We’ve looked at Isaiah 61 before in a different context, but today the context is this: Jesus reads the passage in front of the synagogue, as is traditional, then tells everyone that the passage has been fulfilled right then and there. Everyone is amazed. (“Jesus of Nazareth Reads a Prophetic Passage in the Synagogue. What Happens Next Will Blow Your Mind!”) Right off the bat, this chapter of Isaiah tells us: “The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted” (Isaiah 61:1). Remember that “Messiah” or “Christ” at its root means “anointed one,” and that anointing a person’s head with oil in Jewish tradition was a symbolic way of showing they’d been chosen by God. I’m inclined to conclude that, in a manner of speaking, the gospel is almost as old as the expectation of the Messiah.
So, Isaiah 61 sheds light on Jesus’ self-understanding and Luke’s concept of the gospel. What can we gather from it?
The passage speaks of a reversal of fortune. The Messiah is to bring comfort to mourners and liberty to captives, restoring God’s chosen people to their former prosperity. Their devastated cities will be rebuilt (4); they’ll have the wealth to hire foreigners as their shepherds and farmers and vinedressers (5); they will prosper for generations (9). And all of this will be because God supports them. Throughout the passage Isaiah returns to the point that God will do this to make his excellence known, so that the nations will glorify him (vv.3, 6, 9, 11).
But the Messiah didn’t bring a restoration of fortune for Israel. Jesus’ life did not usher in the independence of the Jewish nation and freedom from Roman rule, and in A.D. 70, the Romans stomped out the Jewish revolt and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. It would seem that catastrophe, not prosperity, followed God’s chosen people in the wake of the Messiah’s visitation. In what sense, then, did Jesus consider that Isaiah 61 had been fulfilled in the midst of his countrymen as he read this passage?
That’s a question for tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve eaten another block of Theo dark chocolate with sea salt. In Monday’s post, I feel that I may have been too hard on this stuff; I may not especially enjoy the saltiness, but hey, it’s still chocolate. And a little milk from our friend on the shot glass, Bad Decision Dinosaur, goes a long way toward offsetting the salt flavor. I’ll see you guys tomorrow as I look for more answers in Isaiah 61.