Prophecy fulfilled (Matthew 4:12-20)

Matthew, in his Gospel, does not mention some incidents that occurred in the experience of Jesus after his baptism. They are recorded by John in the first four chapters of his Gospel. In Matthew 4, there is a gap of about a year between verse 11 and verse 12.

What is Matthew doing in this passage? First, he is explaining how a specific prophecy concerning Galilee and the Messiah was fulfilled. Matthew points out that two factors in providence caused it: one was the arrest of John the Baptist in Judea and the other was the decision by Jesus to move from Nazareth to Capernaum.

Second, he mentions the spiritual state of the inhabitants in Galilee. We can see that some changes had occurred in the makeup of the population in that there were now many Gentiles living in the area. Gentiles were excluded from the people of God unless they became proselytes in the Jewish faith. Moreover, the area was marked by darkness and death – the prophecy is not referring to literal darkness or death, but to spiritual blindness and separation from God.

To such people Jesus revealed himself as the light. We might have imagined that he would have made Jerusalem the headquarters for his campaign. Instead, he chose Capernaum to have this privilege, which is one reason why a particular woe is later pronounced by him on this favoured city. In his ministry in Galilee, Jesus would reveal that he had come to deal with spiritual problems in the lives of sinners estranged from God.

We might assume initially that having headquarters in Galilee was surprising. Yet Galilee was a prosperous and densely populated area of the country. Apparently, within Galilee, there were 204 towns with a population of more that 15,000 each. That is about four times the number that Scotland had in 2012. So we should not be surprised that large crowds listening to Jesus were common.

There is another detail regarding those places that we may not appreciate as we read it and that concerns the historical behaviour of the people in the areas mentioned. Because of their location, they were the tribes that succumbed to the pagan influences of their neighbours. Moreover, they were also the first of the Israelites to experience divine judgement through invading armies. So here was a prophecy that announced that God would yet show mercy to those who were unfaithful and who had experienced divine judgement. And he showed that mercy when Jesus engaged in his ministry there.

Read more

© (2017)