In keeping with Old Testament prediction, Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, a province north of Jerusalem, the capital of Judea. While he was born in Bethlehem in Judea, he started his public work in the Galilean north, indicating his status as an outsider in opposition to the Jewish religious establishment based in Jerusalem. While he would occasionally travel to Jerusalem for major religious festivals such as the Passover, Jesus would be based in Galilee. In fact, all the apostles (with the possible exception of Judas, the traitor) were from Galilee; many of them were fishermen.
When Jesus was a young boy, his parents established residence in Nazareth, southwest of the Sea of Galilee. This is where Jesus likely grew up as the son of Mary and the adoptive son of Joseph, a carpenter, from whom he would have learned the same trade. Apparently, Joseph died prior to Jesus’s public ministry, as he is never mentioned in the Gospels as still living. This meant that Jesus, as Mary’s oldest son, would have been responsible for her and the family. Later, the adult Jesus established a residence at Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee; thus Matthew calls Capernaum Jesus’s “own city.”
. . . Often Jesus and his disciples are shown to cross over the Sea of Galilee (which is really a very large lake) from one side of the lake to the other, or Jesus is teaching people who are assembled on the shore while sitting in a boat. Anyone who has been to the Holy Land can attest to the natural beauty of Galilee and will not soon forget seeing a sunset over the Sea of Galilee.
After all these preliminaries, Jesus now begins his public ministry by calling his first followers: Simon Peter and Andrew, as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee, two pairs of Galilean brothers. He promises these disciples—all of whom were fishermen—that if they followed him, he would make them “fishers of people.” Matthew records that, at Jesus’s call, these four men “immediately” left their nets and boats (and, in James and John’s case, also their father Zebedee) and followed Jesus. The willingness of these men to leave their occupation—and temporarily even their families—in order to attach themselves to Jesus shows that entering into a committed relationship with Jesus is more important even than family ties. Jesus would often highlight this truth in the course of his teaching, especially when would-be disciples approached him, many of whom ultimately turned out to be unwilling to pay the price of following him, finding it impossible to prioritize following Jesus over their natural relations and material possessions.
While Matthew’s Gospel has been, and will continue to be, primarily focused on Jesus, from this point on the disciples emerge as significant characters in the narrative as well. While they’ve been called by Jesus to follow him, they’ve only begun their journey of discovering who this Jesus really is and of exploring the calling he has extended to them to follow in his steps. At this point in the narrative, right at the end of his lengthy introduction to the Messiah’s background and origins, Matthew presents a concluding statement that aptly sums up Jesus’s ministry in Galilee. His message had consisted in “teaching . . . and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,” while his deeds had consisted in “healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” As Jesus the Messiah declared the arrival of God’s kingdom and provided living proof that in him the kingdom had already arrived, his reputation continued to grow, and large crowds followed him wherever he went.
“Books on this subject may be so technical that only scholars can make sense of them. Not so here. The author makes wonderfully plain what the Gospel writers were convinced of—that Jesus is Lord, and that his life, teachings. self-sactifice, and resurrection are not dead tales of the past. Rather. they are truths that remain life-changing right now. Read each Gospel with this book as a guide. It will give you fresh eyes for Jesus’s meaning on the vast stage of first-century Jewish expectation and Roman history. And it will open up avenues for the informed personal commitment to Jesus now that all four Gospels commend.”
— Robert W. Yarbrough, professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary