Matthew 4:12-18. “Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.”
We’re going to leave John, the last great Old Testament prophet, languishing in prison for the time being. He will reappear in Chapter 11. Suffice it to say that he had been arrested and tossed into jail, probably because he offended the Pharisees and Sadducees with his plain speaking.
Remember that Matthew is the presentation of Jesus as Messiah, rejected by His own. This is the story of the King more than any other gospel, and told from that perspective, does not spend as much time as the other gospels on certain aspects of His ministry.
The account of His public ministry can be divided into three parts. The first is from verses 12-17. At this point, He is in Jerusalem, where He hears of John’s imprisonment, ending the prophet’s public ministry. Because of John’s imprisonment, Jesus leaves for Galilee, first to Nazareth and then Capernaum. The events that took place in Nazareth are told in the gospel of Luke, chapter 4. We are told there that He returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, where the whole surrounding countryside was stirred up because of Him. We read how He entered the synagogue and preached from the scrolls of Isaiah, shocking the people with His bold statements.
Jesus goes from there to Capernaum, which means village of comfort. He did some wonderful things there, but the actual move and dwelling in Capernaum was in fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1-2. Here Jesus is presented as the Light not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles.
Galilee was considered the darkest, most corrupt province in Israel, and Galilee was the first to receive the Light. Galilee is described both as the land of Zebulon and Nephtali, and also as the Galilee of the Nations. Genesis 49:13, part of the account of the division of the land into the tribes of Israel, says that Zebulon would dwell at the “haven of the sea” and would be for a haven of ships, and that his border would be unto Zidon. Further study reveals that Zebulon signified a time of rejection, during which they became merchantmen.
Nephtali is described in Genesis 49:21 as “a hind let loose” who gives “goodly words.” He stands for the coming struggling and victorious Jewish remnant. Here, then, the great Light shines first. Grace comes to the most miserable, those who struggle the hardest just to maintain life and breath. And later, His light will shine once more as the glory of the Lord covers the heavens. The Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings, and the Light will shine upon the remnant of Israel sitting in darkness, persecution, and the shadow of death.
The term Galilee of the Nations was used for this area because this most ignorant class of Jews lived there and became mixed up with the Gentiles, who lived in great numbers in that borderland. The Jewish elite looked upon Galileans as the cast-offs, the rubbish, of Israel; but it is here, among the most despised of their countrymen, that Jesus appears first.
What does Jesus say in this despised and rejected land of Judaism? “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”