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Alex's Blog for November 29, 2012 - The Branch
By Alex Dodson
Jesus came into the world to establish a spiritual kingdom over which He would reign. This spiritual kingdom was inaugurated by Jesus at His first coming. When He began His ministry, He announced the setting up of this spiritual kingdom. In Mark 1:15, Jesus says, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." (KJV) So, we are not awaiting the setting up of the kingdom as our dispensational friends so often teach, but the kingdom is already set up and is now in progress. This was what Daniel prophesied long before Jesus came when he interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar's dream. In that dream, he saw a giant statue that was destroyed by a rock cut out of a mountain. When the rock struck the foot of the statue, the statue crumbled but the rock became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. When Daniel interpreted the dream, he described the statue as representing four world kingdoms which would arise in succession beginning with Babylon which was already in power. The other three kingdoms would be Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman. The last one was the Roman Empire which was to be the most powerful. Then he points out that during the reign of those kingdoms, God would set up a kingdom that would destroy or replace all the others and last forever. In Daniel 2:44, Daniel says, "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever." All of those world kingdoms would be destroyed and lose their power. The first three kingdoms culminated in the Roman Empire into which Jesus came at His first coming. Jesus in the midst of that fourth kingdom set up his spiritual kingdom. The Roman Empire no longer exists but the kingdom that Jesus set up still exists and is growing. It will eventually fill the whole earth and by its influence will permeate all nations. It is not a worldly kingdom but it is spiritual and its influence will dominate all the world in time. This was what Daniel meant when he described the rock striking the statue and becoming a huge mountain that filled the whole earth.
It is so important that we realize that this kingdom set up by Jesus at His first coming is a spiritual kingdom. It is not an earthly kingdom although it influences earthly kingdoms. This King is ruling from heaven not from earth. He is in heaven and He actively is carrying out His rule from there over the earth. His influence is felt everywhere the gospel goes and where men are brought into that spiritual kingdom. His dominion and rule are then carried on through the lives and influence of those people who are members of His spiritual kingdom. It is not a kingdom that uses military weapons to win its victories but it uses spiritual weapons. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 - "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Paul again points to spiritual weapons in Ephesians 6:10-12 - "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
The Old Testament prophets pointed to a spiritual kingdom that would come. It would be a kingdom that would arise from the ruins of David's kingdom. Yet it would not be the same as his for it would not be a worldly kingdom but a spiritual kingdom. Paul refers to this kingdom in Romans 15:12 - "And again, Isaiah says, 'The root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.'" John Calvin comments, "This is the most famous prophecy of all, for the prophet here comforts the small remnant of the faithful when things were almost past hope, by stating that a shoot would spring from the dry and dead trunk of the family of David, and a branch, which would restore the people of God to their former glory, would flourish from the despised root. It is clear from the description given in this passage that this shoot is Christ, the Redeemer of the world. The prophet then adds that He will be lifted up for a sign to the Gentiles, so that He may save them." (The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Thessalonians, p. 308)
The angel Gabriel came to Mary before Jesus was born and said to her in Luke 1:30-33, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of God. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." This prophecy by the angel Gabriel confirms the prophecy of Isaiah that one day a sprout or branch would come up from the stump of Jesse or from the ruins of David's kingdom. His kingdom would not fail but would be everlasting. In Isaiah 4:1, it says, "In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel." Here the prophet points ahead to the coming of the Messiah and his reign. Edward J. Young comments on the Sprout or Branch of the Lord, "In the present passage the Sprout is that shoot which comes from the tree of David which has been cut down, and which springs to life from its fallen trunk and brings the tree to more glorious and wondrous heights than before." (The Book of Isaiah,
Volume 1, p. 174)
Isaiah expands his prophecy of this branch that will arise from the stump of Jesse in Isaiah 11. Here he looks ahead to the time of the Messiah and his ultimate influence on the whole world. Jesus came into the world to set up a spiritual kingdom that would ultimately influence the whole earth. This kingdom is not something that we are awaiting to begin at the second coming of Christ but something that has already begun at the first coming of Christ and is now progressing in the world. This kingdom will continue to progress until it permeates and brings peace to the whole world. This is Isaiah's message in chapter 11.
Isaiah 11:1-5 says, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord - and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist." The description here of the Messiah reminds us of Revelation 19 which also describes the Messiah or Christ riding on a white horse with the armies of heaven following Him. There he is called Faithful and True and He judges and fights righteously. He does not come with great military weapons but rather with the weapon of His mouth or His Word. He is called the Word of God. It's with His mouth sword that He slays the wicked. In Isaiah 11, the result of His reign is that peace comes to the world and the knowledge of the Lord permeates the earth in the same way as the waters cover the sea. In Revelation 19, the reign of the Messiah results in the overthrow of His enemies and if you take these two chapters as presenting a chronological order, Revelation 20 presents a time of peace on the earth resulting from the victory won in chapter 19 by the rider on the white horse followed by His army.
Isaiah 11:10 quoted above in Romans 15:12 mentions the Root of Jesse which means the Messiah. Edward J. Young comments, "Jesse's root is the basis or foundation which produces the trunk. There, the Messiah is seen to be a support or stay for Jesse's family. After the tree has been cut down, only the root itself remains in the ground, and from this root alone can new life come. Hence, the Messiah is truly the restorer of David's line. It is the root itself, equivalent to the shoot and branch of verse 1, which becomes the rallying standard for the peoples. This root is no longer under the ground and invisible, but standing to such a height that it can serve as a point about which the peoples will meet and rally. As the Root the Messiah was unknown and disregarded; as the Standard He is lifted up that all men may gather about Him. 'And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.' (John 3:14); 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.' (John 12:32). His being lifted up, His standing, is therefore for the benefit of the peoples." (The Book of Isaiah, Volume 1, p. 393)
This Root of Jesse or the Messiah will call the nations to Himself. More specifically He will gather His people from all over the world. He will bring them into His Church or Spiritual Israel. This is most likely the meaning of Isaiah 11:12 - "He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth." Isaiah 11:14 seems to show how the church will capture the nations for Christ when it says, "They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east. They will lay hands on Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites will be subject to them." Edward J. Young comments, "The picture is of a complete reversal of conditions, not to take place in Palestine, but in the greater field of the world, a reversal which would consist in the people of God reaching out to bring all men and make them captive to Christ." (The Book of Isaiah, Volume 1, p. 399)
This whole passage in Isaiah 11:10-16 shows the Messiah and His church going to the nations with the gospel and bringing the peoples into the church. As God brought His people out of Egypt in former days, in the future He will bring His people out of the Egypt of the world, out of the bondage of sin, and bring them into the Kingdom of God. Young comments, "Isaiah is not here speaking primarily of the return from Babylonian exile, although it may be that the thought of such a return lies at the foundation of what he says. Rather, he is thinking of a deliverance so great that it can only be performed by God. As once in former times God had brought up His people out of the land of Egypt through desert regions until finally they came to Palestine, so once again He will bring them up out of the house of spiritual bondage and prison of sin over a way which is the Messiah, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, until He finally brings them through many difficulties into the City of God." (The Book of Isaiah, Volume 1, p. 401)
Another passage where the "Branch" is mentioned is Jeremiah 23:5-6 - "'The days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.'" This passage points ahead to the Messiah who would come and particularly shows that He will be the Savior of the Jews. There is no mention of the Gentile nations in this passage as there was in Isaiah 11. So, the focus here is on Israel. Not only will the coming Messiah be the savior of the Gentile nations but also of Israel. This becomes even clearer as we look at verses 7-8 - "'So then, the days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when people will no longer say, 'As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' but they will say, 'As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.' Then they will live in their own land.'" This passage seems to point to a future time in the reign of the Messiah when the Jewish people will be brought back to their homeland and it will be a time of salvation for them. This passage sounds similar to the prophecies given in Ezekiel concerning the return of the Israelites to their homeland in latter days. Of course, there was salvation for a remnant of the Jews when Jesus came but this prophecy seems to point to a much more widespread salvation of the Jews in later days. Paul mentions this in Romans 11:26 when he says, "And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: 'The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.'" In that whole context of Romans 11, Paul points out that there is a much greater conversion of the Jews that will come in the future. This I believe is what is pointed to in Jeremiah 23 as well.
Now, we come to Jeremiah 33:15-22 which also mentions the Branch. In this passage it seems to be talking about the coming Messiah who would not only save the Jews but would be a savior to the Gentiles as well. Verses 15-16 say, "In those days and at that time, I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness." If we take these two verses alone, it would seem that the salvation of the Jews is being pointed to especially those living in Judah and Jerusalem. However, as we continue to read the passage it becomes evident that something more is in mind pointing to the worldwide scope of the Messiah's salvation and reign. Verses 17-18 point to the Messiah who will be both a king and a priest. We read, "For this is what the Lord says: 'David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, nor will the priests, who are Levites, ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices." Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in that He both sits on the throne of David as King and died on the cross as a priest for our sins. Now He continually intercedes for us in heaven having offered the one sacrifice for all time on the cross.
The next verses 19-22 point to a wider salvation than just that of Israel and the Jews. We read, "The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: This is what the Lord says: 'If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant - and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me - can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.'" This prophecy points to all who will embrace the Messiah all over the world. They will be a number that no one can count, measureless. They will be priests and kings as it says in Revelation 1:6 - "And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (KJV) Keil and Delitzsch in commenting on this Jeremiah 33:17-22 write, "It will not result from the countless increase of the descendants of Jacob according to the flesh, but from the incorporation, among the people of God, of the heathen (Gentiles) who return to the God of Israel. As the God-fearing among the heathen will be raised, for their piety, to be the children of Abraham, and according to the promises…even Levitical priests taken from among them, so shall the increase placed in prospect before the descendants of David and Levi be realized by the reception of the heathen (Gentiles) into the royal and sacerdotal privileges of the people of God under the new covenant." (Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume VIII, Jeremiah, Lamentations, p. 76)
It is significant to note that the Old Testament prophets pointed ahead to the gospel age and to the church that would carry the gospel to the Gentiles. The above passage in Jeremiah definitely points to the church being a body made up of kings and priests who would be without number. In Isaiah 66:19-21 the church again is seen as people from among the Gentiles are brought into the Kingdom of God. We read, "'I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations - to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord - on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,' says the Lord. 'They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,' says the Lord." In this passage, a remnant from among the Israelites proclaim the gospel to the nations. This is probably a reference to the New Testament church in its beginning made up of Jews who would take the gospel to the Gentiles. Then by implication it becomes a prophecy of the coming gospel age when the gospel would be carried to the world of nations and many brought into the Kingdom of God. From among these converts will be many who will become ministers like the priests and Levites among the Israelites. The Old Testament prophets were not ignorant of the New Testament Church though they did not see it as clearly as we do now. Yet, they prophesied its coming days. When our dispensational friends say that the Old Testament Prophets knew nothing of the New Testament Church, they are simply mistaken.
The next passage about the Branch is found in Zechariah 3:8 - 10 which says, "Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree,' declares the Lord Almighty." This passage again points to the reign of the Messiah and His work focusing in on the cross. He will remove the sin of this land in a single day. Not only does this indicate the removal of Israel's sin but the sins of the whole world. John the Baptist when he saw Jesus coming unto him said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) As a result of the Messiah's work and His reign peace would come to the world as indicated in verse 10. This expression "to sit under his vine and fig tree" points to such passages as Micah 4:4 which tells of the reign of the Messiah and the coming of world peace as a result of His reign. Micah 4:1-4 says, "In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.' The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken." The Micah passage points to a time when many nations will come to the Lord and to a time of peace all over the world. The expression to sit under one's own vine and fig tree denotes a time of peace. Note I Kings 4:25 which says, "During Solomon's lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree."
Combining the Micah passage and the Zechariah passage we have a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah (the Branch) who will remove the sin of the world and in time will bring in world peace through His reign. This will not just be for Israel and Judah but will include many peoples and nations. Keil and Delitzsch in commenting on Zechariah 3:8-10 write, "(that land) is the land of Canaan or Judah, which will extend in the Messianic time over the whole earth…the expression 'in one day' is substantially the same as ephapaks in Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10, and affirms that the wiping away of sin to be effected by the typical priesthood, which had to be continually repeated, but will be all finished at once. The one day is the day of Golgotha. Accordingly, the thought of this verse is the following: Jehovah will cause His servant the Branch to come, because He will prepare His kingdom gloriously, and exterminate all the sins of his people and land at once. By the wiping away of all guilt and iniquity, not only of that which rests upon the land, but also of that of the inhabitants of the land, i.e. of the whole nation, all the discontent and all the misery which flow from sin will be swept away, and a state of blessed peace will ensue for the purified church of God. This is the thought of the tenth verse, which is formed after Micah 4:4 and 1 Kings 4;25, and with which the vision closes." (Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume X, Minor Prophets, p. 262)
The final passage which mentions the Branch is Zechariah 6:12-15 - "Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.' The crown will be given to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the Lord, and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God." Here we have a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. He will be both a priest and a king and He will build the temple. Many who are far away will come and help build the temple. The Messiah will have a spiritual reign and He will build a spiritual temple. All who know the Lord will be a part of that temple. Those who help build this spiritual temple will be from many nations. This is a description of the church being built by the Lord Jesus Christ with His many helpers from nations all over the world. This spiritual temple is mentioned in Ephesians 2:21-22 - "In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." Also, in I Peter 2:5 it says, "You also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." The Old Testament Prophets such as Zechariah looked ahead and saw this spiritual temple, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. To say that these prophets knew nothing about a church is just not giving full justice to their prophecies.
Keil and Delitzsch comment on this passage, "The crowning of Joshua the high priest with a royal crown, which did not properly belong to the high priest as such, as his head-dress is neither called a crown nor formed part of the insignia of royal dignity and glory, had a typical significance. It pointed to a man who would sit upon his throne as both ruler and priest, that is to say, would combine both royalty and priesthood in his own person and rank….The man whom Joshua is to represent or typify, by having a crown placed upon his head, is designated as the Messiah, by the name Branch….He will grow from below upwards, from lowliness to eminence. This Sprout (Branch) will build the temple of the Lord. That these words do not refer to the building of the earthly temples of both Solomon and Zerubbabel but were only symbols of the temple which is the church of God itself." (Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume X, Minor Prophets, p. 298-299)
The Old Testament prophets saw the church of the future. They may not have understood all that they saw but they saw it. They saw a future Zion that would be made of people from many nations. They saw this Branch who would come and be a Savior for people all over the world but also for the Jews. This Branch would build a temple and people from many nations would help to build that temple. What a beautiful picture of the church being built by Christ and His people. As the gospel is preached all over the world by the church, people are brought into the church. This is the work of Christ who sends out His servants to preach the gospel.
Isaiah 11 tells us about the Branch who would come and reign. It would be a spiritual reign for He defeats His enemies with the rod of his mouth and the breath of his lips. Revelation 19 also shows Christ defeating His enemies with the sword coming out of His mouth. With Christ is a great army which probably refers to the church going out into the world proclaiming the gospel under the leadership of Christ. In Isaiah 11 the result of the spiritual reign of the Branch is a great time of peace in the world. Verse 9 says, "They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Here the whole world becomes a holy mountain full of the knowledge of the Lord. Revelation 19 is followed by Revelation 20 which also describes a time of peace when Satan is bound. If we take the events in Revelation 19 and 20 as being in chronological order, then the reign of Christ also results in a time of peace.
The popular teaching today in evangelical circles is that we are awaiting the rapture and the coming reign of Christ and the Kingdom Age during the Millennium. The church will not win the world to Christ but in a sense go down in defeat and have to be taken out of the way. Then Christ will return to set up His millennial kingdom. However, is there not another view which shows Christ reigning now through a spiritual reign leading His church forward in this age not to go down in defeat but to be victorious to such an extent that one day there will be a time of peace when the gospel reigns supreme in the world. B. B. Warfield in commenting on Revelation 19:11-21 writes, "The section opens with a vision of the victory of the Word of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all His enemies. We see Him come forth from heaven girt for war, followed by the armies of heaven; the birds of the air are summoned to the feast of corpses that shall be prepared for them: the armies of the enemy - the beast and the kings of the earth - are gathered against Him and are totally destroyed; and 'all the birds are filled with their flesh'. It is a vivid picture of a complete victory, and entire conquest, that we have here; and all the imagery of war and battle is employed to give it life. This is the symbol. The thing symbolized is obviously the complete victory of the Son of God over all the hosts of wickedness. Only a single hint of this signification is afforded by the language of the description, but that is enough. On two occasions we are carefully told that the sword by which the victory is won proceeds out of the mouth of the conqueror (verses 15 and 21). We are not to think, as we read, of any literal war or manual fighting, therefore; the conquest is wrought by the spoken word - in short, by the preaching of the Gospel. In fine, we have before us here a picture of the victorious career of the Gospel of Christ in the world. All the imagery of the dread battle and its hideous details are but to give us the impression of the completeness of the victory. Christ's Gospel is to conquer the earth: He is to overcome all His enemies." (Biblical Doctrines, p. 646-647)
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (1978) unless indicated otherwise.
Calvin, John. Calvin's New Testament Commentaries, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Thessalonians, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973.
Keil, C. F. and Delitzsch, F. Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume VIII, Jeremiah, Lamentations. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, No date given.
Keil, C. F. and Delitzsch, F. Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume X, Minor Prophets. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, No date given.
Young, Edward J. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Isaiah, Volume 1, Chapters I-XVIII, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1972.
Warfield, B. B. Biblical Doctrines, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, First Published 1929.