Luke 4:22-27 – A Prophet is Never Welcome

After reading from the scroll of Isaiah 61, Jesus declares that the words of the prophecy are fulfilled at that time.  He is claiming that the end of the exile as arrived and that the kingdom of God has finally arrived. This is a bold claim which appears to have  been understood as a bold claim by the original listeners. But as Jesus will soon observe, a prophet is never welcome in his hometown.

Jesus's Hometown Nazareth

The reaction to Jesus’s words is remarkable for several reasons.

First, the initial response to Jesus is amazement (v, 22). The people are amazed because his words were “full of grace.” But what do they mean by calling Jesus the “son of Joseph” (v. 22b)? It is possible that the people are question the legitimacy of Jesus (John 8:41), but more likely they using the question to deflect the implication of Jesus’ words. By claiming that he fulfills the prophecy is to claim to be the Messiah, or something very much like it.

Second, Jesus seems harsh in verses 23–24. Does Jesus jump to the conclusion that they are rejecting him? Does he know what the people are thinking (as he does in Luke 5:22; 6:8; 7:40)? The meaning of the proverb is that Jesus is not the right person to offer himself as a fulfillment of the prophecy – who are you to be the Savior? This is not unlike the mockery endured on the cross, “he saved others, let me save himself.”

Third, the nature of the demand that the Nazareth congregation has in mind in v 23. If Jesus is responding to their unexpressed demands, what is it that they are demanding? Likely the people are requesting a sign to show that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus never really does signs in response to a demand, therefore his response understandable.

Fourth, is the purpose of verse 24 to be a response to or justification of verse 23? A prophet is never welcome in his hometown: this is the standard fate for a prophet! Jesus is not upset that his own town rejects him, it is what he expected.  In fact, this is the first of what will be many rejections in the gospel.

Does Luke 4:25–27 imply a future Gentile mission?

Some argue that the fact that Elijah and Elisha went outside of Israel and did miracles implies that Jesus will work outside of Israel and offer salvation to the Gentiles. But in the context of the rejection theme, it is better to see the analogy of Elijah and Elisha as rejected prophets who were not welcome in their own land, therefore the outsiders were the ones that were benefited by their miracles. In Luke, as in each of the Gospels, it is the outsiders that are brought into the ministry of Jesus, not the good people of the synagogue in his hometown.

How ever we sort out these issues, the people are angry enough so that by v. 28 they are ready to toss Jesus over a cliff. This is not unlike the reaction to the speech of Stephen in Acts 7. Jesus simply walks away from them (possibly protected in supernaturally, cf. 4:10-11). From this point on, Jesus’ ministry focuses on “others” outside of his hometown of Nazareth.

15 thoughts on “Luke 4:22-27 – A Prophet is Never Welcome

  1. Firstly, I love the title and picture. So great.
    Let me address these verse by verse in response to your points and questions.
    Verse 22: I do believe that they were pretty skeptical about what Jesus meant when He said that Scripture was being fulfilled. Although I don’t know why they “spoke well of him” and went on to question his legitimacy. I mean, if he were the son of Joseph he couldn’t have been the Messiah, at least it seemed like that was what they inferred. But if that is what Christ was seeming to implicate, that he was the messiah and the fulfillment of prophecy, then why did they warmly marvel at his words one second, and demand signs another. I think the people are very confused. Or I am confused about the people.
    Verse 23: 9:47 is also another indication that Jesus knew their thoughts, and his words here would imply that he knew how they felt and what they would say in response to him, which may be why he just cut to the chase. As Jesus seemingly responds to their “unexpressed demands” I would imply that their “unexpressed demands”, to answer your question, were for Jesus to show his miracles, powers, and ability to heal to them so that they may believe that what he has claimed is true. So they might have proof that he is the messiah, the fulfillment of this Scripture.
    Verse 24: This verse then, I would see as a justification and excuse for the verse prior and denial of heeding to their demand. It is no use that he do what he did elsewhere there because his hometown would not accept him anyway. He is just stating the obvious fact that a prophet hasn’t been accepted in their hometown and so why would he try to prove to them otherwise here. He knows that his hometown will reject him, and knows the rejection to come will be greater.
    Verse 25-27: I would agree with both of your suggestions. I can identify a gentile mission in the verses, but greater than that see a benefit that outsiders have by their miracles. God does send his prophets to outsiders and the gentiles when Israel rejects prophets, and Jesus is just reminding them of that. Acts 22:21 also has sending out to the gentiles. I would say that these verses are very much gentile aimed and focused. Which I would say explains the crowds wrath after his statements about the famine and none of the lepers being cleansed. I think Jesus was trying to make them angry. But he was only stating what they were to blind to see.
    As far as the focus of Jesus’ ministry being on outsiders after this, I would say that is completely understandable, after all they tried to throw him off a cliff. But as Nazareth, I wouldn’t appreciate the rejection. And I am sure they didn’t.

  2. Jesus was despised and rejected by men all throughout his ministry and Nazareth was to be no exception. Jesus had just begun his ministry and the first place he goes to (according to Luke) was his own hometown. Luke said that it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue “where he had been brought up” so of course the people would have known he and his family well. Being handed the scroll of Isaiah and he “found the place where it was written” and proceeded to read this portion. Afterward he said that this scripture was fulfilled in their hearing. Briefly, the people spoke well of him but Jesus knew what was going to happen. “No prophet is accepted in his own hometown”. Jesus prophetically spoke these words, “doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Physician, heal yourself”. Jesus also knew that he would be despised and rejected by the Jewish people and that his ministry would include gentiles although his main ministry was to go to the loss sheep of the house of Israel. He used the illustrations of Elijah and Elisha to buttress his position. Jesus indeed knew the future to state so confidently what he did that day in the synagogue.

  3. As it was said, Jesus wasn’t surprised at all by the rejection He found in His hometown. He knew that He was going to be met with a lot of rejection along His journey. His teachings, were radical, as were His answers, and lack of answers to questions people asked of Him, and about Him. I suspect that the town of Nararath’s hatred toward Jesus only grew as they heard of His continued teachings, and the claim of His follower’s that He was the Son of God. This was of course blasphemy to those who doubted His claims, so it wasn’t as if it was strange that Jesus’ hometown should hate Him. They weren’t hating a well respected Prophet of the Lord. They were hating someone who claimed something that was blasphemy and meant to draw people away from the real teachings of Judaism, ad the real Messiah. Jesus’ message like most Prophets before Him, was not a message that the people wanted, nor welcomed.

  4. Jesus’ reading of the Isaiah scroll is an interesting moment. Jesus pronounces the end of Exile and the coming of Jubilee. As the passage reads, it appears that Jesus jumps quickly to his rejection by the people of the synagogue, and as far as an implied future Gentile mission, I would say it was more of foreshadow. We can look back at it now and see that it could very well have been a foreshadow to the future Gentile mission, but to the people, I doubt they would have seen an implied Gentile mission. As Wright discusses in the first part of his book “Simply Jesus”, the Jews were looking for a rescue and a return from the Exile. Jesus came to do just that, but the people rejected him because it was not on the terms they wanted or were even expecting. He was rejected by the people of his hometown, much like other Prophets. Jesus did turn to “others” from this point on. I find a possible interesting parallel between this being the beginning of his ministry with his hometown rejecting him and the end of it with his people rejecting him. In the beginning he turns to “others” outside of Nazareth, and at the end he eventually turns to “others” outside of Israel through Paul.

  5. Whenever I read scripture, I like to think of what it would be like to live in those times or to be one of the people listening to Jesus preach. I can only imagine the awe and utter shock that the people were experiencing when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah 61. Not only declaring that the times of the exile were at an end, but also that the kingdom of God had arrived. I’ve been reading One Life by Scot McKnight and it talks about the coming of the kingdom of God and what it really entails. I wonder if they realized what they were about to experience when Jesus said “‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). As to whether or not Jesus was surprised at all by the rejection of the message He was bringing, I don’t believe he was surprised one bit. Mostly because he already knew what was to come. And in order for the next set of events to happen, He had to be rejected first for Him to be able to make the ultimate sacrifice.

    • Reading McKnight is interesting, since he takes kingdom language and uses it in ways that I am not sure were originally intended by Jesus (or John the Baptist, or Paul, or anyone). I usually find that I agree with his point, but that his reason for making that point is standing on the wrong foundation.

  6. I have never noticed how seemingly odd Jesus reply in Luke 3:23-24 is, even “a bit harsh,” as Long has noted. I am wondering if perhaps this is because the crowd is displaying a mentality that is very prevalent in our culture today: thinking that Jesus is/was an amazing teacher and a great moralist, but failing to understand (or perhaps admit) that he is also everything else he claims to be, in this case, Messiah. After the famous narrative of Jesus’ temptation, 4:14 says that “a report about him went through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” Word was already out that there was an amazing teacher in town. He went to the synagogue of his hometown on the Sabbath and read from Isaiah. Immediately following, he simply sat down. But “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” (4:20) He apparently decides he should address them since they were all staring at him, so he told them that the passage that he had read was fulfilled. Following this, “they spoke well of him and marveled …” (4:22) They were all filled with good words for and good thoughts about him. As Jesus speaks to them again apparently condemning their disbelief both now and in the past as a nation, they are “filled with wrath.” (4:28) It seems to me that we see here that the people of Nazareth felt warm feelings toward Jesus but were not willing to accept him as Messiah, as Long said, they were trying “to deflect the implication of Jesus’ words, … [his] claim to be the Messiah.”

  7. It seems quite interesting that Luke’s telling of this rejection story happens towards the beginning of his narrative. In Mark, the disciples are all called by Jesus. Then, there are many healings as well as confrontations with the religious leaders of the time. There is also the miraculous calming of the storm. And then the rejection in Nazareth takes place. Matthew is also set up in a similar fashion, with much more happening. But in Luke, these all take place after the rejection story. In the Book of Luke, this rejection comes shortly after the baptism and the temptation. I wonder if perhaps Luke places this early because the references to Elijah and Elisha and ‘doctor/physician’ language is important to Luke’s understanding of who Jesus was and what he was doing.

  8. I tend to wonder what it would be like to listen to Jesus say that the prophecy has been fulfilled. Even if I was a follower of Christ, and believed in his gospel if someone was telling me about a previous scripture being fulfilled I do not know how I would take it. I think the people in Nazareth reacted according to how they were raised and how they believed in God.
    Jarred I think Luke was setting up the scene, and that is why he told the story of Jesus being rejected first. Now a day most movies or TV shows give the ending or conflict first, just to set up the reader to know what is going on. I believe in Luke 4 that is what Luke was going for.
    I like this part of Luke because it almost feels unnecessary to the gospel story, but it gives us more insight on the time and attitudes of those that Jesus taught. I think though it was a story that could have been replaced or maybe told differently, it also was a good way to share a little more about Christ and his journey.

  9. Jesus was rejected in more than one place, so it was to no surprise that he had some rejections in his own home town. The fact that Jesus knew He was not supposed to stay and was not going to stay, helped Him to not care about being rejected, because He knew that His father was being rejected, not HIm. Jesus came to proclaim the message of God and fulfill that message, so anyone that rejects Him, just rejects God. When living in full submission to God, there is no need to care about your own reputation and teaching and if people don’t like you, but rather deliver the message to others which is what Jesus did when He was rejected.

    With Jesus saying that the prophecy has been fulfilled was jaw dropping. You can image how those that were waiting for a more literal kingdom would’ve reacted. Most Jews were waiting for a literal kingdom and were waiting for Jesus to bring complete restoration to them and physical kingdom.

  10. Phil: You mention Elijah, and so I have to ask you your take on this:
    Worship and sacrifice is to take place at one place, the temple in Jerusalem.
    But in 1 Kings 18:30 the great prophet Elijah repairs a local altar of God destroyed by the Baal worshipers. The message of I Kings 18 and the defeat of the Baal worshipers is that this local altar to God is ok.
    But local altars and places of worship apparently degenerated over time, especially in the north (right?) and created problems with syncretism and idolatry. How do we reconcile this approval of local worship in I Kings 18 and teaching against local worship/sacrifice elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible?
    Sorry if this strays too far from Luke here.

    • Good question, Elijah pre-dates the reforms of Hezekiah, who is the first king to centralize worship in the Temple. The high place at Carmel may have been a traditional location for worshiping God int he Northern Kingdom, since the time of Saul. In 1 Sam 15:12 Saul went to Carmel and “set up an monument for himself,” a hint that there is some sort of worship going on there outside well before Jerusalem was taken by David.

      So you are right to call this a degeneration of a proper place of worship by the time of Elijah. Elijah is functioning as a prophet in the North, and really has nothing to do with the Southern kingdom, so perhaps he is restoring a place of worship that went back to the earliest forms of worship in Israel (even the Judges period!)

  11. The idea that the prophet is never really welcomed in their own hometown is very interesting. Obviously in the post, in gives the example of Elijah and Elisha, but I would be intrigued to see how often this pattern holds true, as it wouldn’t be surprising to me at all. Even still today, the people who become famous from a town, are often ridiculed there, until they find the success, so I wonder if something like that would play a part as to why this happens. However, it is sad, that the people who supposedly know Jesus the most, as that is where He is from, were so willing to ridicule and hate Him, even though He is the Messiah

  12. For the first question of people questioning Jesus’ legitimacy, I would figure that they were. That would be the way that I would question someone. It is like, “I know your dad and he isn’t anything special, so why are you any different?” For the second question, I would guess that Jesus was able to read the room he was speaking to, like any good speaker, and he could tell that they weren’t feeling what He was saying. For the third question, the people are wanting Jesus to prove that He is the Messiah. He is able to tell this based on the feel of the room, we just miss these context clues while reading. For verse 24, I really like what Jesus said about never being accepted. The reason that I like it so much is because the prophet feels less special when you know him personally. When you look at someone who grew up in the desert like John the Baptist (Strauss, 365) they will be more accepted because their upbringing is different then most.

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