Jeremiah, Jesus, and “Fishers of men”

Last week, during my morning prayer time, it became even clearer to me that Matthew 4:18-20 is not Matthew’s clever way of granting the coming generations a cute sermon illustration about what kind of bait we should use on the hook in evangelism efforts. Instead, he is showing us something far more significant in the scope of God’s redemptive history, especially in the mission of Jesus and his disciples.

I was reading through Jeremiah 16. In this chapter, Jeremiah is told that he cannot marry, grieve, or attend feasts with the people. This, of course, serves to separate him from the ways of the adulterous nation of Israel (16:1-9). The Lord then explains, that the next and only step forward for the nation’s restoration is through their suffering under his judgment in exile (16:10-13). However, brighter days await Israel with the hope of a new exodus, that is, of deliverance from exile (16:14-15). And just how will the Lord gather his own people, which he scattered abroad among the nations? He will do so with fishermen: “Behold, I am sending for fishermen (Grk. haleeis, LXX), declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of  the clefts of rocks” (16:16). Though none will escape the impending judgment, Israel’s salvation is secure and all the Gentile nations shall know the name of Yahweh (16:17-21). 

Now, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus walks by the sea of Galilee and sees two brothers, Simon (a.k.a. Peter) and Andrew, casting their net into the sea, and two others, James and John, mending their nets. Narrating the story, Matthew then calls his reader’s attention to the obvious fact that these men were fishermen (Grk. halieis), and next shows Jesus using such an incident to demand they follow him. In doing so, they will not become better commercial fishermen. No, these men will become a completely different kind of fishermen, ones who fish for people, not food.

This sounds very similar to Jeremiah’s prophecy (16:16). What is more, the “fishers of men” passage in Matthew immediately follows a text that interprets the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the ingathering of the nations: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentilesthe people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” What Matthew wants us to see is this: Jesus’ mission has inaugarated the new and final exodus, and those who follow him on the Calvary road and in the proclamation of the Gospel join him in gathering people from among the nations for his name’s sake.  

What were the responses of Peter, Andrew, James, and John? “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matt 4:20, 22). We should be quick to do the same. The final days of salvation have come upon us, and the ingathering of the nations into the people of God is readily before us. Through Jeremiah, the Lord promised to bring about this day, and doubtless Jesus understands it being fulfilled in his own cross-mission as Matthew so testifies. May we all follow Jesus in calling people from every nation to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17).

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One Response to “Jeremiah, Jesus, and “Fishers of men””

  1. Billy Marsh Says:

    This is a very good insight. I’m not sure if I’ve ever picked up on the Jeremiah passage before. Thanks Bret for being used to open my eyes up more to the wonder of God’s Word.

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