Matthew 4:12-25 – The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee


Matthew 4:12-25


Jesus begins his ministry of teaching, proclaiming the good news, and healing throughout Galilee in fulfillment of prophecy. He calls for repentance at the coming of the kingdom and calls fishermen, who immediately abandon everything and follow him, as his first disciples.


This passage is important thematically and structurally in Matthew’s Gospel as the beginning of the narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. John’s arrest occasions what Matthew describes as a “withdrawal” by Jesus to Galilee. The word implies intent and is intentionally chosen (10 of 14 occurrences of this word in the New Testament occur in Matthew’s Gospel). Fulfillment of the scriptures marks both the location and the effect of his ministry, which will cause new light to dawn on those who now dwell in darkness. The word translated as “dawn” is the same as that which described the appearance of the star to the wise men (2:1).  It is significant that Jesus’ ministry begins not in Judea but in Galilee and that his message is thus for all people (see the Great Commission, 28:18-20). Its content mirrors verbatim the preaching of John the Baptist–“Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near”–joining the themes of righteous obedience in face of the coming of the kingdom (3:2; 4:17).

As in Mark’s Gospel, the call of Jesus’ first disciples, which follows immediately in the narrative, is significant for its suggestion of the authority of Jesus that can command such a response. Matthew, however, has heightened the impact of Jesus’ call by making the response of these new disciples verbally symmetrical–they followed immediately (4:20, 22).

The summary description of Jesus’ ministry to the crowds as teaching, preaching the good news, and healing diseases is intentionally thematic and programmatic as Matthew here rearranges the narrative of his model Mark. These words are used here and again in 9:35 to frame Jesus’ ministry, described in chapters 5 through 9, and carefully structured to match the order of teaching materials (Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7) and stories of healing (chapters 8-9). Some readers have seen in the transitional phrase “From that time…” (4:17; repeated in 16:21) a clue to Matthew’s structure and movement, dividing the Gospel into three major sections: the presentation of Jesus Messiah (1:1-4:16); the public ministry of Jesus Messiah (4:17-16:20); and the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Messiah (16:21-28:20).

This beginning of Jesus’ ministry is auspiciously successful even beyond Galilee. His fame spreads through “all” the regions and people bring to him “all” the sick so that “great crowds follow” him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the regions beyond the Jordan.