What did Jesus teach the people in the synagogues during his ministry years?
All we know from scripture is that he taught them about God’s Kingdom.
But the New Testament is all about God’s Kingdom (on Earth and in Heaven), so when we read those scriptures, we’re hearing echoes of Jesus in the synagogues.
Remember that until Jesus was crucified and then resurrected, no-one on Earth was born-again, not even John the Baptist. We could say that Jesus was born born-again, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. Our spiritual rebirth is a re-connection with God that we lost through sin; Jesus never sinned: he came into the world sinless and left it sinless, with no sinning in between. So technically, Jesus didn’t have to be born-again to enter the Kingdom: he was always in it.
But those who stood or sat listening to him preaching and teaching during his ministry years were not born-again. Because of the separation between them and God, Jesus had to teach them by way of scripture and parable, or they not only would not understand, they would likely get offended and leave. Many of those who came to hear Jesus were poor and uneducated, which meant they had only rudimentary knowledge of scripture. Not being able to read, they would only know about God what had been told to them about God.
Recall how shocked people were when Jesus got up to read the scripture in Nazareth – the Nazarenes were wondering how a “carpenter’s son” could be able to read let alone interpret scripture, as those skills were reserved for the elders and priests and wealthy ruling class. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus had gotten his learning supernaturally and at a very young age, as we know by how he was able to bedazzle the elders at the temple in Jerusalem when he was only 12 years old. Jesus’ literacy and understanding of scripture came from God, just like the source of his power to preach and heal came from God. Having God as his source, Jesus spoke with an authority that false teachers did not have. This authority was, in part, what drew people to him. He actually knew his stuff; he wasn’t just repeating what he’d learned from someone else, who was repeating what they’d learned from someone else, who was repeating what they’d learned from someone else, and so on.
The problem with false teachers is not that they don’t present scripture (they usually do); the problem is how they interpret scripture and then apply it. Part of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness after fasting for 40 days was exposing the falseness in Satan’s purposeful misapplication of scripture. Like all false preachers and teachers, Satan cherry-picked scripture that would lead Jesus into doing the opposite of God’s will. False prophets are notorious for doing this – for basing an entire doctrine around a single line of scripture in isolation. In fact, most of what passes for Christianity today is based on misinterpretations of scripture, as the teachers and preachers know scripture, but they don’t know God. Not knowing God, they can’t understand scripture; they can only present it and then misinterpret it. And sadly, most of the people hearing the false teachings don’t know God, either, which leaves them open to receiving lies.
Born-again believers, by definition, know God because they have God’s Spirit with them night and day. We might not always, through our stubbornness, do God’s will, but we have the capacity to know God personally, one-on-one, just as Jesus did. With this capacity, we should be preparing to take our place as teachers and preachers (if we aren’t already teaching and preaching) in the synagogues of the world, which today simply means anywhere and everywhere people want to hear the Good News. But in preparing to teach and preach, and in actually teaching and preaching, we need to make sure that God and only God is our source.
Test the spirits, as Paul says; make sure your inspiration and understanding come from God and not from some other source. Test your ideas against scripture; if they are contrary to scripture, they are not from God; if they are not from God, don’t teach them, or you’ll be like Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness.
During Jesus’ ministry years, the disciples and close followers of Jesus knew scripture and also knew how to interpret it and apply it, thanks to Jesus showing them. But they weren’t ready to teach and preach because most of what they knew (other than for occasional flashes of insight from God) came second-hand through Jesus; they had yet to get their knowledge and understanding directly from God because God’s spirit was not yet with them full-time. This direct conduit between them and God was finally opened at Pentecost, after which they took to the streets teaching and preaching in every tongue, including those they had never spoken before.
This supernatural acquisition of a language (which, by the way, is the real meaning of “speaking in tongues”, not uttering gibberish) was not only a sign that their knowledge came directly from God, but that the Good News of the Kingdom was meant for everyone, not just Jews. Remember that many of the people hearing the disciples thought they were drunk and unable to speak properly (if you hear a language you don’t know, it just sounds like gibberish to you), but the foreigners who heard the disciples understood them because the disciples were speaking their language. The disciples had acquired this ability to speak in foreign tongues in the same way as Jesus had acquired his ability to read – supernaturally, from God.
Understanding of scripture is also a supernatural ability. Anyone can memorize and repeat scripture, just as anyone can misinterpret and misapply scripture: this was as prevalent in Jesus’ day as it is now. If your understanding of scripture comes from someone else and not from God, wait until God gives you the ability to understand scripture before teaching and preaching it.
In the meantime, LEARN scripture. You can’t teach what you don’t know. Read the Bible – both the New and Old testaments – until God’s Word becomes your words. Breathe the Bible; eat the Bible; sleep the Bible. Read it from cover to cover, and then read it again, cover to cover. If you don’t feel like reading the Bible, that’s when you especially need to read it. If you don’t know God’s Word, how can you teach it, and how can you know when it’s being misinterpreted and misapplied?
Learn God’s Word until God’s Word and your words are one. Be like Jesus in everything you do. Jesus was so steeped in God’s Word that he became the Living Word.
Do and be likewise. Then you’ll be ready to teach and preach.