Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
(Matthew 4:12-16 ESV)
As we learned in our introduction to Matthew’s gospel account, his main purpose was to demonstrate that Jesus fulfilled numerous Old Testament prophecies regarding the savior God had promised. By fulfilling these prophecies Jesus proved that He was that savior. We’ve already read several of these thus far in our study of Matthew. Today we read another one.
John the Baptist had been arrested and thrown into prison for calling out the sin of Herod Antipas who had taken his brother’s wife as his own [Luke 3:19-20]. Jesus had become associated with John and withdrew into Galilee to avoid confrontation. Herod Antipas ruled Galilee too, so Jesus obviously did not go there out of fear of this man – God fears no one. He went to begin his ministry.
Almost 800 years prior, the prophet Isaiah predicted that the people in the land of Zebulun and Napthali would see a great light [Isaiah 9:1-2]. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy exactly. Jesus is often referred to as light [John 1:6-9, 8:12 et. al]. Additionally, these two regions were considered darkness and the region of death because they were inhabited mostly by Gentiles at this time. It is very interesting that Jesus would begin His ministry in this region.
Extant documents describe northern Galilee as “fond of innovations and by nature disposed to change”. This area was much more exposed to trade routes than the more southerly cities such as Jerusalem, giving it a more cosmopolitan and open-minded attitude. For this reason the northern Galilee region was not well-respected by those in Jerusalem [John 7:41, 51-52]. Even Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, was not open to hearing what He had to say [Luke 4:14-30].
By starting His ministry in Galilee Jesus emphasized that His offer of salvation was for the entire world, not just a select few. While God had used the Jewish people to bring the message of salvation to the world, the offer itself was never limited only to the Jewish people. Everyone was – and still is – eligible to be adopted into God’s eternal family by faith [John 1:12].
Jesus didn’t go to the proud in Jerusalem at first. He went to the outcasts in Galilee. This was always God’s plan. Those who are the most educated are often the most closed-minded. Our society confirms this. University professors and scientists possess highly regarded intellects. But they usually scoff at the notion of God or Jesus despite the evidence. Their minds are closed and their hearts are hardened.
So rather than starting with the most learned of the day, God went first to those the intellectual elite looked down upon. His was a grass-roots campaign [1 Corinthians 1:27]. Those with the most open minds are the ones who find truth.
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