Capernaum, The City Of Jesus

by David Padfield

The city of Capernaum was built on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, about two miles west of the Jordan River. Though this ancient town is not mentioned by name in the Old Testament, it is referred to as our Lord's "own city" (Matt. 9:1), for it became the center of His Galilean work and ministry.

Early in his account of the gospel, Matthew points out that Jesus began His Galilean ministry here in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. "And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.'" (Matt. 4:13-16).

Prior to His ascension back into heaven, Jesus gave the Great Commission after "eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them" (Matt. 28:16).

Five men from Capernaum (Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew) were called by the Lord to be His apostles. Jesus had often stayed in Peter's house in Capernaum and preached in the synagogue there which had been built by a Roman centurion (Luke 7:5).

The city was important enough to have a tax office, over which Matthew had presided (Matt. 9:9). A detachment of Roman soldiers was stationed in the town.

The Way Of The Sea

The greatest roads of the ancient world passed through Galilee. The Via Maris led from Damascus through Galilee down to Egypt. The Road to the East led through Galilee away out to the frontiers. Jesus could not have picked a better city in all of Israel to symbolize the worldwide implications of His redeeming gospel. One writer said, "Judaea is on the way to nowhere: Galilee is on the way to everywhere."

Capernaum, Magdala, and Tiberias in Israel

"Observing how the Jewish leadership and Herod treated John the Baptist, Jesus strategically launched His own ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles, at Capernaum, which was 'by the sea' (Matt. 4:12-16; cf. Isa. 9:1-2). It was not without reason that the Lord had indicated to Abraham that he must settle on this narrow strip of land that joined three continents. For thousands of years travelers from Africa to Europe, from Asia to Africa passed along the via maris, the 'way of the sea.' Right by the locale of Capernaum they passed, and they continued to pass by throughout the days of Jesus. By inaugurating His public ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles along the major international trade route, Jesus was making a statement. This land would serve as a springboard to all nations. The kingdom of God encompassed a realm that extended well beyond the borders of ancient Israel. As Paul so pointedly indicates, Abraham's promise from a new covenant perspective meant that he would be heir of the cosmos (Rom. 4:13). All nations, lands, and peoples would experience the blessings of this benevolent rule." (O. Palmer Robertson, Understanding the Land of the Bible, p. 11).

Our Lord's Ministry

After calling James and John to follow Him, Jesus "went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught" (Mark 1:21). Those in the synagogue "were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:22).

Jesus also demonstrated His power to heal, for "in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon." Jesus rebuked the demon and he came out of the man "and did not hurt him." Witnesses of the miracle "were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, 'What a word this is! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.'" (Luke 4:31-36). As a result of this miracle a "report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region" (Luke 4:37).

After this miracle Jesus entered Simon's house and found "Simon's wife's mother was sick with a high fever." Our Lord "stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her" (Luke 4:38-39).

Jesus performed other miracles while preaching in Capernaum, including the healing of "a certain centurion's servant, who was dear to him" and "a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum" (Luke 7:1-10; John 4:46-53). It was on the beautiful Sea of Galilee "toward Capernaum" that Jesus walked on water (John 6:16-21).

It was at Capernaum that Jesus paid the temple tax by having Peter "go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you." (Matt. 17:27).

Woe To You

Though Capernaum had been privileged to serve as the center of our Lord's earthly ministry it was still doomed to destruction. After the great revelation to the disciples at the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), Jesus "appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go" (Luke 10:1).

Jesus pronounced doom upon the inhabitants of the cities who rejected His message. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented a great while ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be thrust down to Hades." (Luke 10:13-15).

"Capernaum was the center of Jesus' ministry and had witnessed more of his mighty works than any other town. Although He was joyfully received by the common people, the Pharisees and scribes consistently rejected him and his message. These three neighboring towns were the hub of the circle in which Jesus worked in Galilee. Not only had they definitely rejected him, but they were also representative of the nearly total rejection by the Jewish religious leaders in Galilee." (Ray Summers, Commentary On Luke, pp. 131-132).

Capernaum was under the judgment of God and destined for destruction and degradation.

Capernaum Today

In Capernaum today you can find the beautiful remains of an ancient synagogue. "The synagogue at Capernaum is not the one where Jesus preached, but is likely to lave been built on the same site. There is now considerable controversy over the dating of the reconstructed synagogue. Since its discovery it has been accepted as being late 2nd or early 3rd century, but the more recent discovery of coins from A.D. 383-408 embedded in the mortar suggests that the building was actually erected in the late 4th or early 5th century." (Jenny Roberts, Bible Then and Now, p. 129).

Among the excavations at Capernaum you will find a house which some claim originally belonged to Simon Peter. "The house of St. Peter, often mentioned by the Synoptic Gospels in relation to the activity of Jesus in Capernaum, and recorded later on by pilgrims, was rediscovered in 1968 under the foundations of the octagonal church some 30 meters south of the synagogue. The history of that house where Jesus lived, can be summarized as follows: (1) the house was built in the Late Hellenistic period; (2) in the late first century A.D. it was changed into a 'domus-ecclesia', i. e. became a house for religious gatherings; (3) in the fourth century A.D. the same 'domus-ecclesia' was enlarged and was set apart from the rest of the town through an imposing enclosure wall; (4) in the second half of the fifth century A.D. an octagonal church was built upon the house of St. Peter and remained in use until the seventh century a.d.; (5) the identification of the house of St. Peter is based on the combination of archaeological data and literary sources which run side by side in a wonderful way." (Stanislao Loffreda, Recovering Capernaum, p. 51).

Just north of the synagogue is a Roman milestone from the time of Hadrian which was discovered in 1975. Other items of interest at Capernaum include an oil press, a flour mill and a wine press.

Capernaum on the Via Maris in Israel