Jesus and the Jubilee Year

By Clovis E. Miller

Lev. 25:9

"Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land."

The Jubilee, as mentioned in the Bible, was both a time of celebration, and restoration, when God blessed the land of Israel with abundance, rest and peace. It was also a prophetic snapshot of the Kingdom of God coming to the earth. Its arrival was determined by the passage of seven cycles of seven years. In the 7th year of the 7th sabbatic cycle (the 49th year), on the Day of Atonement, the Jubilee Trumpet was to sound. It then extended, from the sounding of the trumpet (shofar) on that day, to the sounding of the trumpet on the Day of Atonement in the following year.

According to Jewish Understanding the counting of each sabbatic cycle was to begin on the first day of Tishri (the seventh month); Biblically speaking however, the people were told to begin keeping it when they "...come into the land...". That occurred on the tenth day of Nissan (exactly six months earlier) on the Hebrew calendar (Lev. 25:1-4 ; Joshua 4:19), not on the first day of the of the seventh month, in which the Day of Atonement and the start of the Jubilee were to occur.

Lev. 25:2-4, 8-11

2) "...When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord.

3) Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;

4) But the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard..."

8) "And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.

9) Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet to sound throughout your land.

10) And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year...

11) And a jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you..."

Joshua 4:19

"And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho."

"In Tractate Arachin, there is a disagreement on how to count the Yovel Cycle.
Rabbanan say that the 50th year does not count as part of a Shmitah Cycle. (Arachin 33a)
Rebbi Yehudah says that the 50th year is also the 1st year of the next Shmitah cycle. (Arachin 12b)
". (From: "Explaining the Yovel Count per the Rambam", cited in the above link).

(Note: "Rambam" is an acronym (RMBM) for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars, who is better known to the secular world as Maimonides.)

The Jubilee (Yovel) Year is counted from one Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and is finished with the arrival of the next one. While its counting is absolutely linked to the counting of the sabbatic (Shmitah) cycles, it is a seperate, yet inclusive period of time, overlapping parts of two years in different sabbatic cycles: The second half of the forty-ninth year (beginning of Yom Kippur), and the first half of the first year of the next sabbatic cycle (ending on Yom Kippur of that year). This cycle works only if the counting begins in the month of Nissan, as scripturally mandated, instead of the month of Tishri. It's a parenthetical one year period (the fiftieth year) which occurs within the confines of two sequential years. This scenario eliminates what would otherwise be back-to-back sabbath years (i.e. the seventh year of the seventh cycle, and the Jubliee Year itself). Seven sabbatic cycles (7x7 years) make up one Yovel (Jubilee) Cycle.

Lev. 25:20-22

"And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase:
Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years.
And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store."

Doesn't these verses indicate that the Jubilee Year is sequential, and not parenthetical? After all, it does state that the sixth year will bring forth fruit for three years. This is true, but it also states that they would sow again in the "eighth year". That year would be the one following the seventh year of the sabbatic cycle. While this would work during the first six cycles, it presents a problem when we approach the end of seventh cycle, and the Jubilee year arrives. How would all of this figure out correctly if the Jubilee was sequential (a full year following the seventh sabbatic year)? It wouldn't. Sowing in the "eighth year" would, in that case, involve sowing in the Jubilee year itself, which was prohibited. The planting to occur during that particular "eighth year", would in fact, occur during the last part of the first year of the next sabbatic cycle (i.e. Fall/early spring - the start of the normal planting season), after the Jubilee year had ended. Again, this assumes that the counting of the Yovel cycle begins in the month of Nissan, not the month of Tishri, and that the Jubilee is parenthetical; and not sequential in nature.

Barley planted in the Fall/winter of the fifth year (planted between Tishri and Nissan), would receive the blessing of God as a three fold harvest in the sixth year (after the start of Nissan). There is nothing to exclude the fifth year planting from yeilding a threefold increase, because it would not be harvested until the sixth year had begun; and that's the year the blessing was promised.

"... I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years."

Likewise, all planting during the sixth year would also produce a threefold increase. No Barley crop would be planted in the Fall of the sixth year, because it would not be harvestable until the seventh year which, of course, was prohibited. This aspect of the "threefold promise", would have been covered by the harvesting of the fifth year crop during the early part of the sixth year.

The sixth year would produce enough for the seventh year (the forty-ninth of the Yovel cycle), and the Jubilee year itself. All of year seven, plus half of year eight are included. Planting would resume in the latter part of year eight, in the Fall after the Jubilee Year had ended. During that time the people would contiune to eat the old produce (from year six), until the harvest in year nine, which would begin in the upcoming month of Nissan. No planting in the seventh year; no planting in the first half of the eighth year; planting in the second half of the eighth year, and harvest in the ninth year. Because of the overlap, with the Jubilee Year occuring in parts of two years (year forty-nine and year one); the time period involved is eighteen months. Even though the Jubilee itself is twelve months, it would run its course within the limits of the two years mentioned.

Under this scenario, the sabbatic cycles are never broken or distended, because of the parenthetical nature of the Jubilee Year: extending from the Day of Atonement in the forty-ninth year (last year of the Yovel cycle); to the Day of Atonement in the first year of the new cycle. It's the "acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:14-17, 18-21 ; Isa. 61:1-2 ; Lev. 25:9-10)

Part of the problem in understanding the Yovel cycle lies in the idea, that the counting of the sabbatic cycles began, not in the year when the people actually entered the land; but 14 years later. This was reckoned because: seven years were devoted to conquering the land (defeating the enemies who dwelt there); and an additional seven years was spent dividing the land among the tribes of Israel. Yet that is not so much a problem as re-setting the counting of the cycles (as Scripturally mandated - Ex. 12:1-2 ; Num. 33:3 ; Lev. 25:2 ; Joshua 4:19): from the time the people actually entered the land in Nissan, to the month of Tishri (the traditional month of the creation). With this change, not only is the timing off fourteen years, but it puts the counting of the cycles six months out of phase, as well. Scripture nowhere mandates that the timing is to be changed in anywise.

Scripturally speaking, and in its most literal sense, the counting of the seven sabbatic cycles, which culminated with the first Jubilee year, was to begin when the people entered the promised land (Lev. 25:2). That entry occurred on the tenth day of Nissan (the first month of the year on Israel's calendar) as stated in the Book of Joshua. The ending of the first sabbatic cycle therefore, would have occurred starting with the tenth day of Nissan (the start of the second sabbatic cycle), a full seven years after the people had entered the land. This is true regardless of how long it took to subdue the enemy; or divide up the land between the tribes. The counting of the cycles is purely a time driven issue ("...when you come into the land..."); not one which is driven by associated events.

According to tradition, on Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah), the judgment of every man was to be begin by God. Three books were opened: the Book of the Righteous; the Book of the Wicked, and the Book of Rememberance. From the Book of Rememberance, those found to be upright before God, were inscribed in the Book of the Righteous (The Book of Life) for another year. Those deemed to be totally corrupt and wicked, were inscirbed in the Book of the Wicked (The Book of Death). All those found to be in an intermediate state (not yet inscribed in either of the first two books - i.e. the sinner), were given ten days to repent of their sins, after which their names would also be entered in one of the two Books. The ten day period of repentance begins with the Feast of Trumpets (Tishri 1), and ends with the conclusion of the Day of Atonement (Tishri 10).

It thus seems appropriate that on the Day of Atonement: that frightful day in which the fate of all people is sealed; that the Jubilee should commence by proclaiming glad tidings and liberty (ultimately fulfilled by the total liberation from the bondage of sin).

There are no definitive historical records available of Israel specifically keeping the Jubilee Year; though there is some record of them keeping the sabbatic cycles in the pre-second Temple era. As such, pinpointing which sabbatic cycle concluded with the Jubilee Year, is shrouded with uncertainty. One factor contributing to the cessation of keeping the Jubilee was that it could only be kept while the entire land of Caanan was under the control of Israel. That control was lost when the Assyrians took the northern ten tribes of Israel into captivity. Without full control of the land; the provisions of the Jubilee for returning of the land to the tribes to whom God had specified to dwell thereon, could not be fully enacted.

The return of the land to Israel is being affected by stages. In 1917, the Balfour Declaration, effectively established "Palestine" as the homeland for Jewish people. On 14 May, 1948, those who had migrated there, declared the birth (or rebirth) of the State of Israel (Isa. 66:8). Then on 6 June, 1967, during the Yom Kippur War, Israel took back the City of Jerusalem. There still remains lands to be restored. For example: the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, remains under Islamic control, though Israel controls the City of Jerusalem. The tribal lands of Reuben, Gad and Manassah, which were east of the Jordan River. remain a part of the Nation of Jordan. Also, lands in the north, going as far as Tyre and Sidon (Tribes of Asher and Naphtali), are yet under the control of the Nation of Lebanon. These lands will probably not be restored to Israel until Messiah comes.

In the time of Jesus' stay on earth, it is quite certain that the Jubilee was not being kept. The question may be posed as to whether, or not, in Luke 4:18-21, that He actually mark point from which the counting of the Jubilee cycles would resume?

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me...Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:18, 21)

Interestingly, Jesus only quoted the first part of Isa. 61:2 :

"...To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

He did not read to the people:

"And the day of the vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn."

In this portion, we read of a somewhat veiled promise that the nation of Israel would suffer; but the nations which sought her destruction would also be punished by God Himself. The second coming of Jesus on the Day of Atonement (see article: The Structure of the Tribulation Period) will not only present. "...the day of the vengeance of our God...", but also ussher in the ultimate Year of Jubilee, " comfort all who mourn." (Zech. 12:10-11). The Jubliee begins on the Day of Atonement with the great blast of a trumpet (Lev. 25:9) followed by the land being returned to its rightful inhabitants:

"And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matt. 24:31).

Most Historians agree that Herod the Great died in 4 BC. We know from the gospels that before his death, he issued a decree that all males in the town of Bethlehem, age two years and under, were to be killed in order to thwart the prophecy of the coming Messiah (Matt. 2:3-6, 8, 16). This was in response to the calculated time from which the Magi had appeared before him in search of the new born king of Israel (Matt. 2:16).

This would seem to indicate that Jesus may have been born as early as 6 BC. We also know that the ministry of Jesus began when He was about thirty years of age (Luke 3:21-23). If He was born in 6 BC, then His ministry would have began around 23-24 AD. Luke addresses His reading of Isa. 61:1-2, as occuring shortly after His baptism, whereas the accounts of Matthew and Mark suggest that it occurred in the year following His baptism. At any rate, His reading was on a sabbath day. At the time, when Jesus read the passage, Israel was not counting the cycles of the Jubilee. It would have been consistent with a restoration of the counting, if that sabbath day fell in the month of Nissan. However, as is often the case in Biblical accounts, we are not told the time of year in whch certain events occurred. It's only an observation, but if that sabbath day fell on the tenth day of Nissan; then the reading would have been totally consistent with following scripurual timing of the Jubliee counting (the aniversary of the time when Israel entered the land). Jesus would have read the Isaiah passage in what would have been the forty-ninth year of the Jubilee cycle. The Day of Atonement in that year, would have been the date, wherein God would have restored the Jubliee, and the counting for future Jubilees cycles. Israel, of course, would not have recognize or accepted any such restoration. The tenth of Nissan was also another important day in Israel's history: the day in which the Passover Lamb was selected by the families of Israel (Ex. 12:3, 5-8). Jesus, the Passover Lamb (I Cor. 5:7), here proclaims Himself to be the one through which the Jubilee will be fulfilled, usshering in the Kingdom of God on earth which Israel was seeking.

We have His statement at that reading:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me...Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:18, 21)

After a few additional comments following His statement, those in the synagogue became so incensed against Him, that they took Him to a cliff where they intended to throw Him down to His death (Luke 4:28-29). This was similiar to the fate of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (on which all Jubilees began); when, by tradition (not scripture) the appointed people took the scapegoat to a cliff, in the wilderness, where they pushed it backwards off to its death.

(The people entered the land on Nissan 10: the Jubilee year should have begun exactly six months later, in the forty-ninth year of inhabitanting the land (on the Day of Atonement (Tishri 10)): The cycle would not begin on the first day of the traditional aniversary month of the creation of the world (Tishri), with the Jubilee starting ten days into the "fiftieth" year (i.e. the first ten days of the beginning of the next cycle).

The pronouncement by Jesus that the Jubilee would be fulfilled in Himself, was most likely made in a year in which a Jubilee would have taken place, had that cycle not been historically broken. His reading of the Isaiah passage occurred in the town of Nazareth, as indicated by Luke chapter 4. If He restored the counting of the Jubilee Cycle at that time (24-25 AD), there would be "tentatively" forty Jubilees from then until the year 2024-25. Discrepencies in the various calendars which we have used since that time however, may alter the timing of exactly when forty Jubilee cycles would have elapsed.

The number "40" is significant in scripture in that it is one of the numbers which represents completion. In Genesis. it rained for "...forty and and forty nights." (Gen. 7:4); Moses went upon Mount Sinai, to get the Law, two times and both times stayed, "...forty days and forty nights." (Ex. 24:18 ; Ex.34:28); Israel wandered n the wilderness for forty years (Num. 32:13); Jesus went into the wilderness for "...forty days and forty nights." (Matt. 4:2), during which time He was tempted.

We may also note that in the passage in Luke, Jesus read Isaiah 61:1, but only half of verse 2. That whole verse states:

"To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort those who mourn"

(Emphasis is mine)

Verse 3 continues:

"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that he might be glorified."

Isaiah 61 really summerizes the teaching of the Jubilee as found in Lev. 25. So we see here, the transition from the mourning required on the Day of Atonement; to the proclamation of the "glad tidings" of Jubilee, which commences on the same day.

The point of Jesus not reading the portion speaking of the day of the "...vengeance of our God...", and the comforting of those in Zion, seems to indicate that the Jews would reject their Messiah, and this portion of the prophecy would be finished on another Day of Atonement, and another year of Jubilee (i.e. the day and year of His second coming). That event will also occur on a day when all of Israel will mourn (Zech. 12:10-14).

At the second coming of the Lord, scripture states that He will gather "His elect" (all the scattered children of Israel) from " end of heaven to the other." (Matt. 24:31). For what reason will He do this? To restore the lands to the original tribes and families to which it had given; they being, the Seed of Abraham, as was proclaimed by the Lev. chapter 25, regarding the Jubilee year.

He will give joy to those who mourn. The Day of Atonement, a day of judgment, will transistion into the Year of Jubilee, which begins on the same day (Lev. 25:9) It's both : "...the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn." (Lev. 23:27,32 ; Isa. 61:2 ; Zech 12:10-12).

So, the second coming of Jesus will occur on the Day of Atonement, which is not only the sixth feast day of the Lord (Lev. 23), but also initates the Year of Jubilee, wherein He will commence the restoration of Israel, according to the laws of Jubilee by assembling the saints from the four corners of earth and the four winds of heaven.

Read Also: The Structure of the Tribulation Period

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