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What does it mean that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country (Matthew 13:57)?

prophet not without honor

When Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth to teach in the synagogue, He experienced firsthand how familiarity can breed contempt. The Nazarenes, who had known Jesus since His childhood, were astonished and puzzled by His wisdom and mighty works. But rather than accept His message, they were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him. Thus, Jesus told them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house” (Matthew 13:57, NKJV).

The phrase—a prophet is not without honor except in his own country—contains a double negative. A more straightforward wording would be “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family” (Matthew 13:57, NLT). With this statement, Jesus recognizes the discredit prophets and ministers of the Lord often confront among their closest relatives, friends, and neighbors. Crowds of people throughout the region were hearing Christ’s message, witnessing His mighty works, and responding in faith to God. But the people of His “own country” and “own house” rejected His message and claims.

His “own country” is Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. His “own house” is His family. Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in Him or accept His messianic claims until after His resurrection (see John 7:5 and Acts 1:14). Mark’s record of this same incident says, “And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them” (Mark 6:5, NLT). Imagine how sad and disappointed Jesus must have felt to find so little faith among His closest loved ones.

In his 1977 “Song to My Parents (I Only Want to See You There),” Keith Green expressed the incredulity of the people of Nazareth with these lyrics:
Isn’t that Jesus? Isn’t it Joseph and Mary’s son?
Well, didn’t he grow up right here? He played with our children!
What? He must be kidding! Thinks he’s a prophet!
But prophets don’t grow up from little boys,
Do they? From little boys, do they?

It’s vital not to miss the deeper meaning cloaked in the references to “his own country” and “his own house.” The Israelites as a nation (“his own country”) and the Jews as a people (“his own house”) were rejecting Christ’s message and claims as they had rejected so many prophets before Him. Jesus is beginning to hint at God’s expanding, church-age mission to reach the Gentiles (see Ephesians 6:19; Galatians 3:14, 28; Romans 11:13–24). Later, Jesus would do more than hint with this gospel-culminating command to His disciples: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19, HCSB). If the Jews of His own country would not honor God’s servant, He would take His message of salvation to those who would believe it and receive it with gladness (Matthew 8:13; 9:2, 22, 28–29).

Like the prophet Isaiah, Jesus was without honor in His own country and among His own people. They were “hearing but never understanding, . . . seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:14–15; cf. Isaiah 6:9–10). The apostle John confirms, “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11, NLT).

In Luke’s Gospel, a mob from Nazareth responds angrily to Jesus’ message in the synagogue, driving Jesus out of town and attempting to throw Him over a cliff. But Jesus quietly slips away (Luke 4:29–30). Several times He escapes death at the hands of an angry mob (John 8:59; 10:39). Nevertheless, the Jews eventually succeed in the ultimate act of dishonor and rejection by crucifying their own Savior (Matthew 27:32–44).

The statement “a prophet is not without honor except in his own country” is one every believer should take to heart. We might look with judgment on the Jewish people of Jesus’ day yet neglect to consider how our familiarity with a brother or sister in Christ might be breeding contempt in our own hearts. Do we presume to know another Christian so well that we can’t hear God’s message in his words or recognize God’s presence in his ministry? Are we rejecting the very servant God has sent to do a mighty work in our lives? Are we limiting God’s plan because of our unbelief?

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What does it mean that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country (Matthew 13:57)?
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This page last updated: September 7, 2023