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(Luke 4:16-30 with Isaiah 61:1-2)
The Spirit-empowered Anointed One
Jesus applied Isaiah 61:1-2a (below) to Himself. At first, this garnered praise from the synagogue crowd, but their praise quickly turned to scoffing. The Isaiah passage reads:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Yeshua certainly earned a reputation for ministering to society’s downtrodden. He freed those bound by demons; He gave sight to the blind; He brought freedom from misery. This concept of freedom is associated with the Torah-prescribed “Year of Jubilee.”
These Isaianic prophecies were fulfilled to a small degree through Jesus’ ministry at His first coming; He did the kind of things the Messiah was expected to do, thus evidencing Who He was; He still does some of these same things today in individual lives. When He returns to reign, however, He will fulfill these prophecies on a massive scale.
Back to the synagogue, after Yeshua read this passage, Luke tells us the crowd’s initial response in 4:20-21a.
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth…
The crowd was impressed with Yeshua’s reading of the text and His first comments. It is unlikely that Luke records all that Jesus taught or read on this occasion, but Luke does capture the crucial points.
The Crowd Ponders
Yeshua’s claim to fulfill the Isaiah passage could have been understood in at least two ways. Some could have understood this to mean Messiah (someone other than Jesus) was alive and preparing to reveal himself soon. Or it could mean that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah.
Keep in mind that many Jews were anticipating the arrival of three distinct individuals. First, most were anticipating the “great prophet” predicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Was Yeshua this great prophet Yahweh had promised His people? Others were awaiting Elijah’s return, based upon the promise of Malachi 4:5-6. The greatest expectation was that of Messiah, God’s anointed King Who would usher in Israel’s Golden Kingdom Age.
The discussion of the crowd betrays a preference to understand Jesus as a prophet (possibly but not necessarily “the” prophet Moses predicted). From their perspective, He was disqualified to be the Messiah precisely because they knew Him. It was not that they found Him simple or incompetent. The townspeople may have embraced one of several popular views at the time we see displayed in John 7:27, which reads:
…But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.
This belief—the mysteriously appearing Messiah—was not held universally. Herod, for example, consulted some Pharisees when the Magi arrived. Why? To pinpoint where the Tanakh said the Messiah would be born. Certainly not all Jews believed He would appear mysteriously out of nowhere. But many did.
Jewish leaders held all sorts of opinions about how and when the Messiah would come. This passage from the Talmud is one example, though written two centuries after Jesus:
Rabbi Alexandri says: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi raises a contradiction between two depictions of the coming of the Messiah. It is written: “There came with the clouds of heaven, one like unto a son of man…and there was given him dominion and glory and a kingdom…his dominion is an everlasting dominion” (Daniel 7:13–14). And it is written: “Behold, your king will come to you; he is just and victorious; lowly and riding upon a donkey and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Rabbi Alexandri explains: If the Jewish people merit redemption, the Messiah will come in a miraculous manner with the clouds of heaven. If they do not merit redemption, the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon a donkey.1
Spinning Out of Control
Things turn bitter in 4:21b-30:
And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
Yeshua likely confronts the crowd for their unbelief in Him as Messiah, and their anger escalates. He condemned the hometown crowd for rejecting His claim, and He refused to work miracles accordingly.
Familiarity had bred contempt. Jesus recognizes this phenomenon and responds with a contemporary axiom, “’A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household’” (Mark 6:4).
The crowd’s disbelief—based upon the fact that they witnessed Jesus growing up—is strong evidence that Yeshua worked no miracles previous to transforming water into wine (John 2:1-12); if He had, His hometown neighbors would not have been skeptically demanding miracles.
This evidences that Jesus only worked miracles after the Spirit came upon Him. Putting all the relevant Scriptures together, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus worked His miracles with the permission of the Father in the power of the Spirit – not in His own power which had been temporarily laid aside (Philippians 2:1-11).
Yeshua confronts the crowd with two midrashim. The first addresses Elijah—Israel’s great prophet—and his choice to work a miracle for the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-24)—a gentile. Many Israelites were suffering from drought and famine throughout the land, but none of them received Elijah’s attention—but this “outsider” did. Elisha continued Elijah’s ministry and followed his example. He healed Naaman, the Syrian (thus gentile) leper (2 Kings 5:1-14), even though leprosy was a problem throughout Israel.
Yeshua’s point is this: God honors gentiles with faith above Jews without it. His midrashim made the point.
The crowd’s eruptions turned into emotional lava, and the crowd darkened into a mob; they attempted to kill Jesus by throwing Him off a cliff.2 By nothing less than a miracle, Yeshua simply walked away unscathed.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic but, during high school, Cicero (IL) Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute and served as pastor for many years at Highland Park Church, where he is now pastor emeritus. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has published over 1,000 columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers which are available at edvasicek.com. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul's Teachings.