Jesus in Galilee: A Missional Strategy

It has been said that Jesus spent over 70 percent of his ministry in Galilee.  Certainly, as you read the Gospels, this is where He spent the vast majority of His time in disciple-making and in ministry.

Here are some selected quotes bout Galilee from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1):

  • In post-exilie times Galilee is the name given to the most northerly of the three divisions of Western Palestine.
  • …”Galilee of the nations,” i.e. a district occupied by a mixed population of Jews and heathen…. Their mixed origin explains the differences in speech which distinguished them from their brethren in the South, who regarded Galilee and the Galileans with a certain proud contempt (Joh 1:46; 7:52).
  • But a fine type of manhood was developed among the peasant farmers of the two Galilees which, according to Josephus (BJ, III, iii, 2), were “always able to make a strong resistance on all occasions of war; for the Galileans are inured to war from their infancy …. nor hath the country ever been destitute of men of courage.”
  • The cities, towns and villages in Galilee are frequently referred to in the Gospels.
  • Galilee was famous in ancient times for its rich and fruitful soil, “full of the plantations of trees of all sorts…
  • Galilee was in easy touch with the outside world by means of the roads that traversed her valleys, crossed her ridges and ran out eastward, westward and southward. Thus she was connected with the harbors on the Phoenician seaboard, with Egypt on the South, with Damascus on the Northeast, and with the markets of the East by the great caravan routes… In the days of Christ the coming and going of the merchantmen, the passing of armies and the movements of the representatives of the Empire, must have made these highways a scene of perpetual activity, touching the dwellers in Galilee with the widening influences of the great world’s life.
  • While Jewish in their religion, and in their patriotism too, as subsequent history showed, the population of Galilee was composed of strangely mingled elements–Aramaean, Iturean, Phoenician and Greek In the circumstances they could not be expected to prove such sticklers for high orthodoxy as the Judeans.
  • Among the more notable cities in Galilee were Kedesh Naphtali, the city of refuge, the ruins of which lie on the heights West of el-Chuleh; Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, North of the Sea of Galilee; Nazareth, the city of the Savior’s youth and young manhood; Jotapata, the scene of Josephus’ heroic defense against the Romans, which stood at Tell Jefat, North of the plain of Asochis (BJ, III, vii, viii); Cana of Galilee; and Nain, on the northern slope of the mountain now called Little Hermon.
  • Josephus estimates the population at 3,000,000. This may be an exaggeration; but here we have all the conditions necessary for the support of a numerous and prosperous people. This helps us to understand the crowds that gathered round and followed Jesus in this district, where the greater part of His public life was spent.
  • It is significant that 11 out of the 12 apostles were Galileans.

Galilee was not a place of large cities, but of villages and towns. Though it was not totally without strategic significance, it was also somewhat isolated from the rest of Jewish life. In the time of Jesus, Galilee was far from the learning center for Bible scholarship (though after the destruction of Jerusalem, Tiberius would become the center of Jewish religious life). Galilee was populated by working class folks who had some pop-theology in their thinking.  This was not the home of the religious establishment.  Nor was it the locus of political power or a cultural center. Yet, Jesus made his home in Capernaum.  Jesus was called a Galilean.  The Gospel did not go from Jerusalem to Galilee; the Gospel went from Galilee to Jerusalem.

Today, we hear a lot about Mega-Focus Cities. Tim Keller has produced some wonderfully helpful material about reaching the cities.  We often cite the ministry of Paul, the Apostle and missionary, as the model for an approach that starts with reaching strategic cities. I’m not trying to say anything critical about reaching Mega Focus Cities or about Tim Keller… any more than I am trying to criticize Paul.  However, I would suggest the Great Commission’s words, “panta ta ethne,” include more than just the cities. Reaching every people group means we cannot ignore small towns.

And if you are in a small town, you might just have a significant strategic impact of your own–from there. Jesus did.  For example, you may wish to consider that, while at this juncture, the movement is from the small towns to the cities — what would happen if you trained and equipped the bright young people in your church. In pursuing their careers, some of them will be headed to the cities like missionaries.

Don’t feel insignificant because the place the Lord sent you has a smaller population. Look around you.  See where God is moving. See the strategic opportunities where you are. Know that you are in the kind of place Jesus chose for His home and as His base of operations.

(1) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, M.A., D.D. General Editor
John L. Nuelsen, D.D., LL.D. Edgar Y. Mullins, D.D., LL.D. Assistant Editors
Morris O. Evans, D.D., PhD. Managing Editor
Melvin Grove Kyle, D.D., JJ.D. Revising Editor
Copyright, 1939, by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (now in public domain)

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