In the dark hours preceding his crucifixion, Jesus was led through a series of quasi-legal proceedings that flaunted any sense of justice. In one of those phases, Pilate, the Roman governor, had Christ brutally whipped. Subsequently, the soldiers placed a crown of plaited thorns upon his brow and mockingly clothed him in a purple robe, feigning regal adoration.
Pilate then paraded Jesus before the crowd and exclaimed, “Behold, the man!” (Jn. 19:5). Significantly, this very phrase is found in an Old Testament prophecy that heralds the coming of Israel’s Messiah.
The Historical Background
In 606/5 B.C., the southern kingdom of Judah was taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Their accumulating sins across the centuries finally exhausted the patience of their benevolent God. Thus, for their own good, divine discipline was necessary. Jeremiah had declared that this period of incarceration would last seventy years (25:12; 29:10).
In 536 B.C. the first of three major returns to the homeland was effected. The long trek was led by Zerubbabel, whose principal mission was to encourage the rebuilding of the sacred temple (destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.). In conjunction with Zerubbabel’s labor, Zechariah’s efforts would be focused upon encouraging the people to re-establish their familial relationship with Jehovah.
It was characteristic of the prophets, as they were addressing the weaknesses of the nation, to sweep across the centuries, giving brilliant glimpses of the great Deliverer, the Messiah, and the glories that would adorn his administration. This feature was certainly common to Zechariah’s writing.
In chapter six, after a series of visions involving colorful chariots, employed as symbols of various divine judgments, Joshua, the high priest, was adorned with “crowns” of silver and of gold. It was actually one crown (LXX) with dual circlets (Laetsch, 438). These were visual suggestions of the twofold nature of the Messiah’s role (regal and priestly). It was within this context that the following prophecy was uttered.
“Behold, the man whose name is Branch: and he shall grow up out of his place; and he shall build the temple of Jehovah; even he shall build the temple of Jehovah; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both” (6:12-13).
Jewish opinion (e.g., the Aramaic Targum, the Jerusalem Talmud, and the Midrash) considered these passages to be messianic in thrust. There are six major points of emphasis in this narrative. Let us consider them.
The prophet begins by announcing: “Behold, the Branch.” The term “Branch,” which denotes a “bud” or “growth,” was a symbol of prosperity (Gen. 49:22), and formerly had been used both by Isaiah and Jeremiah of the coming Messiah (cf. Isa. 4:2; Jer. 23:5; 33:15).
Jeremiah, for example, declared that the Branch would:
- come from David’s lineage;
- be a righteous person;
- reign as king;
- exercise wisdom;
- execute justice and righteousness (Jer. 23:5).
Some argue that the term Branch, as used in prophetic literature, sets forth four different aspects of the Messiah’s character:
- King (Jer. 23:5-6);
- Servant (Zech. 3:8);
- Man (Zech. 6:12); and,
- Jehovah’s Branch.
It has been suggested that this corresponds to the fourfold picture of Jesus as presented by the Gospel writers, Matthew (king), Mark (servant), Luke (man), and John (deity) (see Kaiser, 239).
Grow Up Out of His Place
Zechariah contends that the Branch “shall grow up out of his place.” The phrase is a bit ambiguous. It literally means “from beneath.” It may suggest his rise from the nation (Isa. 11:1; Jer. 23:5), or from the land (Keil, 299; cf. Ex. 3:8). Palestine is referred to as Immanuel’s “land” (Isa. 8:8). Incidentally, Palestine does not belong intrinsically to the Jews; they lost their “deed” to it (Josh. 23:14ff).
On the other hand, the expression may be a reference to Jesus’ humble origin (Barker, 640), somewhat analogous to Isaiah’s descriptive: “For he [Christ] grew up before him [Jehovah] as a tender root out of dry ground” (Isa. 53:2).
A “tender root” in “dry ground” represents a situation that seems unlikely to be productive, as humanly viewed. One cannot but think of the many circumstances associated with the Lord’s life that defied all odds of success (e.g., the dangerous early years – Mt. 2:3ff, his youth in a despised city – Mt. 2:23, Jn. 1:46, Jesus’ lack of formal rabbinical training – Jn. 7:15, his absence of wealth – 2 Cor. 8:9, etc.) The significant point is this: He was ever under the watchful eye of his Father (Isa. 53:2).
To Build Jehovah’s Temple
The prophet, with great emphasis (the thought is repeated), affirmed that the man whose name is Branch would “build the temple of Jehovah.” The reference is not to the construction of a material edifice; rather, this foretells the establishment of a spiritual temple, namely, the church.
Not long before his crucifixion, Jesus declared: “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18). That spiritual organism was generated on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Later, inspired apostles would depict the church as God’s temple. The saints in Corinth were described as “a temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16). The Christians in Ephesus were of the “household of God,” and each saint was “fitly framed together,” ever growing into “a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:19-22). Peter represented Christians as the “living stones” of a “spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5).
The church is characterized as a temple because:
- Just as God’s presence was focused in the temple of Old Testament times (Ex. 25:22), so the church today is the “habitation of God” (Eph. 2:22). The Lord does not promise that his benevolent presence will abide with those who refuse to obey the gospel (2 Cor. 6:16-18).
- The temple was the place wherein sacrifices were offered to atone for sin. Today, those who constitute the living temple have been purified from their sins by the blood of Jesus (Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:7), the true lamb of God (Jn. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:19).
- As the temple provided an appropriate environment for the exercise of divinely prescribed worship, even so, the church is authorized to offer the service of spiritual sacrifices to the Lord by means of regulated acts of worship (cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15; Jn. 4:24).
Branch to Bear the Glory
The prophet foretold that the man called Branch would “bear the glory.” There are at least three senses in which Christ was to bear the glory.
First, Jesus exists as the “effulgence” (ASV) or “brightness” (KJV) of the Father’s glory. The Greek term apaugasma (to shine from) means “radiance.” The RSV takes it in a passive sense, i.e., that Jesus was the “reflection” of God’s glory; the ASV, supported by patristic evidence (Kittel, 87), suggests that Christ radiates the glory directly.
Even in the days of his flesh, the glory of Jesus was manifest. John says that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld [theaomai — careful and deliberate observation] his glory” (Jn. 1:14).
Second, there is that glory the Lord was to receive upon his ascension back into heaven following the resurrection. In his intecessory prayer, Jesus petitioned that he might again be glorified with the glory which he shared with the Father before the world existed (Jn. 17:5).
To certain disciples, who were confused because the Savior had been killed, Jesus said: “Was it not necessary that the Christ suffer these things, and to enter into his glory” (Lk. 24:26). Peter spoke of the sufferings of the Son of God and the “glories that should follow” (1 Pet. 1:11; cf. 21). At the time of his ascension, Jesus was “received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
Third, there is the glory that shall accompany Christ at the time of his return. “But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations...” (Mt. 25:31-32).
The term “throne” here must not be confused with the mediatorial throne which the Savior began to occupy when he returned to heaven following his resurrection (Lk. 1:32-33; Acts 2:30ff; 1 Cor. 15:25; 1 Pet. 3:22). Rather, this is the throne of judgment at which point Jesus will be glorified universally.
“For it is written, ‘As I live, saith the Lord, to me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess to God’” (Rom. 14:11; cf. 2:5).
A Priest upon His Throne
Under the Old Testament economy, the priesthood came from the lineage of Aaron (Ex. 28:1), while Judah’s kings, from Solomon onward, were out of the loins of David. The functions of the priests and the kings were separate entirely. The monarchs administered the civil affairs of the nation, while the priests directed the religious life of the people.
With the coming of the Christ, however, the two offices were to be joined. Melchizedek, the ancient contemporary of Abraham, typified this circumstance (Gen. 14:18; Heb. 7:1ff; cf. Psa. 110). As king, Jesus exercises regal authority over a spiritual domain (Mt. 28:18); as priest, he atones for our sins (Heb. 10:19ff). What a wonderful arrangement God provided.
There are two matters worthy of further reflection at this point. This context, which shows that Jesus would be a priest while upon his throne, is devastating to the dogma of premillennialism — the notion that the Lord’s reign was postponed when he was rejected by the Jews, and is to be implemented at the time of the Second Coming. Note these points.
- The Bible makes it clear that Christ cannot function as priest while on earth (Heb. 8:4). But he is to be a priest upon his throne (Zech. 6:13). Therefore, his throne could not be on earth.
- If Christ is to operate as priest and king simultaneously, as Zechariah affirms, and he is not now reigning as king, as millennialists allege, then he is not functioning as our priest currently — which means we are without atonement!
These are consequences of the false notion of premillennialism.
Acceptance of the Gentiles
Finally, Zechariah announces that they who are “afar off” eventually will come and build “in the temple of Jehovah.” It is hardly a point of controversy that the “afar off” ones are the Gentiles.
Peter so characterized them in his sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:39), as did Paul in his epistle to the church at Ephesus (2:13,17). The prophecy was fulfilled, of course, when Peter taught the gospel to Cornelius and his associates (Acts 10), and subsequently to others of their kind, thus fully implementing the “great commission” (cf. Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16).
When, therefore, Pilate sarcastically introduced Jesus with: “Behold, the man!” — he said far more than he knew. “Behold, the man!” — indeed!