06.01.08 Mt. 4:12-17; Lk. 4:14-15 (See also Mk. 1:14-15) Capernaum
THE PROPHETIC SETTING
Mt. 12 When He heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth behind and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
along the sea road, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles!
16 The people who live in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those living in the shadow land of death,
light has dawned. (Isa. 9:1-2)
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”(Mt.4:17)
Lk. 14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread throughout the entire vicinity. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, being acclaimed by everyone.
The literary focus in the Hebraic poetry is that the Gentiles living in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali have seen a great light. That light is Jesus.
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,” These two ancient tribal areas in the upper and western regions of Galilee had an international highway known as the Via Maris meaning, the Way of the Sea, that connected Egypt with Damascus and other points east. For centuries, invading armies marched along this popular road to their destination. In the process soldiers pillaged the communities for freshly harvested food and supplies. Hence, those living in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali were repeatedly plundered, raped, and murdered. Even if they were not the targets of a military conquest, they suffered greatly.
They were especially devastated in 730 B.C. and again in 722-21, when the Assyrians marched through, captured, and relocated the ten northern Israelite tribes hundreds of miles to the east. At the same time, the Assyrians relocated five eastern Gentile tribes into what became known as Samaria, hence, the name “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Jesus ministered in these two areas – now known as Galilee and Samaria – for two reasons:
- To fulfill the promise spoken of by Isaiah. Because the Jews of Zebulun and Naphtali suffered so much in the past, Jesus was now bringing the message of peace and hope to their descendants.
- He was outside of the arresting powers of the Sanhedrin. While the high court sent observers to listen and eventually confront Jesus, there was nothing they could do until He came into Jerusalem.
“Galilee of the Gentiles.” When the Assyrians relocated the Israelites in 722/721 B.C., they removed so many of them that the vast majority of the remaining people were Gentiles. For this reason Isaiah referred to the region as the Galilee of the Gentiles (Isa. 9:1) as did the author of 1 Maccabees (5:15). By the first century Galilee had a significant population of Phoenicians, Syrians, and Greeks. Archaeological data indicate an almost complete abandonment of the region as the result of the Assyrian campaigns from 733 to 701 B.C. The province remained unchanged for centuries and it was not until the era of Nehemiah and Ezra, and again after the Maccabean Revolt, that Jews began to repopulate Galilee. But that was only minimal repopulation, as a major influx of Jewish people from Babylon and elsewhere occurred in the wake of the Hasmonean conquest. Some scholars believe the forefathers of Mary and Joseph came from Babylon to the province of Galilee after the Revolt. Scholars believe that for this reason Galileans had a noticeable accent in their speech.
To confirm the absence of Gentiles living in this area, it is significant that archaeologists have uncovered numerous villages that had no evidence of pig bones – a sure sign of Gentile occupation. On the other hand, there are three positive indicators of Jewish occupation that have been discovered in nearly every community. They are:
- Ceremonial stone vessels made of limestone that reflect concern for ritual purity
- Stepped plastered ritual baths known as mikvaoth.
- Tombs that reflect burial practices that were unique to the Jewish people. They placed the body of the deceased inside so-called kokhim or loculi, a horizontally shafted underground family tomb. This was a distinctive practice in the end of the Second Temple Period.
Furthermore, Josephus said that a “countless multitude” came from Galilee and other areas to Jerusalem at Pentecost, and that they did so by going through Samaria. The Jewish population had increased significantly after the Maccabean Revolt when Jews migrated from Babylon. It is not surprising then, that because of the Gentile reputation of centuries past and the fact that the Galileans had an accent and some customs that were somewhat different than the Jerusalemites, the religious leaders of Jerusalem generally snubbed them. It should be noted that a growing number of scholars believe that in spite of the political, military, social, and economic crises in “Eretz Israel” (the land of Israel), the Jewish people maintained a majority over Gentile and Samaritan populations in the first centuries B.C. and A.D.
“Repent.” The word repent in Greek is metanoias, which literally means to change one’s mind. However, in the first century culture, to change one’s mind also meant to change one’s lifestyle to match his new way of thinking. This is the central message of Jesus because it is critical to establishing the Kingdom of God within one’s life. The nearness of the kingdom has reference to the presence of Jesus among men. His words and works are the good news of the gospel of God that demands a human response. It is a measure of time determined by God for the fulfillment of the kingdom as promised from the foundation of the world and promised in various covenants throughout history. The plan of God was about to be fulfilled as stated on the cross when Jesus said, “It is finished.” This clearly set guidelines to protect the church from false teachers, who would come and state that the work of Jesus was not complete and that another message of God would need to be heard.
06.01.08.Q1 What is the “Kingdom of Heaven”?
The kingdoms of this world consist of matter and flesh, of power and deceit, of depraved human nature. The Kingdom of Heaven/God is the opposite. It is the kingdom of the Spirit and the soul, the kingdom of renunciation and of purity; the kingdom of all things valued by men who know the worthlessness of everything else in comparison. The phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” is an expression not found in the Hebrew Bible; the term was developed by sages to refer to God as king or to God reigning in the lives of His people forever (Ex. 15:18). Mark used this phrase in conjunction with “the time (Gk. kairos) is near,” meaning “the Day of the Lord” that the prophets foresaw is “approaching quickly.”
But Jesus did not wish to be the restorer of earthly kingdoms or be the conqueror of people. God offered kingship to Jesus via the cross, which is in stark contrast to Satan who offers so-called “eternal life” without the cross. The kingship of Jesus is the Kingdom of Heaven within His believers. The day when a soul has repented, has turned to righteousness, and has placed Jesus in the center of his or her life, the eternal Kingdom of Heaven has been enlarged because it has acquired a new citizen.
The ideal Kingdom of God is to be realized in the absolute rule of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, by whom all things are made and consist (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16-20). His earthly life was one of perfect obedience to God and whose sacrificial offering of love upon the cross reveal to men their true relation to God, and whose spirit works to bring them into this relationship. The Kingdom of Heaven is the Spirit of God functioning within a person, and that person, in turn, functions accordingly to his or her best abilities to serve God.
Finally, it should be noted that from the Book of Daniel, the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven,” was a familiar phrase in the first century. The term was found in the Psalms of Solomon 17:4 and other Jewish books that were in wide circulation of the time.
06.01.08.Q2 Is there a difference within the phrases “Kingdom of God/Heaven?”
No. Matthew, speaking to a Jewish audience would not have used the name of God, but rather, would have used a substitute word such as “Heaven, Power, Glory, the Highest,” or “the Name.” The reason is that most Jewish people had so much respect for God that they did not even mention His name, but addressed Him with a different title. But other gospel writers who addressed their works to a Gentile audience would have used the word “God” because their audiences would not have thought they were offending Deity by using the word “God.” Matthew, at times, used the plural form “heavens,” which is characteristically Hebraic and does not occur in any other language. The phrase “Kingdom of God” simply means that God has complete rulership of one’s life.
The Kingdom of God is also in the future in that there will come a time when Jesus will rule and reign upon the earth for a thousand years with Jerusalem as His capital. The Kingdom that is in the present is the one in which every believer permits Jesus to rule and reign his or her life. However, in the future there will be a completely different Kingdom – one where Jesus will rule and reign over the nations of the world as a political entity – King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
“Their synagogues.” Matthew used this phrase several times, as if to suggest a future separation between Jesus and traditional Judaism (although a break was never the intent). He also spoke of “their” scribes (Mt. 7:29) and “their” cities (Mt. 11:1). Even though followers of Jesus functioned within Judaism throughout most of the first century, by the end of the Second Revolt in A.D. 135, there was a clear separation.
. See 07.03.05.Z “Map of Major Routes through First Century Israel.”
. For more details, see 03.02.04-05, “733 B.C. Israel Falls To The Assyrians; Israelites Deported To The East; 723 B.C. Israel Ends.”
. Monson, Regions on the Run. 31.
. Thompson, “Sanhedrin.” 3:1390.
. It is interesting that the synoptic gospels hardly mention Jesus in Jerusalem until the Passion week, yet John’s gospel concentrates on His ministry in the Holy City. For further study, see Burton Throchmorton, Gospel Parallels.
. Dunn, “Did Jesus Attend the Synagogue?” 208-09.
. Kloner and Zissu. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. 77.
. Reed, Archaeology. 47; Dunn, “Did Jesus Attend the Synagogue?” 208-10.
. Josephus, Antiquities 20.6.1 and Wars 2.12.3.
. Josephus, Antiquities 17.10.2 and Wars 2.3.1.
. Cohen, “The Attitude to the Gentile in the Halakhah and in Reality in the Tannaitic Period.” 35.
. Barclay, “Mark.” 26; Richardson, “Repent.” 191-92.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 232.
. Grintz, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language in the Last Days of the Second Temple.” 37.
. Mt. 4:23; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54; 23:34.