The essential ingredient of the Jubilee was the emancipation of slaves. Every 50 years all debts were forgiven and the rightful place as children of God in the covenant community was restored. When Jesus stated His purpose he quoted from the description of the year of Jubilee, “to set the captives free.”  Once and for all, in Christ, all people are forgiven their debts, trespasses, sins, and restored to their rightful place as heirs to the kingdom.

Chapter 25 of Leviticus has been used by pro-slavery preachers before and during the civil war to justify the institution of slavery rather than as a limitation of harsh treatment to those who are indentured to others. It prohibited abuse of such individuals and argued for just treatment of them as humans not as objects or possessions. The reason one should treat the underprivileged well is out of “fear of God.”  Verses 36 and 37 say, “Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.”

Instead of supporting slavery, Christianity has been the idealogy to destroy slavery. William Wilberforce in England under the direction of his pastor,

John Newton, the former slave trader, set it as his life goal to eliminate slavery in the entire British Empire. His faith in Christ made it possible. There was a similar movement in America with another Christian Hero. His name was Elijah Lovejoy, a Presbyterian clergyman. He left the pulpit and started a newspaper in order to be sure his words reached more people. The Civil War might have been averted and a peaceful emancipation of slaves achieved had there been more like him. After observing one lynching, Lovejoy was committed forever to fighting uncompromisingly the awful sin of slavery. Mob action was brought against him time after time; neither this nor many threats nor attempts on his life deterred him. Repeated destruction of his presses did not stop him. “If by compromise is meant that I should cease from my duty, I cannot make it. I fear God more than I fear man. Crush me if you will, but I shall die at my post…” And he did, four days later, at the hands of another mob. No one of the ruffians was prosecuted or indicted or punished in any way for this murder. (Some of Lovejoy’s defenders were prosecuted! One of the mob assassins was later elected mayor of Alton!) However, note this: One young man was around whom was deeply moved by the Lovejoy martyrdom. He had just been elected to the Illinois legislature. His name was Abraham Lincoln.

Christ came to set the captive free.