23 He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. 24 His fame spread to all of Syria, and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.
The Kingdom of Heaven. “The kingdom of heaven” is uniquely Matthew’s phrase. He often uses it in place of Mark’s “kingdom of God.” Perhaps, if we assume a Jewish background for Matthew, it is a way of avoiding saying and thus possibly misusing the name of God.
Basileia can refer to the area ruled by a king; or it can refer to the power or authority to rule as king. We probably shouldn’t interpret the “kingdom of heaven” as a place — such as the place we go when we die; but as the ruling power that emanates from heaven. One commentator translates the phrase: “heaven rules”.
The verb eggizo is difficult to translate in this passage. It means “to come near”. It can refer to space, as one person coming close to another person; or to time, as “it’s almost time”. The difficulty is with the perfect tense of the verb, which usually indicates a past action with continuing effects in the present. For instance, the perfect: “He has died” or “He has been raised” or “I have believed” can also be expressed with the present: “He is dead” or “He is raised” or “I am believing”. When we say with the perfect tense that “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” That implies that the kingdom is near or even that it arrived. Its “time has come” or “is now”. Given the ambiguity of the perfect tense and the translation in the preceding paragraph, we might say: “Heaven’s rule has arrived and is arriving.”
Ironically, in a chapter called “Worship,” Mark Allan Powell in God With Us: A Pastoral Theology of Matthew’s Gospel, states:
Still if worship is an appropriate response, it is not the ideal one. For Matthew, the ideal response to divine activity is repentance. . . . Indeed, Jesus never upbraids people for failing to worship or give thanks in this gospel (compare Luke 17:17-18), but he does upbraid those who have witnessed his mighty works and not repented (11:20-24). We know from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew that people can worship God with their lips even when their deeds demonstrate that their hearts are far from God (15:3-9). Thus, the responsive worship of the crowds in 9:8 and 15:31 is commendable but will be in vain if performed with unrepentant hearts. [pp. 41-42]
What should be our response to the coming of heaven’s rule? Surprisingly, it is not worship or praise, but repentance. Perhaps this is the big problem with the coming of the Kingdom or the coming of Jesus at Christmas or Palm Sunday (or even “praise services”?) — we want to celebrate and praise, rather than repent — let the coming one change our thinking and our living.
A Summary of Jesus’ Activities. Although Jesus’ activity is confined to the region of Galilee, word of it spreads to the whole province of Syria. The outward movement of Jesus’ reputation as a teacher and healer results in the movement of many people toward him. People suffering from all kinds of diseases are brought to him, and they are cured (v. 24). People from every region of Israel except Samaria join the crowds that follow him (v. 25). Such people, along with the disciples, form the audience for the Sermon on the Mount (see 5:1; 7:28).
Matthew 4:23–25 encapsulates the ministry of Jesus. It may be viewed as a concluding summary of Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee, or as the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. It is noteworthy that 4:23 is repeated almost verbatim in 9:35. Both 4:23 and 9:35 are located just before major discourses of Jesus, and they serve to summarize his deeds as the context for his words. But there is likely more to the repetition than that. Taken together, 4:23 and 9:35 form an inclusio, a set of literary bookends, which summarize Jesus’ words and deeds at the beginning and end of two sections that present his words (Matt 5–7) and deeds (Matt 8–9) in detail. Significantly, both the words (7:29) and deeds (8:9; 9:6) demonstrate Jesus’ Kingdom authority, an authority he passed on to his disciples in 10:1. As his words and deeds proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom, so will the words and deeds of his disciples (10:7–8; 24:14).
By way of preparation for the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew has established Jesus’ superiority to John the Baptist (3:1–12), recounted the divine acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God (3:13–17), and shown what kind of Son of God Jesus is (4:1–11). He has also explained why Jesus taught and healed in Galilee (4:12–17) and how he attracted an inner circle of disciples (4:18–22) and a larger circle of interested followers (4:23–25). The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29) will reveal what a powerful teacher Jesus is.
Matthew 4:12 withdrew to Galilee: Jesus made this journey when he learned that John had been imprisoned. “Withdrew” translates a word (anachōreō) used several times in Matthew to describe a strategic withdrawal in the face of danger (2:12–14, 22; 10:23; 12:15; 14:13; 15:21). The arrest and imprisonment of John led to his execution (14:1–12), which in turn led to another strategic withdrawal by Jesus (14:13). Perhaps these two withdrawals by Jesus anticipate the close connection made later between the fate of John and the fate of Jesus (17:12).
Matthew 4:13 Nazareth…Capernaum…Zebulun…Naphtali: Jesus’ first stop in Galilee was Nazareth, the village where he grew up (2:23). Matthew does not dwell on Nazareth (cf. Luke 4:16–30), preferring to stress Capernaum because its location has prophetic significance. Capernaum (cf. 8:5; 11:23; 17:24) is on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, roughly two miles west of the Jordan River. Because Capernaum is not mentioned in the OT, Matthew stressed its location in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali (cf. Josh 19:32–39); these two are mentioned in Isaiah 8:22- 9:2. The territory of these two tribes was the first to be devastated (733-32 B.C.) at the time of the Assyrian invasion.
Matthew 4:15 Galilee of the Gentiles: Galilee was looked down upon by the Jerusalem establishment and those who supported it. Its population was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles (2 Kgs 15:29; 17:24–27; 1 Macc 5). It was to this darkened place (cf. Ps 107:10; Luke 1:79) that Jesus brought the light of the Kingdom of God. His mission was not to the Gentiles during these early days of the Galilean ministry (9:35; 10:5–6; 15:24), although he did occasionally minister to Gentiles (8:5–13; 15:21–28). It seems, the Gentiles to whom Jesus ministered took the initiative to come to him, suggesting the applicability of Jesus’ message for all the nations (24:14). The beginnings of Jesus’ ministry in a remote, despised place, largely populated by Gentiles, foreshadows the expansion of mission to all the nations at the end of Jesus’ ministry (28:19).
Matthew 4:17 From that time on: Many interpreters of Matthew think this phrase signals a transition to the second major section of Matthew.
Matthew 4:17 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand: At the beginning of his preaching Jesus takes up the words of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2) although with a different meaning; in his ministry the kingdom of heaven has already begun to be present (Matthew 12:28). This linkage of the messages of John and Jesus seems to lay a foundation for the similar fates of the two messengers (14:2; 17:12–13).
Matthew 4:18 Simon, who is called Peter, and… Andrew: The name Simon (cf. 10:2; 16:16–17; 17:25) appears much less often than the popular nickname Peter (23 times), which Jesus gave Simon in 16:17–18. In view of the prominence of Peter in Matthew, especially Matt 16:13ff, it is not merely coincidental that Peter is the first disciple who responds to the call of Jesus. Andrew, by contrast, is mentioned only once after this (10:2; but cf. John 1:35–42). On a linguistic note Simon is a Semitic name, while Andrew is a Greek name – likely reflecting the mixed culture of the Hellenistic Galilee.
Matthew 4:19 Come after me: The call of the first disciples promises them a share in Jesus’ work and entails abandonment of family and former way of life. Following Jesus involved both traveling with him and obeying his teaching and modeling of God’s will. It could and did lead to hardship and peril (8:19, 22; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21). Three of the four, Simon, James, and John, are distinguished among the disciples by a closer relation with Jesus (Matthew 17:1; 26:37). It should also be noted that in both narratives it is Jesus who sees the prospective disciples and takes the initiative in calling them to follow him. This is an important factor in distinguishing Jesus as a charismatic or prophetic figure, after the model of Elijah, from the late Rabbinic model in which the disciples took the initiative in attaching themselves to the Rabbi (cf. m. Avot 1:6).
fishers of men: This is an expression found elsewhere in the NT only in Mark 1:17. It is just possible that fishing here is an allusion to Jer 16:16, or that fishing for people implies eschatological judgment (13:47–50). In any event, this new “fishing” results in life for those “caught” by the message of Jesus.
The occupation of fisherman could take one of three forms: (a) a tax collector, having a Roman franchise, who sold fishing rights to local businessmen, (b) a person who owned or leased boats and employed day laborers, and (c) the day laborer’s themselves. This distinction is helpful in locating the social class of Peter, et.al. It is likely that Peter belonged to the second group.
Matthew 4:20 at once they left their nets: Here and in Matthew 4:22, as in Mark (Mark 1:16-20) and unlike the Lucan account (Luke 5:1-11), the disciples’ response is motivated only by Jesus’ invitation, an element that emphasizes his mysterious power. For the similar story of the call of Matthew, see 9:9.
Matthew 4:23 their synagogues: Matthew usually designates the Jewish synagogues as their synagogue(s) (Matthew 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54) or, in address to Jews, your synagogues (Matthew 23:34), an indication that he likely wrote after the break between nascent Christian church and synagogue.
Matthew 4:24 Syria: the Roman province to which Palestine belonged.
Matthew 4:25 great crowds: Matthew’s use of the term “crowds” is noteworthy, since it often portrays those who are attracted to Jesus because of his sensational deeds (cf. 8:1, 18; 11:7; 12:46; 15:30; 17:14; 19:2). The crowds occupied a middle ground between Jesus’ committed disciples on the one hand, and the hostile religious leaders on the other. At times, the crowd seemed favorable to Jesus (9:8; 12:23; 15:31), and he to the crowd (9:36; 14:14; 15:32). But as time went on, under the influence of the leaders, the crowd ultimately called for Jesus’ death (26:47, 55; 27:20, 24). In this context, the presence of the crowds led Jesus away to the mountain where he delivered his first discourse (5:1). the Decapolis: a federation of Greek cities in Palestine, originally ten in number, all but one east of the Jordan. beyond the Jordan: This refers to the region farther south, east of Jerusalem and the Jordan River. Matthew’s geographical language covers the whole land of Israel, moving from northwest (Galilee) to northeast (Decapolis) to Jerusalem (probably to be understood as the center of the land) to southwest (Judea) to southeast (“beyond the Jordan”).
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
- John P. Meier, Matthew, New Testament Message 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990) 31-36
- Daniel J. Harrington, “Matthew” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) pp. 868-69
- Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 70-75
- R.T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 105-11
- R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007) 136-51
- Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) 166-71
- K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) 18-19
- Turner and D.L. Bock, Matthew and Mark in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) 65-79