Jesus’ Early Ministry – Matthew 3–4

Read the Passage: Matthew 3-4

Person of John (3:1–17)

In this passage Matthew records the message, appearance, and ministry of John the Baptist, whom he has not mentioned previously in his Gospel. Further, Matthew notes that these events were a fulfillment of Isa. 40:3. In Matt. 3:7–12, when John saw the religious leaders coming out to be baptized, he harshly confronted them. His message is that repentance entails not resting upon one’s tradition or work for salvation, but rather that salvation produces good works. Moreover, John teaches that while his baptism is symbolic of purification (i.e., it is with water), the baptism of the One to come will not be figurative but actual (i.e., it will be with fire). Further, John notes that at the time of the harvest of Messiah, only the true citizens of the Kingdom will be endured (i.e., the wheat), while the usurpers and false professors will be winnowed out (i.e., the chaff).

As each of the other Gospels do, so here Matthew details Jesus being baptized by John. This passage records John’s objection to Jesus’ request for baptism, Jesus’ teaching that it was necessary for fulfilling God’s plan, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ as a dove, and the Father’s declaration of His pleasure with Jesus’ as Messiah. This passage is very important for a number of theological reasons. First, this text shows all three members of the Trinity present at the same time. God is not just one person who takes on different modes at different time. Second, this passage shows Jesus’ identification with mankind. While Jesus had no need of repentance and baptism, he pursued a baptism that signified His complete humanity. Of course, it is Jesus’ humanity, as well as His deity, that enables Him to provide atonement for the sins of mankind.

Temptation of Jesus (4:1–11)

The temptation of Jesus is recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. This temptation, which occurs immediately after Jesus’ baptism, is important for it shows Christ’s identification with man in temptation (cf. Heb. 2:18; 4:15), as well as His earthly ministry preparation. The text notes that Jesus’ spent forty days in the wilderness. His fasting was both purposeful and expedient given His location. Note that while Jesus seems to assume that His followers will fast (cf. Matt. 6:16) the only fast required of all Jews in the Old Testament was at the yearly Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 16:29, 31; 23:27, 32). The temptation event itself is interesting because it seems that there is a parallel between the failed temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and the successful temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The actual temptations of Jesus are interesting. The first temptation (cf. Matt. 4:1–4) related to physical power, as Jesus was tempted in regard to his flesh. Just as Adam and Eve were tempted with food, so was Christ. The second temptation (cf. Matt. 4:5–7) related to ministerial power, as Jesus was tempted in regard to His reputation. The third temptation (cf. Luke 4:9–12) was of worldly power, as Jesus was tempted in regard to His person. An interesting question is whether or not Satan could have actually given Jesus earthly power. The Bible does call Satan “the prince of this world” (John 12:31), and notes that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Apparently, He can also delegate or give away his power (cf. Rev. 13:2). Note that Luke inverts the order of the second and third temptations, and Mark omits the details altogether.

Ministry of Jesus (4:12–25)

Interestingly, while Satan had tried to tempt Jesus to do miracles before the multitudes in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit eventually led Him to rural Galilee to teach in small places of worship. The impetus for Jesus’ departure from Nazareth was news of John’s imprisonment, as well as the rejection of His message at the synagogue in Nazareth (cf. Luke 4:16–30). Note that John’s Gospel records a time ministry in Judea and Jerusalem, which is omitted from the Synoptic Gospels (cf. John 2:12–4:1). Along the way to Galilee, Matthew reports Jesus’ calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John (cf. Matt. 4:18–22). Further, Matthew records the flourishing of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, including His preaching and healing. This time of acceptance and ministry must have been a spiritually refreshing time for Christ, after His temptation in the wilderness.

Application Questions:

  1. We are told that John the Baptist came preaching about repentance, yet his ministry drew multitudes (cf. Matt. 3:5). What attracted the crowds to come and hear John?
  2. What exactly was John’s ministry? Were those whom John baptized saved? If so, how were they saved? What is the significance of John quoting Isa. 40:3?
  3. Why did Jesus undergo baptism if he was without sin? With what was the Father well pleased about Jesus?
  4. Could Jesus have yielded to temptation? Is temptation valid apart from the ability to fulfill a temptation?
  5. Is all temptation from Satan? What has been most tempting to you? How can Christians resist temptation?