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03-12-06-Year of Jubilee-Releasing the Prisoners

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We have been looking at the passage of scripture in Luke 4:18-19, where Jesus was in the synagogue at Nazareth.  The scroll of Isaiah was handed to Him and He found the place in Isaiah 61:1-2 and read it.  Then He sat down and declared that He was the Messiah (The Anointed One) who had come to declare the Year of Jubilee. 

We have learned that the Year of Jubilee, which occurred every 50 years, brought liberty, restoration, release, rest, thanksgiving, and faith to God’s people.  Jesus said that His mission was to:

1.  Preach the Good News to the Poor—Poverty (Physical & Spiritual)

2. Heal the Brokenhearted—Sorrow/Grief (Emotional)

3.  Proclaim Freedom for the Captives—Bondage (Spiritual)

4. Recovery of Sight for the Blind—Blindness (Physical & Spiritual)

5.  Release the Oppressed—Oppressed (Physical & Spiritual)

In this final message on this passage we want to look at the phrase to release the oppressed (prisoners).

Luke 4: 18-19 (NIV) “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Isaiah 61:1-2 (NIV) The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach 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, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

Two weeks ago we looked at the phrase proclaiming freedom to the captives.  At first, it appears that the phrases proclaim freedom for the prisoners and release the oppressed (NIV) are the same.  Or in Isaiah proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners (NIV) are the same.  However, as we look at the words that are used we will discover that they are different and have different meanings. 

We learned that a captive is one who is carried or lead away against their will.  We saw how Israel had been carried into captivity twice (Egypt & Babylon).  They lived in the land as slaves, yet they were not in prison at the time.

A prisoner on the other hand does not have to be a captive.  A prisoner is one who is bound or tied up and put in prison.  Often, the Hebrew word asar is used to describe the “binding” of prisoners with cords and various chains (e.g. Joseph bound up his brother Simeon Gen. 42:24).  In fact, the first use of the word is in Gen. 39:20, which tells how Joseph was “imprisoned” after being wrongfully accused by Potiphar’s wife.

What is one of the greatest stories of the Old Testament that talks about a man being bound up and put in prison?  Hint:  he was a very strong man, he killed many Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, he solved riddles, and he was able to break any binding put on him until the secret of his strength was discovered— that his hair had never been cut.  Why of course—Samson!   Samson was bond with new ropes (Judg. 15:10, 12-13), yet when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, he broke them like they were nothing more than flax (which was used as thread on a spinning wheel).  He misled Delilah as she asked for the secret of his strength, telling her to “bind” him with bowstrings (Judges 16:7 NLT, NKJV) and new ropes (Judges 16:11), none of which could hold him.

King Zedekiah was captured by the Babylonians and bound, then put in prison.  So here is an example of both a captive and a prisoner. 

Jer 52:11 (NIV) Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon, where he put him in prison till the day of his death.

But Jesus would not have read this passage from Isaiah without knowing that what He was saying might seem repetitious to some.  So what was Isaiah saying in this verse?  He was trying to make sure that they understood that the Messiah would come to not only set them free from their captivity to sin but also to release them from the prison that they were in of bondage to sin.

The Hebrew word asar that is used for bind is also the same word that is used to tie up horses or donkeys or harness oxen with a yoke.

631 אָסַר [’acar /aw·sar/] v. A primitive root; TWOT 141; GK 673; 72 occurrences; AV translates as “bind” 47 times, “prison” four times, “tie” four times, “prisoner” twice, and translated miscellaneously 15 times. 1 to tie, bind, imprison. 1a (Qal). 1a1 to tie, bind. 1a2 to tie, harness. 1a3 to bind (with cords). 1a4 to gird (rare and late). 1a5 to begin the battle, make the attack. 1a6 of obligation of oath (figurative). 1b (Niphal) to be imprisoned, bound. 1c (Pual) to be taken prisoner.


˒asar (אָסַר, 631), “to bind, imprison, tie, gird, to harness.” This word is a common Semitic term, found in both ancient Akkadian and Ugaritic, as well as throughout the history of the Hebrew language. The word occurs around 70 times in its verbal forms in the Hebrew Old Testament. . . . The common word for “tying up” for security and safety, ˒asar is often used to indicate the tying up of horses and donkeys (2 Kings 7:10). Similarly, oxen are “harnessed” to carts (1 Sam. 6:7, 10). . .

‘asar also refers to those who are spiritually “bound” (Ps. 146:7; Isa. 49:9; 61:1). [i]

Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1, 2 and inserts a phrase from Isaiah 58:6, following the Septuagint version (Septuagint or LXX was a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures named after the 70 translators.  This is why sometimes the there is a difference between the Old Testament passage and how it is quoted in the New Testament.  In the New Testament, it is usually quoted using the LXX.)

Isaiah 58:6 (NIV) “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?


6585 עֹל (˓ol): n.masc.; ≡ Str 5923; TWOT 1628a—LN 6.4-6.9 yoke, i.e., usually wooden bar and frame with straps, used on beasts of burden for plowing and pulling loads (Nu 19:2), note: often as a reference to oppression or burden, see also domain LN 22.21–22.28[ii]

“In prophetic writings, the yoke of bondage was generally associated with divine judgment (Lam 1:14), so that deliverance was represented as God breaking the yoke that had enslaved Israel (Is 9:4; 10:27; 14:25; 58:6; Jer 2:20; 5:5). . . In the NT, Jesus transforms “yoke” into a positive term by calling on people to take up his yoke, which is not burdensome, and he will give them rest for their souls (Mt 11:29–30).”[iii]

Now I think we are starting to see the true meaning of what Jesus was saying.  As the Messiah He came to not only preach the good news to the poor, heal the broken hearted, proclaim freedom to the captives, bring recovery of sight to the blind, but also to release those who have are bound by the yoke of sin--“every yoke.”  He came with the authority of God that He had the power to not only forgive sins but also to set us free from its oppression and weight.

Have you ever felt like you have a harness (yoke) around your neck?  Even as a Christian?  There is something that keeps you bound and drags you around like you are part of a team of horses?  You want to break free, but you cannot.  Jesus came to set us free from that yoke of bondage—whatever it is!

Jesus said that He did not come to put a heavy burden on us, but to bring us rest from our burden.  As we yoke up with Him, He carries the burden and sets us free.

Matt 11: 28-29 (NIV) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

What a paradox it is—to be yoked with Christ means freedom!  That is because He is the one who carries the load, not us.  To be yoked to Jesus is to make ourselves subject to His direction and guidance, learning from Him and being obedient to Him.  It is in our obedience to God’s Word and His Spirit that we truly learn to be set free from the bondage of sin.  Here is another great exchange—He takes our yoke upon Himself, and gives us His yoke that is light so we can have rest for our souls.  What amazing grace our God gives to us!

Now let’s not miss the symbolism here in using the word yoke—God was in an amazing way demonstrating how He would set us free.  The yoke is a piece of wood that was a bar that would go across the backs of the animals so that they could carry the burden of a wagon or plow or heavy load.  There was a bar placed across the back of Jesus when He was lead to the hill of Golgotha to be crucified!   Do you see that Jesus took the yoke of sin upon Himself when He was crucified upon the cross!   He bore the heavy burden that we were carrying and it was nailed it the tree. 

“As further humiliation for the victim and as a deterrent to potential offenders, the person condemned to crucifixion was first flogged, then ordered to carry the horizontal crossbeam to the place of execution, where it was hoisted onto the vertical pole. Accordingly, Jesus carried his own crossbeam (John 19:17), though he was later relieved by Simon of Cyrene (Matt. 27:32 par. Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26).”[1]

“. . .the cross is the symbol of our union with Christ, not simply in virtue of our following his example, but in virtue of what he has done for us and in us. In his substitutionary death for us on the cross, we died ‘in him’ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14), and ‘our old man is crucified with him’, that by his indwelling Spirit we might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4ff.; Gal. 2:20; 5:24ff.; 6:14), abiding ‘in him’.”[2]

Jesus died on the cross so that we could be set free.  Our old man was crucified with Him and we now are new creations (2 Cor 5:17).

As Jesus declared to His listeners in Nazareth that He was the Messiah, He was telling them that He had come to set them free.  Announcing that the Year of Jubilee was upon them and they no longer had to live in bondage.  The Year of Jubilee is a time of setting the prisoners free, removing the yoke of bondage and sin from us.

Isaiah 49:8-9 (NIV) This is what the Lord says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, 9 to say to the captives (bound NASB), ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ “They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill.

What is it that has you bound today?  A lustful eye, a prideful heart, a secret addiction to pornography, or a lazy spirit.  Maybe it is just a constant anger or jealousy.  Whatever yoke you have around your neck, it came from the enemy, not God.  He wants to drag you around by it and keep you as his prisoner.  But the good news is that Jesus came as our Redeemer to set us free—all we have to do is give our yoke to Him and He will bear the burden for you.  He has already paid the price on the cross for it.  Jesus says plainly that people are really free when the Son sets them free (John 8:36).    Be set free today in Jesus!


LIBERTY* Quality or state of being free. In the ancient world slavery was universal. The law of Moses provided that a Hebrew slave serve six years and go free in the seventh (Ex 21:2). This provision of the law lies behind Jeremiah 34, a passage that makes two things plain: (1) what the law required was recognized, but (2) many failed to comply with it. But whatever the practice, the law enshrined the principle of freedom. After each 49 years there was to be a jubilee year when all property would be returned to its original owners and slaves would be freed (Lv 25:8–24; cf. Ez 46:17).

Liberty might be given a slave for other reasons. If his owner destroyed the sight in an eye or knocked a tooth out, the slave must be freed for the loss of his eye or tooth (Ex 21:26–27). In a somewhat gloomy passage Job reflects that in Sheol “the slave is free from his master” (Jb 3:19). In another vein he appreciates the freedom of the wild ass (39:5).

When the Messiah comes, one of his tasks will be “to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Is 61:1). OT believers thought of this liberty in terms of freedom from foreign domination. But the Messiah is concerned basically with setting people’s spirits free. Liberty is a way of life before God, as well as a state of being free from shackles.

In the NT freedom is sometimes seen as a literal release from captivity. For example, all four Gospels refer to the Jewish custom of having a prisoner set free at Passover (see Mk 15:6–15). There are references also to the release of prisoners (see Acts 3:13; 16:35). Paul encouraged Christian slaves to get their freedom if they could (1 Cor 7:21), and he personally advocated the freedom of Onesimus, a slave who had run away from his master, Philemon (see Phlm). But Paul did not advocate freedom from slavery as part of the Christian gospel. Rather, he emphasized freedom in Christ for all the believers—both those who are free and those who are slaves.

The freedom that matters is the freedom Christ gives. Jesus says plainly that people are really free when the Son sets them free (Jn 8:36). Paul exults in the freedom that Jesus Christ brings (Rom 7:24–25). The same idea can be expressed in terms of the truth making people free (Jn 8:32); of course, these words must be understood in light of the fact that Jesus is himself the truth (Jn 14:6). This is not the philosophical concept that error enslaves men while truth has a liberating effect. Truth here is that truth that is associated with Jesus, “the word of the truth, the gospel” (Col 1:5). Paul says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17, rsv).

The NT is insistent that, left to themselves, people cannot defeat sin. And this is a fact of life of which the modern world affords ample proof. We may earnestly desire to do good, but evil is too powerful for us. We cannot do the good we wish to do (Rom 7:21–23). But because of Christ’s atoning work, the power of sin is broken. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2, rsv). This truth is insisted on again and again, and is expressed in a variety of ways.

But there is another freedom that belongs to the Christian—freedom from the law. There were many in the first century who saw the way of salvation as keeping the commandments of God. This was commonly urged among the Jews, and some of the first Christians seem to have taken up the idea from them. After all, it seems so obvious: if we lead good lives, we will be all right with God. The trouble with this position is that we do not lead good lives, for sin is too strong. But there is a further defect; namely, that the way of law is not the way for which Christ died. This is given special emphasis in Galatians, where Paul argues strongly that salvation is not by way of the law but by faith (Rom 4; Gal 3). He complains of people who slipped in to spy on the freedom they had in Christ Jesus (Gal 2:4). He points out that since Christ freed us, we ought not to get caught up in any form of bondage (5:1).

In one striking passage Paul looks for the whole creation to be liberated from the bondage of decay (Rom 8:21). It will in some way share in the liberty of the glory of God’s children. This points to a wonderful destiny for creation. And we should not miss the “glory” that the liberty of God’s children means.

There is an obvious temptation to presume on our freedom, since we do nothing to merit our salvation. But we are more than once warned not to misuse our liberty (Rom 6:1–4; Gal 5:13; 1 Pt 2:16). We must live as free people without making our liberty the means of bringing us into a new form of slavery of our own devising.[iv]

Isaiah 61:1 KJV opening of the prison to them that are bound;

6495.     פְּקַח־קוֹחַ pƒqach-qôwach, pek-akh-ko’-akh; from 6491 redoubled; opening (of a dungeon), i.e. jail-delivery (fig. salvation from sin):— opening of the prison.

631.     אָסַר asar (63c); a prim. root; to tie, bind, imprison:— began(1), begin(1), bind(8), bind me tightly(1), bind you fast(1), binds(3), bound(28), captivated(1), captured(1), confined(4), get ready(1), girded(1), harness(1), hitch(1), hitched(1), imprison(1), imprisoned(2), made his ready(2), prepare(1), prepared(1), prison*(3), prisoners(2), taken captive(1), tied(2), ties(1).

5 Happy 835 ptx is he hath the God 7945 410 of Jacob 3290 nn for his help, 5828 pp,nn,pnx whose hope 7664 nn,pnx is in 5921 pr the Lord 3068 nn his God: 430 pl,nn,pnx

6 Which made 6213 qpta heaven, 8064 du,nn and earth, 776 wcj,nn ⌜ 853 ⌟ the sea, 3220 df,nn and ⌜ 853 ⌟ wcj all 3605 cs,nn that 834 pnl therein pp,pnx is: which keepeth 8104 df,qpta truth 571 nn forever: 5769 pp,nn

7 Which executeth 6213 qpta judgment 4941 nn for the oppressed: 6231 dfp,pl,qptp which giveth 5414 qpta food 3899 nn to the hungry. 7457 dfp,aj The Lord 3068 nn looseth 5425 hipt the prisoners: 631 pl,qptp [v]

Thus says the Lord,

“In a afavorable time I have answered You,

And in a day of salvation I have helped You;

And I will bkeep You and cgive You for a covenant of the people,

To 1drestore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages;

     9     Saying to those who are abound, ‘Go forth,’

To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’

Along the roads they will feed,

And their pasture will be on all bbare heights.[vi]

To be a great Redeemer. He not only proclaims liberty to the captives, as Cyrus did to the Jews in Babylon (Whoever will, may go up), but he sets at liberty them that are bruised; he doth by his Spirit incline and enable them to make use of the liberty granted, as then none did but those whose spirit God stirred up, Ezra i. 5.

He came in God’s name to discharge poor sinners that were debtors and prisoners to divine justice. The prophets could but proclaim liberty, but Christ, as one having authority, as one that had power on earth to forgive sins, came to set at liberty; and therefore this clause is added here. Dr. Lightfoot thinks that, according to a liberty the Jew allowed their readers, to compare scripture with scripture, in their reading, for the explication of the text, Christ added it from Isa. lviii. 6, where it is made the duty of the acceptable year to let the oppressed go free, where the phrase the LXX. uses is the same with this here.

“To set at liberty them that are bruised”: it is of the same significance with binding up the broken in heart.


[1]Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary. Rev., augm. translation of: Bijbelse encyclopedie. Rev. ed. 1975. (Page 246). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

[2]Wood, D. R. W., Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary. Includes index. (electronic ed. of 3rd ed.) (Page 247). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.


[i]Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (Vol. 1, Page 18). Nashville: T. Nelson.

n. noun, or nouns

masc. masculine

Str Strong’s Lexicon

TWOT Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament

LN Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon

[ii]Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.) (HGK6585). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[iii]Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). Tyndale Bible dictionary. Tyndale reference library (Page 1318). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

par. parallel

cf. confer (Lat.), compare

ff. and the following (verses, etc.)

rsv Revised Standard Version

[iv]Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). Tyndale Bible dictionary. Tyndale reference library (Page 816). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

ptx ptx     Particle of Exclamation (67: see 64)

nn nn     Noun (61: see 1, 9)

pp pp     Prefixed Preposition (81: see 11, 82)

pnx pnx     Pronominal Suffix (83: see 71)

pr pr     Preposition (82: see 81)

pl pl     Plural (80: see 14)

qpta qpta     Qal Participle Active (98: see 2, 63, 92)

du du     Dual (14: see 80)

wcj wcj     Waw Conjunctive (104)

df df     Definite Article (10: see 11)

cs cs     Construct (9: see 1)

pnl pnl     Relative Pronoun (102: see 84)

dfp dfp     Definite Article with a Prefixed Preposition (11: see 10, 81, 82)

qptp qptp     Qal Participle Passive (99: see 63, 69, 92)

aj aj     Adjective (4)

hipt hipt     Hiphil Participle (22: see 2, 16, 63)

[v]Zodhiates, S., & Baker, W. (2000, c1991, c1994). The complete word study Bible : King James Version. This electronic resource is a compilation of the The Complete Word Study Old Testament, edited by Warren Baker, and The Complete Word Study New Testament, edited by Spiros Zodhiates.; Words in the text numerically coded to Strong's Greek and Hebrew dictionary, introduction to each book, exegetical notes, grammatical codes on the text, lexical aids. (electronic ed.) (Ps 146:5-7). Chattanooga: AMG Publishers.

a Ps 69:13; 2 Cor 6:2

b Is 26:3; 27:3; 42:6

c Is 42:6

1 Lit establish

d Is 44:26

a Is 42:7; 61:1; Luke 4:18

b Is 41:18

[vi]New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Is 49:8). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

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