At the end of the Babylonian exile, Ezra and Nehemiah were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city. When the walls were completed, the exiles began returning, though still under foreign dominion. After they settled in, they came together and had one request of Ezra.
All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law ...Ezra was called the “teacher of the Law.” He and the Levites read to the people from the book of the Law, instructing them, making the meaning clear to them so that they could understand what was being read. This tradition endured for centuries and eventually developed into the Rabbinic form of Judaism.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. The Levites ... instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. (Nehemiah 8:1-8)
Now let’s jump ahead about 500 years. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist with water and by God the Father with the Holy Spirit. Then he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days where he was tested by the devil. Then this:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:Here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61, which speaks in terms of the Jubilee God prescribed in Leviticus 25. Jubilee was to be celebrated every 50th year, a year to “proclaim liberty” and restoration. It was a time for release from the bondage of debt, for bond-servants to be set free, for homes and lands to be returned to their original heirs. It was good news for the poor … except that there is no indication that Israel ever actually kept the commandment and practiced Jubilee.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)
Isaiah prophesied to a people who had not yet gone into Babylonian exile, but the prophesy in chapter 61 was about how God would bring them out, set them at liberty and restore them to their land. It was the promise of Jubilee. Yet hundreds of years later, the Jews were back in Judea. However, they still were not a free people but under foreign rule, a part of the Roman Empire.
But now Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit and taught in the synagogues. In Nazareth, he stands and reads this passage from Isaiah, then he sits down to teach on its meaning. He speaks about it a most startling way: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
He was announcing that the time of God’s true Jubilee had finally come. More than that, he was saying that it is fulfilled in him. That he is the one whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit. That he is the one God sent to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. That he is the one God sent to set the oppressed free. That it was he whom God sent to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. In short, he was saying that he is Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed King. This is the message of the gospel, and in this announcement, Jesus was laying out the charter of his ministry. This scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing — they were witnessing it.
Jesus is the ultimate teacher of the Law. All the Law and the Prophets are about him, and in him they all find their fulfillment. He is there in Leviticus 25, in the commandment to observe Jubilee. And he is there in Isaiah 61, in God’s promise of the greater Jubilee. Indeed, he is God’s Jubilee, for the kingdom of God has come into the world and Jesus the Messiah is Lord of all. In him and through his cross, God is making all things new.