The Branch

Jeremiah 33.14-16 records the initial promise that the Divine Davidic King would be the True Vine (Branch) in righteousness: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” At the time this promise was given through Jeremiah the Kingdom of Judah was about to fall to the Babylonians in 586 BC. Jeremiah’s words of judgment had been unheeded by Judah’s leaders, how much more the promises of restoration and the ultimate promise of the Messiah. Never the less and despite the false prophets both in the exile of Babylon and with the besieged in Jerusalem, God was not done with Israel. God’s promise to the Patriarchs was inviolable: Through the Seed of the woman and Abraham’s Seed One would arise to crush the serpent’s head. Later the promised line was narrowed to David’s descendent who would also be King forever. It was necessary for any redeemer to be connected to the human race and to be able to trace his lineage back to Adam. God chose Abraham to father the line of the Messiah, the Seed, who would bless all nations (see Gal.3.16).

Previously, Israel was pictured as a vine that the Lord brought out of Egypt and settled in The Land. Ps.80 records this imagery: You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River. The Promised Land was an ideal place to grow grapes and viticulture was central in the agricultural year. With this imagery Israel was well familiar and later would even adorn the Second Temple with a huge vine covered in gold. The figure of the vine was Israel’s predominate image.

Isaiah 5 is a lament over the vineyard of the Lord: Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?     And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! (vss. 1-7)

Jeremiah’s Branch therefore would be the True Vine which yielded righteousness unlike Israel. This speaks of a righteous substitute who would provide His righteousness on humanity’s account. This hearkens back to the sacrifices of the Tabernacle and later, the Solomonic and Second Temple. The worshiper would place his hands on the sacrifice and symbolically transfer his sins to it. Everything that happened to the sacrifice afterwards was deserved by the one who brought it. Redemption in Israel was about substitution, the unblemished for the guilty. This imagery prefigured Christ.

Contrast the time of Jeremiah with the scene in 70 AD when the Second Temple was destroyed by the hands of the Romans and God never renewed the sacrifices since the Ultimate Sacrifice for human sin already occurred when Christ shed His blood at Passover about 40 years earlier. Also, it should  be noted when the Church was in its formation in Acts 6 that many priests became Christians: And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (vs.7). It is fair to infer that these priests recognized Christ as the fulfillment of the sacrificial system.

This brings us to the renewed promise of the coming of The Branch in Zechariah. Now the promise of Babylon’s demise is fulfilled and the people are returning to the land about 535 BC. Joshua (same name as the Greek version of Jesus), son of Jehozadak was High Priest when the word of God came to Zechariah concerning the Branch: Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. (3.8-9) Here, Joshua son of Jehozadak, is spoken of as a sign referring to a greater fulfillment: Joshua (Jesus) who would lead His people into the ultimate Promised Land of eternal life. This High Priest Jesus would receive the serpent’s fatal bite on the heal (Gen.3.15) and secure redemption by paying the penalty of Adam’s (and therefore all humanity’s) sin.

Again Zechariah speaks of The Branch in chapter 6 and says that Joshua’s name (Jesus) will be the name of The Branch: “Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (vss.12-13)

There were two authorities in Biblical Judaism: the Davidic King and the Jewish High Priest. Notice how Paul in Acts 23.5 apologizes for calling the High Priest a “whited wall” by quoting- “don’t speak evil of the ruler of your people.” Also, Paul previously had authority to arrest Jews in Damascus from the Jewish priests. Therefore, the Jewish High Priesthood functioned as a sort of religious authority while the Davidic King acted as the civil authority. God promises to combine the offices of priest and king through the Branch, the promise given in Zechariah 6.13: “And there shall be a priest on his throne”

Now the question becomes how these two offices would be combined since the High Priesthood is exclusive to the sons of Aaron while the Messiah is of David’s line of Judah. The answer derives from the prophecy of a new high priesthood, one in Melchizedek’s order: The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps.110.1-4)

Jesus the Messiah came as High Priest at His first advent (notice how John the Baptist, himself a son of Aaron, announces Jesus: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”). Only Jesus by the power of an indestructible life could both pay for humanity’s sin and rule eternally. The change in the priesthood required a change in the law: Jesus by His blood cut the New Covenant (see Jer.31 and Heb. 8) where the promise that “all would know the Lord” would be fulfilled 50 days hence after the crucifixion at Pentecost when the Spirit was given to believers so as to know the Lord in a personal way. Therefore this Branch (Jesus) is the True Vine: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (Jn.15.1). 

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