In this study of Luke 4:18, we now come to one of the more difficult lines in the passage. Part of the difficulty here is that the word for captives (aichmalōtos) is only used here in the New Testament. This makes it hard to cross references passages to try and find out what Jesus meant. So, we have to turn to other resources to discover who exactly the captives are. Another major help in determining the meaning of “captives” will be to do a brief study of the word “release” as its used in this passage. Finally, like we did in the second part, we can go to Jesus’s sermon which is sandwiched between two similar citations of Isaiah 61 to see if anything in that sermon can help us better understand our text.
Captives, Release, and Forgiveness
While the Greek word for captives is only used once in the New Testament, there are twenty-four occurrences of it in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament, LXX). One of these, of course, is Isaiah 61:1, so since Jesus had no problem translating the Hebrew into our word in the Greek, these other twenty-four occurrences may come in handy.
The LXX uses this word to talk about kidnapped livestock, exiles, and prisoners. Seeing that the Jews were under Roman occupation, the most obvious option to us would be to read this as some sort of liberation from Roman occupation, something they would have associated with the arrival of the kingdom of God.
While the above solution appears to be most natural, there is a small catch that has to do with the word “release.” In the New Testament, this word is translated forgiveness in fifteen out of seventeen times. When we look at the Hebrew word, which is only used seven times, it appears to be primarily connected with the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee was a year when debts would be forgiven, property would be returned, and when people who sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts would be released.
This is how the term is used in Jeremiah 34 as well, but Jeremiah also reveals that this commandment wasn’t followed consistently, and that some were profaning the name of God by taking back his male and female servants who had been set free.
With all of this background information, let’s take a look at Luke 6.
Jesus’s Sermon in Luke 6
Since we already covered this passage in the previous article, let’s just look at one short passage:
If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.Luke 6:34–38
Jesus’s sermon teaches us something about the year of Jubilee, and it reveals something about the nature of the captivity Jesus had in mind. While it was true that they were under Roman occupation, and while it is true that some of them were trying to work off impossible debts, it is also true that they were “in bondage” to sin. So the year of Jubilee pointed to a greater spiritual truth of release from sin.
The kingdom of God provides an escape from both.
On one hand, our king Jesus shows us that God is a God who forgives. On the other hand, the heavenly kingdom of God overthrows all principalities and powers. It tears down kingdoms and crushes the most oppressive nations like the stone in Daniel 2 because all of the kingdoms in the world are temporary while it is eternal. Not only that, but the gospel contains within it the seed to take down any form of oppression.
Think about Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, and to Philemon. While he doesn’t attack slavery in the way we would want him to, he forces the people who lived in that culture to recognize that everyone is an equal. It doesn’t matter what your nationality is, what your social class is, or if you are male or female, God sees no difference so neither should we. That kind of message can take down entire empires.
The captives in Jesus’s message are captives of every kind, spiritual and physical. In the article yesterday we talked about how our spiritual wealth should lead us to caring for the economically poor. Likewise, our spiritual freedom should cause us to desire liberation for those under every kind of unjust captivity whether it is life under an oppressive regime, poor people who are captive to predatory loans like in Leviticus 25:35-37, and especially those who are spiritually captive.
Jesus was anointed to proclaim liberty to the captives. Why should our ministry be any different?