If the last line of Luke 4:18 seemed odd to us because Jesus cited the Septuagint (LXX) instead of the Hebrew text, then this will be even more puzzling to us because this line is found nowhere in Isaiah 61. Jesus omitted “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” in one place, and He added “to set free those who are oppressed” here. This part of the passage actually comes from Isaiah 58:6, not Isaiah 61.
So, why does Jesus, or perhaps Luke in his paraphrase of Jesus, add this citation from Isaiah 58, which appears somewhat random to us?
The answer might come from the context of Isaiah 58. Notice how similar chapter 58 is to chapter 61. As you read, pay attention to the themes of redemption, rescue, care for the poor, and the restoration of Israel .
Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday.
And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.Isaiah 58:5–12
If one is reading Isaiah through chapter by chapter, then the connection between Isaiah 58 and Isaiah 61 is obvious. We might not understand why exactly Luke recorded this citation in the way that he did, but it is apparent that he wanted us to connect the context of Isaiah 58 with the ministry of Jesus as well.
Now that we’ve looked at that, let’s go back to Luke 4:18 to talk about the oppressed.
Freedom from Oppression
First, the term “to set free” comes from the same Greek word used earlier in the verse for “release.” It is the same word translated forgiveness in every other place in Luke (1:77; 3:3; 24:47). This corresponds to the LXX which says to “send the broken ones [oppressed] forth in forgiveness.” What are they broken by? This word is used throughout the Greek Old Testament to talk about when someone shatters their enemies, like in Exodus 15:6. It is also used to talk about God smiting the people, Israel becoming afraid of their enemies, and something being shattered or broken.
Forgiveness plus this word oppression brings our minds right back to divinely appointed exile. Again, Jesus is working from the idea that when the kingdom of God would come, like in Daniel 2, the oppressing nations would be dealt with.
The reference to forgiveness in Luke 1:77 validates this interpretation in my mind.
In the prophesy of Zacharias, he talks about redemption for Israel, salvation from their enemies, being rescued from their enemies, and receiving forgiveness of sins. So it makes sense that his son John would preach baptism for the remission of sins in light of the “at hand” kingdom of God, and that Jesus, after comforting His disciples regarding His mission to redeem Jerusalem, would tell them to go out and preach forgiveness.
So, why was Jesus rejected by His hometown?
Like in Luke 24, Jesus doesn’t just promise redemption and freedom for His people, He also promises it to the nations as well. Keep in mind that the “Gentiles” weren’t just Roman citizens; they, too, were peasants living under Roman oppression who would receive great comfort from knowing that there is an authority higher than the gods and goddesses of Rome.
It is at Jesus’s comments concerning the Gentiles that the people turn on Him: “And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff” (Luke 4:28–29).
The gospel has a tendency to call people that we would never typically expect. Do we believe that God can send them away from their oppression forgiven as well? Or do we rush to throw them off a cliff? Jesus, and we as His bride, have been anointed to risk cliffs, chains, and crosses for the sake of one lost sheep, regardless of what everyone else thinks. The 1% matters just as much as the 99%.