Fishers of Men.

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:18-25 ESV

In Luke’s Gospel, he records that immediately after His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus had returned to Nazareth, His hometown. While there, He had attended the synagogue one day and was given the privilege of reading from the Old Testament Scriptures, as was the custom. He opened up the scroll containing the writings of the prophet, Isaiah, and read from a particular passage.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:16-19 NLT

Having read the passage, Jesus sat down and then stated in the hearing of all those in attendance: “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). Jesus had taken an Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah and applied it to Himself. He was claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic prediction of the coming of the anointed one – He who would bring good news to the poor. And as Matthew pointed out earlier, Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the great light that was to dawn, illuminating the spiritual darkness of the world.  

Jesus had begun His earthly ministry with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and was now prepared to take His message concerning the gospel of the kingdom to the world. But rather than begin His ministry within the confines of Jerusalem, the spiritual and political capital of Israel, Jesus had focused His attention on the region of Galilee, to the north. And instead of appealing to the powerful religious leaders of His day, Jesus took His message of good news to the peasants, even focusing His attention on common fishermen. Matthew specifically mentions two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew and James and John. In his own Gospel account, John records that Jesus had actually met Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael some time earlier.

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).” – John 1:35-42 ESV

After their initial encounter with Jesus, it seems that Simon and Andrew had returned to their nets, having failed to sense any clear calling from Jesus to become His disciples. But when Jesus met them the second time, He made His intentions perfectly clear, commanding the two brothers to follow Him.

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19 ESV

This statement must have sounded odd to the two men. What could Jesus have meant by the phrase, “fishers of men”? It seems unlikely that the men to whom Jesus uttered His command to follow Him understood what He was talking about. But Jesus’ wording was intentional and carried great significance. He was calling these men to a task that was far greater than anything they could have ever imagined. Their lives were about to be radically changed and the entire focus of their existence was to become irreversibly altered. Four common fishermen were about to become key players in a drama that would have eternal implications on not only the nation of Israel, but the entire world.

Jesus’ use of the term, “fishers of men” was a direct reference to another Old Testament passage in which God spoke of His plan to return His people from their captivity in Babylon. Because of the generations of unfaithfulness on the part of the people of Judah, God had allowed them to suffer defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and sent them into exile for a period of 70 years. But God had also promised to restore them to the land.

14 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.

16 “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. – Jeremiah 16:14-16 ESV

The Hebrew word for “fishers” is dayag, and it refers to fishermen. God had promised to send fishermen to catch all those who were in exile, returning them to the land of promise. And while God had fulfilled this promise, eventually returning the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon and restoring them to the land, they were still living in open rebellion to Him. Even at the time Jesus had begun His ministry, the nation of Israel was marked by spiritual darkness, living in the land, but still separated from God by their unrighteous and unfaithful behavior. What was missing was any kind of a right relationship with God. And Jesus was calling these four men to a task that would involve the seeking and searching for all those whom God desired to be returned to a right relationship with Himself. Simon, Andrew, James and John had spent their lives casting their nets in the waters of the Sea of Galilee, hoping to catch fish. Now, Jesus was calling them to assist in His mission to catch men.

These four unimpressive men from inauspicious backgrounds, were going to be used by God to accomplish something far greater than any of them could have ever imagined. They were to be part of a divine plan to restore sinful mankind to a right relationship with God. And these common Galilean fishermen would end up making an impact on the world that would have far-reaching implications for generations to come – on not only the Jewish people, but the nations of the world. Jeremiah wrote the words of God, promising to restore the lost and wandering people of God to a right relationship with Him.

Behold, I will bring them from the north country
    and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
    the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together;
    a great company, they shall return here. – Jeremiah 31:8 ESV

Notice that God focused on the needy? He emphasized the blind, the lame, the helpless and vulnerable. And Matthew records that Jesus began His ministry by focusing on those who had needs, “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23 ESV). Matthew emphasized that “they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them” (Matthew 4:24 ESV). The hurting, the helpless and the hopeless were the focus of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He enlisted the aid of the unimpressive and unqualified in order to minister to the unwanted and undesirable. And Jesus’ fame spread and His following grew.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson