A New Jubilee Season for Israel by Jürgen Bühler

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As we enter the new year, we are in the midst of a twelve-month period that is rather unique in Israel’s modern history. During this year-long span, we are celebrating a remarkable series of anniversaries. It all began in May 2017 with the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, and it ends in May 2018 with the celebration of Israel’s 70th year of independence. Never in my lifetime can I recall a period with so many remembrances of key historic events related to Israel’s rebirth. They also are significant markers for the Church and the nations. This includes:   

  •          50 years of a reunited Jerusalem 
  •          70 years since the UN plan for a Jewish state
  •         70 years since Israel’s independence
  •         100 years since the Balfour Declaration  
  •         100 years since Gen. Edmund Allenby liberated Jerusalem from Ottoman rule 
  •         120 years since the First Zionist Congress in Basel convened by Theodor Herzl
  •         150 years since Sir Charles Warren discovered the ancient City of David
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Now each of these numbers bears a certain biblical significance.

Fifty years – the Jubilee

The biblical Jubilee encompasses a fifty year cycle.  According to Leviticus 25, every 50th year was to be a year of Jubilee. If an Israelite landing on hard times had to sell his land or even his own self into servitude, then the 50th year represented a year of good news and renewed favour. All his original inheritance would be returned to him and he would regain his freedom. It is indeed a season of God’s favour (Isaiah 60:1ff; Luke 4:18ff), when God restores unique blessings to His people.

In modern times, Jerusalem has gone through a whole sequence of these jubilee cycles over the past 50, 100 and 150 years, indicating that there is a divine pattern of restoration and release operating over the city of God.

Seventy and 120 years – a lifespan of completion

Seventy years represents a significant timespan in the Bible. Moses gives 70 years as the lower limit of a human lifetime (Psalm 91:10). It was the period for which Israel was exiled to Babylon. Thus they spent an entire lifespan in captivity. Then after 70 years, God remembered His promise of restoration and the Jewish people began returning to their homeland under Ezra and Nehemiah.

The prophet Daniel saw that 70 weeks were determined for Israel and Jerusalem to complete their divine purposes (Daniel 9:24ff).

The period of 120 years represents the upper limit for a human lifespan. In the times of Noah (Genesis 6:3), God gave humanity 120 years to live. Moses also died exactly at this age, and no biblical figure has ever reached this age since.

Thus, both 70 years (for the State of Israel) and 120 years (for the Zionist movement) represent a season of completion and accomplishment.

The Jewish year

The Jewish calendar long predates our Gregorian calendar and counts the years since Adam’s creation. According to Jewish tradition, these amazing jubilees have occurred in the Jewish year 5777 which then turned into 5778 at the last Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) last September. Seven is always a number of completeness. God created the world in 7 days. Jesus said that we are to forgive 7 times 70, representing complete and total forgiveness. The number 777 is one of ultimate completion. The first day of the week is also the eighth day. Jesus rose on the first day of the week from the dead and ushered in a new season. The passing from 5777 to 5778 thus indicates a new season has started. 

A new Jubilee season

In general, it is wise to be careful not to over-emphasise the symbolism of numbers. The concentration of anniversaries with highly symbolic numbers, however, does bear a message for Israel and the nations.

The period of 50 years speaks of restoration and return of that which belonged to its original owner. We see this Jubilee cycle in operation over Jerusalem, as key events related to the city have lined up in exactly 50-year intervals, each ushering in a new season for its rightful owners. The discovery of the ancient City of David by Sir Charles Warren brought excitement to the Russian Jewish community and led to the very first wave of Aliyah from Russia in the years following. Allenby’s liberation of Jerusalem together with the Balfour Declaration 100 years ago brought a new season to Jerusalem’s inhabitants and laid the foundation for the state of Israel. And of course, the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 meant the biblical Old City was back in Jewish hands for the first time in almost 2000 years. 

It is therefore no surprise that again, at this year’s Jubilee, another landmark of restoration has occurred for Jerusalem. The decision by the United States to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel finally affirms what the Knesset decreed back in July 1980 in the Jerusalem Law – that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the state of Israel. This recognition was unduly withheld by the international community until now, leaving Israel as the only nation in the world not given the right to choose its own capital. As the prophet Zechariah foretold, Jerusalem became like “a cup of drunkenness” for the nations of the world.

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But this latest move by the US Administration represents a new level of international recognition for Jerusalem. It is a ‘game changer’ in the way nations will deal with Israel in the future. Other nations are expected to follow suit, yet at the same time it also will result in new levels of hostility by others. In any case, this move will significantly strengthen the historical connection of the Jewish people to their national capital. It also underlines that the biblical principle of the Jubilee is still in operation today.

A new season coming for Israel

As we mark during this coming year the 70th anniversary of Israel’s rebirth as a nation, we also can look forward to a new season, a new level of prophetic fulfillment for the nation of Israel. The general idea of 70 and 120 year cycles is that a season has been completed and now something new can be expected. The prophet Isaiah repeatedly declares a new season coming to Israel: “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19 [see also Isaiah 42:9; 48:6]).

Over the past 120 years, God has already opened an exciting new chapter for the Jewish people. The headline for this chapter was “Restoration”. A poor, agricultural pioneer state has become the start-up nation that is today a world leader in medical and scientific research and can compete in innovation and efficiency with Silicon Valley or any other hi-tech region of the world. Israel also experienced a number of seemingly hopeless wars and emerged as the unexpected winner. Today it is uncontested in its neighbourhood militarily and has recently become even a strategic partner for Sunni Arab nations against the growing threat of Iran and its proxy terror militias.

Now as we enter this new season, we can expect an even deeper level of restoration. It will continue to strengthen the national and physical restoration of the Jewish State. Yet at the same time, especially after the US recognition of Jerusalem, we can expect a ‘new thing’ that goes beyond the natural and political realm. We do know that one of the greatest outstanding promises God gave to the Jewish people is that of a spiritual restoration for Israel. Almost every Hebrew prophet who foresaw the Jewish physical return to their homeland also foresaw a spiritual return to God on a national scale.

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© 2017 Dr. Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ President