Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) has long been considered by our people as the holiest day of the Biblical calendar.  It is a time when the Jewish community stops to reflect, fast and pray as we take spiritual inventory of the last year.  Of the many themes of the holy day, one idea has nearly been forgotten in recent generations although it is emphasized in the Torah; namely, Yom Kippur is to be a day of LIBERTY!

The Picture of Liberty

“You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years, forty-nine years.  You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land.  You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty through the land to all its inhabitants.  It shall be a Jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.”  (Leviticus  25:8-10)

G-d has chosen to order His world in cycles of 7’s.  Every seventh day is to be special (Shabbat), every seventh year (Shmitah) as well as the special celebration mentioned here after 7×7 years.  On this 50th year, exactly on Yom Kippur of that year (10th of Tishri), there was to be liberty within Israel.  Unpaid debts were to be forgiven, property was to be returned to the original owners, even slaves were to be set free.  All this was to take place with the familiar sound of the ram’s horn at Yom Kippur.  Liberty was to be proclaimed through this great holiday known as the Yovel (Jubilee Year).

What a tremendous picture this must have been for generations of Jews in the land of Israel.  G-d had given a special Yom Kippur where we could rejoice in His freedom.  It is no surprise that the Prophets of Israel later developed this theme of Liberty through the Yovel holiday.

The Prediction of Liberty

Isaiah the Prophet spoke of a special Yovel to come when he said:

“The Spirit of the L-rd G-d is upon me, because the L-rd has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted; to proclaim LIBERTY to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the FAVORABLE YEAR of the L-rd…”  (Isaiah 61:1-2)

Here we have a prediction of some good news for Israel.  What was commanded and practiced in the Torah was a foreshadow of a FAVORABLE YEAR where liberty and blessing would come to our people.  And yet Isaiah seems to tie this day of freedom to the Jubilee on Yom Kippur.  How would all this take place?

It is clear to many rabbinic commentators that this day of liberty did not come in Isaiah’s day.  Indeed, he witnessed the tragic destruction on the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 BCE.  R. David Kimchi (11th century CE) in his commentary on this passage states that this “anointed” could not be the prophet but must in fact be the greatest anointed one, the Messiah.  In fact, Kimchi points out, these words penned in Isaiah 61 would be the exact words that the Messiah will speak when He appears to Israel!

Not only would the Messiah be the great LIBERATOR of Israel but other rabbis even speculated when this Messiah would appear.  Perhaps not surprisingly it is written,

“The World will endure not less than 85 Jubilees, and in the last Jubilee the Messiah, Son of David, will come.”  (Talmud Sanhedrin 97B).

All this presents a fascinating connection between Yom Kippur and the Messiah.  According to tradition, He must come to liberate Israel.  And what better time to do that than on the Yom Kippur of the Jubilee Year!

Sadly, with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the observances of the Yovel came to a final end.  How could the Messiah proclaim such things today if there is no true celebration of the Jubilee?  This presents us with a problem but also with a possible answer.  What if the Messiah already came and made this proclamation to us?

The Presentation of Liberty

“And Yeshua (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.  And He opened the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the L-rd is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.  To set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable Year of the L-rd'”  (Luke 4:16-19).

Imagine the scene nearly 2000 years ago.  As Yeshua went to the regular worship services of the local synagogue, He was called up for the high honor of aliyah, chanting from the Hebrew scrolls.  On this particular day He was to read from the traditional portion in Isaiah 61; the famous passage of Israel’s hope for the coming Messiah.

In an interesting note, some scholars have tried to ascertain when this particular Shabbat fell.  Isaiah 61:1-2 is not currently read under the present order of synagogue services because it is based on a 1-year cycle.  It is known however that the readings in the first century were based on a 3-year cycle, greatly expanding the number of verses read.2  Because of this, some scholars have speculated that this passage would have been chanted on the sabbath which includes a close passage; namely, Isaiah 58. It so happens that this would place this reading on the holy day of Yom Kippur.3  This would mean that Yeshua was reading the very words that were to be spoken to Israel by the Messiah on the very day that the Messiah was to be revealed (ef. Kimchi)!

If these events were not clear enough, what followed clearly startled those synagogue attendees that day.

“And Yeshua closed the scroll, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him.  And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing'”  (vv. 20-21).

How our people for generations have called out for the Messiah to come!  Yet, could it possibly be that we have missed the clear proclamation that was made to Israel some 2,000 years ago?

Yom Kippur, especially the Jubilee, was to be a time of liberty.  That liberty of the heart is still available for all people, Jew or Gentile, who would respond to His call.  As we hear the shofar this Yom Kippur, may we receive the liberty that can only come through faith in God’s Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth.

1. Lexicon, R. David Kimchi.

2. Encyclopedia Judaica, 15:1247

3. Life and time of Jesus the Messiah, Edersheim, III p. 452

by Rabbi Barney Kasdan