The Shemitah and The Yovel: Examining The Relevance of God’s Appointed Times, Part V
Is The Time Now?
Expectations of Messiah
Let’s think for a moment why the disciples would ask Yeshua if the time had come for Him to restore the kingdom to Israel. This question does not even enter the consciousness of the average Christian. That is because Christian theology over the last 1,700 years has taught that Jesus Christ completed the work of the promised Messiah by dying for the sins of the world and returning to life on the third day after His crucifixion. This is a standard feature of Christian belief across the entire spectrum of traditions, from Catholic to Orthodox to any of the thousands of Protestant permutations, whether conservative or liberal. At the heart of this interpretation are the words of Yeshua just moments before He died:
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30 NKJV, emphasis added)
A person who had no knowledge of the rest of Scripture might assume from these words that Yeshua meant He had accomplished everything He had been sent to earth to do, and thus would conclude that everything Yeshua did as recorded in the Gospels was all that Messiah was supposed to do. Yet that is clearly not the testimony of the Prophets, nor does it match the expectations of the Apostles. Messiah Yeshua did indeed accomplish the crucial tasks of salvation and redemption, but He did not complete the work of restoration. Even though Christian traditions teach that Messiah will return at the end of the present age to rule the world, for the most part the teaching is scanty on details. The emphasis usually is on the events leading up to Messiah’s return, but skips over the extensive prophecies regarding how Messiah will rule from Jerusalem, and about life under His rule. Moreover, the typical Christian perception is that those prophecies have little relevance to the church, being only for Israel (meaning the Jews), or having already been fulfilled somehow.
Tragically, that misunderstanding reinforces the separation between Ephraim and Judah. Christians, who are grafted into Israel by virtue of their faith in Messiah, have no understanding either of their heritage as Israelites or of their relationship to their Israelite brethren of Judah. On the other hand, Jews have no inclination to investigate Christian claims that Yeshua is Messiah because of the fact that He did not restore the kingdom.
Indeed this mission of Messiah was and remains a central Jewish expectation. The two disciples whom Yeshua encountered on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection alluded to this expectation when they said,
But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. (Luke 24:21 NKJV)
This expectation of Messiah’s work in restoring all Israel springs directly from Scripture. Consider, for example, the following passage from Isaiah, which not only contains a prophecy very familiar to Christians, but also precedes the previously quoted verses from Isaiah 9 that address the harbinger of the fallen bricks and sycamores:
For the Lord spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not say, ‘A conspiracy,’ concerning all that this people call a conspiracy, nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.” Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait on the Lord, Who hides His face from the house of Jacob; and I will hope in Him. Here am I and the children whom the Lord has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, Who dwells in Mount Zion. And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. They will pass through it hard-pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse their king and their God, and look upward. Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness. Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, as when at first He lightly esteemed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward more heavily oppressed her, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy; they rejoice before You according to the joy of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You have broken the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, and garments rolled in blood, will be used for burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 8:11-9:7 NKJV, emphasis added)
With stirring prophecies like that, no wonder the central expectation of Jews in the First Century was that Messiah would come to restore the independence of Israel and, more than that, bring back the exiles of the House of Ephraim. It is clear in hindsight that Messiah’s work would come in stages, beginning with redemption and concluding with restoration at the end of the age. In Yeshua’s day, however, that understanding was not entirely clear from the Scriptures at hand. Jewish sages knew that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and thanks to Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 Weeks they knew they were living around the time of His coming, but they did not expect Him to come in the way He did, nor to preach repentance on His (God’s) terms. He certainly did not win many friends in the religious and political establishment by confronting the powers of the day. Yet what caused the establishment to reject Yeshua was the fact that He not only threatened the Jewish national existence, but that He failed to bring about the restoration of complete independence.
With that understanding in mind, let us look again at the final conversation Yeshua had with His disciples. By that time, 40 days after His resurrection, they understood His work of salvation and redemption, and they knew that He would complete the work of restoration at some point. That left only one crucial question:
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:4-11 NKJV, emphasis added)
The most important thing to understand about this question is that Yeshua did not dismiss it as illogical or unreasonable. He did not rebuke His disciples for asking the question, but instead corrected their focus. He had done the very same thing with the Apostle Peter just days earlier:
Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:20-22 NKJV)
In other words, Yeshua reminded Peter that he had certain tasks to accomplish for the Kingdom, and that he could not accomplish those tasks if he were focused on matters of lesser importance to his own commission (such as the tasks Yeshua gave to others). At the Ascension, Yeshua focused His followers’ attention on the fact that they were about to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable them to take the full Gospel of His Kingdom to the entire earth. It was not their purpose to understand the timing of the end of the age. In that sense, He was reminding them of an admonition by Moses:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 NKJV)
Or, to put it another way, our task is to move ahead with the revelation our Creator has given us, knowing that each new revelation enables us to obey his Commandments all the better. In time He will reveal everything, including the timing of the end of the age, just as He explained to Daniel:
And he said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” (Daniel 12:9-10 NKJV)
When Do We Know the Time?
If we are at the “time of the end” then the Lord God should be revealing more about the specifics of the events about to unfold. We should know not only about Messiah’s return, but about the regathering and restoration of all Israel, both Judah and Ephraim. And in fact that progressive revelation has been coming to God’s people, both Jewish and Christian, in ever-increasing measure over the last century. The reestablishment of the State of Israel is the most important part of the revelation. Judah is now firmly planted in the land once again, and the way is open for all Jews to return at last. Students of prophecy can also point to the events of this era and make a direct connection to the things the Prophets and Yeshua Himself told us to expect. We cannot know the exact day or hour, but we can indeed know the season. That is why many Christians are now awakening to something Jews have known for centuries: that God works on an established calendar which He has never changed.
And this brings us back to the Shemitah and the Yovel. Is there anything in Torah regarding these commandments that might give us a clue about the end of this age and the transition to the next one? In fact there is. Look at that interesting chapter of Leviticus sandwiched between the two chapters covering the provisions for the Shemitah and the Yovel, the chapter that begins with a warning against idolatry and an exhortation to observe the Lord’s Sabbaths and reverence His sanctuary. Leviticus 26 goes on to list the blessings God would pour out on His people if they obeyed Him, followed by a list of curses that would result from their disobedience. Those negative consequences include these specific provisions:
I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest—for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it. (Leviticus 26:33-36 NKJV, emphasis added)
God speaks here about His Shemitah years. There is no record that the Northern Kingdom of Israel ever observed the Shemitah from the time of Jeroboam’s rebellion around 922 BC to the Assyrian conquest that ended the kingdom in 722 BC. Yet that is not the total record of Israel’s disobedience, for they did not keep the Shemitah consistently before the rebellion, nor did the remnant of the people who remained in the land after the Assyrians conquest keep it. God, however, kept a count, which He revealed through Ezekiel, in that same passage where He pronounced His sentence upon Judah:
Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity. For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days; so you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year. (Ezekiel 4:4-6 NKJV, emphasis added)
Israel, then, would be exiled for 390 years, at least according to a cursory reading of this passage. However, the sin of the Ephraimite Kingdom was so great that God could not leave it at that. To understand the full picture, we must return to Leviticus 26, where we find that continued rebellion would result in a compounding of the sentence:
And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit. Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, destroy your livestock, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate. ‘And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I have cut off your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall bring back your bread by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied. And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins. (Leviticus 26:18-28 NKJV, emphasis added)
Israel, of course, never did repent and return to the Lord. Thus the sentence of punishment continued to compound until the Lord had to drive them out of the land and scatter them into the nations. And even then these dispersed descendants of Ephraim did not repent and seek to obey the Lord’s commandments. Thus the seven-fold sentence fell. Instead of 390 years of exile, Ephraim would be cut off from the land for seven times 390, a total of 2,730 years. If the exile commenced in 721 BC, then adding 2,730 to that date would bring us to the year 2009. Thus, if this calculation is correct, Ephraim’s exile should be over. But clearly that is not so. Where are the Ten Tribes? Why is there no Messiah making the Two Sticks one entity in His Hand? Are these calculations wrong?
Perhaps the calculations could use some adjustment, but the Bible is not wrong. What is in need of correction is our understanding of the ways God works in the affairs of mankind.
 119 Ministries has a detailed teaching on Ephraim’s exile and return. This teaching, “The Lost Sheep”, is available as a video presentation here: http://119ministries.com/the-lost-sheep, and as a transcript (please click here to download PDF).
Part VI examines the Scriptures for indications of how God has fulfilled prophecies in the past, looking for clue as to how He might bring about the return of Ephraim and the restoration of all Israel.