27 June 2022

Isaiah 61: 'A jubilee of another kind'

Bible study by Major Graham Mizon

Major Graham Mizon reminds us that fulfilment is found in Jesus.

Key texts

After being baptised by John in the Jordan, and full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led ‘into the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the Devil’ (Luke 4:1 and 2). Jesus then returned to his hometown of Nazareth.

Fulfilment of Scripture

On the Sabbath day, as was his custom, Jesus went to the synagogue (see Luke 4:16). When he stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.

Jesus chose this setting and occasion to announce the beginning of his earthly ministry. He unrolled the scroll and read from Isaiah 61:1 and 2, which is quoted in Luke 4:17–19 as: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

After reading from Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. While the gathered people looked and waited, Jesus amazed them with his claim: ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:21).

Like Jesus, the gathered Jews would be familiar with these ancient words of Isaiah. However, Jesus proclaims that these words, initially addressed to captive Jews in Babylon, are now being fulfilled in him. They take on a fuller and deeper meaning when spoken by Jesus in the Roman province of Galilee.

The usefulness and purpose of the Old and New Testament writings are highlighted in a statement attributed to Saint Augustine: ‘The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.’

Pause and reflect

  • What are the advantages of us being familiar with Scripture today?
  • Who are ‘the poor’ to whom the good news is to be proclaimed?

Spirit and anointing

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me’ (Luke 4:18). Jesus took this ancient text to testify to being filled with the Holy Spirit and being God’s anointed Son. Jesus had recently been baptised and witnessed the Spirit of God descending like a dove on him (see Matthew 3:13–17). The resurrected Christ would later commission his disciples to proclaim the same good news in the power of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:5–8).

Bunting hung up on a British high street

Isaiah 61: 1 and 2

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Read the chapter

Kings and priests were usually the ones to be anointed – especially the high priests who were consecrated to God’s service. The only other anointed prophet was Elisha (see 1 Kings 19:16), who was anointed by God to follow in the steps of the great prophet Elijah and was also filled with the Holy Spirit. Having seen God’s Spirit in Elijah’s life, Elisha – like someone eyeing up a delicious cake – requested a ‘double portion’ of the Spirit (see 2 Kings 2:9–15).

Pause and reflect

  • How important is it that we serve God as anointed and Spirit-filled disciples?

A year of jubilee

Earlier this month, we celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, marking her 70 years of service. There was much celebrating, and no doubt many double portions of cake were consumed. There is a reference to a jubilee of another kind in the verses Jesus quoted from Isaiah: ‘He has sent me ... to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18 and 19).

The ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ was also known as ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ (King James Version) and ‘the year of jubilee’ (see Leviticus 25:13). The 50th year was to be sanctified and, among other things, to be a time when Israelites were released from debt slavery. Loud trumpets would sound across the land to mark this time of celebration.

As a result of their disobedience, God’s judgement would take the Jewish nation into exile in Babylon for 70 years (see Jeremiah 25:11). They were out of favour with God and so were banished from his land. The 70th year arrived and so too did the year of the Lord’s favour. The year of liberty and jubilee had arrived.

Pause and reflect

  • Can you recall those seasons of joy in your life when you experienced God’s favour?

The ultimate fulfilment of Isaiah 61 appeared several centuries later in a Nazareth synagogue. The day of the Messiah’s arrival and ministry had arrived. The acceptable year of the Lord had come (see Galatians 4:4).

Quoting from Isaiah 49:8, the apostle Paul also reminds his readers of God’s favour: ‘“In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation’ (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Let's pray

Father God, when we compare our sinfulness with the purity of Jesus, we cannot help but wonder that he gave his life so that we might be counted blameless and adopted as your children.

Thank you for your Holy Spirit, our constant guide and strength.


Bible study by

Major Graham Mizon

Major Graham Mizon

Retired, Bruntwood

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