Beginning In Galilee

The prophet Isaiah indicated that the beginning of the Messiah’s ministry would take place in Galilee. Of all the places in Israel where the Savior of the world could be introduced, why Galilee? There were very important strategic and spiritual reasons that God chose for the message of Salvation to begin here.

Isaiah 9:1-2 Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, As when at first He lightly esteemed The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, And afterward more heavily oppressed her, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, In Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.

New Testament Fulfillment:

Matthew 4:12-19 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.” And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

The Kingdom of God it as hand

One of the most exciting discoveries in the study of Old Testament prophecy, as they relate to the Messiah, is the fact that many of these predictions are fulfilled in the New Testament.

Here, Matthew quotes directly from this prophecy by Isaiah Chapter 9, verses 1-2.

“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…’ ”

Matthew reveals that Jesus was in Galilee when He began to tell people that The Kingdom of God is at hand. Isaiah 9:1-2 predicted that the Messiah would begin His public ministry in Galilee, to the Gentiles.

Galilee is not a city but a region similar to a county that exists within a particular state.

Nazareth was a small agricultural village near the ancient Galilean capital of Sepphoris. On the northwest edge of the Sea of Galilee, there was a large fishing village called Capernaum. When the Gentiles who made their living by trading came into this region, they would pass through Capernaum that was on the border of Naphtali.

Matthew is writing to the Jews to declare that their King has arrived. He announces the fulfillment of the prophecies that concern the coming of the Messiah by stating repeatedly: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Jesus speaks these precise words as He enters the area of Zebulun and Naphtali, cities which Isaiah predicted would be the locations of the Messiah’s beginning declaration that the kingdom of God had arrived.

Matthew describes the Messiah as bringing a great light to the people of this area.

“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.”

The word light, as it is used here, is translated from the Greek word phos, the “uncreated and absolute light.” Whenever phos is written, it is always used in illustrating God, to whom all light is ascribed. The intended purpose of phos was to define absolute truth and the revelation of God. When Isaiah wrote that the people of Galilee would see a great light, he meant that they would see the promised Messiah come to them and bring a revelation of God that was formerly unknown.

Clearly, Matthew is attributing phos or great light to Jesus. Matthew believes that Jesus is God in human flesh and the Messiah who was promised by all the Hebrew scriptures.

A question that might be asked: “Why did Jesus begin His public ministry in Galilee at this time?”

First, all Hebrew men began their ministry as Priests of God at thirty years of age; Jesus is now in His 30th year of life.[1]

Second, Jesus understood that He was the Messiah; and therefore, He was seeking to fulfill all the prophecies that were written about the arrival of the Promised One. Jesus knew well, the prediction of Isaiah 9:1-2, and that the prophet said the Messiah would begin By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, In Galilee of the Gentiles… This way of the sea was the precise area that Jesus had come to in Matthew chapter 4, and it was here that He would first declare the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

Third, five of the twelve disciples lived in this area. Logistically, Galilee made practical sense as a base for Jesus’ ministry, as Peter had a large home in Capernaum.

Fourth, there was a diversity of different cultures in this area. Galilee was located on a well-traveled trade route. There were people from many different countries living together in this one area. As they would hear the good news about Jesus, they would pass information about the Messiah’s salvation to their friends and relatives, as well as those who left Galilee traveling to distant lands. Galilee became an incredible point of distribution for spreading the Gospel all over the world.

Fifth, Capernaum, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, was a convenient crossing place where Jesus would often journey into Judea to conduct His ministry.

In former times, the tribes of Judah and Ephraim were separated by the Jordan river on one side and the Philistines on the other side. All of the northern tribes of Israel were in the direct path of enemy invaders who came down from the north. As a result of this area being in isolation, the Old Testament describes 20 cities which were taken from Israel and added to the northern kingdom of Tyre. They were later described as the offscouring of Cabul.[2]

In the Book of 2 Kings chapter 15 verse 29, the king of Assyria is described as taking captive the cities which were located in this area of Galilee.

2 Kings 15:29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria.

It’s all in how you say it

The people who lived in Galilee at the time Jesus arrived, were a mixture of Jews and the ancestors of people from other nations who came to live in this area during the captivity of Israel at Babylon. To the Jews who lived in Jerusalem, these residents of Galilee were despised and easily distinguishable as a mixed race, by their accents.

We see evidence of this when Peter, who was from Capernaum, was questioned by some of the people who had seen him with Jesus previously. As Peter denies that he knew Jesus, those who heard him speak, recognized his accent as someone who was a resident of Galilee.

Matthew 26:73 And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.”

The people who spoke with this Galilean accent were known as “troublemakers.”

The First sign of the Messiah will take place at Galilee

If we examine Isaiah Chapter 7, we notice that this entire body of text is prophetic. The timing of Isaiah’s writing was during the reign of King Ahaz, who joined the two kingdoms of Israel and Syria in overpowering and conquering the northern kingdom of Judah.

Isaiah began his prophecies at a time when Judah had forgotten the Lord. As a result, God allowed their enemies to overcome Judah and take their citizens captive. It was out of this period of desperation and judgement, that Isaiah speaks.

First, Isaiah declares that Judah will not be lost because “God is with them” (Immanuel). This statement has a near prophetic fulfillment, as well as a later prophetic fulfillment that will be accomplished by the Messiah who will come in the last days. The Messiah, arriving later, will also be called Immanuel because not only will God be with Judah, but because He will be living amongst them in the body of a man. This will be accomplished by a virgin birth which will allow the Savior to be without sin.

This is the reason that the sign given to Ahaz from the Lord that a child would be born by a virgin who would be Immanuel, God living with us, was so important.

It would have been no sign at all to King Ahaz that a ordinary young woman would have a child. These were desperate times, and this king needed assurance that the Lord would do what He had promised. The sign spoken of by Isaiah to Ahaz was intended as one of spectacular and supernatural origin. God was going to intervene in the affairs of men and bring a Savior who could change the entire course of history. The Lord would first be with Ahaz in Judah’s present distress (Immanuel), but in a second and more important application, God would physically be present with them in the later days as He dwelt in the physical body of the Messiah (Immanuel).

From Impossible circumstances, the Messiah arrives

Out of the existing culture and history of this area of Galilee, God determined this location as the place of beginning for the public ministry of His Messiah. The fact that Jesus chose this particular location to commence His declaration that the Kingdom of God had arrived, is truly amazing.

Jesus came first to Galilee, announcing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, that a great light—the Messiah, had come and delivered to us a great revelation of God and His plan of Salvation for all people.


[1] Numbers 4:3
[2] A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New testaments By REV. ROBERT JAMIESON, D.D., REV. A. R. FAUSSET, A.M., REV. DAVID BROWN, D.D. Matthew Chapter 4, page 15.