Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Matthew 4: Restoration of the Kingdom and Fishers of Men

We've been talking a great deal about Jewish hopes relating to the restoration and the land here. I just thought I'd point out something often overlooked. Jesus' description of the apostles as "fishers of men" probably also relates to restoration promises. To do that, let's take a closer look at Matthew 4.

Matthew 4 describes Jesus' Galilean ministry in terms of the fulfillment of the restoration prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2:"In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined."

The prophecy goes on to describe a coming Davidide, through whom restoration will take place: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called 'Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'; Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore" (Isa 9:6-7). There are a number of Solomonic allusions here, the clearest being, "Prince of Peace".

Is it any suprise, then, that immediately after Matthew cites from Isaiah 9, Jesus is therefore described next as announcing: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand"? As I've explained before on this blog, according to the Old Testament, the Davidic kingdom is "the kingdom of the Lord":

1 Chronicles 28:5: "“[The Lord] has chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the Kingdom of the Lord over Israel.”

2 Chronicles 13:8: "And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David"
Jesus goes on to proclaim the "gospel of the kingdom" (Matt 4:17). The phrase encapsulates two things: (1) the "good tidings" (ὁ εὐαγγελιζόμενος, Isa 40:9) of the New Exodus proclaimed in Isa 40 and (2) the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom promised, for example, in Isaiah 9. Jesus is the true Son of David, through whom the Kingdom of David and the tribes of Israel will be restored. As both (and only) David and Solomon reigned over all twelve tribes--the northern and southern tribes--Jesus' ministry begins in Galilee. The restoration commences where the exile began.

Jesus then encounters Simon and Andrew. We read:

Matthew 4:18-19: As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 
The language here recalls Jeremiah 16. There the prophet describes the restoration of the exiles in the land:
Jeremiah 16:14-15: "Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land which I gave to their fathers.
The next verse describes how this will take place: “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, says the Lord, and they shall catch them" (Jer 16:16).

It is through the apostles that Jesus, the true Son of David, will restore Israel. They are the "fishers" spoken of by Jeremiah. As I will explain in greater detail in future posts, it is through their ministry that this is accomplished. Again, I will develop this more fully in future posts, but until then, note that how their "sending out", their "fishing", is finally described by Jesus at the end of the Gospel: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).

They aren't leading people to the land, they are leading people to Christ. And they bring them to Him through baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What's going on here? Well, Brant and I will be going into much greater detail as time goes by... not just in his next book and in my dissertation (which, God willing, will also be a book!), but right here on this blog, so keep tuning in.


Brant Pitre said...


This is a fantastic sacramental exegesis of Matthew! While I have seen the Jer 16 connection before, I've never made the link with the actual Great Commission and baptism. Bravo!

Kim. said...

Wow...that's great, Michael!

Taylor Marshall said...

Don't forget the "fishermen" at the waters flowing from the Temples in Ezek 47:9-10

And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.

Fishermen will stand beside the sea; from En-ge'di to En-eg'laim it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.

Brant Pitre said...

Dang, Taylor, that's great.
I love Ezekiel 47 but have always missed that one! And I'm pretty keen on the whole fishers thing. The fish of "very many kinds" should obviously evoke the 153 fish of John 20, so we have both Matthew and John's Gospels ending with sacramental restoration eschatology (Jesus' words to Peter: "feed my lambs" come to mind here.)

Dale Allison in his awesome book "The Luminous Dusk"--or somewhere else, maybe in a lecture he gave called "Books and the Book"--once referred to Scripture as an "intertextual wonderland."
And so it is.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent stuff.

Taylor Marshall said...

The sign of Jonah is a story of a man being "caught" by a fish. Reversal of the scenario.

The giant fish "intervenes" so that Jonah's "gospel" goes to the Gentiles.

The "fishiness" of Jonah would make a great paper as it relates to the Gentile mission.

Taylor Marshall said...

There is also the role of the fish in the story of Tobias.

The fish is a healing agent of blindness and casts out the defling demon in Gentile lands.

Michael Barber said...


Wow! Great points! By the way, I clicked over to your blog and you have some excellent posts over there.

There's another connection with Jonah we might mention here. Jonah was sent to the capital city of the Assyrians--Nineveh. It was the Assyrians who came to destoy the northern kingdom. In fact, this helps explain why Jonah was so eager to see Nineveh judged--he was a patriot who wanted to see Israel's enemies destroyed.

Likewise, the apostles--at least two of them--went to Rome, the capital city of the nation that came in to destroy Jerusalem. Where Israel had turned away from God, triggering divine judgment, Nineveh repented. Similarly, the Gospel was rejected in Jerusalem and so it went out to the nations and Rome, through whom God brought judgment. I realize this isn't a perfect analogy but I think there are definitely similarities.

Dim Bulb said...

Since the sea is often a symbol of death and enmity with God should we see the "fishers of men" motif as oriented towards life and union with God? I've never seen the hostile aspect of the Bible's sea symbolism applied to the call of the first disciples.

Should one see any significance in the fact that both Peter and Jonah were saved from drowning by divine intervention? And is there any significance to the fact that Jonah began his flight from his God given mission to the gentiles in the city of Joppa? The same city Peter was in when he argued with God concerning unclean food and was told to preach to the gentile Cornelius?

Pondering stuff like this keeps me up at night, and I lack the scholarly background to come to any conclusions. Any help someone out there could give me would be greatly appreciated.

David said...

Can we draw the conclusion that since the sea was used to represent the gentile nations and because of the exile Israel has now become part of that vast sea, that this fishing of men out of the waters of baptism is the means by which Israel is restored? I believe Roy Shoeman mentions something like this in his book "Salvation is from the Jews."

This is great stuff. I think my mind is on overload.


Taylor Marshall said...

And is there any significance to the fact that Jonah began his flight from his God given mission to the gentiles in the city of Joppa?

Dim Bulb - that is a great observation!

Didn't Jonah want to go to Tarshish - and didn't Paul want to go to Tarshish...