Jesus Rejected at Nazareth
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 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. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 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.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 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, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 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.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 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. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
Reaction to Jesus was decidedly mixed. His miracles and teaching brought great joy to many people, but His claims stirred up deep resentment and opposition in others.
Jesus’ dramatic announcement of Himself as the Messiah turned a quiet worship service in the synagogue at Nazareth into a riot as the congregation drove Him out of His own hometown (Luke 4:28–32). As far as they were concerned, He was Joseph’s son. They regarded His claim as blasphemous, and from that day He was no longer welcome in their town.
Please Go Away!
Something similar happened when Jesus delivered the man who had been possessed by evil spirits in the Gerasenes. Instead of welcoming Jesus to their town and seeking His help with other problems, the local people pleaded with Jesus to leave the area! So He got in a boat and left.
When Jesus healed the man who had been blind from birth, the man’s neighbors brought him to the Pharisees. Instead of praising God for the miracle, they threw him out of the synagogue, and this became their standard procedure for anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ (John 9:22).
The Roots of Opposition
Opposition to Jesus centered on His unique and extraordinary claims. Only God gives life, only God raises the dead, and only God pronounces final judgment. And Jesus claimed that these rights belong to Him! “Whatever the Father does,” He said, “the Son also does… For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (John 5:19–23).
Jesus was claiming that every person who has ever lived is ultimately accountable to Him. There was no ambiguity in His words. Jesus was “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:18). These claims cause deep offense in every culture. So it should not surprise us that “for this reason [the Jews] tried all the more to kill him” (5:18).
The Pharisees felt that in opposing Jesus they were upholding the Old Testament, but Jesus claimed that they had missed the whole point of the Old Testament because it all spoke of Him: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life,” He said. “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (5:39–40, 46–47).
Using the Devil’s Power
The depth of antagonism toward Jesus became clear when the Pharisees accused Him of working miracles by the power of the devil. Jesus had just delivered a man who had been possessed by a demon. The Pharisees could not deny the miracle that everybody had just seen. They needed an explanation, so they told the people, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons” (Matthew 12:24).
It was an extraordinary accusation. Satan’s strongholds were falling as people who were obviously possessed by demons were set free. If Jesus was doing this by the power of Satan, then Satan would be destroying his own kingdom (12:26)!
Jesus turned the argument on the Pharisees by asking them about the power with which their people drove out demons. The question was embarrassing to the Pharisees because they were unable to help people who were oppressed by dark powers.
Jesus cast out demons by the power of the Spirit of God, and this, He claimed, was another evidence that God’s kingdom, His liberating rule, had come (12:28).
People were deeply divided over the claims and miracles of Jesus. But there was no avoiding a decision. Jesus offered a clear choice: “Whoever is not with me is against me” (12:30).
Stones in the Temple
On another occasion, Jesus was teaching in the temple at Jerusalem. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). As He spoke, many people put their faith in Him, and He continued to teach them. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples,” He said. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:31–32).
The suggestion that they needed Jesus to set them free offended these new believers: “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone,” they said (8:33).
A long conversation followed about God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants. Then Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (8:56).
The people were astonished at this claim. “You are not yet fifty years old,…and you have seen Abraham!” (8:57).
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (8:58).
In these words, Jesus identified Himself fully with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had appeared to Moses and revealed His own name as “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). When the people heard these words from Jesus, they picked up stones to stone Him. But Jesus slipped away from the temple grounds (John 8:59).
A View from the Second Valley
The deep antagonism and hatred shown toward Jesus was a great tragedy. Imagine what good might have been done in Nazareth, in the land of the Gerasenes, or in the great city of Jerusalem if Jesus had been welcomed and invited to stay.
The apostle John summarized the pattern of opposition to Jesus in these words: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). This response did not surprise Jesus. “This is the verdict,” He said, “light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
But some did receive Jesus. They followed Him and saw His glory. Their story takes us to the next mountain.
- Why were many people deeply opposed to Jesus? What reasons might a person have for opposing Jesus today?