John the Baptist was the herald who announced the coming of the Expected One sent by God. That was the only mission for which he was born and, as an orthodox Jew of a priestly family, the Baptist began his ministry at age thirty. It is unclear how long he proclaimed the coming of our Lord before introducing Jesus to the Jewish world, but scholars universally agree that it was longer than their age difference of six months, probably a year or two. Therefore, because Jesus began His ministry at “about” the age of thirty, He was actually somewhat older which permitted sufficient time for John to proclaim His coming.
John and Jesus may have been cousins, but they were not alike in nature. John was a stern man of the desert wilderness and his message was one of denunciation and condemnation; calling for people to repent. Jesus had a milder temper, yet both were fearless when boldness and strength was required. They no doubt met once or twice a year in Jerusalem in the observances during the three festival weeks, but there are no records of that. Both were troubled at the social and religious decay and passionately called men to seek God.
As for Jesus, the quiet days of seclusion in the little village of Nazareth were over. After the rejection by his hometown village He had moved to Capernaum (Mt. 4:13). He began His ministry of preaching the divine plan of salvation near the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee and in the surrounding villages, including those of Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum.
Capernaum was a well-established business center known for the manufacture of basalt (volcanic rock) grinding stones and fishing. The large number of black basalt grinding stones and other utensils uncovered there are indicative of a thriving primitive industry. The village was also a resting point where international caravans traveling on the Via Maris stopped for supplies and to pay toll taxes. The significance of the Via Maris cannot be overstated, as thousands of people traveled on this road every year.
Capernaum was also the home of the Roman centurion and his soldiers. The purpose of the military presence was to protect the caravans from thieves and robbers, insure travelers would pay their taxes, and deter any Zealot activities in the area. The village of Gamala, located only a few miles to the north, was the hotbed of Zealot activity. For these reasons, pilgrims going to and from Jerusalem for religious observances traveled in festival caravans.
Little is known of Bethsaida. Supposedly it was a fishing town situated on a hilltop along the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeological excavations reveal that the village dates to about the ninth century B.C. and it once had a protective city wall, the foundations of which have been dated to the Assyrian era. It is the only known village in Judaea to have had such a protective fortification. But by the time of Jesus it was an insignificant fishing town even though it had been enlarged and fortified by Herod’s son, Herod Philip.
Bethsaida was also the childhood home of Peter (Jn. 1:44). He moved to Capernaum either because the village was more observant of the Jewish laws and traditions, or because it was also the local center for Jewish sages and their schools. His marriage (Mk. 1:29-30) may also have been a reason. The only recorded miracle that took place there was of a blind man (Mk. 8:22-26). As to Chorisim, Scripture is silent about this village.
Jesus evidently spent considerable time in these three villages because He promised destruction because of their unbelief and rejection of the gospel. In fact, he gave the stinging words that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, known for sodomy and uncontrolled homosexuality, would fare better than they would on judgment day (Mt. 11:24). Clearly hearing His word and rejecting it has profound consequences – as the proverbial saying goes “decisions determine destiny.” Today Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorizim are archaeological ruins and common tourist attractions.
The authentication of Jesus’ message by His works is the major characteristic of His ministry. Moses performed miracles as signs of judgment to authenticate his message, and Jesus likewise performed miracles to authenticate His message (Acts 2:22). But His were not signs of judgment, but miracles of healing, deliverance, love, and compassion. While the ultimate destiny of Moses was to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, the ultimate destiny of Jesus was to die on the cross for the sins (bondage) of humanity and give eternal life. As Moses led the children of Israel in their Exodus out of Egyptian bondage, likewise Jesus would lead anyone who would believe and follow Him out of the bondage of sin and into the Kingdom of God (cf. Isa. 40:3-5).
For four centuries after the prophetic ministries of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, God had not sent a prophet to His people. This period of history is sometimes referred to as the “silent years,” because no prophet had spoken. Note the words of two Jewish writers of the time:
Know that our fathers in former times and former generations had helpers, righteous prophets and holy men …. We were also in our country, and they helped us when we sinned, and they intervened for us with him who created us since they trusted in their works. And the Mighty One heard them and purged us from our sins. But now, the righteous have assembled and the prophets are sleeping. Also we have left our land, and Zion has been taken away from us and we have nothing now apart from the Mighty One and His Law.
2 Baruch 85:1-3
When the latter prophets died, that is, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, then the Holy Spirit came to an end in Israel.
Mishnah, Sotah 13:3
The Jews clearly recognized their dilemma, which only added to the expectations of a coming Messiah. Therefore, when John began preaching, the people recognized the silence had come to an end, and he had an immediate audience. However, while there was no prophet, God was very active in the lives of the righteous.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:254; When priests and Levites served in the temple, they stayed in rooms within the temple buildings. Otherwise, they lived in communities throughout the countryside. Deut. 16:16; Ex. 23:14-17; 34:20, 23-24; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:93.
. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 96.
. Basalt is a volcanic rock that is soft and easily carved into ornamental and architectural shapes as well as grinding stones and wheels. The basalt rocks, which litter the hills around the northeastern Galilee area, came from several dormant volcanoes on the Golan Heights.
. Josephus, Antiquities 20.6.1(118); Wars 2.15.6 (232); Mishnah. Berakhoth. 1.3; Mishnah. Shabbath. 2.5.
. Tosephta, Megillah 4.15; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 59, 249; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:278; Farrar, The Life of Christ. 364.
. Signs such as a hand becoming leprous and then restored to it healthy condition; a sea divided that was the escape for the Israelites but drowned the Egyptian army; Aaron’s rod becoming a snake and devouring the Egyptian snake (Aaron’s God destroyed the Egyptian gods).
. See Appendix 3.
. Messianic scholars agee that while no prophet spoke for four centuries, God was clearly active in the lives of His people as demonstrated by divine interventions throughout the Inter-Testamental Period. Therefore, they say that this era was not a period of “silent years.”
. See also 1 Macc. 4:46, 9:27, 14:41; Josephus, Against Apion 1:41.