“From that time Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17).
If you open any harmony on the four gospels, you will see numerous divisions in the life of Christ, like: Birth, Early Galilean Ministry, Judean Ministry, Samaria, Perea and Decapolis, Later Galilean Ministry, etc. But there is a division I came across years ago in the life of Christ that has helped me more than any other. It is not found in chapter and verse divisions, and it does not involve the usual thematic divisions of the harmonies. It marks a profound shift in Jesus’ focus during his ministry.
There are two passages that illuminate this shift, and they are found in Matthew’s gospel. Both passages are preceded by relatively profound events. One marks the beginning of his ministry, the other marks the transition toward his death at Jerusalem, and they both begin with the phrase, “From that time.”
First, following his baptism, the Scripture says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The inception of Jesus’ ministry was largely marked by preaching a message of repentance and preparing Israel for the coming kingdom. It is commonly estimated that this initial period lasted around 18 months.
After this period, Jesus and his disciples took a respite along the Mediterranean coast (Matthew 16:13). He took account, perhaps more for them than him, of what the people’s opinion of him was. It was on this occasion that Peter declared him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded that he was building his church on that truth, and that even his death could not stop God’s plans (Matthew 16:18-19).
At this point, his death was drawing nearer. Jesus was now about half way through his earthly ministry. It was not only a good time to take account of all the disciples had seen and heard, it was also time to begin preparing them for his sacrificial death. The ministry was about to change drastically, before it ended abruptly.
Here is the second passage:
“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matthew 16:21).
The second period of Jesus’ ministry still involved preaching, miracles, etc., but the emphasis is more on the twelve. After his baptism, he began ministering to the people. Following this meeting in Caesarea Philippi, he began ministering in a special way to his disciples. After the resurrection, Jesus reminded them of this period of his ministry:
These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me (Luke 24:44).
For probably close to two years he emphasized it on a regular basis.
There is no particular moral lesson to this article. It is merely informational. But for me, these two divisions are significant. They give a better sense of everything that is being done and said by Jesus during these two major phases of his public ministry.
And I hope it is of help to you.