“and to the ones imprisoned—liberation!”
This final clause in Isaiah 61:1 naturally follows the previous statement. With the coming of the Messiah, the chains of bondage to sin are released, they are broken, and the prison cells of death have been opened wide. Indeed, our Lord proclaimed just that message:
“Truly, Truly, I say to you that an hour is coming and is now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and the ones who hear will live.”
The final clause in this verse, which I have translated as “liberation,” is a Hebrew idiom comprised of two similar ideas for release, or delivery from prison: x;Aq-xq;P. (peqach-qoach). The key to remember here is that the language reflects the idea of being released by someone else from something that you could not free yourself of. In other words, it reflects the idea of being liberated and not the idea of escape. Indeed, there are many human bonds and constraints that we may be able to throw off on our own strength, but sin and death are the two things that have bound us as a race in a way that we are helpless against apart from a divine act of liberation. And indeed, dear friends, this is the liberation that is worked by Christ Jesus!
It is worth pointing out that the language of “liberation” has been used by some in our culture to promote an un-Biblical political theology. “Liberation Theology” as it has been called, takes passages like this and argues that the purpose of Christ’s life and death was to open up avenues for relief from political oppression. This theological model has then been adapted to meet the specific needs of particular groups. Thus, there has been Feminist Liberation Theology, Black Liberation Theology, Hispanic Liberation Theology, etc… And while genuine Christianity lived out does seek to lift people from their oppressed conditions (the abolishment of the slave-trade, for example), this particular theology seeks to reverse the roles, placing the oppressed in a position where they can now oppress their former oppressors.
Not only does this theology blend political Marxism with a mis-interpretation of scripture, but it also departs from the witness of historical Christianity, where believers have regularly sought to evangelize their oppressors. More importantly, it misses the whole point of Christ’s atoning and liberating work. Jesus did not come to serve a political agenda, he came to redeem us from our sins. He did not come to make it possible for us to throw off our earthly oppressors; he came to redeem us from the eternal judgment of God. It misses the point when Jesus says, “blessed are those who have been persecuted in the name of righteousness…” (Matthew 5:10). In addition, does not Peter also teach us that it is of no merit if we suffer for our sin (1 Peter 2:20)? Instead of repaying evil for evil, are we not to repay evil with good (1 Peter 3:8-9)?
Beloved, rejoice in the liberation that you have been given, but understand what Jesus is liberating you from. You are being liberated from sin and death; you are being liberated from the fate of eternal judgment! How much greater and more wonderful is this liberation than anything that men can work in this world! How much more permanent this liberation is! Don’t be fooled, loved ones, by the false teachers that surround you—search the scriptures and guard your heart, for there are many who would lead you astray. Be like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:10-11) and do not follow the lies of those who would manipulate God’s word to serve their own ends.
“For this is no empty word for you, but it is your life. And in this word your days will be made long upon the ground which you are passing over the Jordan to inherit there.” (Deuteronomy 32:47)