Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus calling the disciples Peter and Andrew near the Sea of Galilee by casting a net around them.

 "Jesus calling the disciples Peter and Andrew near the Sea of Galilee by casting a net around them." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


Matthew 4:1-11 treats the temptation of Jesus. Between verses 11 and 12 falls the early Judean ministry, a period of about one year, described in John 1:1-4:42.

Here at Matthew 4:12 begins what is known as the Great Galilean Ministry, the larger portion of Jesus' public ministry.

Matthew 4:12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.

Here one of the reasons for Jesus' leaving Judea is stated: the Baptist was arrested. He was imprisoned by Herod Antipas at Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea.

John 4:1-3 gives us another reason: He did not want the Pharisees to pit His baptism against that of the Baptist. Jesus did not go to Machaerus to bail the Baptist out of prison. He left him there to testify and to give his life. "Fear not them that kill the body."

"He departed" or "he withdrew" or "he returned." This might imply that He had been there before. Remarkably enough this same verb occurs in Matthew 14:13, after the Baptist's death.

Stoeckhardt: This removal of John from the scene of activity served Jesus as a suggestion from His heavenly Father to enter the full extent upon His Messianic career.

Matthew 4:13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali--

On the way He must have passed through Nazareth. The word here means that He abandoned it as His home. He took up permanent residence in Capernaum, which lay on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The boundaries of Zebulon and Naphtali did not exist at this time, they had long ago been forgotten.

Matthew 4:14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

He went to Galilee and moved His residence from Nazareth to Capernaum in fulfillment of a prophecy.

Matthew 4:15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--

Isaiah 9:1-2 in the NASB reads as follows: "But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them."

Don't overlook the great Messianic prophecy in verses 6-7 of Isaiah 9. In this instance Matthew does not quote the LXX but gives his own rendering, based on the Hebrew. By the way, verses 13-16 are peculiar to Matthew. Matthew does not alter the substance of Isaiah's words.

Isaiah is speaking of five districts of people.

  1. Zebulun,

  2. Naphtali,

  3. the land between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean,

  4. Perea (east of the Jordan)

  5. and Gentile Galilee.
Hendriksen: It was in and around Galilee that Jesus spent most of his life on earth . . . . In all probability the five items mentioned here in verse 15 refer to five different sections of Greater Galilee . . . The land of Zebulun was west of the Sea of Galilee, and was bound on the north by the land of Naphtali. The region toward the sea was to the west of these, and extended from north and south along the Mediterranean. Beyond the Jordan indicates the territory east of the Jordan, Perea. The region which because of the strong pagan element in it population is called Galilee of the Gentiles was the northern-most stretch of what used to be called Naphtali . . . The name of Galil (Isaiah 9:1) was changed to Galilee, and thus altered, became the designation of the entire large province ruled by Herod Antipas . . . For centuries those living in this large territory had been exposed to political and military aggression from the north (Syria, Assyria, etc) and to the corrosive moral and religion influences of a pagan environment.
Delitzsch: Since the days of the Judges all these stretches of country were by reason of their proximity exposed to corruption by heathen influences and by subjugation through heathen enemies. The northern tribes on the other side suffered most by reason of the almost constant wars with the Syrians and the later war with the Assyrians, and the deportation of the inhabitants gradually increased under Phul, Tiglatpileser, Salmanassar until a total depopulation resulted.

The people of Galilee were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, pagan people, by and large.

Matthew 4:16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."

This verse tells us of the utter spiritual destitution of these people, but also of the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus goes where the people need Him most.

The term "the people" reminds us that Covenant people still lived among them but it includes also the Gentiles.

"Darkness" denotes the spiritual stupor of the people. The verse describes the hopeless condition of natural man, sunken in ignorance, unbelief and sin.

"Light" is of course a great Light, and reminds us of the Gospel of John, where Jesus is called Light in the darkness of the world.

"Have seen" indicates that they actually realized that He was the great Light. The verse involves the metaphor of the glorious light of the sun after a night of storm and fear.

The people could not rescue themselves from sin and its penalty, but Jesus the Light rose over them and dispelled it. By the way, the Baptist was not privileged to preach to these people. His hearers came from Jerusalem and surrounding villages.

When a person  sees a great light or when the bright sunlight shines on a person, that person surely attributes nothing to self. The person is passive. The point here is that the unmerited kindness, the grace of God, underlies the passage.

Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

"From that time on" or "immediately upon arriving in Galilee." Jesus wasted no time to begin preaching.

"Repent" means "constantly acknowledge and confess your sins." Confession of sins goes on constantly in the life of a Christian.

"For" explains why people should confess their sins. Confession of sin is not a meritorious deed or attitude whereby people placate God. Our only help is in the person and work of Christ.

"Is near" is not a good translation, because it gives the impression that it's not here. A better translation is  "is close at hand,"  or  "is upon you," it is here.

What is here, at hand, upon us? The Kingdom. Both the Baptist and Jesus announced the presence of the Kingdom as  "the kingdom of heaven," lest it be misunderstood as a physical, earthly, political kingdom. What type of genitive is this? It is adjectival, telling us what kind it is. It is also subjective. It comes from God in heaven through the incarnate Christ. It could also be called objective because it is consummated for the individual in everlasting life. This is purest Gospel.

Matthew 4:18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

In John 1:40 and following we read about Andrew, Peter, James and John meeting and following Jesus during the Judean ministry. This was not permanent. They went back to fishing. Here in Matthew 4:18-22 (and its parallel in Mark 1:16-20) we read of their first call. The final call is described at Luke 5:1-11. But many think that this is parallel to Matthew 4 and Mark 1. Look at the  Notes  on Epiphany V: Luke 5:1-11 for a fuller explanation.

Notice that Jesus went where the people were. The men were working, casting fishing nets into the water.

Hendriksen: When skillfully cast over the shoulder the net will spread out, forming a circle as it falls into the water, and then, because of the pieces of lead attached to it, will quickly sink into the water, capturing the fish underneath.

Were they in a boat or standing in the water? We don't know. All we know is that they were fishermen by trade.

Matthew 4:19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."

Jesus commands with a purpose.

Matthew 4:20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

A year earlier in John 1 they had acknowledged this man as the Messiah. That explains their immediate compliance on this occasion. They were not blind followers. They were believers.

Matthew 4:21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,

LB translates: "A little farther up the beach etc." This is likely the intended sense.

Bengel: In the very ardour of their daily work, they received the call.

God often calls people for a specific work while they are hard at work in their profession. The men followed, without any immediate stipulation concerning reward. This is remarkable!

Fahling: It seem that Zebedee the father of James and John, was a prosperous fisherman with connections in Jerusalem.

Matthew and Mark agree that Peter and Andrew were given a specific command but in the case of James and John it is said that Jesus called them. Likely Jesus said the same to both pairs. The only point we make is that the command to follow Him was at the same time a specific call.

Matthew 4:22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Things happened in quick succession without debate or argument. At this point Mark says that James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men. They did not abandon him in the sense that he had no helpers. Jesus does not aid and abet people in breaking either the fourth or any other commandment.

Matthew 4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

This verse might be called a summary statement of Jesus' entire Galilean ministry.

"Teaching" reminds us immediately of the Sermon on the Mount, His many parables, etc. Except for Luke 11:1 it is never said that the Baptist taught. Furthermore, there is no record of the Baptist preaching "in their synagogues." He preached in the open air, in the Jordan valley.

"Preaching, heralding, announcing." the Gospel of the Kingdom. The words here tell us what kind of Gospel is announced. The Gospel about the Kingdom. It is not merely eschatological, something that will come only in the future. It denotes the forgiveness of sins now, fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2.

The Baptist performed no miracles. Jesus healed the whole body and any and all infirmities of any particular part of the body.

Lenski: No type or kind of disease, and no case, whatever its stage of development, did Jesus leave unhealed.
Hendriksen: Christ's healing miracles had a threefold significance: a) They confirmed his message, John 14:11; b) They showed that he was indeed the Messiah of prophecy, Isaiah 35:5; 53:4-5; Matthew 11:2-6; and c) They proved that in a sense the kingdom had even now arrived, for, as has already been indicated, the concept 'kingdom' includes blessings for the body as well as for the soul.
Bengel: No one sick or dead, whom Jesus met, remained in sickness or death.

"Among the people" means primarily the Jewish people, but should not be restricted to them. Look at Matthew 8:1-13.

Bengel: It was in public, that, as the sick were promiscuously brought to Him, even those were healed whose disease was matter of public notoriety, see John 9:8 and Acts 3:10.

Verses 17 to 23 prove that the prophecy in Isaiah 9:12 was truly fulfilled.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp. 26-29. Used with permission.

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