When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
As the first section of Matthew’s Gospel draws to its close, Matthew inserts some transition, and in so doing, he continues his pattern of linking the story of Jesus with Israelite history; in this case using geography as his means. It would seem that Jesus heard that John had been arrested, and then headed for Galilee. Let’s not b e too hasty to assume that He did so because He feared arrest or danger Himself; there is something much greater in play here, for John’s arrest put an end to his mission to “prepare the way of the Lord” and thus, with everything in readiness and the fullness of time having arrived, it was time for Jesus to step into center stage.
In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy found in Isaiah 9:1-2, Jesus travels there, but He doesn’t resume His residence in Nazareth, He sets up shop in Capernaum which will be His base of operation during His Galilean ministry. Notice the inclusion of the tribes that once lived in this region, among the very first to be taken into captivity, along with the reference to “Galilee of the Gentiles” with its obvious reference to the universal nature of Jesus’ messianic mission and its fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.
There is also the observation that these are people, both Jew and Gentile, who are living in darkness, in the very “shadow of death” for whom a new light is beginning to dawn. This is not only the dawning of hope, but it is also the dawning of the truth of God’s redemptive plan coming into its final phase of execution. Matthew sums the whole first section of the book up in one wonderful sentence:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”