The favorable year and the day of vengeance (Isaiah 61-1-2)

POST OVERVIEW. A study of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the context of Jesus’ quoting of this passage in Nazareth in Luke 4. This article sets the context of Jesus’ quote and considers the meaning of “the favorable year of the LORD.” The first of a two-part series.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God. – Isaiah 61:1-2

After His baptism, as the Lord Jesus was beginning His earthly ministry, He went to His hometown of Nazareth and, in the synagogue on the Sabbath, the Lord read a short passage from Isaiah 61 (bolded and italicized above) and sat down. Most in the synagogue would have been familiar with Isaiah and many would have known this specific passage, but no one in the synagogue would have ever suspected what happened next. Jesus then said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).

ANNOUNCING THREE TRUTHS

It is hard to overstate the significance of what Jesus has just announced. By quoting this prophecy from Isaiah, Jesus establishes three enormous truths. First, since this prophecy from Isaiah is certainly Messianic, Jesus is unambiguously declaring Himself to be the promised Messiah, the Anointed One predicted by the Old Testament Scriptures. But second, Jesus is announcing that He is inaugurating a period of “good news to the afflicted” and of “binding up the brokenhearted.” Jesus proclaims that there will be a time of “liberty to captives,” of “freedom to prisoners,” even “the favorable year of the LORD.” The long-awaited Messiah has come and He is ushering in a long time of the Lord’s favor, a time when sinners can be reconciled to their holy God. We now know that, with the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the gospel age has begun, the time when the nations will be gathered in, when the church will go out and make disciples, and when the name of Jesus will be proclaimed to the ends of the earth.

But there is a third truth that Jesus has announced, even though He intentionally avoids mentioning it. When a Jewish rabbi was reading a well-known passage of Scripture, he would often stop his reading before the end of the passage that he wanted to teach. The rabbi did this because he expected his hearers to complete the passage in their own mind. Here, Rabbi Jesus stops His reading with “the favorable year of the LORD,” but He expects His hearers to complete the reading in their mind. Thus, there is “the favorable year of the LORD,” but there is also “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2b). The third truth that Jesus announces here in Nazareth is that, as surely as there will be a “favorable year of the LORD,” there will also be “a day of vengeance of our God.” It is on the second and the third truths that I want to comment.

THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE GOSPEL AGE

By announcing “the favorable year of the LORD” and “the day of vengeance,” Jesus has moved the conversation into the realm of end times and of eschatology. And eschatology is the subject of this post. As stated above, “the favorable year” refers to the long time of the gospel age when the church goes into the world and among the nations proclaiming the good news of salvation to people of every tribe and tongue and nation so that the elect can be gathered in. The crucified and risen Lord Jesus has commissioned His church (Matt. 28:19-20) to ride out with the gospel, “conquering and to conquer” (Rev. 6:2), as His witnesses (Acts 1:8) to the ends of the earth till the end of the age. And because this is an immense task, the commissioned church will have a long time to accomplish its mission. The unity of Scripture is displayed in the fact that “the favorable year” of Isaiah 61:2 corresponds to “the thousand years” of Revelation 20. During this long time of relative peace, the fury of God’s wrath against sin is held back and the offer of salvation to sinners is extended. During this figurative “year of favor,” “the vilest offender who truly believes, That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” Wretches with sins red like crimson are, by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Those who “were fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, and revilers are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). The church proclaims that “the blood of Jesus God’s Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Jesus has come, Jesus has died, Jesus has risen, and now for a long time God’s mercy welcomes believing sinners into His kingdom as sons and daughters. Yes, now is “the acceptable time, the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

But the favorable year of the LORD will not last forever. The favorable year will end and there will come “the day of vengeance of our God.” This day of vengeance will be the topic of the next post in this series.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 5/2/2023                     #646

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