Matthew 4:12-25

From The Kingdom series.

Matthew 4:12–25 (HCSB): When He heard that John had been arrested,  He withdrew into Galilee.  He left Nazareth behind and went to live in Capernaum  by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the sea road, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles! The people who live in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the shadowland of death, light has dawned.   

From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven  has come near! 


There is a lot of movement in this passage. Jesus was in Judea where he was baptised by John and been through a time of testing in the wilderness. Things were heating up with John’s arrest, so Jesus returned to Galilee region but moved head-quarters from his home town of Nazareth to Capernaum – a city of maybe 10000 people that boasted a customs office (Mt 9:9) and a centurion (Mt 8:5) presumably with his 100 soldiers or so. It was a strategic location militarily due to its situation on major north-south routes (map)  and contained two Roman-built cities (Sephorrus and Tiberius).


These cities would have been culturally Hellenistic not Jewish. In Jesus’ day Galilee was ruled by the tetrarch Herod Antipas (Lk 3:1) – son of Herod the Great who had been the Herod we read about in the birth accounts of Jesus.  John the Baptist had had a fatal encounter with this Herod (Mt 14:1-11) and although Jesus had come on to Herod’s radar (Lk 9:7-9), Jesus did not suffer the same fate at Herod’s hands (Lk 23:7-12). Herod had been curious about Jesus for some time, however when Jesus refused to play ball, Herod made his point about “who was really king here” through ridicule. 

The southern Galilean region was much more cosmopolitan and mixed-race than Jerusalem and Judea to the south. Perhaps Jesus’ message had more of a chance of getting through to people in Galilee than in the religious centre of Jerusalem. And that message was the same as John’s: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near”.

It’s the kind of message that demands a response. 

The Question

So what does it mean that the kingdom of heaven has come near, why is repentance connected to it, and what does this repentance look like?

Reading on, we can get some clues.

As  He was walking along the Sea of Galilee,  He saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen.  “Follow Me,” He told them, “and I will make you fish for  people!” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 

Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. 

Jesus was going all over Galilee,  teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  Then the news about Him spread throughout Syria.  So they brought to Him all those who were afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics.  And He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. (Mt 4:18-25)

So we can see what Jesus is doing as he preaches this message: He is:

  • Calling some everyday people to follow him as his disciples.
  • Travelling a lot.
  • Teaching in the synagogues.
  • Preaching the good news of the kingdom.
  • Healing many.

He is gaining a large following from a diverse range of people coming from both Jewish and Gentile regions. No doubt, at this early stage, the news of his healing ministry would have accounted for a large part of the interest, but his authoritative speaking style (Mt 7:29) would have played a role as well.

So what is this good news of the kingdom? Are we any closer to finding out?


Well the healing must be part of it. Healing is certainly good news if it’s you or a loved one getting the healing, but is there   a substantive connection between the act and the content of the message? And were we really expecting healing to be part of the messiah package?

The prophets spoke of healing as being a part of future restoration (e.g. Jer. 30:17, 33:6). Ezekiel clarifies the job description of a godly leader as the opposite of: 

Ezekiel 34:4 (HCSB): You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost.  Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. 

Healing and paying attention to the plight of the sick, the injured, the strayed or the lost are very core traits of the kind of leader God is looking for in His kingdom. Jesus goes on later to amplify this further in his later teaching and in his practical ministry.

Peter was right there with Jesus during these early days (Mt 4:18), and he recalls these events a decade or so later when speaking about this business of letting the Gentiles into the kingdom:

Acts 10:34–39 (HCSB): Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism,  but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all.  You know the events  that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him.  We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree.  

So we learn from Peter that what Jesus was doing was freeing people from the tyranny of the Devil. Jesus was rolling back the territory of the Devil’s rule and increasing the territory of God’s rule every time someone was healed. He was bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. And the direct result of that was major improvements in people’s lives. Peter also speaks of the good news of peace, and here he seems to be referring to an establishment of peace on a relational, cultural and racial level. Somehow this good news of the kingdom has the ability to weld together the unweldable.


Jesus is calling for a response, and that response is summed up in one word – ‘Repent”. The Greek word is μετανοέω (metanoeo) and the verb in this case is present tense, active voice, imperative mood, second person, plural. This is to say “I am calling all of you to repent now – you must repent!” The meaning of the Greek word speaks to a change of mind, or to think differently about something – an after-thought. Usually connected with sin (Lk 15:10, Lk 17:3, Acts 3:19, Acts 8:22), but not always? This after thought strand of meaning leads us to ideas of “sorrow” or “regret”. There is a Hebrew word teshuvah which is translated by this Greek word, and it carries the idea of “a turning to God”. Jesus is not specific about sin in this call to repentance, so perhaps he is looking for a whole-of-life allegiance and purpose level of changed thinking. Jesus is saying: “Following me into this kingdom of God is a completely new ball game, a whole new way of thinking and operating, a whole new set of priorities, attitudes and markers – so different from the way you are living now. We are saying good-bye to religious-act style religion and getting into bringing God’s kingdom and following Jesus style. Reflect on that!”

In fact his whole ministry approach seems to be quite new. Calling fishermen to be disciples? Dealing with the sick? A ministry focussed on people – catching men and working with them. On the road a lot. First century rabbis had their cream-of-the-crop talmidim for sure, but there is something different about this guy.

The euangelion

And then there is this good news of the kingdom (Mt 4:17). Sometimes translated as the gospel or glad tidings, the Greek word is εὐαγγέλιον – euangelion. This word pre-existed Jesus but Jesus is giving it a new twist.

In Jesus’ day, euangelion was a word used in proclamations in the political world. A well-known example is from the so-called Priene calendar inscription, published in 9 BC. It was found in Priene (an Ancient Greek city in the west of Turkey) in 1899. It reads:

“Since Providence which ordains all things in our life, has restored enterprise and love of honor, it has accomplished for [our] life the most perfect thing by producing the August One, whom it has filled with virtue for the welfare of the people; having sent him to us and ours as a Saviour who should stop war and ordain all things. Having appeared, however, the Caesar has fulfilled the hope of prophecies, since he has not only outdone the benefactors who had come before him, but also has not left to future ones the hope of doing better; the birthday of this God has become through him a beginning of the good tidings.

The purpose of the inscription was to announce a realignment of the calendar to begin with the birthday of emperor. Notice the themes going on here : the emperor is a Saviour, he fulfills prophecies, he is God, his birth is extremely significant, and the very coming of this king is good news – the euangelion. 

Sound familiar? The gospel writers portray Jesus as a direct challenger to the gospel of Rome. Jesus brings the true gospel of peace (Eph 6:19), not a Pax Romana enforced by the tip of a spear.

One Reply to “Matthew 4:12-25”

  1. Great post Andrew. I love the “start from scratch” approach, the geographical context, the contrast of the “good news” of Rome with that of Jesus, and the observations about the gospel welding the unweldable etc, among many others. Re the observation of Jesus finding a more willing audience in Galilee than Jerusalem, I have noticed a pattern in which when Jesus speaks to the Jews, even in Capernaum, and they reject him, then he crosses the lake and talks to the totally heathen or much more cosmopolitan in the Decapolis or goes across to Tyre, Sidon etc. So the idea of him “going to the Gentiles” even before the resurrection seems to be established, as a warning to Israel.

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