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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 61

Verse 1

The interpretation of this chapter derives from no less an authority than the Head of our Holy Religion, Jesus Christ himself, of whom Luke wrote, as follows:

"And he (Christ) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the book and found the place where it was written. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened upon him. And he began to say unto them, Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:16-21).

The quotation which Jesus read to the people that day is that of the first verse of this chapter, read apparently from the LXX, because the line about "recovering of sight to the blind" is from that version of the Old Testament, not from the ASV.

Chapter and verse divisions of the Old Testament were not known when Jesus read this passage; but there can be little or no doubt that Christ here identified himself and his ministry with the entire passage which includes this chapter.

We feel very strong disapproval of those "scholars" whose writings refuse to recognize the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, the Christ, as the speaker here. This writer has just finished reading a half dozen of them, marveling at the pains they take to "Kiss the calf" (Hosea 13:2), that is, declare their allegiance to the critical enemies of the word of God, by accepting their impossible proposition that the opening word s of this chapter refer to the prophet Isaiah as the speaker.

"That the speaker here is not Isaiah, but the Great Messiah is an interpretation that derives from the highest possible authority, the words of Jesus of Nazareth ... No principle of accommodation, or of secondary application can at all satisfy any other view. The Christ unequivocally applied the passage to his own commission."[1]

Isaiah 61:1-3

"The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me; because Jehovah hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the year of Jehovah's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, that he may be glorified."

"The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me ..." (Isaiah 61:1). This is a reference to the baptism of Christ (Matthew 3:16f), upon which occasion the Spirit of God in the form of a dove descended and alighted upon Jesus, remaining upon him. Nothing like this is written of Isaiah. Jesus Christ alone possessed the Spirit of God without limitation (John 3:34).

Furthermore, as Hailey noted, "The message and work of the Speaker here far transcend those of a prophet, even Isaiah; they are characteristic of deity."[2] Also, as Rawlinson noted, "It is contrary to the entire spirit of Isaiah's writings for him to have glorified himself in such language as that which appears here."[3] Without any question whatever, we have here another passage like the others labeled "The Song of the Servant." This writer is happy to identify himself as among those mentioned by Kelley: "Some have interpreted these verses as a fifth Servant Song (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12)."[4] This interpretation is required by simple logic. The Suffering Servant is Christ; this passage refers to Christ; therefore, the passage refers to the Suffering Servant, regardless of the fact that the title does not appear in the passage!

"To preach the gospel to the poor (the meek in the ASV) ..." (Isaiah 61:1). Our Lord referred to this paragraph when he replied to John the Baptist's inquiry, "Art thou he that should come, or look we for another"? (Matthew 11:3-4), again identifying himself as the speaker here.

To the generation of the exiles in Babylon who first received Isaiah's prophecy, the dramatic import of these words is that God would release them from their Babylonian bondage; but when Christ applied these words to himself, that bondage had ended long ago; and it was evident that Christ referred to an even greater deliverance of men, their deliverance from the captivity and bondage of sin. Our Lord did not come to earth on a mission of getting people out of jail!

"The opening of the prison to them that are bound ..." (Isaiah 61:1). "This must be interpreted spiritually, as John the Baptist had to learn."[5] There is no record of Jesus' having procured the release of anyone from an actual prison.

"The year of Jehovah's favor ..." (Isaiah 61:2). This is a reference to the year of Jubilee; and from this has come the recognition that the reign of Messiah is the earth's "Jubilee" from the darkness of paganism.

"The planting of Jehovah ..." (Isaiah 61:3). This identifies the "trees of righteousness" in the passage as members of the body of Christ (See Isaiah 60:21).

Verse 4

"And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations."

Although fulfilled in a token manner by the return from Babylon, the true meaning here goes far beyond that. The apostles and prophets of the first century Church applied such passages spiritually, as follows:

As it is written, After these things I will return and build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen; and I will build again the ruins thereof (Acts 15:16).

Verse 5

"And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers."

That there should be a new society in which the Jews would be the favored upper crust, and that the Gentiles would do all of their menial work is a perverted interpretation of these words. As Barnes explained it: "The idea is that it would be a time of signal spiritual prosperity, and that it would be so great and glorious as if foreigners were to come in among the people and take over the whole labor of attending their flocks and cultivating their fields."[6]

Verse 6

"And ye shall be named the priests of Jehovah; men shall call you the ministers of our God: ye shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves."

If there had been any doubt of this chapter's application to the reign of Messiah, the question would have been settled here. Only the members of the Church of the firstborn were ever designated collectively as "priests of God" (1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 5:10). "Neither will there be a clergy distinct from the laity, for all will be called the ministers of our God."[7]

Verse 7

"Instead of your shame ye shall have double; and instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be unto them. For I, Jehovah, love justice, I hate robbery with iniquity; and I will give them their recompense in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. And your seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Jehovah hath blessed."

Here we have a recapitulation of the marvelous blessings to be attained through Messiah, presented here in literal, materialistic terms, but undoubtedly having a spiritual meaning.

Note Isaiah 61:8, where robbers are promised God's vengeance in the same breath with the promise of God's everlasting covenant. A covenant with the robbers? Certainly not. This is characteristic of Isaiah and of all the prophets, that the blind, deluded, deaf, and hardened Israel is frequently mentioned in the same sentence with the Ideal Israel of the "righteous remnant." The "covenant" is definitely a reference to Christ. Many able scholars seem to be totally unaware of this.

Speaking of the middle verses of this chapter, McGuiggan stated, "We need to bear in mind that this is all a description of the glory of the Jew."[8] In fairness, we do not know exactly what was meant by this; but it should be remembered that in the Dispensation of the Love of Christ, "there is no distinction" between Jew and Gentile, none whatever. If, by the Jew, one means racial Jews, nothing could be further from the truth. Race has no bearing whatever upon salvation, neither guaranteeing it to anyone whomsoever, or denying it to anyone whomsoever!

Verse 10

"I will greatly rejoice in Jehovah, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with a garland, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth its bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth: so the Lord Jehovah will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations."

These verses also must be identified with the New Covenant in Christ. Only "in him" is there salvation. The only true righteousness this world ever knew is "in Christ"; and those who wish to share in it must do so in the way God has directed. For any who hope to be clothed with the garments of righteousness mentioned here, there is one way for it to happen, "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, and "putting on Christ" is equivalent to putting on the righteousness of Christ. The righteous life pledged in the ceremony is also required.

Before leaving this chapter, we note that Douglas has cited at least twenty close resemblances and correspondences between this chapter and the chapters of Isaiah prior to Isaiah 40.[9]

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 61". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.