Jesus & the Angry Nazarenes (Mark 6:1-6)

Christ Preaching in the Nazarene Synagogue (ca. 14th century), Visoki Decani Monastery, Kosovo

This is a series about the Trinity. It explores this doctrine by brief expositions of different passages from throughout the Gospel of Mark, showing how the Trinity is the explicit and implicit teaching and assumption of Scripture.

Throughout his letter, Mark has told us who Jesus is and, by extension, who God is. People have to believe in the real Jesus and the real God; you know — the triune One. If you don’t believe in the real Jesus, then you don’t have union with Christ, you don’t have salvation, you don’t know the Gospel, you aren’t reconciled to the Father and you don’t have the Holy Spirit. This means people have to actually understand and accept who He is.

They have to accept that He’s the eternal Son of God, sinless and holy. They have to believe He added a human nature to His divine nature, in the incarnation. They have to believe He and the Father are One, and that He and the Father are also distinct, in some way. They have to believe Jesus is equal to the Father in power and glory. They have to believe Jesus is co-eternal; He has no beginning or end. They have to believe Jesus is Lord of all, that He’s the rightful King over God’s creation, and that they must bow their knee to Him in submission like loyal subjects.

People don’t like the real Jesus. They often prefer a counterfeit Jesus, a Messiah in their own image. That was what the people of Nazareth did. They knew the truth about Him, saw His miracles, heard Him preach, and chose to hate Him. At one point, they even tried to kill Him (see Lk 4:28-30). When people are confronted with the truth about Jesus, they have to make a choice. The people at the synagogue in Nazareth one day did just that. They heard the Good News, knew all about His credentials, and made their decision.

Home, Sweet Home?

He went away from there and came to his own country; and his disciples followed him (Mark 6:1).

Jesus has likely returned to Nazareth.1 Luke’s Gospel gives us a longer account of another visit, which ends with the villagers trying to kill Jesus.2 This is not a happy visit, and it teaches us a timeless truth – people who have greater light are often those who reject the Gospel the most fervently.

Jesus recently healed a Gentile, demon-possessed man who begged to follow Him (Mk 5:1-13). Instead, Jesus sent Him as a missionary back to his own people (Mk 5:18-20). He healed a ceremonially unclean woman on death’s doorstep; a woman who could have been bitter, angry and hateful. But, she heard Jesus, believed He could heal her, and believed in His message (Mk 5:25-34). He just raised a girl from the dead, and only because her father, a leader in the local synagogue (probably in Capernaum), believed in Jesus enough to beg for His help (Mk 5:22-24; 35-43).

All these people heard Jesus’ own teaching, saw His divine credentials, and believed in who He is. Yet, when Jesus returns home, his own people hate Him.

And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands!” (Mark 6:2).  

Clearly, Jesus has some kind of reputation. He was known as a teacher and was invited to address the congregation. Why are they astonished? It must be the content of His teaching. He’s told people, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel,” (Mk 1:15). The Messiah has come! He has withstood all Satan’s temptations (Mk 1:12-13), has power over demons (Mk 1:23-28), heals the sick (1:40-42), obeys and respect the Tanakh (1:43-44), forgives sins (2:5), identified Himself as the “Son of Man” from the Book Daniel, and declared He is Lord over the Sabbath (2:28), declared victory over Satan’s power (3:27), has power over the forces of nature (4:35-41), loves and cares for gentiles (5:1-20), feels Himself above the ceremonial law (5:41), and has raised the dead (5:41-43).

Jesus is the Messiah, and He’s come home to preach the Good News to those who know Him best. Instead, the people have trouble distinguishing between the boy who grew up in their midst, and the prophet who spoke with such power and authority (cf. Mk 1:22).3 They marvel at what He teaches, and ponder how He can perform the miracles He does.

This is the great divide; what will people do when they’re presented with the truth? Jesus is Messiah, God’s Chosen One who will rule as King over all creation (cf. Psalm 2, 110). He’s proven who He is by His miracles. Yet, the Nazarenes chose to hate Him.

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him (Mark 6:3).

The congregation responds with hostility. Their seemingly innocent questions have given way to scorn. It is no sin to be a laborer (i.e. carpenter)4, of course; but their point is, “you’re no better than any of us!”5 They know Him, how can He be the Messiah! They even toss in a slur against His allegedly “illegitimate” birth – a nasty rumor which had likely been circulating for some time.6

His preaching and His credentials are meaningless. He offends them (cf. 1 Pet 2:7-8). It angers them. They don’t like what He has to say, so they attack. They know the truth, but they’ve tossed it away (tossed Him away) like a dirty tissue. They snicker, “He’s not the Messiah. He’s an ordinary boy from our town. We know him, and his family. We all know he doesn’t even have a father! Some mother he has; right, boys!?”

Interestingly, Mark never records Jesus preaching in a synagogue ever again.

And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching (Mark 6:4-6).  

Jesus was a prophet; the true prophet Moses promised would come one day (Deut 18:15f). And, like so many prophets before Him, Jesus will be persecuted and harassed for His faithful message. However, Moses warned them long ago they were required to listen to Him (Deut 18:19). His own people, from His own hometown, have angrily rejected Him. So have His relatives. So, too, has His own immediate family (cf. Mk 3:21, 31-35; Jn 7:1-9).

Who do you say Jesus is?

Jesus has presented Himself as the Christ. He’s  told people as much. He’s proven who He is by His miracles. He’s conquered and bound Satan, and plundered His goods. Demons shake in fear before Him, and ascribe God’s power to Him as they beg not to be tormented (Mk 5:7). He’s raised the dead (Mk 5:40-43), forgiven sins (Mk 3:5-7), miraculously cleansed the unclean (Mk 1:40-44; 5:25-34), and will soon proclaim that He is, indeed, the Christ; the Son of Man who will sit at the Father’s side, and return on the clouds of heaven (Mk 14:60-62).

And, by proving His credentials, Jesus has also indirectly explained to us who God is. He is one Being, who eternally exists as three co-equal, co-divine Persons:

  • The demons know He is “God’s Holy One,” not God Himself (Mk 1:23-24).
  • He’s not the Ancient of Days; He’s the Son of Man who sits at the Father’s side (cf. Dan 7).
  • Isaiah wrote that Yahweh would come to lead His people out of bondage and back to the Promised Land, but it is Jesus who came, instead (Mk 1:1-3; Isa 40:1-11).
  • The Son was baptized, while the Spirit descended upon Him, as the Father spoke from the heavens (Mk 1:10-12).

Every person who hears the Gospel will have to reckon with the truth about God, and His Son. They will have to make a decision; to accept the truth or reject it. The Nazarenes chose to reject Jesus, because He wasn’t the Messiah they’d made in their own image. Their prejudices blinded them to the facts they had. He is the Messiah, and He, the Spirit and the Father are, together, our triune God.

To Thee, great One in Three,

Eternal praises be

Hence evermore.

Thy sov’reign majesty

May we in glory see,

And to eternity

Love and adore.7

Notes

1 It could also be Capernaum (cf. Mt 4:13; 9:1). However, it is clear from the context that this city is populated with people who knew Jesus since He was a boy, and His family apparently lives in the city, too. The evidence tilts towards Nazareth.

2 This is Luke 4:16-30. Is this the same account? There are several difference and similarities. Scholars are divided over whether this is a second account, or the same one. For our purposes, it doesn’t matter. I’m treating Mark’s version on its own merits.

3 It is impossible to know why they were so astonished. I imagine the circumstances of Jesus’ conception and birth caused quite a stir. It is difficult to believe Mary and Joseph didn’t praise God and tell people the true circumstances. It is also puzzling because Jesus was sinless and holy. He “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man,” (Lk 2:52), of course – but He never did wrong and obeyed God’s law perfectly as He came to learn and understand it, as a man. The people of Nazareth truly had no excuse to be hostile to Jesus, or misunderstand His identity.  

4 This term could mean something like “builder” or even “stone mason,” (cf. “Carpenter,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry et al. [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016]). Frederick Danker suggests “craftsman,” (The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Chicago, IL: UCP, 2009], s.v. “6333 τέκτων”).

Mark Strauss remarked, “The major Hellenistic-Jewish city of Sepphoris was only a few miles from Nazareth and was being rebuilt during Jesus’ youth. It is possible that Joseph and his sons found work there,” (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 242).

However, for the ancient view that Jesus worked primarily with wood, see Justin Martyr, who remarked “He was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes; by which He taught the symbols of righteousness and an active life,” (“Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew,” 1.28 in ANF, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885], 1:244, ch. 88). See also Origen, “Origen Against Celsus,” in ANF (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 4:408.

5 Strauss (Mark, 242). See especially William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974), 200-201.  

6 Some scholars believe they did slur Jesus’ mother (Lane, Mark, 203). Others disagree (Strauss, Mark, 242). Origen, for one, seems to have heard the rumor himself; “he [that is, Celsus – Origen’s opponent] accuses Him of having ‘invented his birth from a virgin,’ and upbraids Him with being ‘born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child …” (“Origen Against Celsus,” in ANF [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885], 4:408).

7 From the hymn Come, Thou Almighty King.  

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