Chapter III, The Acceptable Year Of The Lord

When once the break in the prophetic plan is seen as set forth in Daniel 9, one recognizes the fact that provision is made for this in prophetic interpretation throughout the entire Word of God. Prophecy has to do first with events connected with the nations in contact with Israel before and up to the coming of and rejection of the Messiah. Then there is a long interval during which, we learn from the New Testament, God is doing a work never mentioned in Old Testament times. Following this we have prophecies relating to the coming judgments at the time of the end and the Second Advent in power and glory of our Lord as He takes possession of the kingdom so long predicted.

A very striking instance is that of Isaiah 61; of which a portion was read and commented on by our Saviour at His first return visit to Nazareth, where he had been reared, after His baptism by John and the temptation in the wilderness. We are told by Luke that when He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day, and stood up to read, there was delivered unto Him the book of the Prophet Esaias, and when He had opened the book, He found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:16-19).

In the opening words of the next verse we read: “And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down.” There is something here that is very significant. By turning back to Isaiah 61, we find that He finished reading at a comma, for there in verse 2 we read:

“To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:2-3).

The remainder of the chapter speaks of the wonderful blessing which will come to the land of Palestine and the people of Israel in the last days.

Now when our Lord ceased reading in the middle of verse 2, He evidently had a very definite reason for it, and that reason is closely linked with what we have already been considering in our study of the great prophecy of the seventy weeks. One might suppose, if he had never considered the matter before, that the entire prophecy of Isaiah 61 would be continuous. There is nothing in this Old Testament passage to indicate otherwise; but by closing the book when He did, our Lord distinguished very definitely between His ministry connected with His First Coming and that which is to take place when He comes the second time. He ceased read- ing as He uttered the words, “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” This introduced the Gospel Era. He did not read further because the day of vengeance of our God was not due to begin at that time, and, in fact, it has not yet begun.

In other words, our Lord put the entire dispensation of the grace of God in which we live into a comma. That comma represents a period of nearly two thousand years, at least. How much more, we cannot say. Not one other part of the prophecy has been fulfilled since the Lord closed the book. When Daniel’s last seventieth week begins, then the fulfillment of the rest of the prophecy will start, and soon every promise to the people of Israel will be confirmed.

The Lord Jesus came in lowly grace, preaching good tidings unto the meek. He came binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to captives and the opening of prison to those who were bound. He preached the acceptable year of the Lord, but Israel rejected Him. They did not recognize in the lowly Nazarene the King whom they were expecting, and so they fulfilled other Scriptures in rejecting Him.

This left God free, if I may put it that way, to open up secrets that had been in His heart from before the foundation of the world, and so we have the glorious age of grace in which we live, the calling out of the Church from Jew and Gentile to be the body and bride of Christ, and to share His throne with Him in the coming age. During all this time Israel nationally is rejected. It is folly to maintain, as some do, that the British nation and kindred peoples are really Israel and that a distinc- tion is now to be made between Israel and the Jews. Before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, God made this distinction, but since that time we find the terms “Jew” and “Israelite” used interchangeably. This will be seen clearly when we come to consider the great parenthetical portion of the Epistle to the Romans, chapters 9 to 11. During all this time Israel nationally is set to one side. They are “lost,” as it were, among the Gentiles. Individual Israelites may be saved by grace in the same way as individual Gentiles, but God is not dealing with the chosen nation as such.

When this age comes to an end and the Church of God has been caught away to be with the Lord, then will follow the awful period of judgment so frequently referred to in the prophetic Scriptures, “the day of vengeance of our God.” It will be the day when God will deal in judgment with apostate Christendom and apostate Judaism, when the vials of his wrath will be poured out upon the guilty nations who have rejected His Word, rejected His Son, and blasphemed His Holy Spirit. That day of vengeance is referred to again and again in the Scriptures under various names. It is called “the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” “the great tribulation,” “the coming hour of temptation,” and various other terms are also applied to it. It has nothing to do with the trials and tribulations through which the Church of God is now passing. For the Church, the entire period of her testimony here on earth is one of tribulation, even as our Lord said: “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but in me ye shall have peace.” And the Apostle Paul tells us: “Ye must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God.” But this is to be distinguished from what is emphatically called the Great Tribulation, which takes place after the Rapture of the Church and is the time when God will deal in wrath with the guilty nations of the world.

However, following this day of vengeance comes the time when the Lord will comfort all that mourn. He will return in power to Israel, and the remainder of this sixty-first chapter of Isaiah will have its glorious fulfillment. Note what is predicted in verses 3 to 7. In that day Zion’s mourning will be turned to joy; for the ashes of her blighted hopes will be given the beauty of acceptance with God. She will exchange the spirit of heaviness for the garment of praise, and restored Israel will be called “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord”; and all this that He might be glorified.

Then will come the blessing of the land, when God’s promise to Abraham that the land should be his and in possession of his seed forever, will be literally fulfilled. “And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, they shall repair the waste cities, and the desolations of many generations shall come to an end.”

Israel will no longer be despised and hated by the nations. The Jew will not be looked upon with contempt and disapproval. Strangers from among the Gentiles, sons of the alien, will delight to serve God’s ancient people who themselves will be named the priests of the Lord, and will be recognized as the ministers of our God. Because of all the anguish and wretchedness they have endured throughout the centuries, they will receive in return of the riches of the Gentiles, and will grow in the favor God shall put upon them. Verse 7 is very significant. God will make up to them in a marvelous way for all that they have endured throughout the years of their wanderings, and this in their own land, where everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.

It will be at that time that the promise given through Jeremiah will be fulfilled. In the thirty-first chapter of his prophecy, we have a corroborative passage that is linked definitely with this passage in Isaiah.

“The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry. Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria: the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things. For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God. For thus saith the Lord; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Lord, save thy people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off. and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:3-14).

Then the new covenant will be confirmed with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah according to the promise of verses 31 through 34:

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake; although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

This is the covenant referred to in the eighth verse of Isaiah 61, where God says: “I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.” The closing verses of the chapter set forth the delight that God will have in His people in that day:

“And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:9-11).

Let us suppose that we were living in Old Testament times before the First Coming of our Lord Jesus to the earth, and that we were earnest students of the prophetic Word. Imagine, for instance, that we were puzzling over this wonderful portion of Isaiah’s prophecy. Could we, by any possibility, realize through reading it that there was a great parenthesis between the two clauses, “the acceptable year of our Lord,” and “the day of vengeance of our God”? Daniel 9 is the key that unlocks the truth here as elsewhere, but this was not known at the time that Isaiah wrote. Therefore, we are told in the First Epistle of Peter, chapter 1, that the Old Testament prophets wrote of the coming of Christ, but were utterly unable to understand the times and the seasons connected with this glorious truth. Peter writes:

“Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (I Peter 1:10-12).

In other words, these Old Testament prophets wrote as they were borne along by the Spirit of God, and then, after putting pen to papyrus, they sat down and studied their own writings, pondering them thoughtfully, wondering just what all these marvelous promises could mean, and when they would be fulfilled. They wrote, as Peter again tells us, of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow, but of the interval between the two they knew nothing.

The strange thing is that many Christians ignore it today, and by failing to recognize the importance of this Great Parenthesis, they are in continual perplexity as to the time when prophecy is to be fulfilled.