The Earth's Great Jubilee
By Milburn Cockrell (1941-2002)
In Leviticus, chapter 25, we have the law stated of the Jubilee Year in Israel. The jubilee proper is treated in verses 8 to 12. The remainder of the chapter (vv. 13- 55) deals with the practical application of this law of jubilee to various cases. In verses 13-28 we have the application of the law to the case of property in land; in verses 29-34, to sales of dwelling houses; and the remaining verses (vv. 35-55) deal with the application of this law to the institution of slavery.
The word jubilee as to its original meaning in the Hebrew Old Testament is of doubtful origin and signification. Some trace it to Jubal (Gen. 4:21), the inventor of musical instruments, and suppose that this year of mirth was named after him from its being a year of mirth and joy. Some Jews say it had its name from the trumpet itself, which they suppose was made of a ram’s horn. JOBEL in the Arabic language signifies a ram. The best scholars derive if from “to bring back, to restore, to return,” because at this time bondmen were freed and mortgaged lands were restored to the original owners. Our English word “jubilee” means “an occasion or season of great joy.” “Jubilant” means “to shout for joy.” Certainly the time when land reverted to its original owner and when slaves were freed was a time of great rejoicing for many Israelites.
I. ISRAEL’S JUBILEE
The Jubilee Year in Israel was without parallel in any nation. Seven weeks of years, each terminating with the sabbatic year of solemn rest for the land, were numbered (49 full years of 360 days). “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” (Lev. 25:8). The 49th year was a sabbatic year which began with the feast of atonement in the 10th day of the seventh month (Tisri -- -September). When it expired and the day of atonement came around again, at the beginning of the 50th year, was the Jubilee Year in Israel. Throughout the land the loud trumpet was sounded, proclaiming “liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (vv. 8-12).
A TIME OF LIBERTY
This year was also called “the year of liberty” (Ezek. 46:17). The liberty thus proclaimed was threefold. First, there was liberty to the man, who through the reverses of life had become dispossessed from his family inheritance in the land, to return to it again. All property in fields and houses (except those in city walls) which the owner was obligated to sell due to poverty and had not been able to redeem, was to revert without payment to its original owner or his heirs. “In the year of this jubilee ye shall return every man unto his possession” (v. 13). (See also verses 23-28 and Nehemiah 5:1- 13). There was no way the rightful heir in Israel could be permanently excluded from his estate (v. 23).
Second, there was liberty to every Hebrew slave. In the jubilee he became a free man. “And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee: And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return” (vv. 39-41).
Third, there was liberty from the toil in the cultivation of the land: “It is a year of rest unto the land” (v. 5). This was a most remarkable feature, especially since one sabbatic year had just closed when the jubilee year immediately succeeded. Hence the 49th and 50th years were both sabbatic years.
A TIME OF ATONEMENT AND BLESSING
The jubilee trumpet was sounded in the close of the Day of Atonement: “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 sound throughout all your land” (v. 9). After they had been afflicting themselves they were to have joy and comfort. When atonement was made for all their sins, then they would hear the joyful sound of the trumpet of jubilee (Ps. 51:8).
As God forgave the Israelites of their sin debts, they were likewise to forgive their debtors. “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him” (v.35). All oppression ceased out of the land; brotherly love flourished (v.17). Peace and prosperity reigned everywhere: “And the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety” (v.19). This joyful time was the “accepted time” and the “day of salvation” to many in Israel. More than at any time in their life, the Israelites saw Jehovah alone as their Redeemer.
The Jubilee Year was designed to preserve the rights of free born Israelites as to their person and property. Jehovah said: “The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (v. 23). The jubilee prevented permanent alienation from one’s family estate. It preserved genealogies unmixed until the Messiah came. It prevented the covetous from “adding field to field.” Also it cherished family associations with places, strengthening domestic feelings and the ties of kinship.
II. THE MILLENNIAL JUBILEE
Without question, the Jubilee Year in Israel foreshadowed the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth during which the Israelites shall all return to their own land. This will be the time of the Earth’s Great Jubilee. The Jubilee Year followed the day of Atonement. Israel’s enjoyment of the day of real atonement is yet future. As a nation she has never come to see that Christ made an end of her sins.
Forty-nine days separated the Passover from the Day of Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-22). The Jubilee Years were separated by 49 years (Lev. 25:8). The time between Israel’s enjoyment of great national blessings and the Earth’s Great Jubilee is 490 years (Dan. 9:24-27). The number 49 is involved in all of these.
ISRAEL RESTORED TO HER LAND
In the Millennial Jubilee Israel will be permanently restored to her homeland. In Genesis 13:15 God promised Abraham: “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.” The promise is repeated in Genesis 15:18 with the borders stipulated to be “from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” Israel has not yet occupied all this land as an everlasting possession. Since it is impossible for God to lie, we know that at some future time God will fulfill His unconditional promise to the seed of Abraham.
The Old Testament prophets often prophesied of this coming event. Ezekiel wrote: “And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all... And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children; and their children’s children for ever...” (Ezek. 37:22, 25). Amos foretold: “And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel... And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD the God” (Amos 9:14- 15). Isaiah predicted: “Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever...” (Isa. 60:21).
FREEDOM FROM GENTILE OPPRESSION
The Millennial Jubilee is to be a time when Israel is freed from all Gentile oppression. Jesus Christ said Jerusalem would be trodden down by the Gentiles “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). When Gentile overlordship of Jerusalem terminates with the Battle of Armageddon, the Lord shall make Israel “the head, and not the tail” of the nations on earth (Deut. 28:13). The state of Israel will be the greatest nation in the world because they are to have the greatest King, Jesus the King of the Jews (Matt. 27:37).
The Millennial Jubilee is to be the hour of Jewish supremacy---the finest hours in the history of God’s national people. Isaiah so well described this coming day: “Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from afar, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the LORD thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee. And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee: for in my wrath I smote thee, but in my favour have I had mercy on thee. Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night: that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted...The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee, The city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations. Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings: and thou shall know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 60:9-12; 14-16).
In this wonderful and joyful day of the Earth’s Great Jubilee, the nation of Israel shall see Christ alone as their Redeemer. This is to be when Christ comes to the Mount of Olives with all His saints in power and great glory. The Apostle John said: “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him” (Rev. 1:7). The Spirit of grace shall be poured out upon “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” as they look upon the One they crucified (Zech. 12:10). The whole nation shall afflict their souls and mourn for the Saviour they rejected and killed (Zech. 12:10- 14). “And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (Zech. 13:6). In that great day of mourning “there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1). This is Israel’s Day of Atonement--a thing yet future.
Jesus spoke of Israel’s future jubilee in Matthew 24:29-31: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
This is not the gathering of the saints to meet Christ in the air at the end of the tribulation as post-tribbers assert. Nor is the trumpet here the Rapture trumpet as others suppose. This is the trumpet which sounds the jubilee for Israel. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come, which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the Holy Mount at Jerusalem” (Isa. 27:13). (See also Isaiah 11:11-12 and Jeremiah 16:14-16). This regathering of the remnant of Israel takes place when Christ comes to earth.
THE SIN DEBT CANCELLED
The nation of Israel has some particular sins. She rejected her Messiah and crucified her King. His blood has been upon them ever since that day. But at the end of 490 years their transgression is finished and an end is made of their sins (Dan. 9:24). Well did Jeremiah write of this coming day: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgements and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is the name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, the LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land” ( Jer. 23:5-8).
Paul mentioned this Millennial Jubilee for Israel: “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (Rom. 11:26- 27). Paul spoke of his conversion on the Damascus road as “one born out of due time" (I Cor. 15:8). In the Millennial Jubilee the whole nation of Israel shall be born again in one day’s time (Isa. 66:8).
A TIME OF GREAT BLESSING AND JOY
For Israel and the whole world liberty will be proclaimed. There shall be no hard labor, no regret for lost possessions, no bondage, no oppression, no poverty, no wars, limited crime, and plenty of food for all. The whole earth shall enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God. When the year of His redeemed is come, the “prisoners of hope” shall hear “the blowing of the trumpet” of jubilee (Zech. 9:12, 14). This will be “the times of the restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21), the reversal of the fall, Paradise restored.
What a happy day shall be the time of Earth’s Great Jubilee! The prophets described it thusly: “and the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 35:10). Zephaniah wrote: “Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The LORD hath taken away thy judgements, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more” (Zeph. 3:14- 15). (See also Joel 2:21-27).
III. THE GOSPEL JUBILEE
This Old Testament type has a spiritual as well as a literal meaning. In this generation the gospel trumpet is to be sounded to the uttermost parts of the earth. It is to announce salvation by the blood atonement of Christ. It proclaims liberty to the captives of sin. It opens prison doors to them that are bound by sin and Satan. It announces the soul rest and forgiveness and peace in Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18-19). The gospel of Christ, when received, puts men right with God and with one another.
First, the jubilee trumpet was the sound of atonement (v. 9). Even so the gospel is the joyful sound of the blood atonement made by the cross of Christ. It says that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification. There is no more joyful sound to sinful man than the atoning blood of God’s Son.
Second, it was the sound of liberty (v. 10). The gospel trumpet proclaims liberty to the slaves of sin---the liberty of grace and glory. A believer enjoys the liberty of Christ (Gal. 5:1; John 8:32), and he is “the Lord’s freeman” (I Cor. 7:22). Just as the deliverance of the bond slave in Israel was immediate and complete on hearing and believing the tidings; even so of the believer of the gospel trumpet.
Third, it was the sound of forgiveness (v. 35). Even the debt and poverty of a man did not hinder him from enjoying the jubilee, but made him a more fit subject. Likewise, sin is no bar to God’s saving grace. The gospel is for the very poorest of lost sinners. The gospel of grace forgives the very chiefest of sinners. Where sin abounds grace super abounds.
Fourth, the jubilee in Israel was “a year of rest” (v.5). The gospel trumpet proclaims rest to those heavy laden with sin and iniquity (Matt. 11:28). It tells them not to rest in their good works, but to rest in the finished work of Christ (Ps. 116:7). Those who believe the gospel enter into soul rest (Heb. 4:1-3).
Fifth, it was a time of restoration (v. 13). By the fall in Adam we lost our inheritance on earth, but the gospel tells us that Christ has regained it for His people (I Pet. 1:3-4). The Saviour of sinners restores our inheritance by adoption (Rom. 8:15-17). All we lost in Adam is restored by the Second Adam. Thank God for the gospel which declares all of this is so!
May this be the day that you will offer your soul because of sin. May the blessed Holy Spirit reveal Christ to your poor lost soul. May this be the day Christ shall become precious to you. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2).
May this be the day you will hear and obey the gospel trumpet. The psalmist said: “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound” (Ps. 89:15). Thousands hear the gospel but only a few know its joyful sound. But blessed are those who understand the meaning of covenant promises and recognize their own personal interest in them!
Blest are the souls that hear and know
The gospel’s joyful sound;
Peace shall attend the paths they go,
And light their steps surround. -- Watts
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