Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God?

Have you ever been part of an exciting, dynamic group with wonderful experiences occurring every day, but then the group is disrupted never to be the same again? Jesus had this experience. He had become part of John the Baptist’s exciting movement near Jerusalem preparing for the coming kingdom of God. But then everything fell apart—John the Baptist, the leader, was thrown into prison.

Matthew 4 says:

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum…From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

With John out of the public eye, it seems that Jesus, as John’s disciple, picked up John’s message and began to preach in his place. But Jesus is not totally dependent on John as we can see from what happened in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, on a visit during a break from his preaching in Capernaum.

Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth

Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth by Greg K. Olsen

Jesus Makes an Announcement in His Hometown

Luke 4 tells us that:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“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.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus is targeting the poor and marginalized. The passage from Isaiah would have been familiar to those who heard it, but Jesus’ claim that it was fulfilled in their hearing was quite dramatic, bold, and (I would expect) controversial. But it doesn’t seem that the audience responded negatively at all. In fact, they were amazed and spoke well of him; they seemed to be proud of this successful son of their own small village.

But then Jesus ruined the mood completely,

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.’”

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 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. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.”

Why Jesus added these provocative words, I have no idea. Perhaps he felt they had not understood the depth and significance of his claim, or maybe he was aware that some were suspicious of his work in Capernaum. In any case, there was an immediate negative reaction to his outburst.

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

This is quite a surprising ending to a nice Sabbath service in the synagogue—’Let’s kill the preacher!’

How did Jesus’ Message Differ from John the Baptist’s Message?

Remember that John’s message is stated in Matthew 3 as ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ When Jesus began preaching in Galilee his message, according to Matthew 4, was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” In this regard, the messages sound identical to me; John and Jesus preached the same thing.

However, from prison John wanted to know for sure whether Jesus was who John thought he was. Part of John’s message was of God sending a more important agent for whom John was only a preparation. John thought Jesus was this person, so he sent disciples to ask Jesus about it.

Luke 7 says:

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

This was after Jesus’ mission in Galilee was well underway, so Jesus’ replied:

Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

John would recognize Jesus’ references to Isaiah—including the very passage he read to his synagogue in Nazareth. We don’t know how John responded to Jesus’ answer, but I feel certain that he was happy and encouraged by the report; he and Jesus were on the same page.

But Wait! Were They Totally on the Same Page?

Another part of John’s message had to do with judgment. In Luke 3, John said:

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

And he said about the coming one (Jesus):

His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

These sound like statements of coming judgment. Yet Jesus does not repeat them, and I find it very interesting that when he reads from Isaiah 61, in Nazareth, Jesus leaves out the very significant next line of his quote.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.

Is Jesus, while deriving inspiration from Isaiah, expressing independence from Isaiah’s expectation of God’s vengeance? Does Jesus distance himself from John’s predictions of judgment? It is too early in the story to determine that yet, but later we will encounter similar themes and explore them more thoroughly. Next time, though, we will learn more about Jesus’ work around the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum, which is mentioned in today’s post.

Articles in this series

Jesus Begins His Work:

The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One
Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment?
Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God?
Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work?
Did Jesus Really Heal People?
Do Demons Exist?
Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing
Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser!
Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast
Entering the Kingdom Requires Abandoning Old Religious Systems
Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law
What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’?

*****

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39 Responses to Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God?

  1. Great exegesis Tim. I really enjoyed how you broke the story down to highlight Jesus’ shift in priority. I dont want to be too Spongian, but I have long wondered if the moral mentioned in that story was the writer of Lukes attempt to build a narrative based loosely around the historical events of Jesus and John’s relationship and the fact that his hometown didnt accept him after that.

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  2. tonycutty says:

    Great post and very thought-provoking. Two things, though: how do we know Jesus was one of John’s disciples – sure, they knew each other, they were cousins after all – but a disciple? Is there something I’ve missed (quite possible) or forgotten (even more possible!)?

    Secondly, I believe that the reason why Jesus omitted the Isaiah verses about vengeance was because He was cherry-picking Scripture. He came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and significantly omitted the day of vengeancec *precisely* because He wasn’t about God’s jus=dgement, wrath or any such thing, even against the Roman occupiers. Instead He proclaimed the year of favour and demonstrated the Kingdom with signs of its power and nature – healing, deliverance, forgiveness.

    In fact i think that’s why the crowd threw a bit of a thrombie with Him – because they were expecting the ‘judgment’ verses after the ‘favour’ verses, but they never came. Jesus always made it clear during His ministry that He hadn’t come to usurp the earthly kingdoms; indeed His Kingdom was not of this world at all.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, perhaps it would be better to say that Jesus was John’s follower rather than a disciple, but the point is that Jesus responded to John’s message of the kingdom of God and was baptized; and later Jesus essentially continued John’s message with some modification. I think this represents important developments in Jesus’ awareness of his unique relationship with the Father.

      I totally agree with you that Jesus often used Old Testament passages for his own purposes and felt freedom to choose what was significant and ignore what was not. You could also be right that the listeners in Nazareth were upset that the message of judgment was ignored. Many Jews looked forward very much to God’s judgment of their enemies, just as many believers do today.

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      • tonycutty says:

        Yep, that’s it in a nutshell

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      • Chas says:

        Tim, was Jesus responding to John’s message, or was he just obeying God. When John said to him that he (Jesus) ought to be baptizing him (John), Jesus did not disagree, he just said that they ought to go ahead ‘to fulfill all righteousness.’ Righteousness is to do what is right. What could be more all right than to obey God?

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I think Jesus’ awareness of his unique relationship to God and his mission regarding the kingdom of God was gradual and expanding. His response to John’s message was an important part of his development. But I don’t see how this conflicts with his following the leading of God.

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      • Chas says:

        Tim, regarding the choosing what was significant and ignoring what was not, the writer of the original story of John the Baptist (perhaps the common source document of the three synoptic gospels?) seems to have deliberately ignored some words in order to write what he wanted to write. In all three sources: Matthew 3, Luke 3 and John 1 it says: A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for Yahweh, make straight paths for Him,’” but the original (from Isaiah 40:3) says: A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for Yahweh; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” Because of the lack of punctuation in the Hebrew of Isaiah, the voice or the way for Yahweh could have been in the desert, but the presence of ‘in the wilderness’, referring to the highway, shows that the ‘in the desert’ should refer to the way, not the voice. It appears that the part referring to the wilderness must have been left out deliberately to make John the Baptist appear in the desert, but why?

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          I am not sure how the writers determined their wording, but perhaps it is because they were using the Greek Septuagint instead of the Hebrew text. In any case, the NT writers seem to follow Jesus’ practice of using OT passages to fit their purpose by reframing the text.

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          • Chas says:

            Is that Jesus’ practice as devised by the NT writers, or the NT writers’ practice?

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            I think it was Jesus’ practice to use the OT for his own purposes. Even the Pharisees of his day used the OT in ways that were not intended with the method of Midrash.

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    • sheila0405 says:

      So, Tony, now I know where my Fundie church got its tradition of cherry picking the Bible. LOL

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    • Chas says:

      Tony, in regard to omissions, it is noteworthy that the passage on which John the Baptist appears to have been based (Malachi 4) also refers to ‘the great and dreadful day of the Lord’. This, and other passages, suggest that the OT writers expected the coming of the Messiah to bring punishment to the ‘Goyim’ = unbelievers = Gentiles. This, and the fact that the Messiah had to be an all-male line descendant of David, tells us that Jesus was not the Anointed One/Messiah/Christ. He couldn’t be, because he was the Son of God.

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  3. Pingback: The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. sheila0405 says:

    The Gospel reading for today’s Catholic Lectionary includes John 3:17. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Jesus might be saved. Very explicit there! Timely blog post for me. (I still follow the Lectionary readings daily. I do love the Bible, even if I’m seeing it in a new light).

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  5. Mary Rollings says:

    Thank you for your inspirational blog!

    Like

  6. Chas says:

    Tim, you suggest that Jesus’ message “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,” was targeted specifically at the poor and marginalized, but surely his message is for everyone. He himself is unlikely to have been poor, as his parents would have had to be rich enough to pay for his education. Isn’t it more likely that the passage refers to those poor in Spirit; to the prisoners of addiction, to the spiritually blind (i.e. people who couldn’t see that their behavior caused others to suffer) and to people who were oppressed by depression.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I think Jesus had in mind an anointing to proclaim good news to the literally poor blind, the sick, and the oppressed. This does not mean his mission was limited to the poor and marginalized, but these were the people ignored by the powerful religious-political elite just as they were in Isaiah’s day.

      Applying Jesus’ message metaphorically to the “poor in Spirit; to the prisoners of addiction, to the spiritually blind (i.e. people who couldn’t see that their behavior caused others to suffer) and to people who were oppressed by depression” makes for an effective message, but I don’t think it was what Jesus meant at all.

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  7. Pingback: Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment? | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Pingback: Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work? | Jesus Without Baggage

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  10. michaeleeast says:

    There are several passages which vary in respect to judgement.
    Luke omits the wedding guest without a garment for example.
    Jonah omits the judgement passages from Moses.
    Whether this is a new vision or the judgement passages were not original
    I don’t know.
    Keep up the good work.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks Michael.

      I think Jesus does make some statements that seem judgmental, but I think they are in the nature of warnings rather than condemnations.

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  11. Pingback: Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing | Jesus Without Baggage

  12. Chas says:

    Some recent posts on Tim’s blog led me to look at some early chapters of Matthew. At the time, I had only the old KJV available and a quotation from Isaiah used the word ‘judgement’, where NIV had ‘justice’. This enabled me to see that judges were concerned mainly with punishment at that time in England, whereas now we are aware that people can be treated unfairly and are in need of justice. It is surprising that a system of fixed penalty fines, in which the police, or certain other public servants, act as both judge and jury, has been introduced in UK in recent years (to reduce court costs) as this is much harder on poor people than on the rich. It is compounded by the fact that to appeal and lose could lead to a higher penalty.

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  13. Pingback: Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser! | Jesus Without Baggage

  14. James says:

    Has anyone here ever researched the Essenes? Or the Ebionites?
    Both of these have a lot of merit when added to the story of John the baptist, and Jesus.
    I have found that history, not found in the bible, can really enlighten the ideals.

    God’s wrath from the old testament, groups that use fear( cults) are good at scaring their followers with it.
    But Jesus sought to PICK UP the spirits of these “poor” people.
    I have told my wife, that I will never fear God, nor his judgement.

    God loves me, where is the fear in that?

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      James, I am aware of the Ebonites which were a Jewish Christian group that did not assimilate to the larger church. But I did do extensive reading into the Essenes and Qumran a number of years ago. I suspect that some Essenes became part of the Christian church movement in Jerusalem.

      I find that the study of these and other old religious movements among the Jews and Christians very interesting.

      By the way, I love your statement: “I will never fear God, nor his judgment. God loves me, where is the fear in that?”

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  15. Pingback: Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast | Jesus Without Baggage

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