PMW 2020-085 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
God judged Israel in the first century because of her rejection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The preterist analysis of the Gospels highlights indisputable evidence of Jewish rejection in numerous places, as do most evangelical readings of Scripture. However, preterism goes a step further by also pointing out several more subtle indicators of Israel’s rejection of Christ — even where such are not expected. A case in point in Luke 4:22–30.
As I will show, reading this passage surprises us. However, a Narrative Critical reading can highlight important subtleties that are both helpful for interpretation and significant for a preterist analysis. The point of Narrative Criticism i(NC) s to read a passage in its full context, i.e., here the whole Gospel of Luke. In Luke, for instance, NC recognizes that Luke is telling a full, unfolding story of Jesus and his earthly ministry. Thus, NC presses us to notice what is going on in the whole Gospel in order to better understand its various pericopes. These are not random collections of stories that are loosely strung together. Rather they are developing parts of the whole unfolding narrative.
Let’s see how a Narrative Critical reading impacts our preterist understanding of Luke 4.
In Luke 4 Jesus enters the synagogue in Nazareth, the town in which he grew up (4:16). He is given the scroll of Isaiah and stands up to read from Isaiah 61. When he explains the passage, all eyes of the synagogue “were fixed on Him” (v. 20). Then we learn that “all were speaking well of Him and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from his lips” (v. 22a). This sounds very much like a rather positive response. But a surface reading taken out of context is not a proper reading.
Israel in the Bible and History (9 mp3 lectures)
by Ken Gentry
The people of Israel are the people of God. But the modern church is divided over the nature, call and identity of Israel. This lecture series covers key issues for understanding the biblical concept of Israel.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
When analyzing this passage as a part of the narrative context of the whole Gospel of Luke, we can detect some important insights.
In the first place, we see that the reaction of the Jews in Nazareth falls far short of any true insight into Jesus’s identity. For the hearers respond: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (v. 22b). Thus, they see him only as one of them, not as he truly is, “the Son of God.” Luke has been taking great pains to demonstrate that he is the Son of God (Luke 1:32, 35; 4:3, 9) and he will continue to do so throughout his narrative (4:41; 8:28; 9:35; 10:22; 12:8; 22:69, 70).
The failure of the people to recognize Jesus’ true identity is significant in the developing historical narrative. For it will eventually result in their rejection of Christ (Luke 23:13-25) and Israel’s judgment (23:27-31).
But secondly, we also suspect something is not as it seems when we read Jesus’ response to the Nazarenes’ seemingly positive reaction to his teaching. After their “speaking well of him” regarding his “gracious words” (v. 22a), we are shocked at Jesus’ response:
“And He said to them, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And He said, ‘Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian’” (vv. 23–27).
How could he be so rude by uttering harsh words against those who seem to be praising him? The people did not take this well. In fact, they took it very poorly, to say the least. For they are “filled with rage” and “drove him out of the city” in an attempt to kill him (4:28–29)! How can we explain this?
In Luke’s earlier infancy narrative, we have a record of Simeon’s prophecy about the baby Jesus. There we receive a hint of what will be going on behind the scenes in Nazareth. On the positive level, Simeon himself has the requisite spiritual insight to recognize who the baby Jesus really is. Unlike the Nazarenes, he understands Jesus’ true identity. But on the negative level he prophetically warns of the exposure of many false hearts that will result from Jesus’ ministry:
Thus, positively we read of Simeon saying: “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, / According to Your word; / For my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:29–30). But negatively we learn that Simeon prophesies: “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed — and a sword will pierce even your own soul — to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (2:35).
Simeon’s prophecy shows that Jesus will reveal the true nature of men’s sinful hearts. And we see this fact at work numerous times in Luke’s Gospel (5:21–22; 6:8; 9:46–47; 24:38). In these several passages we see Jesus looking behind the words and actions (and silences!) of men to expose the true nature of their hearts. Thus, we read: “Jesus, aware of their reasonings” (5:21–22); “He knew what they were thinking” (6:8); “knowing what they were thinking in their heart” (9:47); and “why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (24:38). Truly the “thoughts from many hearts” are being “revealed.” And it is not a pretty picture.
“Jesus, Matthew, and the Rejection of Israel” (downloadable mp3)
by Ken Gentry
Surveys the Gospel of Matthew and highlights the numerous references — direct and indirect — that suggest that Matthew’s Gospel was written (at least in part) to demonstrate that God was rejecting Israel. A great many passages in Matthew are surveyed and briefly elaborated upon.
See more study materials at: http://www.KennethGentry.com
The dismal insight by Jesus not only occurs in Nazareth, but in the next town to which he immediately goes: Capernaum. These two towns are not only linked by the narrative proximity of the scenes (Luke 4:16-30 cp. 4:17-36), by the direct linguistic notice connecting the scenes (“And he came down to Capernaum,” Luke 4:17), and by the fact that both episodes begin the same (with his teaching on the Sabbath day, vv. 16, 31). But they are also linked by the mention of Capernaum in the Nazareth episode (Luke 4:23).
In Capernaum, Jesus’ synagogue teaching is once again received with delight (cp. Luke 4:32 with 4:22). And though the immediate context does not expose any overt opposition, as occurred in Nazareth (vv. 28-29), we read later in the same Gospel that Jesus calls down judgment on this very city In Luke 10:15 we read his excoriation: “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades!” Despite a surface reading of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum in Luke 4, a later pronouncement by the Lord shows that he was not well received deep down within the people.
This is why Jesus sometimes does not commit himself to those who seem to be converted and express faith in him. For instance, in John 4:23 we read: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.” Yet John immediately and surprisingly informs us: “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24–25). The same problem arises in John 8:30–59.
So, Jesus exposes the hearts of the people of Nazareth, despite their seeming acceptance of him and his ministry.
No only so, but Jesus’ rejection of the Nazarenes makes certain allusions that seem out of place there. In vv. 25–27 he speaks of Elisha and Elijah’s ministries. Both of these prophets healed Gentiles rather than Jews (e.g., Zarephath in Sidon and Naaman of Syria, vv. 26–27). This exposes a conflict between Israel and God, just as Jesus’ respondents are showing. And for this reason Jesus will not perform healings in Nazareth (v. 24).
So, not only does he not perform miracles for these Jews, but he subtly alludes to the developing acceptance of the Gentiles in God’s plan. This will become dramatically evident later in Christ’s commission at the end of Luke:
He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 4:46-48)
And we discover this developing in earnest in vol. 2 of Luke, which we know of as “The Acts of the Apostles.” Acts opens with “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This continues in earnest throughout the historical narrative (see especially: Acts 9:15; 10:45; 11:1, 18; 13:46; 14:27; 15:3, 7; 14–19; 18:6; 21:19; 22:21; 26:17; 28:28).
Thus, both these subtle and not so subtle observations perfectly fit the preterist analysis of the rejection of Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles.
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