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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
The mission of Jesus was prophesied in Isaiah 61:1, 2. Luke records it in the Greek language, but the thought patterns are Hebrew. Furthermore, Jesus offered His own interpretation of Isaiah in a few of the statements. Whereas Isaiah said, “to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners,” Jesus interprets this to mean “release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.”
In other words, “the prisoners” are equated to “the blind,” showing that blindness itself is like a prison. The Hebrew text in Isaiah 61:1 reads peqach koakh, “to open a prison,” but Jesus sees men imprisoned in their hearts. They are released when their eyes are opened to the truth of the gospel.
The people of Nazareth did not consider themselves to be blind, of course. But Jesus had a surprise for them, for when He began to teach in the synagogue, their own blindness was exposed.
The King James Version tries to correct the Greek text of Luke 4:18 by adding “He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,” but Dr. Bullinger tells us in his notes on this verse, “All the [Greek] texts omit this clause.” In checking Dr. Ivan Panin’s Numeric New Testament, I find that he too omits it, for adding this clause would destroy the hidden numerical patterns in the text itself. Hence, while this clause is inspired in Isaiah 61:1, it was not meant to be inserted in Luke 4:18.
We may then paraphrase Luke 4:18, 19,
18 The Spirit or vitality of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the good news to the humble, broken, or contrite in spirit. He has separated Me, called Me forth, and sent Me (apostello) to proclaim forgiveness of sin (debt), release, and deliverance to those enslaved (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:1), and recovery of (in)sight to those blind to the truth, to set free (apostello, “send out as apostles”) the broken and crushed victims of tyranny.
At the heart of this divine mission was the Law of Victims Rights. Jesus came to administer the divine law properly in order to overrule the oppression of the legal systems of men which had crushed the righteous and exalted the unjust. Of course, His first job was to release men in their hearts. His death on the cross paid the lawful penalty for sin by which all men could be released and healed. His second work, pictured by the second goat in Leviticus 16:10 and 22, was to be “released” into the world to finish what was started by His first work.
It is obvious from history that His death on the cross did not put an end to oppression in the earth, nor did it immediately result in putting all things under His feet. Though the fulfillment of this promise was assured by His death on the cross, Hebrews 2:8 admits, “But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him.”
Jesus summarized His mission on earth by quoting Isaiah 61 and then sat down for the discussion. Kenneth Bailey sets the stage for Jesus debut in the synagogue of Nazareth:
“With this in mind we can construct the following. Jesus, the local boy, came to town as an itinerant rabbi and was given a chance to have his say. His audience of settlers understood the text of Isaiah 61 along the lines just indicated. With everyone listening intently, Jesus chose this familiar and deeply beloved passage, but to their shock and amazement, he stopped reading at the very point at which judgment and servitude is pronounce on the Gentiles, whom they, as a settler community, were there to displace. Their goal was to make ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ into “Galilee of the Jews.’ So why did Rabbi Jesus omit the verses that the audience thought were critical to the text? Stunned, they waited his comments on the reading.” (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 155)
Luke 4:21, 22 then says,
21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all were speaking well of Him and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
In other words, as it is translated here, the people were very receptive to His “gracious words,” or merciful speech. We are given the impression that the people were surprised at His brilliance and poise and were now quite proud of Him. But Kenneth Bailey writes,
“But Joachim Jeremias has pointed out that the key words in the Greek text, emartyroun auto, can be translated two ways. Literally, these two words read ‘they witnessed him.’ But did they witness ‘for him’ or ‘against him’? The Greek can be read either way. The original Greek sentence does not have ‘for’ or ‘against’ in the text. They key is the fact that the word him (auto) is in the dative case. This can be a ‘dative of advantage’ or a ‘dative of disadvantage.’ If the translator decides that the audience liked what Jesus read, he or she will read the text as a ‘dative of advantage’ and translate ‘all spoke well of him.’ But if the translator senses that the audience is not pleased, then the dative auto will be read as a ‘dative of disadvantage,’ and the text will be translated as:
“And all witnessed against him, and were amazed at the words of mercy that came out of his mouth; and they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son’?” (Bailey, p. 151)
As the conversation in the synagogue showed a negative outcome, it is plain that the people did not bear witness to His “gracious words,” that is, His merciful words toward the non-Jews. They were displeased that Jesus had left out their favorite part of Isaiah’s prophecy: “and the day of vengeance of our God.” After all, was this not Joseph’s son? Coming from such a righteous and prominent family in town, was Jesus so unschooled?
Their entire hope for a Messiah was based on their exclusive nationalism. They longed for the day when the Messiah would come to set them free from Rome. They dreamed of the day when they could take vengeance on their enemies and reverse the tyranny by enslaving all non-Jews in order to become wealthy on the labor of their slaves. Kenneth Bailey tells us of the Jewish attitude in Nazareth, saying,
“With the coming of the anointed one of God, all the hard work would be done by foreigners, and they, the settlers, would become wealthy, thanks to the labor of others” (Bailey, p. 154).
The Talmud itself asserts the viewpoint that no doubt prevailed in Nazareth:
Jehovah created the non-Jew in human form so that the Jew would not have to be served by beasts. The non-Jew is consequently an animal in human form, and condemned to serve the Jew day and night (Midrasch Talpioth).
On the house of the goy (non-Jew) one looks as on the fold of cattle (Tosefta, Erubin VII, 1).
When the Messiah comes, every Jew will have 2800 slaves (Simeon Haddarsen).
The good news inherent in Jesus’ mission was that the Messiah had not come to destroy all non-Jews who might refuse to submit to Jewish slavery, but that He had come to deliver all men equally from the power of sin and the beast systems of government. The acceptable year of the Lord, or the year of God’s favor, applied not only to Jews but equally to all men everywhere. Luke 4:23 continues,
23 And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your home town as well.”
This tells us that Jesus had already preached the word at Capernaum, located farther north in “Galilee of the Gentiles,” which was soon to serve as His ministry headquarters. It appears that in the course of conversation, someone asked if Jesus would do any miracles of healing to prove His doctrinal view. However, Jesus knew that He would be rejected in His home town, not so much because He was too familiar to them, but because they could not accept the universality of His message. Luke 4:24 says,
24 And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his home town.”
The people were eager to hear prophets, but the problem was that prophets were sent with messages that usually went against popular teaching. Their mission, after all, was not merely to foretell the future but to correct men’s mistaken views of God and His plan. Popular teaching was established by popular rabbis and priests. Hence, prophets were usually rejected in favor of the ingrained traditions taught by revered rabbis and priests.
Luke then gives us the main proofs supporting Jesus’ doctrine. Luke 4:25, 26 says,
25 But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, (when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land); 26 and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.
We are not told how the conversation led to this statement, but it seems that someone brought up Elijah’s example of what a Messiah ought to mimic. Perhaps a man asked eagerly if He would send down fire from heaven upon the Romans, as Elijah did in 2 Kings 1:10, 12. As we will see later, even Jesus’ disciples had believed Jesus would do this, for we read in Luke 9:54, 55,
54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them….
So also Jesus seemed to rebuke someone in the synagogue in Nazareth for his lack of understanding about the ministry of Elijah. We do not know if Jesus mentioned the fact that Elijah’s fire consumed Israelite soldiers—not foreigners. They had been sent by Israel’s King Ahab to arrest Elijah. But Jesus just reminded them that the prophet was sent to a widow woman who was a non-Jew and a non-Israelite from Sidon, even though there were many Israelite women who needed help during the 3 ½ year famine.
The implication was clear. God showed concern for non-Israelites and even treated the Phoenician widow better than Israelite women who were also in need. Furthermore, she had faith in the word from the prophet. This probably irritated the people of Nazareth. Then Jesus brought up a second example as a double witness, saying in Luke 4:27,
27 And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.
Some might argue that the widow in Sidon was an Israelite living in Phoenician territory, but no one can make such a claim about Naaman, who is clearly a non-Israelite Syrian. It is clear that Jesus’ point was to show God’s concern for foreigners, both men and women. This second example must have enraged the Nazarenes. Yet Elijah’s successor, Elisha, brought healing to Naaman by telling him to follow the law dealing with the cleansing of lepers (Leviticus 14:7).
Not only did they consider non-Israelites to be enemies and “dogs,” but women were the lowest of the low. Even so, both the widow and Naaman manifested faith by their obedience to the word of the Lord through the prophets.
Jesus’ message was thus clear. He saw all men as victims of injustice, laboring as slaves to a beast system. The Kingdom of God sought to set men free, not merely to turn former slaves into slave-owners or to enslave former slave-owners. Jesus was not merely a Jewish Messiah, but “the God of all the earth” (Isaiah 54:5). Hence, the day of vengeance was not a day when God would bring down fire to destroy the Romans, but instead would be a time when sin and injustice would be resolved by the Holy Spirit’s baptism of fire.
How did the people react to Jesus’ teaching? Luke 4:28-30 says,
28 And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they rose up and cast Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, He went His way.
The people understood that blasphemy was punishable by death. They were far enough from the Roman authorities that they felt they could carry out a death sentence upon Jesus for His perceived “blasphemy.” The ruler of the synagogue had given Jesus the opportunity to share in His home town, expecting Him to teach the standard belief about God and the Messiah. However, Jesus put His finger on the heart of their problem, something which no doubt He had witnessed for years.
The implication of His message was that the people of Nazareth ought to follow the example of faith seen in the widow of Sidon and in Naaman the Syrian. But the nationalistic Jews of Nazareth were insulted at His insinuation and enraged at the idea that God’s law was to be applied impartially and equally to all men.
Jesus then passed through their midst and mysteriously escaped execution. There is no record that He ever returned to Nazareth. Instead, He moved to Capernaum, where His message was well received.
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.