The Messiah Announces Good News


The Messiah Announces Good News

Isaiah 61

The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. (Isa 61:1)

Main Idea: The Messiah announces the good news of his mission to bring salvation to the poor, brokenhearted captives of the earth.

  1. The Messiah and His Mission (61:1-3)
    1. The Messiah anointed with the Spirit (61:1)
    2. The Messiah’s mission to poor prisoners (61:1-3)
  2. The Transformation of the Messiah’s People (61:3-9)
    1. From weak captives to mighty trees of righteousness (61:3)
    2. Rebuilding ancient ruins (61:4)
    3. Enriched, not enslaved, by the nations (61:5-9)
  3. The Messiah’s Garments of Joy, Righteousness, and Salvation (61:10-11)
    1. The Messiah’s garments (61:10)
    2. The Messiah’s harvest of righteousness (61:11)

The Messiah and His Mission

Isaiah 61:1-3

Picture one of the most dramatic moments in redemptive history (Luke 4:16-30). The Lord Jesus Christ had returned to his hometown of Nazareth. Reports about the amazing things he had already done in Capernaum had reached his neighbors, and the town was abuzz with the news. The Sabbath day came, and everyone assembled in the synagogue. Jesus stood and went forward, and the scroll of Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled it to the very place we are considering now, Isaiah 61, and read the ancient words powerfully. You could have heard a pin drop. After reading verses 1-2, he sat down and the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. He opened his mouth and spoke, and the world has never been the same since: “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.” The word fulfilled must have hit everyone there like a thunderbolt! Isaiah had written the passage more than seven centuries before that electric moment. Now a man they had watched grow up from a little boy in that tiny locale was claiming to have fulfilled this prophecy!

In so doing, Jesus makes my task as a commentator much easier, not only for this one passage but indeed for the whole book of Isaiah. The spirit of this commentary is the proclamation of Jesus from the prophetic writing of Isaiah. Some interpreters think it poor scholarship to go directly to Jesus from the ancient text or to use the data from the Gospels as an interpretive key. But as a Christian, I think it sheer unbelief not to proclaim Christ from Isaiah 61 or to act as though Luke 4 itself were not as perfectly inspired from the Holy Spirit as was Isaiah 61. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the fulfillment of chapter 61; faith settles that hermeneutical question for all time.

And Isaiah 61:1-3 describes powerfully both the anointing of the Messiah and his mission. In verse 1 the Messiah (“Anointed One”) proclaims his anointing by the Father with the Spirit. In the Old Testament men were anointed with oil for key offices in Israel: kings (1 Sam 10:1), priests (Exod 30:30), and prophets (1 Kgs 19:16). This was symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s power equipping them for their weighty tasks (David in 1 Sam 16:13). Men can anoint only with oil; God alone can anoint a man with the Holy Spirit. And no one in history was so powerfully anointed with the Holy Spirit as was Jesus Christ. This was clearly pictured by the Spirit’s descent as a dove at Jesus’s baptism, and Peter proclaimed it to Cornelius: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and . . . he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil” (Acts 10:38).

This was the fulfillment of the sevenfold mission that the Father gave to Jesus in Isaiah 61: to preach good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of God’s vengeance, to comfort those who mourn in Zion, and to give them a crown, oil, and splendid clothes in place of their ashes of degradation and captivity. The Messiah accomplishes all these things primarily by preaching good news. The recipients of this good news are pictured as in a desperate condition throughout this chapter: they are “poor,” “brokenhearted,” “captives” and “prisoners” who “mourn” and are clothed with “ashes” and “despair.” They live in “ruined cities” devastated for generations (v. 4). They are disgraced by the mocking nations (v. 7). They are plundered by “robbery and injustice” (v. 8). It seems difficult to imagine how a verbally proclaimed message could achieve such a triumphant release and lavish enrichment.

But this is precisely what the gospel of Jesus Christ does. This prophecy of Isaiah would have been first seen through the lens of the Babylonian exile and the restoration of the remnant to rebuild the promised land. But Jesus took these promises to an infinitely higher level. The true captivity that Christ came to destroy was captivity to sin and to Satan (John 8:32,34). He said it was by knowing the truth that such captives were set free. Thus proclamation of the gospel sets captives free! So also Jesus’s healing ministry was seen as a work of liberation from the power of Satan, the “strong man” who guards his captives fiercely (Luke 11:21-22). When Jesus healed a bent old woman, he proclaimed that Satan had bound her and he had set her free (Luke 13:16).

Thus it is clear that the mission of Jesus in proclaiming the gospel and doing astonishing miracles of healing was a direct fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-3. Jesus came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v. 2). This is the opening of a worldwide era of grace from almighty God, in which the debts of sin can be cancelled and prisoners can be set free to worship God in joyful liberation. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!”

When Jesus read this passage, however, he stopped abruptly in verse 2 after the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor. The verse in Isaiah continued, “and the day of our God’s vengeance.” These words Christ did not read that day but not because he will not fulfill them. He most certainly will in his second coming, when he returns to earth to slay all the wicked with the sword of his Word (Rev 19:11-16). The warning about the coming wrath of the Lord is mixed right in the middle of the sweet passage from Isaiah 61:1-3, and it is right for the messengers of the gospel to warn sinners of the coming wrath so that they might flee to Christ.

The Transformation of the Messiah’s People

Isaiah 61:3-9

Here we read of the radical transformation of the poor, brokenhearted, mourning, ash-covered captives whom Jesus has come to save. In salvation, Christ has removed from us our disgrace, our ashes, and our chains; instead, he has crowned us with beauty, anointed us with the oil of joy, and clothed us with robes of perfect righteousness.

Moreover, having been given the gift of imputed righteousness by faith in Christ, we also receive the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was anointed, and we are unleashed on a world devastated by sin and Satan. We “rebuild ancient ruins,” even cities that have been devastated for centuries (v. 4). Certainly the returning exiles did this physically in Jerusalem, but these words are more perfectly fulfilled spiritually by the building of the church of Jesus Christ out of the rubble of human history. People’s lives are laid waste by sin, as are whole human societies all over the face of the earth. The trail of wreckage left by sin has only one chief Rebuilder: Jesus Christ. And Christ has chosen to rebuild lives and societies by his transformed people. We are the rebuilders of “ancient ruins.”

So verses 4-9 picture the mission of the church, now unfolding for twenty centuries, to build the new Jerusalem living stone by living stone, quarried from Satan’s dark kingdom. Certainly the church has done literal rebuilding of physical ruins: after earthquakes, after wars, after floods, the church is there to help rebuild. But the real rebuilding of ruins is done within a single human heart who genuinely repents of sin and turns to God through Christ. The rubble of personal sin is cleared away, and a “righteous tree” grows up for all to see.

Messiah’s people are given a role as “the Lord’s priests” (v. 6). To them has been committed the good news that Jesus first announced in Nazareth. These priests of the Lord minister the word of God to every tribe, language, people, and nation on earth. Those who repent and believe from all the Gentile nations will honor the messengers and lavishly enrich them (vv. 5-7). God’s hatred of injustice will find fruition in the mission of his “priests.” Where Messiah’s people had once been disgraced, they will be held in honor, recognized as the Lord’s blessed covenant people (v. 8).

The Messiah’s Garments of Joy, Righteousness, and Salvation

Isaiah 61:10-11

The chapter concludes with the Messiah (Jesus) speaking again of how God the Father has robed and equipped him to be Savior of the world. Verse 10 is written in the first person, as Christ declares his supreme delight in his Father. These verses also embody what his chosen people will experience in their relationship with the Father through Christ’s imputed righteousness: a worldwide harvest of righteousness and praise for God.


As we read this chapter, we must begin where the chapter ends up: worship. If the Messiah’s mission has redeemed us, the clearest evidence will be the desire we have to give him praise and worship.

Second, we are led to meditate on God’s amazing grace to such degraded sinners as we were. We were enslaved through our own willful rebellion. The ashes of disgrace on us were well earned. We were not merely victims of sin and Satan’s oppression; we were oppressors ourselves. But God, in the richness of his mercy and love toward us, has given us a crown, oil, and rich garments instead of our chains, stench, and rags.

Third, we should be energetic in the mission the Messiah has entrusted to us: to proclaim liberty to the captives all over the earth. By proclaiming and living out the truth of his Word, we will rebuild ancient cities and clear away piles of rubble. This points to the need to build healthy local churches that are obedient to the full commands of the Bible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Healthy local churches are colonies of heaven, havens of peaceful order in the midst of a war zone of sin’s destruction.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How does this chapter display the magnificence of Jesus Christ as the Messiah?
  2. What kind of courage do you think Jesus displayed by proclaiming he fulfilled this chapter?
  3. What is the significance of the expression “year of the Lord’s favor”? How does it relate to 2 Corinthians 6:2?
  4. Read about the Jubilee in Leviticus 25. How does this picture the “year of the Lord’s favor”?
  5. How is the plight of sinners enslaved in Satan’s dark kingdom pictured in the words of this chapter?
  6. What lavish gifts of grace does Jesus give to sinners according to verses 1-3?
  7. How do verses 4-9 picture the church’s ministry in the world?
  8. What does verse 8 teach us about God’s holiness?
  9. How is Jesus described as arrayed for his role as Savior in verse 10 (Heb 1:9)?
  10. How does verse 11 picture a harvest of righteousness and praise all over the world as a result of Christ’s ministry?