Bible Affirming Truth

Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum – the cities that did not repent

Q. What have these 3 cities in common?
A. They were all cursed by Jesus Christ as we see in Matthew 11 and Luke 10.

Matthew 11
20 Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.
21 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
22 "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.
23 "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.

Luke 10
8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you;
9 heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.
10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say,
11 Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.'
12 I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
13 Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
14 But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
15 And you, Capenaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.
(Luke 10:8-15)

These three towns, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum lie on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and were of great significance in the life of Jesus. Capernaum is located right on the northern shore, while Chorazin sits about two and a half miles northwest of Chorazin; and Bethsaida stands 3 miles east along the shoreline of Galilee. These 3 towns are now laid mostly in ruins.

If one would do a visual search on [Google Earth] right now one will be able to find devastaion and non-inhabitants in the three cities, where neighboring towns such as Tiberias, Nazareth and Cana (which were not cursed) are well populated on the contrary.

Map of the Galilee area. Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida are close together where Jesus did most of His teachings. Cana (where Jesus turned water into wine, and Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, are also shown here on the map.

Capernaum first started to be inhabited during the 3rd Century BC. Later on the city was re-built gradually in parallel to the main Roman highway, which crossed the village on the northern side. Capernaum grew larger at the time of Jesus and a synagogue was built in the center of the village. It flourished in the fourth century AD when the grand white-stone Synagogue was built over the earlier synagogue partially destroyed in an earthquake. A church was built in the 5th century AD at the location of the alleged Apostle Peter's house. At that time the village covered about 6 Hectares, with a population of about 1,500.

The village prospered in the Roman period, and its citizens were mainly fishermen (as most of Jesus apostles), farmers, and people that provided services to the Roman road and caravans, including tax collection (as was Matthew). Capernaum was partially destroyed in the Persian conquest in the 7th century AD. The synagogue and church were destroyed in the Arab period (7th-12 century AD), but the village continued to function for some time. It then was totally ruined.

Capernaum was the home of Jesus’ chosen disciples James, John and Matthew. “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matt 9:9).

Among the many miracles described in the gospels that came out of this area, two of the most read are the healing of the Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10) and the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). There are indeed so many verses in the New Testament that have referred to this particular town.

At Capernaum, as you sit on the stone benches of the ancient synagogue, you are easily reminded that right here, Jesus taught (Mark 1:21; John 6:59) and healed. (Mark 27-1:23, Luke 8:49). The builder of the synagogue was too mentioned in Luke 7:3-5. Among the ruins of Capernaum is Peter’s house, where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt. 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31). Peter’s house was a simple dwelling, like many others that archaeologists have uncovered.

Most of Capernaum is now in laid in ruins and is an abandoned city since the 12th century AD. Parts of a re-built 600AD synagogue (possibly building on first century lime-stone structure) became a main tourist attraction.

Chorazin was a city about 2 miles north of Capernaum. Although apparently a prominent city during Jesus' ministry and up to the second century, it became uninhabited by about 360 AD after a catastrophic earthquake, as was described by Eusebius of Caesarea. Life returned the next 100 years, when the synagogue was rebuilt, until the 8th century, and again came down in ruins from foreign occupation. Settlement was resumed in the 13th century and a small population remained until the beginning of the 19th century, when the city was again abandoned .It is now identified as “Khirbet Kerazeh”, which is a ruin and a quiet tourist spot. The only synagogue visible today was built in the late 3rd century, destroyed in the 4th century, and rebuilt in the 6th century. It is utterly desolate: a few carved stones being seen among the heaps. There are traces of a Roman road which connected the ancient city with the great highway between north and south.

Most of Chorazin is now laid in ruins

An unusual archeological find in the ruins of the synagogue was the Seat of Moses, carved out of a single basalt block, from which the Torah would have been read (Matthew 23:1-3). On its back was an inscription in Aramaic. The original seat is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem but a copy remains in the ruins at Chorazin. Another tourist favourite is the Bema Stone, on which teachers would have stood to teach and to read the scrolls.

The “Seat of Moses,” carved out of a single basalt block. According to the New Testament, this is where the reader of the Torah sat (Matthew 23:1-3). It is adorned with intricate carvings as well as an inscription in Aramaic. The original seat is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In Matthew 23: “1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”

One of Chorazin’s most spectacular views is at the top of the wide staircase that leads up to the synagogue’s three entrances, which faces south to Jerusalem. Standing on these steps, with the Sea of Galilee 900 feet below, visitors embrace an unforgettable opportunity to feel what it might have been like for His disciples to come here to listen to the words of Jesus.

Bethsaida was a fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, about 2 miles east of Capernaum. Now, the city is also lying in ruins. Three of His disciples he called from Bethsaida – Peter, Andrew and Philip: “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:43-45)

Two of Jesus' most well-known miracles were done near Bethsaida: the healing of the blind man, (Mark 8:22-25) and the feeding of the five thousand. (Luke 9:10-17, Matt. 14:13-21)

The feeding of the 5,000 most likely took place on the Plain of Bethsaida. Mark 6:30 says the feeding took place at a “solitary place” and verse 39 says that the people sat down on “the green grass.” After this, however, Jesus made his disciples “go over to Bethsaida.” About 5 square miles (8 sq km) in area, the ‘Plain of Bethsaida’ is very spacious and is crisscrossed by streams and irrigation canals. There are many flat hills on which it would be possible to seat large numbers of people.

Visitors can see the remnants of Bethsaida’s black basalt rubble. Now part of a national archaeological park, the town’s ruins are spread over a 25-acre area.

There are indeed many verses in the Bible where the names of these cities were mentioned. As recorded in the gospels, most of Jesus’ earthly ministry took place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was also on this northern shore Jesus chose the disciples who would bring His message to the world. Capernaum had also become Jesus’ hometown throughout His ministry, due to the fact that His own town of Nazareth had rejected Him and even tried to throw Him off a cliff ( Matt 13:53-58, Luke 4:16-30)!

Nevertheless, because many of those there did not believe and repent, Jesus laid a curse on the land (Matt 10:20-23), and up to this present day, these cities are still laid in ruins! Their citizens had made a tragic mistake for themselves of hearing the truth but rejected it and refusing to repent. The ruins are powerful reminders of Jesus’ prediction about these towns.

Chorazin is up in the hills - isolated and so one can understand why it was abandoned and in ruins. Bethsaida is by the sea but the sediments from the Jordan river fills it coast and if one goes there now, the coast is gone (you almost cannot see the sea from the edge of the ruins) - again one can understand why it was abandoned.

Capernaum on the other hand, is by the sea - that is why the fishermen select to make their living over there. Even today the coast lining the ruins are excellent. Yet they are in ruins just as Jesus predicts. The city is destroyed and abandoned most likely from and even before the Crusade conquest. No escape even when adverse environmental factors are not there. Let us ponder on the amazing accuracy of the Lord's predictions in spite of favorable environmental factors, as in the case of Capernaum..

This is stunning evidence of the truth and historicity of the Bible. Not only that, but of power and mightiness of God.

The life of Jesus, and the salvation brought forth by his death and resurrection, is the greatest gift God could offer to mankind. God’s incredible love requires a radical response from us. The three cities in Galilee failed to produce that response. When we take on the name of God; call ourselves Christians and present ourselves to the world as God’s people, we are placing ourselves in a very special position. If we fail to be true to God and his word we will be judged. Aren't there many people who have personally witnessed His divine power, but still purposefully chose to reject him and remained unrepentant?

“4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen[a] away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” - Hebrews 6:4-8.

Evangelical churches today often tend to focus primarily on the loving parts of God's character: grace, mercy, love, etc. While these aspects of God's character are appealing, it is improper for the church to focus solely on these characteristics. To ignore the holiness, wrath and judgment of God is to ignore the entirety of his being. One should see that a balanced view of God is presented in the Bible and its understanding should lead Christians to appreciate the love and grace of God even more. Sin and non-repentance are offenses against a just and righteous God who reigns supreme in perfection.

Yes. let us all take lessons from the cities of the Galilean north shore. Only by recognizing and understanding the bad news about sin and its consequences and God's authority to judge us, can we be in a better position to grasp the good news of the Gospel. The reward will be a city that is indestructible, and an inheritance that is eternal.

"3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." - 1Peter 1:3-5.