Notice how this narrative follows on the heels of the temptation in the wilderness. Christ has just received his public commission from the Father, and Spirit. For the first time since the fall, there was a sinless man, and more than that, the Mediator, charged in time with the program of salvation, comprising both that of active obedience and passive obedience. The Spirit drove him into the wilderness to meet the adversary and through temptation, to be made perfect, through obedience, through fear (Heb 5). All the forces of hell were represented, the beasts being present (Mark 1; compare with Daniel). They dangled before this sinless man every possible prize. They assaulted him subtleties, confusion, insinuations, but Christ simply withstood with Scripture on his lips, heart, and in his life. At this point, Matthew mentions the apprehension of John the Baptist by Herod. He is Christ’s herald not only in ministry, but also in his imprisonment and death. He would decreased and Christ increase, and thus at this point, Christ goes – not to Jerusalem, but back to Galilee – specifically Nazareth. Matthew passes over the rejection of Christ in Nazareth, detailed in Luke 4, though he alludes to it in the katalipon). Christ takes up residence (katoikeo) in Capernaum by the sea.
Christ’s Ministry in Galilee brings light to a region of spiritual darkness
4:12-16: Christ’s residence in Galilee fulfills prophecy
12: His return to Galilee
12a: The Time
12b: The Place
13: His Settlement in Capernaum
13a: His Departure from Nazareth
13b: His Settlement in Capernaum
13c: A Specification of Location – in the region of Zeb/Naf
14-16: His fulfillment of Scripture
14: Quotation formula
15: The Location Specified
16: The Sight of Light Pictured
4:17: Christ’s preaching in Galilee
17a: The Fact of his preaching
17b: The Message of his preaching
4:18-22: Christ’s calling of disciples – fishermen
18-20: The Calling of Peter and Andrew
21-22: The Calling of James and John
4:23-25: Christ’s ministry of healing
23: The outline of his ministry
23a: The location
23b: The actions
24-25: The drawing power of his ministry
In this narrative, Matthew is at pains to show that Christ’s public ministry brought light to the region that was spiritually the darkest in Israel. Matthew makes this point with a prominent quotation from Isaiah 9 along with his trade-mark quotation formula (Mt. 4:14). He does it also by the heavy use of geographical markers in Mt. 4:12-14, as well as Mt. 4:18, 23, 24, 25. Down to the geography, Christ’s ministry has immense theological significance in line with the Scriptures. Religious Jews might have looked down on Galilee “of the Gentiles”; they may have assumed that nothing good could come from it. Every worthy prophet would have settled in Jerusalem – so they would have thought. However, to fulfill all righteousness, as well as prophecy, Christ humbled himself to start (to dawn – Mt. 4:16) in the greatest darkness. Galilee was not just marked by spiritual darkness, but also spiritual death: “the shadow of death.”
It was not only that he was the light, but his message, his appointment of disciples, and his healing ministry worked this light. Far from being a dark message – the message of repentance brought light. It showed sin for what it truly was. They called men back to the light. It told them that the kingdom of God – his sovereign reign of grace – had approached. All this radiated the light.
Moreover, the calling of disciples would send forth this light, especially in the mission of Matthew 10, but also after the resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20). The fact that he called fisherman and used the language of their profession in his call to discipleship is in fulfillment of Ezekiel 47:10ff. The gospel restoration would be marked by the activity of bringing in many who were like fish swimming in the dark sea into the nets of the Son of God. The Ezekiel prophecy, interestingly, makes much of the “borders” of the new gospel terrain (see second half of Ezek. 47).
Finally, in conjunction with the ministry of preaching, Christ performed signs showing that the Sun of righteousness was arising with healing in his wings (Mal 3). Consequently, people were drawn to follow Jesus – from all of Syria, as well as from all the region of the ancient Davidic kingdom (see Mt. 4:25). Far from happening in a corner, this light drew many out of darkness into light – at least physically. And after the resurrection, when Christ would not only be in the shadow of death, but have entered the very domain of death – Christ’s light would shine all the brighter among all nations through the gospel “fishing” activity of the apostles, going forth teaching and baptizing.