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The Incredible Meaning of Jesus' Words "The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me"

The Incredible Meaning of Jesus' Words "The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me"

Of all the profound truths written by the prophets in the Old Testament, why did Jesus choose this verse for this time? Isaiah’s writings were particularly popular, and eventually would be quoted more times in the New Testament than all other prophets combined. But Jesus had a purpose. A mission about to begin.

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" – Isaiah 61:1

Jesus walked into the synagogue, as he would any other Sabbath. But this time, the people sensed something different. When the scroll was handed to Jesus, he found the passage that needed sharing. At this time. For this moment.

He spoke these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV). He stopped before the end of a verse, but said all that needed to be said.

When worshippers in the synagogue heard Jesus speak the words, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” they couldn’t take their eyes off him (Luke 4:20). They’d no doubt heard those words recited from the scrolls before, so why such a radical difference on this day? What incredible meaning was behind Jesus’ words?

Something had changed. The moment held special significance. They knew it then, and we can also celebrate it now. Discovering more about this phrase, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” will help us not only understand its meaning, but also find renewed hope in the unmatched message of Jesus Christ.

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Why Did Jesus Say “The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me?

Of all the profound truths written by the prophets in the Old Testament, why did Jesus choose this verse for this time? Isaiah’s writings were particularly popular, and eventually would be quoted more times in the New Testament than all other prophets combined. But Jesus had a purpose. A mission about to begin.

Let’s take a few steps back to the prior days in Jesus’ life and see what events led to this extraordinary Sabbath day. Luke chapter 3 records Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, when something remarkable happened. “The Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in a visible way.

What a miracle! Imagine being in the crowd of seekers that day waiting to be baptized and witnessing the Holy Spirit empower the son of God on this earth. It’s barely fathomable, but we know it happened. Jesus also knew what awaited him in the coming days and months, and he would need the Spirit to lead him. He would soon face things too difficult for human strength.

Leaving the Jordan, Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2). Hungry and exhausted, the devil threw everything he had at Jesus. Yet the Holy Spirit led Jesus there, stayed with him, and also guided him out. Luke assured us through his account, Jesus continued to walk in the Spirit. “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside” (Luke 4:14).

The Holy Spirit’s power to withstand the enemy’s worst attack gives us hope. Many times I feel overwhelmed with all life throws my way. And I just don’t have the strength to go another step. So I’m grateful for Jesus’ example he so willingly lived out for us. The same Spirit helping Jesus in the wilderness lives in me today. I have reason to not give up!

“...the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

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Who First Said, “The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me?”

It was customary for teachers in the synagogues to read the recordings of the prophets. Around 700 years before the day Jesus stepped up to read in his hometown of Nazareth, Isaiah spoke prophetic words of encouragement and admonition to his people. Isaiah’s name meant, “the Lord saves,” which so perfectly proclaimed the message God used him to deliver. We must rely on God alone. Putting our hope in any other source will only lead to disaster.

Isaiah offered a voice of truth in a time when God’s people sometimes strayed from the Lord’s ways. Yet these God-inspired words would hold more significance than Isaiah could possibly know. The Matthew Henry Commentary puts it this way, “As Isaiah was authorized and directed to proclaim liberty to the Jews in Babylon, so was Christ, God’s messenger, to publish a more joyful jubilee to a lost world.”

These are the verses Jesus turned to that day in the synagogue. Words that would pierce the darkness and give life to the hopeless. Isaiah 61:1-2 reads, “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.”

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Alternative Bible Translations of Isaiah 61:1

American Standard Version: "The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me; because Jehovah hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening [of the prison] to them that are bound;"

King James Version: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;"

The Message Bible: "The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners."

New American Standard Bible: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted , To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;"

New International Version: "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,"

What Is the Significance of Isaiah 61:1?

Before Jesus reached the end of the passage, he handed the scroll back to the attendant and returned to his seat. But why would he stop mid-verse? Why would he skip the part about the Lord’s vengeance?

Jesus’ special purpose as the sinless son of God would be revealed. He’d been baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, and tempted by evil. Now here he was, right where he should be. Teaching God’s people in new ways.

Jesus moved among people offering healing, mercy, and grace to Jews and Gentiles alike. He gave unconditional love to all, regardless of where we came from or what we’d done. What a life-giving message. This was what Jesus came to tell us. The time to share about God’s wrath for unbelievers would wait.

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 points out the sobering truth about what happens when we refuse to follow Christ. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Jesus didn’t share that part of the verse, and we can trust he knew best. The time for understanding the Lord’s vengeance would come later. Reading the chosen passage fulfilled the prophecy Isaiah spoke so long ago. Jesus’ ministry began at that moment. “He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:21).

What Do These Incredible Words Mean for Me Today?

When Jesus told the world the Spirit anointed him to proclaim the good news, he also told us who he came to save. The poor, brokenhearted, captives, and prisoners. He came for you and me.

Are you poor in spirit today? Has the baggage you’ve carried crippled you under its weight? Jesus came for you. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Has loss or grief left you brokenhearted? Do you feel alone, like no one cares? Jesus came for you. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).

Have you been bound by addiction? Or felt like you’re suffocating, overwhelmed, and can’t break free? Jesus came for you. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1a).

We can claim these verses as truth over our lives today. The good news of salvation is for all of us.

How Do I Live Out This Message?

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV).

We can rejoice today knowing the Holy Spirit guides us, just like He did with Jesus. Whether we face daily struggles or life’s most difficult challenges, the Holy Spirit empowers us to keep moving forward. He will be our strength, our guide, and our comfort. All we need to do is ask him.

And when we read this phrase, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” let’s remember the saving grace of Jesus and our forever hope through him.

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Kristine Brown is the author of the book, Over It. Conquering Comparison to Live Out God’s Plan, and the companion devotional for teen girls. For more resources from author Kristine, including prayers and mini-studies to help you “become more than yourself” through God’s Word, visit her website, kristinebrown.net. Yo u can also connect with her on Facebook.


This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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