Presumably, after Jesus was baptized, he stayed in Judea and ministered there. We know little of Jesus' first year of ministry and Matthew says nothing of it. Only after the arrest of John does Jesus come to Galilee. For Matthew, the importance of this move lies in its fulfillment of prophecy and it is at this point that he decides to begin his account of Jesus' ministry.
v12. John's arrest not only prompts Jesus to move his base of operations, but also to change his ministry style. He now takes on the role of an itinerant preacher and healer.
v13. Capernaum becomes the ministry base for Jesus and his disciples.
v14-16. Slightly reworking Isaiah 9:1-2, Matthew reveals the Messiah's special association with Galilee. It is from this devastated and unwanted place that the light of salvation will begin to shine for Israel and the whole world. For Isaiah, the invading Assyrians may overwhelm the land occupied by the northern tribes of Israel, but out of this darkness a light will one day shine.
v17. We have here a summary of the gospel. In Mark's slightly expanded form it states: "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God (heaven) is at hand (near), repent and believe the gospel." The message proclaims that the long awaited establishment of God's eternal reign, in and through his messiah, is close at hand. Although the people of Israel often understood the kingdom in terms of the restoration of the Jewish state, the prophets were describing something more than a new Davidic empire. God's important news states that the day has dawned when his messiah (the anointed one, the son of David...) will call together a people who will gather in the presence of the living God and dwell securely under his eternal reign.
v18. Lake Galilee (21klm. by 11klm.) had a prosperous fishing industry. Simon and Andrew were from Bethsaida and probably came to the area for employment.
v19. These men had obviously heard Jesus speak on a number of occasions and were now summoned to be "fishers of men" ("follow me" = be disciples - go with him, learn from him, and do his bidding). Interestingly, the image of fishing in the Old Testament is a negative one - gathering for judgement, Jer.16:16, Am.4:2, ..... Are the disciples to proclaim the gospel as a sword of judgement?
v20. Their response to the call certainly disrupts their lives, but it does not necessarily involve a break with family ties, or the disposal of their homes, fishing boats, etc, eg. 8:14, Jn.21:3, Ac.21:8....
v21-22. James and John were partners with Simon and Andrew. Matthew emphasizes the immediacy of their response to Jesus' call.
v23. In this second stage of Jesus' public ministry, he works with the Jewish population of Galilee. There are three elements to this ministry: teaching, preaching the gospel, and healing. Teaching is probably just gospel preaching in a synagogue. As for Jesus' healing ministry, it is often said that the healing ministry served to authenticate the gospel message, but it is better to see the miracles as the gospel in signs. Jesus' miracles, in themselves, proclaim the immediacy of the kingdom; "if I by the finger of God cast out Satan, then you know that the kingdom is close to you."
v24. News of the evidential coming of the kingdom in miracles spreads beyond Galilee. The list of miracles is interesting, and note also the ability to distinguish between demon possession and physical and mental complaints.
v25. Those who follow Jesus come from the Old Testament "holy land" - a significant point.
At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, officialdom is wrestling with a troublesome issue of political correctness. Should they retain, or remove, the words from the grave of the unknown soldier, "known only unto God"? Atheists are agitating for its removal; obviously they like "know unto no one"!
There was a time when most people in the West were church members, but ever since the industrial revolution, people have drifted and sought meaning elsewhere. Since the late 1960's, many in the affluent West have increasingly looked to other "gods" for meaning. Today young people are more likely to want to surf cyberspace than sit in church. Even where there is a desire to touch "otherness", it is usually the mysterious energy of mother earth, or Eastern religions. It seems that the crystal is more powerful than the cross these days.
Yet, this has always been so. It was no different for Jesus in his day. Signs and wonders will always attract "large crowds", but belonging to Jesus will be left to the one or two who look for a kingdom not of this world, and who see in Jesus the beginning and end of everything. Only they will leave their nets and follow him.
1. Why would Jesus return to Galilee after the arrest of John?
2. Explain the gospel in language for today, v17.
3. Apply the call, "follow me" and be made "fishers of men."
4. Crowds "followed" Jesus, v25. To what end?