Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“ The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
– Matthew 4:12-17
It must have totally freaked Herod out. No sooner had he thrown John the Baptist in prison, than another prophet pops up preaching the same message! This one is not quite the same though. Jesus isn’t staying put in the wilderness surrounding the Jordan. Instead of the people coming to him, as they had come to see John, Jesus comes to the people. I think that says something about Jesus, that he’s willing to come to where people are.
Having traveled to Israel recently, one other thing from the text jumps out at me: Jesus’ travel itinerary. He walked from the desert wilderness where He was tempted (the east-central part of Israel) to Nazareth (in the north of Israel) and then to Capernaum (on the shores of the Sea of Galilee). He would have passed near Capernaum on the way to Nazareth, and would have had to retrace His steps to go to Capernaum. What’s up with this? All Matthew says is “leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum”.
Nazareth was Jesus’ home. Is Matthew saying “Jesus left home”? If so, under what circumstances? Matthew doesn’t say, but Luke does. Luke 4:16-30 tells the story of Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus starts out with a reading from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has annointed me to preach the gospel to the poor…” (Is 61:1-2) and begins His sermon by saying “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” When Jesus was finished preaching, the congregation was so ticked off they dragged Him to the top of a cliff to throw Him off, but Jesus managed to walk away.
A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown. They wouldn’t hear Him. That’s why Jesus left Nazareth.
Why go to Capernaum? Because that’s where the prophecies said He should be. “The land of Zebulun and Naphtali” — minor tribes, often looked down on by the larger and politically more significant tribes in the south. Capernaum, distant from Jerusalem, far from the seat of religious authority and leadership, a backwater town of hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people, in a setting of natural beauty, was blessed to have Jesus move there and live among them for some time, working among them and teaching in their synagogue.
Jesus identified Himself with the “little people”, the powerless, the people society considered unimportant, insignificant, and on the fringe. Praise God for that, because I’m one too.