Life-Study of Matthew

Life-Study of Matthewby Witness Lee

ISBN: 0-7363-0332-4
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry

Currently in: Chapter 12 of 72 Section 1 of 3




We come now to a very important section of the Gospel of Matthew, the section of the King’s ministry (4:12—11:30). In this message we shall consider the beginning of the ministry (4:12-25). After the Lord was anointed, He was tested to prove that He was qualified, and then He began to minister.


A. After John the Baptist Was Imprisoned

Verse 12 says, “Now having heard that John was delivered up, He withdrew into Galilee.” Although John the Baptist ministered in the wilderness, not in the holy temple in the holy city, he was still in Judea, not far from the so-called “holy” things. Due to the people’s rejection of John, the Lord Jesus withdrew into Galilee to begin His ministry, far away from the holy temple and holy city. This occurred sovereignly to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1 and 2.

According to the human concept, Jesus should have begun to minister from the holy temple in the holy city, Jerusalem. But the report came to Him that His forerunner, John the Baptist, had been imprisoned. This was an indication to this new King that Jerusalem had become a place of rejection; therefore, He should not begin His kingly ministry there.

In His economy God intended to have a thorough change, a change from the old economy to the new. The old economy had resulted in an outward religion, an outward temple, an outward city, and an outward system of worship. Everything in the old economy was systematized in an outward way. In God’s new economy, He gave all that up and had a new beginning. The environment under God’s sovereignty matched this change in God’s economy. Because Jerusalem had rejected the recommender of the new King, the Lord Jesus knew that He should not begin His ministry there. There was no welcome for Him in Jerusalem.

Although the new King was the Son of God, and although He had been anointed with the Spirit of God, we are not told here that He prayed concerning where He should go to minister. We are not told that He had the deep sense that He was being led to the north, away from Jerusalem. Rather, the Lord considered the environment and received from it the clear indication where He should go. Do not think that we can be so spiritual that we need no indications from our environment. Even the King of the heavenly kingdom, the Son of God anointed with the Holy Spirit, moved according to the environmental indicators. The Lord’s concept was neither natural nor religious, Furthermore, it was not according to past history. According to history, as the anointed King, He should have gone to the capital, Jerusalem, for Jerusalem is the proper place for the King. However, because His forerunner, His recommender, had been cast into prison, He went to Galilee. According to the human expectation, it was ridiculous for the newly anointed King to leave the capital and go to a despised region to begin His kingly ministry. He did not even go south to Hebron, the place where David was enthroned, nor to Beersheba, the place where Abraham lived. He went to Galilee.

By considering the Lord’s move after the imprisonment of John the Baptist, we must learn not to try to be supernaturally spiritual. Jesus was not spiritual in that way. We must also learn not to go according to past history or to human understanding. According to history and the human concept, the King of the Jews should be in Jerusalem sitting on the throne. However, Jesus did not move purely according to the spiritual leading, nor did He move according to past history or the natural concept. Rather, He moved according to the environment which corresponded to God’s economy. By so doing, He spontaneously fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1 and 2. Although the Lord moved apparently according to the environment instead of following the Spirit, His move was a fulfillment of the prophecy in the Scriptures.

In moving with the Lord we must avoid two extremes. The first extreme is the supernatural extreme. Some claim that there is no need to consider their environment because they have the Spirit. The other extreme is to pay too much attention to history and to the natural inclination and natural understanding. But in Matthew 4 the new King did not move merely according to the so-called spiritual leading nor according to history or the natural inclination. Rather, He moved along with God’s economy according to the indicators in the environment. He went to Galilee, to the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, to shine as a great light upon those sitting in darkness and in the region and shadow of death (4:15-16).

Nothing that happened either to John the Baptist or to the Lord Jesus was accidental. When John came out to minister at the age of thirty, he was very bold. It was not very long before he was imprisoned. You may find it difficult to believe that John the Baptist could be imprisoned. There seemed to be no reason for this. Once again, his imprisonment was due to the environment. John was imprisoned by Herod the king, not by the Jewish leaders. However, both the religious power and the political power, the Jewish religion and the Roman government, collaborated for the accomplishment of God’s purpose. It was sovereign according to God’s economy that John the Baptist was imprisoned at that time. The reason for this is that there comes a time when every recommending ministry must cease. If John the Baptist had not been imprisoned, it would have been difficult for him to stop his ministry. Because John was the recommender, his ministry should not have continued. In John chapter three we see that the disciples of John the Baptist were in competition with the ministry of the new King (v. 26). The ministry of the recommender was competing with that of the King. Therefore, the ministry of the recommender had to be stopped, and the best way to stop it was to put John himself into prison and even to let him be beheaded.

You may say that God could not be so cruel as to allow this. But God sometimes allows things like this. No doubt, God brought you forth, prepared you, constituted you, qualified you, and then used you very much. But after He has used you, He may say, “Go to prison and wait there to be executed.” Are you able to take this? You may say, “This is altogether unfair. God shouldn’t allow this.” But in the past God has allowed this very thing many times, and I believe He will allow it again. If He allows this to happen to you, you should simply say, “Amen.” Do not send some of your disciples to challenge Christ, saying, “Are You the Christ, the almighty Lord whom I serve? If You are, why don’t You do something to rescue me from prison?” The King would say, “I shall not save you from this. You must die. You must be terminated. Let the new King be on the throne.” John the Baptist and his ministry were terminated because the new King was there. When the new King is here, there should not be any competition.

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