Matthew 4:12-17 – The Message of Jesus

John Carter – November 5, 2017



Goes to Galilee of the Nations (4:12)

Beginning this passage we are confronted with the painful part of the Gospel story where John the Baptist has been arrested. With our continued study in Matthew (14:3-12) we will find out the details surrounding this arrest. Namely, John the Baptist was teaching against the adultress marriage of the present local ruler, Herod the Tetrarch. But we should keep in mind that when Jesus ‘withdrew to Galilee’ he was still in the territory of Herod the Tetrarch. This means we must see Jesus’ move to Galilee not as a move in fear of Herod but as something else. One commentator has said it this way, “when Jesus went to Galilee, his move was an answer to Herod; he took up in Herod’s territory the work which Herod had tried to stop by arresting John; he began his ministry with a challenge rather than a retreat.”[1] In other words, Jesus’s coming on the coat tail of John the Baptist is a continuation of John’s ministry, not a break.

This idea was brought up in an earlier sermon when I mentioned that John came in the spirit of Elijah and Jesus came in the spirit of Elisha. D.A.Carson make that case that “the structure of the book (of Matthew) thus sets up an implicit parallelism. Jesus is not so much a new Moses as a new Joshua.”[2] Although I agree with Carson’s assertion that Jesus is the new Joshua I would not agree that this is to the dis-inclusion of Jesus being the new Moses. For example, I would argue instead that Jesus is repeatedly presented in Matthew as the new and better Moses, Joshua, Elisha, Israel, David, Adam, Messiah, and many other types presented in the Old Testament.

It is based on this very concept as to why Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by Satan (Mt 4:1). Jesus came to demonstrate his superiority over his predecessors and his position as the Son of God. So now that “a period of personal preparation in the wilderness has proved his fidelity as the Son of God. We are now ready for the messianic mission to be launched.”[3] So as we move through the rest of Matthew we should remember that Jesus was doing the bulk of his earthly ministry in Galilee. “From time to time Jesus will move outside Galilee proper, but all the time he remains in the north. It will be only from (Mt) 16:21 that he sets off for Judea, where the climactic scenes of the gospel will be set until the final triumphant return to Galilee in 28:16-20.”[4]

This is interesting for many different reasons. The most relevant reason might be that Galilee is not a predominantly Jewish area. A cursory reading might leave us under the impression that since Jesus is going to the Jews first (MT 10:5-6) then Galilee must be predominantly Jewish. However, biblical and other historical research will demonstrate that Galilee was a mixed bag of both Jews and Gentiles. It has been said that “Galilee was the kind of country where new teachings might be heard and even welcomed.”[5] But as we will see in the next few verses that even with the milieu of new teachings and ideas the land was in a deep darkness. A darkness which was about to be broken by the dawning a messianic light

Prophecy of Light (4:13-16)

Historically this area of Galilee was the portion of land that was given to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphthali. So it is no small thing that  Jesus is a prophet from the south going to the area of the northern tribes to preach his message. Then added to that, “the mixed population in Galilee caused the Jews in Jerusalem to look down on the Galileans, but for Matthew, it was important that Messiah came to despised Galilee. God…does his great work among the lowly and the despised.”[6] Which only further adds weight when understanding that Jesus’ coming to this area was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

(Isaiah 9:1-4 – ESV)
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness

    have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

    on them has light shone.

You have multiplied the nation;

    you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

    as with joy at the harvest,

    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

There are at least three things worth noting here:

  1. This land was previously under the judgment of YHWH but is now being restored.
    “former time he brought into contempt” “latter time he has made glorious”
  2. This restitution implies the inclusion of the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
    land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” and “Galilee of the nations”
  3. Life in deep darkness was overcome with light that brought great joy.
    “darkness” “deep darkness” “great light” “light shone” “increased its joy” “rejoice” “joy” “glad”

“It is sobering to note, however, that even Capernaum, favored with so much of Jesus’ presence, will be denounced as unresponsive in (Mt) 11:23-24.”[7] This is still yet another demonstration of God’s faithfulness in the midst of an unrepentant people. Yet even still Jesus didn’t grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9) but instead remained faithful to his ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5). This is a demonstration of God’s heart towards his people. He seeks their good, not their harm. He seeks righteousness and justice. Which we see when Isaiah prophecies, “The LORD is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness” (Isaiah 33:5 – ESV). This is the theological context for Jesus’ first message; “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17).

Message of Jesus: Repent of the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! (4:17)

                Up to now, we have looked at the historical and social context of Jesus’ audience. But before we can analyze Jesus’ message we need to define five (5) terms; Repentance, Sin, Holy (Holiness), Salvation, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

  • Repentance or to Repent is the action of turning away from things that you know to be a sin, wrong, or inconsistent with what you believe to be true. The emphasis is on turning. And in this context sin is what is being turned from. This is why one commentator notes that “from the beginning, Jesus took it for granted that people are sinners, and accordingly his first message was that they must repent. Only so would they know the forgiveness he came to bring.”[8]
  • Sin or to Sin is derived from the idea of an archer missing the mark (bullseye) of a target. In the biblical context, the mark is righteousness. Usually, in the Bible sin and transgression are used synonymously. However, unlike transgression, sin is more tightly associated with trying to hit the mark, while transgression is willful avoidance of the mark altogether.
  • Holy, Holiness, or sometimes called Sanctification can be defined as otherness or separateness. In the most basic idea to be holy is to be separate or separated from something common. In a more heightened sense to be holy is otherness. In other words, to be completely different than anything else. In the Bible, God is holy.
  • Salvation in the biblical context, implies that sinners need to be saved from the consequences of their sin and consequently the wrath of God. If God is holy then sin is an offense to his holiness. If sin is an offense then that offense must be resolved. This is done through the punishment of the sin and the sinner. To avoid this punishment requires the gift of forgiveness. To receive this forgiveness demands that the sinner repents of his or her sin and consequently includes a turning towards the Holy God. This turning is only made possible because God the Father is willing to accept his Son’s substitutionary act of standing in the place of sinners. An act that grants the repentant sinner access into the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • The Kingdom of Heaven[9], as represented in Matthew, is a rule and reign that welcomes the righteous and expels the unrighteous. The supreme authority and ruler is God, under whom all recognize as worthy of worship and from whom all growth within the kingdom originates. The unholy are not welcome. Sinners are expelled. And only by means of repentance and salvation through Jesus can one enter the Kingdom of Heaven. “There is a sense in which God has acted decisively in sending his Son: the kingdom is here in his words and deeds. But there is another sense in which the culmination of the kingdom in all its fullness is a future reality: the best is yet to be. Both truths are important.”[10] In other words, the Kingdom of Heaven is the culmination of the reality that Jesus came as the Messiah of light into a dark land. So, “if the messianic light dawns on the darkest places, then Messiah’s salvation can only be a bestowal of grace—namely, that Jesus came to call not the righteous but sinners (9:13).”[11]

                 Matthew gives evidence of this salvation of grace in the way that he records Jesus talking about the Kingdom of Heaven.  In Matthew the Kingdom of Heaven is:

  • The message of John, Jesus, and the disciples of Jesus
  • The possession of the poor in spirit, the persecuted for righteousness sake, and those with faith like little children
  • The residence of Abraham, righteous people, and lesser and greater people
  • Difficult to enter, even locked!
  • Filled with trained scribes and men of great sacrifice
  • Under attack and entrance is restricted by evil men
  • It is a secret revealed only to the disciples of Jesus
  • It is like seeds sown in an open field
  • It is like mustard seed growth
  • It is like leaven
  • It is like hidden treasure (in a field)
  • It is like an expensive treasure (pearl)
  • It is like fishing and sorting the good fish from the bad
  • It is like a merciful king
  • It is like a vineyard owner paying wages
  • It is like a King’s wedding feast
  • It is like 10 waiting virgins

Entrance into the kingdom of heaven is not earned, it is given. You can not force your way in. But neither can you avoid its coming dominance. Many desire to enter but few do enter. Many deny its reality but none can maintain that position forever. The very presence of the kingdom of heaven demands that we see its dawning. But because of a gracious God, the dawning of the Kingdom of Heaven also brings opportunity to repent and gain entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

What does this change?

There are many different areas of our life and thinking that this passage should change the way we think and act. Here are a few.

  1. How we value other humans and their dignity. If we believe that the coming kingdom of heaven brings judgment, and Jesus came to warn us, then we must gain a Christ-centered value of human life. If God sought to save sinners thourgh his death, then what are we to think of their life?
  2. How we evangelise. Like Jesus, we can assume people are sinners. However, we cannot assume people understand what we mean when we say sin, repent, or the kingdom of heaven. We must take time to communicate the meassage of Jesus, and the frame work we are starting with. For example, Jesus’ audience, whether Jew or Gentile (non-Jew) generaly believed in divine beings. Our modern audience does not generaly believe this to be true. This means that we must take time to not only announce the kingdom of heaven, but we must also connect this with our belief that God created the Heavens and the earth.
  3. How we think about the end times (Eschatology). The way we believe things end must come under submission to the reality that the kingdom of heaven is dawning. Our view of the kingdom will determine our view of the what happens after we die. Which automaticaly determines our view of the moral direction of society. Is there life after death? Are things getting better or worse? Do my actions in this life have any importance after I die?
  4. How we engage in conversation of politics and justice. America is not the kingdom of heaven. Nor is any other earthly kingdom. People are not the solution to the problems of this world. We are its problem. Too often we raise a flag or nationalism that is void of any truth rooted in Scripture. These poor attempts to satify our fleshly desires are meger at best and damning at worst. For the Christian our citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven (Phillipians 3:20). Raising promoting any other kingdom is in opposition to the message of Jesus.
  5. How we engage in the conversation of Justice. At the same time rasing a banner of justice without consideration of repentance and the coming kingdom is going to damn people to hell. The poor, the powerless, the widow, the orphan, the outcast all need to be defended and protected. But if this is done to the exclusion of God’s justice, then we are only making dying people comfortable in a burning hospital.

Beginning in Januray we are going to start learning about this kingdom of heaven and the implications it has in every areas of our life. We are going to hear the commands of Jesus and have to deal with the fact that they are hard, difficult, and even offensive to our culture and ussual means of thinking.

[1] P.80 – PNTC – Leon Morris (1992) – footnote 37 – (Filson)

[2] P.146 –EBC – D.A. Carson (2010)

[3] P.136 –NICNT – R.T. France (2007)

[4] P.137 – NICNT – R.T. France (2007)

[5] P.80 –PNTC – Leon Morris (1992)

[6] P.82 –PNTC – Leon Morris (1992)

[7] P.140 –NICNT – R.T. France (2007)

[8] P.83 –PNTC – Leon Morris (1992)

[9] 31 Bible results for “”kingdom of heaven”.” Showing results 1-31. – – 11/1/2017 (3:2; 4:17; 5:3; 5:10; 5:19; 5:20; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11; 11:12; 13:11; 13:24; 13:31; 13:33; 13:44; 13:45; 13:47; 13:52; 16:19; 18:1; 18:3; 18:4; 18:23; 19:12; 19:14; 19:23; 20:1; 22:2; 23:13; 25:1)

[10] P.83 –PNTC – Leon Morris (1992)

[11] P.145 –EBC – D.A. Carson (2010)