The Genealogy and the Jubilee

On the Sunday before Christmas in the Orthodox Church Liturgy we proclaim the genealogy of Christ from Matthew 1.***   Biblical scholar N.T. Wright comments: 

“The jubilee was, as it were, the once-in-a-lifetime ‘exodus’ that everyone could experience. We don’t know whether or to what extent the jubilee as set forth in Leviticus 25 was actually practiced in Jesus’s day. But it remained in the scriptures as a reminder that God’s time was being marked out week by week, seven years by seven years, half century by half century. Matthew hints at all this in his own way, right at the start of his gospel, by arranging Jesus’s genealogy in three groups of fourteen generations (that is, six sevens), so that Jesus appears at the start of the sabbath-of-sabbaths moment. And, as we have seen, people in Jesus’s day were pondering, calculating, and longing for the greatest superjubilee of them all, the ‘seventy weeks’ (that is, seventy times seven years) of Daniel 9:24. The great Sabbath was coming! Soon they would be free!

           the time is fulfilled. That was part of his announcement right at the start of his public career (Mark 1:15). Only this, I believe, will enable us to understand his extraordinary behavior immediately afterwards. He seems to have gone out of his way to flout the normal sabbath regulations. Most people in the modern church have imagined that this was because the Sabbath had become ‘legalistic’, a kind of observance designed to boost one’s sense of moral achievement, and that Jesus had come to sweep all that away in a burst of libertarian, antilegalistic enthusiasm.  That, though commonplace, is a trivial misunderstanding. It is too ‘modern’ by half. Rather, the sabbath was the regular signpost pointing forward to God’s promised future, and Jesus was announcing that the future to which the signpost had been pointing had now arrived in the present. In his own career. He was doing the ‘God’s-in-charge’ things. He was explaining what he was doing by talking about what God was doing. The time was fulfilled, and God’s kingdom was arriving.

            Notice how this theme then ties in with others we have already observed. If the sabbath now has a purpose, it won’t be for rest from the work of creation, but rather for celebrating God’s victory over the satan: ‘And isn’t it right,’ asks Jesus, ‘that this daughter of Abraham, tied up by the satan for these eighteen years, should be untied from her chains on the sabbath day?’ (Luke 13:16). Victory in the real battle is closely connected with the healings that reveal that God is in charge. ‘My father is going on working,’ declares Jesus, ‘and so am I’ (John 5:17). And these things happen, of course, in the moment when the time is fulfilled. If Jesus is a walking, living, breathing Temple, he is also the walking, celebrating, victorious sabbath.” (Simply Jesus, pp. 137-137)

The Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Ancestors of Christ:

***MATTHEW 1:1-25

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa, and Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

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2 Responses to The Genealogy and the Jubilee

  1. Marc says:

    Fr. Ted, I think this concept of jubilee is full of meaning.

    “Seventy sevens are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy (Daniel 9:24).”

    Seventy sevens is understood as four hundred ninety years. Yet we also need to consider the symbolic and prophetic aspect of this number. Seventy times seven is symbolic of fullness and completeness: Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22).”

    With the end of this full and complete time period true Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ, will fully establish the everlasting Kingdom of God, ruling it for all eternity from the New Jerusalem.

    The seven sevens of Daniel 9:25 points us to the Law of the Sabbaths and the fifty year cycles of Jubilee Years (see Leviticus 25:1-23). This law given to Israel commanding that all debts be forgiven every fifty years was a type of what was to be fulfilled at Golgotha when all debts would be forgiven. The chronological fulfillment of this seventy week prophecy happened 490 years after the decree of King Artaxerxes in 458 B.C. with the death of the Messiah on the Cross in A.D. 33. The super Jubilee period of forgiveness continues through the last super week of the symbolic period of fullness and completeness ending at the Second Coming.

    The super Jubilee of forgiveness and restoration begins at the Cross, extends into the spiritual realm with the Harrowing of Hades, is confirmed on Pentecost in A.D. 33, and will continue until the end of the Day of the Lord.

    • Fr. Ted says:

      All very interesting. Thanks for the post, Marc. Beneath the literal words of scripture are often the most astounding revelations.

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