Leading up to the year 2017, the date-setters were at it again. Although Jesus told us that no one knows when He will return (Matthew 24:36–44), some people insisted on making predictions concerning the timing of the rapture and/or the second coming. One theory was that Jesus would return in 2017, based on the idea that 2017 was a Jubilee Year and His return would fulfill a medieval rabbi’s prophecy.
To understand the now-defunct theory, we must know what a Jubilee was. Leviticus 25:9 says a year of jubilee was to be observed after seven cycles of seven years (49 years total). This fiftieth year was a time of celebration and rejoicing for the Israelites. A ram’s horn was blown on the tenth day of the seventh month to start a year of universal redemption. The Year of Jubilee involved a release from indebtedness (Leviticus 25:23–38) and from all types of bondage (verses 39–55). Every captive was set free, slaves were released, debts were forgiven, and lands and properties were returned to the families of the original owners. In addition, all labor was to cease for that year, and those bound by labor contracts were released from their obligations. The Year of Jubilee was similar to a sabbatical year (or shemittah) in that fields and vineyards were left fallow (verses 4–7). During the Jubilee both the land and the people had rest.
The idea that Jesus will return during a Year of Jubilee comes from some calculations made by Rabbi Judah ben Samuel in AD 1217. According to the rabbi, there would be a certain number of Jubilees from ben Samuel’s time until the messianic kingdom would begin. The year 2017 was said to be the end of that predicted period; thus, some people looked for Jesus’ return during Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) in 2017 (October 4–11). They believed that at that time the Messiah would return to give His people rest and cause great jubilation among His redeemed.
There were some problems with this theory, besides the fact that it did not come to pass. One problem was based on the Mosaic Law. Leviticus 25:10 says, “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” The “land” here is Israel, and “all its inhabitants” are those living within Israel’s borders. The Jewish interpretation of this command has always said that the Jubilee is only observed when the twelve tribes of Israel are in their land and dwelling in their allotted territories. After the northern tribes were deported by Assyria in 722 BC, the observance of the Jubilee law ceased, and it has never been resumed.
Also, there was no way to be certain that 2017 was an actual Year of Jubilee. And, even if it were, it would not signal the return of Christ. According to some Jewish sources, no commemoration of Jubilee is in order when there is no Sanhedrin—and there has not been a Sanhedrin since the destruction of the second temple in AD 70. In ancient times, the Jubilee Year began with the Sanhedrin’s blast of the shofar (ram’s horn).
Another problem with the theory that Jesus would return in 2017 to set up His kingdom was that the Bible says the kingdom will be preceded by a seven-year tribulation in which God’s judgments are poured out on the earth. Paul tells us not to be deceived; before the coming of the Lord there must first be a great apostasy, then the Restrainer must be taken out of the way, and then the man of sin (the Antichrist) will be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3–8). Unless we all somehow missed the tribulation, the Antichrist’s reign of terror, and the return of Christ, then 2017 was not the correct date.
The rapture of the church could occur in a few days—or in a few years or in a few centuries. The fact is we don’t know. The important thing is to be ready when Jesus comes. Make sure you are in Christ, and “keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13).