Who are the captives the Bible refers to that Jesus sets free?
As Jesus began his ministry, he went into a synagogue and took the scroll from Isaiah and read from Isaiah 61 concerning himself (Luke 4:16-21). Then he said that this prophecy was fulfilled in their hearing that day.
The quotation contains the prophecy of Jesus doing many things to deliver people and save them. The word for “save” in the New Testament has contained in it salvation of the soul, healing for the body, and deliverance from evil spirits (sozo in Greek).
“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; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;” (Isaiah 61:1–2, ESV)
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he did all of these things. The quotation in Luke 4:18-19 is slightly different, probably from the Septuagint (Greek Translation of the Old Testament). It includes recovery of sight for the blind.
During Jesus’ ministry, he is actually fulfilling these things in front of John the Baptist’s disciples. John the Baptist sent them to Jesus to ask him if he was the one they were looking for or if they should keep looking (Luke 7:18-23).
Jesus responded by basically saying, “Look around you and tell me what you see.” The proof was in the pudding. The disciples had just watched Jesus heal the sick, cast out demons, and Luke especially mentions the recovery of sight for the blind (Luke 7:21). This points directly to Isaiah’s prophecy.
So the “captives” refers to anyone who fits any of these categories. It is not just people in prison. Metaphorically, people who don’t know Jesus and have not been touched by the ministry of his kingdom are captives and imprisoned.
Jesus came to save souls, heal the sick, deliver people from demonic forces, and declare the good news of the breaking out of his kingdom in this world. Anyone who isn’t a part of his kingdom is a captive.
Every Christian has a ministry to the captains of this world. As we speak about Jesus, pray for others, show the miraculous power of God in this world, and do the work of Jesus, we show the captives that there is freedom in Christ and a better way.