The Gospel Coalition

Joshua 1; Psalms 120-122; Isaiah 61; Matthew 9

HERE I REFLECT ON TWO THINGS: first, the place of Isaiah 61 in the developing argument; and second, its contribution to biblical theology.

(1) Isaiah 60 made it clear that the present order of things cannot go on forever: a time is coming that will be characterized by both unqualified blessing (Isa. 60:19-21) and irremediable judgment (Isa. 60:12). This bifurcation is picked up in Isaiah 61: here is proclamation both of "the year of the LORD's favor" and of "the day of vengeance of our God" (Isa. 61:2). The vengeance theme is not developed until chapter 63. Immediately at hand is "the year of the LORD's favor" (chaps. 61-62). Isaiah 61 opens with someone proclaiming that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him to accomplish the Lord's redemptive purposes (Isa. 61:1-6). Then the Lord himself speaks (Isa. 61:7-9), proclaiming an everlasting covenant characterized by both joy and justice. The chapter ends with a solitary voice, presumably Isaiah's, exulting in the anticipated fulfillment of these promises (Isa. 61:10-11).

(2) But who is the one who speaks in Isaiah 61:1-6? The most important clue is in the first line: "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me," he says---and thoughtful readers recall two previous passages. Isaiah has already said that the Spirit of the Lord will rest in peculiar measure on the Messiah (Isa. 11:1-2; cf. John 3:34), and has pictured God saying to the Servant, "I will put my Spirit on him" (Isa. 42:1). The most obvious conclusion is that the one who speaks in Isaiah 61:1-6 is this Servant-Messiah, the superlative suffering Servant of Isaiah 40-55 and the expected Messiah of Isaiah 1-35. Small wonder, then, that in the synagogue in Nazareth, the Lord Jesus reads these lines from the Isaiah scroll and deliberately applies them to himself (Luke 4:17-19).

This Spirit-anointed Servant-Messiah brings in "the year of the LORD's favor" (Isa. 61:2), almost certainly an allusion to the Year of Jubilee when, according to the Mosaic covenant, slaves were freed and those forced to sell their property were to receive it back again (Lev. 25:8-55). The Servant-Messiah comes "to preach good news to the poor" and "to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners," "to comfort all who mourn"---to bestow the "insteads": a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isa. 61:1-3). If the initial installment of such blessing was in the return from exile and the first restoration of the ruins (Isa. 61:4), the ultimate fulfillment bursts these categories (chap. 62).


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