Let’s start out by reading Matthew 4:12-16, “Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 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 Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned” (NKJV). Let’s also read Luke 4:14-15, “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”

As we consider these two passages we see why Jesus, upon hearing of John’s imprisonment, never went to visit him. In a word, He had an even more important mission to fulfill; to give the Light of God’s Word to the Gentiles who lived in Galilee. It was NOT fear of men that led Jesus to Galilee, for He was going right into the nucleus of Herod’s kingdom (where John had been seized by Herod and put in prison…see Matthew 14:1-5). Nor was it indifference to John that led Him to go elsewhere (as we shall see). Rather, He knew that when Israel had rejected John (the King’s forerunner) they were also rejecting Him (the King). Because of their wholesale rejection of Him (see John 1:11), it was time to turn to the Gentiles to give them the “Light of the gospel” as Isaiah the prophet had foretold in Isaiah 9:1-2. We also read that He went into Galilee “in the power of the Spirit,” which means the Word of God and the Spirit of God were both leading Him there. Jesus was the “Perfect Man and the Perfect Servant” and He willingly obeyed, even though it could result in Him being persecuted like John and put in prison. It must have pained Him to hear of His faithful servant John being thrust into a dark dungeon but He was compelled by a love for God’s Word and a love for all mankind, to go to Galilee to preach the gospel to lost Gentiles. His labors there were very fruitful, as you can see if you read on in Matthew 4:17-23.

Now let’s read Matthew 11:2-3, “And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another.?” Do not our hearts go out to John in this instance? He had been a tireless and faithful servant and now he is alone in a dark and dank prison cell. Being a “man with a nature like ours” (see James 5:17…NKJV), he became discouraged and began to doubt whether Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah of Israel. Why, he no doubt thought, are You allowing me to suffer when I have lived to bring glory to You? His faith wavered and I believe you and I would have done the same. John’s question must have touched the heart of Jesus, for He loved John and He knew he was indeed His faithful servant, but He had been sent on a mission that He had to obey. Yet though Jesus couldn’t “visit John,” He could “give him a word of encouragement” and that’s exactly what He did. We read in verses 4-5, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Though we never read of John’s reaction to this message we can surely believe they served to “dispel his doubts” and reassure him that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Jesus added one more word to John in verse 6, “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” These words were not meant to “rebuke John” but rather to “restore John.” He knew that John’s doubts were due to a “temporary lack of faith” and not to a “permanent disbelief in Jesus as the King of Israel.” Again, we believe these words went to the heart of John and brought him “renewed faith” and courage, and a willingness then to die for his blessed Lord and Savior.

In closing, if you read on in verses 7-15 you will see that Jesus immediately begins to praise His faithful servant John before the crowds of people. Perhaps they had begun to doubt that he was the fearless preacher they had seen. Jesus “nipped those doubts in the bud” by reassuring them that John was exactly what they had seen, a man who “feared God and not man” and who lived not for the world but to make the Messiah known. Verse 11 makes this crystal-clear, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women, there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.”  (DO)  (526.3)