A move to a more populated region, calling some disciples and healing people of all nations begins the work of the Anointed One.
We are studying the good news about Jesus according to Matthew. We talked about Matthew being a details guy, and he was. However, some of the details are a bit abrupt. They are significant, else he would not have included them, but they often lack context or narrative requiring us to look elsewhere if we are not familiar with the story. As we wrap up chapter 4 I think you will see what I mean:
Matthew 4:12–16 CSB
12 When he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the road by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 16 The people who live in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.
These are 4 verses it is really easy to gloss over, but they are PACKED full of details that are worth excavating.
John the Immerser was arrested. Both Matthew and Mark make this statement as a simple matter of fact. Why is he in prison? Who put him there? What did he say or do that was wrong?
John was a prophet LIKE Elijah. That meant he not only preached repentance, he also called out leaders when their behavior was offensive to God - which is what got John imprisoned.
Matthew gets into the details much later in the story, but we can look at them now:
Matthew 14:3–5 CSB
3 For Herod had arrested John, chained him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 since John had been telling him, “It’s not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Though Herod wanted to kill John, he feared the crowd since they regarded John as a prophet.
Herod took his brother’s wife! It is worth noting that Philip (his brother) was still alive at this time. Here is a summary of what the historian Josephus recorded:
The Lexham Bible Dictionary Fall from Power
During a trip to Rome, Antipas lodged with his brother, Herod, and fell in love with Herodias, his brother’s wife. They both divorced their spouses and married each other.
Herod Antipas divorced his wife, and Herodias divorced Herod Philip, so they could marry. I would imagine that family gatherings were a bit awkward from that point on! As a matter of history, this was the event that eventually brought about the ruin of the Herodian dynasty.
John was arrested for confronting Herod about this. Why would John do that?
We should remember that Herod the Great was of Jewish lineage and would be held responsible to the Torah in God’s eyes. His children, like Herod Antipas, would likewise be responsible to follow the Law of God, which condemned what they did:
Leviticus 18:16 CSB
16 You are not to have sexual intercourse with your brother’s wife; she is your brother’s family.
Leviticus 20:21 CSB
21 If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has violated the intimacy that belongs to his brother; they will be childless.
John, the prophet, was responsible for confronting kings when they were not following God. And it landed John in prison.
FUN FACT: John is thrown in prison by confronting the Tetrarch Herod for marrying someone he should not. John is a type of Elijah, right? Well, Elijah confronted king Ahab because of the evil Ahab had done, which included marrying someone he should not have: Jezebel. Elijah went into hiding to avoid being killed by Ahab.
So, when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he “withdrew” to Galilee. Most translations use the English word “withdrew” in this verse. What comes to mind when you think of “withdrawing”? [retreat, hiding, isolation, etc]
What is taking place here is a withdrawal in one way, but but not in the sense of hiding or being in isolation. I think our English understanng of this word might give us a wrong impression of what actually happened. We can easily get the impression that upon hearing of John’s imprisonment, Jesus went into hiding - but that is certainly NOT the case.
Jesus was born in a Judean village of Bethlehem. Their family fled to Egypt to avoid execution by Herod the Great. When Herod the Great died, they were planning to go back to Judea, but they feared Herod’s son, Archelaus so the went to Nazareth, which is a Galilean village. Most likely, Herod Antipas was ruling the region of Galilee out of Samaria. Capernaum would be further away from Samaria than Nazareth was - so in that sense Jesus did withdraw. He was further away from Herod and also from Jerusalem which is where he will eventually go to give up his life.
However, Nazareth was a small town. Jesus went from there to a city called Capernaum. This was a thriving port - a small city. He did not go into isolation, he headed into the crowds, a crossroads and a seaport so in that way it was an advance! This region of Galilee is where the majority of Jesus’ earthly ministry will take place.
Matthew 4:14–16 CSB
14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the road by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 16 The people who live in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.
Once again, Matthew points us, and his Jewish audience, to the prophecies of Isaiah.
Isaiah 9:1–2 CSB
1 Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations. 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.
We looked at Isaiah chapter 9 in our prophets series. It refers to a child born and a son given (vs 6) and this son will reign on David’s throne (vs 7). You can see how Matthew is declaring to his Jewish audience that Jesus is this light, this son, this ruler who sits on the throne of David that will reign with justice and righteousness.
Remember, the purpose of Matthew’s introduction is to demonstrate how Jesus is the Anointed One - of the line of David, of Abraham, and the one who the law and prophets spoke of.
There is a phrase in that Isaiah passage that is unique. “Galilee of the nations” is a phrase only mentioned in Isaiah 9 and Matthew’s quote of it. After the Assyrians kicked the Jews out of Samaria (and the region of Galilee) it was repopulated with “the nations” - we read about this in 2 Kings chapter 17. ⚡
2 Kings 17:24 CSB
24 Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and settled them in place of the Israelites in the cities of Samaria. The settlers took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities.
In this was, Galilee was a blended region at this time. Though once completely Jewish, it had become a mix of nations - or “Galilee of nations”. Similarly, it’s position as a northern border of the nation, as well as a seaport and trade center, made it a melting pot of nations - some transient and some permanent. WHY would God choose a place like this to deliver the light?
I believe Matthew is trying to drive the point home that the Messiah came to ALL nations, for all people groups. If the Messiah is the promise of Abraham then “all the nations of the earth will be blessed”.
Verse 17 is a transition verse for us. It is the end of one section and the start of the next. Let’s read and I will show you what I mean:
Matthew 4:17 CSB
17 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
“From then on Jesus began to …” This is the conclusion of 1:1-4:16 and Matthew is now going to take us to the next section.
From 1:1 to 4:16 Matthew laid the foundation for this message of good news. It is about the Messiah, the son of David, son of Abraham, son of God who established God’s rule on earth and opened the invitation to all peoples if they are willing to repent and follow king Jesus.
What comes next, from 4:17 on, is going to shift from the historical proof to the practical proof of Jesus being the messiah. The phrase, “from then on Jesus began to...” is the pivot.
We see this phrase one other time in the gospel, and it signifies another section:
Matthew 16:21 CSB
21 From then on Jesus began to point out to his disciples that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day.
Using these two pivot points, we can divide this gospel account into 3 sections:
In the introduction you have the statement that Jesus was the Messiah as corroborated by the prophets. In the body you have Jesus teaching and healing and showing proofs that he was the Messiah. In the conclusion you have Jesus living out the mission of the Messiah.
Since we are looking at the way in which Matthew organized this gospel, let’s dive into another fascinating way this book is organized:
CSB Study Bible: Notes (Chapter 2)
Matthew is organized around alternating blocks of Stories of Jesus and Teachings of Jesus. Here is the arrangement: chapters 1–4 (S); 5–7 (T); 8–9 (S); 10 (T); 11–12 (S); 13 (T); 14–17 (S); 18 (T); 19–22 (S); 23–25 (T); 26–28 (S).
This also helps divide the gospel account into 5 sections. Each of these sections has a transition as well:
Again, we see the beautiful, and very thoughtful, way this book was crafted. Key words and phrases help the listener and the reader track the changes in the story that Matthew is recording.
So, let’s get back to our transition. What is this transition all about?
Most of what had been recorded by Matthew in 1:1-4:16 was ABOUT the Messiah. It was historical context from the law and prophets as well as Matthew social and political context and the lineage of Jesus. However, after this transition we see the Messiah in action.
The first thing we note is that Jesus began preaching. Look back at 4:17
Matthew 4:17 CSB
17 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
CSB Study Bible: Notes Chapter 4
Jesus’s message was identical to the message proclaimed by John the Baptist before his arrest. This identifies Jesus as the one who came after John (3:11) whom John had identified as the Lord God himself (Is 40:3; see note at Mt 3:3).
In essence, this proclamation of the message of repentance established Jesus as the one who comes after John, which makes him Yahweh!
I also think that it is significant that Jesus did not alter the message. Just as he did not come to abolish the law but complete it, he did not come to push aside the prophets, but to fulfill their messages.
The second thing we notice is Jesus calls some followers.
Matthew 4:18–22 CSB
18 As he was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter), and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 “Follow me,” he told them, “and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father, preparing their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
There is a lot more to the story than what Matthew records, and I really like the insight that Luke gives us in his account of these events:
Luke 5:1–11 CSB
1 As the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear God’s word, he was standing by Lake Gennesaret. 2 He saw two boats at the edge of the lake; the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the land. Then he sat down and was teaching the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing. But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.” 6 When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’s knees and said, “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!” 9 For he and all those with him were amazed at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s partners. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching people.” 11 Then they brought the boats to land, left everything, and followed him.
Simon was probably tired and frustrated and could not see what value would come from it. Ever feel like that? Ever feel like God is asking you to do something that just doesn’t make sense and seems ridiculous? I hope so! Frankly, that is a great way to define what faith often looks like.
The struggle is real, but following Jesus and obeying his commands is always a blessing! I think we can grab some practical lessons here:
Let’s wrap up our time looking at this last section of chapter 4:
Matthew 4:23–25 CSB
23 Now Jesus began to go all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 Then the news about him spread throughout Syria. So they brought to him all those who were afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics. And he healed them. 25 Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.
First, Jesus was teaching, preaching repentance and acceptance into the kingdom and healing in the synagogues - thus to the Jews as that was their place of worship. His message and healing was first presented to the people God chose through Abraham.
However, in verse 24 we read, “then the news spread... to Syria”. This is most certainly NOT part of Israel. Jesus healed all of them as well.
The crowds that followed Jesus were from:
Jesus’ consent to heal those that were not Jews demonstrates that the new Israel, the New Kingdom, was not restricted to the lineage of Abraham - but was to include all peoples of the earth that would follow God through faith in Jesus.
All of these stories - John’s arrest, the move to Galilee, the calling of the disciples and the healing of so many, are designed to show us what Jesus intended for his work to look like:
Jesus’ work was to call people to repentance - turning from sin to follow God. His message was for all the nations. He came to rule God’s kingdom and to provide a way for people to be a part of that kingdom.
That is the work of Jesus, the Messiah, and the good news of the work of Jesus for us today is that all people - regardless of nationality, vocation or education - can be a part of God’s kingdom if they will repent.
At the end of this book we are going to be reminded that you and I, if we have surrendered our lives to Jesus, have the privilege of joining Jesus on this mission of sharing the good news so others can enter God’s kingdom. But we don’t have to wait until we get to chapter 28 to start!