Luke 4:16-22 is

"Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath. And when He stood up to read, 17 the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then He rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him, 21 and He began by saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words that came from His lips. “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” they asked."

At this point, Peter has not joined Jesus' ministry. But at Matthew 16:13-16 we have

"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He questioned His disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man [i.e., the Jesus] is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven."

The Pulpit commentary on 16:14 and the list of possibilities for Jesus is interesting (for ex., how could Jesus be John the Baptist, a near contemporary?).

"John the Baptist. This was the opinion of Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1, 2), who fancied that Christ was animated by the spirit of John the Baptist, or was actually that personage' revived; though it was noticed by others that John did no miracle (John 10:41), and lived a life in contrast to that of Christ (Matthew 11:18, 19). Elias; Elijah, who was taken up to heaven without dying, and was announced by Malachi (Malachi 4:5) as destined to return before the appearance of Messiah. Jeremias. Some opined that he was Jeremiah, who was expected to come as a precursor of Messiah (2 Esdras 2:18), and reveal the tabernacle, ark, and the altar of incense, which, according to the legend of 2 Macc. 2:4-7, he had hidden in Mount Nebo, "until the time that God gather his people again together, and receive them unto mercy." One of the prophets. One of the celebrated prophets of antiquity revived, restored to life again to prepare the way for the great consummation. The well known prediction of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) may have given rise to this idea. The four popular opinions here mentioned showed two facts - that Jesus had a high reputation among his contemporaries, and that he was by none at this time regarded as the Messiah. Even those who, after certain of his marvellous works, had been ready to honour him with that title, soon cooled in their ardour, and, checked by his reserve and the slanders of the Pharisees, learned to see in him only a wonder-worker or a precursor of the expected Prince and Liberator."

It seems people did not at the point of the exchange at Matthew 16:13-16 even consider Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. It is only by direct divine revelation that St. Peter answers that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

So, when Jesus said "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." would the people in the synagogue have understood him to be claiming to be the Christ, the Son of God, or would they understood this as another claim, such as those opinions recounted by his apostles (Elijah, and so on)?

6 Answers 6


It is true that very few people knew that Jesus was the Christ = Messiah; the reason is rather simple - it had been revealed to very few people. More specifically, we have:

  • Matt 2:4 - the Magi were aware of the fact at Jesus birth
  • Luke 2:11 - the Shepherds were told by the angels
  • Luke 2:25, 26 - it was revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit
  • Luke 4:41 - the demons knew Jesus to be the Christ
  • John 1:41 - Andrew knew the Jesus was Messiah and told his brother Peter
  • John 4:25 - Jesus revealed His identity to the Samaritan woman at the well who told her townsfolk, John 4:29.
  • Matt 11:2, 3 - Presumably, John the Baptist was aware of the fact but only dimly and needed reassurance
  • Matt 16:14 - it was divinely revealed to Peter and the the disciples. However, not that Jesus specifically instructed them to not tell anyone what they had learned about Messiah. See also Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20.

Before this last revelation, there were rumors that John the Baptist might be the Messiah (Luke 3:15), but he denied it (John 1:20, 3:28).

So, what are we to make of Luke 4:16-22?

  1. As documented above, very few people clearly understood that Jesus was Messiah at the time, some did, but only a few.
  2. Jesus quotation from of Isa 61:1, 2 says nothing about the identity of who Jesus was, apart from the fact that He was claiming to anointed to preach and release captives. This was the keynote of what became Jesus' ministry - but many people had been anointed to do such things before: all high priests, prophets and kings were anointed. [I note that Jesus was Prophet, High Priest and King!]

We may understand Isa 61 in two ways:

  1. It is the prophet Isaiah talking about himself. This was the view of the ancient Jews as Ellicott observes:

(1) The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me . . .—We have obviously a new poem in the form of a soliloquy, and we ask, “Who is the speaker.?” The Jewish Targum and many modern critics hear only the voice of Isaiah.

  1. However, by analogy with the four servant-songs in Isaiah (42:1-8; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12) we could, because of the similarity of language, especially "the Spirit of the LORD", interpret Isa 61:1-6 as a fifth servant-song. If this is true, then Isa 61 is a Messianic prophecy of the behavior of the future Messiah.

This latter conclusion is confirmed by Jesus' use of the passage as the keynote of His new ministry (Luke 4:17-19). However, this would not have been obvious to the listeners in the synagogue of Nazareth. I note that their subsequent attempt to kill Jesus (V28-30) was because he insulted they spiritual condition (V23-27) and not for claiming to be divine or Messiah.

Note the comments of Ellicott again on Isa 61:1 -

Guided by Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 1:4-9, we recognise here, as there, the utterance of the ideal Servant of Jehovah. That view, it needs scarcely be said, is the one suggested to all Christian minds by our Lord’s application of the passage to His own work in Luke 4:16-22. The opening words repeat what had been said by Jehovah of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1. The “anointing,” as it stands, might be that of king (1Samuel 9:16; 1Samuel 10:1), or priest (Exodus 29:2; Leviticus 7:36), or prophet (1Kings 19:16). As interpreted by its fulfilment, it may be held to include all three.


The place where the Lord read from the scroll of Isaiah was in His own city, where he grew up and lived most of his own life.

He says in verse 24 that a prophet is not acceptable in his own country. It sounds like they heard what He had been doing in Capernaum and they wanted Him to do the same in his own country. Because of their jealousy and unbelief He was hardly able to do much. Eventually those in synagogue are filled with fury and they cast him out of the city trying to throw Him over a cliff as stated in verse 4:29.

People who did not grow up with Jesus were for more receptive to Him being something more than a son of Joseph.

Look at the woman in Samaria who was open to believe who He was.

25The woman said, “I know that Messiah” ( called Christ) “is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.” 26Jesus answered, “I who speak to you am He.”…John :25

Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? …John 4:29,39

And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world. John 4:42


The Messianic claim is evident in the passage, and it was clearly understood by the listeners. You don't have to clearly spell it out. The works of miracles that Jesus did made him a candidate for the Messiah, and even John was suspected of being Messiah by some (Luke 3:15). This passage mentions his miracles, that the scoffers challenged him to perform those miracles here as well, implies that wherever he performed miracles, he was believed as the Messiah. Even their first pejorative response of rejection shows they understood his claim, "look at his claims, are you not Joseph's son, an ordinary carpenter, how dare you say you are the Christ, Son of God?"

JFB commentary:

  1. began to say, &c.—His whole address was just a detailed application to Himself of this and perhaps other like prophecies.

Robertson's Word Pictures states:

stands fulfilled . "Today this scripture (Isa 61:1; Isa 61:2, just read) stands fulfilled in your ears." It was a most amazing statement and the people of Nazareth were quick to see the Messianic claim involved. Jesus could only mean that the real year of Jubilee had come, that the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah had come true today, and that in him they saw the Messiah of prophecy. There are critics today who deny that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. To be able to do that, they must reject the Gospel of John and all such passages as this one. And it is no apocalyptic eschatological Messiah whom Jesus here sets forth, but the one who forgives sin and binds up the broken-hearted. The words were too good to be true and to be spoken here at Nazareth by one of their own townsmen!

Parallel passage:

[Mark 6:1-3 ESV] 1He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.


At the time, no, that's why Herod and pharisees were trying so hard to get Him to make a mistake, scripturally and non-scripturally. It was unheard of at the time, imagine the Son of God who is God recruiting criminals and worst. Back then, conditions were different and the development of human consciousness was limited, it was clay barely coming to be, a lower form of consciousness.

Yes the Laws are sacred, Sabbath is Holy, but it was an extension to show that grace is possible, all one has to do is accept it.

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Modern views

There is a risk of reading this passage anachronistically, and both Jews & Christians have been known to apply post-2nd temple-interpretations to these verses.

A common, contemporary Jewish interpretation is that these verses refer to Isaiah himself: Isaiah is describing the mission he has been given.

A common, contemporary Christian interpretation is that these verses refer to the Messiah because Jesus, who is the Messiah, applied them to Himself. As a Christian myself, I do believe that is true, but it would be a circular argument to impose that view on Jesus' first-century listeners.


Ancient Views

How would late second-temple Jews have understood these words of Isaiah?

  • The claim of anointing is a significant one, as "Messiah" means "The Anointed One". Although the Messiah was not the only individual to receive an anointing, as noted by Dottard, the anointing by the Holy Spirit is a particularly potent claim.
  • Liberty & Relief were things the Jews of the time specifically expected to come via the Messiah
  • Even the Samaritans believed that it was the Messiah who would bring these sorely needed proclamations of truth (see John 4:25)
  • It was indeed a historical Jewish belief that these words of Isaiah referred to the Messiah (though that doesn't prove the belief was present in this specific place & time). Gill's commentary compiled several such rabbinic statements:

This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears; which is as if he should say, I am the person here spoken of; and at this present time the Spirit of God is upon me; I am anointed with the Holy Ghost, and now preach glad tidings to you, and all the good things here mentioned, and for the several ends proposed; and this Scripture has its full accomplishment which has been read unto you, and you have heard this day. So the Syriac version renders it, "which is in your ears"; that is, which you have now heard. The Jews themselves acknowledge, that these words are spoken of the Messiah. One of their writers (i) says,

"these are the words of the prophet with respect to the Messiah; for the Messiah shall say so, "because the Lord hath anointed me", &c.''

And so said the true Messiah Jesus. Another of them expresses himself thus (k):

"these are the words of the prophet with respect to the Messiah; for the Messiah shall say thus, "because the Lord hath anointed me", &c. or they are the words of the prophet concerning himself.''

And elsewhere it is said by them (l),

"the holy, blessed God, will send his Messiah to us, and he shall be worthy of this, (i.e. the character of a meek person) as it is said, Isaiah 61:1 "he hath sent me to preach glad tidings to the meek."''

(i) Kimchi in Sepher Shorash. rad. (k) R. Sol. Hamelec in Miclol Yophi in loc. (l) Juchaain, fol. 69. 1.

  • The violent reaction of the people of Nazareth makes sense if they believed He had said something blasphemous; their reaction is entirely out of place otherwise.

    As I understand the passage, the people of Nazareth's original reaction is shock--they are surprised, not pleased. They challenge His claim, expecting a clarification or an apology, but none is forthcoming. Jesus doubles down on His claim of being sent by God and lays bare their weak faith & desire for a sign.

    Riling up a mob inside a synagogue would be a challenge; their indignation begins when Jesus claims to be the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, but it takes a little more conversation before it boils over.


The Messiah = The Son of God

2nd-temple Jews did not have a monolithic set of views on who the Messiah would be. It was common to expect a Messiah who would be a warrior who liberated the Jews from Rome.

Peter's statement in Matt. 16:16 and Caiaphas' question in Matt. 26:63 suggest that at least some contemporary Jews understood the Messiah and the Son of God to be the same person.

The pairing of the "anointed" with "the Son of God" has an Old Testament basis (see Psalm 2:2,7). For a studious argument that the prevailing Jewish belief was that the Messiah would be the Son of God (regardless of whether or not He was also a military figure), see this post.



There is a strong abductive argument that Jesus' hearers understood that He was claiming to be the Messiah. Whether or not they believed the Messiah would be the Son of God is a separate matter--but assuming the prevailing (or at least common) view was that the Messiah would be the Son of God, to understand Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah means they also understood Jesus to be claiming to be the Son of God.

This would make sense of the original protest recorded by Luke: "is not this Joseph's son?" I.e. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, so they responded by saying "no, he can't be, he's the son of Joseph".

As for the competing interpretations of Jesus' identity (John, Elias, etc.); this does not show that the people of the time were unaware of the belief that Jesus was the Messiah, it shows that they rejected the belief that Jesus was the Messiah, and had to develop alternate explanations. Peter was praised not because he discovered Jesus' identity, but because he learned by revelation from God that this bold statement of identity was true.

  • 1
    +1 Interesting connection to the "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" question. Jun 18, 2022 at 4:03
  • "The violent reaction of the people of Nazareth makes sense if they believed He had said something blasphemous" Can you say a bit more about this? In Luke's account, at first the crowd "speaks well" of him. It is only after He says He won't do in Nazareth what He did in Capernaum, no prophet is accepted in his hometown, and so on, that they become enraged. Jun 18, 2022 at 4:08
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    @OneGodtheFather sure thing, I added some additional thoughts to this bullet point Jun 18, 2022 at 18:43
  • Thanks for this - how would you understand ἐμαρτύρουν (emartyroun) at 4:22 - do you think this just refers to his eloquence of speech or some such thing? Jun 18, 2022 at 18:59
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    @OneGodtheFather the word can be used as a positive--such as, they're giving witness as to what a good man "Joseph's son" is...but in context it does not sound like they are pleased, but are doubtful that "Joseph's son" could amount to anything significant. The word can simply be neutral: they witnessed what he said (and then it goes on to show that they were surprised). The latter seems favored by the other example (John 6:41-42) where people call Him out as Joseph's son (in this context the reference is clearly negative). Jun 19, 2022 at 1:39

I don't think the Nazarene in the synagogue had a moment thought Jesus was the Christ. After Jesus said, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Luke 4:22 told the response of the Nazarene "All spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words that came from His lips". They merely praised him as a "good rabbi". But praise quickly turn around into hatred. How could this be if they understood him as Christ? What had happened?

There is an internal evidence that Jesus had been in Nazareth once only. It is in John Chapter 4, after His talks with a Samaritan woman, Jesus stayed in Samaria for 2 days. Then he went off for Galilee.

  • John 4:43 (NIV) - After the two days he left for Galilee
  • John 4:44 (NIV) - (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.)

Verse 4:44 indicated that after the Nazareth incident, He never stopped in Nazareth again. (From Samaria to Galilee should pass through Nazareth). Therefore we can review the same incident in Matthew 13:54-58, Marks 6:1-6 and Luke 4:16-28.

Luke brings us the most details, but the critical turning point is written in Mark 6:2-3 (Matthew is similar)

  • Mark 6:2 (NIV) - When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?
  • Mark 6:3 (NIV) - Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

In Mark 6:2, the Nazarene mentioned about Jesus's miracles that they had already heard from the Galilean. Then they doubt about his power for they know his family was ordinary the same as they were. Even if there was one Nazarene understood Jesus implied himself the Christ, he certainly rejected the claim as Jews think Christ is noble, he is their king.

Jesus know people by their heart, he knew they were looking for him performing miracles as he did in Galilee, to prove himself not an ordinary son from their ordinary neighbour. Jesus then replied;

  • Luke 14:23 (NIV) - Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
  • Luke 14:24 (NIV) - “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.
  • Luke 14:25 (NIV) - I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.
  • Luke 14:26 (NIV) - Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.
  • Luke 14:27 (NIV) - And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

Jesus simply said, "you want to see miracle? Forget about it". Immediately the Nazarene were furious and wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff.

Had any Nazarene understood Jesus claim himself as Christ. None of them. They had not even thought it was a blasphemy. They were furious because they thought Jesus was speaking sarcastically to them.

As by that time the Nazarene already heard of Jesus and his miracles in Capernaum, Peter should have already been Jesus disciple. When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus was to meet Moses and Elijah before he went to Jerusalem, dying on the cross. It was his mission in the third year, and his disciples had been with him for long. Though no one understood Jesus is the Christ, except a moment Simon Peter speak it out, that Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven.".

Why do I say "a moment", for right after Jesus revealed His mission was to die on the cross. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concern of God, but merely human concerns." (Matthew 16:21-23 NIV)

Peter was in deep distress particularly his denial to Jesus 3 times. He even went back to Galilee to resume his fisherman job, until Jesus came to him and enlightened him to recover his faith and courage.

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