Have you ever wondered what the year of jubilee has to do with the Christian life? I’m not talking about whether the jubilee presents a viable economic strategy for 21st-century America. We can save that discussion for another day. Instead, I want to know whether we, as Christians, can look to the jubilee for greater insight into the purpose of our redemption. And if we can look to the jubilee for this kind of insight, how might it affect the way we approach education at Bethlehem College & Seminary?
In Luke 4, Jesus draws a connection between his mission and the freedom secured by the jubilee law. Standing in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61, claiming that this text has found fulfillment in him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19 ESV).
That last phrase, “the year of the Lord’s favor,” recalls the jubilee legislation of Leviticus 25. In verse 10 of this text, we read, “And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan” (ESV).
The land in ancient Israel was not bought and sold the way it is in many modern societies. A piece of property was meant to stay within an extended family’s possession throughout its generations. So, if an Israelite fell on hard times and needed to sell his land to pay his debts, he could always look to the jubilee year for a chance to gain a fresh start back on his home turf (Lev 25:28).
But what was the purpose of this liberty in the fiftieth year? It was not merely to release the poor from the ignominy of their financial straits. The purpose was also to restore to the poor the ability to be economically productive. As Christopher J. H. Wright explains in his Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, “The jubilee did not . . . entail a redistribution of land, as some popular writing mistakenly supposes. It was not a redistribution but a restoration. It was not a handout of bread or ‘charity,’ but a restoration to family units of the opportunity and the resources to provide for themselves again” (207; italics original).
So, then, if Jesus portrays his liberating work in terms of the jubilee legislation, what should we conclude about the freedom he has come to announce? How does the jubilee inform our understanding of the Christian life? The jubilee we’ve experienced at least includes deliverance from the oppressive debt of sin (cf. Col 2:13–14). That is glorious in itself. But this freedom from sin also entails a freedom for good works, all to the glory of God. We are cleared of our debts in order that we may be truly productive, bearing the fruit of a changed heart.
Paul captures this dual freedom beautifully in his words to Titus. He praises “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13–14 ESV; italics added). One of the wonders of our deliverance is that God has not only given us a clean slate; he has also, as Ephesians 2:10 explains, “created [us] in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (ESV).
How, then, ought the reality of the Christian jubilee make itself felt in the classroom at Bethlehem College & Seminary? I offer two suggestions, briefly. First, in all of our teaching, in whatever subject we are discussing, we ought to recall again and again the freedom from sin that Christ has purchased for his people. We, as teachers, are former debtors teaching a classroom full of former debtors. Second, we should teach with a view toward the good works that God has prepared beforehand for us and our students to walk in. Whether we are studying verbal aspect theory, the doctrine of divine simplicity, or Kant’s transcendental idealism, God intends that our classrooms be incubators for Christian service.
He has set us free to this end.
Rejoicing in the year of our Lord’s favor,
Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy
Bethlehem College & Seminary
- Pray that our students, faculty, staff, and administration would abound in good works throughout this semester.
- Pray that we would never forget the good work that made all these good works possible: the death of Jesus in our place.
- Pray that God would supply the financial needs of our institution.
- Pray for faculty, staff, and students who are going on short-term mission trips this semester. Pray that they would go in the strength that God supplies and bring refreshment to those they are serving.