The thoughts of kings and kingdoms are foreign to our 21st-century mindset. The very mention of them brings to mind fairy tales and medieval legends. Our view of a kingdom is romanticized and very separated from our day-to-day life.
But in the ancient world, the king was supreme. His word was absolute and uncontested. The citizens would thrive under a good king or chafe under a bad king, who would rule until his death or defeat (by a more powerful king).
When God established the nation of Israel and called them to be His own people, He set up a government where God Himself would rule as their perfect king (see Exodus-Deuteronomy). But the people rejected God’s rule and demanded a king of their own (1 Samuel 8:4-9). Throughout the rest of Old Testament History, the fortunes of God’s people rose and fell based on the character of their kings.
But God had greater plans for His people. Every book of the Old Testament promised that a great king would come. He would save mankind from the curse of sin, and lead Israel in a victorious, perfect kingdom. He was the Promised One, the Anointed One, or in Hebrew, The Messiah (see here).
The Old Testament prophets also wrote about His kingdom. Daniel saw the empires of mankind destroyed by the kingdom of God that would never end (Daniel 2:44, 7:27, see here). Isaiah saw the kingdom of God as a kingdom of peace and safety, where the wolf would dwell with the lamb (Isaiah 11).
This kingdom of God was a real promise that Jews anticipated. As they were dominated by the world empires — Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome — they looked forward to the day when their Messiah would come and free them, restoring peace to the world. When John the Baptist came announcing that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, the people came by the thousands. They were ready to be free!
Jesus followed John with the same message: the kingdom of heaven was at hand1. But Jesus never came with military force. He never drove out the Romans, nor did He oppose any conquering army. He had no political power. Yet Jesus spent most of His ministry teaching about His kingdom. So what is His kingdom? What is the kingdom of heaven?
Matthew 4 tells the beginning of Jesus Christ‘s ministry on earth. He had been waiting for 30 years, until he learned that John was baptizing in the Jordan River. He then came to be baptized, launching His three and a half year ministry (see here). In a dramatic showing, the Holy Spirit descended on him after His baptism and God the Father audibly accepted Jesus as His son.
Jesus was then taken immediately by the Holy Spirit after His baptism. He was brought to the wilderness where, after an extended fast, He was severely tempted by the devil (see here). Jesus started his ministry with a challenge from the enemy.
Now, almost a year has passed. John’s Gospel accounts tells us about this year that followed the temptation, when Jesus had stayed in the south country of Judea, gathering disciples (see John 1-4) . It was there that He met Andrew, Peter, John, Phillip, and the Nathanael (see here). It was also during this time that He threw out the corrupt businessmen from the temple (see here), and shortly afterward had a lengthy discussion with one of the top teachers of Israel, Nicodemus (see here).
Jesus also had taken a brief visit to Galilee during that year. John’s gospel account tells of how He came up to Cana for a wedding feast, and where he performed His first miracle (see here). It was also during this visit to Galilee that Jesus relocated his family from his hometown of Nazareth to the town of Capernaum, by the sea of Galilee (John 2:12).
It was about a year since Jesus‘ baptism when John the Baptist was arrested by Herod Antipas. John had been preaching in the North (Galilee) while Jesus was was in the South (Judea, John 3:22-24). Yet, when Jesus heard the news that John was arrested he knew that the time has come for him to head north. The opposition was mounting against Him and the time was growing short.
Jesus’ message was the same as John – repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The king was here, and He was getting ready to set up his kingdom. It was now time to prepare yourself for the kingdom, starting with getting right with God!
He also gathered followers as he went through Galilee. He had already known Peter, Andrew, James, and John from His time in Judea, but he now called them to leave their professions and follow him, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. When they heard Him, they left their fishing and immediately followed Him.
Many pastors have preached on this passage, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men“. It is a well-known quote from the gospels and it is often applied toward missions or evangelism. I have heard one popular pastor use this passage as a launching point to explain why we need to strategize and determine how to reach the world with the gospel. This is a good sentiment and is true to Scripture. However, that is not what Jesus is saying here. He gave a command and the promise. The promise is that Jesus will do the making. He will make us into fishers of men. It is not a job that we take on upon ourselves.
What is our job? Our job is to follow Him. That was Jesus’ command to Peter, to the other disciples, and therefore to all of us who believe in Him. We are to follow Him! The last scene in the four gospels is when Jesus appeared again, to Peter, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had risen from the dead and had come to restore and commission His broken disciples. His final message to Peter was the same as at the beginning, “Follow me!“ (See here).
What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ? Just like the disciples of old, we spend our time with Him, and hang out with Him. Jesus Christ consumes our thoughts and our focus. He becomes our role model.
We cannot imitate Jesus’ every action on earth, so that cannot be what it means to follow him. We cannot heal the sick like Jesus did. We cannot raise the dead. We better not say that we are God, and I trust that we will never have the opportunity to be crucified!
But this passage in Matthew shows us how we are to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit as he went to his temptation (Luke 4:1). Luke again highlights the fact that Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee (Luke 4:14). This is the key to Jesus‘ ministry, and this is how we are to follow him. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit in the same way that Jesus did. He is to direct our every move, so that we work through His power.
It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus began His ministry in Galilee:
He was a light in the darkness
John was in prison but the need was as great as ever. This land of Galilee was historically dark because the people of that region had turned away from God, and were terribly abused by conquering nations. Isaiah predicted that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1-2). The persecuted, wicked people of Galilee would have the first light of the Messiah — He would bring them truth and life.
Isaiah lived over 700 years before Jesus Christ. But the people was just as dark in the time of Jesus. The people were consumed by their self-seeking ways and needed to turn back to God.
We also need to be a light to the darkness. Matthew says that Jesus went out preaching the good news about the kingdom. Our message about the kingdom may be different from Jesus (we are not the king, nor are we preaching the message of an imminent physical kingdom), but we need to be a light in darkness, bringing the good news about Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him.
He called others to follow Him
Jesus called his disciples to come and follow Him. He promised that He would make them fishers of men.
We need to call others to Jesus, but we also need to remember that we are fishers of men. The first four disciples — Andrew, Peter, James, and John — all lived different lives and had radically different ministries, yet God uses each of them to being people to Him.
We need to follow Him. He does the transforming.
“Jesus never commanded the disciples to catch fish. He commanded them to follow him and He would make them fishermen.” – Stephen Davey 6
He taught, preached, and healed
Jesus went throughout the land of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the message of the kingdom, and healing many. His fame became so great that people from the surrounding areas all came to see Him. Even the people from Judea, whom He had left to return to Galilee, followed Him north!
We will not have a ministry like Jesus, but this example shows what can happen when we are led by the Holy Spirit. God will more than fill up what we leave behind!
As a final thought, it would be good to remember what happened to the first four fishers of men. Jesus had called each of them, and promised that He would use them.
Andrew is the most noted for bringing others to meet Jesus. He first brought his brother Peter to see Him (John 1:40-41, see here). Andrew was the one to bring the boy to Jesus when He fed the 5,000 (John 6:8-9, see here), and the Greeks went through Andrew when they wanted to see Jesus in Jerusalem (John 12:20-22, see here). Church tradition holds that Andrew traveled north to preach the gospel in what is now eastern Europe and Russia.
Peter was typical example that we think of when we hear of the term, “fisher of men”. We see him leading the church in Acts, and preaching to thousands (Acts 2:38-41). Jesus predicted that Peter would die a martyr’s death and tradition says that he was crucified upside-down by the Romans.
James was always known in the gospels as accompanying his brother John, through the good and the bad. James was the first Apostle to be killed, being murdered by Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12:1-2.
John was the disciple who lived the longest. He referred to himself in the fourth gospel as “The disciples whom Jesus loved” (e.g. John 13:23). His only claim to fame was that Jesus chose to love him. John was the writer of five books of the New Testament, including the fourth gospel and the final book of the Bible, Revelation.
These were four disciples with for different lives and four different ministries. Jesus does not tell us how we will become fishers of men, he only says that we are to follow him.