The Early Galilean Ministry
It is very difficult to chronologically correlate all the events in the Galilean ministry. The most difficult problem is the location of the Sermon on the Mount in the narrative. Matthew places it almost at the beginning of the ministry in Galilee right after Christ had called His first four disciples. The parallel passages in Luke place it at the beginning of the Second Galilean Period right after the choosing of the Twelve Apostles. There seems to be no mention of it in Mark. There is no doubt a dispensational design in this arrangement. Since Matthew is especially concerned with the Kingdom it is logical that he should place the Sermon at the very beginning of the King’s ministry. This Sermon was addressed to His disciples, and it seems unlikely He would have delivered it when He had called only four disciples. It is more logical to suppose that He first ordained His Twelve Apostles, and then delivered the Sermon to them, as the order is given in Luke. We will consider the Sermon in the latter position in the narrative.
This period extends from Jesus’ departure from Judea through Samaria to Galilee to His ordaining of the Twelve Apostles. It is thought to have covered about a four-month period.
1. The Beginning of This Ministry
References: Matt. 4:12,17; Mk. 1:14,15; Lk. 4: 14,15; John 4:43-45
Both Matthew and Mark state that it was after John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod that Jesus left Judea and departed into Galilee. Many of the Galileans had been at the feast in Jerusalem and had witnessed all that Jesus did there, and they received Him. Mark states that He came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, saying that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel. The Revised text reads “the Gospel of God,” omitting “of the Kingdom.” However, it is evident from what follows that it was the good news about the Kingdom. The Kingdom is mentioned 55 times in Matthew, 20 times in Mark, 45 times in Luke, and only 5 times in John. These figures show one of the great differences between the Synoptics and John.
2. The Second Sign – Healing of the Nobleman’s Son
Reference: John 4:46-54
This is Jesus’ second visit to Cana where He turned the water into wine. The nobleman lived at Capernaum. He had to travel about 15 miles to Cana to present his request to Jesus for the healing of his son who was at the point of death. The Lord had seen so many people who had professed to believe on Him because they had seen His miracles that He said to the man: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.” But the man persisted: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus then told him, “Go your way, your son will live.” The man believed without seeing a miracle and started for home. The next day his servants met him before he reached home with the news that his son had recovered. He asked the time when the fever left him and was informed it was 1:00 P.M., and that was the very hour that Jesus had told him that his son would live. As a result, his whole family became believers. This is the second sign which Jesus did.
We suggested earlier that there is a correspondence between the eight signs which Jesus did as recorded by John. We saw that the first corresponded to the eighth, and now we shall see that the second corresponds with the seventh, which is the Raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44). The most evident similarity between these two signs is that the Ruler’s son was “at the point of death,” and the brother of Martha and Mary was actually dead and buried. There are other similarities: It was “after two days” the son was healed (cf. 4:43), and Jesus “abode two days” before going to raise Lazarus (11:6); in the one case it was a son, in the other a brother; in the one Jesus said, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe,” (4:48), in the other, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe,” (11: 15). The same verb is used for “the fever left him” and “loose him and let him go.”
When Christ began His ministry to Israel the nation was in the condition spiritually of the Ruler’s son: they were at the point of death. It should be remembered that Israel was in covenant relation with God, and they were still alive in the covenant. Christ could have brought them back to full spiritual health, but they rejected Him. After renewed mercy at Pentecost Israel had another opportunity to repent and enter into their promised Kingdom, based upon Christ’s prayer for their forgiveness and because they crucified Him in ignorance. But because of their further sin against the Holy Spirit in rejecting Him, they were cast off and reckoned no better than the Gentiles: dead in trespasses and sins, even as Lazarus was dead and buried for four days. One cannot imagine a more loathsome picture of the sinful state of humanity than of a body which had been dead for four days in the state described by Martha: “By this time he stinketh.” And yet, He who is the Resurrection and the Life is able to restore such a one, and this is exactly what Christ will do for Israel as a nation. One is reminded of the valley of dry bones in Ezek. 37: “Son of man these bones are the whole house of Israel… Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come tip out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel . . . And shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord” (11-14).
In the first and eighth signs Israel is pictured as destitute of all of those things that make for an abundant life; in the second and seventh Israel is destitute of life itself. But in both, the glory and power of Christ is revealed as the Giver of life and every good and perfect gift in life.
While the application of these signs apphes primarily to that people and nation who require signs, they may be applied to individuals today who are dead in trespasses and sins, for Paul says: “And you hath He quickened or made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins . . . for by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:1,8).
3. Jesus Rejected at His Home Town of Nazareth
Reference: Lk. 4:16-30
Luke alone records this incident, although there are passages in Matt. 13:54- 58 and Mk. 6:1-6 that deal with a later visit to the area of Nazareth. There the people were offended or caused to stumble concerning Jesus, for they said, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son and are not his brothers and sisters with us? He’s no better than the rest of us. He could not do any mighty works there because of their unbelief. In fact, He marvelled at their unbelief. Williams (Student’s Commentary of Holy Scriptures) in commenting on the Matthew passage thinks Jesus made only this one visit to Nazareth. It is difficult to fit these two passages into the narrative later on, and one wonders if the people tried to kill Him the first time why they would let Him back in the synagogue at Nazareth.
Jesus went to the synagogue as His custom was on the Sabbath day and was handed the scroll of Isaiah. He found the place in ch. 61:1 where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord,” and He closed the book and sat down. He then told them that this Scripture had been fulfilled in their ears, that is, that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The audience could not help but wonder at the wonderful words of grace which Jesus spoke, but on the other hand they were saying in their hearts, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son who grew up in this town? What right does he have to claim such things for himself?” He knew their thoughts and quoted the parable: “Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in thine own country.” In other words they were saying, “We’ve heard about all your wonderful works over at Capernaum, now let’s see you do some here.” But Jesus quotes two cases from the Scriptures where two of the greatest prophets did not act in accordance with this proverb. Although there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah during the great famine, he was sent to none of them but: to Zarephath in Sidon, a Gentile widow. Likewise there were many lepers in Israel in the days of Elisha, but none were cleansed, except Naaman the Syrian. They not only stumbled over Him (cf. Rom. 9:33, I Pet. 2:8) and were jealous of Him, but when He insinuated that Gentiles were better than they, they were enraged and expelled Him from the synagogue and tried to throw Him over the cliff upon which the city was built.
There is a striking likeness of this scene to that in Acts 22:21-24, where Paul in giving his defense before the Jews in Jerusalem stated that God had said unto him: “Depart (from Jerusalem), for I will send thee far hence to the Gentiles. And they gave him audience unto this word, and they lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live,” and as you know they would have killed Paul had not the Roman captain rescued him. What bitter enmity and jealousy there was between Jews and Gentiles, but Christ has through His death broken down that middle wall of partition; He has abolished that enmity; He has made peace between the Jew and the Gentile, and now in this present dispensation He is making out of both, Jews and Gentiles, One New Man, the Church which is His Body.
By comparing Jesus’ quotation from Isa. 61:1 with Isaiah you will note that Jesus ended the quotation in the middle of a sentence and did not quote the part about the day of vengeance of our God. This fact shows that Jesus Himself divided, yes, rightly divided the Scriptures. He quoted only that part that referred to His first coming, and omitted the part that refers to His second coming.
It was not possible that the Jews could have killed Jesus before His time had come, so we read that “he passing through the midst of them went his way and came down to Capernaum.” It is interesting to note the ups and downs in Scripture. We usually speak of going up north and down south, back east and out west, based upon the geographical location on the globe. In Scripture we go up to Jerusalem because we go up hill, and we go down to Jericho or the Sea of Galilee or the Jordan or the Dead Sea because they are all in a deep valley hundreds of feet below sea level.
4. Jesus Moves to Capernaum
References: Matt. 4:13-16; Lk. 4:31
Luke merely states the fact that Jesus came down from Nazareth to Capernaum, a city in Galilee. But Matthew states that Jesus went into this region to fulfill a prophecy uttered by Isaiah 700 years earlier. This region bordered the allotments of land that were originally given to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali (cf. Josh. 19:10-16 and 32-39). The prophecy quoted is from Isa. 9:1,2, just four verses before the well-known prophecy of the child born and the son given whose name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Father of the Ages, The Prince of Peace.
In order to understand this prophecy about Zebulum and Naphtali one must acquaint himself with the past history of this area, how it suffered the most from the invading Assyrians. It was a region that had been overrun perhaps more than any other by invading foreigners, so that it came to be known as the region and shadow of death. The place where Jesus decided to make His headquarters, Capernaum, was in the most despised region of Israel’s land, known as Galilee of the Gentiles. The sea in this passage is the Sea of Galilee. Isaiah of old saw the Messiah, the One born of a virgin (7:14) now come to sit upon the throne of David (9:7) and He comes to the darkest spot in Israel and there enlightens the people. This prophecy does not mean that Jesus went to this region to preach to the Gentiles, for He made it very plain that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but He went to this region which was called Galilee of the Gentiles. The people there saw a great light and how wonderful it would have been for them had they heeded Jesus’ message: “Repent and let the light in, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But we know now they did not. In Mt. 11:20, Jesus began to upbraid the cities where He had done most of His mighty works: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. He said if the mighty works which had been done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom it would have remained to this day. It will be more tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment than for these cities which saw such great Light and rejected it.
There seems to be a natural division of Matthew marked by the expression: “from that time.” The first “from that time” is right at the beginning of His ministry in 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” During the first half of Matthew Jesus was presenting Himself to Israel as their Messiah. But when it becomes evident the leaders have rejected Him the ministry changes. After Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus charged His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Messiah. “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (16:20,21). It is as though a bright light had been shining in the first half of His ministry but Israel closed her eyes to the light. In the second half it is as though a judicial blindness comes upon Israel, confirming their own self-imposed blindness. “From now on don’t tell any one I am Jesus the Christ.”
5. The Call of Simon and Andrew, James and John
References: Matt. 4:18-22; Mk. 1:16-20; Lk. 5:1-11
The accounts of Matthew and Mark are almost identical, but Luke gives added details of circumstances surrounding the calling of these four men. In fact, Luke’s account differs in so many respects that it is possible Luke tells us of a subsequent event very similar to the one described by the other two Evangelists. In Matthew and Mark Jesus was walking by the sea and saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, casting their nets into the sea, and He said to them, “Come along with me and I will make you fishers of men,” and they followed Him. Going further He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John, in the boat with their father, mending their nets, and He called them and they immediately followed Him. In Luke, on the other hand, there were multitudes listening to Him at the shore of the sea, and He saw two empty boats and He got into one which was Simon’s and asked him to push out from shore and He sat down in the boat and taught the people. When He had finished teaching He told Peter to go out into deeper water and cast his nets for a catch. Peter said they had fished all night and had caught nothing, but he would do as Jesus had said. Whereupon he enclosed a great multitude of fish so that his net was breaking, and he called for his partners, James and John to come to help him. After they got the fish safely to shore Jesus said to Simon, “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men,” and they left all and followed him.
If the event in Luke is distinct from that in Matthew and Mark, then this is the third account of these men being called. The first was in John 1:35; the second in Matt. 4:18, and the third in Lk. 5:10,11. Human nature is such that it is very difficult to make a complete break all at once and follow the Lord. Most often, as with these apostles, there is a series of experiences before there is a complete surrender. This last one in Luke seems to have sealed it for Simon, for when he saw their boats almost sinking with the great catch of fish, caught at a time fish are not normally caught, and caught after they had labored all night without success, he recognized Jesus truly as the Lord, and fell down before Jesus, saying: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” It is not until we see ourselves as sinful and experience that sense of unworthiness that we truly recognize Him as Lord. This has ever been the experience of true conversion (cf. Isa. 6:1-8; Acts. 9:4-6).
We are not told how much money these men made from the great catch of fish, but this may have been the Lord’s way of supplying their material needs, now that they were leaving the business world behind and giving full time to the ministry of the Word.
(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)
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