Jesus begins to minister at Capernaum
Dec 16, 2013
Jesus’ narrow escape from Nazareth made it virtually impossible for Him to live there any longer. His universal and impartial application of the law made Him a target for assassination. We do not know where Mary was living at the time, but if she were in Nazareth, it is very likely that this is when she moved as well. We know she was still living, because she forms part of early church history. Joseph was presumed dead already, as he had already faded from the historical record.
Luke 4:30, 31 says,
30 But passing through their midst, He went His way. 31 And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath.
Jesus was accepted in Galilee, which was more cosmopolitan. It was called Galilee of the Gentiles (“Nations”) for a reason, and in that way it was the virtual opposite of Nazareth. Matthew comments further on this, though he leaves out the story of Jesus’ near execution in Nazareth. Matthew’s gospel, after all, was directed toward the Jews themselves, presenting Him as the promised King, the Lion of Judah. Thus Matthew often avoided recording details that were inflammatory to Jews.
Luke, however, included the story of His flight from Nazareth, because he was writing first to Theophilus, who was more amenable to Greeks (and even had a Greek name), and secondly to a foreign audience, mainly Greek, who would admire Jesus for His courage. Luke made it clear that Jesus was not a Jewish nationalist, nor was He influenced by the rabid views of the people in His own home town.
Matthew 4:11 speaks of the end of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness, and then verse 12 says,
12 Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew [anachoreo, “to return”] into Galilee.
Matthew skips some months here. Jesus’ forty-day fast had begun on the Day of Atonement in late September, so it ended some time in November. He and His mother attended the marriage feast in Cana soon after leaving Nazareth, which John alone mentions in his gospel. John the Baptist was executed the following April just before Passover, but he had already remained in custody for an unknown time prior to his execution.
So during that winter, we find Jesus gathering His twelve disciples while He lived in Capernaum. Jesus had already moved abruptly to Capernaum by the time John was arrested. Matthew skips many details, including the circumstances of His move. He picks up the story when John was arrested. We are not told where Jesus was when the arrest took place, other than that He was outside of Galilee; but wherever He was, He returned into Galilee.
Mark’s account likewise skips many details between the forty-day fast and the start of Jesus’ ministry. Mark 1:14, 15 says,
14 And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Mark’s purpose was to show that Jesus’ ministry really began with the arrest of John. We know from the account of the marriage feast in Cana that prior to John’s arrest, Jesus restrained Himself from doing much ministry, or at least from performing miracles. In John 2:4 Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” Even so, he changed the water into wine.
If we reconstruct this interim between the forty-day fast and the execution of John in April, it appears that John was arrested quite soon after Jesus’ fast, but not before the marriage feast in Cana. If the marriage feast occurred in December, as many believe, then perhaps John was arrested in January or February.
As for Jesus, we know from Luke’s account that He had already done some ministry in Galilee before teaching in Nazareth (Luke 4:23). He apparently had done some miracles as well. It is likely that the people of Nazareth had heard of the Cana miracle, so perhaps he taught at Nazareth shortly after that wedding feast had taken place.
But Jesus seems to have felt restrained as long as John was still preparing the way before Him. When John was arrested, preventing him from preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, then Jesus did what John could not do from prison. At the same time, He began to gather His disciples, as Mark’s account tells us.
John was then executed at the time of Passover—most likely on the preparation day for Passover, the same day that Jesus would be crucified three years later. Matthew 14 tells the story of John’s execution, and Matthew 14:12 says his disciples buried him and then reported his death to Jesus. Verse 13 says, “Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat,” crossing the Sea of Galilee.
The people followed Him, and He then fed the 5,000. John tells us in John 6:4, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” It must have taken place just after the feast, because the boy had five loaves of barley, no doubt newly harvested after the wave-sheaf offering. But this dates John’s execution—and also the transition of ministry from John to Jesus.
John was God’s choice of high priest in those days, regardless of who was chosen officially by the Roman authorities in Jerusalem. Hence, John was a high priest without a temple and ministered in the wilderness. When John died childless, his office passed to his nearest relative, his cousin, Jesus. Though Jesus was of Judah and not Levi, this marked the change from the Order of Levi to the Order of Melchizedek, and Jesus was then officially able to complete His work.
He could preach the gospel of the Kingdom while John was yet alive, but He could not do the high priest’s work on the cross without the mantle of the high priest.
Matthew 4 tells us that Jesus went to Galilee to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 9:2, for we read in Matthew 4:12-16,
12 Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.”
Zebulun means “dwelling,” so Jesus began to “dwell” in Galilee of the Gentiles. Naphtali means “my wrestling,” and this prophesies of the circumstances by which He came to dwell in Galilee. Jesus had “wrestled” with the people of Nazareth, and by extension, with Judea as a whole, ending with His crucifixion at their hands.
But in Galilee, which was more liberal and cosmopolitan, having Greek and Roman colonial towns, Jesus found a more receptive audience. These were people who were not at all impressed with the self-righteousness nationalism of Nazareth. In fact, when Nathanael heard of Jesus from his friend Philip, his first reaction was: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Luke 4:31, 32 says,
31 And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath; 32 and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority.
Jesus spoke with authority, not because He forced men to believe, but because His words were backed up by the power of the Spirit. When He spoke words of healing, men were healed. When He cast out demons, they left immediately. Luke gives us such examples in the following verses.
Luke 4:33-36 says,
33 And there was a man in the synagogue possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” 35 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet [phimoo, “Be muzzled, as in 1 Cor. 9:9] and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down [rhipto, medical word for “convulsions”] in their midst, he came out of him without doing him any harm. 36 And amazement came upon them all, and they began discussing with one another, saying, “What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”
These are Luke’s examples to show the authority of Jesus and the power of His message. Jesus first received witness from His heavenly Father at His baptism (Luke 3:22). But in Capernaum, Luke says, even the unclean spirit bore witness to Him, both verbally and by its obedience to His command.
37 And the report about Him was getting out into every locality in the surrounding district.
Luke’s second example to show Jesus’ authority is in Luke 4:38, 39,
38 And He arose and left the synagogue, and entered Simon’s home. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever; and they made request of Him on her behalf. 39 And standing over her [epistas epano], He rebuked the fever, and it left her; and she immediately arose and waited on them.
This event is also recorded in Matthew 8:14, 15 and in Mark 1:30, 31. Matthew uses it as a general example of Jesus’ healing ministry, but Mark and Luke date it at the start of His ministry.
When Jesus stood over her, Luke uses the medical term, epistas epano, which is the equivalent of saying that He came to her bedside as a doctor might come to examine a patient. He then rebuked the fever, showing that He had authority over sickness.
This is part 14 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones