A 50th year is often called a Jubilee. Did you know that the term is found in the Old Testament of the Bible? Today, it is commonly used for marking 50th birthdays, wedding anniversaries, years of corporate history, or – in Singapore presently – 50 years of independence as a country. Language has evolved so that people use the word Jubilee to refer to a joyous occasion, such as a celebration of peace and prosperity. However, what was the Jubilee originally supposed to be? And what does it mean for Christians?
The Jubilee for the Israelites
The Jubilee year was one of the many laws given to the Israelites after God had saved them from Pharoah. The word Jubilee indicates a ram’s horn, which was to be blown proclaiming the start of the Jubilee year. As written in Leviticus 25, the Israelites were to keep Sabbath years – every 7th year they should not work, but let the farmland fallow. Every 7th of such 7th years, the Jubilee would be declared on the Day of Atonement. There were two particular laws which were to be obeyed on that day:
- Every Israelite was to return to his inherited property. Or in other words, land could not be sold permanently – the heir was to claim it back during Jubilee. Since the land of Canaan was going to be given to the Israelites as an inheritance, it makes sense that it should remain so through the Israelite generations.
- Every Israelite was to return to his clan. This included any slave, who was to be set free. We could imagine Jubilee celebrated as great family reunions. Just because God had rescued the people of Israel from Egypt, brought them over the Red Sea, and made a covenant with them, each Israelite ultimately belonged to God and should not belong to anyone else.
What this would have meant to the Israelites is that the Jubilee was to be a ‘reset’ for Israel. Now there is sadly no indication that Israel ever kept her Sabbath years, but it should have been a time filled with praises to God for his goodness. A man returning to his inherited field would eat of that field; though he did not sow, God provides. A poor slave would become a freeman, and always remember that God freed him when he could not pay for his freedom.
The Jubilee Christ brings
There are some obvious parallels between the original Jubilee and salvation in Christ. Just like the man returning to his field, we are called to return to God and enjoy all his benefits which we did not earn. Just like the poor slave, we may be set free, from the law of sin and death by a free gift of God. That is not all. Going further, let’s see how Jesus Christ fulfils the Jubilee.
Part of Jesus’ ministry was to proclaim the acceptable day of the Lord (or the year of the Lord’s favour) – Jesus proclaimed what is effectively a Jubilee. When was this Jubilee? That the Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement is no small clue: in atoning for sins on the cross, Jesus paid His people’s debts. He bought them, and set them free from being slaves to sin. Furthermore, in Him Christians receive an inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven – the fulfilment of the Land Promised to Abraham.
Today, Christians do not need to observe Jubilee every 50 years as the Israelites should have done, because the ceremonial law is fulfilled. But perhaps there is another ram’s horn yet to be blown, which will complete this grand theme of release and restoration. At Christ’s return, the trumpet shall sound, and we who die in faith shall arise – our bodies freed from the grave. Then reunited with Christ (our greatest joy), we shall inherit the earth forever.
So my dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, what do you mean by Jubilee? The world has borrowed the 50th anniversary term from scripture, hollowed out its meaning and glossed it with connotations of temporal joy and celebration. Can you be truly happy with that? Like fireworks, the glory of the worldly ‘jubilee’ could be stunning and magnificent, but they will fade. So, as you give thanks to God for earthly blessings, would you ask for the eternal ones too? And not just for yourselves, but also for your fellow countrymen?
In Singapore today, or in other developed regions of the world, we have peace and prosperity. But does everyone know what peace with God means? And prosperity – who is laying up treasures on earth and who in heaven? We praise God for blessing us, but if the unbeliever sees our desire to be satisfied with only material blessings, how will they be convinced of spiritual ones? (And I do not mean spiritual gifts like tongues or healings, but heavenly comforts of forgiveness and assurance.)
So let us make any ‘jubilee’ in this era into a time to rededicate ourselves to our Lord. The world understands freedom and independence to be synonymous – but true freedom can only be found in depending on Jesus the Son of God, who gave himself for us.
The above was written by guest blogger, TQ.