What is the significance of the Sea of Galilee in the Bible?Question: "What is the significance of the Sea of Galilee in the Bible?"
Answer: “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (Isaiah 9:1). This is a prophecy, quoted in Matthew 4:15, that promises that joy, a broken rod of oppression, and a child called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace will come to the Sea of Galilee. Some 700 years later, Jesus began His ministry there, in Galilee, by the sea.
The Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest freshwater lake. The sea is about 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, but only 150 feet deep, and it lies 650 feet below sea level. The Sea of Galilee is currently surrounded by Israel from about the 3 o’clock position to the 12 o’clock position, and by the Golan Heights from 12 to 3. It’s a primary source of drinking water for Israel as well as a popular area for recreation and tourism. It is fed by the Jordan River, which then drains to the south and flows to the Dead Sea (aka: Salt Sea). Lately, a lack of rain has threatened the water level in the Sea of Galilee and induced the proliferation of desalination units. It’s also a significant site in the New Testament.
In the time of Christ, the region of Galilee sat to the west of the Sea of Galilee, Decapolis to the southeast, and Bashan to the northeast. The Sea of Galilee went by different names in the New Testament: the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1) and the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1); in the Old Testament, it was called the Sea of Chinneroth (Joshua 12:3, ESV). The Sea of Galilee was known for fishing, trade, and sudden, violent storms. The differences in climate and elevation between the sea and the eastern mountains cause strong winds comparable to those on Lake Erie in the United States.
After Mary and Joseph returned from Egypt, they settled in Nazareth, about twenty miles west of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 2:19–23). Jesus spent a significant amount of His ministry around the sea. Capernaum, Tiberias, and Gergesa are all on the sea, while Bethsaida is very close. The sea and its immediate environs were the setting for Jesus’ paying the tax with a coin from a fish (Matthew 17:24–27), the healing of the paralytic who was lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1–12), the deliverance of the man possessed by a legion of demons (Mark 5:1–20), the healing of the woman with an issue of blood (Luke 8:40–56), the healing of the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1–10), and the feedings of the four thousand (Matthew 15:29–39) and the five thousand (Luke 9:10–17). It’s possible the Sermon on the Mount was also preached near the Sea of Galilee. But the Sea of Galilee played an even more direct role in a handful of Jesus’ life events.
It was the Sea of Galilee that Jesus walked on (Matthew 14:22–33). After Jesus fed the five thousand, He sent His disciples across the sea while He withdrew from the crowd. The sea became rough, and the disciples had only rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the water, set to overtake them. Peter asked to join Him on the water, but once out of the boat Peter became frightened and started sinking. Jesus saved him, and they both climbed into the boat. Instantly, the winds died down, and they were across the water to the other side.
On another occasion, again when Jesus wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee from west to east, He was so tired that He fell asleep in the boat (Mark 4:35–41). A great storm rose up, and the disciples woke the Lord, afraid for their lives. Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith and then rebuked the wind and calmed the sea. The disciples were amazed that even the sea obeyed Him.
The Sea of Galilee was a key place for Jesus’ disciples. Jesus called Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples while they were working as fishermen (Matthew 4:18–22). Later, Jesus found Levi (Matthew) sitting at a tax booth beside the sea and called him (Mark 2:13–17). A short while after, Jesus went to a mountain above the sea to winnow His followers to twelve disciples (Mark 3:13–19). Finally, at the end of it all, after the resurrection, Jesus went to the Sea of Galilee and found Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other disciples fishing. There on the seaside, Jesus cooked them breakfast, reconciled Peter to Himself, and gently chastised John for worrying too much about his fate.
Today the Sea of Galilee is a popular site for Christians to visit. There, they can walk the paths Jesus walked and even see a boat from His time that was discovered in 1986. When standing beside the Sea of Galilee, it’s easy to imagine how Jesus’ followers must have felt when they finally saw Isaiah 9 come true.
Recommended Resource: Jesus: The Greatest Life of All by Charles Swindoll
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