Throughout his life, Jesus was a member of his culture. Though His message was unique, He brought it to the people, Jews and Gentiles, using methods and language consistent with His role as a first-century Jewish rabbi who was also a citizen of a Roman controlled country…. Thus Jesus’ ministry was carried out according to the structures God had set in place with His people Israel. (Ray VanderLaan)
Jesus was a first-century Jewish rabbi, a master communicator, to whom both the religious and non-religious alike flocked. Addressed as “rabbi” by multiple and diverse groups, he taught within the construct of many rabbis of his day—out in the open as well as in the Temple and synagogues, interacting with different audiences in various geographical and social locations. The religious Jews in his audience knew the Scriptures well, but Jesus also used illustrations that were familiar to all, regardless of religious backgrounds. The population of first-century Israel was characterized by many distinct cultures interacting on a daily basis. This cultural interplay is clearly depicted in Jesus’ references to commonly known fables of his day in Matthew 7:15, Luke 4:23, Luke 7:24 (cf. Matt. 11:7) and Luke 7:32 (cf. Matt. 11:17). We also see the mastery of Jesus’ teaching in his allusions to historical events in Luke 14:28 and Luke 19:11. Focusing on these different occurrences will enrich our insight into the selected passages of Jesus’ teaching. Investigating the underlying influences behind Jesus’ words facilitates a better understanding of their meaning in the context of the first century. Consequently, today’s followers will be challenged to communicate the message of the Gospel in a cross-cultural manner. This article will address Jesus’ use of non-religious illustrations, specifically folklore and current events.
-  Ray VanderLaan, Echoes of His Presence: Stories of the Messiah from the People of His Day (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), vii. ↩
-  Unless otherwise indicated all Bible references in this paper are to the New International Version (NIV) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1984). ↩