Jesus in the Synagogue
by Pastor Ed Visser
Many of the places we visited in Israel boasted the ruins of ancient synagogues. As we read in this passage, Jesus was in the habit of attending synagogues in Galilee, often being asked to read the Bible and preach. In those days, that entailed reading a prescribed Torah passage & a self-chosen portion from the prophets, all done standing. Then the reader would sit in Moses’ Seat and share what the Scripture meant to him (the sermon).
One Sabbath Jesus was invited to do so in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. We don’t know what the Torah portion was for the day, but Jesus chose to read Isaiah 61:1-2, changing the reading in a couple of important ways: 1) he dropped the last half of Isaiah 61:2, “the day of vengeance of our God”; and 2) he added a phrase from Isaiah 58:6, “to release the oppressed.” While this may seem like Scriptural manipulation to us, it was a a very acceptable form of biblical interpretation for the Jews, in which they linked verses that contained similar words or phrases to make their point. So what was Jesus’ point?
The Isaiah 61 passage had been linked with the biblical theme of Jubilee, freedom from slavery and return to the land (when in exile). But it also was seen as the promise of the coming messiah, who would bring not only Jubilee for Israel, but God’s judgment on their oppressors. Thus, many (including John the Baptizer) expected messiah to bring freedom by coming with a sword.
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