The Nobody Messiah: Jesus of Nazareth and Messianic Expectations

“and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23)

When Herod the Great died there was great confusion about what should happen because he had drafted several wills, many of which were in conflict with one another. It was not until the conflicted family members appeared in Rome that Caesar divided Herod the Great’s rule amongst three of his children.

Archelaus was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace the Samaritan, who received the largest portion and highest title within the realm of Judea. Archelaus ruled as ethnarch of Samaria, Judea, and Idumea (biblical Edom). His two brothers, Antipas and Philip were given less desirable portions of the territory and lower titles as tetrarchs. After roughly nine years, in response to Jewish unrest under Archelaus’ cruelty and also as a means of bringing the province of Judea directly under Roman rule, Archelaus was deposed by Roman Emperor Augustus.

Joseph and Mary avoid Archelaus by heading far north into the area known as the Galilee to a town called Nazareth. The region of Galilee was governed by Archelaus’ brother, Herod Antipas, who also controlled the Transjordan territory of Perea. Antipas, or Antipater, is the Herod we hear about later in the gospels, who arrests John the Baptist and later has John executed at the request of his wife, Herodias.

Nazareth was a small town of only about 500 people during Jesus’ day. Its obscurity only increased as Antipas rebuilt Sepphoris, another city only four miles away, as the capital of Galilee. Its growth in size and Gentile influence made it a very different place than little, old Nazareth.

Matthew tells us all of this to explain how it could be that the Messiah of the Jewish people could arise from Galilee of all places. Matthew mentions that this serves to fulfill “what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” This obscure statement is not clearly pulled from any one Scripture, but is most likely a combination of two different portions of Scripture.

The first of those is from the prophet Isaiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)

The Hebrew word for ‘branch’ here is nēser. Quite probably, Matthew is referencing this Messianic branch that would spring up from the stump of Jesse, something echoed in other portions of Isaiah, such as 4:2-3.

The second of the Scriptures woven in here is likely Judges 16:17, where Samson speaks of his dedication unto the Lord at birth:

“No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb.” (Judges 16:17)

Thus, in a bit of wordplay, Matthew brings together imagery of the Nazirite dedicated to the Lord with the Branch springing up from Jesse’s stump, and connects that with the geographical location of Nazareth. All of this serves to basically say, “This Jesus is dedicated to the Lord but it shouldn’t surprise you that He came from nowhere-Nazareth to bring salvation…God is doing a new thing in bringing life where it seems as if no life could ever be. And it will exceed your wildest imaginations.”

Jesus is a refugee Messiah who springs from nowhere to bring salvation, blessing, and deliverance.

The Weekend Wanderer: 12 December 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


Nazareth site“Ancient Dwelling Excavated in Nazareth May Have Been Childhood Home of Jesus” – “An archaeologist may have discovered the location of the childhood home of Jesus in Nazareth. Professor Ken Dark from the University of Reading in England believes he has established a plausible case for the remains of a 1st-century home excavated beneath a modern-day convent. According to him, the ancient dwelling was first investigated in the 19th century, but the idea lost traction among experts in the 1930s. The site went mostly forgotten since, until Dark launched an expedition in 2006 to reinvestigate the area.”


Chauncey Allmond“Logos Enlists Black Church Leaders to Diversify Bible Study Resources” – “Chauncey Allmond dreams of a day when white evangelical preachers will reference the work of African American Bible scholars without even thinking about it. He and his colleagues at Logos Bible Software hope they can make that happen by adding more African American voices to the digital study tools currently used by more than 4.5 million people. ‘The African American voice is a powerful voice that needs to be heard,’ Allmond said. ‘There’s a lot of traditions in the African American church that I think Logos is missing out on.'”


W H Auden - Reimer“What Comes After: W. H. Auden’s cure for the post-Christmas blues” – W. H. Auden was one of the foremost English poets of the 20th century and also a Christian. His poetry was increasingly influenced by his faith, and his book-length work For the Time Being is particularly appropriate for this time of year. A professor I studied with while at Wheaton reads this work every year during Advent or Christmas. Here is Jeff Reimer in Commonweal: “every character in this long and complex poem senses that the birth of the child demands a response; senses that…Christ has “thrown everything off balance.” They are all caught up in the aspect of time that Tillich, developing a biblical contrast, calls kairos as opposed to kronos, categories with which Auden was consciously working. In other words, their confrontation with the Christ child is not part of the flow of ordinary chronological time, but by appointment; it is a summons, a moment of decision.”


Including the Stranger“Book Review: Including the Stranger: Foreigners in the Former Prophets – The prophets of the Hebrew Bible often address God’s care for what is often called “the quartet of the vulnerable“: the widow, the orphan, resident aliens, and the poor. The Minor Prophets are the easiest portion of Scripture to turn to on God’s concern for these people, but what do other portions of Scripture say about this theme? In Themelois, David R. Jackson reviews David G. Firth’s recent contribution to this area of study on the former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) for the New Studies in Biblical Theology series.


Keira Bell“Puberty blockers: Under-16s ‘unlikely to be able to give informed consent'” – This in from the UK, which tends to be ahead of us on some of these issues related to social change, via the BBC: “Children under 16 with gender dysphoria are unlikely to be able to give informed consent to undergo treatment with puberty-blocking drugs, three High Court judges have ruled. The case was brought against Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, which said it was ‘disappointed’ but immediately suspended such referrals for under-16s. The NHS said it ‘welcomed the clarity’ the ruling would bring. One of the claimants, Keira Bell, said she was ‘delighted’ by the judgment. Ms Bell, 23, from Cambridge, had been referred to the Tavistock Centre, which runs the UK’s only gender-identity development service (GIDS), as a teenager and was prescribed puberty blockers aged 16. She argued the clinic should have challenged her more over her decision to transition to a male as a teenager.”


Walter Hooper“Died: Walter Hooper, Who Gave His Life to C.S. Lewis’s Legacy” – From Christianity Today: “Walter Hooper, a North Carolina man who dedicated his life to preserving and promoting the writings of C. S. Lewis, died Monday at the age of 89. He was sick with COVID-19. Hooper served briefly and informally as Lewis’s literary secretary—helping the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Abolition of Man answer his mail—before Lewis’s death in 1963. Hooper, then 33, left a teaching post at the University of Kentucky to take a leading role in managing Lewis’s literary estate. He continued to promote Lewis for the rest of his life.”


Music: Chabros Music, “Come Worship Christ