Meditations On The Messiah - Messiah And The Year of Jubilee

by Ray Hawkins


Men and women are the merchandise of war. They are the plunder for conquering armies whether ancient or modern to use as they choose. The devastation to families, cities, countries and economies is beyond imagination. When Nebuchadnezzar carried off to Babylon and beyond the elite of Jerusalem it seemed as if the Nation of Judah was doomed.

However, there was an unswerving promise of God recorded by Moses. He declared that even from the uttermost parts of the earth the covenant God would bring His people home: "Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back" (Deuteronomy 30:4). On this promise the prophet Isaiah, writing about one hundred years before the overthrow by the King of Babylon, hung his credibility.

The prophet declared the possibility of captivity and the spiritual and moral decline that would cause it. Then later in his prophecy he revealed the reality of a return and the redemption of the Nation by the Messiah.

To understand the latter it is important to understand the former. Isaiah chapter 5 reveals a list of woes that are a commentary on the state of the Nation. "Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left ..." (verse 8). For this to have happened meant that other tribe members had been dispossessed of their inheritance, which was strictly forbidden by God as seen in Numbers 36:7. "No inheritance in Israel is to pass from tribe to tribe, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance from his forefathers."

"Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine" (verse 11). This moral and economic disaster is self-evident even in our own day. So much neglect of God's standards is implied in this indictment that the people of the Covenant were treading under foot their high calling.

"Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, 'Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so that we may see it'" (verses 18,19). The people seemed to be as dumb animals, harnessed to their sin, and defying God to separate them or even act in judgement.

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (verse 20) -- the turning upside down of truth and integrity, of declaring the things of God devilish and the deeds of darkness preferable.

"Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight" (verse 21) -- people with no need for God, His word to guide, His worship to honour, His mind to seek. Self-sufficiency is the sophisticated name for being one's own god.

"Woe to those ... who acquit the guilty for a bribe but deny justice to the innocent" (verse 23). Again, such happenings fly right in the face of the Covenant and the character of the Righteous God. Summarizing the whole state of affairs: "they have rejected the law of the LORD Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel" , and the result of all these things: "Therefore my people will go into exile ..." (verse 13), which humble the arrogant but highlight the justice and righteousness of the Almighty: "But the Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness" (verse 16).

The Nation was doomed. It merely awaited the arrival of the executioner. What hope was there then for those seeking righteousness? What defence could be given for those who declared that God would not abandon His people? That is the burden of Isaiah, from chapter 40 onwards. He paints the blackness of Israelite and Gentile failure to reveal the Light of God's faithfulness and the wonder of His grace.

Ministry of the Messiah

Part of the ministry of the Messiah as recorded in Isaiah 61:1 is "to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." In essence it is the declaration of Jubilee, the year when debts are cancelled, slaves freed, property returned to the original owner, as laid out clearly in Leviticus 25:8-17. It is the promise that God has not forgotten the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. History records that a return from Babylon did take place under Zerubbabel and others, but this alone does not qualify for the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy, nor does it match the grandeur of Ezekiel's vision as recorded in chapters 36 to 39.

But a section of this Scripture -- "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour" -- was quoted by the Messiah one day in a synagogue in Nazareth with the claim that it was fulfilled in Him.

For this to be true, the manner of life He lived, the Message He spoke, the achievements He portrays must be looked at in the light of the Torah , indeed the whole of Tenach , for He did say that He had come, not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it.

The Messiah has more than measured up to the exacting gaze and standards of the Scriptures, so how is it possible for Him to fulfil the requirements of setting the captives free, whether it be from political bondage, emotional slavery, spiritual repression or moral depravity? It is only possible if He is alive; if He has the authority to enforce His decree; if He has the power to prevail over those who oppose His will.

To possess such charisma, character and control has to be verified by life; indeed, and dare we say it? – by meeting death face to face and triumphing over it. The reality of this flows first from the spiritual, into the moral, then into the relational. A prominent Pharisee declared the power of Yeshua to achieve freedom in those realms when he wrote: " ... I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man ... the worst of sinners (but) I was shown mercy (to be) an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life" (I Timothy 1:13-16).

And one day the reality of it will be seen in the political, the world scene. Peter, in an address to the leaders of Jerusalem, said: "Men of Israel ... the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One ... you killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this ... . Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you -- even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets" (Acts 3:12-21).

When the Messiah comes to fulfil that which He claimed was His mission, then the heart and the land and the Nation of Israel will rejoice in its Jubilee. The songs of the prophets will be sung in adoration as they are now recited in hope. For that will be the day when the Lord will reign, righteousness will cover the earth, and the enemies of God will be crushed.

That will be the day when the Lord will be strong in Zion, when the Gentiles, too, will know the wonders of sharing in the celebration of the Eternal's lovingkindness and His power to set free (Isaiah 2:1-5; Zechariah 14:16-21).