“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Galilee was the venue for most of Jesus’ ministry. It was located in modern-day Northern Israel, which in Jesus’ day was part of the Roman Empire. One of the three provinces of ancient Palestine, it included the whole northern section of the country, the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee forming the Eastern border. Lower Galilee, with great plain and hill country running down into the Jordan, was “one of the richest and most beautiful sections of Palestine,” explains Smith's Bible Dictionary Upper Galilee, known biblically as “Galilee of the Gentiles,” was mountainous.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth, one of the two major cities of Galilee, says Encyclopedia Britannica. Isaiah 9:1 says, “…but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan.” Galilee can be translated to mean wheel or revolution. Though much effort was made by the Roman Empire to keep it a peaceful territory, word of Jesus and His followers threatened to disrupt that peace, and eventually reached all the way to Rome.
Where Does the Bible Talk about Galilee?
“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).
Mentioned 67 times in the Bible, Galilee appears more predominately in the New Testament (64 times) compared to the Old Testament (9). 1 Chronicles documents the fertile land, and its mention in Joshua and 1 Kings describes it as land gifted from Solomon to King Hiram. Isaiah includes it in a prophecy fulfilled in Matthew 4:13-16: “when Jesus ministered in Capernaum- near the major highway from Egypt to Damascus, called ‘the Way of the Sea.’”
Galilee, where Jesus first called his disciples, is the location of many events recorded in the first three Gospels. “The apostles were all Galileans by either birth or residence,” records Smith’s Bible Dictionary. Much of Jesus’ public ministry occurred there, including nineteen of Jesus’ thirty-two parables, and twenty-five of Jesus’ thirty-three miracles, according to Easton's Bible Dictionary. The first recorded miracle was when Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana in John 2:1-11. Biblical scenes such as the Sermon on the Mount and the Transfiguration also occurred there.
“The entire province in encircled with a halo of holy associations,” wrote Carl Hoffman, “connected with the life, works and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.” Matthew 4:23-25 reads, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing disease and sickness among the people …Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”
Jesus is often referred to as Jesus of Galilee or Jesus of Nazareth, because custom associated people with cities instead of last names. The region is referenced in the Book of Acts as an identifying factor of His disciples and many early followers. Acts 13:30-31 says, “But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people.”
It’s possible The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16) Jesus delivered to His disciples after His resurrection occurred on a mountain in Galilee, “commanding from its lofty summit a view of about 80 miles in every direction.”
What Is the Historical Significance of Galilee?
“King Solomon gave twenty towns in Galilee to Hiram king of Tyre, because Hiram had supplied him with all the cedar and juniper and gold he wanted” (1 Kings 9:11).
Galilee, a piece of land containing approximately twenty towns, was gifted to King Hiram of Tyre by Solomon “for his work in conveying timber from Lebanon to Jerusalem” says Smith's Bible Dictionary. During the reigns of King David and King Solomon in the 10th century BC, Encyclopedia Britannica says “it came under the northern kingdom of Israel.”
Historians have varying theories about why Galilee was largely deserted for over half a millennium after the Assyrian invasion. A century before Jesus, the area was re-populated by Judean immigrants. “Galilee was the most pagan of the Jewish provinces,” says theologian Frederick Bruner. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia adds, “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.”
A large population settled there in the century before Christ. “Galilee was a region of great natural fertility,” records Bible Hub, continuing that “It rejects no plant, for the air is so genial that it suits every variety.” It was a rich land and a cultured people. “Josephus (a 1st Century AD Roman-Jewish historian) estimates the population at 3,000,000,” records the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. “This helps us to understand the crowds that gathered and followed Jesus in this district.”
During the life of Jesus, Galilee was part of the Roman Empire. Located strategically between Syria and Egypt, Roman leaders and allies were placed in rule there to ensure peace. Ruled by foreigners, relations between the Gentiles and Jewish people were tense. Historically significant is Galilee’s strong resistance to the Roman Empire, putting up the greatest fight among Jewish populations. Easton’s Bible Dictionary notes Galilee was “the scene of some of the most memorable events of Jewish history.”
How Was Galilee Important in the Earthly Life of Jesus?
“After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, ’Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away’” (Matthew 26:73).
Jesus lived in Galilee for approximately thirty years. Galilean Jews had a recognizable accent, therefore Jesus’ disciples were easily identified. Jesus left Judea for Galilee when John the Baptist was arrested, to allude the Pharisees (experts in Jewish law). The way in which He traveled from Judea to Galilee is significant. Originally from Nazareth of Galilee, Jesus would have been very familiar with the route most Jews took to avoid going through Samaria. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other, yet Jesus chose to walk through Samaria before beginning His public ministry in Galilee.
Every step Jesus took on earth was intentional. He had been rejected in His hometown of Nazareth, and so traveled to begin His ministry in the Galilean city of Capernaum. The people Jesus choose to preach to first were “looked upon with contempt as rude and boorish,” Matthew Henry records. The Galilean people were predominately Jewish, but heritage had been blended over the decades, leaving “the purely Jewish element” to be “relatively small.” Christ humbled Himself to begin His preaching, not to scholarly men, but those “fit for soldiers.”
The people there were living in the darkness, meaning without Christ and without the Gospel truth. Matthew 4:16 says, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Jesus pursues His own no matter where and what state they are in. “The Christian places his faith, her hope of renewal, his confidence in forgiveness, in the actions of someone else- in Jesus Christ,” wrote Kathy Keller for The Gospel Coalition.
What Should Christians Remember about Galilee Today?
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? The same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
The hope of the early disciples as they gazed up into the clouds to which Jesus ascended is the same hope we cling to in our hearts today. In an effort to provide younger generations with the opportunity to connect with their faith, The Gospel Trail, which takes sojourners from Nazareth to Galilee, marks many of the important biblical events in Jesus’ life.
While trekking through the paths where Jesus’ footsteps once blazed a trail can make us feel closer to Him, everything we need to experience His presence is within us through our salvation. Perhaps the most powerful thing we can remember about Galilee today is its real history. “Christians have nothing to fear from questions, however searching, or doubts, however scathing,” Kathy Keller writes, “History is on our side.”
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. An author, freelance writer and blogger at Sunny&80, she earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University. Her first book, “Friends with Everyone,” is available on amazon.com. Meg leads/teaches Bible Study in Women’s and Junior High Ministry. Living in Northern Ohio, she’s been wife to Jim for a decade and counting, is mom to two tween daughters, a distance runner, photographer, and Cleveland Browns fan.
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