Capernaum

Blue skies mirrored in the waters of the Sea of Galilee, the gentle breeze, the aroma of exotic vegetation under the hot sun, the dusty basalt and limestone ruins, the stillness. All these features make Capernaum an unforgettable place.

While exploring Capernaum, I have often observed the memorable phenomenon of thousands of storks in migratory flight, soaring high overhead in a surging column that stretches from horizon to horizon. As is true for nearly every pebble in Israel, a story lies behind the uninhabited archaeological site frequented by 21st-century tourists.

In Jesus’ day, Capernaum, or Kfar Nahum (Hebrew for “hometown of [the prophet] Nahum”), was a thriving city where trade routes converged, generating enough commerce that the Romans built a customs house to collect taxes. Also known for fishing and agriculture, Capernaum was where Jesus chose to headquarter His earthly ministry, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa. 9:1; cf. Mt. 4:13–16).

It was truly a privileged city because many of Jesus’ miracles recorded in the Gospels occurred in or near Capernaum. He healed:

  • A demon-possessed man and another man with a withered hand in the local synagogue on separate occasions (Mt. 12:13; Mk. 1:21–26).
  • The apostle Peter’s mother-in-law while she lay sick at home near the synagogue (Lk. 4:38–39).
  • A nobleman’s son who was dying in another part of the city (Jn. 4:46–51).
  • A Roman centurion’s servant at the commander’s request (Mt. 8:8–13).
  • A disabled, bedridden man whose four friends had lowered him through the roof to circumvent the crowded house (Mk. 2:2–12).
  • A woman with “a flow of blood for twelve years” when she touched the hem of His garment (Lk. 8:43–48).
  • Another demon-possessed man and was slandered by religious leaders near Capernaum (Mt. 12:22–24).

Jesus miraculously provided the Temple tax when He sent Peter to the shores of Galilee to retrieve a coin from the mouth of a fish (17:24–27), and He raised the synagogue leader’s daughter from the dead (Lk. 8:40–42, 51–54).

He also “healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mk. 1:34).

Crowds thronged Him and were amazed at His teaching. The inhabitants of Capernaum should have recognized their Messiah. Jesus’ miracles validated His Messianic claims; yet, they did not accept Him.

Later Jesus condemned Capernaum, along with Bethsaida and Chorazin, for unbelief despite the overwhelming evidence they had witnessed:

And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you (Mt. 11:23–24).

Those who receive greater revelation will also receive greater condemnation for their unbelief (vv. 21–22; cf. Lk. 12:48).

Yet it was from this city that Jesus offered the ultimate message of hope for every person who places his or her faith and trust in Him: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).

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