Jesus is often referred to in the Bible as "Jesus of Nazareth," but why? Several reasons can be given. First, during the time in which Jesus lived on earth, people were often referred to by the town or city in which they resided. Since Jesus had spent most of His life in Nazareth, he was naturally known as Jesus of Nazareth.
Why is Jesus called Jesus of Nazareth?
Practically speaking, Jesus was a common name. Adding "of Nazareth" to His name would have made it clear which Jesus people had in mind.
Theologically, the first use of "Jesus of Nazareth" in the New Testament connects Jesus with the Jewish Messiah. John 1:45 reveals, "Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'" Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, highlighted the fact that Jesus was Jewish in his origin. Though He had been raised for part of His childhood in Egypt, Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 1; Luke 2) to Jewish parents and was raised mostly in Nazareth, a Jewish town in Galilee.
The phrase Jesus of Nazareth may have also been used as a way to emphasize the humble background of Jesus. Nazareth was considered a lowly, despised town in Galilee. This explains the reaction of Nathanael in John 1:46, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" This "lowly" view of Nazareth also fulfilled the Old Testament predictions regarding the Messiah as despised and rejected (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53).
In some sense the first century Jews viewed the Messiah as being a Nazarene. Matthew 2:23 notes, "And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene." Though no single Old Testament prophecy specifically notes the Messiah as coming from Nazareth, the idea of the Messiah coming from a despised, lowly area was well understood.
Jerome and other early church leaders connected "He shall be called a Nazarene" with the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1. There, the branch (naser in Hebrew) was a reference to the Messiah, one who would be known as a Nazarene. This would also fit well with "the prophets" referred to in Matthew 2:23, since this theme is evident elsewhere (Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12).
Jesus of Nazareth is one of many names used in reference to the Jesus of the New Testament. It is packed with meaning that held much relevance in His day and in ours. Jesus of Nazareth highlights both His prophetic fulfillment as the divine Messiah and His human nature as One who lived among humanity.
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