Called a Nazarene

Rev. Marcus is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

Matthew 2:23

Jesus must be called a Nazarene. That is to say, He must grow up in the city of Nazareth, and the people of that day must recognize that. We ourselves must recognize Him as such.

Why must we know Him as a Nazarene?

The fact that Jesus was called a Nazarene fulfilled Old Testament prophecies concerning Him. Although the prophets in the Old Testament never said in so many words that “Christ would be called a Nazarene,” what they prophesied about Jesus was fulfilled when He was labeled as the prophet from Nazareth. The label “of Nazareth” is important. Even Jesus referred to Himself with that label when He spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.”

Why Nazareth?

To begin with, Nazareth was located in Galilee.

We ourselves might have positive thoughts concerning Galilee, the place of Jesus’ earthly ministry. However, in that day, the Jews viewed Galilee in a negative light. Galilee was considered to be full of ignorant people. When the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, the people who heard the disciples speak in tongues were all the more amazed because Galileans were speaking in other languages.

Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?

Acts 2:6-7.Galileans had a reputation for being unschooled. Furthermore, Galilee was referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (cf. Matt. 4:12-16). By reason of its location, the people of Galilee mixed with the Gentiles. Add to that the fact that Galilee was far removed from Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religion and education, and we can see why Galilee was despised as a land of spiritual ignorance.

The Gospel of John records one occasion in which the Jews were disputing about Jesus.

Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth? They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet,

John 7:50-52.“Nicodemus, are you also from Galilee?” As if to say, “Are you also unschooled and ignorant?”

Jesus was from the despised region of Galilee.

More than that, Jesus was from the city of Nazareth in that region.

Now, if you asked an ordinary Galilean in that day what he thought of Nazareth, he would tell you he despised Nazareth. Nathanael, a Galilean, despised Nazareth. Though Nathanael was “an Israelite indeed, in whom [was] no guile,” he had little good to say about Nazareth.

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see,

John 1:45-46.Galileans despised Nazareth.

We don’t know whether it was because of the number of pagan people who lived in Nazareth, or their lack of education, or their rude character. But most people in that day who had any sense of dignity would not have esteemed Nazareth.

The name Nazareth itself points to its lowly character. The name Nazareth likely comes from the Hebrew word netser, which means twig, or sprout, or sucker. A netser was a small outgrowth from a larger stump. A netser was an insignificant and even despised part of a tree. The little town of Nazareth was not a stately tree; it was a despised sprout in Israel.

Jesus grew up in the despised city of Nazareth.

Amazingly, even the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He went to the synagogue in Nazareth and taught the people. In front of the people of His own hometown, Jesus read from a prophecy of Isaiah concerning the Messiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 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. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears,

Luke 4:18-21.Jesus preached the wonderful news that He was the promised Messiah.

But instead of receiving Him, the people of Nazareth despised Him: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (cf. Luke 4:22). “Is this not the carpenter?” (cf. Mark 6:3). Who does this man think he is? Certainly, this man is nothing special. When Jesus rebuked them because they refused to honor a prophet from their own country, they tried, in their anger, to kill Him. They took Him to the edge of a cliff on which the city of Nazareth was built and tried to throw Him off.

How striking! Jesus of Nazareth was despised by the people of Nazareth, who were despised by the Galileans, who were, in turn, despised by the people of Israel.

Jesus of Nazareth was despised and rejected by those who were themselves despised. Jesus of Nazareth was despised in the greatest degree.

But that’s the way it had to be. God had decreed it. Indeed, the prophets foretold this rejection centuries before it happened.

But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people,

Ps. 22:6.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not,

Is. 53:3.


How appropriate, then, that Jesus should be called a Nazarene. How appropriate that He, who is called “the Branch,” the Netser, should come out of Nazareth. “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his root” (Is. 11:1). Jesus is that branch, that seemingly insignificant twig. Though the great tree of David had been cut down, and all that was left was a stump, yet, far away from the city of David, a little shoot would grow up. God’s Spirit would rest on Him without measure so that He would bring salvation to His people.

Why so despised?

His humiliation was for us. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5). He was nailed to the cross as the Nazarene. Indeed the very superscription above Him identified Him that way: “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19). That’s our comfort. Jesus of Nazareth was rejected for us. He was despised and rejected so that we would be accepted into God’s family. He experienced the curse that we deserved so that we would be blessed. Jesus rejected all that earthly glory, choosing rather to be despised in order to obtain the greater glory of His heavenly kingdom.

Unbelievers used the label “Nazarene” as a label of contempt upon Jesus and His followers. The apostle Paul was called a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (cf. Acts 24:5). But, for us, the name “Jesus of Nazareth” has a sweet sound. That’s because Jesus of Nazareth is not despicable any more; He is now exalted in the highest heaven. He has gained the victory over Satan, and sin, and death.

Jesus of Nazareth, despised and rejected. . .

For our salvation!