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Matthew 4:23-25 “The King’s Public Introduction”

And He was going through the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all sickness and all disease among the people. And the report concerning Him spread through the whole of Syria and they brought to Him those badly having various sicknesses and sustaining torments: demoniacs and lunatics and paralytics. And He healed them. And many crowds followed Him from the Galilee, and Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and beyond the Jordan.

These verses are a transition text that offer a conclusion to Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’ arrival (1-2) and preparation (3-4) on the one hand and introduce Matthew’s leading argument of Jesus’ authority (5-9) on the other hand. A careful reader will notice the similarities between 4:23 and 9:35 and would conclude that these verses likely have similar functions within Matthew’s grander picture. As 4:23-25 function to introduce Jesus’ authority as Yhwh’s Messiah (to teach the promises, proclaim the kingdom, and combat the curse), 9:35-38 introduce Jesus’ agenda (calling the lost sheep of Israel to their Shepherd). As such, this transition introduces three key aspects of Matthew’s first major argument why believers should follow Jesus alone.

Introduction of Jesus’ Ministry (v. 23)

And He was going through the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all sickness and all disease among the people.

Matthew uses the imperfect verb περιῆγεν (to be going about/around) to indicate an ongoing action. Jesus was continuously making His way through the region of Galilee. Some consider this the first of three circuits Jesus made through Galilee[1] but it is probably better to consider Jesus’ actions as an ongoing flow of ministry where He was regularly on the move in Galilee rather than dividing His time into strict circuits or official tours with a specified starting and stopping point.[2] To make it through the entire region of Galilee, even on broad level, would have taken a considerable amount of time. Even if Josephus’ report of there being 240 cities and villages in Galilee[3] is understood as an exaggeration, Jesus’ tour of Galilee would have taken two or three months with a schedule of two to three villages a day.[4] The important thing to note is that Jesus is going on the offensive.

Jesus did not sit around and attempt to attract people to His cause. In this sense He is very much unlike contemporary rabbis who sought to attract disciples to themselves. Neither does Jesus seclude Himself in the wilderness and sequester His followers from the world as the Essenes did.[5] Rather, Jesus takes the initiative by going on the offensive, carrying the momentum of this northern campaign to every Middlesex village and farm. But instead of a warning that the British are coming, Jesus’ campaign consisted of three things: Teaching, preaching, and healing. These three aspects of the King’s campaign undeniably prove that Jesus is Yhwh’s Messiah, Israel’s King, and Savior of the world.

Jesus As Teacher

The fact that Jesus came as a teacher is significant. If Messiah is supposed to be a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15), then He must teach the nation of Israel as Moses taught them (Deut. 4:1; 5:31; 6:1; 31:19, 22). As such, the prophets expected a teacher of righteousness (Joel. 2:23; Hos 10:12). It should also be noted that one of the king’s duties is to bless the people through instruction much like the seasonal rains bless the land (Deut. 11:14; 1 Kings 8:35-36; Ps. 72:6). That Jesus provided instruction to the people is an essential part of His role as Messiah.

The synagogue is literally a gathering place. The tradition of the synagogue began in exile as a means of structured worship and instruction without the means of the temple. The people found it useful and so the practice continued even after the return. It is likely that by this time, the people gathered to the synagogue more frequently than only on the Sabbath, to include times of Scripture reading, exposition, and prayer on the 2nd (Monday) and 5th (Thursday) days of the week as well.[6] More than only a place of worship, the synagogue was the center of Jewish life. It was the place where the scriptures were taught, disputes were settled, the law was exercised, and punishment was inflicted.[7] Simply stated, if one wanted to teach a whole society, the Jews already had a structured gathering place where the whole township showed up at least once every week.

This teaching would have been reading and exposition of what we call the Old Testament but to the people of the day it was simply Scripture, the Word of God contained in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. From these Jesus taught the people. What exactly did Jesus teach them? Matthew does not say, but we can hazard a very safe guess. Jesus taught them what the Scriptures said and meant. Even Jesus is chained to authorial intention for this is the word of the Father captured by the pens of the prophets. No finer or purer exposition has ever been heard before the Son of God taught the people nor since. If Jesus selected specific passages to hone in on a point, Matthew gains some specificity in the next description of Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus As Preacher

It is correct to draw a line of distinction between preaching (κηρύσσω) and teaching (διδάσκω). The terms are far from synonymous in Greek and therefore should not be understood as such in English. To teach is to instruct. There is a systematic idea of one person passing along information to another so that they comprehend the message and understand it. To preach is to proclaim a message from a higher authority. A preacher is a herald, a lowly servant of a king given the task of making the king’s will known to the realm. A herald declares the facts of the message given to him regardless of how the message is received or understood. If the message is faithfully delivered, then the duty of the herald is complete. In this summary statement, Matthew reveals the content of Jesus’ preaching.

As the first gospel writer, it is interesting that the term “gospel” (τὸ εὐαγγέλιον) only appears in Matthew 4x (4:23; 9:35; 24:14; 26:13), all of which have connections to the kingdom message that permeates Matthew’s argument. According to Matthew, the good news is tightly connected to the kingdom. In other words, the gospel is highly eschatological. There is a warning here: To diminish the importance of eschatology is to misunderstand or even to alter the gospel that Jesus preached.

It should be obvious that this gospel of the kingdom refers to v. 17 where Jesus said that the kingdom had come near (ἤγγικεν). The message had not changed. Jesus is not proclaiming that the kingdom from heaven has arrived, for that would mean that heaven has officially invaded earth and successfully carried out the conquest. If the conquest is incomplete, then a kingdom cannot be established. Jesus is preaching/proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom. The fact that Matthew calls this good news focuses on the positive aspects that the kingdom entails. The kingdom means a regenerated, reestablished, and restored Israel who is vindicated of her enemies, with a Davidic king reigning over the nation, who serves and is blessed by Yhwh in a direct manner so that the effects of the curse are completely undone and reversed (Obad. 15-21; Hos. 3:5; Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-16; 53:4-6; Zech. 12:10; 14:6-11). If that kingdom has approached so as to have already drawn near, then it is good news indeed. But who would believe such a report? Why should the populace believe Jesus has the authority to proclaim such a message? Because Jesus clearly has the authority to undo and reverse the effects of the curse at will.

Jesus as Healer

There is an anticipation of the king/Yhwh as Israel’s teacher (Ps. 86:11; Is. 2:3). The nearness of the kingdom is accentuated by the fact that it is being heralded by the King Himself. But Jesus’ ministry is more than instruction and anticipation (faith and hope) but includes action (love). Matthew uses language that is all inclusive as Jesus is said to have healed every kind of disease (πᾶσαν νόσον) and every kind of sickness (πᾶσαν μαλακίαν) among the people. Jesus was not simply helping to alleviate symptoms but was eradicating illness. Those healed by Jesus were instantly and utterly made whole and sound. Jesus was cleaning the people from the effects of the curse as He proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom and taught the Scriptures so that they might believe Him to be the King and thus follow Him alone. Thusly Matthew summarizes the Lord’s ministry in Galilee.

Introduction of Jesus’ Authority (v. 24)

It matters very little what someone claims if they do not have the ability or authority to prove or support that claim. If Jesus is preaching the nearness of the kingdom and teaching that it is time of the Messiah to come and suffer for the sins of the people, it is necessary that He substantiate these claims. Thus, Jesus’ healing ministry is more than a ministry of compassion for the people (though certainly not less) but is a sign that Jesus has divine authority to undo and reverse the curse.

Breadth of Jesus’ Authority

And the report concerning Him spread through the whole of Syria

Though Jesus does not at this time leave Galilee, the news about Him certainly does. Capernaum itself was situated on a highway that led to Damascus and the coastal highway ran south from Syrian Antioch through the Galilee and south all the way to Egypt.[8] News of such teaching, preaching, and healing would have traveled fast, and the infrastructure would have supported it. By “Syria” Matthew (speaking to Palestinian Jews steeped in the Old Testament) likely refers to the ancient territory of Aram whose capital was Damascus and whose territory reached to the Northeast bend of the Euphrates River. This is territory that was promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:18) and will make up this near kingdom (Ezek. 47:15-20). The news has reached the inhabitants of the north that the king has arrived, and they come flocking to Him.

Depth of Jesus’ Authority

If Jesus is preaching the nearness of the kingdom, the people seem to understand the implications because those who live in the far north, yet within the promised boarders of the kingdom gather to Jesus. The breadth of Jesus’ authority is being established. But what sort of real authority does Jesus possess? What is the depth of His authority? In the summary statement of v. 23 Matthew did not leave anything unmentioned. There he said that Jesus was healing all kinds of illness and diseases. Here he gets much more specific.

The Physical Effects of the Curse: “and they brought to Him those badly having various sicknesses and sustaining torments: demoniacs and lunatics and paralytics” – It is natural to think that those in Syria who heard and believed the message Jesus preached and the report of what Jesus was capable of were bringing their sick to Him, though it would be a mistake to think Matthew only thinks of the Syrians here. It matters not where they were from. The point is that many, from inside Galilee and outside Galilee were bringing their sick to Jesus. Matthew first refers to them by their severity: those badly having various sicknesses. The adverb κακῶς expresses intensity and requires a verbal idea to modify (badly having) rather than acting as a kind of substantive (those who were ill/sick/bad). This general reference is designed to indicate the severity of their illnesses. These various diseases were badly had; i.e., they were in a bad way. Their prognosis is not good.

Next, Matthew emphasizes the suffering from the patients’ point of view. Βασάνοις συνεχομένους literally means “those being pressed by tortures” or “those sustaining torments”. The point is that these people where in great physical, mental, and spiritual torment with no available relief. The nature of these pains is then presented in three subcategories ranging from the most severe to least: (1) Διαμονισομένους refers to those who were possessed by demons. The verb is used 13x in the New Testament, seven of which are in Matthew (4:24; 8:16, 28, 33; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22). From this, two things are worth noting, (a) Matthew deals with demon possession more than any other New Testament writer and (b) five of Matthew’s seven uses of this verb are found in this opening section dealing with Jesus’ authority. There is clearly a spiritual battle here as Jesus releases men from the spiritual grasp of Satan and demonic possession. (2) Σεληνιαζομένους literally means “moonstruck” (σελήνη = moon) and is thus translated faithfully into Latin as lunaticos (luna = moon) from lunaticus, the root of our English term lunatic.[9] Most English versions stop translating and begin interpreting the text when they render σεληνιαζομένους as “epileptics” for this is not what the term means. While it is true that the ancients believed there was a connection between the phases of the moon and people’s strange behavior such as epileptic seizures, the term is wider than “epileptic” would allow. Matthew is not specifically referring to epileptics, but to those who are unsound in mind, a group that epileptics would certainly fit into. After all, epilepsy is an affliction from one’s brain malfunctioning. Not only are these people afflicted spiritually (demon possessions) but also mentally. (3) Παραλυτικούς translates very neatly into English as those who are paralyzed or do not have the use of their limbs. The reason for such paralysis is not mentioned and thus should be left opened. There are more things than physical trauma that can cause paralysis and there is a reason that demon possession tops the list. These people are afflicted in spirit, mind, and body.

The Curse Reversed: “And He healed them.” – It matters not what the afflictions were, Jesus healed all who were brought to Him. There are at least three things that require meditation at this point. (1) These three cases were known diagnoses at this time. When we read that the people brought their loved ones who were possessed by demons, that is an accurate diagnosis of their condition. Matthew is the most frequent user of this term, but even the beloved physician Luke refers to a man who is demon possessed (Lk. 8:36) with the implication that even the “scientific” mind of Luke admits that this is a real scenario that happened. (2) There seems to be an increase in demonic activity during Jesus’ time on earth. While it may go too far to state that demon possession was commonplace at this time, it was frequent enough for the people to understand not only that demon possession occurs, but also be able to understand what demon possession looks like. While all sickness and disease are passive results of the curse, this affliction is a direct result of satanic activity upon the earth. It would be a mistake to assume that the following two afflictions have no connection to demonic activity and are thus limited as passive results of the fall. (3) Jesus healed them. He did not alleviate symptoms or provide treatments. Jesus left them sound, whole, and well in body, mind, and spirit. This is nothing short of spiritual warfare.

Against the backdrop of a victorious encounter with Satan (4:1-11); Jesus, the new Joshua who leads a new conquest is setting off to war. If the kingdom is near, then the Messianic age of curse-less bliss (Is. 11:6-9; 65:20; Zech. 14:11) has also drawn near. His authority to undo and reverse the curse at will demonstrates His ability to perform all the duties of Messiah. This is good news indeed. If the kingdom from heaven has drawn near and the king from heaven has arrived, then the people must focus all their attention on one thing: follow Him alone!

Introduction of Jesus’ Acceptance (v. 25)

And many crowds followed Him from the Galilee, and Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and beyond the Jordan

It appears that the people were coming to do what the four fishermen have done. It would not be right to spoil Matthew’s affect at this point and so we will not comment regarding the validity of this following. Rather, we will make only two observations: (1) Here Matthew introduces his theme of the crowds and their relationship with Jesus on the one hand and the religious leaders on the other.[10] The crowds are in the middle between Messiah and Israel’s apostate leadership. Throughout the gospel they sway like a palm tree in a hurricane, first in favor of Jesus and then in subjection to the leadership. They may follow Jesus, but do they follow Him alone? (2) How does this following of Jesus compare with the fishermen from vv. 18-22? Is there any sacrifice on their part? Matthew has delivered enough details for the reader to follow and thus we should have a fair idea as to the validity of the crowds’ intentions.

Matthew does not simply describe a single mob or mass of people, but plural crowds arriving from various places. It is interesting the way Matthew describes the origins of these crowds. The locations mentioned serve as the four corners of Israel proper, Israel as David once ruled over.[11] Galilee marks the NW corner while the Decapolis marks the NE. Judea marks the SW corner while “beyond the Jordan” (πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου – from where the name Perea comes) marks the SE with Jerusalem at the center of the list and the geographical points. Matthew’s point is that all Israel is gathering to Jesus to follow Him. The question that we should be asking is: Will they follow Jesus obediently and exclusively? Will they follow Jesus alone?

[1] Archibald Robertson, Matthew and Mark, vol. I, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), p. 36. [2] D. A. Carson, Walter Wessel, and Mark Strauss, Matthew & Mark, Revised, vol. 9, 13 vols., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2010), p. 149. [3] Josephus, Josephus: The Complete Works, trans. William Whiston (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), The Life of Flavius Josephus, p. 17 § v. 235. [4] Grant Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2010), p. 155. [5] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), p. 87. [6] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 173. [7] Morris, p. 87. [8] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 251. [9] Morris, p. 89-90. [10] David Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), p. 140. [11] David Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1993), p. 49.

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