12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:12-17 ESV
It would appear, from a careful comparison of the other Gospel accounts, that at least a year passed before Matthew picked up the story of Jesus’ life after His temptation in the wilderness. Matthew mentions the arrest of John the Baptist, but provides no details regarding the facts behind his arrest. In fact, It isn’t until chapter 14 of his Gospel that Matthew sheds any light on the cause behind John’s arrest and ultimate death at the hands of Herod.
3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” – Matthew 14:3-4 ESV
Jesus had an active ministry during the time between His return from the temptation in the wilderness and the arrest and imprisonment of John. He traveled throughout Galilee, Judea and even Samaria, eventually returning to Galilee, His base of operations at the time. But why does Matthew seem to begin his chronicle of Jesus’ ministry with the arrest of John? For Matthew, the presentation of Jesus as the King was an essential purpose behind His Gospel account. And during the year period of time before John’s arrest, both Jesus and John were ministering simultaneously. John was the forerunner or herald of the coming King. He was responsible for preparing the way for the coming Messiah. By his own admission, he was nothing more than a precursor to the main act.
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:23 ESV
And when the Jewish religious leadership sent representatives to John trying to determine exactly who he was and why he was attracting such large crowds, he flatly told them, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20 ESV). Still confused as to his identity and role, they asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (John 1:25 ESV). John was an anomaly to them. They couldn’t figure out who he was and why he was doing what he was doing. But they were intrigued by his message and the popularity of his ministry.
And according to John’s Gospel account, Jesus and John continued to minister simultaneously, but separately.
22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison). – John 3:22-24 ESV
So, there was a period of time in which the ministries of these two men overlapped. John was still baptizing and preaching a message of repentance. But so was Jesus. And John’s disciples became concerned about what they perceived to be competition from Jesus and His disciples, eventually approaching John about the situation.
26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” – John 3:26 ESV
And John reminded them, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him” (John 3:28 ESV). And he let them know that his role as the herald of Jesus was destined to diminish in importance. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 ESV). And that is exactly what was happening. John records that Jesus’ ministry began to overshadow that of John.
1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. – John 4:1-3 ESV
The arrest of John marks the end of his ministry. His days of proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven and offering baptism for the repentance of sins were over. God effectively removed him from the scene, leaving the way open for Jesus to begin His ministry with no chance of confusion or seeming competition. John had done his job and was now, in a sense, being decommissioned.
But Jesus was just beginning. He moved the base of His operations from Nazareth to Capernaum, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. And Matthew makes it clear that this was in keeping with Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. He quotes from the writings of Isaiah.
1 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.
2 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. – Isaiah 9:1-2 ESV
Capernaum was located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and would play a significant role in the ministry of Jesus. From this vantage point, Jesus would minister throughout the region of Galilee, spreading His message of repentance and performing His many miracles and signs. And the apostle John emphasizes the illuminating aspect of Jesus’ ministry into the spiritual darkness of Israel at that time.
4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV
Jesus was the light of the world, sent by God to illuminate and eventually eliminate the darkness of sin and death.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7 ESV
A new light had dawned. A new day had begun. The Messiah had arrived on the scene with a new message of hope and an offer to provide those living in darkness with a way to live in the light of God’s love, free from slavery to sin and released from their hopeless attempt to earn a right standing with God through self-effort. Jesus picked up the very same message John had preached, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). People were still going to have to change their mind about everything. Their view of sin was going to have to change. Their perspective on righteousness and how to earn it was going to have to undergo radical transformation. Their understanding of God and the true state of their relationship with Him was in need of serious re-examination. And Jesus, as the light of the world, was going to expose the true state of their spiritual health. He would display the truth about God and dispense with any preconceived notions they may have had about their own self-righteousness.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.