We read of Christ’s coming into Judea (John 3:22), after he had kept the feast at Jerusalem; and now he left Judea four months before harvest, as is said here (John 4:35); so that it is computed that he staid in Judea about six months, to build upon the foundation John had laid there. We have no particular account of his sermons and miracles there, only in general, John 4:1.
I. That he made disciples; he prevailed with many to embrace his doctrine, and to follow him as a teacher come from God. His ministry was successful, notwithstanding the opposition it met with (Ps. 110:2, 3); mathetas poiei—it signifies the same with matheteuo—to disciples. Compare Gen. 12:5. The souls which they had gotten, which they had made (so the word is), which they had made proselytes. Note, It is Christ’s prerogative to make disciples, first to bring them to his foot, and then to form and fashion them to his will. Fit, non nascitur, Christianus—The Christian is made such, not born such. Tertullian.
II. That he baptized those whom he made disciples, admitted them by washing them with water; not himself, but by the ministry of his disciples, John 4:2. 1. Because he would put a difference between his baptism and that of John, who baptized all himself; for he baptized as a servant, Christ as a master. 2. He would apply himself more to preaching work, which was the more excellent, 1 Cor. 1:17. 3. He would put honour upon his disciples, by empowering and employing them to do it; and so train them up to further services. 4. If he had baptized some himself, they would have been apt to value themselves upon that, and despise others, which he would prevent, as Paul, 1 Cor. 1:13, 14. 5. He would reserve himself for the honour of baptizing with the Holy Ghost, Acts 1:5. 6. He would teach us that the efficacy of the sacraments depends not on any virtue in the hand that administers them, as also that what is done by his ministers, according to his direction, he owns as done by himself.
III. That he made and baptized more disciples than John; not only more than John did at this time, but more than he had done at any time. Christ’s converse was more winning than John’s. His miracles were convincing, and the cures he wrought gratis very inviting.
IV. That the Pharisees were informed of this; they heard what multitudes he baptized, for they had, from his first appearing, a jealous eye upon him, and wanted not spies to give them notice concerning him. Observe, 1. When the Pharisees thought they had got rid of John (for he was by this time imprisoned), and were pleasing themselves with that, Jesus appears, who was a greater vexation to them than ever John had been. The witnesses will rise again. 2. That which grieved them was that Christ made so many disciples. The success of the gospel exasperates its enemies, and it is a good sign that it is getting ground when the powers of darkness are enraged against it.
V. That our Lord Jesus knew very well what informations were given in against him to the Pharisees. It is probable the informers were willing to have their names concealed, and the Pharisees loth to have their designs known; but none can dig so keep as to hide their counsels from the Lord (Isa. 29:15), and Christ is here called the Lord. He knew what was told the Pharisees, and how much, it is likely, it exceeded the truth; for it is not likely that Jesus had yet baptized more than John; but so the thing was represented, to make him appear the more formidable; see 2 Kgs. 6:12.
VI. That hereupon our Lord Jesus left Judea and departed again to go to Galilee.
1. He left Judea, because he was likely to be persecuted there even to the death; such was the rage of the Pharisees against him, and such their impious policy to devour the man-child in his infancy. To escape their designs, Christ quitted the country, and went where what he did would be less provoking than just under their eye. For, (1.) His hour was not yet come (John 7:30), the time fixed in the counsels of God, and the Old-Testament prophecies, for Messiah’s being cut off. He had not finished his testimony, and therefore would not surrender or expose himself. (2.) The disciples he had gathered in Judea were not able to bear hardships, and therefore he would not expose them. (3.) Hereby he gave an example to his own rule: When they persecute you in one city, flee to another. We are not called to suffer, while we may avoid it without sin; and therefore, though we may not, for our own preservation, change our religion, yet we may change our place. Christ secured himself, not by a miracle, but in a way common to men, for the direction and encouragement of his suffering people.
2. He departed into Galilee, because he had work to do there, and many friends and fewer enemies. He went to Galilee now, (1.) Because John’s ministry had now made way for him there; for Galilee, which was under Herod’s jurisdiction, was the last scene of John’s baptism. (2.) Because John’s imprisonment had now made room for him there. That light being now put under a bushel, the minds of people would not be divided between him and Christ. Thus both the liberties and restraints of good ministers are for the furtherance of the gospel, Phil. 1:12. But to what purpose does he go into Galilee for safety? Herod, the persecutor of John, will never be the protector of Jesus. Chemnitius here notes, Pii in hâc vitâ quos fugiant habent; ad quos vero fugiant ut in tuto sint non habent, nisi ad te, Deus, qui solus regugium nostrum es—The pious have those, in this life, to whom they can fly; but they have none to fly to, who can afford them refuge, except thee, O God.