The biblical record does not mention when Jesus left Jerusalem and resumed activity in Galilee. Only John’s account refers to his having been in Jerusalem for a festival and having cured an afflicted man at the pool of Bethzatha. This account next narrates events that occurred in Galilee shortly before the Passover. (John 6:4)
One Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were walking on a path leading through grainfields in Galilee. The hungry disciples, in keeping with a provision of the law, began picking some ears (either of barley or wheat), rubbing them in their hands, and then eating the grain. (Deuteronomy 23:25) Observing this, certain Pharisees objected, viewing their activity as harvesting and threshing and, therefore, unlawful on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:1, 2; Mark 2:23, 24; Luke 6:1, 2)
In response, Jesus reminded the Pharisees of what David had done when he and the men with him were hungry. He accepted shewbread from the priest at the sanctuary, which bread, according to the law, only priests were entitled to eat. Jesus then called attention to the fact that the priests at the temple worked on the Sabbath and yet remained innocent of wrongdoing while carrying out their sacred duties. The Pharisees knew that, outside the temple area, the kind of activity in which priests and Levites engaged on the Sabbath would have been a violation of the law. With reference to himself, Jesus told them, “Something greater than the temple is here.” As the promised Messiah, the unique Son of God, Jesus was greater than the temple, and he did not consider what the disciples did as wrong. Their hunger was real, and human need took precedence (as the case of David illustrated). Stressing the spirit of the law, Jesus added, “If you knew what this means, ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent ones.” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 12:3-7; Mark 2:25, 26; Luke 6:3, 4)
A day of rest served to benefit man. It was not a matter of man being created for the purpose of observing a day of rest. Again calling attention to his identity, Jesus said, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” As Lord of the Sabbath, it was at his disposal for doing positive good, and no one had the authority to condemn his disciples for any activity that he deemed appropriate on that day. (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27, 28; Luke 6:5)
According to 1 Samuel 21:2-6, David obtained the shewbread from Ahimelech. The extant text of Mark 2:26 mentions Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech. It should be noted, however, that Mark 2:26 does not say that Abiathar gave the shewbread to David. This did take place during the general period in which Abiathar served as high priest, for King Saul had Ahimelech executed shortly after David received the shewbread and Abiathar escaped being massacred along with his father and other priests. (1 Samuel 22:11-23)
The extant Septuagint text of Hosea 6:6 is the same as the quotation in Matthew 12:7.
Every Sabbath, Jesus customarily went to the synagogue in whatever town or city in Galilee he happened to be at the time and would teach. (Compare Luke 4:16.) On this particular occasion, scribes, Pharisees, and a man afflicted with an atrophied, paralyzed, or crippled right hand were present among those assembled. The scribes and Pharisees watched whether Jesus would cure the man, seeking to accuse him of violating the law. Probably one of their number raised the question, “Is it permissible to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:9, 10; Mark 3:1, 2; Luke 6:6, 7)
In response, Jesus asked whether a man whose sheep had fallen into a pit on a Sabbath would not lift it out. (Matthew 12:11) Those who were seeking an accusation against Jesus knew that it would primarily be in the man’s interest to help his sheep and that his doing so would, to a lesser extent, be for the sake of the animal. A man, as Jesus pointed out, had greater value than a sheep, and so it was allowable to do good on the Sabbath. He then requested the afflicted man to stand up and position himself in front of everyone. Their seeing him should have given rise to feelings of compassion and a desire to see him cured. The way they reasoned, as Jesus knew, did not allow them to respond mercifully. They would have been more concerned about making sure their sheep was safe than about promoting the welfare of a fellow Israelite. (Matthew 12:12; Mark 3:3; Luke 6:8)
Jesus asked, “Is it permissible on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save a life [soul], or to kill?” For Jesus to have left the man in his afflicted state when he was in a position to bring him relief would have been a callous act or evil. Apparently recognizing what Jesus’ question implied in relation to the man, those assembled refused to answer. As Jesus looked around at the faces of those in the synagogue, he saw no evidence of fellow feeling for the man. Their lack of compassion angered and greatly distressed him. He then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” Immediately the man’s right hand was restored to the sound condition of the left hand. (Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:4, 5; Luke 6:9, 10)
Infuriated at what they regarded as a violation of the Sabbath, the scribes and Pharisees were determined to put a stop to Jesus’ activity. Although they were at enmity with the supporters of Herod Antipas, they thereafter joined them in plotting how they might destroy Jesus. To attain their objective, they needed the political backing of those whom they actually hated and so were willing to cooperate with them in an effort to rid themselves of the object of their hostility. (Matthew 12:14; Mark 3:6; Luke 6:11)
According to Jerome, the evangel the Ebionites used referred to the man as a mason who pleaded with Jesus to restore his hand so that he could again make a living and not have to endure the disgrace of being forced to beg for his food.
With his disciples, Jesus departed for the area around the Sea of Galilee, where his safety would not have been imperiled by the plotting of his enemies. Many from Galilee followed him. News about his activity had spread extensively, and multitudes also came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumaea (bordering Judea on the south), the region on the east side of the Jordan, and the area around Tyre and Sidon (major cities north of Galilee). (Matthew 12:15; Mark 3:7, 8)
To avoid having the crowds crush him, Jesus requested that his disciples have a boat ready for him. This likely would have been Peter’s boat. (Mark 3:9) From the boat, Jesus could address the crowds. The availability of the boat also facilitated his being able to travel to other areas along the seashore.
Jesus had healed many people. So those afflicted with diseases would press upon him, seeking to touch him. Under the control of unclean spirits, persons would shout, “You are the Son of God.” Often Jesus would rebuke them, not allowing them to continue calling attention to his identity. (Mark 3:10-12) In this way, he made it clear that he had nothing in common with the demons and did not want their testimony. To the extent possible, Jesus sought to prevent situations that could lead to his being misrepresented.
He instructed those whom he healed not to spread the word about their cures. Jesus wanted to prevent stirring up needless excitement and the gathering of huge crowds. The way in which he handled matters fulfilled the words of Isaiah 42:1-4. According to Matthew 12:18-21, the prophecy says, “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom my soul has taken delight. I will put my spirit upon him, and he will announce judgment to the nations. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the squares. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering [wick of] flax he will not extinguish, until he has brought judgment to victory, and in his name nations will hope.”
Jesus proved to be the Messianic “servant,” whom his Father had chosen to do his will. This involved laying down his life in sacrifice to make it possible for humans to be forgiven of their sins and to be reconciled to the Father. At the time of Jesus’ baptism, his Father acknowledged him as his beloved with whom he was pleased. (Matthew 3:17; compare Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:5-13.) He was then anointed with holy spirit and thereafter began a proclamation of judgment. The message revealed divine justice and how to gain a right relationship with God and also made it clear that serious loss would result from failure to respond in faith. Whereas Jesus primarily focused on the lost sheep of the house of Israel, he later did “announce judgment to the nations” through his disciples.
The Son of God did not engage in noisy public debating. He refused to be like those who called attention to themselves, were intent on having the masses hear them, and made loud pronouncements in areas where large numbers of people would customarily gather. The lowly or humble and the afflicted among the people resembled bruised reeds and lamp wicks about to go out. They had little from their hard toil and experienced oppression. Among them were many who suffered from diseases and infirmities. Unlike those who made the lot of the lowly more difficult, Jesus compassionately and lovingly brought relief to those who looked to his Father for help. He provided them with comfort and hope, healed many afflicted ones, and infused the lowly and those in distress with new life. Through his activity, he brought what is just or right to victory or accomplished his Father’s will respecting justice. To people of the nations, he (the one bearing the name) came to be the one on whom they could set their hope and, through him, come to be approved children of God. (For additional comments on the quotation from Isaiah 42:1-4, see the Notes section.)
The quotation of Isaiah 42:1-4 in Matthew 12:18-21 largely follows the reading of the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. A major difference is in Isaiah 42:4, where the Hebrew text says, “He will not grow faint and not be crushed until he has set judgment in the earth, and for his law the islands [or, coastlands] shall wait.”
This could be understood to mean that YHWH’s servant, the Messiah, would not tire out or become discouraged on account of the unresponsiveness he would be facing, but he would succeed in accomplishing his mission respecting judgment or justice. He would reveal what is right or just. In this case, “law” would mean Messiah’s authoritative teaching. Nations other than Israel would wait for it, indicating that non-Israelites would desire to receive this teaching or law. The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah says that the isles or coastlands would “inherit” the law, suggesting that they would accept the authoritative teaching and make it their own, faithfully submitting to it.
The extant Septuagint text differs in numerous respects from the quotation in Matthew and the Hebrew text. It reads, “Jacob [is] my servant. I will support him. Israel [is] my chosen one. My soul has welcomed him. I have put my spirit upon him. Judgment he will bring forth to the nations. He will not cry out or let loose [his voice] nor will his voice be heard outside. A bruised reed he will not crush, and a smoking [wick of] flax he will not extinguish, but in truth he will bring forth judgment. He will shine forth and not be broken until he has set judgment upon the earth, and upon his name nations will hope.” There is a possibility that this translation is an interpretive rendering, identifying the servant as the people of Israel rather than the Messiah.
In Matthew 12:21, the point about the hoping of the nations in the name agrees with the reading of the Septuagint but differs from the wording of the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.
The mountain that Jesus ascended and where he spent the entire night in prayer before choosing the “twelve” may have been located near the Sea of Galilee, as there is no indication in Mark’s account that Jesus left the general area around the seashore. In the morning he called the twelve to him, empowering them to expel demons and to cure sicknesses and infirmities. He also commissioned them to proclaim the glad tidings (the message about gaining divine approval and having God as the Sovereign of one’s life). To the twelve, he gave the name “apostles,” meaning “ones sent out.” (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:13-15; Luke 6:12, 13) The twelve apostles were Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus (Judas the son of James), Simon the Cananaean, and Judas. (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16)
All of them appear to have originally been disciples of John, as the qualifications for a replacement for Judas included being a witness respecting Jesus’ baptism by John. (Acts 1:21, 22) Only John could have provided firsthand testimony to his disciples about what he saw and heard on that occasion.
John the Baptist specifically pointed Jesus out to Andrew and John (who does not identify himself in the gospel attributed to him). Andrew introduced his brother Simon to Jesus, and at that time Jesus gave him the name Cephas or Peter, meaning “rock.” (John 1:35-42)
Although not mentioned in the biblical record, John likely was instrumental in leading his brother James to Jesus. If Salome was indeed Mary’s sister, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were Jesus’ cousins. To them, Jesus gave the name “Boanerges” (“sons of thunder”), which designation perhaps described their fiery disposition. (Mark 3:17)
In John’s account (1:44-47), Philip is mentioned as introducing Nathanael to Jesus. The fact that Philip and Bartholomew are linked in the lists of the apostles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke suggests that Nathanael is another name for Bartholomew.
Not until later did Jesus invite the tax collector Matthew or Levi to be his follower. (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14) As to Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus (Judas the son of James), Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the biblical record provides no information at what point before their selection as apostles they had become close disciples of Jesus. If the designation “Iscariot” is correctly understood as meaning “man of Kerioth,” this could mean that the betrayer Judas was from the Judean town of Kerioth. All the other apostles were Galileans. (Compare Acts 1:15; 2:1, 6, 7.)
The term Cananaean appears to be a transliteration of an Aramaic word meaning “zealot” or “enthusiast.” Luke’s account uses the Greek term zelotés (“zealot”). This may well mean, as many have concluded, that Simon had formerly been associated with the political faction known as the Zealots.
Another possibility is that the appellative describes Simon as a person of exemplary zeal.
Traveling throughout Galilee, Jesus taught in the synagogues, proclaimed the glad tidings of the kingdom (the message that revealed how to gain an approved relationship with his Father and to be part of realm where he is the Sovereign), and healed the sick and infirm. News about his activity spread among Jews living in areas beyond the borders of Galilee and Judea, including the Roman province of Syria, the Decapolis, and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon. This resulted in people coming to Jesus in large numbers from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the region east of the Jordan. They would bring the sick, those whom they perceived to be demon possessed, the epileptics, and the crippled, and he would heal all of them. As power to heal proceeded from him, the afflicted would seek to touch him. (Matthew 4:23-25; Luke 6:17-19)
The Decapolis was a region of ten predominantly Greek cities, which appear to have formed a league sometime during the first century BCE. Of these cities, only Scythopolis was located west of the Jordan. Damascus occupied the most distant northeastern location, and the eight other cities were situated east of the Jordan.
In his Natural History (V, 16 [English translation edited by John Bostock and H. T. Riley]), the first-century Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote the following regarding the Decapolis: “On the side of Syria, joining up to Judaea, is the region of Decapolis, so called from the number of its cities; as to which all writers are not agreed. Most of them, however, agree in speaking of Damascus as one, a place fertilized by the river Chrysorroös, which is drawn off into its meadows and eagerly imbibed; Philadelphia, and Rhaphana, all which cities fall back towards Arabia; Scythopolis (formerly called Nysa by Father Liber, from his nurse having been buried there), its present name being derived from a Scythian colony which was established there; Gadara, before which the river Hieromix flows; Hippo [Hippos], which has been previously mentioned; Dion, Pella, rich with its waters; Galasa [Gerasa], and Canatha.”