Our goal this year in studying the Old Testament prophets is to understand these inspired writers in their original historical context and to explore how the New Testament describes the fulfillment of the prophetic oracles. Isaiah 61:1–2, which is part of Isaiah's climactic presentation of the Messiah, as today's passage indicates, is a key text for understanding how Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah's vision.
Luke 4:16–30 provides the first detailed description of our Lord's teaching ministry after His baptism and temptation. First-century Jews often allowed a man of note to read and explain a portion of Scripture when they gathered in synagogues on the Sabbath to worship God and study His Word. Having grown up in Nazareth, Jesus was the logical choice to give a reading on the Sabbath day Luke describes. Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1–2, substituting the phrasing of Isaiah 58:6 for "the opening of the prison to those who are bound" in 61:2, thereby using Scripture to interpret and clarify Scripture.
In any case, the text from Isaiah sets the stage for the Lord's ministry during His first advent, as Jesus is clear that the text is all about Him (Luke 4:21). We readily see evidence for His claim during His earthly ministry. Jesus received His messianic anointing in His baptism, when "the Holy Spirit descended on" Him (3:21–22). He preached good news to the poor (Matt. 11:1–6), which is a reference not merely to material poverty, though it is within the purview of both Isaiah and Jesus. The term poor is a broad one, signifying anyone who truly recognizes his deficiency before the holy God. Of course, we lack the space to recount all the miracles whereby Jesus made the blind to see, freed people from the oppression of demons, and more (Matt. 8:16; Mark 8:22–26).
Notably, Jesus ends His citation of Isaiah 61 before mentioning "the day of vengeance of our God" (v. 2). This is not because He was preaching a deity who winks at sin or because He did not know the text. Instead, the way He cites Isaiah 61 indicates that part of His work is delayed, from our perspective. In Jesus' first advent, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17). His purpose in coming was to bring salvation to the world. But Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. If we do not receive Him as Savior before then, He will proclaim eternal vengeance upon us for our sin.
When Christ came the first time, His primary aim was not condemnation. Condemnation was more of a secondary but inevitable consequence of rejecting His gracious salvation. "Whoever believes in [the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already" (John 3:18). But Jesus will return to judge creation, and many will be condemned then (Rev. 20:11–15). The only way to escape eternal condemnation is to bow the knee to Him as Lord today.