Luke’s inclusion of the Isaiah scroll in 4:14-19 points to the son of Mary- Jesus- as the anointed one who has come to bring justice for the downtrodden and marginalized. The question then arises, how is the community of believers (aka the church) supposed to understand and act upon this prophetic announcement? Does Jesus’ proclamation of his spirit-empowered identity in any way inform those who follow him about their own identity? John’s vision of the throne room of God in Revelation 5, I will suggest, illuminates our understanding of the identity of Jesus as the Χριστός (the Christ/Messiah/Anointed One), and thus elucidates our understanding of the identity of Jesus’s followers, namely the community of believers.
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:14-19)
In Luke 4, the recipients of Jesus’s prophetic proclamation are the following: the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. His announcement is one of justice and δεκτός (which can be rendered as “acceptance” or “favor”). In the contained passage of 4:14-44, the reader finds no description of how the Christ is to accomplish this work, merely that he will fulfill this prophecy. Though there is no doubt Jesus did literally bring sight to many blind individuals, I would posit that the capacity in which he fulfills the message of the Isaiah text is made possible through unexpected means. How does the Χριστός establish this reign of God which makes all things right?
Revelation 5 describes John’s encounter in the throne room of God, in which John is distraught because there is no one to open the scroll which would unleash God’s justice. As John weeps, the reader is told, “And one of the elders said to [John], ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” This conquering lion is none other than Jesus the Christ, who comes from the davidic line. Therefore, Jesus is the one who alone is able to usher in this reign of God on earth, which brings the reader back to the passage of Luke 4:14-44. In Luke, Jesus is the spirit-empowered anointed one who brings justice to the marginalized, while in Revelation, Jesus is portrayed as the heaven-exalted conquering one who alone is able to bring justice to the earth. As John hears about the conquering lion, he looks to view this exalted one and does not see a lion, rather he sees a lamb. Thus, the way in which Jesus conquers is as a lamb— a sacrificial lamb. The sacrificial lamb alone is able to “take the scroll and to open its seals.” The elders’ song expounds upon this further by explicitly stating why this lion/lamb is indeed worthy in verse 9: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God…” (emphasis added). Herein the reader is given a glimpse of Christ’s radical, unexpected reversal. Jesus’ way of establishing reign is not through initiating a forced kingdom, but by way of death. Therefore, perhaps we are illuminated to exactly how Jesus is able to proclaim and does proclaim the “year of the Lord’s acceptance” to those in need of justice in the Lukan text; he establishes the favorable reign of God through radical self-sacrifice. Jesus’ identity as the spirit-empowered, justice-announcing Χριστός finds its manifestation in his miracles and perhaps, even more so, finds its conquering authority in the greatest act of self-sacrifice, namely, the cross.
Having established a clearer picture of who the Anointed One is and the means by which he enacts this identity, we can now turn to what this consequently entails for the praxis and belief of the community of followers. For this, the following passage from Revelation 5 is key, as is the list of Jesus’ recipients of justice in chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel.
“…by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9b-10) (emphasis added)
Reading Luke 4:14-44 and Revelation 5 together, with the goal of guiding the community, brings about a valuable understanding to what the identity of the community that announces the message of Jesus is and how exactly the community is to embody this message.
In verse 9 of Revelation 5, the elders describe the diversity of the people who had been “ransomed” for God. Here we encounter the emergence of the idea of God’s δεκτός for all people regardless of race, culture, or background. The people of God are not just Jews who have been accepted (which is perhaps contrary to what the audience of Jesus’ message at Nazareth would expect); rather, God’s community is composed of people from many nations. Furthermore, Jesus seems to anticipate this when he points to the Phoenician widow and Naaman the Syrian in Luke 4. In fact, upon this reference to the acceptance of Gentile individuals, the congregation of Nazareth proceeded to reject the message of Jesus. Overall, Revelation 5, in conversation with the Lukan text, gives the reader a clearer picture of what the community of God was to be— not one of homogeneity, but rather it is to be an incredibly diverse, multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural body.
The elders subsequently declare that the members of this diverse community have been made “a kingdom and priests.” Priests, in the Old Testament, played a mediatorial role between God and the people. God’s reign and kingdom, then, is one that is enacted by his people, his priests. Understanding this, we return to Jesus’ words regarding his spirit-empowered mission: proclaiming good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. The community of believers, as priests, are thus called to mediate this justice-defined reign of God by living lives that perform this justice. The community, in the path of Christ, is called to follow the example of Christ by enacting good news to the poor, bringing liberty to the captives, bringing sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor to all people.
The community, under the reign of God, must then realize how this reign is fully made manifest. Jesus, the conquering lion, establishes his reign not through force done unto others, but rather through self-sacrifice as the slain lamb. This reign is made evident in God’s people, therefore, not through dominance, but through self-sacrifice. The community is called to usher in the reign of God in the footsteps of Christ by lowering itself in acts of radical selflessness. The spirit-empowered Χριστός lifts up his people by lowering himself for the sake of others, and thus his spirit-empowered priests must do the same.
Jesus, the Anointed One, is the only one who is able to open the scroll of Revelation 5, and I believe that this self-sacrificial announcer of justice is also the only one who is able to open/fulfill the scroll of Isaiah in Luke 4. The reign of God is characterized by justice for the lowly, but it is shockingly and beautifully made possible by the lowering of the one who is to be exalted. The priestly community of believers, seeking to fulfill the call to live as God’s people under God’s reign, must then live out this reign as Christ did— through radical self-denial that is directed towards the downtrodden, empowered by the Spirit, and announced to the nations.
(disclaimer: this was originally my submitted paper on reading a Luke passage in conversation with a different New Testament text for a class on Jesus and the Gospels!)
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