Friday, April 29, 2011

The Significance of Galilee in Matthew's Gospel

Alice C. Linsley

In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the only women at the tomb and she arrives while it is dark. When she arrived the stone was already rolled away and the angels were not there. She met Jesus in the garden and Jesus told her to go and tell the Disciples. There is a wonderful symmetry here with angles declaring the birth of Jesus to Bethlehem shepherds and angels announcing the resurrection of Jesus to a woman who missed the Passover because she had handled the Lord's dead body. Perhaps this is why Jesus, observant of purity, instructed Mary not to touch Him. After His ascension, such a concern would not exist.

In Luke’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is accompanied by Joanna, Mary the mother of James, “and the others” (Luke 24:9). They came very early. By this account the stone was rolled away when the women arrived and there were two angels. The angels reminded them that Jesus had spoken of His resurrection on the third day. In this account, the angels didn’t tell the women to report to the Disciples.

In Mark’s account, Mary Magdalene is accompanied by Mary the mother of James and Salome. They came very early in the morning and when they arrived the stone was rolled away. They entered the tomb and found it empty except for a young man clothed in a long white robe on the right side. The “young man” told the women to go and tell the Disciples and Peter that He was going before them to Galilee. Mark tells us that the women were so terrified that they said nothing to anyone (Mark 16:7-9).

Matthew’s account is the only one that speaks of an earthquake “for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (Matt 28:2). The guards were present and they trembled with fear and became like dead men. The angel spoke to the women and told them to go quickly and tell the Disciples. They were filled with joy and ran quickly to tell the Disciples. On their way Jesus met them, saying “Rejoice!” and they fell at his feet and worshipped Him. Jesus told them that He would see the Disciples in Galilee at a certain mountain about which He had spoken before His crucifixion. In the cosmology of Abraham's people the mountain is where men encounter God.  It is the spatial sacred center between heaven and earth.

While the women were reporting to the Disciples some of the guards were reporting to the chief priests. The guards' report of the events so troubled the chief priests that they immediately assembled the elders to consult. Their decision was to bribe the soldiers and to concoct a lie which they set about to circulate among the Jews.

Matthew was privy to this and his testimony is true. He went with the others into Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them and Jesus came to them and said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”

In Mark’s Gospel, the Great Commission is given while the disciples were gathered at table (Mark 16:14). There is no mention of Galilee at all.

Luke’s Gospel has the story of Jesus meeting Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus. Jesus tells the Disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the “power from on high” comes upon them. He departs from them in Bethany.

John tells us that the Risen Lord appeared to the Disciples (minus Thomas) while they were gathered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Later He appeared to Thomas. John ends his Gospel (chapter 20) with these words: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

John has a second ending which places Jesus and the Disciples in Galilee. This is a fishing story in which the tired fishermen catch a huge harvest. After that, Peter is asked three times if he loves Jesus. Jesus also tells him, “Feed my sheep.” Finally, there is a foretelling of Peter’s death and an explanation about a rumor that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” would not experience death. Chapter 21 is believed to have been added later and represents a tradition surrounding Peter. This chapter closes with these words to Peter, spoken by Jesus in Galilee: “If I will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.”

According to Matthew, Jesus unquestionably wanted to meet with His disciples in Galilee following His resurrection. Galilee was Jesus' home. Archaeological evidence indicates that he was born in the royal city of Bethlehem of Galilee which was only about 5 miles from where he grew up in Nazareth. The entire region was under the royal house of Tyre that is traced back to Eden (Ezekiel 28:11-18).

Jesus speaks three places in his Gospel of where his disciples were to meet Him after His resurrection. During the Last Supper Jesus informed His disciples: “After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (Matt. 26:32). Three days later, Mary Magdalene and the other women were told by an angel to notify the Disciples: “He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him” (Matt. 28:7). Only three verses later, as the women were on their way to inform the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and said: “Rejoice!… Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me” (28:9-10). Sometime after, “the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them,” and “worshipped Him” (Matt. 28:16).

Jordan River entering the Sea of Galilee
Photo by Todd Bolen

Why the emphasis on Galilee? It was far from the Jewish center of power at the Temple, which was the sacred center for Jews. It was a place where Gentiles lived and the Jewish establishment regarded Jews who lived there with distain. But it was where Jesus’ followers lived. The Risen Christ came to His followers there and His presence with them marked the new sacred center. He also comes to us who are His followers today. From the tomb He rises with these words: I’ll meet you where you live. Where you live in Me is sacred space.

Related reading:  Matthew's Testimony Concerning the Empty Tomb; The Sacred Center in Biblical TheologyWhy Jesus Visited Tyre; Bethlehem in the Time of Abraham; The Ark Rested in Bethlehem; The Nazareth-Egypt Connection; Shepherd Priests


Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, please quit/stop/cease telling the truth. It makes you a renegade and dangerous. Best, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

Brent, I 've been called worse. :)

Mark said...

Alice, Thanks for taking this issue on. I wonder two things as I read these verses. One why the disciples did not immediately take off for Galilee and wait for Jesus after Jesus instructs the women? Even a week later, the disciples are still in the upper room when Jesus appears to Thomas. The disciples finally go to Galilee, it appears that Peter waits a while, then takes off and goes fishing. The second question is why Galilee? Why was it important for Jesus to be from the northern kingdom and not the southern kingdom. He was Jesus of Nazareth. The titulus said so. Is there a deeper OT fullfillmint in this?

Alice Linsley said...

Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience. His tone is both apologetic and polemic. He casts doubt on some rabbinic interpretations of messianic prophesies such as Matthew 2:15: “…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called my Son.'”

The Jews interpreted this as a reference to the Exodus, making Israel God’s son. Matthew clearly believed that this is wrong. The prophecy concerns the Son of God, the expectation of whom originated among Abraham's Nilotic and Proto-Saharan ancestors. In this sense the prophecy functions on two levels. The rabbis chose to ignore the deepr level. The expectation of the Seed/Son of God spread across the Levant, Arabia and Mesopotamia by Horite priests. Nazareth was at the crossroads for migrants and travelers. As an historical fact, Jesus was brought out of Egypt to Nazareth.

This would have been especially important to Matthew because he was of the priestly line of Mattai (Mattan/Matthew) which was associated with the Horite settlement of Bethlehem. This was the priestly line of Joseph, who married Mary. This was why he was required to go to Bethlehem for the census during the reign of Caesar Augustus (B.C. 30-A.D. 14).

Mark said...

It still isn't coming together for me. Jesus tells the disciples to go to Galilee and does eventually meet them there but, then goes back to Jerusalem and gives the final instructions there and leaves from earth to heaven from the Mount of Olives. The angles then tell the disciples that he is coming back there when HE returns...So why the traveling back and forth from Jerusalem to Galilee and back to Jerusalem again. Maybe I am looking for too neat of a picture, I am not gripping the significance.

Alice Linsley said...

The problem seems to be that you are trying to synthesize the different gospel accounts. This is called "concordism" and poses serious problems. When people try to do this with the two Genesis creation stories and the two flood accounts, it creates greater confusion.

Each Evangelist has his own perspective on Jesus and the events of His days on Earth. Each offers a picture from their unique perspective. We shouldn't try to synthesize their perspectives.

Darryl said...

There were three times a year that Jewish men were to appear before the LORD; feast of unleavened bread (which Passover was a part), feast of weeks (Pentecost), and feast of ingathering. When you read of them in Galilee, which the majority of the 12 lived, you are reading of them post crucifixion/resurrection (Passover). When you read of them again in Jeruselem, when Jesus ascends, it is during Pentecost. The Jews from other countries we read about in Acts 2 would have come during Passover and stayed through Pentecost. Since the disciples lived roughly 80-100 miles away, they would have traveled back home after Passover and back to Jeruselem for Pentecost.

Alice Linsley said...

Thanks, Darryl. Good explanation.

I think that it is interesting that the Jews were to appear three times. Do you have any ideas about why the number 3?

Among Abraham's people the Creator was associated with the number 3. Remember that the Visitation of Abraham involved the Lord and 2 angelic beings. Baal Shalisa was an ancient name for God among Abraham's people. It means the Three-God. I suppose this foreshadows the Holy Trinity, although the Trinity was not fully manifested until Jesus' baptism.

Anonymous said...

Am impressed by this comments. they are not apologetics as you may think but explanatory expositions of the individual records of the gospel authors.

Alice Linsley said...

My father was an attorney who handled criminal cases. He knew how to cross-examine witnesses and how to detect collusion. He was impressed after reading the different Gospel accounts by how they agree on the main events but note different details. Had they all given exactly the same testimony he would have reason to doubt them, as that is a sign of collusion or conspiracy.

Anneliese Neal said...

The Trinity has been mentioned before Jesus' baptism when the angel appeared to Mary announcing that she will be the mother of the Son of God.
An angel of the Lord (Father) tells Joseph that Mary’s child (Son) is of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20).
The second example is Jesus’ baptism: Jesus (Son) comes up from the water, the Spirit descends on him like a dove, and the Father affirms him with a voice from heaven (Matthew 3:16–17; Mark 1:10–11; Luke 3:22).

Alice Linsley said...

The revealing of God as Three-Personed is found in the story of the visitation of Abraham in Genesis 18: Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth,…

The ancients had a name for this three-personed God: Baal Shalisha, roughly translated the Three Diety.