Mat 4 forms a chiastic structure with the previous chapter:
1a) Mat 3:1-6, The ministry of John the Baptist:
1) Mat 3:1, John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea;
2) Mat 3:2, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;
3) Mat 3:3, This is what was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah;
4) Mat 3:4, John’s livelihood described;
5) Mat 3:5-6, Then all went out to him and were baptized by him;
1b) Mat 3:7-12, John rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees;
1c) Mat 3:13-17, Baptism of Jesus;
central axis) Mat 3:17, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;”
2c) Mat 4:1-11, Temptation of Jesus;
2b) Mat 4:12, John put in prison;
2a) Mat 4:12-25, The ministry of Jesus:
1) Mat 4:13, Jesus dwelt in Galilee, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali;
2) Mat 4:14-16, This is what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah;
3) Mat 4:17, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;
4) Mat 4:18-22, The disciples’ livelihood left;
5) Mat 4:23-25, Then all went out to Him and He healed them.
John was the first recognized prophet in Israel since the prophet Malachi, 400 years earlier, so he was famous and his ministry and preaching were a big deal. The matching pairs and central axis are showing us that the ministry is passing from John to Jesus. As John said of Him,
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” Joh 3:30
May it be so with us as well!
The events of Joh 1-3 take place at the same time as Mat 3:1-4:11, for after Joh 3, John the Baptist is no more quoted, and it could be because he had been put into prison, although John’s gospel does not mention it. When Jesus went to be baptized, He went into Judea, for that was where John was, baptizing at the Jordan. After John had been put in prison, He returned to Galilee (Mat 4:12).
In John’s gospel, He departs to Galilee in Joh 2:43, to attend a wedding at Cana to which His family had been invited (Joh 2:1-12), but then, He returned to Jerusalem shortly thereafter, to celebrate the Passover (Joh 2:13). While He was in Judea this second time, the events of Joh 2:13-4:3 transpired, and it may have been John’s imprisonment that prompted Him to return again to Galilee in Joh 4:3, which Mat 4:12 records.
Mat records the calling of Jesus’ disciples after John’s imprisonment, but we see that Jesus had disciples with Him at the wedding in Cana. We also learn from John, that Simon Peter, who was called in Mat 4:15, was first a disciple of John the Baptist, and who began following Jesus while they were all still in Judea (Joh 1:40). The two accounts are not contradicting each other. What I think happened, is this:
John the Baptist came first, and attracted a group of disciples (of whom Simon Peter was one) who followed him, as he was the first prophet to arise in Israel for 400 years. Everyone’s anticipation that the Messiah was coming was high, because they had Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan 9:20-27), they knew when the decree had gone forth to rebuild the Temple, and they knew what year it was. They knew the number of years given to Daniel by the angel had been completed; they knew that the events of the unfolding historical prophecy that Daniel had been given had been completed (Dan 8). The expectation for the coming of Messiah was high.
Now John comes on the scene, baptizing in the Jordan and calling for national repentance, because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. It was natural that he would attract a crowd of disciples who were in anticipation of that he might be the Messiah himself. Now we understand why the chief priests and Pharisees were grilling John as to by what authority he was baptizing in the Jordan and so forth.
But John explains to all that they are not looking for him — he is merely the friend of the bridegroom, not the bridegroom. John lends his witness that the One they are looking for, is Jesus, thus Simon follows Him for a bit while they all are in Judea. But then John is put in prison, and Jesus departs to Galilee. I think Peter and his brother went back home to their livelihood as fishermen, saying to themselves, Well, that was nice while it lasted but we must have made a mistake. The kingdom of heaven must not be coming after all. I think they were feeling a little defeated and discouraged.
This is the state they were in, I think, when Jesus found them mending nets on the shore of Galilee. His message to them was, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Come and follow Me (as you followed John) and I will make you fishers of men.
In other words, the party is not over, it is just getting going. It may look like a door has been shut on your ministry, but that is only because God is opening an even greater door in a new direction. I have been in that place, of mending nets by the shore, after it seems like the LORD has closed the door on me and is finished with me. He is not finished with any who are His!