Jesus in Nazareth – Announcing the End of the Exile

After his baptism and temptation, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth where he attends a synagogue service. He is asked to read a portion of scripture from Isaiah 61. It is possible Jesus was allowed to choose the passage; it is not certain whether synagogue readings were scheduled for the prophetic books in the first century. In addition, a small synagogue in an insignificant town like Nazareth may not have had a complete set of scrolls other than the Torah.

Jesus reads a scroll in NaxarethAfter Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 he declares that they are fulfilled “today.” This is a remarkable claim since the passage in Isaiah is associated with the year of Jubilee – the time when the slaves would be set free and land returned to the original owner. N. T. Wright regularly points out that this prophetic text alludes to Lev. 25:8-12 and would have been understood as a reference to a new age of release and forgiveness for the nation (Simply Jesus, 75, for example).

Did Jews think they were still in an exile and in need of restoration? A key text is Daniel 9, where Daniel reads the prophet Jeremiah and determines that the 70 year exile ought to be over. In response to his prayer for restoration and the end of the exile, God reveals to him that the exile will be extended for “70 Sevens,” presumably 490 years. Only after that period is over will God finally end the exile.

Another text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls has a similar view that the end of the exile will be like a Jubilee. 11Q13 Melichzedek indicates that at least some Jews prior to the time of Jesus thought of themselves as living in the exile. While this text is fragmentary it appears to be a collection of texts from Isaiah describing the end of the age as a new Jubilee. Melchizedek appears as a messiah-like figure who was predicted by “the anointed of the spir[it] as Dan[iel]”in Dan 9:25. He will be a “the messenger of good who announ[ces salvation].” All this sounds very much like Jesus’ words in Luke 4.

In fact, if the community at Qumran is associated with scrolls like this one, then their location in the desert, near the place where Israel ended their 40 years exile in the wilderness and finally entered the Land is remarkable. They are enacting the prophecy of Isaiah 40 to go “into the wilderness and make straight the paths of the Lord.”

By choosing this text to read, Jesus is drawing on a stock of apocalyptic imagery to describe his own ministry, the “times of jubilee” are fast approaching! It is significant that he stops reading where he does, he does not read the lines about the day of vengeance. The Melchizedek scroll includes vengeance on the enemies of God’s people: “Melchizedek will carry out the vengeance of Go[d’s] judgments, [and on that day he will fr]e[e them from the hand of] Belial and from the hand of all the sp[irits of his lot.]” Why did Jesus stop before the announcement of vengeance? I would suggest that it is simply because he knew his mission was not judgment, but to ‘provide a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

The kingdom is already arriving, but it is not yet fully arrived in the ministry of Jesus. The prophecy of Isaiah is demonstrated in the next few paragraphs. In 4:31-37 a demon is driven out of a man (releasing of the oppressed); in 4:38-44 many people are healed. In Luke 7:36-50 Jesus forgives a woman’s sin! As Wright says, these stories not only resonate with the long-awaited Jubilee, but also the Exodus story.

What other indications are there that Jesus might have thought of his ministry as the “end of the exile,” especially in the early years in Galilee?


NB: All DSS citations are from Martinez and Tigchelaar The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992.

10 thoughts on “Jesus in Nazareth – Announcing the End of the Exile

  1. In Mark 2 we see Jesus healing a crippled man. His friends lower him in from the ceiling and Jesus tells him that his sins are forgiven. Verse 10 Jesus says that it’s is the power of the son of man. This is an example of Jesus releasing people from the bondage they have known for so long. Another spot is the pool of Bethesda in John 5. Jesus again finds a crippled and says walk releasing him from the bondage of sickness. Sins, sickness, and restrictions mean nothing to Jesus and he brings freedom. John 8 tells us that if the Son sets us free we are free indeed or if you know the truth you will be set free. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. With all the talk of freedom and forgiveness it seems like there is a parallel between Jubilee and what Jesus was preaching.

  2. Jesus began his ministry in Galilee with a clear message of the coming of the kingdom of God. “The time has come… The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). I believe that this type of teaching was revolutionary to the Jewish faith and culture; for they have constantly bombarded with teaching of the Messiah rather than the coming of the Kingdom. “Jesus’ hearers were also captivated by the content of the message itself: The proclamation of the kingdom of God. Jesus claimed that through his words and actions, God’s end-times salvation was breaking in on human history” (Strauss 436-438). The shift in teaching from Messianic to coming Kingdom shows that Jesus clearly was preaching the end of the Exile. The neccessity for Messianic preaching was to end the Exile. Now that the Messiah, Jesus, has come the teaching would have to shift to prepare them for the next “stage” of their lives. Jesus starts his ministry with a lot of teaching about the Kingdom of God and moves into subtle teaching of restoration, grace and salvation. I think the pattern of Jesus’s teaching is clear enough to see that the end of Exile has come and the Kingdom of God is upon us.

  3. When Jesus began his ministry, he shows many indications that he might have thought of his ministry as the “end of the exile.” Like the post says, in Isaiah, a demon is driven out of a man, many people are healed, and Jesus forgives a woman’s sin. These things are said to “not only resonate with the long awaited Jubilee, but also the Exodus story.” Jesus then begins to show these same kinds of acts by in the New Testament. Jesus finds a man that is crippled and can’t walk and tells him to walk, which then allows him to be free and healed. Jesus is also found freeing people from their sins that also allows them to be free from their bondage. Seeing this continued healing and forgiveness shows that these could be clear indications that Jesus might have thought that his ministry was the “end of the exile.”

  4. Jesus’ career began with Johns baptism, and the hinting of the return from exile. There are so many scriptures that to me could mean the end of exile. In Luke 15:3-7 the parable about the lost sheep, even if one person is saved , they are exiled. Or in Luke 15:11-24 , the parable about the prodigal son. He comes home and is forgiven. But then again in the blog it says in Daniel 9 how he prays for forgiveness of their many sins and their release from exile and God tells them it will be 70 sevens before their exile is over, so it sounds to me like he is saying at that time there will be another 490 years of exile.

  5. The bible depicts many indications that Jesus’ ministry was the ending of the exile. His people had been in exile and he seemed to be freeing them in more way then one. First, like Cody said, from the beginning he preached the Kingdom of God. Jesus told of the present kingdom, of a God who ruled the universe and of a coming kingdom, according to Strauss. In fact both Strauss and Wright talk about the two different kingdoms that Jesus refers to. The kingdom was coming which would be part of leaving the exile. He was constantly healing, forgiving, and performing miracles. He was ending the suffering of his people, and delivering them from bondage almost as a precursor to the final and ultimate deliverance. His death, burial, and resurrection was the final piece to the end of the exile, he delivered his people from the death that they deserved, he saved his people from their sins. Now these people were instructed to follow God until Jesus’ prophecies were finally fulfilled about the coming Kingdom and his return.

  6. As Jesus began to speak more publicly once His ministry began, He used several parables which to us seem like good stories with deep meaning of how to live life. But to the Jews of that day they would have been understood more fully as factors of culture and religious expectation came into play. One such parable is that of the prodigal son. While many of us see it as a tale of redemption and forgiveness, Wright suggests that Jesus used this parable to explain His ministry. “Jesus’ claim is that in and through his own ministry the long-awaited return is actually happening…” (Wright, 42). Jesus uses this parable to show that those He loves, the “unclean” prostitutes, leprous, and sinners, are willing to accept His ministry while those who didn’t see such an act of love coming look on begrudgingly. The eldest son “refused to go in” and enjoy the party he was so mad that such kindness be shown to such a sinner (Luke 15:28). That is exactly how Jesus is calling out the Pharisees for being at the time of His ending to the exile.

  7. Jesus’ ministry can be considered “the end of exile”…maybe not in a literal sense, but like Megan had said He was ending people’s sufferings. Christ came to this world in the flesh, and knew what covenant he had to fulfill in order to “end exile”. He was on the brink of bringing Christianity into the world. His death by grace and mercy and his resurrection ended a bondage that humanity was held down to. “Jesus’ hearers were also captivated by the content of the message itself: The proclamation of the kingdom of God. Jesus claimed that through his words and actions, God’s end-times salvation was breaking in on human history” (Strauss 436-438). No more mosaic law…this could be what Jesus meant when referring to ending exile; no more bondage.

  8. I think, as everyone else seems to be pointing out; the the key to understanding Jesus’ ministry as exile-ending is seeing the emphasis he puts on kingdom. Jesus seems to constantly point out the faults in “earth-life” and the ways to move toward “kingdom-life”. It’s as if Jesus wants the Jews to understand that when they are actually in the kingdom, life will not at all be what they were expecting it to be. There would be a change. The other oddity in Jesus’ message is how he talks about the kingdom as a “here-and-now” reality. How can this kingdom be both a future revelation, and a present reality? I think the key is to understand that the kingdom as a future revelation is simply the completion of what the kingdom as a present reality is working towards. Living a kingdom-life now will eventually a person to come to the full revelation of the eternal-kingdom-life. It seems, to me, that Jesus was preaching a kingdom-life that started while a person is on earth, and is fully revealed in the “coming kingdom”.

  9. Jesus’ ministry began with the appearance of John the Baptist, all four Gospels coinciding with one another on that. I agree that when Jesus’ ministry began, that was the end of the exile. The baptism of Jesus was “the beginning of his public ministry” (Strauss, 2007, p. 429), so the official end to the exile of Israel was the baptism of Jesus. But Matthew predicted that the exile would end with Jesus, quoting Jeremiah 31:15, “Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (ESV). In this passage, Jeremiah is talking about the mourning of mothers of Israel and speaking in his own words, Matthew says that the one that would bring the new covenant to Israel had arrived—Jesus.
    Not only do we see the ending of the exile with the start of Jesus’ ministry, but we see it through the many ways he was releasing them from their suffering by performing miracles. His first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana, Galilee. And when Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Passover, he performs many miracles as well as teaching Nicodemus about spiritual re-birth. Jesus raises a widow’s son from death in Nain, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in law at Capernaum. These (and many more) are the miracles of Jesus and that once his ministry started, it was miracle after miracle, Jesus was preaching and performing miracles and giving hope back to the land of Israel and it is through Jesus and his ministry, that we see the exile end. Israel is beginning their new covenant with God, as he promised, and he had sent them the One that would deliver that to them—Jesus.

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