7th December 2012

The Nazarene

(the third of three studies on Matthew 1-2) 

“He will be called a Nazarene.”
Matthew 2:23 (NIV UK)

To Matthew, scripture was rich in ideas and illustrations about the Messiah to come.

When he wrote that Jesus would be called a Nazarene, Matthew was not referring to an exact quotation from the Old Testament. Nazareth itself is not mentioned there, and is first referred to in the New Testament.

So what did Matthew mean and why is it significant to us? Some scholars suggest that it is a Hebrew play on words, like a pun based on similar sounds. Because of that it is difficult for us to grasp the full import of Matthew’s phrasing, but his Jewish readers would have caught on to it immediately and most likely would have smiled at his wit.

The Messiah is referred to in Jeremiah 23:5 as the “righteous Branch” in the often questionable lineage of David, which Matthew had already listed in the first chapter of his gospel. Isaiah 11:1 also prophesies that from “the stump” of Jesse (David’s father) “a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of the wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord”. It is interesting that, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ministry, the next thing that happens after the return from Egypt to Nazareth, is the baptism of Jesus in which the Spirit descends as a dove and God the Father declares Jesus to be his Son in whom he is well pleased.

The pun is that, if you were to hear in the Hebrew the phrases “Jesus the Nazarene” and “Jesus the Branch”, they would sound remarkably similar.

It has also been speculated that the “Nazarene” is reminiscent of the “Nazarite” in Numbers 6. The Nazarites were a group of people who separated themselves for whatever God intended them to do. They had a special diet and would not drink wine, and would shave off their hair in order to burn it as a fellowship offering. Samson was a Nazarite. Was the “Nazarene” meant to suggest that Jesus had been separated for God’s holy purpose in the spirit of the “Nazarites”?

No one really knows what Matthew’s intent was. Personally, I like the pun idea. Maybe Matthew had both thoughts in mind.

Jesus the Christ is the fulfilment of the Branch prophecy, and has been separated for God’s holy purpose of our salvation.

Father, thank you for the coming of your Son, Jesus, the righteous Branch through whom we are all separated for salvation.

Study by James Henderson

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