What Does it Mean ‘The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me’?

In saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” Jesus declared that He was the promised Messiah fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. It was here that Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, began His public ministry.

Dove with a branch

Shortly after Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), Luke writes that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all” (Luke 4:14-15).

Old Testament Prophecy and Jesus

Even though He had been baptized in public by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (Luke 3:21-22), Jesus’ early teaching, many would argue, signaled the beginning of His public ministry.

In Luke 4, Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth “where He had been brought up” and read a passage from the Book of Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

Of course, Jesus would not be the only person in the New Testament to reference the writings of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah is quoted more in the New Testament than any other Old Testament prophet.

As a minister to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in its final days and later the Southern Kingdom of Judah, Isaiah prophesied of coming invasion and destruction, first at the hands of the Assyrian Empire against the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC, and later from the Babylonian Empire against the remaining Jews in Judah in 605 BC, 597 BC, and 586 BC.

In fact, Isaiah had ministered through the reign of four of Israel’s kings: Uzziah (790 BC-739 BC), Jotham (739 BC-731 BC), Ahaz (731 BC-715 BC), and Hezekiah (715 BC-686 BC); and he was likely killed during the reign of Manasseh.

Isaiah would spend most of his ministry warning the Israelites in both kingdoms to turn from their sin and idolatry and place their trust in God, not foreign alliances.

Unfortunately, the Jews did not heed God’s many warnings, delivered through Isaiah and the prophets; and because they refused to turn from their sin, political overthrow was on the horizon.

However, not all of Isaiah’s prophesies were centered around doom and destruction. Significant portions of Isaiah, particularly the later chapters, are devoted to hope-filled prophesy regarding the redemption of Israel and the coming of the Messiah.

In fact, Isaiah rarely mentioned earthly, political deliverance without affirming God’s plan for true deliverance for all mankind through His son.

This was the subject of the passage Jesus quoted in the synagogue in Luke chapter four.

What Was Jesus Really Saying?

Of course, many have questioned whether Isaiah might have been referring to himself in Isaiah 61.

Many a prophet, judge, and ruler has been anointed by God and filled with the Spirit of the Lord to do His work, Isaiah included. By the Spirit of the Lord, not man’s wisdom, strength, or influence, are those called by God able to effectively minister to His people.

We see this anointing in…

But while the Spirit of the Lord came upon chosen prophets and kings, the Messiah would have the Spirit of the Lord with Him always, “without measure, to qualify Him, as man, for the work to which he was appointed” (Matthew Henry).

Jesus, at the onset of the gospel, made it clear. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). I am the one Isaiah promised would come, whom you have read about, Jesus would proclaim.

Luke supports this claim by repeatedly referring to the anointing of the Spirit of the Lord that had already been confirmed on Jesus prior to His public reading.

We see the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus at His baptism, at which point God the Father declares, “You are my beloved Son, in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

Luke also writes that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days” (Luke 4:1).

And again, following his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus returns to Galilee, “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

The fact that Jesus affirms the validity of Isaiah’s words as prophecy through His proclamation that this passage was fulfilled through Him tells us all we need to know about the relationship between Isaiah 61 and the Messiah.

Jesus Christ had been filled with the Spirit of the Lord from the beginning of His ministry, and the authority of His teaching was on full display from that moment on. 

How Did Jesus’ Listeners React to His Proclamation?

Luke tells us that those who heard Jesus were “speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘is this not Joseph’s son?’” (Luke 4:22).

Jesus’ proclamation had caused quite a stir, but it was the authority by which He spoke and the evident power of His miracles that really turned heads and changed hearts (Luke 4:32).

And yet, when Jesus compared Himself to the prophet Elijah, arguing that “no prophet is welcome in his hometown,” the people in the synagogue were outraged!

Luke writes, “And they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way” (Luke 4:28-30).

Shortly after, Jesus demonstrated the power of the Holy Spirit when He cast a demon from a man possessed. Captivated by His teaching and amazed by His miracles, the people began to ask, “What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.” (Luke 4:36)

Of course, in heralding the arrival of the promised Messiah, John the Baptist had stated, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).

Jesus would fulfill this prophecy and more, ushering in a new covenant between God and man and the promise of the Holy Spirit, who would come to all mankind, as prophesied by the prophet Joel (2:28-29).

The arrival of Jesus Christ affirmed the validity of the Old Testament and God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises. In Luke 4, Jesus made clear that this was not the beginning of another prophetic ministry.

His ministry would set in motion God’s ultimate, perfect plan of salvation, redemption, and spiritual deliverance, made possible through His eventual death and resurrection.

For further reading:

What Is the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

What Does it Mean to be Filled with the Holy Spirit?

What Is the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

Why Is the Dove Often a Symbol for the Holy Spirit?

How Can I Identify Messianic Prophecies in the Old Testament?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/sakepaint


Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s author, artist, professor, and speaker who is passionate about helping young writers unleash their creativity and discover the wonders of their Creator through storytelling and art. In his blog, Perspectives off the Page, he discusses all things story and the creative process.