By Sam E. Stone
All of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus. Today we hear from two prophets, Jeremiah and Zechariah, before turning to John’s Gospel to see how their predictions came true. Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet” because of the difficult message he had to deliver. Chapter 23, however, brings vibrant hope for the future. Zechariah prophesied years later, after the Jewish people returned from exile. He challenged them to complete rebuilding the temple and offered hope for better times.
The Righteous Branch-King
Jeremiah 23:5, 6
The shepherds had not taken care of the needs of the sheep, and God was prepared to punish them (see Jeremiah 23:1-4). He promised to return the flock from the lands where they had been scattered. An ideal king of the house of David would later rule over the remnant after their return from exile. James E. Smith explained, “He is called ‘righteous’ because of his character and purpose. He is called ‘branch’ (lit., sprout) because, like a tender plant, his origins would be humble and fragile.”
This king would rule wisely. His name—the Lord Our Righteous Savior—may more literally be translated “our righteousness.” Both in what he says and what he does, the Messiah will be right. He will be the Savior of Judah. “In this king,” Smith added, “God had provided for sinful man a righteousness which no man can earn or deserve.”
The Building Branch-King
Today’s text begins the second main section of Zechariah’s prophecy. He is told to receive gifts from three Jewish leaders who had returned to Jerusalem from captivity. God had a special use in mind for the offerings they brought. From their silver and gold, Zechariah was to make a crown. This symbol would point people to the coming Messiah. The high priest did not wear a crown under the Old Testament law, so this act had special significance.
G. N. M. Collins suggested, “In this coronation, Joshua is to be regarded as a type, for it is not to be supposed that he, any more than any of his predecessors, was both priest and king. He was a type of Christ, in whom the two dignities of priesthood and kingship were to be united.” The person described is given the name Branch. With a play on words, the prophet adds, “He will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord.”
The temple would be built by those returning from exile in Babylon. The prophet also explained that those far away (the Gentiles) would also be included in the coming messianic kingdom (see 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; Ephesians 2:19-22; Revelation 11:15). David foresaw the coming of a mighty priest-king after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). The true temple is the “spiritual house” referred to in 1 Peter 2:5.
The Broken Branch-King
Now we turn to the New Testament fulfillment of these prophecies in the person of Jesus. He claimed to be a king (John 18:33-37). This was evident when the Jews delivered him to be tried by Pilate, the Roman governor.
Although Pilate did not find Jesus guilty of breaking any law, he attempted to placate the religious leaders by ridiculing and torturing the prisoner. He ordered that Jesus be flogged. William Hendriksen explained, “It seems . . . Pilate ordered this scourging not as a signal for crucifixion, but in order to avoid the necessity of sentencing Jesus to be crucified” (see John 19:12). This painful beating was so severe that many died as a result of it, without being crucified.
The soldiers mocked Christ by putting a crown of thorns on his head. Hendriksen added, “More significant is the fact that thorns and thistles are mentioned in Genesis 3:18 in connection with Adam’s fall. Hence, Jesus is pictured as bearing the curse that lies upon nature (Romans 8:20, 21).”
Then the soldiers mocked Jesus by placing a purple robe on him, as if he were royalty, then slapping him. When Pilate brought Jesus out before the crowd once more, he repeated that he found him guilty of no crime. “Here is the man!” he declared contemptuously. R. V. G. Tasker wrote, “Christians, re-reading these famous words, naturally see in ‘the Man’ in question humanity at its best, the suffering Servant in whom God delights.”
In Jesus we see the true man, the second Adam. Without knowing it, Pilate ties this event to Zechariah’s prophecy when he uses the expression, “Here is the man” (Zechariah 6:12).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.