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Jesus Rightly Dividing Prophecy

By Justin Johnson

Early in his ministry to Israel Jesus taught a defining message in his hometown of Nazareth.

Luke 4:17-19 explains how he read from Isaiah 61:1-2:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,…” – Isaiah 61:1-2

Then he stopped reading. In mid-sentence he stopped. This was not a dramatic pause or a preacher’s pause, Luke 4:20 says that was the end.

“ And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.” – Luke 4:20

Talk about letting God’s word speak for itself. There wasn’t even any commentary or explanation! He read the book. Stopped on a comma. Closed the book. Sat down.

While people stared at this odd occurrence, Jesus, sitting down, began to say:

“This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” – Luke 4:21

What a statement! Isaiah 61 was the prophecy about God’s anointed preaching the gospel of the kingdom to Israel, and Jesus was proclaiming himself to be that prophesied One.

What Jesus Did Not Read

What Jesus said that day was important in describing the times in which he ministered, but he closed the book before he finished the sentence in Isaiah.

Why Jesus suddenly stopped reading in Isaiah should not be ignored.

Equally important as what he read before he sat down, was what he purposely did not read before he sat down. The sentence in Isaiah 61:2 continues:

“…and the day of vengeance of our God…” – Isaiah 61:2

Jesus did not say this was fulfilled that day.

Further in Isaiah 61 it says Israel would “build the old wastes”, “repair the waste cities”, and “eat the riches of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 61:4-6).

Surely, that was not being fulfilled that day. Though Jesus warned later in his ministry about the coming vengeance of God, God’s vengeance was not poured out on Israel during Jesus’ ministry.

Neither was Israel involved in rebuilding the old ruins. To this day they still have not built their old places.

The Gentiles were not giving Israel their riches, but rather Jesus ministered in Roman ruled Israel, where God’s people paid tribute to their enemies.

Plainly, Jesus closed the book on a comma exactly where prophesy would be fulfilled that day, rightly dividing it from those prophesies yet future.

The Lord rightly divided Isaiah into what was being fulfilled and what was not being fulfilled.

Rightly Dividing Prophecy

A failure to hear the lesson Jesus taught in rightly dividing prophecy has led many Bible students to misinterpret the Lord’s ministry to Israel.

Was all prophecy being fulfilled? Was Israel being replaced? Were their expectations of a conquering Messiah bringing vengeance a big misunderstanding of their own scripture?

No, no, and no.

More likely, as Jesus taught in his hometown synagogue, it was not yet time for the vengeance to be fulfilled.

Though he preached the kingdom was at hand, he was not fighting for or raising funds to rebuild Israel’s kingdom at that time.

The twelve apostles knew this, and so after Jesus’ resurrected, Isaiah 61:4 was still not fulfilled:

“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” – Acts 1:6

Jesus’ ministry to Israel was the proclamation of the acceptable year of the LORD, to preach the coming kingdom to the poor, broken, and sick. It was not to usher in the days of vengeance and restoration.

There will be a day when Jesus returns to judge and make war when the prophesy after Jesus closed the book will be fulfilled (Rev 19:10-11).

Until then, we need to be careful to rightly divide the word of truth.

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Published: June 29, 2013
Last Modified: June 29, 2013
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