The Year of Favor and Day of Vengeance

Jesus: Isaiah 61:2 & Luke 4:18-19

Luke 4:18–19 (CSB) — 18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Isaiah 61:1–2 (CSB) — 1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn,

The astute Bible student will notice that Jesus stops half-way through reading Isaiah’s prophecy when he says that “today this passage has been fulfilled” in their hearing. Does this mean that Jesus only fulfilled half of Isaiah’s prophecy? Was the rest of the text simply implied? Does this give us any insight into the hermeneutic employed by Jesus when interpreting Scripture? And is their any theological significance to be gleaned from where Jesus stopped reading with respect to the eschatological nature of our Messiah’s ministry?

Let’s jump into this text to study why Jesus stopped half way through Isaiah’s prophecy.

Old Testament Setting: Isaiah 61:2

First, we always benefit from including a short survey about the setting of Isaiah’s prophecy, which begins by delivering the anticipated demand of the prophet’s message in chapters 58–60, where the call to repentance accompanies the promise of God’s salvation. Therefore, Israel’s bondage and captivity becomes the setting into which the prophet proclaims their deliverance that will be performed by an individual who receives the anointing of the Spirit of the Lord to accomplish.

This prophecy presents clear parallels between this anointed figure and the servant figure of chapters 40–55, which joins with chapters 58-60 to create the setting that illuminates the specific goals of this anointed prophet’s ministry: he is coming to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to restore sight to the blind, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Metaphors from the economic, political, physical, and social realms were used throughout this setting to express the expectation that this prophet would reverse the fate of Israel with the arrival of a new eschatological era.

New Testament Setting: Luke 4:18-30

Second, we need to examine the setting in which Jesus is speaking in the New Testament. We pick up in this story when Jesus returned to where he had been raised (Lk. 4:16) after being tempted in the desert. Since there were no permanent rabbis in Nazareth at that time, visiting teachers were free to preach, as Jesus often did (v. 16b). So, when the Sabbath arrived, Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah and began to read:

Luke 4:18–19 (CSB) — 18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus assumed the standard sitting posture in first-century Judaism, handed the scroll back to the attendant, and began to give his interpretation of the text by saying “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus proceeded to explain the evidence of its fulfillment with “great grace and insight”, and many were impressed with his teaching (Luke 4:22). However, some challenged him and requested that he prove the miracles he had done elsewhere in their presence (Luke 4:23). This will set up the opposition that Jesus will face throughout his earthly ministry from the ever-unbelieving Jewish leadership.

This Scripture Has Been Fulfilled: Luke 4:21

The Jews would have been well-familiar with this text because it was their hope for deliverance from Roman oppression. Therefore, anyone who claimed to fulfill this prophecy would have garnered a great deal of attention and the crowd would have been very interested to hear their claim on this prophecy.

Isaiah’s prophecy foretells the coming Messiah, who would come in the Spirit of the Lord to “preach good news to the poor,” “proclaim freedom for prisoners,” and give “sight to the blind.”

Jesus was offering the evidence of his initial ministry in Galilee after his baptism and temptation as proof that he had come in the Spirit of the Lord to “preach good news to the poor,” “proclaim freedom for prisoners,” and give “sight to the blind.”

Jesus’ claim was loud and clear: he was their Messiah.

The Year of the LORD’s Favor: Luke 4:19

“The year of the Lord’s favor” reads in Greek as “the acceptable year of the Lord” and is the description of the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10). The year of Jubilee was the appointed time when all personal debts were totally forgiven, slaves were set free, and everyone rested from their labors. Isaiah – and subsequently by Christ – employed this expression as a metaphor for salvation from God on high.

Therefore, Jesus had come to proclaim that God was ready to completely and thoroughly forgive sin! And it is clear from everything Jesus did during his earthly ministry that he did, indeed, bring to fruition “the year of the LORD’s favor”.

The Day of Our God’s Vengeance: Isaiah 61:2

However, the point where Jesus stops quoting Isaiah’s prophecy is significant. After reading “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”, Jesus did not continue by reading the line “and the day of vengeance of our God.”

By proclaiming the “year of the LORD’s favor”, but not “the day of God’s vengeance”, Jesus expresses the nature of his earthly ministry as seen in his own missiological reflections:

John 3:17 (CSB) — 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 5:22–29 (CSB) — 22 The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 “Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. 25 “Truly I tell you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has granted him the right to pass judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of condemnation.

The Jews expected the “year of the Lord’s favor” to be immediately followed by “the day of his vengeance”. However, Jesus is demonstrating that, although he is the one who fulfills all prophecy, he does not fulfill every prophecy all at the same time.

These reflections demonstrate that Jesus’ Messianic mission moves forward in two phases:

  1. The year of the LORD’s favor initiates the time of God’s grace during which salvation will spread to every tongue, tribe, and nation
  2. The day of God’s vengeance calls every tongue, tribe, and nation to account before the judgment seat of God

Jesus knew that there would be a break between the “year of favor” and the “day of vengeance”, therefore, he did not proclaim the fulfillment of vengeance because that day had not yet come. Imagine what the skeptics would say if he had continued reading Isaiah’s prophecy and proclaimed its fulfillment?

Luke 4:19’s Pause Points to Isaiah 61:2b

David Guzik has been accredited as calling the break in Jesus’ Messianic mission the “2,000-year-old comma”, and sees Jesus’ stop in this text as being his way of pointing to the “day of the LORD’s vengeance!”

Therefore, through Jesus’ earthly ministry the blind received sight, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the poor received good news (Luke 7:22). His life and subsequent death as the perfect sacrificial Lamb (John 1:29) completely fulfilled Isaiah 61:1-2a as he showed himself to be a servant to all (Luke 4:21).

However, the fulfillment of the year of the Lord’s favor demands that we all pay even greater attention to the coming “day of vengeance” (Hebrews 10:29)! As Jesus elucidated in John 5, he will return again for judgment (2 Tim 4:1; Rom 2:16) and he avenge himself on his enemies (Deut 32:41–43; see also Prov 6:34; Isa 34:8, 61:2, 63:4; Jer 46:10).

References:

This study was inspired by a post on the Logos Bible Software blog originally entitled “Why Did Jesus Stop Quoting Isaiah 61:2 Mid-Sentence?”, however, the post seems to be broken at the time of this writing.

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