Minutes With Messiah Logo

Why Did He Move?

by Tim O'Hearn

Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zebulon and Naphthali; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying The land of Zebulon, and the land of Naphthali, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. (Matt 4:12-16)

Why did Jesus move to Capernaum? Yes, he moved to that city in order to fulfill a prophecy about Messiah. But why does the scripture specify that Jesus moved when “he had heard that John was cast into prison?” What was the relationship between John’s imprisonment and Jesus’ decision to move to Capernaum?

The most obvious reason for Jesus to have moved at this time was safety. A mentally and politically unstable king had just thrown a prophet of God into prison for the simple reason that the prophet had dared to question his marriage. When a king becomes a tyrant, it is safest to live as far from the king as possible. Jesus had been spending time in the Jerusalem area, and had specifically been singled out by this imprisoned prophet as the Messiah, the king of the Jews. Now, if it is good to be as far away from the tyrant as possible, it is doubly so if the tyrant thinks you want his throne. Thus it was certainly expedient that Jesus leave the area around Jerusalem. Since it was known that his home town was Nazareth it was also good to move to a bigger city, where one might easily be overlooked. This is the reason suggested by Harvey Cox (Common Prayers, p. 168)

That, though, would seem to prove that safety was not one of the considerations. Immediately after Jesus moved to Capernaum, the scripture says, “from that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17) If you are in hiding from the king, you don’t stand on a street corner and call attention to yourself. The best drivers on the road, the best citizens in town, these are what you tend to become when on the lam. Jesus did not act like a man who was hiding. Especially, it would be unwise to be preaching the exact same message as the poor preacher Herod had thrown in jail. Of all the things to call attention to yourself, this would be the worst.

So if Jesus was not concerned for his safety, why did he move to Capernaum? Perhaps the most compelling reason is found in Matthew 4:17, quoted above. He did it to begin preaching. When Matthew tells of the move, he quotes from Isaiah 9:1-2. Every Torah scholar will say that when someone quotes a passage, they are quoting the context. Just a few verses after the passage Matthew quotes is a passage that is clearly about the Messiah. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the might God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Matthew was saying that it was time for Jesus to reveal himself as the Coming One, the Messiah of God.

What does that have to do with John being imprisoned? Could Jesus not have begun preaching before then? Apparently not. We know that Jesus did baptize while John was still free (Jn 3:26). Apparently he was doing some preaching at that time, as well. But it was not until John was imprisoned that he began his mission in earnest. As long as John was free to do the work for which he was born, Jesus was not free to do his work. Until the decrease of the forerunner of whom Malachi prophesied (Mal 4:5-6), the Messiah was to bide his time. Only after John prepared the way and ended his mission could Jesus begin his. Jesus knew when his “time” had come. When it came, he moved to the big city. When it came, he went to where he could fulfil the prophecies about him. Jesus moved to Capernaum.