Jesus was born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph, but his parents were both from a town called Nazareth. The town of Nazareth is known as the place where Jesus lived. As a result, he is often referred to in the Bible as Jesus of Nazareth.
Where Was Nazareth in Judea?
According to historians, during Jesus’ time, Nazareth was a town in southern Galilee, north of Judea. Today, it is among the largest cities in the modern country of Israel. The area is known as the childhood home of Jesus.
Nazareth may not have been easily accessible (although it did have a water supply, now referred to today as Mary’s Well). Historians note that the area in the time of Jesus would have had pastures and fields. Houses may have been made with stone and mud bricks. The route from Bethlehem to Nazareth would probably have included dusty roads filled with rocks and uneven paths.
The Old Testament prophecies gave much information about where the Messiah would come from. A root to come that would bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1). He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
While scholars haven’t found an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah coming from Nazareth, Matthe describes Jesus living there in His childhood as fulfilling one of the prophecies.
“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 NIV)
Some writers, such as this article on the website Jews for Jesus, suggest that Jesus being called a Nazarene fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah coming from a lonely place. So why would coming from Nazareth make Jesus a lowly man?
Why Was Jesus Called a Nazarene?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Nazarene as a native or resident of Nazareth (and, in some cases, a member of the Protestant denomination Church of the Nazarene).
Scripture shares that God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth. Gabriel told Mary she was highly favored and that the Lord was with her. The angel shared that Mary would conceive and bear a son, who was to be named Jesus. Mary was pledged to marry a carpenter named Joseph. This news troubled Mary, but she was comforted by the angel’s words.
Due to a decree issued by Caesar Augustus, Joseph took Mary and went to register for the census. Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of the house of David, because he belonged to David’s family line. Joseph and Mary endured the journey to be registered.
The Bible tells us that while Mary and Joseph were there, she gave birth to the child, a son. Angels of the Lord visited Shepherds. The angels told the shepherds not to be afraid and that a savior had been born in the town of David. The savior was the Messiah.
The boy child was circumcised at the given time and named Jesus. This was the name given to the boy before he was conceived. Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (Luke 2:23).
King Herod learned from the traveling Magi (or the Wise Men) that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. Jealous of his power, he decided to have all its infant boys killed.
Before Herod’s soldiers arrived, another dream played an important role in the life of Jesus.
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13 NIV)
Joseph took Mary and Jesus away from danger. The three stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod. Although Herod was gone, his son Archelaus ruled. Another dream gave the warning about that new leader. After that dream, Joseph took his family to Galilee and went to live in Nazareth.
Why Did People Insult Jesus for Being a Nazarene?
The Bible shares about Philip, one of the twelve apostles, finding Nathanael and sharing the news about Jesus. “Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 NIV).
The people of Nazareth were considered lowly and despised. At one point, Scripture shares that Nathanael asked if anything good could come from Nazareth. Evidently, Nazarenes were not rich in money or culture.
In Biblical times and today, judgment is given due to different reasons. How do we respond? How do money, status, ageism, ethnicity, and social status play roles in our daily thinking?
Jesus knew He would be rejected. Yet, He continued to proclaim the message of God. How would we respond if we knew rejection was in our future?
Why Did the Nazarenes Not Accept Jesus?
Since Jesus was a Nazarene, we would think people of that area would accept Him and the messages He preached. However, that was not always the way things went.
The gospel of Mark describes a time that Jesus went to his hometown. Some of the disciples accompanied Jesus.
“When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been give him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” (Mark 6:2 NIV)
While some people were surprised by Jesus’ teaching, others questioned where Jesus could obtain such information. Interestingly, they didn’t refer to Him as Jesus. He was called “Mary’s son” and “the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon.” Some writers have suggested this was a put-down. Mary had been living in Nazareth when she became pregnant with Jesus (before she married Joseph), so some townspeople may have dismissed him as illegitimate, not the sort of person who became a prophet.
For one reason or another, the Nazarenes questioned Jesus’ ability to perform miracles and have wisdom. The Bible says that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith and didn’t perform miracles except laying hands on a few sick people. After he left Nazareth, he commissioned the twelve disciples and sent them out two by two (Mark 6:6-7).
Luke 4 describes what could be the same event, with a few more details. Jesus came to Nazareth and entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He read from the scroll of Isaiah, shared a message, then rolled up the scroll and declared He was the one mentioned in the passage He had just read.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.”(Luke 4:18 NIV)
The listeners were confused and angry about His words. They drove Jesus out of town and intended to throw him off a cliff. Jesus walked through the crowd and left. During this visit, Jesus told the people that no prophet was accepted in their hometown.
Are Other People in the Bible Called Nazarenes?
According to historians, early Jewish Christians may have referred to themselves as “The Way.” Other names for early Christians were “followers” and “sheep.” The book of Acts shares that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.
However, this was not the only term used for Jesus’ followers. According to the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, the people of Nazarene can be “a title applied to Jesus and, later, to those who followed his teachings.”
For example, the apostle Paul was referred to as “a man from Nazareth.” When Acts describes people calling Paul a troublemaker, they call him the “ringleader of the Nazarene sect” (Acts 24:5). Around 311 AD, Greek historian Eusebius stated that “Nazarenes” was a former name for Christians. Jerome, a fourth-century Christian priest, concurred that “Nazarenes” was used to describe Christians.
Nazarene can also describe a Syrian Judeo-Christian sect that left Jerusalem in the fourth century AD. Those Nazarences considered themselves Jews and observed Jewish laws and customs while holding some Christian beliefs and following the deuterocanonical Gospel of the Nazarenes.
What Can We Learn from the Fact that Jesus Was a Nazarene?
God sent Jesus, His Son, into the world to save us from our sins. However, he does not always work as we expect him to work. We see this, especially in the fact Jesus came from Nazareth.
His parents lived in a village that not many considered important. His parents were humble people—a carpenter who worked with his hands and a mother who had to tell her fiancee that she was already pregnant. Jesus was born in a manger, not a modern-day hospital with surgical instruments and medicines.
Despite the circumstances, his parents trusted God from the start. Mary listened to the angel Gabriel, placed trust and faith in God, and obeyed. Joseph listened to the angel who told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his spouse. Their home was not a castle, and their wealth was not expansive. Still, Jesus grew up to fulfill His mission. Everything He did and every word He spoke was to glorify His Father and to save us from sin. Although He was despised and rejected, many people loved Him and followed His teachings.
Humble circumstances do not keep God from accomplishing His will.
In His Name,
Photo Credit: Getty Images/vvvita
Award-winning author Melissa Henderson writes inspirational messages sometimes laced with a bit of humor. With stories in books, magazines, devotionals, and more, Melissa hopes to encourage readers.
Follow Melissa on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and at http://www.melissaghenderson.
This article is part of our Bible resource for understanding the significance and meaning of biblical phrases and ideas. Here are our most popular Bible articles to grow in your knowledge of God's Word:
Promises of God in the Bible
Is "This Too Shall Pass" in the Bible?
What Was the Ark of the Covenant?
Top 10 Bible Stories for Kids
“Iron Sharpens Iron” in Proverbs 27:17
"Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" in Psalm 139
“Be Still and Know That I am God” in Psalm 46:10
"No Weapon Formed Against Me Shall Prosper" - Isaiah 54:17