The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called mighty oaks, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)Luke recorded in his account of Jesus' life that on a Sabbath Day in Nazareth Jesus stood before everyone in the Synagogue and read aloud from this passage in Isaiah (Luke 4:19-20). Notice where he stopped reading. Jesus stopped right after the words "in the year of the LORD's favor." As we can see the passage goes on to say "and the day of vengeance of our God." We will come back to this.
So part of the reason Jesus came to earth was "to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor" and ultimately, "the day of vengeance of our God." Jesus came here to tell us that there will be a time period of grace and a time period for the destruction of evil. These periods of time are described as a year of grace and a day of vengeance. In the light of New Testament Scripture one can not take these time periods literally, only figuratively. A long period of grace and a short period of vengeance.
Ok, vengeance is such a loaded word in our day and one that I still struggle with in the Scriptures. I do not have a complete understanding of why God would describe his justice this way, but I continue to search the scriptures and keep words like these in context of what I have learned about God from the whole of scripture and Jesus himself. To me the day of God's vengeance is simply the point in time when all evil will be destroyed by God. This may be an elementary understanding of what is meant, that in time I will see more clearly, but that is where I am right now.
So why didn't Jesus read aloud the rest of this passage? Why did Jesus stop just before the announcement of the coming point in history that God will destroy all evil?
When Isaiah originally spoke these words it was all about the future. When Jesus repeated these words it was about both the present time and a future time. Jesus spoke these words at the beginning of his public ministry. He quoted the Scripture that corresponded to his first and most immediate time on earth - the first coming. The rest of the sentence "the day of vengeance of our God" corresponds to his second coming. The Messiah's first coming was all about salvation and his second coming will be all about justice and the ultimate destruction of evil.
John Piper summarizes it this way: "...what Jesus says in Luke 4:18-19 at the outset of his ministry is that he is the Messiah and that he is ushering in a day of good news—a day of release and healing and liberation; and for now the day of vengeance is postponed."
The birth of Jesus was the beginning of a new age. It was the beginning of a period in history marked by release, healing, and liberation. A time of grace. We are in this time period right now. We are living during the year of the Lord's Favor. By the mercy of God we are living "in the day of salvation." Now is the time! Today!
For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)God is listening for our call. God hears us today and God will help us. Our help has arrived in Jesus.
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Photo Credit: The photo above titled "The Railway Station With A Myriad Of Trains And One Clock That Rules Them All" was uploaded to flickr.com by Peter from Wellington.