Joy in This Season of Jubilee

Remembering as we do the birth of Jesus Christ, we rejoice at the Jubilee year that that birth has brought.

The purpose of the coming into our flesh of the Son of God was to give the true Israel of God—the elect church in all nations—the year of Jubilee.

Jesus Himself announced this.

At the beginning of His ministry, He described His work as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, 2. And Isaiah had foretold the mission of the coming Messiah as bringing about the great year of Jubilee.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord (

Luke 4:18, 19

).

Having read the passage, which He had deliberately chosen, Jesus announced, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).

He came to give weary, tedious, and hopeless time a new year: the year of Jubilee!

With His ministry, this new year began. “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”

Ceremonial Jubilee

Jubilee was originally an Old Testament ceremony.Leviticus 25:8ff. was the law that instituted it. Every 50th year—the year following seven periods of seven years—was a Jubilee year for Israel. The name “Jubilee” derived from the Hebrew word for the ram’s horn that served as a trumpet to announce the beginning of the year of Jubilee.

Especially three elements belonged to the proper, prescribed observance of the Old Testament Jubilee. Land that the poor had to sell returned to its original owner, so that everyone again possessed his inheritance in Israel. Those Israelites who because of poverty sold themselves as slaves were released. And the Israelites might neither sow nor reap. Fields and farmers enjoyed a sabbatical.

That Old Testament ordinance and type had a rich significance. As the year of the release of prisoners from the bondage of slavery, it was a year of liberation, a year of freedom. The trumpet announcing the year of Jubilee sounded throughout all the land “to proclaim liberty” (Lev. 25:10). The return of the land represented the cancellation of debts. The prohibition of sowing and reaping meant that both the people and the land had rest. But that liberty and rest were a dramatic enjoyment of covenant fellowship with God. The numbers involved made this plain. The Jubilee year was the 50th year as the fulfillment of “seven sabbaths of years … seven times seven years” (Lev. 25:8).

Adding to the brilliantly clear significance was that the Jubilee year began on the tenth day of the seventh month, which is identified in Leviticus 25:9 as the “day of atonement.” That was the day in Israel when the high priest covered the sins of Israel by sprinkling blood on the mercy seat in the holy of holies in the tabernacle. The year of Jubilee, then, was based on the atonement and gave Israel in striking ways the benefits of the covering of their guilt in the sight of God.

To inaugurate this year of Jubilee—the real Jubilee year—Jesus was born.

Remembering the birth of Jesus, the true church celebrates the great year of Jubilee.

Roman Jubilee

Our celebration has nothing whatever to do with the Roman Catholic Church’s (RCC) year of Jubilee that will begin this month on Christmas Eve.

On November 29, 1998 the pope issued a bull, “The Mysteryof the Incarnation,” proclaiming the year 2000 as a “Great Jubilee Year”: “I therefore decree that the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 will begin on Christmas Eve 1999, with the opening of the holy door in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.” The Jubilee year will run from Christmas Eve 1999 to January 6, 2001.

For all Roman Catholics, the year 2000 will be special. It will be a “holy year.” The pope has made it so. When the year is properly observed, it will bestow special grace on the observing people. The special grace will be nothing less than the blessings promised by the Old Testament Jubilee. For the year 2000 will be a continuation and repetition of that Old Testament ceremony.

The main means by which Roman Catholics will receive and enjoy the blessings of the Jubilee year is indulgences. Proper observance of Rome’s Jubilee year will be the various activities by which the faithful are supposed to earn indulgences, especially pilgrimages to Rome’s most important church buildings. So the pope declared in “The Mystery of the Incarnation”:

Another distinctive sign, and one familiar to the faithful, is the indulgence, which is one of the constitutive elements of the Jubilee…. I decree that throughout the entire Jubilee all the faithful, properly prepared, be able to make abundant use of the gift of the indulgence.

Indulgences are the RCC’s application to a sinner’s account of the meritorious good works of Mary and other saints, as well as of Christ. These good works, thus applied by indulgences, satisfy the justice of God concerning the temporal punishment of the sinner’s sins. This is the punishment that the sinner himself must otherwise suffer in purgatory. Indulgences will also forgive the sins of those who are already in purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines an indulgence this way: “remission of the temporal punishment due, in God’s justice, to sin … granted by the Church … through the application of the superabundant merits of Christ and of the saints.”

Although the RCC possesses this “treasury of merits” to distribute as it wills, the people must earn indulgences from that Church. They do this by pilgrimages, by prescribed prayers, by giving alms, by donating to charities, and, in the coming Jubilee year, by not smoking for a day.

Because the year 2000 will be a “Great” Jubilee, in it Roman Catholics will be able to earn “plenary” indulgences. Most indulgences are partial. They deliver only from part of the temporal punishment in purgatory. In the year of the “Great Jubilee,” complete deliverance from all of the pain and punishment of purgatory is available. The bull proclaiming AD 2000 a year of Jubilee states, “Each member of the faithful, having fulfilled the required conditions, can receive or apply the gift of the plenary indulgence…. The Jubilee indulgence also can be applied in suffrage to the souls of the deceased.”

AD 2000: year of Jubilee—by papal indulgence!

Against Rome’s Jubilee year and its observance, we Protestants protest. We protest against the arrogance that supposes that a mere man can make a year “holy.” We protest against the imposing of an Old Testament ceremony upon the New Testament church.

Vehemently, we protest against the main way in which 2000 will be celebrated, and its blessings dispensed: the way of indulgences.

The indulgences that are at the heart of the Roman Catholic year of Jubilee are gross departure from the one apostolic and biblical gospel, that “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16). Jubilee by indulgences denies the cross of Jesus Christ, which was complete redemption from all the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). Therefore, the Roman Catholic year of Jubilee will not be a remembering of the incarnation, as the pope suggests. For the Son of God was “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Gal. 4:4,5).

Rome’s Jubilee is exposed by the very Old Testament ceremony that it pretends to repeat. The blessings of the Old Testament Jubilee were based solely on the atonement. Israel did nothing herself to pay for her sins. And the blessings of Jubilee were simply bestowed upon the people by sheer divine grace. No Israelite did anything to earn his release as a slave, the return of his land, or the rest of himself and his land with Jehovah for a year.

The Word of God in the Old Testament Jubilee was the gospel of salvation by grace alone.

Real Jubilee

That AD 2000 will not be a year of Jubilee by papal pronouncement and indulgences does not imply that it will be no Jubilee year at all.

Next year will be a year of Jubilee. More precisely, it will be part of the year of Jubilee. Every year from the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry to His return is Jubilee. The entire New Testament age is the year of Jubilee. This age is the reality of the Old Testament ceremony. Jesus proclaimed it as such. Having read the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1,2, concluding with the words, “To preach the acceptable year of the Lord,” Jesus said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:16-21). In keeping with this authoritative, trumpet-like announcement, Paul announces that “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2).

During this age, Jesus Christ bestows the wonderful blessings of Jubilee upon the true Israel of God: cancellation of the debt owed God of the guilt of our sin; release of us prisoners from the bondage of the curse of the law, as of the demand of the law that we keep it for righteousness; deliverance from the poverty of total lack of righteousness; the rest of the imputed obedience of the incarnate Son of God as the basis of communion with God.

Jubilee!

Debtors! Slaves! Captives! The laboring and heavy laden! Hear the loud ram’s horn of a trumpet announcing the year 2000 as Jubilee, as well as what is left of 1999 and however many years may remain to the sounding of the trump that announces the perfection of Jubilee on the Day of Christ!

“This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”

We enjoy this Jubilee and its blessings, not by means of indulgences but by means of the preaching of the gospel of grace. Jesus plainly said so: “The Spirit of the Lord … hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor … to preach deliverance to the captives … to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

The content of the gospel is this Word and promise of Jesus Christ: “To every one who believes on Me, I give full and free forgiveness, imputing to him as his own My own righteousness. The sole and sufficient ground is My own lifelong obedience and suffering in your stead. The only source and cause of this saving act of justification is the grace of My Father to an innumerable multitude in all nations whom He chose unto eternal life. To receive this blessing, believe on Me—believe only, with the faith that I Myself give you and work in you by My Spirit. Do not work! There are no conditions! There may be no pilgrimages! Give no money to charity for any slightest part of righteousness, not one, red cent! Do not even stop smoking for one day! In this way—only in this way—you will have freedom, and the deep and lasting joy of Jubilee.”

Well may we Protestants be reminded and exhorted to live in the consciousness of the year of Jubilee.

Too often we share the world’s fears of the new millennium. Too often we are burdened and downcast and depressed. Too often we seek solace for our sinfulness and sins in drink and pills and drugs and pleasures and work. Too often we complain as though, well, as though Jubilee had never come. Too often we drag ourselves to church, ministers as well as the people, as though the gospel were not the true treasure of the church.

Ours is the privilege and duty to defend the true Jubilee against the false, to announce it to the world, and to live joyfully in it ourselves.

This Christmas season and in the new year and millennium, have a blessed Jubilee! — DJE