Mark 6:5 “He could do no mighty works…”

And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6)

We often understand this verse to be saying that Jesus was limited by the unbelief of the people contrary to his desire to do mighty works.  But this is not the correct interpretation of this verse.  The limitation comes not from the absence of faith, thus making Jesus powerless, as if the power to do mighty works comes from the faith of the people (the way many see this passage).  Rather the limitation lies in God’s sovereign withholding of mighty works due to the unbelief of the people.  Thus, the phrase, “he could do no mighty work” points to a restriction placed on him by the Father not willing that Jesus should do mighty works in Nazareth.

This interpretation is especially confirmed by the almost parallel passage in Luke 4:23-27.

23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Here it is clear that God sovereignly determined to do mighty works not in Israel, but in the land of Sidon, and with Naaman, a Syrian.

When God does mighty works, it is an act of his grace done for any number of different sovereign purposes he may have for those works (and there are several mentioned in Scripture).  When he does not do those works it is because of our unbelief.  No one can “claim” a miracle by meritorious faith, and no one can begrudge the lack of a miracle because apart from grace God finds us all in the same state of unbelief as these here in Nazareth.