It was natural for Jesus to desire to begin His ministry in the city of His youth - Nazareth. And though He knew that His townsmen would reject Him because of their lack of faith, yet a people who had witnessed and observed the Son of God mature in their very midst must surely have opportunity to accept or reject Him. So Jesus came on the Sabbath day to the synagogue to worship.
Under the law, Jesus was of legal age to be a "reader" where, at an appropriate time in the service, He could read from the scriptural writings. He was handed a scroll of the writings of the prophet Isaiah. He turned to a passage, now designated as chapter 61 and read the following:"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:18, 19; compare Isa. 61:1, 2.)
Jesus closed the record and then sat down and commented with "many gracious words" on the text to which He had read. With all eyes on Him, He said simply: "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:21.) It was as though Jesus had said, "I am the one of whom the prophets spoke, I am he, I am the Messiah."1
His Messianic testimony startled His hearers. Were the implications of His declaration understood? Was He saying He is the fulfillment of Isaiah's Messianic prophecy? "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22.) This incident illustrates the central issue in Jesus' ministry: Was He Joseph's son or the Father's? Was He truly the promised Messiah? The dilemma to the local Jewish leaders was that Jesus did not fulfill their Messianic expectations.
The expectation that had been created by the Jewish rabbis was a Messiah that was superhuman - royal, prophetic, and angelic. He was greater than the patriarchs, higher than Moses, and loftier than the angels. He was to be a political deliverer - a superhuman king!
The inability of Jewish scholars to distinguish between the prophecies relating to the first and second coming of a promised Messiah was the basis for their misunderstanding. To illustrate, Rabbinic scholars interpreted these phrases from the Pentateuch as relating to the coming of the Messiah the first time:
- "Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city." (Num. 24:19.)
- "Unto him shall the gathering of the people be." (Gen. 49:10.)
- "The government shall be upon his shoulder: . . . Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David." (Isa. 9:6.)
- "The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." (Isa. 52:10.)
- "There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away." (Dan. 7:13, 14.)
The Messiah of Jewish expectation was a Son of David, literally a descendant of Abraham. In Him was to be the combined offices of prophet, priest and king. He was the Deliverer of Israel. Clearly, Jesus was not the Messiah of Jewish expectation. In fact, He separated Himself from this popular conception - hence, the antagonism.
The expectation and the reality! This was the basis for Jesus' rejection by His own townsmen, and the source of the continuous confrontations, contentions, and challenges to His authority by the Jewish leaders.
That Jesus proclaimed Himself as the true Messiah is indisputable by way of testimony from the gospel writers. But if He was not the Messiah of popular expectation, what kind of Messiah did He portray to His people? Luke informed us that Jesus deliberately chose a passage from Isaiah to announce His Messiahship to His kinsmen. Note again the figures of speech that described His Messianic role:
- "Preach the gospel to the poor"
- "Heal the broken-hearted"
- "Preach deliverance to the captives"
- "Recovering the sight to the blind"
- "To set at liberty them that are bruised"
- "To preach the acceptable year of our Lord"2
How then did Jesus establish His Messianic claim? The four witnesses of the gospels tell us of at least seven ways in which this was accomplished.
John the Baptist testified that Jesus is the Messiah.
John's role had been clearly prophesied as one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah.3 Book of Mormon prophets as well as Old Testament prophets had clearly foreseen his ministry.4 His role was first to proclaim that the Messiah would come and would baptize "with the Holy Ghost and with fire;" (Luke 3:16) and second, to proclaim that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.5 Before Jesus came to John to be baptized, John had been preaching six to nine months. He had already announced the coming of the Messiah. Then Jesus came to him for baptism. John, according to his own witness, was given this marvelous manifestation:
"And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son.
"And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father;
"And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him." (D&C 93:15-17.)
The following day, when John saw Jesus approaching him, he witnessed to those who had come to hear him: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world." (JST John 1:29.) On another occasion, John testified to his own followers, "He who believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and shall receive of his fulness." (JST John 3:36.)
By divine appointment John was the first special witness of Jesus' Messiahship in that dispensation.
Jesus' disciples testified that He is the Messiah.
After Andrew had heard the Lord, John informs us that he sought out his brother Peter and exclaimed to him, "We have found the Messias." (John 1:41.) He brought Simon to Jesus and Jesus said to him, "Thou art Simon, the son of Jona, thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a seer, or a stone." (JST John 1:42.)
Later when Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, Matthew relates that He testified to Simon and Andrew, "I am he of whom it is written by the prophets; Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (JST Matt. 4:18.)
In a similar fashion, John tells us that Philip sought out Nathanael and declared to him, "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
Jesus saw Nathanael and said, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!"
"Whence knowest thou me?" Nathanael replied.
"Before . . . Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee."
"Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel." (John 1:47-49.)
Matthew recorded three significant incidents where the Father and Holy Ghost testified that Jesus is the Messiah:
1. The Father testified at Jesus' baptism, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:13-17.)
2. The Holy Ghost witnessed to Peter that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). (Matt. 16:13-17.)
3. The Father testified to three Apostles when Jesus was transfigured, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." (Matt. 17:1-5.)
Jesus declared on His own authority that He was the Messiah sent from the Father.
When Jesus healed an impotent man on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders sought His life because what He did was contrary to their law. In the confrontation that followed, Jesus declared that God was His Father who acknowledged the work of the Son; that if they did not accept the Son, they dishonored the Father! Moreover, the Father gave to the Son the power of resurrection and commissioned Him to judge mankind. "Therefore if I bear witness of myself, my witness is true." (JST John 5:31.)
Additionally, there were others who corroborated Jesus' testimony - John the Baptist, the Father who bore witness of Him, and the Holy scriptures. (See John 5:32-47.)
His public sermons in various settings asserted that He was the God of Israel - the great I AM!6 John's record preserves these sermons and Jesus' authoritative testimony that He was the Promised Messiah:
- "I am the Bread of Life." (John 6:48.)
- "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12.)
- "Before Abraham, was I am." (John 8:58.)
- "I am the door of the sheepfold." (John 10:7.)
- "I am the Good Shepherd." (John 10:11.)
- "I am the resurrection, and the life." (John 11:25.)
In His arraignment before Caiaphas, He was asked, "Art thou the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Blessed?" He answered, "I am." (Mark 14:61, 62.)
Jesus declared His Messiahship by direct testimony.
One of the first instances when Jesus disclosed His true identity was with Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. Nicodemus recognized Jesus' moral authority and addressed Him with the salutation, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." Jesus taught him the necessity of a spiritual rebirth and then testified that He was the Son of God who should come into the world to judge the world, that through Him the world might be saved. He further testified that He was the light of the world. (See John 3:1-21.)
But it was while Jesus and His disciples were passing through Samaria that He made His most overt declaration of Messiahship. Wearied from the journey, Jesus sat down by Jacob's well. A woman approached and He asked her for a drink.
"How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest a drink of me, which was a Samaritan woman?" she asked.
"If thou knewest . . . who it is that saith unto thee," Jesus replied "give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water."
"Sir, (or in the Greek, one supreme in authority viz., Lord, Master), thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our Father Jacob, which gave us the way, and drank thereof himself, and his sons, and his cattle?"
"Whosoever shall drink this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life."
"[Lord] give me this water, that I thirst not. . ."
"Go, call thy husband, and come hither."
"I have no husband," she replied.
"Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly."
LordT, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."
"Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. (See John 4:4-23.) For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth. (JST John 4:24.)
"I know," said the woman, "that Messias cometh, who is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things."
"I who speak unto thee am the Messias." (JST John 4:25-26.)
Here we see how Jesus, by the use of prophetic seership, gradually opened the eyes of an otherwise unknown Samaritan woman. She saw him first as "a Jew," than as "
LordT," then as a "prophet" and finally as the Messiah. From her testimony, many of that city came to recognize Jesus as "the Savior of the world." (John 4:42.)
- The conclusion of this article, to be published May 6, will focus on the following: Jesus testified that He is the Messiah by declaring His gospel, Jesus testified that He is the Messiah through parables, and Jesus used miracles to testify that He is the Messiah.
1 Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1980)
2 The fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy (Isaiah 62:1,2) was realized not only in Jesus' mortal ministry, but in His ministry in the spirit world following His crucifixion. There He organized and commissioned His messengers in the spirit world to take the gospel to those in darkness. They "went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel." (D&C 138:30, 31.)
3 Luke 1:13-17; Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1.
4 1 Ne. 10:7-10; 2 Ne. 31:4-8.
5 See Robert Matthews, A Burning Light: The Life and Ministry of John the Baptist, (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1972), p. 37.
6 See Ex. 3:14; also JST Ex. 6:3.