Thoughts on Matthew 4:12-16
Verse 12 almost makes Jesus sound cowardly, basically saying that Jesus “withdrew” into an obscure area far away from the Jewish leaders who had just arrested John the Baptist. However, as we will see, this action was not an act of cowardice, but rather was done in order to fulfill Scripture and to set the stage for future interactions with the people in and around that region. This is also possibly the first allusion to what it called the “Messianic Secret” – the idea that Jesus strove to hide His identity as the Messiah until “His hour had come.” Indeed there are numerous instances in the Gospels where the Jews “sought to lay hands on Him” and to stone Him or throw Him off a cliff because of who He claimed to be. Jesus knew the timeline and the events that needed to take place before He would be crucified, and withdrawing from tense situations was something He did more than once to maintain that timeline.
This section contains the seventh instance wherein Matthew states that what Jesus did or where He went fulfilled prophecy. Most of these examples involve locations. It’s notable that God had the prophets ascribe such a large number of qualifiers as to where the Messiah would come from and where He would go. If you really want to get down to the basics, Jesus originally came from the womb of a virgin, as foretold in Isaiah 7:14 (Matt 1:23). We are then told the Christ would come from Bethlehem as spoken of in Micah 5:2 (Matt 2:6). Then we see Jesus being called out of Egypt as described originally in Hosea 11:1 (Matt 2:15). Once Jesus and his parents returned from Egypt, rather than return to Bethlehem, they continued on to Nazareth because of another dream Joseph had and to avoid trouble from Archelaus, Herod’s son. Matthew states that this move to Nazareth of Galilee fulfilled “what was spoken by the prophets” even though there is no Old Testament passage wherein this is said explicitly. I say “explicitly” because there is much agreement amongst commentators that Matthew is referring to Isaiah 11:1, which says, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Also, in Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12, we read of the servant of God whose name is “Branch.” This is important because the Hebrew word “netzer” means “sprout” or “shoot” and is the root word from which Nazareth is derived. Now, here in Matt. 4:14-15, we are told Jesus went to live in Capernaum by the sea in the territory of Naphtali and Zebulun in order to fulfill Isaiah 9:1-2. So, in order for Jesus to have been the Messiah, based on the prophesies, he needed to be a virgin-born Nazarene Bethlehemite from Egypt, Naphtali and Zebulun – all of which Jesus was.
Verse 17 tells us that Jesus then began to preach repentance “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” However, this is not the first time this theme occurred for John the Baptist had proclaimed the same message in Matt 3:2. Also of note, Mark says in Mark 1:15 that Jesus stated “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” This again makes it clear Jesus words and actions – and those allowed of the people and religious leaders – all happened according to the timeline God established. One final point is that “at hand” in the Greek means “to bring near” or “nearby,” and as used in the Old Testament Hebrew the term means near of place, time or personal relationship. In essence, Jesus was saying the kingdom is nearby, “it is here.”