Calling the New Israel in the Land of the Old

In Matthew 4, two stories are juxtaposed (4:12-17 and 4:18-22) that show us one of the goals in Jesus’ earthly ministry: he intended to raise up a new Israel.

Old Israel consisted of 12 tribes, so Jesus chose 12 disciples. He began his selection in Matthew 4. The location was significant too: “territory of Zebulun and Naphtali” (4:13). Those names came from two of the 12 tribes.

Then, “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother . . . And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ ” (Matt 4:18-19). After leaving there “he saw two brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother . . . and he called them” (4:21).

What is Jesus doing in Matthew 4? Launching his public ministry. Part of this launch will mean beginning a new Israel, so in land tied to the history of the old Israel he summons fishermen. These men will be part of the crew who serve as a new community, a group of disciples, a New Twelve.

In the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, Jesus calls out Simon, Andrew, James, and John. In the soil of the old Israel, he begins to summon the new.

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