Matthew 4:12-17 ‘The Light Dawns’

(Draft) Bible Study notes on Matthew 4:12-17

Matthew 4:12-17 (NIVUK): “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.

Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfil what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’

From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”

The incomparable majesty of Jesus is demonstrated by he way His nature is described as ‘Light’.

John, the apostle, uses this metaphor a number of times in his gospel, a good example is John 8:12, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

Jesus spoke these words near the Temple in Jerusalem, around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. In the Temple, at this time, massive candelabras were lit to commemorate the cloud of light, the pillar of fire, that led the Israelites at night, in their wilderness wanderings through the desert, after their escape from Egypt.

So from God’s perspective, the world is in darkness – moral darkness, spiritual darkness, ignorance, the inability to know God, the inability to change its behaviour to that which is right.

We could say that God has given to man two little candles – one is the candle of creation (Romans 1:19-20). And the other is the candle of conscience (Romans 2). Sadly, man all too readily blows those little lights out and then he is in total darkness.

It should be noted that between verse 11 (after the temptation): “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” And the following verse 12: “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.” There is a period of about nine to twelve months.

We have some indication of what Jesus was doing during this time from John 1:19 to 4:42: –

  • Jesus spends three days with John the Baptist; on the first day John says: ‘Among you stands one you do not know’; on the second day, he says: ‘I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God’; and, on the third day, he says, ‘Look, the Lamb of God’  When two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus (John 1:37).
  • After that, Jesus went to a wedding in Cana and it was there He made water into wine (John 2:1-11). Then He went down to Capernaum with His mother, brothers and disciples.
  • When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem and cleared out the Temple court with a whip, some time later He met with Nicodemus; then He went down to the Judean countryside and His disciples baptised a number of people. (John 3:22-24, 4:1-4). He then left Judea to go back to Galilee via Samaria, where He talked to a Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well. (John 4:7-26).
  • Once more He visited Cana and healed the son of a certain royal official, by His word, “You may go. Your son will live”. The official had come from Capernaum (John 4:46-54)

Now, as we go back to Matthew 4, we have an idea of what happened – just prior to verse 12: “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.” It was the start of Jesus’ public ministry.

As well as the fulfilment of prophecy (Isaiah 9:1-2), Galilee was the right place to begin because the great roads of the world, running from the east to the west and the north to the south passed right through Galilee.

The whole idea of the Messiah beginning His ministry in Galilee was an impossibility to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. The outstanding Jewish minds were in Jerusalem and they expected that the revelation of God would be in Jerusalem (see John 7:40-42).

The southern kingdom, when it was taken into captivity, returned but the northern kingdom (of which Galilee was a part) never did. Their darkness and their judgement was greater than that of the south. But God’s ultimate blessing is seen in the fact that the light will dawn in Galilee. And this is a great Old Testament indication that God always intended to redeem the world, not just the Jews. To those in the greatest darkness, God sent the greatest light.

Now let us look at verse 17, the last verse for this study: ‘From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”‘ This was the same message preached by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2).

When Jesus came and people began to ask what is the significance of what is going on, Jesus essentially said the darkness can be expelled if you repent.

What does it mean to repent? It means to admit you’re a sinner and to turn from it. It means to change the direction of your life. It means to be converted, to turn around, to become part of God’s kingdom.

Repentance is more than sorrow – it is to change your life, change your purpose, change your opinions, change your direction. It is an inner change of the heart leading to an outward change in life, which can be seen by others like a light on a hill.

Any comments?


  • Bible Study Notes prepared by the late Rev. Eric Bird (mostly used for framework and headings). His notes were, in turn, based on the following primary source: “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Matthew, Volumes 1-5″, published by the Moody Bible Institute. [Note: I don’t fully endorse Dr John MacArthur’s work, so I’ll try to steer away from any detailed references or quotes.]
  • Extensive on-line searches – especially in the area of translation variations.
  • Notes on Matthew’s Gospel as compiled by Fr. Bernie Patterson, sourced from multiple references.
  • Overall – I’ve selected material, which fits into my view of Matthew’s Gospel – naturally!