And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan (Mt 4:25).
The covenant God Yahweh incarnated Himself in Jesus—“Yahweh breaking into the human realm to bring salvation” (Mt 1:21).1 Thus, God manifested Himself as Jesus, who came to rule His kingdom and bring redemption. For this very purpose, God dwelt among His people (Is 7:14) and set up His tent as their heavenly dwelling place on earth. In particular, He did so amidst a diverse segment of a Mediterranean populace from the ruling Jewish class to Gentiles. Jesus spread His tent far and wide from Galilee. Consequently, not only Jews heard about the kingdom of heaven, but also Gentiles.
A well-structured tent involves many preparatory steps to maintain its sturdiness among the elements. One of the initial steps for setting up a tent requires a foundational barrier to protect it from the ground. That barrier should cover an area large enough to support the tent itself. By stationing His ministry in Galilee, Jesus had a locational launchpad giving Him access to the regions encircling it, in turn, expanding His reach to a broad-based demographic for all those who would seek Him where He dwelt. As a result, a diverse multitude of people heard Jesus’ word and witness from within and outside Galilee’s borders.
While the authority of Jesus’ redemptive, divine presence threatened the existing Jewish power structure, the expanse of His dwelling place enlarged out from Galilee, affecting both Jews and Gentiles. Great crowds followed Him from Galilee to the east from Decapolis, south from Jerusalem and surrounding Judean areas, and beyond Jordan (Mt 4:25). In essence, His divinity reached across the masses in His humanity as the Light of life (Jn 8:12). His foundation covered a wide area of which to give access to the gathered into His tent. The better and more perfect tent came in Jesus’ own body in the flesh, a house not made with hands, as God incarnated. Later on the Cross, He would offer it up with His own blood. The expansion of His tent from Galilee’s borders to the surrounding regions gathered those who would hear His teachings on the sermon on the mount (Mt 5).2 3
Beginning at Galilee to the nations (cf. Mt 28:19), Jesus–Yahweh is salvation–taught in the synagogues and preached the Gospel of the kingdom (Mt 4:23). Preached (Greek: kēryssō) in the context of 4:23 means to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom openly and matters related to it. In doing so, Jesus also established His credentials as its Messiah among the lost sheep of the house of Israel.4 The gospels mention He taught in the synagogues on ten occasions. Synagogue in Greek means assembly. It formed a key locale for Jews to come together for communal life central to their identity.5 Moreover, Jews held prayer, Torah study, and Scripture readings there. Jesus mingled with the people and brought the presence of the manifested kingdom (12:28) and His eternal rule over His creation. From the synagogue vicinity, He later birthed His new community of believers on the Day of Pentecost.
Jesus relocated from Nazareth to Galilee in Capernaum, thus fulfilling Emmanuel as the promised light dawning on the territories of the tribes of Zebulun and Nephtali from spiritual darkness.—They who “sat in darkness saw a great light” (Mt 4:16a; Jn 8:12; IS 8:23-9:6). During the time of the prophet Isaiah, the Assyrians conquered the two territories and the whole of the Northern Kingdom. Other invaders occupied it during Neo-Assyrian, Persian, Hellenist, and Roman periods. Isaiah prophesied the light, Emmanuel–God with us, would deliver them from their oppression. Many Galileans received Jesus during His ministry there. Galilee included the cities of Capernaum, Magdala, and Chorazin. Though Jewish in ethos and population, the Romans controlled Galilee and left a Hellenist influence.6 Roman officials resided in Capernaum, even though a Jewish town.7 They also populated Tiberias, just south of Capernaum. However, Tiberias differed culturally from Tiberias since Romans had recently built the city. During Jesus’ ministry, 204 towns and villages spread across Galilee populated primarily by agrarian and fishing communities.9 Due to Roman rule by Herod Antipas, Gentiles also lived in lower Galilee in growing, urbanized city centers. Hence, its residents reflected a culturally and economically mixed demographic. From this rich mix of people, Jesus extended His tent outward from Galilee. The gathered included the multitudes who would hear His teachings on the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5).
Galilee and Decapolis combined comprised the northern area of Jesus’ ministry. Greek settler-soldiers from the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms originally founded Decapolis–known as the ten cities–after the death of Alexander the Great.10 Thus, Decapolis’ demographics primarily comprised a Hellenist population.11 Further, the founders’ cultural origins left a strong influence from Greek worldviews and subsequent practices in the region. Later, Romans ruled Decapolis as one of its provinces. The Roman legate from Syria ruled the inhabitants of Decapolis’ cities.
Jesus visited the region twice, restoring a demon-possessed man (Mk 5:20) and healing a deaf and mute (7:31). Upon learning of His mercy, it amazed the inhabitants (5:20c; 7:37). While the Pharisees considered the area’s Hellenist practices morally offensive and off-limits due to herds of pigs (5:11), Jesus met its populace on their grounds and confronted darkness. Many from the area followed Him into Galilee, His merciful nature and authority preceding Him.
In contrast to Galilee, Jerusalem represented what Ernst Renan described as obstinate Judaism, founded by Pharisees and fixed by the Talmud.12 John the Baptist called the Pharisees and Sadducees a generation of vipers (Mt 3:7)–children from the seed of the serpent following after the lusts of their father the devil (Jn 8:44). Jesus also likened them to vipers who would try to evade the flames, but the fires would consume them (Mt 23:33). Their corrupt and evil works would not allow them to escape the condemnation of hell.
Both the crowds and the ruling Jews sought after Jesus but for different reasons. Matthew 4:24 points out Jesus’ “fame went throughout all Syria.” The multitudes brought Him their sick, tormented, possessed, lunatick, and palsy for healing. Large crowds continually followed Jesus. His fame also caught the attention of the Pharisees and Sadducees, enraging them. While the crowds anxiously sought out Jesus, the Pharisees and Sadducees plotted His demise. After Jesus healed the lame man in Bethesda on the Sabbath and substantiated His authority by referring to God as His Father, the Jews sought to kill Him (Jn 5:18-47). Ultimately, Jesus died there crucified on the Cross, giving the ultimate sacrifice atoning for humanity’s sin.
Matthew 4:25 separates the multitudes that followed Jesus of Judea from Jerusalem even though the region contained the city. Judea, a province of Rome, lay south of Galilee. It included the former territories of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Dan, Simeon, and part of Ephraim. Considered an upper hill country, it extended from the north to Bethel, south to Beth Zur, west to Emmaus, and east to the Jordan River. Economically, Judeans considered themselves more sophisticated Jews open to Hellenistic influences than their southern, Galilean neighbors (Jn 1:46).14Also, Galileans spoke a different form of Aramaic (Mk 14:7; Jn 7:52; Acts 2:7), which the Judeans looked upon as crude.
While Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea (Mt 2:1, 5, 6; cf. Mi 5:2), the book of Matthew only features His baptism there before chapter four. Yet, the event marks a pivotal moment in redemptive history. In the Judean wilderness, God publicly announced Jesus as His beloved Son and anointed Him as the Messiah (Mt 3:16-17). Later, Jesus ministered in Judea (Mk 10:1; Jn 4:3). Also, Judeans did hear Jesus’ teachings and witness His miracles (Lk 5:17). Later, however, Jesus experienced persecution there (Jn 4:1-3).
And from beyond Jordan
Known as Peraea, the area pertains to the territory east of the Jordan River. The territory bounded Decapolis to the north and east with Samaria and Judea to the west. The Jews did not esteem the region east of Jordan since only the land of Canaan (or Israel) symbolized a holier than all lands–the land flowing with milk and honey.15
When the Hebrews had conquered and made ready for settlement the land east of Jordan, the children of Reuben and Gad claimed the lands known as Jazer and Gilead as their inheritance because of its suitability to graze their livestock there (Nm 32:1-5). However, their choice left them vulnerable to attack. Second Kings 15:29 tells that the King of Assyria placed them in captivity there as the first in exile of the tribes from the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Jesus’ Perean ministry began with His departure from Galilee (Mt 19:1; Mk 10:1) and ended with Mary anointing Him in Bethany (Mt 26:6) and His journey towards Jerusalem commencing (Mk 10:32). Mathew previously mentioned the people from that region in the account of John for the baptism of repentance in the Jordan River: that all the areas around it went out to Him (Matt 3:5 NKJV).
Scope of Jesus’ Tent
As Jesus unfolded the range of His tent’s groundsheet, He ministered to Jews and Gentiles as well. Beginning in Mt 2:12 with the pagan magi and spreading to all Syria and Decapolis, non-Jews experienced the kingdom of heaven, too. Jesus saw no class or ethnic distinctions among people. In contrast, the Pharisees created a dichotomy labeling people as insiders or outsiders, with outsiders considered unworthy sinners (i.e., Lk 7:37). He offered salvation to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. He also did not esteem one nation over the other, as did the Jews with Israel.
Further, the Messiah did not distinguish between statuses of personages; instead, He brought forth all who came to Him into a new community of believers as one. Paul described this unity in Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” He freed the oppressed, the afflicted, and the wounded, preaching the gospel to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, bringing deliverance to the captives, and recovering the sight to the blind to free the bruised (Luke 4:18). The foundation for His tent set initially in Galilee extended across the world, offering rest in Him to all humanity.
Jan Paron, PhD
1 David K. Bernard, Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ: Deification of Jesus in Early Christian Discourse (Deo Publishing, 2016), 87.
2 E. Masterman, “Galilee in the Time of Christ,” The Biblical World 32, no. 6 (1908): pp. 405-416, https://doi.org/10.1086/474135.
3 According to Ex 33:7-11, this tent was for communion with Yahweh, to receive oracles and to understand the divine will.
4 G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, 2007) 21.
5 Ray Vander Laan, “He Went to the Synagogue,” That the World May Know, accessed May 13, 2021, https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/He-went-to-synagogue.
6 Randall Niles, “Galilee at the time of Jesus,” Drive Through History, accessed May 11, 2021 https://drivethruhistory.com/galilee-at-the-time-of-jesus/.
7 R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), chap. 2, Kindle.
8 France, The Gospel of Matthew, chap. 2.
9 Selah Merrill, Galilee in the Time of Christ (Elibron Books, 2006), chap. 2, Kindle.
10 Ray Vander Laan, “He Went to the Synagogue.”
11 Ray Vander Laan, ”A Far Country Decapolis,” That the World May Know, accessed May 10, 2011, https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/a-far-country-decapolis.
12 E. Renan, The Life of Jesus (trans. C.E. Wilbour; New York, 1991) 56f.
13 “What Is the Significance of Judea?” Got Questions?, accessed May 12, 2021, https://www.gotquestions.org/Judea-in-the-Bible.html
14 Justin Taylor “7 Differences Between Galilee and Judea in the Time of Jesus,” Gospel Coalition, accessed May 9, 2021, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/7-differences-between-galilee-and-judea-in-the-time-of-jesus/.
15 “Mishnah Kelim 1:6,” Sefaria.org, accessed May 9, 2021, https://www.sefaria.org/English_Explanation_of_Mishnah_Kelim.1.6?lang=bi