Author: Ron Graham
Jesus the Nazarene
—The significance of Pilate’s inscription
Pilate ordered an inscription for the cross, describing Jesus as "The Nazarene" (John 19:19). Pilate probably did not understand the significance of this
1 The Ancient Prophecy
There survived an old prophecy that the Messiah (the promised heavenly King) would "be called a Nazarene" (Matthew 2:23). This prophecy had been passed on orally, but was never apparently written into the Bible, until Matthew quoted it
Matthew, in chapter two, draws our attention to three prophecies about where the Messiah would come from...
- One prophecy says that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6, Micah 5:2, cf John 7:41-42).
- Another written prophecy says that the Messiah would come from Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15, Hosea 11:1).
- The oral prophecy already mentioned says that the Messiah would be from Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23).
So Matthew explains the fulfillment of these three prophecies, each naming a different place for the Messiah to come from, Bible writers dug into such details to give us confidence in Jesus. If we are shown that his fulfillment of prophecy had integrity in its minor details, then we are able to feel certain of Jesus regarding the salient and major statements of Messianic prophecy.
2 The Humble Exalted
Another significance in "Jesus the Nazarene" is that Nazareth, a sprawling town in the hills of Judea, was a humble place, not highly thought of by everyone. It's a bit like someone claiming today that they had found the king of the world in Birdsville!
Nathanael, for example, found it hard to accept Philip’s statement, "We have found the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote! He is Jesus of Nazareth". Nathanael replied, "Nazareth! Can any good thing come from Nazareth?" (John 1:45-46).
Yet Peter, on the day of Pentecost, referred to Christ as "Jesus the Nazarene". His Messiahship was not attested to by his earthly status (a carpenter from Nazareth) but by the miracles and signs that God did by him, by his resurrection from the dead, by his exaltation to God's right hand, and his outporing of the Spirit and forgiveness upon all who would heed his call (Acts 2:14-39 esp v22,38).
3 The Man of Sorrows
Which brings us to consider not just the inscription, "Jesus the Nazarene" but also the man crucified. Beneath Pilate's inscription, there was nailed to the cross the man Jesus himself, his head crowned with thorns, his hands and feet cruelly spiked, his side pierced by a spear. In all the cosmos and its history, there is nothing more important than this.
When we looked at the minor prophecies about the places the Messiah would come from, we mentioned how the fulfillment of these helped us to feel certain about Jesus regarding the major statements of prophecy.
One such major statement is that the Messiah would be "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief... pierced through for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53:3,5).
- Jesus himself did no sin, and there was no guilt in him (1Peter 2:21-22). Even Pilate testifies, "I find no guilt in him" (John 19:6). This was why the inscription he wrote, which was supposed to be an "accusation", was really no accusation at all. Pilate found no basis for any charge.
- Jesus was crucified and pierced for our transgressions. None of us now needs to be a man or woman of sorrows. Rather we can be freed from guilt and condemnation, and can enjoy fellowship with God, not only now but always. "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4).The wrath of God has passed over us, and the grace of God surrounds us, because the sorrows of Jesus were suffered in our stead.
We started this lesson looking at the places on earth where Jesus came from: Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth. We finish our lesson thinking about the place where he has gone and to which he will one day gather us: The eternal heaven of God, where Jesus the Nazarene, the man of sorrows, will give us glory and everlasting joy.