The sabbath was the day when human time and God’s time met, when the day-to-day succession of tasks and sorrows was set aside and one entered a different sort of time, celebrating the original sabbath and looking forward to the ultimate one. This was the natural moment to celebrate, to worship, to pray, to study God’s law. The sabbath was the moment during which one sensed the onward movement of history from its first foundations to its ultimate resolution. If the Temple was the space in which God’s sphere and the human sphere met, the sabbath was the time when God’s time and human time coincided. Sabbath was to time what Temple was to space.
…This sense of looking forward was heightened by the larger sabbatical scheme in which the seventh year was a year of agricultural rest and the seven-times-seventh year the year of jubilee, the time for slaves to be freed, for debts to be cancelled, for life to get back on track.
…The jubilee was, as it were, the once-in-a-lifetime “exodus” that everyone could experience. We don’t know whether or to what extent the jubilee as set forth in Leviticus 25 was actually practiced in Jesus’s day. But it remained in the scriptures as a reminder that God’s time was being marked out week by week, seven years by seven years, half century by half century. Matthew hints at all this in his own way, right at the start of his gospel, by arranging Jesus’s genealogy in three groups of fourteen generations (that is, six sevens), so that Jesus appears at the start of the sabbath-of-sabbaths moment. And, as we have seen, people in Jesus’s day were pondering, calculating, and longing for the greatest superjubilee of them all, the “seventy weeks” (that is, seventy times seven years) of Daniel 9:24.
…Now, and only now, do we see what Jesus meant when he said the time is fulfilled. That was part of his announcement right at the start of his public career (Mark 1:15). Only this, I believe, will enable us to understand his extraordinary behavior immediately afterwards. He seems to have gone out of his way to flout the normal sabbath regulations. Most people in the modern church have imagined that this was because the sabbath had become “legalistic,” a kind of observance designed to boost one’s sense of moral achievement, and that Jesus had come to sweep all that away in a burst of libertarian, antilegalistic enthusiasm. That, though commonplace, is a trivial misunderstanding. It is too “modern” by half.
…In particular, Jesus came to Nazareth and announced the jubilee. This was the time—the time!—when all the sevens, all the sabbaths, would rush together. This was the moment Israel and the world had been waiting for. When you reach your destination, you don’t expect to see signposts anymore. …It was completely consistent with Jesus’s vision of his own vocation that he would do things that said, again and again from one angle after another, that the time had arrived, that the future, the new creation, was already here, and that one no longer needed the sabbath. The sabbath law was not, then, a stupid rule that could now be abolished (though some of the detailed sabbath regulations, as Jesus pointed out, had led to absurd extremes, so that you were allowed to pull a donkey out of a well on the sabbath, but not to heal the sick). It was a signpost whose purpose had now been accomplished
…If Jesus is a walking, living, breathing Temple, he is also the walking, celebrating, victorious sabbath. But this means that the time of Jesus’s public career, taken as a whole, also acquires a special significance. He spoke about this special significance when he insisted that the wedding guests can’t fast while the bridegroom is still at the party. Something new is happening; a new time has been launched; different things are now appropriate. Jesus has a sense of a rhythm to his work, a short rhythm in which he will launch God’s kingdom, the God’s-in-charge project, and complete it in the most shocking and dramatic symbolic act of all.
….In a solemn warning that resonates with many similar ones, Jesus warns his hearers that they may one day see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets—and people from east and west, from north and south!—sitting down to eat in the kingdom of God, while they themselves will be thrown out (Luke 13:18–30). The time of Jesus’s public career is the time of fulfillment, the time through which God’s new creation, his earth-as-in-heaven new reality, is being launched, up close and personal. But this means it is possible to miss the boat, to lose the one chance. That is the warning that goes with the note of fulfillment.
Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters by N. T. Wright