The Beginning of Christ’s Public Ministry
Matthew 4:12-25. Two of the ten major tenets of Messianic prophecy are shown to be fulfilled by Jesus in this section. Read more… They are:
- His Appearance in the North of the Land for Blessing (ch.4)
- His Coming in Millennial Power for Blessing (ch.4)
Events between the Lord’s Baptism and Public Ministry. There are a number of events recorded in John 1-2 that take place between the baptism of Christ and the commencement of His public ministry that are only recorded in John’s gospel. Some of those events are: (1) the Lord’s introduction to Peter, Andrew, Philip and Nathanael, (2) His presence and miracle at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, and (3) His visit to Jerusalem for the Passover, first temple cleansing, miracles in Jerusalem, and dialogue with Nicodemus. The reason these are only found in John is that John presents the utter ruin of man, Israel, and the world from the very outset. The events of Luke 4:14-30 are left out too, which are morally important to Luke’s purpose… the man who came to do good was rejected, even in Nazareth!
John’s Imprisonment, Christ Ministers First in Galilee (4:12-17)
¶ 12 But having heard that John was delivered up, he departed into Galilee: v.12 His ministry begins after the closing of John’s. John 3:23-24 shows us that John’s ministry overlapped with the Lord’s. However, the Lord’s public ministry did not properly begin until John was off the scene. The rejection of John the Baptist (the Messiah’s herald) was in a sense a rejection of the Messiah. This verse marks the beginning of the first of three phases in the Lord’s public ministry:
- In Matt. 4:12 – 18:35 we have the Lord’s Galilean ministry.
- In Matt. 19:1 – 20:28 we have the Lord’s Perean ministry.
- In Matt. 20:29 – 27:66 we have the Lord’s Judean ministry.
13 and having left Nazareth, he went and dwelt at Capernaum, which is on the sea-side in the borders of Zabulon and Nepthalim, v.13 His “home base” in Capernaum fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. It simply says the Jesus “left Nazareth” – a very gracious way to put it considering Luke 4:29. Capernaum was the Lord’s hometown for the years of His public ministry. Jesus was raised in Nazareth, but when He turned 30 years of age He moved to Capernaum, which was 20 miles to the north in the borders of Zebulon and Naphtali. In doing so He fulfilled scripture (vv.14-15). Capernaum, Cana, and Nazareth were cities of the region of Galilee, which was beyond the conventional borders of the land of Israel, though Jewish, and was despised by the religious in Judea. In Matt. 11, we read that that Lord had done many “mighty works” in Capernaum.
14 that that might be fulfilled which was spoken through Esaias the prophet, saying, 15 “Land of Zabulon and land of Nepthalim, way of the sea beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations: 16 — the people sitting in darkness has seen a great light, and to those sitting in the country and shadow of death, to them has light sprung up.” [Isa. 9:1-2] vv.14-16 The expression “that might be fulfilled” tells us that the Lord’s coming in grace to the northern, despised regions of Israel was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The prophetic scriptures referred to here (Isa. 9:1-2) speak of the coming of the Messiah to a poor and afflicted remnant. This scripture was fulfilled at Christ’s first coming, but there is a parallel to it at His second coming.
- Isa. 5 & 6. Because of the rebelliousness of His people, the Lord’s hand was stretched out against them in judgment (Isa. 5:25), but in them the glory of the Lord is revealed (Isa. 6).
Fulfillment at His first coming:
- Isa. 7. It is announced that there was to be a virgin birth, the King of glory, Jehovah of hosts, was to become a babe, born of a virgin.
- Isa. 8. The nation rejects the Messiah, and a godly remnant “my disciples” appears, but they are more and more isolated in the midst of apostate Israel, who will be putting their trust in a confederacy with the Romans. But the promise of Millennial blessing is made, connected with the remnant who will be the nucleus of the nation, however small and despised they were in the beginning.
- Isa. 9. In vv.1-2 the prophet declares that the Messiah would come to this poor and afflicted remnant, and while they had suffered the most under the oppression of the Romans and Pharisees, they would be the first ones to experience the power of His grace.
Fulfillment at His second coming:
- Isa. 7. The “overflowing scourge” will pass through the land (the first attack of the Assyrian, Isa. 7:17-2) and go down into Egypt.
- Isa. 8. The remnant will have to walk through a time of spiritual darkness in the Great Tribulation, under persecution from the apostate nation who will be trusting in a confederacy with Europe.
- Isa. 9. The faithful remnant at the north of the land, which had been “degraded” by the Assyrian (first attack), will be honoured first by His glorious appearing at Megiddo (Rev. 19:19-20). They will see “a great light”, which is a reference to the brightness of the appearing of Christ (2 Thess. 2:8).
The appearing of the Lord to the north of the Land at His second coming will be an event in the same character as this event at His first coming. This is a requirement for the Messiah that all the rabbis knew and ought to have been expecting. This region was the remotest in the land… a place that was largely free from Phariseeism. It was somewhat defiled by mixture with the Gentiles, therefore it was called “Galilee of the Gentiles”. The “shadow of death” is sometimes what it takes to bring us to the place where we will hear the Lord.
17 From that time began Jesus to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh. v.17 His early ministry consisted of the gospel of the kingdom. Compare this with the Lord’s discourse with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus preached a more Christian gospel in John, compared to the kingdom-gospel in Matthew. He presents to the Jews the kingdom of heaven as that which was according to their prophets. It would be brought in, although after ch.12 it is never said to be “at hand”, because the manifestation phase was going to be postponed. Read more…
A Sample of the Messiah Calling out His Disciples (4:18-22)
The faithful remnant in the time of our Lord. These disciples of our Lord were a faithful Jewish remnant (Isa. 8:18). Had Israel received the Messiah, they would have gone into the kingdom as the nucleus of the restored Nation of Israel, just as a different remnant will, who will be gathered back into the land before the middle of Daniel’s seventieth week. Instead, Israel was set aside and a new dispensation was brought in. These same disciples were given an even greater privilege! They became the nucleus of the assembly, the Church of God! They were given the privilege to bring the gospel to the world. They were to be fishers of men: bringing the gospel to the whole world (Matt. 28)!
Three stages to the calling of the twelve:
- Call to discipleship (John 1:35-42), called to be “with Him”
- Call to service (Matt. 4:18-22), made fishers of men.
- Call to apostleship (Matt. 10:1), invested with authority and “sent” out.
As Christians we need this same moral order. First we need to give up everything, follow Christ, and then we can serve Him.
The Call of Andrew and Peter (vv.18-20)
¶ 18 And walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers; 19 and he says to them, Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. vv.18-19 In John 1 we find that the Lord was not a complete stranger to these ones because He had already met at least some of them (John 1:35-42). A special kind of faith – involving understanding – is needed in service. They had been fishers of fish, but that would be no help in their spiritual “trade”. No school other than fellowship with Christ can prepare us for service. It is a process. Gift needs to be developed. Peter and Andrew both became fishers of men; but then there are different kinds of fishing. Peter is often seen preaching to multitudes (Acts 2, etc.), similar to net fishing. Andrew is often seen working one-on-one (John 1:41; 6:8; 12:22) which is akin to hook-and-line fishing (Matt. 17:27).
20 And they, having left their trawl-nets, immediately followed him. v.20 If we are going to serve the Lord we need to give the Lord the first place over our occupation. Elsewhere we read that they left their nets at a time when the business was most prosperous (Luke 5:1-11). The Lord uses men and women of activity. He uses people that are prepared to work, and have already established that pattern in natural ways of life. Fishing was one of the hardest jobs; none of these men would have been lazy.
The Call of James and John (vv.21-22)
21 And going on thence he saw other two brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the ship with Zebedee their father, mending their trawl-nets, and he called them; v.21 James and John were found “mending the nets”. We find John in his ministry doing just that with regard to Christian doctrine… he is defending the doctrine of the Person of Christ against the gnostic heresy that was coming in during his later lifetime. James was martyred early in his lifetime, so we don’t know much about him. In Mark, where service is more in focus, we find another principle; they didn’t leave their father in a lurch. It says they left their father in the ship “with the hired servants” (Mark 1:20).
“Casting” and “mending” nets. Peter and Andrew were found casting their nets, which speaks of evangelism. This was the great object of the kingdom gospel as well as the gospel of the grace of God. James and John were found mending their nets, which speaks of teaching and reinforcing doctrine. If we never repair our nets, we will end up with holes, and our service will become ineffective. But at the same time, if we never cast our nets, we have missed the whole point.
22 and they, having left the ship and their father, immediately followed him. v.22 If we are going to serve the Lord we need to give the Lord the first place over our family relationships. Notice that Zebedee did not push his boys into service (c.p. his wife, Matt. 20:21), and he also did not stand in their way.
Concise Summary of Christ’s Ministry in Galilee (4:23-25)
¶ 23 And Jesus went round the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the glad tidings of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every bodily weakness among the people. v.23 He demonstrated that He had “the powers of the world to come”. The whole ministry of the Lord is recounted in one verse! His ministry was threefold: (1) teaching, (2) preaching, and (3) healing. Note that He does not worship in their synagogues, but teaches. Christ proved that He had the powers of the world to come, by giving them a sample of what was promised! “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Isa. 35:5-6). And yet they still rejected Him!
24 And his fame went out into the whole of Syria, and they brought to him all that were ill, suffering under various diseases and pains, and those possessed by demons, and lunatics, and paralytics; and he healed them. v.24 He spread blessing to the nations around. It is beautiful to see that the blessing was not limited to Israel. Surrounding nations heard about these miracles and brought their sick and possessed – not to Jerusalem – but to the most despised part of the Land, to the only One who could release them from the shadow of death. It reminds us of that double-river in Ezekiel 47 that will spring from under the threshold of the Millennial temple and flow out into the desert and into the sea; “and it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live, etc.” (Ezek. 47:9).
25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, and Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judaea, and beyond the Jordan. v.25 He attracted universal attention. It was very important that not only the disciples, but the whole nation would understand the true character of the kingdom about to be introduced (Matt. 5 – 7), and of those who were to have part in it, namely the faithful remnant.
Signs of power to accompany the gospel of the kingdom. The Old Testament scriptures spoke of the Millennial blessing that would be ushered in by the Messiah. Physical handicaps will all be healed (Isa. 35:5-6), and there will be no more sickness or disease (Isa. 33:24; Psa. 103:3). The proclamation of the kingdom by Christ was accompanied by acts of power that would draw the attention of the whole country – the whole territory of ancient Israel. Jesus appeared before them invested with this power. The power proved that He was the Messiah, because He alone could bring in Millennial blessing. This is further developed in Matt. 8-9 This is what the writer of Hebrews referred to as “the powers of the world to come” (Heb. 6:5), or “so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him [the apostles]; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will” (Heb. 2:3-4).