When John the Baptist was thrown into prison by Herod Antipas, Jesus took it as a signal that he should step forward with a message of fulfillment. John was the last of the old order; he was in fact “Elijah” who was to come before the arrival of God’s Messiah, but all that was now history. Jesus picked up the message of repentance, proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at the door. It had now broken into history in what he was doing and saying.
The ministry of Jesus in Galilee lasted for approximately a year and a half. A great deal took place that can be conveniently treated under three headings: what happened, what Jesus did, and what Jesus taught.
Four events stand out as of crucial importance during Jesus’ Galilean ministry. First, Jesus chose twelve men as a nucleus of leadership (Mark 3:13-19). The importance of this is that Jesus recognized his need of help to get the job done, as well as the fact that his work would live on after him in the ministry of these individuals. The choice of twelve to be apostles was on the analogy of Israel with its twelve tribes; the church which would arise was to be a new people of God.
Second, John the Baptist sent a message from prison asking Jesus if for sure he was the One who was to come. Jesus’ coded reply affirmed that he was (Matt. 11:2-19), but what is crucial here is the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship. He was not going to be a conqueror like those of Rome, but One who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and brought hope to the lost. Jesus’ message was spiritual, not political.
Third, Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men, along with their families (Matt. 14:13-21). After that, the crowd wanted to make him a king, but he refused. Again, it was important that he be the Messiah whom God intended, not what popular opinion wanted. The loneliness of his task was moving in on him as he realized that the people wanted the benefits of what he could do, but were not willing to pay the price of repentance and submission.
Fourth, Jesus withdrew to Caesarea Philippi, where he revealed that being the Messiah meant his going to Jerusalem to die (Mark 8:27-38). Peter resisted that possibility but received a stern rebuke from Jesus. The transfiguration that followed this momentous event (Mark 9:2-8) confirmed that the right decision had been made.
What Jesus Did
Jesus’ activity during this period was designed to show what it was like to have the kingdom of God present. He cast out demons, evil spiritual forces that opposed whatever was good for humankind. The kingdom of God meant the overthrow of the kingdom of evil. Where Jesus goes, evil retreats.
Second, Jesus healed the sick. The Gospels give representative examples of what he did, including his healing of fever, leprosy, deafness, inability to speak, blindness, paralysis, congenital illnesses, and others. God cares for his creation; Jesus was the concrete embodiment of that care. Where Jesus goes, disease retreats.
Third, Jesus ministered to every kind of human need. He encouraged the weak, fed the hungry, calmed raging storms, blessed normal human life with his presence (weddings, worship, travel, etc.), raised the dead, and brought peace where trouble existed. Where Jesus goes, human need retreats.
Fourth, Jesus graciously allowed for a spectrum of discipleship. Some people were disciples who stayed at home; some left everything in order to be with him; some followed him for awhile to learn and then returned to their usual occupation; some stayed at home for awhile and then joined him–it really did not matter. God wants us to be ourselves. He sanctifies our lives just as they are, as long as we give them to him. He fills our lives with meaning and purpose. Where Jesus goes, meaninglessness and despair retreat.
Finally, Jesus came into conflict with the comfortably religious of his day. It is ironic that ordinary people were more interested in Jesus than the prestigiously religious. But, as Jesus said, it is the sick who are in need of a physician. It is only when we realize that we need God that we can be helped. Where Jesus goes, hypocrisy retreats.
What Jesus Taught
The teaching of Jesus during the Galilean period may be summarized briefly. To outsiders, it was “Repent and believe the gospel. The time is at hand and the kingdom of God is upon you.” To those who came, it was “follow the precepts of God as found in the Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5-7). Most of all it is to love God with all our hearts, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Of himself, Jesus said, he came to fulfill the righteousness of God by going to Jerusalem to die and rise again. That was the nature of his Messiahship.