Luke 4:14–30 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos
A Slip of the Tongue for Jesus?
In today's lesson, we'll cover a lot: the background of the Lord appearing at the synagogue in Nazareth; his public ministry up to this point, lasting nearly a year; our Lord's unique situation in Nazareth his home town; the text that he cited, and the people's response; his response to his popularity among the people; their misconceptions and his clarifications and teaching of them; and the implications of the principle undergirding this event, the principle that a prophet is never popular at home with his own people. In the end, we'll clearly see that Jesus did not suffer from a "slip of the tongue," but from a careful and deliberate statement, made to the people with whom he'd lived and worshipped as he grew up.
In short, vv. 14 and 15 summarize our Lord's ministry in Galilee, serving as a backdrop to his appearance at Nazareth. In vv. 16–21, Luke records the Lord's appearance in the synagogue, his reading of a portion of Isaiah's prophecy, and his astounding claim that this prophecy has been fulfilled by his audience's hearing of it. Their positive response is described in v. 22, which is immediately challenged by Jesus in vv. 23–27. In the resulting near riot (vv. 28–30), the people fully intend to kill Jesus by forcing him over a precipice to his death.
The Text by Divisions
Luke 4:14–15 Both verses are a very concise summary of Jesus' ministry in Galilee and its impact. Our Lord's ministry there had been in the power of the Spirit (v. 14). Reports of Jesus' ministry reached Nazareth's people before he did. When he finally arrived, the levels of anticipation and excitement were high.
Vv. 16–21 Luke records our Lord's arrival at Nazareth as being his first public appearance as Messiah. Jesus frequently taught in the synagogues; it was this synagogue that Jesus must have frequented in the years he and his parents lived in Nazareth. From what Luke has already told us about Jesus' discussion with the teachers in Jerusalem at the early age of 12 (2:41–51), it's likely that Jesus did the same kind of thing with the Jewish teachers in this synagogue and would have been a very familiar face in that place.
In our Lord's reading and interpretation of the Isaiah text, Lord Jesus is claiming, on Old Testament grounds, to truly be Israel's Messiah. This is based upon several areas of fulfillment: (1) Jesus' life and ministry were marked by the power of the Holy Spirit (3:22; 4:1, 14); (2) the ministry of the Messiah, thus far, was primarily one of proclamation preaching; (3) the Messiah's ministry, as Luke describes it, is focused on the poor, distressed, downtrodden, the "sick" in Jesus' words, not the "well"; and (4) the ministry of the Messiah wasn't, as yet, that of bringing vengeance on God's enemies; for Jesus didn't come to condemn, but to save.
V. 22 The words of our Lord, spoken in the Nazareth synagogue, were warmly welcomed. People respond positively to Jesus' claim, without objections or resistance. They spoke well of him. However, Luke informs us that the people wondered what Jesus meant; his words had a gracious tone, but their meaning was obscure.
Vv. 23–27 If our Lord was tested by the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, the praises of his hometown peers were just as much a test of his character. Let's see how this works out to reveal the wisdom and perfection of our Lord. Jesus knew what his audience was thinking. He cut through the formalities and the niceties and got to the heart of the issue. He could see that his words were misunderstood, so he set out next to raise a critical issue (vv. 23–24).
The proverbial phrase "Physician, heal yourself" is somewhat confusing. Possibly, Jesus was challenged to produce the trappings of success in their eyes. One who was to bring blessings and prosperity to Israel would surely have all the earmarks of prosperity. But this One who'd come to them was none other than Jesus, the boy who'd grown up in their midst, the child of Joseph who was a very humble man of meager means. If Jesus were the miracle worker that rumor indicated he was, surely he'd quickly demonstrate his power, especially since he was one of their own.
The principle that a prophet is never honored in his own country, by his own people, meant that Jesus, if he were a true prophet, wouldn't be received with open arms, or with bowed knee, but with rejection, like all the other prophets. Jesus pointed out that if his ministry were correctly understood, he'd be rejected, persecuted, and even killed, as were all the prophets of Israel's history (1 Kings 19:10; Jeremiah 35:15; 44:4–5; Acts 7:52.)
Jesus not only cited the principle that Israel's prophets were never honored by their own people, he illustrated that fact by showing that the prophets were often more kindly treated by Gentiles, and that the Gentiles received blessings at their hands. He cited the case of Elijah's stay with the Gentile widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:9) and of the healing of Naamam the Syrian, an enemy of Israel, indeed, a military leader of the army that successfully attacked Israel (2 Kings 5:1–14). In both cases, the prophet of Israel brought blessings to Gentiles, which the Jews, their own people, didn't receive. In both cases, the prophets were sent to Israel to condemn Israelite sin and pronounce divine judgment; they were largely rejected by their own people.
"He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
Painting by James Tissot: "Jesus in the Synagogue"
Here in the synagogue, Jesus is simply refusing to fulfill Israelite expectations because they're ill founded, based upon a false grasp of Scriptures and a misconception about the Messiah and his ministry. But why did Jesus choose the issue of blessing the Gentiles? To provoke his listeners to action? A variety of commentators provide three possible reasons: (1) The blessing of the Gentiles is a prominent prophetic promise; (2) this was a pivotal issue, a matter of Jewish pride and self-righteousness, which had to be dealt with and set aside in order for Jews to experience God's salvation; and (3) Luke's gospel is written principally to and for Gentiles. The Gentile reader is going to read the gospel with this question in mind: How can a Jewish Messiah, dying in fulfillment of Jewish Scriptures, provide salvation for a Gentile? The answer is simple: The Jews' rejection of the Messiah made it possible for the Gentiles to be saved. This synagogue incident evidences how strongly the Jews felt about keeping the Gentiles from receiving God's blessings.
Vv. 28–30 The Jews of Nazareth were furious, violently reacting to Jesus' closing words. Their aim was nothing less than murder. He had compared them to faithless Jews from an earlier period. Further, he was suggesting that Gentiles (e.g., the Zarephathite widow and Naaman the Syrian) had enjoyed God's blessing having expressed strong faith, while God's "chosen people" had missed God's blessing. Anyone who would speak of the blessing of the Gentiles — instead of the Jews — was a traitor! He deserved to die! Now! The crowd rushed Jesus from the synagogue, pressing him toward the precipice of a nearby cliff to cause him to fall to his death. Jesus didn't escape by fleeing or taking a back way out. Instead, "he walked right through the crowd and went on his way" (v. 30). Just as the waters of the Red Sea parted to allow Moses and God's people to pass through, so the angry crowd apparently parted to allow Jesus to pass through their midst, unharmed and untouched.
It Makes You Wonder . . . .
- Q. 1 Why did Jesus deliberately sabotage his popularity among those with whom he had lived?
- Q. 2 Do you think that you'd be accepted if you recited Scripture to leaders of your hometown church?
This Week's Passage
Jesus Rejected at Nazareth
14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.
23Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself!' And you will tell me, 'Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'"
24"Truly I tell you," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian."
28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.