Although this chapter may not be long, it is very deep with meaning. As we move through verses that describe Jesus, the salvation of Zion and Zion’s praise, we will examine who the speaker is in the three divided sections below. The true speaker is not always instantly identifiable, nor can they always be identified with certainty.
Verses 1-3: Christ or Isaiah?
One might read this passage and ask themselves, who’s speaking: Christ or Isaiah? A case can be made for either. Let’s look at the tasks that list the work of the speaker:
1. Preach good tidings to the poor
2. Heal the brokenhearted
3. Proclaim liberty to the captives
4. Free those in prison
5. Proclaim judgment day/God’s vengeance
6. Comfort the mourners
7. Console Israel
8. Replace ashes with beauty
9. Replace morning with joyous anointment
10. Replace the spirit of heaviness with the garment of praise
Many of these tasks are general enough to float from Isaiah to Christ for meaning but there are a few that lean more towards Jesus when we consider the deeper meaning of the statement.
For instance, both Isaiah and Christ proclaim liberty to captives; one physical liberty from enslavement and the other spiritual liberty from sin. Also, both Isaiah and Christ replace the mourning state with a joyous one with their respective messages.
These three verses are meant to come from both Isaiah and Christ on a certain level, but I believe that the more important message is to be had when we read these words as if they came from Christ. A question of audience is to be considered here as well. In Isaiah’s time, as Isaiah’s audience, these words would have comforted and encouraged; but we now see the deeper meaning due to the blessing of our later birth. So one could argue that the answer to the question of “Isaiah or Christ” is both.
But for our experience as living in the final days before Jesus’s return, it is more applicable to read verses 1-3 as the Words of Christ. To compound the belief that Christ is the true speaker, there are other very striking clues in the New Testament such as the attention to the poor, the humble and the meek. Do not the descriptors “poor,” “brokenhearted,” and “those who mourn” suggest the blessed ones mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:3-5
Another hint for our time that Jesus is the speaker is found in Luke 4:16-21. In this passage, Christ visits a synagogue and quotes from verses 1 and 2 of Isaiah 61 by way of referring to Himself:
“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”” Luke 4:16-21
Like so much of Isaiah, there is a lot of meaning packed into these verses. It is to our advantage as Christians and Bible students to revisit and reread often.
Verses 4-9: Isaiah or God?
In this section, we have a redemption story. As the Israelites return to Jerusalem, they rebuild and repair while strangers and foreigners work for them. The physical blessings give way to spiritual in verse 6 as Zion is named “priests of the Lord,” and “servants of our God.” Double honor and double blessings abound as they receive everlasting joy.
God is the speaker for this section as evinced by verse 8: “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering; I will direct their work in truth, And will make with them an everlasting covenant.” Only Almighty God can make such claims. He goes on to say that their blessings and their identity as the Lord’s will be known.
While verses 4-9 deal with the physical redemption of the remnant to Zion, they also retain memorable spiritual undertones. When Zion is rebuilding in verse 4, there is a spiritual connection because as sinners, we are a destroyed house. But with God, we build a strong dwelling in which He lives: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” I Corinthians 6:19-20
And there is also callback to Isaiah 28 that perhaps more perfectly makes the spiritual connection: “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.” Isaiah 28:16
Finally, as the people rebuild and are established, it reminds us of how we are truly established when we build our house on the rock of God: “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25
Verses 10-11: God or Zion?
As we close out this chapter, there is a celebration of joy in the salvation that God has provided. Zion speaks as a nation here, rather than Isaiah speaking for the nation. Zion is releasing a flood of recognition and gratitude. The language goes yet deeper into the figurative as Zion wears a robe of righteousness and is decorated as a bride or bridegroom with ornaments and jewels. Indeed, God will cause righteousness and praise to grow, an exhibition through the blessed to those living without God.
However, if one stops to consider it, these blessings will not come to the people for hundreds of years. So if that is the case, Israel could not yet be acknowledging these blessings because they had not occurred yet. So, from this perspective, it is God speaking, or rather, it is God prophesying.
However we look at this chapter, there are three facts within to remember:
1. God made a way for His chosen people to return to Him
2. God brought the righteous remnant to peace, protecting the path of Jesus
3. Through this plan, the extended hand of Christ invites us to cast our cares and worries upon Him:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:1-6
While we have taken pains to answer who the speaker is in each of these sections, we need to remain sensible by remembering that all of the words were physically spoken or written or dictated by Isaiah. The “speaker” in the Bible is always God, but intricately examining the “speakers” in the way we have for chapter 61 reveals a deep and rewarding meaning.
It is profound and it is the amazing Word of God.