UPDATED: Identifying the Son: A Chiasmus for Christ (Matthew 3:1-4:17)

UPDATE: On the basis of a few comments and further reflection, here is an updated outline of the chiasmus in Matthew 3-4.  What do you think?

In preparation for Sunday’s message, I came across some themes in Matthew 3:1-4:17 that seemed to present themselves as a conceptual chiasmus in Matthew’s gospel.  The issue revolves around the identity of Jesus, which the whole point of Matthew’s writing and the point he is trying to make early on in his gospel.

What I noticed is that in chapters 3-4 is that Matthew seems to pit John’s testimony about Jesus against Satan’s questions to Jesus. The former affirms the sonship of Christ and prepares the way (3:3) for the Father to declare his unconditional approval of the son (3:17).  By contrast, Satan takes the word of God and twists it back against Jesus so that, he questions Jesus identity with it (4:1-11).

In the end, John’s testimony proves true as Jesus abides in God’s word (4:4, 7, 10) and resists the temptation of the devil.  In the end, John’s proclamation of the kingdom’s nearness (3:2) is confirmed by Jesus’ devotion to the Father.  Therefore, Matthew records Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom, which nicely concludes this section of his gospel (4:17).

Here is my conceptual outline below.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (3:1-2)

Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” (3:3)

The Baptist Preaching to the Jews: “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (3:5-12)

Galilee: Jesus came from the Galilee (3:13)

John the Baptist’s Testimony (in dialogue form): After John testifies to greatness of Jesus, and accuses the teachers of the Law for being a barren, brood of vipers (3:13-16)

(A) Worship: John the Baptist recognizing the greatness of Jesus hesitates to baptize Jesus.  John knows that he should worship Jesus; not the reverse.

(B) The Law: Jesus submits himself to the law. He is baptized to fulfill all righteousness.

(C) The Word of God: The Lord speaks on Jesus behalf.  The Word of the Lord comes with the presence of the Spirit, declaring that Jesus is the Beloved Son of God.

The Spirit anoints Jesus for ministry (3:16)


The Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness (4:1)

Satan’s Anti-Testimony (in dialogue form): Satan questions the greatness of Jesus, and tempts him to disobey his father.  Each temptation stands in opposition to one of the three previous affirmations (4:1-11).

(C’) The Word of God: If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into living bread. Jesus responds that he will live on God’s word (3:17 ??).

(B’) The LawIf you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus responds with a refusal to elevate himself above the law and test God.

(A’) WorshipI will give you all of these kingdoms and their glory, if you worship me.  Jesus chooses the cross. He will not worship a false god. As the Son of God, he has the authority to banish this imposter. The narrative concludes by Jesus sending Satan away. 

Galilee: Jesus returned to the Galilee to begin his ministry. (4:12)

Jesus Preaching to the Nations: “Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled” (4:12-14).

Isaiah 9:6-7: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (4:17)

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

6 thoughts on “UPDATED: Identifying the Son: A Chiasmus for Christ (Matthew 3:1-4:17)

    • Davies & Allison would be a good place to check. Next time I’m in L’ville, I will have to look at their commentary. I have not thought of the connection between 4:1-11 and 28:16-20, what are you thinking?

      Thanks, dss

  1. I’m intrigued… But as you know, eggheads like me have to mull things over for a long time! :)
    Embry, good to see your names in the comment! Davie/Allison don’t have anything like this. And yeah there’s a lot of chatter re. the intro and concl.

  2. Pingback: Reading the Bible Better: What Makes a Valid Chiasm? | Via Emmaus

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