1-3. What vital conclusion does Jesus want the people of Nazareth to draw, and what evidence does he present?
IT IS early in Jesus’ ministry. Christ has returned to Nazareth, his hometown. His goal is to help the people draw a vital conclusion: He is the long-foretold Messiah! What evidence does he present?
2 Many would no doubt expect a miracle. They have heard reports of the amazing works Jesus has performed. He gives them no such sign, however. Rather, he goes to the synagogue, as is his custom. He stands up to read, and the scroll of Isaiah is handed to him. It is a long scroll, likely wound around a pair of rods, and Jesus carefully winds the document from one rod to the other until he finds the passage he seeks. Then he reads aloud what is now Isaiah 61:1-3.—Luke 4:16-19.
3 The audience surely knows the passage. It is a prophecy about the Messiah. Every eye in the synagogue is fixed on Jesus. Silence hangs in the air. Then Jesus begins to explain, perhaps at length: “Today this scripture that you just heard is fulfilled.” The audience marvels at his winsome words, but many evidently still want to see some spectacular sign. Instead, Jesus boldly uses a Scriptural example to expose their lack of faith. Soon, the people of Nazareth try to kill him!—Luke 4:20-30.
4. Jesus set what pattern in his ministry, and what will we consider in this chapter?
4 Jesus here set a pattern that he maintained throughout his ministry. He relied heavily on the inspired Word of God. True, his miracles were of great importance in demonstrating that God’s spirit was with him. Yet, nothing carried more weight with Jesus than the Holy Scriptures. Let us examine the example he set in this regard. We will consider how our Master quoted from God’s Word, defended God’s Word, and explained God’s Word.
Quoting From God’s Word
5. What was Jesus determined to convey to his listeners, and how did he demonstrate the truth of his words?
5 Jesus wanted people to know where his message came from. He said: “What I teach is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me.” (John 7:16) On another occasion, he said: “I do nothing of my own initiative; but just as the Father taught me I speak these things.” (John 8:28) Further, he said: “The things I say to you men I do not speak of my own originality; but the Father who remains in union with me is doing his works.” (John 14:10) One way that Jesus proved the truth of such comments was by quoting God’s written Word again and again.
6, 7. (a) How extensively did Jesus quote from the Hebrew Scriptures, and why is this impressive? (b) How did Jesus’ teaching differ from that of the scribes?
6 A close study of Jesus’ recorded words reveals that he quoted directly from or referred indirectly to over half of the books of the Hebrew Scripture canon. At first, that may not sound impressive. You may wonder why, in three and a half years of public teaching and preaching, he did not quote from all the inspired books available. In truth, though, he may well have done so. Remember, only a fraction of Jesus’ words and deeds are recorded. (John 21:25) In fact, you could probably read aloud all of Jesus’ recorded words in just a few hours. Now, imagine talking about God and his Kingdom for just a few hours and managing to work in references to over half of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures! Furthermore, in most cases Jesus did not have written scrolls at hand. When he delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount, he included dozens of direct and indirect references to the Hebrew Scriptures—all from memory!
7 Jesus’ quotations showed his profound reverence for the Word of God. His audience “became astounded at his way of teaching, for there he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22) When the scribes taught, they were fond of referring to the so-called oral law, quoting learned rabbis from times past. Jesus never once cited the oral law or some rabbi as an authority. Rather, he viewed God’s Word as the final authority. Again and again, we find him saying: “It is written.” He repeatedly used those or similar words in teaching his followers and in correcting wrong ideas.
8, 9. (a) How did Jesus uphold the authority of God’s Word when he cleansed the temple? (b) In what way did the religious leaders at the temple show gross disrespect for God’s Word?
8 When Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, he said: “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a cave of robbers.” (Matthew 21:12, 13; Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 7:11) The day before, he had performed many marvelous works there. Young boys, deeply impressed, began praising him. However, the religious leaders indignantly asked Jesus if he heard what those children were saying. He answered: “Yes. Did you never read this, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have furnished praise’?” (Matthew 21:16; Psalm 8:2) Jesus wanted those men to know that God’s Word authorized what was happening there.
9 Those religious leaders later gathered together and faced Jesus, demanding: “By what authority do you do these things?” (Matthew 21:23) Jesus had made abundantly clear the Source of his authority. He had not innovated, inventing new doctrines. He was simply applying what his Father’s inspired Word said. Really, then, those priests and scribes were showing gross disrespect for Jehovah and his Word. They fully merited Jesus’ censure as he exposed the wickedness of their motives.—Matthew 21:23-46.
10. How can we imitate Jesus in the way that we use God’s Word, and what tools do we have that were not available to Jesus?
10 Like Jesus, true Christians today rely on God’s Word in the ministry. Jehovah’s Witnesses are known the world over for their eagerness to share with others a message from the Bible. Our publications quote and cite the Bible profusely. And in our ministry, we follow suit, endeavoring to feature the Scriptures whenever we talk to people. (2 Timothy 3:16) How it delights us when someone allows us to read from the Bible and to discuss the value and meaning of God’s Word! We do not have Jesus’ perfect memory, but we do have many tools that were not available to Jesus. In addition to the complete Bible printed in an ever-increasing number of languages, we have many Bible aids to help us find any verse we might seek. Let us be resolved to continue quoting from the Bible and directing people to it at every opportunity!
Defending God’s Word
11. Why did Jesus frequently have to defend God’s Word?
11 Jesus found that God’s Word was under frequent attack, but that surely did not surprise him. “Your word is truth,” Jesus said to his Father in prayer. (John 17:17) And Jesus well knew that Satan, “the ruler of the world,” is “a liar and the father of the lie.” (John 8:44; 14:30) In rejecting Satan’s temptations, Jesus quoted from the Scriptures three times. Satan quoted one verse from the Psalms, deliberately misapplying it, and Jesus responded by defending God’s Word against this misuse.—Matthew 4:6, 7.
12-14. (a) How did the religious leaders show disrespect for the Mosaic Law? (b) How did Jesus defend God’s Word?
12 Jesus often defended the Holy Scriptures against misuse, misinterpretation, and misrepresentation. The religious teachers of his day represented God’s Word in an unbalanced way. They put a lot of emphasis on observing the smallest particulars of the Mosaic Law but very little on applying the principles on which the laws were based. They thus encouraged a superficial form of worship, one concerned with outward appearances rather than with weightier matters—such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. (Matthew 23:23) How did Jesus defend God’s Law?
13 In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly used the phrase “you heard that it was said” to introduce a statute of the Mosaic Law. He would follow up with the phrase “but I say to you” and then expound on a principle that went deeper than the superficial observance of the Law. Was he arguing against the Law? No, he was defending it. For example, the people well knew the law “You must not murder.” But Jesus told them that hating a person violated the spirit of that law. Similarly, nourishing passion for a person other than one’s mate violated the principle underlying God’s law against adultery.—Matthew 5:17, 18, 21, 22, 27-39.
14 Finally, Jesus said: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.” (Matthew 5:43, 44) Was the command to “hate your enemy” drawn from God’s Word? No, this precept was something that the religious leaders taught of their own originality. They watered down God’s perfect Law with human thinking. Jesus fearlessly defended God’s Word against the harmful effects of human traditions.—Mark 7:9-13.
15. How did Jesus defend God’s Law against attempts to make it seem unduly strict, even harsh?
15 The religious leaders also attacked God’s Law by making it seem unduly strict, even harsh. When Jesus’ disciples plucked a few heads of grain while passing through a field, some Pharisees claimed that they were violating the Sabbath. Jesus used a Scriptural example to defend God’s Word against this unbalanced view. He cited the only reference in the Scriptures that deals with using the temple showbread outside the sanctuary—when David and his hungry men ate it. Jesus showed those Pharisees that they had missed the point of Jehovah’s mercy and compassion.—Mark 2:23-27.
16. What had the religious leaders done to Moses’ command regarding divorce, and how did Jesus respond?
16 Religious leaders also devised legalistic loopholes to weaken the force of God’s Law. For instance, the Law allowed a man to divorce his wife if he found “something indecent” on her part, evidently some serious problem that brought shame on the household. (Deuteronomy 24:1) However, by Jesus’ day, the religious leaders used that concession as an excuse to allow a man to divorce his wife on all manner of grounds—even for burning his supper!* Jesus showed that they had badly misrepresented Moses’ inspired words. He then restored Jehovah’s original standard for marriage, that of monogamy, leaving sexual immorality as the only proper grounds for divorce.—Matthew 19:3-12.
17. How may Christians today imitate Jesus in defending God’s Word?
17 Christ’s followers today feel similarly compelled to defend the Sacred Scriptures against attack. When religious leaders imply that the moral standards of God’s Word are out-of-date, they are actually attacking the Bible. The Bible is also under attack when religions teach falsehoods and present them as Bible doctrines. We count it a privilege to come to the defense of God’s pure Word of truth—showing, for instance, that God is not part of a Trinity. (Deuteronomy 4:39) At the same time, we make any such defense graciously, with genuine mildness and deep respect.—1 Peter 3:15.
Explaining God’s Word
18, 19. What examples show that Jesus had a marvelous ability to explain God’s Word?
18 Jesus was alive in heaven when the Hebrew Scriptures were recorded. How he must have enjoyed the opportunity to come to the earth and take part in explaining God’s Word! Think, for example, of that memorable day after his resurrection when he met up with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. Before they recognized who he was, they told him how saddened and confused they were over the death of their beloved Master. How did he respond? “Commencing at Moses and all the Prophets he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” How were they affected? They later said to each other: “Were not our hearts burning as he was speaking to us on the road, as he was fully opening up the Scriptures to us?”—Luke 24:15-32.
19 Later that same day, Jesus met with his apostles and others. Note what he did for them: “He opened up their minds fully to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) No doubt, that happy occasion brought back to their minds the many, many times that Jesus had done something similar for them—and for any who would listen. He often took well-known scriptures and explained them in such a way that something wonderful blossomed in the minds of his listeners—a new and deeper understanding of God’s Word.
20, 21. How did Jesus explain the words that Jehovah had spoken to Moses at the burning bush?
20 On one such occasion, Jesus was speaking to a group of Sadducees. They were a sect of Judaism associated with the Jewish priesthood, and they did not believe in the resurrection. Jesus said to them: “As regards the resurrection of the dead, did you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’? He is the God, not of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31, 32) Here was a scripture they knew well, written down by a man that the Sadducees revered—Moses. Do you see, though, the force of Jesus’ explanation?
21 Moses had his conversation with Jehovah at the burning bush about the year 1514 B.C.E. (Exodus 3:2, 6) At that time, Abraham had been dead for 329 years, Isaac for 224, and Jacob for 197. Yet, Jehovah still said: “I am” their God. Those Sadducees knew that Jehovah is not like some pagan god of the dead, ruling a mythical underworld. No, he is the God “of the living,” as Jesus said. What must that mean? Jesus’ conclusion was forceful: “They are all living to him.” (Luke 20:38) Jehovah’s beloved servants who have died are safely preserved in God’s limitless, unfading memory. So sure is Jehovah’s purpose to resurrect such ones that they may be spoken of as living. (Romans 4:16, 17) Is that not a marvelous explanation of God’s Word? No wonder “the crowds were astounded”!—Matthew 22:33.
22, 23. (a) How may we imitate Jesus in explaining God’s Word? (b) What will we consider in the next chapter?
22 Christians today have the privilege of imitating Jesus’ way of explaining God’s Word. Granted, we do not have a perfect mind. Nonetheless, we often get to share with others a scripture they already know and explain to them aspects of it they may never even have considered. For instance, they may have repeated “Hallowed be thy name” and “Thy kingdom come” for a lifetime without ever learning God’s name or what his Kingdom is. (Matthew 6:9, 10, King James Version) What a wonderful opportunity we have when someone allows us to offer clear, simple explanations of such Bible truths!
23 Quoting from God’s Word, defending it, and explaining it are keys to imitating Jesus’ way of sharing the truth. Let us next consider some of the effective methods Jesus used to reach the hearts of his listeners with Bible truths.
The first-century historian Josephus, himself a divorced Pharisee, later suggested that divorce was allowable “for any cause whatsoever (and many such causes happen among men).”