The Coming Branch & Our Participation in His Present Rule
Passage: Zechariah 6:9–6:15
Sermon from Zechariah 6:9-15 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Zechariah: Restoration & Return (Part 10)
Delivered on November 1, 2015
We’ll also be taking the Lord’s Supper this morning. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance that points to the believer’s present union with the Lord Jesus. But it’s more than that. It also points to the future hope we have of eating with our Lord Jesus in his kingdom. Each time we participate in this sign, we do so looking toward the future hope we have in Christ.
In our passage today, Zechariah participates in another sign, and it’s a sign that was supposed to point Israel to the future. In fact, there are some things developed here, that if they didn’t happen, we’d have nothing to celebrate in the Lord’s Supper. Zechariah develops the work of a particular individual called the Branch, and the work of that Branch becomes the basis for all we celebrate today as believers. The work of the Branch gives us a seat at the Lord’s Table. So hear the sermon in that light before we eat together in a moment. Let’s pick it up in verse 9…
9And the word of the LORD came to me: 10“Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon, and go the same day to the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. 11Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. 12And 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. 13It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And he shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’ 14And the crown shall be in the temple of the LORD as a reminder to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah. 15And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the LORD. And you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God.”
Well, we made it through all eight of Zechariah’s night visions; and I’m encouraged by this trek through the book so far. It’s certainly humbling, when to sit down on Tuesday, start reading over the text, and go, “What in the world does that mean?!” But the Lord has been incredibly faithful, and I’m excited to keep going.
The passage before us actually picks up on a theme we already covered in the night visions. We were introduced to this figure called the Branch back in 3:8, and there the Branch would come to forgive sins and bring an abundant kingdom. Today the ministry of the Branch expands to even greater heights. And rather fittingly he sticks it at the end of these night visions to show that everything that has gone before is really pointing to this unique individual. The passage develops in three basic parts, I think; and they go something like this: the crowning of a priest; the coming of the Branch; and the condition of obedience. Let’s take them one at a time.
1. The Crowning of a Priest
First of all, the crowning of a priest. God would often have his prophets dramatize his message. Of course, it always came with God’s interpretation of what each prophet was doing, but take Isaiah for instance. Isaiah walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign against Egypt and Cush (Isa 20:3). Ezekiel had to lie on his left side for 390 days, and then again on his right side for 40 days as a sign that Jerusalem would be sieged—and that’s not to mention that he had to cook his food over burning dung (Ezek 4:1-17). Zechariah definitely gets the better part, here.
In verses 9-11, Zechariah is supposed to dramatize God’s message by crowning Joshua the High Priest. But even the way it’s told is quite remarkable. In verse 10, he’s supposed to take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who’ve just returned from Babylon. Remember, Babylon is enemy territory (Zech 2:7; 5:11; 6:6). And he’s supposed take from them silver and gold, in order to make a crown for the Lord. Now, that’s pretty significant. These men have just been rescued out of captivity; they come out with silver and gold; and now they’re going to use that silver and gold to make something for the Lord.
Where have we seen that before? In the exodus. God rescues his people from captivity in Egypt; Exodus 12:35 says they come out with all kinds of silver and gold; and then they use the silver and gold to build the tabernacle for the Lord. God is making a statement, in other words. He’s basically saying that the next phase to rescue his people and bring his kingdom is already under way. They’ve plundered the enemy, and now it’s time to show them yet another stage in establishing God’s kingdom.
So, he gets Zechariah to make a crown and set it on the head of Joshua the high priest. Now, it’s true that the high priest in Israel wore a turban—you can even see that in 3:5—and on top of that turban was a golden crown. But the Hebrew wording and the context before us has a different sort of crown in mind than the one the high priest normally wore. This crown regularly appears in contexts of royalty (e.g., 2 Sam 12:30; 1 Chron 20:2; Est 8:15; Ps 21:3; Sol 3:3; Isa 28:5).
Zechariah is placing the crown of a king on Joshua’s head, which is rather peculiar. The high priest doesn’t usually wear the crown of a king, because the high priest doesn’t usually serve as a king. Kingship belonged to another in Israel, and especially to someone from David’s family line. But here’s the point of crowning Joshua: God was pointing his people to a king who would also function as a priest. Or, flip it around, God was pointing his people to a priest who would also reign as king.
He’s pointing the people to a future Priest-King. That’s what this drama is about. We know he’s talking about someone beyond Zechariah’s day, because Joshua becomes a sign of a future figure just like he was a sign of a future figure in 3:8. Moreover, verse 14 suggests that the crown was to remain in the rebuilt temple under Zerubbabel, as an ongoing reminder of the coming Branch and his future temple. And then, of course, wherever we find this one called “the Branch” in Scripture, he’s normally a future Messiah-figure, who establishes God’s kingdom in full.
So I take this crowning of Joshua by Zechariah to point to the future, and in particular, to point to the role the Branch would play in establishing God’s final kingdom as a Priest-King…
2. The Coming of the Branch
Which brings us now to the second part of the passage, the coming of the Branch. The crowning of the priest points to the coming of the Branch—that’s the way God explains Zechariah’s drama in verses 12-13 and part of verse 15. And if you’ll notice, there are at least five promises bound up with this coming Branch.
Promise #1: “he shall branch out from his place”
Promise number one: verse 12 says, “he shall branch out from his place [or, from beneath him, is another way to put it].” The language is that of a king’s son taking his father’s place on the throne (e.g., 2 Sam 10:1; 2 Chron 1:8).
And there’s some background to this. You may recall that in Isaiah 10:33-34, God chops down the Assyrians like a lumberjack chops down a forest. And all that remains are stumps everywhere. Then, as you’re looking out over this now-leveled forest, Isaiah 11:1 says this: “there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”
Well, Jesse was King David’s father, and for a branch to come from his roots was for a descendant to come and replace David and replace the other sons of David who sat on David’s throne. Jeremiah 23:5 speaks of this same Branch coming to reign as the new King David and restoring righteousness the land (cf. also Isa 4:2; 10:33-34; Jer 33:15; Ps 132:17; Zech 3:8). So for this branch to go out from beneath him, is for Zechariah to essentially be saying that a new son of David is coming.
Promise #2: “he shall build the temple of the Lord”
Promise number two: verse 12 says, “he shall build the temple of the Lord.” And if you’re wondering why it’s repeated immediately again in verse 13—“it is he who shall build the temple of the Lord,” it’s not merely for emphasis. We have to remember that back in 4:9, the people were told that Zerubbabel would build the temple. If Zerubbabel is going to build the temple, why does it say here that the Branch is going to build the Lord’s temple?
Some have suggested that, if Zerubbabel is the one building the temple in chapter four, then the Branch in chapter six must be Zerubbabel. But the whole point of the passage is to point us to a figure well beyond Zerubbabel. Moreover, it’s clear from 3:8 that the Branch is someone different than Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel never removes the people’s iniquity; Zerubbabel never brings God’s abundant kingdom; and Zerubbabel isn’t even the one serving as a type in this specific passage—Joshua is.
Then what’s the point of the repetition in verse 13—“it is he who shall build the temple of the Lord”? The point is that he’s speaking of a different temple. The completion of Zerubbabel’s temple was not the end of the story. It was only one stage in the story that pointed to a much greater stage in the story.
The Branch would build the true temple of the Lord. He would build the temple that all the other temples pointed to. In the same way that the prophets before him promised a future temple—one that would totally eclipse even the second temple that Zerubbabel built—Zechariah is doing the same (cf. Isa 2:2-4; Jer 3:16-18; Ezek 40-42; Hag 2:7-9). He’s just adding that the future temple would be built by the Branch. The Branch would come and build the end-time temple of God’s kingdom.
Promise #3: “he shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne”
Promise number three: verse 13, “he shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne.” So, not only is he a coming king in David’s line, he will be a king that bears royal honor, and rules on God’s throne.
We get this idea of “bearing royal honor,” or “bearing majesty,” throughout the Psalms when it speaks of God’s anointed king. Psalm 21:5, for example, “[the king’s] glory is great through your salvation; splendor and majesty you bestow on him” (cf. 45:3; 96:6). And this is a really big deal, because during the exile one of the things God did was remove the majesty of the king in David’s line. Psalm 89:44 leaves you with this agonizing lament over the throne of David: “You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground. You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. How long O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever…Lord where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?”
In other words, if the majesty of David’s throne is cast to the ground, then are any of God’s promises true? If he wasn’t faithful to that promise, would he be faithful to any of them? Oh but now what do we get? God answers the lament of Psalm 89 with the coming Branch: “he shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne.” The Branch would restore majesty to the throne.
Promise #4: “he shall be a priest on his throne”
Promise number four: verse 13 again, “he shall be a priest on his throne.” The ESV is a little vague here. It has “there shall be a priest on his throne,” as if to suggest two persons—a priest in addition to a king. But New American Standard has the better translation in this case—the context is speaking of one person, the Branch: “and he shall be a priest on his throne.”
You might then ask, “Well then what becomes of the last part of verse 13, which seems to suggest two persons, doesn’t it?—“and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” To that I would say, yes, it does; but those two persons are the Branch—in his two offices as Priest-King—and the Lord. I understand it to be saying, “the counsel of peace shall be between [the one Priest-King and the Lord].”
Throughout the passage, it is the Lord’s temple that the Branch will build, and it is the Lord’s throne “on” which—or “by” which—the Branch will sit and rule (6:13). It can go either way in the Hebrew.
Moreover, one of the few places in the Old Testament that also mentions the rule of a Priest-King is Psalm 110. And in Psalm 110, we find the Lord’s anointed King ruling on/by the Lord’s throne. Psalm 110:1 says, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Or again in verse 5 of Psalm 110, “The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.” So, I find it remarkable that one of the only other Old Testament passages that develops the idea of a coming Priest-King, has the Priest-King sharing Yahweh’s throne.
And this is good news for the people, because if you look back over Israel’s history, many of their kings ruled without any concern for the Lord. That’s a huge problem when your representative rules without regard for the Lord. The Lord is now telling them that when the Branch comes to rule, that won’t be the case any longer. The Branch’s rule will be Yahweh’s rule.
Promise #5: “those far off shall come and…build the Lord’s temple”
Promise number five—it comes in verse 15: “And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord.” Those who are “far off” could be part of the Jewish remnant still scattered among the nations. But it seems far more likely that Zechariah has the Gentile nations in view (cf. 2:4, 11; 8:22).
This is a fairly common way to talk in the Old Testament. Israel is the one nation that’s viewed as being “near” (Ps 148:14; Isa 57:19)—God chose them, they have the covenants and the privileges of God’s revelation—while the Gentile nations are viewed as being “far off” (Deut 28:49; 1 Kgs 8:41; Isa 5:26; 57:19; Jer 5:15).
Paul even uses the idea of being “far off” to speak about the Gentile nations. And what does it mean to be “far off,” according to Paul? It means to be “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:11-13). That’s the natural state of every Gentile in this room apart from saving grace. We are “far off.”
But God is promising here that even those who were once “far off” would come—that’s remarkable in itself—would come and build the temple of the Lord. Meaning, part of the Branch’s work was to bring those who were once “far off” near to God’s presence, near to God’s dwelling place, near to participate in his work.
So those are the five promises bound up with the coming of the Branch: he would restore David’s throne; he would build God’s true temple; he would reign with majestic glory; he would also be a Priest, who perfectly administered Yahweh’s rule on earth; and he would gather the “far-off” nations to build God’s dwelling place.
3. The Condition of Obedience
The promises are incredible. Here, in the Branch, is where all of Israel’s hope lies, and where all of the “far-off” nation’s—it’s where our salvation lies. And just as you think all is well, you get to the end of the passage and see that the promises are conditioned on Israel’s obedience. That’s our third part: the condition of obedience.
God requires an obedient covenant partner. He says in verse 15, “This shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.” Wow-zers! That’s a downer if there ever was one. We know Israel’s pattern of obedience—there is none. We have their history, and again and again and again it doesn’t go so well for them. And it’s also pretty obvious that even the great reforms under Ezra and Nehemiah—that even the remnant’s obedience wasn’t quite enough to usher in all these marvelous promises. We even see their desperate condition when we get to the New Testament.
Of course, our obedience isn’t any better. We too have the same pattern of disobedience, because we too have the same problem—sin. Sin enslaves us. How is it, then—if Israel hasn’t diligently obeyed the voice of the Lord, nor has anybody else—how is it that any of these promises would come to pass?
They come to pass through God’s gracious gift of the Branch, Jesus Christ. The New Testament identifies this Branch as Jesus Christ: he is the son of David (Matt 1:1); he’s building God’s new temple, the church (Matt 16:19; 1 Cor 3:17); he’s seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven (Heb 8:1); he is a merciful and faithful high priest (Heb 2:17); and it’s through him that the nations dwell with God (Rev 21:3). But linked with all these things is his obedience for us.
God not only promises the coming of the Branch, and then sends him in the person of Jesus; the Branch himself meets the condition of obedience, so that all the promises are fulfilled. God not only commands Israel to be his obedient covenant partner, he sends the obedient covenant partner in the Branch. Jesus is everything Israel was supposed to be and more.
You see, God’s Law required total obedience—obedience in action as well as obedience in heart, motivation, desires, longing. But wherever his voice was not diligently obeyed in action and heart, the Law required punishment. So we could say that God’s Law had both positive demands and penal sanctions. Jesus came to obey God in such a way that covered both for us. He totally obeyed God’s Law for us—both in action and heart—and he suffered the punishment for our every infraction of the Law.
The church has sometimes called this Christ’s active and passive obedience, to highlight both sides of Christ’s vicarious obedience. In his obedience to God, Jesus fulfills all the positive requirements of the Law for us. And he suffers the punishment the Law required for us. Even when that punishment should have fallen on us, it fell on his instead. He not only takes away our punishment in his suffering; he also wins us the right standing before God by his righteousness.
The book of Hebrews highlights this obedience well, and amazingly it does so in the context of Jesus’ ministry as our Priest-King. In fact, it’s through Christ’s obedience that he becomes the superior Priest-King now enthroned above all.
Hebrews 1:3 says, that it was after making purification for sins [there’s his priesthood] that he sat down at the right hand of majesty [there’s his kingship].” Or take Hebrews 5:8-10, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek,” which means he’s not just any old priest, but a Priest-King who lasts forever (Heb 7:1-28; Ps 110:1-4).
Philippians 2:8 comes close to saying the same thing: “Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” He obeyed God all the way through death; and that death served to take away our punishment; and as a result God highly exalted him. God raised him from the dead, and he is now seated at God’s right hand. And you know what else that means?
It means that from his heavenly throne, the Branch is building God’s true temple, and all the nations are coming to help build his temple as the gospel spreads. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 2:13-22—listen to it carefully…
13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
What’s the picture? Jesus died on the cross to bring those who were far off from God’s promises near to God’s promises. And now he’s risen from the dead, and it’s because of his present rule that we have become God’s holy temple. We have become participants in his rule as the gospel binds us together into a dwelling place for God (cf. also Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22-23). It’s all made possible by the obedience of the Branch. All the promises are Yes and Amen in Jesus; and we get to participate in them.
Participating in the Branch’s Present Rule
So, here’s how I want to close today. If the Branch has come—and if through his obedience and all the promises being fulfilled in him, if it’s all come in the person of Jesus—then how do we get to participate in his rule?
…by praising God
For starters, we get to participate in the Branch’s present rule by praising God. We did nothing to earn the work of the Branch. We contributed nothing to the work of Jesus except the sin we laid on his back. And still, he came and he loved us and he obeyed for us and he died for us and he rose again for us; and now we participate in his present rule by praising him for all that he’s done for us. We sing, we give thanks, we eat, we celebrate what he’s done for us and who he is for us still. Hebrews 13:15—as a way to celebrate the finished work of the Priest-King says, “Through him…let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”
…by praying to God
We also get to participate in the Branch’s present rule by praying to God. I get this from the book of Hebrews again, 4:15-16. We’re told that the work of Jesus as our Priest-King gives us access to God’s presence for help. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Are you a mother in need of grace this week? Are you a father that on the verge of losing it with your children? Do you battle with same-sex attraction and need help to escape the temptations? Are you a student and fed up with the coursework and how these next few weeks are even possible? How’s Lockheed going these days for a number of you in here? What about those of you who feel directionless and really don’t know what the Lord has for you next? Maybe you’re single and want to be married, but struggle with waiting on the Lord. Is the fight against sin making you weary?
Folks, Jesus died and rose again to give us access to the throne of grace where he sits in majesty. Come to him all you who are weary and heavy laden and you will find rest for your soul. Seek his help in prayer; he’s glad to give it.
…by building God’s temple
Another way we get to participate in the Branch’s rule is by building God’s temple. We are those who were once “far off,” but now we’ve been brought near. But notice that the nations are brought near for a purpose—to help build the Lord’s temple. Yes, Christ is the ultimate temple-builder, but when Christ lives in you, you build too. How exactly do we build God’s temple?
We build God’s temple through evangelism. We share the gospel with others. As we proclaim the Lord’s excellency, the Lord changes people into living stones that are then built up into a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:4-10). We build God’s temple by purifying ourselves from idols. 2 Corinthians 6:16, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’” As Mark Boda puts it, we “[bring] a Christian perspective, conscience, and behavior to a world where compromise is often the norm.”
We also build God’s temple by serving one another with our gifts and with our words. Paul uses construction imagery related to the use of our gifts and our words. For example, 1 Corinthians 14:26—on the use of our gifts—“Let all things be done for building up [the body of Christ, which he called God’s temple earlier in the letter].” Or Ephesians 4:29 in regard to our speech—“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
There are others, but I think you get the point—we build God’s temple by bringing Christ’s present rule into everything we do.
…by looking to Christ’s coming
Lastly, we participate in the Branch’s rule by looking for his return. Christ is our ultimate hope that God’s final temple will be finished. Christ is our only hope that one day God’s kingdom will stretch from sea to sea, one day the new and final Jerusalem will come, where God himself in Jesus Christ will be our temple (Rev 21:22). And we will dwell with him and he with us; and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes” (Rev 21:3-4). But until that day comes, our hope cannot be in the church itself, and it cannot be in the elders of your church, and it cannot be in your favorite podcast preacher, and it cannot be in your husband or your wife or you marriage or your degree or your job or anything else. Your hope must lie in the future coming of Jesus Christ.
In the same way God’s people waiting with anticipation in Zechariah’s day for the Branch to come; we wait with anticipation for the Branch to come again. And that’s why we come to eat together now. We come to eat this bread and drink this cup “until he comes again”—that is, with a view to the second coming of the Branch, and his glorious reign finally stretches from sea to sea in a kingdom of peace.