Jesus (Yeshua) spent most of his ministry in what has been called “The Evangelical Triangle.”* This is a small geographic area containing the area between the biblical cities of Capernaum, Korazin and Bethsaida. We know from scripture that Jesus chose to make his home in Capernaum, on the northwest shores of the Sea of Galilee. He seems to have made this major change in ministry location in order to fulfill Isaiah 9:1 which says:
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
It is amazing how accurately Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, although it was written over seven hundred years before his coming. Of course, Jesus was and is that “great light” that Isaiah speaks of. Also, the roadway Isaiah mentions called the “Way of the Sea” actually ran through Capernaum. It was an international highway in Jesus’ time. In fact, a Roman mile marker designating this route can still be seen today in Capernaum’s ruins. The prophet also mentions two Jewish tribal lands, Zebulun and Nathpali. It is of note that while Nazareth was located in the tribal area of Zebulun, the area of Capernaum fell within the ancient tribal boundaries of Naphtali. Jesus exactly fulfilled the prophet’s words by spending his boyhood in Zebulun and much of his ministry in Naphtali. It is also clear in scripture that Jesus ministered along the Jordan River, which the prophet also mentions. He traveled back and forth across the river, often going into the area of Gaulinitis, the domain of King Herod Philip.
FOCUS OF JESUS’ ACTIVITY
Jesus spent a very large percentage of his time in the Galilee, mostly around the Sea. In Matthew 11:20 we read: “Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.” In the verses immediately following this reference, we learn that the three cities where Jesus did most of his miracle-working were Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.
It was in these three cities that Jesus apparently concentrated his ministry. The Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary estimates that eighteen of the thirty-three recorded miracles of Jesus were performed in the small area around the Sea. It also estimates that twenty-five of thirty-three were performed in the general Galilee area.
It is also an important fact that most of his disciples were from the area. Nelson states that all of the twelve, with exception of Judas, came from the area. However, one ancient document, alluded to by early writers as the Gospel of the Ebionites, even states that Judas was from the Galilee. This seems to verify what the New Testament says in Acts 1:11 and 2:7, where the disciples were addressed as “men ofGalilee” and “Galileans.”
WAS SOMETHING HAPPENING IN GALILEE?
We must ask why Jesus chose all his disciples from the Galilee? There is evidence that something of a spiritual nature was happening there. For instance, John the Baptist seems to have had a great influence upon certain of the disciples. There are traditions that place John at the southern end of the Sea.* He may have even ministered at the northern end, where the Jordan empties into the sea. The Bible does say in Luke 3:3, that John “…went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching….” Certainly, John must have been close enough for Andrew, Peter’s brother, to become his disciple (Jn. 1:40). We know from this same passage that yet another disciple of John also became Jesus’ disciple. It is likely that the other disciple was John the Beloved. If it was John the Baptist’s ministry to prepare the way of the Lord, how could he have better accomplished this than by working with Jesus’ future disciples.
In John’s Gospel we get a certain feeling of excitement, as though these future disciples were seriously looking for the Messiah. In John 1:41 Andrew exclaims, “We have found the Messiah….” Hardly does anyone get this excited unless that person is on a search.
Perhaps many of the future disciples had heard John the Baptist speak. John had spoken with great enthusiasm about a Messiah who was soon to make his appearance. Let us use our imaginations a bit at this point. Let us assume that one day while John was preaching, he might have said something like this: “One is coming whose shoelaces I am unworthy to unloose…and… and…there he is! It…it is Yeshua from Nazareth!” We can imagine how electrifying that news would have been, and how rapidly it would have traveled around the tiny Sea of Galilee. This, if it were somehow the case, may help us understand how men could later leave their nets and successful family businesses simply at the beckoning of
Should this scenario be true it would not be at all surprising. In Jeremiah 29:13 we read: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” We notice in the Bible that God normally reveals himself to those who are in some way seeking him or longing for him. That is God’s way. Why should it be any different with Jesus’ revelation to the twelve disciples?
Now to the matter of Jesus choosing a small area for his ministry. We know in the natural world that sunlight is a wonderful thing. It cheers our hearts and warms us. We also know that it will not start a fire unless it is focused with a magnifying glass. Perhaps this was the plan of Jesus in focusing his ministry in such a tiny area and on such a small and
The Sea of Galilee area offered some other benefits. It was a relaxed, beautiful and fruitful area. The historian, Josephus, in describing it some years later says: “…their soil is universally rich and fruitful, and full of the plantations of trees of all sorts…accordingly, it is all cultivated by its inhabitants, and no part of it lies idle” (Wars, III, 3,2). While Jerusalem was a place of confrontation, the Galilee was more suited for relaxation, teaching and disciple-making. It was also a fairly safe area for Jesus to establish himself. So far as we can tell, Jesus never willingly spent a night within the city of Jerusalem. It was simply too dangerous.
MINISTRY TO THE JEWS
In the area of the Sea of Galilee there were many Gentiles. We even see the area referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles” in Isaiah 9:1. Virtually the whole Eastern shore of the Sea was part of the Gentile area known as the Decapolis. Jesus seldom ventured there, although crowds from that area did follow after him. Directly across the sea from Decapolis, on the western shore, was situated the new city of Tiberias. It was named after Caesar and was a Gentile city. Tiberias was also thoughtlessly built over a cemetery, making it unclean for devout Jews. Although it was one of the two leading cities of the Galilee in New Testament times, we have no record in scripture that Jesus or his disciples ever visited there.
The area of Jewish settlement around the lake was on the northern and northwestern shores – precisely the cities of Capernaum, Korazin and Bethsaida. While there is still some question as to the exact location of Bethsaida, we can be reasonably sure about the other two. We do know that Bethsaida was a fishing village and that it was quite close to the mouth of the Jordan. It is noteworthy that both Capernaum and Korazin have ancient Jewish archaeological remains. Both cities have ancient synagogues, and at Korazin, a pool for Jewish ritual washing (mikvah) can still be seen.
The simple truth is that Jesus focused his ministry on the Jewish people. This is in full accordance with Matthew 10:5-6: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.’” We see this principle borne out much later in the ministry of Paul. Wherever he went to preach, he first sought out the Jewish synagogue. His rule is expressed for us in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
POST RESURRECTION IN THE GALILEE
It is interesting that Jesus’ first instructions to his disciples after his resurrection were that they should meet him in the Galilee (Matt. 28:7, 10). It was certainly in the Galilee where Jesus reinstated Peter. It was also there that Jesus gave the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16. We might even surmise that there were more post-resurrection activities in Galilee than around Jerusalem; and that many of the forty days between his resurrection and ascension were spent in the Galilee. It is likely that Jesus took his disciples back to that tiny triangle in the Galilee to strengthen them, to draw them closer, and to finish the spiritual side of their training.
Today the beautiful Sea of Galilee area has retained its pristine beauty and must still appear much as it as it did in Jesus’ time. It is a placid area still displaying many of the teaching tools that Jesus used, such as the farmers, fishermen, flowers, and cities positioned picturesquely upon their hills. Of all the places in Israel, including holy Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee seems to exert the strongest pull upon Christian
It is not unusual for the Lord to speak and reveal himself in some way to modern Christian pilgrims who visit the area. It is almost as if the Lord is still making disciples around the lake and saying, “Follow me…Do you love me more than these?…I have many things to
*With Jesus Through The Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel, Bargil Pixner, Corazin Publishers,Israel, 1992.
Picture credit Peggy Steffel