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
With John the Baptist having been arrested by Herod, Jesus picked up where John left off, continuing to declare the same prophetic message concerning the kingdom of heaven.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17 ESV
The phrase, “from that time” is used twice by Matthew, and in each instance, it indicates a major shift in the ministry of Jesus. Here it reveals that Jesus was making His ministry much more public than before. It is not that Jesus had been silent up to this point, but that His efforts became much more visible and aimed at a larger audience. He was moving from relative obscurity to increasing notoriety.
And one of the first things Jesus did was begin the process of selecting the men who would be His disciples. It was a common practice among the Jews for a rabbi or teacher to gather students or disciples who would align themselves with him in order to sit under his teaching. These individuals were known as mathētēs, a Greek word that means “pupil” or “learner.”
Matthew’s account of the selection of the two brothers, Simon (Peter) and Andrew, seems to conflict with that of John in his Gospel. There, John records that Jesus first met Simon and Andrew before John the Baptist was arrested. It seems that Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist and had heard him refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:36 ESV). Upon hearing this news, Andrew and another one of the disciples of John the Baptist had spent the day talking to Jesus. When they had finished, Andrew made a beeline to his brother, Simon, in order to tell him what he had discovered.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 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 1:40-42 ESV
Yet, Matthew paints a somewhat different picture, describing Jesus as encountering and calling Andrew and Simon while they were fishing along the Sea of Galilee. But this seeming contradiction can easily be explained. It is clear from John’s account that Jesus had previously met these two men. But there is no calling mentioned by John. He only indicates that Jesus gave Simon a new nickname: Cephas, which means, “Peter.” So, Matthew is simply picking up the story at a later point when Jesus met these two brothers a second time. He found them casting their nets into the sea, a common occupation by many who lived in the region. And it was at this point that Jesus issued His official invitation to Simon and Andrew to become His disciples: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 ESV).
According to John’s Gospel, Simon and Andrew would join Philip and Nathanael, whom Jesus had already included in His growing list of disciples (John 1:43-51). To each of these men, Jesus issued a call to follow Him. To Simon and Andrew, He explained the radical change this call would have on their chosen occupation. From now on, their fishing would be for men. It is unlikely that this statement made sense to these two brothers when they heard it, but Matthew indicates that they didn’t hesitate to accept Jesus’ invitation. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:20 ESV). John’s account of Andrew’s initial encounter with Jesus makes what appears to be a somewhat knee-jerk response by these two men more plausible. After His first meeting with Jesus, Andrew had become convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and had told his brother, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ)” (John 1:41 ESV). So, the fact that Andrew and Simon walked away from their nets and followed Jesus was due to their belief that Jesus truly was the long-awaited Messiah.
And John records that Nathanael had been blown away by his initial encounter with Jesus, declaring his revelation with the words, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). These men were not just dropping everything to follow some obscure rabbi they had just met. They were aligning themselves with the one they believed to be the Son of God and the future King of Israel. They had high hopes.
And Matthew indicates that Jesus added two more men to His team when He extended the same invitation to two more brothers, James and John. They, too, were fishermen, and Luke indicates that they were business partners with Simon (Luke 5:10). And they had been eyewitnesses to a miracle that Jesus had performed.
One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.
When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. – Luke 5:1-10 NLT
This initial encounter with Jesus explains why these two men were so ready and willing to accept the invitation from Jesus and immediately leave their boats and their father behind in order to follow this miracle-working man who claimed to be the Messiah of Israel.
And Matthew summarizes the early ministry of Jesus by stating: “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” (Matthew 4:23 ESV). Simon, Andrew, Nathanael, Philip, James, and John were all given a first-hand view of the remarkable power and wisdom of Jesus. Their initial experience as His disciples were a whirlwind of miraculous healings and messages regarding the coming kingdom. It was a lot to take in.
These simple men had to have been blown away by what they saw. Everywhere they went, Jesus was attracting huge crowds. People were bringing the sick and the lame in order to receive healing from Jesus. The groundswell of support from the people had to have encouraged them. They were witnessing a revolution taking place. And they had to have thought how lucky they were to have aligned themselves with Jesus. They were His disciples, and they were going to benefit from their close association with Him. Or so they thought. When they saw the great crowds that followed them “from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan” (Matthew 4:25 ESV), they must have assumed that it would not be long before Jesus had the numbers He needed to make His way into Jerusalem to claim His rightful place as the King of Israel. And, as His closest associates, they were bound to enjoy a place at His side.
But what we see here is a case of man’s misperception of Jesus’ ministry and message. There were many who followed Him because He performed miracles. They were curious to see this man who could heal the sick, cast out demons, give sight to the blind, and restore the ability to walk to the lame. Others were attracted to His messages regarding the kingdom. They were anxious for someone, anyone, to rid them of the oppressive rule of the Romans. Jesus was not the first person to give the people hope that the Messiah had arrived. But maybe He was the real deal.
And James, John, Simon, Andrews, Nathanael, and Philip had accepted the call of Jesus, but their motives had been all over the map. Perhaps they saw it as a chance to leave behind their dead-end occupation as fishermen. Or, believing as Nathanael did, that Jesus was the Son of God and the King of Israel, they probably thought they were getting in on the ground floor of an exciting opportunity.
These early days of Jesus’ ministry were filled with wonder, excitement, and awe. There was a great deal of enthusiasm associated with His growing reputation. But it would not be long before His fame turned to infamy. His popularity would end up polarizing Him from the religious leaders of the day. His miracles would attract crowds and raise the suspicions of the Pharisees and scribes. And the very next section of Matthew’s Gospel will outline Jesus’ message to the people, His Sermon on the Mount, that will describe what life will look like in His Kingdom. It will be an eye-opening, game-changing, paradigm-shifting introduction into the gospel message He came to deliver and the impossible lifestyle He came to make possible.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.