth of Jesus Christ more meaningful in your life?
John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of the Savior in mortality. What can you do to prepare yourself and those around you for the Savior’s Second Coming and for eternal life with our Father in Heaven?
In times of temptation, what can you do to follow the Savior’s example, as recorded in Matthew 4:3–11?
Points to Ponder
As you study the Gospel of Matthew, look for reminders that God is with us (see the commentary for Matthew 1:23; 28:20). Compile a list of what you find. Write about a time when you have experienced reminders in your own life that God is with you.
Complete the following chart to discover ancient prophecies that were fulfilled by the birth and early childhood of Jesus Christ: