Episode 45: Capernaum | 10 MGJ Devotional Podcast
John the Evangelist, 10 Minutes with the Gospel of John, StanHarstine.com

10 Minutes with the Gospel of John

Inviting you to Disconnect from Distractions

Episode 45: Capernaum


     When reading about geographical place names in the Bible, one can easily fall into the pattern of simply placing them on a map in one’s mind, or even skipping over them because one does not have a map in one’s own mind to place them upon! However, the question one meditating on Scripture must ask is whether there is significance to the location named. In American history there are many place names that signify far more than mere GPS coordinates: Lexington and Concord, Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, Arlington. In your own history there are also geographical locations with significance, mine are Salzburg, Pagosa Springs, Waco, and Salina, Kansas. Does the mention of Capernaum in John 6 have significance beyond a small town on the Northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee?

Elsewhere in the New Testament

      The other gospels indicate Capernaum is a place where Jesus established a center for his ministry after departing Nazareth. (Matthew 4:13) Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum. (Mark 1:21, Luke 4:31) Several miracles occur in Capernaum, including the healing of the centurion’s child and of Peter’s mother-in-law. (Matthew 8:5–17, Mark 1:21–33, Mark 2:1–12, Luke 4:31–41; 7:1–10) The Gospel of Mark even records Capernaum as the place Jesus leaves when he heads to Judea. (Mark 9:33–10:1) Most troubling about Capernaum is the language Jesus uses as he leaves Galilee and moves toward Jerusalem and his crucifixion. (Matthew 11:20–24, Luke 10:13–15) His use of “woe” language represents a prophetic disapproval of their faithfulness to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob based on their failure to recognize the true nature of Jesus demonstrated in the teaching, miracles, and healings in and around Capernaum. The setting in Matthew and Luke within the sending out of Jesus’ followers to the region and their somewhat successful venture indicates that the true value rests not in observing but in responding properly to the one whom God sent and faithfully following Jesus.

In the Gospel of John

     Capernaum plays a more sedated role in the Gospel of John. Indeed, many locations mentioned in the other gospels are absent in the John’s presentation. This may be due to the theme throughout regarding the question of where Jesus is from. However, as in the devotion on Mountains, Capernaum plays a crucial role in both John 4 and 6. When we hear about Jesus’ disciples getting into a boat to go to Capernaum and the crowd coming to Capernaum on the next day, the stage is set for Jesus’ discussion on the Bread of Life. What does John 4 contribute to this setting?

     At the end of John 4 Jesus returns to Galilee from Judea where he encountered Nicodemus. His stop is Cana of Galilee, “where he made the water become wine.” During his absence from Galilee Jesus’ reputation has greatly increased such that news of his arrival reaches Capernaum by word of mouth. A high-ranking individual, who is probably associated in some fashion with King Herod Agrippa, makes the trip from Capernaum to Cana to request that Jesus return with him to Capernaum and heal his son. (According to modern mapping applications this would be a 16 hour walk in one direction!) Jesus chastises the man (and those listening) regarding a dependence upon miracles for believing Jesus as the one God sent. However, the man demonstrates the life and death nature of his concern. Jesus then replaces the man’s fear of death with a promise of life. (John 4:46–50)

     When we encounter Capernaum as the setting for Jesus’ words in John 6, the response in the town to this man’s account of his personal encounter with Jesus rests quietly in the background. When Jesus tells the recently arrived sea-crossing crowd that they have come merely to have their bellies filled rather than as a response to a sign, the words of Jesus in John 4:48 ring loudly in the ear of the reader, “you all just won’t believe unless you see signs and marvelous things.” These people did not merely observe a miracle, they actually participated in the miracle of the blessing and ate the tangible meals provided.

     Jesus’ words around the Bread of Life imagery establish that believing in the one God sent is the focus. (Sound familiar?) When the discourse ends, we learn that Jesus had been teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. (John 6:59) Unfortunately, the crowd of people who had been fed across the Sea of Galilee are not the only ones who don’t recognize the reality of the one who fed them. Many of Jesus’ disciples decide to stop following him as a result of his difficult words. (John 6:66)

     Capernaum thus symbolizes the challenge facing those who would seek to benefit from the kindness and mercy of God. Like the father whose son was facing death, some individuals will go to immense effort to bring their plea before Jesus in hopes of finding an answer for their despair. Others will follow Jesus, always seeking the next miracle, in order to benefit from God’s kindness but will withdraw when the reality of the commitment inconveniences them. Capernaum stands as a timeless reminder that God works in different ways yet receiving life from God requires our total commitment to him as the only source of the life of the ages. (John 6:68)

     How far are you willing to go in order to live in the presence of Jesus? Have you set limits to your commitment to him?

Updated August 4, 2022