As Matthew closes this first section of his gospel, he highlights the Galilean nature of Jesus’ early ministry. Matthew summarizes Jesus’ early ministry as marked by healing and teaching.
Matthew 1-4 function as a kind of prologue to the gospel. Matthew has told us about: the genealogy of Jesus; the story of his birth and upbringing from Joseph’s perspective; the ministry of John the Baptist; the baptism of Jesus; and his temptations in the wilderness.
We’ve seen two themes so far:
- Matthew expects his readers to be very familiar with the Old Testament. Almost every passage draws on background knowledge of the Old Testament, which Matthew doesn’t stop to explain.
- Matthew contrasts the glorious and the humble. On the one hand, God is actively involved in the life of Jesus from his miraculous birth to the divine voice at his baptism. On the other hand, Jesus is not living the kind of life we expect a future king to live.
As he closes this section, Matthew introduces us to Jesus’ early ministry.
12Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the 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.” 17From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:12-17
- The gospels are largely concerned with 4 geographic regions: Judea, Samaria, Galilee and the Decopolis (click for map).
- Matthew, Mark & Luke organize their gospels in a two-part structure: 1) Jesus’ ministry in Galilee; 2) Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross.
- “From that time” (Matt 4:17) is a section marker Matthew uses in his gospel. We’ll see it again in Matthew 16:21.
- Matthew tells us that Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah.
- Isaiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom. In Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah makes the surprising announcement that the light of the Messiah will dawn first in Galilee. This is the first time we’ve seen Matthew use the term “fulfill” to mean predictive prophecy has come to pass.
- Jesus, the son of David, chose to concentrate his ministry in the despised and rejected region of Galilee. It is not a geographical accident. It is a picture of the mercy of God, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah.
18While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. – Matthew 4:18-22
- If you only read Matthew, you might think Jesus called strangers to follow him, but the other gospels give us a fuller picture.
- John’s gospel explains that John the Baptist introduced Andrew, Peter, John & James to Jesus outside of Galilee (John 1:35-46).
- Luke records the story of the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11).
- Putting all 4 gospels together, the picture is something like this: John the Baptist was preaching outside of Galilee. He pointed out Jesus as the Messiah to Andrew, and probably the Apostle John, who were disciples of John the Baptist at the time. Andrew gets his brother Simon Peter and they start to follow Jesus, along with John and his brother James. They see a few miracles and hear Jesus teach as they travel back to Galilee. In Galilee, they return to their fishing business. Eventually, they experience the miraculous catch of fish, after which Jesus calls them to follow him. They do.
- Matthew emphasizes that when Jesus chose his disciples, he didn’t recruit the best students from the best rabbis. He calls Galilean fisherman.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17
23And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. – Matthew 4:23-25
- Jesus is operating in Galilee with Capernaum as his base. Great crowds travel to Galilee from all over the region to see him.
- Matthew characterizes Jesus’ ministry as marked by: healing and teaching.
- By giving Jesus the power to heal, God testifies that He is with Jesus and Jesus is the Messiah.
- When a physically ill person is made well, it is tangible evidence that a spiritually sick person can also be made well.
- The “kingdom of heaven” has two aspects: 1) God is king of Israel as long as Israel remains faithful. In this sense, the kingdom of God is a present fact. 2) God is king of the entire world, and one day the world will recognize him. In this sense, the kingdom of God is a future hope.
- Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is at hand: The Messiah is inaugurating a new covenant. With the coming of the Messiah, God’s rule will now be possible in a way it was not possible before.
- The arrival of the king forces a choice: repent. Now is the time to decide to turn and follow God.