When Jesus Sparked Controversy in a Synagogue

James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bible Study #12, Based on Luke 4:16-29

Having defeated Satan and returned from the wilderness, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and he taught in the synagogues, and he was glorified by all (Luke 4:13-15).

In Nazareth, the town where he had been brought up, Jesus went to synagogue on a Sabbath (Jesus was a Jew). In the synagogue, he was given a Bible scroll (obviously, Jesus was there to teach them).

When Jesus opened the scroll, he foud Isaiah 61:1-2, and he read those verses to them. Then, after he read the verses, he rolled the scroll, sat down to teach (as was the custom then), and everyone was paying attention to him, to see what he would say.

Jesus began by telling them that the Scripture he had just read was fulfilled right then and there as he read the words to them. We see (in verse 22) that the people spoke well of him—they had a good opinion of him, and his words were perceived as being gracious.

Nevertheless, they asked themselves, “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?” In other words, they could not believe that one of their own would be a prophet (much less, the Messiah).

But things went south quickly after that.

You see, in Isaiah 61, God promises to restore Isarael, rebuild it, and make it the ruling nation of the world. But Jesus, our Lord, instead of telling them that he (the Messiah) was there to do this for Israel, he first told them they would not believe him (v.23-25), and then he told them that God would be send him to the gentiles (v.25-26).

  • “Physician, heal yourself” means save yourself from the cross.
  • That a prophet is without honor in his own hometown means that people are too familiar with that person to regard him as a prophet.
  • God sent his prophet, Elijah, to a gentile woman; and God also sent his other prophet, Elishah, to a gentile man.

So then, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, he was claiming that Isaiah 61 had been fulfilled, and yet he was saying that the poeple to whom he was speaking would reject him, not receive the blessings promised in Isaiah 61, and that God’s word would be sent to the gentiles.

At this, the people reacted in anger, they forced him out of the town, and brought him to the edge of the hill to thrown him down a cliff.

What had happened? Jesus had told them something they did not want to hear.

Many people would reject Jesus because he did not meet their Messianic expectations. They wanted the Messiah to come and literally fulfill all that Isaiah 61 had promised, but Jesus was telling them they wouldn’t get that (and they probably interpreted his words to mean that the were not worthy, but that the gentiles were more worthy than they).

As we read Isaiah 61, it is difficult to see how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy: Israel was not restored, but destroyed; Israel did not become glorious among the nations, but a byword among the nations; it did not rule over the gentiles, but the gentiles ruled over it. In reality, what came to pass was more like what Jesus told them than what Isaiah had said.

So then, how did Jesus fulfill the prophecy?

Like Isaiah, Jesus was anointed by God to preach good news to Israel. However, Israel would reject those good news, Jerusalem and the temple would be burnt down, and the good news would be preached to the gentiles for their salvation.

What then would become of Israel? Would Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled?

As I understand the matter, all Christians agree Isaiah’s prophecy would be fulfilled, we just don’t agree how and when. Christians who follow dispensationalism believe Isaiah’s prophecy will be finally fulfilled in a future millennium; but, Christians who follow covenant theology believe Isaiah’s prophecy would be (and was) fulfilled in a spiritual sense for all Jews and gentiles who placed their faith in Jesus (in other words, Isaiah was talking about the church).

At this time, since 61 is related to Isaiah 60, since Isaiah 60:19-20 declares there will be no need of Sun or Moon because God will be the light of Israel, and since this even is also prophesied about in Revelation 21:23 (which speaks of the New Heaven, the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem), I think we should not interpret the prophecies in the Tanach too literally, but instead we should consider that many prophecies dispensationalists attribute to the millennium are actually a reference to the New Jerusalem.

I think what is happening is this: the Old Testament prophecies about eternity are actually presented in a symbolic language, and sometimes symbols consist on the ideal state Israel desired for itself back then, during Old Testament times.

Questions for Reflection

  • How do you respond to your pastor when he preaches things you don’t want to hear?
  • What is better: holding on to your own ideas of how God is supposed to fulfill His work, or beig flexible enough in your system of beliefs to embrace whatever God actually does?
  • How do you think God will fulfill His promises to Israel? Why do you hold that view?
  • How important is it to understand the way in which Jesus and the apostles interpreted Old Testament prophecies?

Prayer Focus

  • Recognize that your understanding of God’s word and God’s plans is limited (humble yourself before God).
  • Thank God ro sending Jesus to defeat Satan, sin, and death on the cross and through His resurrection.
  • Ask God to bless you with understanding and insight about the things He has revaled in His word.


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