Why Was Jesus Rejected at Nazareth?

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8 minutes

Have you ever wondered why the people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth rejected him over a few little words? He had just finished reading the following to them:

“The spirit of the L-rd GOD is upon me; because HaShem hath anointed me to bring good tidings unto the humble; He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the eyes to them that are bound; To proclaim the year of HaShem’s good pleasure.”

Isaiah 61:1-2, JPS

Now here is the interesting thing about these verses: In the Tanakh, the verses above are similar to what Jesus would have initially read. But in the Christian Bible, a few words are changed and added, which I have highlighted:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blindto set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Luke 4:18-19, KJV

You will notice in the KJV that this phrase was added: To set at liberty them that are bruised.”

And you will also see in the NIV that one verse is entirely missing:

“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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18-19, NIV

Why was Jesus rejected?

Naturally, my main question as to the changes and omissions is: why? Why would the NIV translators leave out the fact that Jesus came to “heal the brokenhearted?” Or why would the KJV add “to set at liberty them that are bruised?” Why would the translators of the New Testament change any of the words of Isaiah 61 at all? I have no answer for that, but I include these verses here to show you why it is so crucial to not rely on any one translation.

If you are studying the Old Testament, I highly recommend using the Jewish Publication Society’s 1917 edition of the Tanakh, as it is the most reliable and, in cases like today’s verses, ideal for cross-references.

Getting back to the verses at hand, after Jesus finished reading to the people, he said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And of course, everyone who heard him was impressed with this statement. In their minds, they thought he was going to help people by seeing what he could do to make their lives easier. They were thinking in physical terms. Being under oppressive Roman rule, they believed Jesus was going to do something about it. They didn’t get the deeper picture of what he was saying, and they also missed the significance of where he stopped reading.

Why Did Jesus Stop Reading?

Jesus stopped in the middle of verse two. Why? Because what he was saying was a proclamation to all that the Lord was among them. The Messiah had come and was in their midst, “To proclaim the year of HaShem’s good pleasure.” The time had finally arrived for all to meet and receive their Messiah. Which was why Jesus didn’t finish the verse, because if he had, he would also have been proclaiming “The day of vengeance of our G-d; to comfort all that mourn.” He didn’t come the first time to bring judgment or vengeance. He came to save us and bring salvation. That’s why he didn’t finish the verse.

What was Jesus Saying?

But look closely at his words and what he was saying:

“HaShem hath anointed me to bring good tidings unto the humble.” 

Isaiah 61:1, JPS

Most translations of Luke 4:18–19 say that God had anointed Jesus to “preach the gospel to the poor” or “proclaim good news to the poor.” They had changed the meaning of the Hebrew word `anav, which means “humble, meek, lowly, or poor,” and lost the original intent when they translated it from Hebrew to Greek.

They used the word ptōchos instead, which means “poor, destitute, or indigent.” So when Jesus said he had been anointed to preach good news to the poor, he meant the meek, the humble, those who realized they were not worthy in God’s eyes—the poor in spirit.

Who was Jesus Trying to Reach?

When Jesus preached his famous Sermon on the Mount, the first thing he said was, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). This is what he meant when he read Isaiah 61:1-2. He was anointed by HaShem to bring good news to those who saw their sin, regretted it, and wished there was a way to make themselves right with God. Which is why the rest of what he said was so incredible! Just listen to what Jesus is offering for those who are poor in spirit:

  • “He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.”  “Bind up” literally means to “heal, bind, or bandage.” In other words, Jesus came to fix those who are brokenhearted over their sin and who have lost hope of any reconciliation with God. It’s not about how your husband’s infidelity betrayed your heart. This is about spiritual brokenness. Despair over sin, in particular.
  • “To proclaim liberty to the captives.” Jesus isn’t promising freedom to those in prison for their crimes. He is promising freedom to all whose sin keeps them eternally separated from God.
  • “And the opening of the eyes to them that are bound.” With freedom comes insight. Those who are bound in sin will have their eyes opened to see that only Jesus can set them free.

But when Jesus saw how the people were reacting to his words, he realized they didn’t understand his meaning. So he needed to get their attention, and so he said, “Verily, I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country” (Luke 4:24).

Imagine that you have known Jesus since he was a little boy. Your children grew up playing with him. Now here he is reading the Scriptures on the Sabbath, and you are impressed and delighted that he has chosen to serve the people.

But then you sit up, and you cock your head a little and think to yourself, “Did he just say he was a prophet?” So now you are listening a little closer. Then Jesus does the unthinkable. He compares everyone in the synagogue to the faithless Jews of Elijah and Elisha’s time and suggests it would be Gentiles instead who would enjoy the blessings of God because the Jews would reject their prophet (Luke 4:25–27). Well, that got their attention big time. They were angry. How dare Jesus suggest that people like those idol-worshipping Romans would experience God’s blessings? The Jews were God’s chosen people, not the Gentiles!

But the Jews were famous for rejecting the prophets God sent them. Jesus knew their hearts, and he was aware that a vast majority of them would reject him. And in time, Jesus’ prophecy would come true, when the Jewish nation, under the guidance of the Sanhedrin, would reject him as their Messiah by having him crucified. But this rejection started in his hometown.

Jesus wasn’t trying to antagonize people on purpose. That wasn’t his intent because, at other times, he dealt gently with people who were aware of their guilt and wanted to find forgiveness. But this was his hometown. These were “his people,” so to speak. He knew their hearts, and like the Jews of Jeremiah’s time, they believed they were saved simply because they were God’s chosen people. Whether they sinned or not was irrelevant.

Are You Ignoring God’s Voice?

Sometimes we act the same way when God is trying to talk to us. We ignore His voice or that inner warning when we know we have done wrong. Or we rush headlong into doing things our own way, even though we know better. We may even get caught up like the crowds in Nazareth who rushed to throw Jesus off a cliff (Luke 4:28–29). Or  by accepting new teachings or doctrines without first checking them out against Scripture.

Jesus made his reasons clear for why he came:

  • To bring good tidings to the humble
  • To bind up the broken-hearted
  • To proclaim liberty to the captives
  • To open the eyes of those who are bound

These blessings come to all who recognize their sin and their need for a Saviour. Despite what many celebrity preachers claim, Jesus did not come to make us rich, nor did he come to make us feel better about ourselves. The gospel has nothing to do with “feel good” doctrines but has everything to do with recognizing our sin and acknowledging that Jesus is the only way to be healed and made right with God. Once you do that, everything else falls into place.

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