Atonement: Vindication of the Martyrs

The first recorded sermon by Jesus occurs in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. In that sermon he makes a remarkable statement about his mission and person. He begins by reading a few words from Isaiah 61 from the scroll handed to him.

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Isaiah 61:1-2a | NIV)

Luke reports what happened next.

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. (Luke 4:20-22 | NIV)

We only get the first line of Jesus’ sermon, but it is a telling line. Jesus is there to proclaim freedom, release and “the year of the Lord’s favor.” What most of us Christians do not know is how deeply rooted in Israel’s law this particular proclamation is. It goes back to a duty God gives to his ancient priesthood early in its establishment.

8 “ ‘Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.13 “ ‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property. (Leviticus 25:8-13 | NIV)

In this instruction to the Levitical Priesthood, God instructs them to blow trumpets on the Day of Atonement every 50th year to announce a year of jubilee. In this year all land that was sold goes back to the family it originally belonged to. All debts are erased. (The whole economy is essentially re-booted.) Even the cropland gets to rest for the year, since this was a part of the system of seventh-year “land sabbaths.”

Unfortunately, there is no record that Israel actually managed to observe this important law. A further clue to Israel’s disobedience to this law can be found in this description of their exile to Babylon.

20 He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. 21 The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah. (2 Chronicles 36:20-21 | NIV)

The seventy years seems to be calculated from the missed land sabbaths of Israel. If they missed the regular land sabbaths, it is certainly likely that they also missed the jubilee sabbaths as well.

This is the imagery that Isaiah draws upon for his prophecy in Chapter 61. It is also the imagery that Jesus draws upon as he reads that passage and announces that he has fulfilled the proclaiming of Jubilee. After almost 1100 years, Jubilee is finally proclaimed! Jesus has set in motion the return of the families to their inheritance.

But there is a problem. Israel is in bondage to Rome. More importantly, Israel is also in bondage to sin and disobedience. Those two things need to be dealt with in order to bring families back to their inheritance.

Since sin and disobedience are what result in exile and bondage to other nations, it seems logical to deal with the sin first. Jesus does this by his death and resurrection. He sends his disciples to spread the word and gather people into Jesus’ family, preparing for eventual resettlement in the land of promise.

The good news for those of us who are not physical descendants of Israel is that we are allowed to be “grafted in” to the “rootstock” of Israel (Rom. 11:13-18). We (Jew and Gentile) are now being gathered into Jesus’ family and await resettlement at the appointed time.

So, what about Rome? Or any other occupying Gentile power throughout history. When does this “appointed time” happen? John provides a theological answer in the form of a vision.

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9-11 | NIV)

In this vein, it is interesting that Jesus read only a portion of the assigned sabbath reading from Isaiah 61. Here is how the rest reads.

…and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:3 | NIV)

Isaiah’s description of that ultimate Jubilee – the “year of the Lord’s favor” – seems to include God’s vengeance on those who murder and abuse his chosen people, whether Israelite or Gentile believers. It includes restoration and vindication – lifting them up or honouring them in the sight of the rest of the world.

It would seem that Jesus read only the part that applied to his first coming. Surely he will fulfill the rest–at his return. The symbolism of the Day of Atonement appears in a scene before God’s altar in Revelation 8. (Remember that the souls under the altar have asked when God would avenge them.)

1 When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:1-5 | NIV)

Aaron must do something similar on the Day of Atonement as a ritual. He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain.

13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. (Leviticus 16:12-16a | NIV)

In the previous post I argued that the goats of the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement were not what is normally assumed: representative of Jesus and the Devil, with the “Devil goat” being banished for 1000 years in the “bottomless pit.” of Revelation 20.

I believe that the goat “for the Lord” represents the innumerable multitude of saints who endured torture and death rather than renounce their faith in Jesus. Like Jesus, the conquered by submitting to their Lord to the death. It is a powerful testimony to a powerful faith in the life-giving power of Jesus Christ, the “firstborn from the dead.”

These are people who put their lives on the line “for the Lord.” As such their offering is a sweet savour to God, who reminds himself of it just before finally beginning their vindication by overthrowing “Babylon the Great” (a code-name for Rome and its many imitators who try to dominate the world.

Jesus will return when a designated number of faithful martyrs have sacrificed their lives for his glory. He will return to avenge them and glorify them, completing the picture of the Jubilee prefigured by Moses and prophesied by Isaiah.

1  After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,   2  for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” (Rev. 19:1-2 | NIV)

The end result:

1  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.   2  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.   3  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.   4  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”   5  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”   6  He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.   7  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.   8  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”  (Rev. 21:1-8 | NIV)

This is part of the Jubilee Proclamation of the Day of Atonement: Sin dealt with completely, retribution for the oppressed, and a settled inheritance forever. All of these things are fulfilled by our Lord, Jesus Christ, who fulfils all of the Scriptures.

About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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