Matthew 4 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Moving to a Bigger Town
John's imprisonment-which foreshadows Jesus' own suffering-becomes the signal for Jesus to begin public ministry (4:12; compare Jn 3:23-30). The forerunner has completed his mission of preparing the way (3:3).
Matthew may address three issues in Jesus' move to Capernaum. First, the move may indicate a concerted missions strategy. Although Jesus had grown up in a relatively unpretentious town (see commentary on 2:23), the time apparently had come for him to find a more suitable base for his urgent mission-a town with more people, with greater notoriety and from which news would spread quickly around the perimeters of the lake of Galilee and perhaps also via the nearby trade route. (Capernaum probably held at least fifteen hundred people-E. Sanders 1993:103.) Capernaum would also prove more responsive than Nazareth (compare 9:1-2; 11:23; 13:54-57). That Capernaum appears in later rabbinic accounts solely in connection with "schismatics," presumably Jesus' followers (Theissen 1991:50), suggests that Jesus' missionary strategy was ultimately successful.
Although God may intend for many of us to serve in places like Nazareth for years, he is undoubtedly calling many of us to larger challenges at some point in our lives. I say "undoubtedly" because the vast majority of full-time Christian workers serve among peoples where the gospel is widely available, while fewer than thirty thousand serve the half of the world's population that has never received an adequate witness of the gospel. Given both Jesus' mission for us (28:19) and the love we should have for our fellow human beings, should we not be seeking God as to whether he wants us to serve him by staying or going?
But besides Jesus' own mission strategy, Matthew stresses Jesus' Galilean ministry base for two other reasons more directly relevant to his audience. The second issue is that Matthew's opponents undoubtedly criticized the Jesus movement's Galilean origins. The Pharisees and their successors, centered in Judea, retained considerable prejudice against Galilee, which they also used against Jesus' followers. Matthew thus cites Scripture about a messianic role in Galilee to counter regional prejudice against the gospel.
Third, and probably most important, what Isaiah says about Galilee foreshadows the Gentile mission that Matthew keeps urging on his readers (4:14). Jesus again acts in obedience to Scripture (4:14-15), and this passage (Is 9:1-2; compare Lk 1:79)-which in context addresses the work of the Davidic Messiah (Is 9:6-7)-indicates that he will work in Galilee of the Gentiles. This is not to say that Jesus directed much of his own ministry to Gentiles; but the text allows Matthew to foreshadow Jesus' command to proclaim the kingdom to the nations (Mt 24:14; 28:19). Capernaum was actually in Naphtali's territory, not directly Zebulon's (Meier 1980:32); yet Zebulon, sometimes associated with the fishing industry (Gen 49:13; Test. Zeb. 5:5), was not far away. At any rate, this Isaiah text would refute the claims of scribes who insisted that a Messiah must hail directly only from Bethlehem (Mt 2:5-6; Jn 7:42).