Jesus is Launched into Public Ministry (preaching resource for 1/22/23)

This post exegetes Matthew 4:12-23, the RCL Gospel reading for 1/22/23. This exegesis draws on commentary from "The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament" by Craig Keener, "The New Bible Commentary" by RT France, and "The Bible Knowledge Commentary" by Louis Barbieri.

"Jesus calls St. Peter and St. Andrew" by Tissot
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)


In Matthew chapter 3, Jesus is baptized for all humanity, anointed by the Holy Spirit for ministry to all humanity, and approved (accredited) by the Father as his Son who is given authority over all humanity. Now in chapter 4, Jesus is led by the Spirit to be tested in the desert, further preparing him for his ministry and further accrediting him as Messiah. Then at the end of chapter 4, Jesus is launched in the power of the Spirit into public ministry. His first task is to call his first disciples. Let’s walk with him.

Jesus moves to Galilee (vv12-16)

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali-- 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-- 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."

Jesus does not begin his official public ministry until John the Baptist is imprisoned (the reason for this imprisonment is explained in Mat. 14:3). When Jesus learns that John is in prison, he leaves Nazareth (his hometown) and settles further north and east in Capernaum, located in the region that had been settled in the time of Joshua by the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Isaiah prophesied (Isa 9:1-2) that light would come to this region, and Matthew sees Jesus’ coming to Capernaum as fulfilling this ancient prophecy. This light of the Messiah comes to both Jews and Gentiles, as evidenced by the name given the region: “Galilee of the Gentiles” (v15), an area geographically, politically and culturally cut off from Judea. Its people are regarded by Judeans as uncultured and irreligious, leading to strained relations between the two regions. As a Galilean, Jesus is viewed as virtually a foreigner in Jerusalem.

Galilee becomes the headquarters of Jesus’ public ministry—a ministry well received by the Galilean masses. In contrast, Jerusalem (in Judea) will become the place of the Messiah’s rejection and death. Matthew intentionally and carefully contrasts these regions throughout his gospel, culminating in the return of the resurrected Jesus from Jerusalem to Galilee where he launches his post-Easter Christian mission (Mat 28).

Jesus’ proclamation (v17)

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

“From that time” is a key phrase used by Matthew to signify a new phase in the ministry of Jesus. Here Jesus’ begins to preach publicly and his message picks up where John the Baptist left off – declaring that the kingdom of heaven is near and calling for the people to repent. To declare the nearness of the kingdom is to claim that the rule of God is being made effective. That, of course, is because King Jesus is present and being made known. How will the people respond?

Jesus calls his first disciples (vv18-22) 

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. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 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, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus now begins to assemble his ministry team. It was common for Jewish Rabbis to call disciples to follow them. And here Jesus calls two pairs of brothers. They all are fishermen by trade. He calls them to leave this vocation and join with him as “fishers of men”—joining Jesus in winning new subjects of God’s rule (kingdom). We see here the complete commitment that following Jesus as one of his disciples entails. As we will see, Simon (Peter), James and John (and to a lesser degree Andrew) form a central core of Jesus’ disciples. 

Conclusion: summary of Jesus’ ministry (4:23) 

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. 

The conclusion of chapter 4 begins with this summary of Jesus’ public ministry. It shows him as being accepted in the synagogues (contrast the later hostility) and widely popular as a teacher and especially as a healer. His mission in Galilee is essentially a success story. The prominence of healing marks a significant advance beyond the ministry of John the Baptist: the power of the kingdom of heaven to which John looked forward is now being experienced in distinctive action.