The Temple – Why Is It at the Heart of the Trial of Jesus?

Prosecution by Caiaphas in the trial of Jesus was not going well because no two witnesses could agree on the same accusation as required by Jewish law.[1] Finally two witnesses presented the same accusation: 

MK 14:58  “”We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’”” (NASB) [2]

Not quite accurate, according to the Gospel accounts of Mark and John.[3] Jesus actually said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”[4] Nevertheless, it became the center point in the trial that Jesus claimed he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.

Hours later, the charge persisted to the crucifixion suggesting the mockers had been at the trial. They taunted Jesus saying if he could destroy and rebuild the Temple in three days, why couldn’t he save himself from the cross?[5]

The Temple accusations had a lot to do with its divine history and what it represents. The sacred Temple was the House of God – no legitimate Jew would ever think of destroying the Temple, not to mention rebuilding it, because of its history going back to Mt. Sinai and Moses.

Atop Mt. Sinai, God not only gave Moses the Law, He also made five big promises to the Hebrews all tied to the place. Three of those promises – the permanent dwelling place for His Name; the place to observe the Feasts; and the judgment seat of Israel – all involved the future Temple:[6]

Until then, instructions were given for a temporary mobile structure, a tent called the Tabernacle.[7] God’s design for the Tabernacle served as the blueprint for the future Temple, its usage and contents.[8]

Centuries later, King David wanted to build a permanent temple to replace the Tabernacle, but God had other plans. The prophet Nathan delivered the message that David’s future son would fulfill the promise given to Moses to build the House of God.[9] 

David still chose the future location of the Temple, but the backdrop story is nothing like it would logically seem. The site was a threshing floor owned by the Jebusite Araunah (Ornan) where winds on the high location were perfectly suited for separating grain from chaff.[10]

Wanting to offer a sacrifice to God to atone for his sin that led to the deaths of thousands of Hebrews, David found Araunah’s threshing floor on high ground to be a suitable place for the sacrifice. Using his own money, the King bought the threshing floor along with all its equipment to use as the fuel of the sacrifice.[11]

Building an altar himself, the King prepared the offering, then fire came down from Heaven and consumed the sacrifice. Moved deeply, David declared “This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of burnt offerings for Israel.”[12] The place was on Mt. Moriah where a thousand years earlier Abraham took his only son, Isaac, to be sacrificed.[13]

Temple construction began in the fourth year of King Solomon’s reign and was completed seven years later.[14] Solomon held a public consecration for the permanent dwelling place for the Name of God and prepared a sacrifice on the altar in front of the new Temple.[15] The King proclaimed to God:

2 CH 6:2-11 “I have surely built You an exalted house, and a place for You to dwell in forever.”(NKJV)

Spectacularly in the presence of all the Hebrews, God again sent down fire from Heaven to consume the sacrifice. It left no doubt this was the place for the Temple to serve as the dwelling place for the Name of God. [16]   

During the night, God appeared to Solomon reminding the King that while He had fulfilled His promises from Mt. Sinai, it was not carte blanche – it came with a stipulation:[17]

2 CH 7:19-20 “But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.” (NKJV)

After centuries of ignoring warnings from many prophets for failure to follow God, it happened – the army of King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, under the decree of Persian King Cyrus with continued support from Kings Darius and Artaxerxes, the Second Temple was rebuilt.[18]

King Herod enhanced the Second Temple although primarily for his own personal ambitions. He was able to sell the idea to the Jewish leadership saying he wanted to bring the Temple back to the intended grandeur of King Solomon which had been unaffordable at the time it was rebuilt.[19]  It came to be called Herod’s Temple by many, the location of both the Temple prophecy by Jesus and his trial.[20]

Caiaphas asked Jesus to explain the accusations but received no answer. As the High Priest, he had to know the prophecy of the Hebrew prophet Zechariah foretelling  the Branch would build the Temple:

Zech 6:12-13 “…Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD; Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (NKJV)

Knowing the magnitude of the Temple accusation had divine implications as evidenced by his next direct question, Caiaphas cut straight to the heart of the trial pointedly asking Jesus:

“Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (ISV, NRSV) [21]

When Jesus answered,I AM,” that was proof enough to Caiaphas that Jesus had spoken a blasphemy. The High Priest and the Jewish leadership serving as jurors took actions to have him put to death.[22]

Was the claim by Jesus that he would rebuild the Temple in three days a daring prediction spoken by the Son of God foretelling of his Resurrection or was it a delusional claim of a man saying he would physically destroy and rebuild the Temple in three days?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. Sanhedrin 9a, 30a. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>  Resnicoff, Steven H. “Criminal Confessions in Jewish Law.” Project Genesis. 2007. <http://www.jlaw.com/Commentary/crimconfess.html>   
[2] CR Matthew 26:60-61.
[3] Mark 14:59, John 2:19-21.
[4] John 2:19-21. NASB.
[5] Mark 15:29.
[6] Deuteronomy 12:5, 11; 16:6; 17:8-10.
[7] Exodus 25:8-9. Leviticus 9:126:11; Numbers 9:15; Deuteronomy 12:22, 16:2, 6, 26:2; 2 Chronicles 5:2-10; I Kings 8:10.
[8] 1 Kings 6. 2 Chronicles 5-6.
[9] 2 Samuel 7:12-17.
[10] “Threshing.” Encyclopedia.com. 2019. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/agriculture-and-horticulture/agriculture-general/threshing>  “Agriculture.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14378-thrashing-floor>
[11] I Chronicles 21:18-26; 2 Samuel 24:18-25. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book VII, Chapter XIII.3. <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=Araunah&f=false>  Dolphin, Lambert.  “Mount Moriah, Site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”  TempleMount.org. 1996. <http://www.templemount.org/moriah2.html
[12] I Chronicles 22:1. NKJV.
[13] 2 Chronicles 3:1. CR Genesis 22.  Josephus. Antiquates. Book I, Chapter III.
[14] 1 Kings 6:1, 37-38.  CR 2 Chronicles 3:1-2.
[15] 2 Chronicles 6:1-7.
[16] 2 Chronicles 7:1-3.
[17] 2 Chronicles 7:11-18.
[18] Ezekiel 1:2-3; 6:7,12; 7:12-13, 23, 26.  “Building the Second Temple.” My Jewish Learning. 2019.  <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/second-templer>  Cohney, Shelley. The Jewish Temples: The Second Temple.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-second-temple>
[19] “Herod the Great.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2019. <https://www.livius.org/articles/person/herod-the-great>  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter XI.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826 -1889. Chapter 1. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>  Hegg, Tim. “Separating the Most Holy from the Holy:  The ‘Veil’ in the Tabernacle and First & Second Temples” Torah Resource.  <http://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/Veil%20ETS%20Paper.pdf>  Spiro Ken. “History Crash Course #31: Herod the Great.” Aish.com. 2001. <https://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48942446.html>  “Rebuild Herod’s Temple? A Few Israelis Hope.” New York Times. April 9, 1989. <https://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/09/world/rebuild-herod-s-temple-a-few-israelis-hope.html>
[20] Numbers 11:16-17, 24. Ariel, Yisrael. “The Chamber of the Hewn Stone.” The Temple Institute. 2019.  <https://www.templeinstitute.org/illustrated/hewn_stone_description.htm> Ariel. “Blueprints for the Holy Temple.”  <http://www.templeinstitute.org/blueprints-for-the-holy-temple.htm>
[21] Mark 14:61.
[22] Matthew 26:62-66; Mark 14:62-65; Luke 22:70-71.

Virtually Hidden – the Significant, Rarest of Hebrew Words

Appearing only three times in the entire Hebrew text of the Tanakh, the Old Testament, is a virtually hidden Hebrew word and yet it may be the most significant – ha-almah. Only two Bible versions translate all three instances using this exact Hebrew text, the Orthodox Jewish Bible and Young’s Literal Translation.[1]

Commonly written as Hmleh, hmle and hā-‘al-māh, it is comprised of ha and `almah translated into two English words.[2] Easiest to translate is “ha” or “Hey” which means “the,” a definite article used to make a clear and specific reference.[3] Hebrew has a special difference; it is much more dramatic.[4]

Original ancient Hebrew script for the consonant “h” is one single pictograph letter.[5] Hebrew language expert Jeff A. Benner describes the original pictograph character in this way:

“The Hey has a “h” sound and is a picture of a man with his arms raised up, shouting and pointing at a great site as if to say “behold, look at that”.  This letter means “the” in the sense of pointing to something of importance.”[6]

Translation of `almah is one of the most controversial in the Jewish-Christian discourse. One side claims that `almah means “young woman,” “maid” or “damsel” which does not necessarily mean “virgin.”[7] The other side asserts `almah always specifically means “virgin” as seen in some Bible versions translations.[8]

Strong’s Concordance of Hebrew defines `almah is “a lass (as in veiled or private): – damsel, maid, virgin.”[9] In those days a “maid” or “damsel” was a young woman or girl who was typically presumed to be a virgin by implication of her age and single marital status whereas a “virgin” is explicitly self-explanatory.[10]

Commonly, `almah is translated in both Jewish and Christian Bibles as “young woman.” Those two words are not part of the formal Strong’s definition exacerbating the issue. How the word is or is not intended by its authors to be understood requires textual analysis.

Some critics contend that since the Hebrew word for “virgin” is bethulah, then `almah cannot refer to a virgin.[11] Indeed, bethulah (bə-ṯū-lāh, bthuwlah , b@thuwlah or hlwtb) means “virgin” appearing 50 times in Biblical Hebrew texts.[12] It is occurs in the contexts of metaphors for peoples or nations in judgements, lamentations or blessings; legalistic references; or to describe the virginity of an actual female subject.

Focusing only on references where bethulah involves an actual female subject, three usage rules emerge. One, the word is always used as an adjective noun or in an adjective clause to clarify na `arah (girl) or another female noun within the context of na `arah (girl). Examples: “the girl [na `arah] was a very beautiful virgin [bethulah];” “Tamar [proper noun], for she was a virgin [bethulah];” or “my virgin [bethulah] daughter [noun].”[13]

More significantly, bethulah is not used as a standalone noun for a specific female subject. Nor is bethulah the subject who initiates a present or future tense action. There are no instances that say something like “bethulah shall call;” “bethulah plays;” “bethulah shall bear;nor “bethulah loves.”[14]

Appearing only 7 times in Biblical Hebrew text is the Hebrew word `almah. Its word usage rules are strikingly different, based as much on circumstantial setting as it is on sentence structure.

As a standalone noun, `almah, like “virgin,” is self-evident – it does not need further clarification with an adjective or adjective clause. Conversely, the word is never used as an adjective noun nor in an adjective clause to define the subject. For example, there are no instances such as “a na `arah who is an `almah;” “Tamar who is an `almah;” nor “my `almah daughter.”

As the direct female subject of a sentence, `almah is used to initiate an action only in the present or future tense:  “`almah playing tambourines;” “`almah went and called; “`almah love you;” “`almah comes out to draw water,” and “`almah shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call.”[15]

Five instances of `almah occur in texts after the defining moment when the Law was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Perhaps most revealing is that `almah always appears in royal circumstances – virgins in the king’s harem, in a king’s presence, a king’s perspective, and the royalty of God’s musical worship.[16]

Remaining are the two instances that occurred before the Law centuries before the first Hebrew king involving two Hebrew matriarchs, Rebekah and Miriam.[17] According to Phillip E. Goble, Editor of The Orthodox Jewish Bible, Rebekah is revered as the “mother of the Nation of Israel” and Miriam is “the savior of the Exodus” (Moses) – Hebrew royalty.[18]

Rebekah’s story in Genesis 24 is the only passage in the Bible that contains both `almah and bethulah plus the two related Hebrew words `ishshah (woman) and na ‘arah (girl) making it the codex for all four words. Most noteworthy is that bethulah is used to define `almah as “virgin.”  

Narrowing it down further are the three instances where the Hebrew text delineates “behold, look at that” when ha precedes `almah “pointing to something of importance.” The first two appear in reference to the Hebrew matriarchs, before God’s Law legally defined the purity of virginity for marriage.

For Rebekah and Miriam, ha-almah places focus on the significance of their state of virginity before entering their adult lives of greatness.[19] Only one other instance of ha-almah, “the virgin,” occurs in the entire Bible; the only time after the Law at Mt. Sinai.

Appearing identically in both The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic text is ha-almah.[20] Isaiah responded to King Ahaz’ refusal to accept God’s offer to name any sign between Heaven and Hell as proof of God’s promise to protect the kingdom from their enemies. God’s own chosen sign issued through the prophet:

IS 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin [ha-almah] shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”(NKJV)

Isaiah wrote the rarest of Hebrew words – did the renowned Biblical prophet of Judaism and Christianity make a mistake delivering God’s response when he said ha-almah would give birth to a son whom would be called Immanuel meaning “God with us”? [21]

If the sign was intended to refer to a female without any expectation of virginity, Isaiah would have been expected to use either na ‘arah or `ishshah; however, he didn’t. Nowhere in Isaiah’s writings is the appearance of na ‘arah (girl). Variations of `ishshah occurs 11 times in reference to an adult woman, wife, mother, or even an adulteress where in all senses virginity is neither assumed nor expected.

Isaiah used bethulah in 5 instances, always as a metaphor or judgement of a city or nation. The word does not fit the prophecy with a female subject and would have violated the Hebrew usage rules.

Instead, Isaiah chose ha-almah in a dual royal context – King Ahaz and God. Whomever he referenced in the prophecy, the ha-almah female is in the highest echelon of Hebrew importance, on the same level as the matriarchs Rebekah and Miriam.

Textual analysis confirms the use of ha-almah in God’s chosen “sign” bounded only by Heaven and Hell was the prophecy of a virgin birth to a boy to be called Immanuel. Was Isaiah 7:14 a Messiah prophecy fulfilled by the Mary’s virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

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ASB = Amercian Standard Bible
BSB = Berean Study Bible
CSB = Christian Standard Bible
DBT = Darby Bible Translations
ESV = English Standard Version
HCS = Holman Christian Standard Bible
ISV = International Standard Version
JUB = Jubilee Bible 2000
NHE = New Heart Christian Bible
NIV = New International Verson
NKJV = New King James Verson
NLT = New Liviing Translation
OJB = Orthodox Jewish Bible
WEB = World English Bible
YLT = Young’s Literal Translation

REFERENCES:

[1] The Orthodox Jewish Bible. 2002. BibleHub. <https://biblehub.com/ojb/genesis/1.htmYoung’s Literal Translation. 2019. <https://biblehub.com/ylt/genesis/1.htm>
[2] Isaiah 7:14. Hebrew text transliteration. BibleHub. 2019. <https://biblehub.com/text/isaiah/7-14.htm> hā·‘al·māh. Hebrew text. BibleHub.com. n.d. <https://biblehub.com/hebrew/haalmah_5959.htm>
[3] Isaiah 7:14. Hebrew text. NetBible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Isa&chapter=7&verse=14> ‘almah <05959>. NetBible.org. 2019. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=05959> “the.” Merriam-Webster. 2019. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/the>  “the.” Cambridge Dictionary. n.d. <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/the
[4] Goble, Phillip E, ed. “The Translator to the Reader.” The Orthodox Jewish Bible. 2002. Artists for Israel International. 2012. p vii. <http://www.afii.org/ojbible/ix.pdf
[5] Benner, Jeff A. “Introduction to Ancient Hebrew.”  Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2019. <https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/introduction.htm>
[6] Benner. “Introduction to Ancient Hebrew.”
[7] Nahigian, Kenneth E.  “A Virgin-Birth Prophesy?” Skeptic Tank Files. n.d.<http://www.skeptictank.org/files/sr/2virgi93.htm> Cramer, Robert Nguyen.  “The Book of Isaiah.”  The BibleTexts.com. 1998 <http://www.bibletexts.com/verses/v-isa.htm>  Cline, Austin. “Who Was Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus? Was She Really a Virgin?” About.com|Agnosticism/Atheism. n.d. <http://atheism.about.com/od/biblepeoplenewtestament/p/MaryVirgin.htm>  Yosef, Uri. “Isaiah 7:14 – Part 1: An Accurate Grammatical Analysis.” The Jewish Home. 2011. <http://thejewishhome.org/counter/Isa714_1.pdf>  Bratcher, Dennis. “Isaiah 7:14: Translation Issues.”  The Voice. 2014. <http://www.crivoice.org/isa7-14.html>  Gill. The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. n.d.   <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm>  CR Judges Chapter 13. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible.  Isaiah 7:14 commentary. <https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/genesis-24.html
[8] Genesis 24:43 – ESV, NKJV, KJV, HCS, OJB; Exodus 2:8 – OJB; Isaiah 7:14 – NIV, NLT, ESV, BSB, NKJV, CSB, HCS, DBT, ISV, JUB, NHE, WEB, OJB; American Standard Version, 1901 Edition. Perseus.Tufts.Edu. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0156:book=Isaiah:chapter=7&highlight=virgin> Robinson, B.A. “Isaiah 7:14 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…”” Religious Tolerance. 2007 <http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_proi.htm
[9] “almah.” Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. Eliyah.com. n.d. <http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=hebrewlexicon&isindex=almah
[10] Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. Reference: TWOT – 1630b.  Strong. “`almah  <5959>  “damsel.”  Merriam-Webster. 2019. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/damsel
[11] Nahigian.  “A Virgin-Birth Prophesy?” Cramer. “The Book of Isaiah.”  Cline. “Who Was Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus? Was She Really a Virgin?” Yosef.. “Isaiah 7:14 – Part 1: An Accurate Grammatical Analysis.” Bratcher. “Isaiah 7:14: Translation Issues.”
[12] “bthuwlah.” Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. Eliyah.com. n.d. <http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=hebrewlexicon&isindex=bthuwlah>  Strong The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “ bethulah <1330>.” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=01330> Genesis 24:16. Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. “b@thuwlah <01330>;” footnote 1.  <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Gen&chapter=24&verse=16
[13] Genesis 24:16, 2 Samuel 13:2. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein 1935-1948. Yebamoth 61b. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/yebamoth/yebamoth_61.html > CR 2 Samuel 13:18; I Kings 1:2.  “na`arah <05291>” NetBible.org. 2019. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=05291>  
[14] CR Isaiah 7:14; Psalms 68:25; Song of Solomon 1:3.
[15] CR Genesis 24:16; Psalms 68:25; Song of Solomon 1:3, 6:8; Isaiah 7:14.
[16] CR Psalms 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3, 6:8; Isaiah 7:14;
[17] Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8.  Goble. “The Translator to the Reader.” p vii.  Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. “`almah  <5959>” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=05959>  Strong. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “almah.”
[18] Goble. “The Translator to the Reader.” p vii.
[19] Goble. “The Translator to the Reader.” p vii.
[20] Miller. Fred P.  “The Translation of the Great Isaiah Scroll.” Book of Isaiah. 2001. Column VI Isa 6:7 to 7:15.   <http://www.moellerhaus.com/qa-tran.htm “hmleh.” Net.bible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=hebrew_strict_index:hmleh> BibleHub.com. Interlinear Bible Hebrew text. Isaiah 7:14. “5959 [e] hā·‘al·māh”.  <http://biblehub.com/interlinear/isaiah/7-14.htmOrthodox Jewish Bible (OJB). Isaiah 7:14.
[21] “`Immanuw’el <06005>. NetBible.org. 2019. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=06005> Isaiah 7.14. BibleHub.com. Strong’s Lexicon. “Immanuel.” <https://biblehub.com/parallel/isaiah/7-14.htm

A Connection – Branch Prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah?

Three Hebrew prophets over the span of 200 years – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah – had one specific prophecy in common.[1] All foretold of the “Branch,” similarly interpreted as the “Sprout.”

Generations after King David’s reign, some 700 years before Jesus of Nazareth was born, the remnants of David’s kingdom of Israel were in a downward death spiral. For centuries, despite many warnings from numerous prophets, the Hebrews and their kings failed to abide by their contractual Covenant made with God at Mt. Sinai.[2]

Renowned as a prophet by both Judaism and Christianity, Isaiah warned kings Ahaz and Hezekiah of the consequences their nation faced. Isaiah prophesied the “King of Babylon” would one day take away their own descendants to serve as eunuchs in his palace.[3]

Warnings also came with good tidings when Isaiah prophesied about the coming future Messiah.[4] In one, Isaiah foretold of a “Branch” who would grow out or sprout from the root of Jesse:[5]

Is 11:1-2 “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.  The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.”(NKJV)

A century after Isaiah’s prophecies, defiance by the Hebrews had continued leading to the fulfillment of his prophecy that judgement would come from the King of Babylon.[6] Reality came with the attack of Nebuchadnezzar and his destruction of Jerusalem.

After a devastating defeat, the Hebrew’s finest were taken captive back to Babylon where, in the Book of Daniel, at least three upstanding Hebrews served King Nebuchadnezzar. Prophet Jeremiah added more bad news prophesying that the secession of sitting kings in the House of David would end with Jeconiah aka Jehoiachin.[7]

Amidst the doom and gloom, Jeremiah also predicted good news about the coming Messiah. Twice the prophet foretold that God would raise up another King in the lineage of David, “a Branch of Righteous.” Curiously, Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi offered no commentary on either of these prophecies, perhaps because no commentary was necessary:

Jer 23:5 “”Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth…”” (NKJV)

Jer  33:15 “‘In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth…’” (NKJV)

Moving ahead another century since Jeremiah’s prophecies, the 70 years of the Babylonian captivity had ended with the Medes and Persian invasion.[8] Two centuries earlier, Isaiah twice prophesied a ruler named Cyrus would rise who would allow Jerusalem to be rebuilt – Cyrus was the name of the new Persian Empire ruler who did exactly that.[9]

Darius followed Cyrus as ruler of the Persian Empire and honored Cyrus’ decree for the Hebrews to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.[10] Zechariah 1:1 – “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.” [11]

Describing his fourth vision, Zechariah was present when Joshua the Priest stood before the angel of the LORD along with Satan who was there to accuse the priest. Satan was rebuked by God and Joshua was given fine new clothes.[12] In the vision, God then spoke directly to the high Priest:[13]

Zech 3:8 “‘Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch.’” (NASB)

God identified the Branch as “My servant.” Incidentally, the central figure of the parashah prophecy of Isaiah 52-53 is also “My servant” who is subjected to unusual cruelties consistent with a Roman crucifixion described in the Gospels.

Narrating his eighth vision, Zechariah received instructions from God to choose people from among the exiles to make a crown of gold and silver, then set it upon the head of Joshua, the high Priest. Zechariah was directed to then deliver this message to the Priest:

Zech 6:12-13 “…‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD; Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’’” (NKJV)

Joshua, the high Priest, was not from the royal lineage of King David. Nor was he expected to be made a king when the symbolic crown was set upon his head, especially since the Hebrews were subservient to an accommodating ruler, Darius. Neither was Zerubbabel given the crown, technically the rightful heir to the throne being the grandson of Jeconiah, the last sitting king in the royal secession of David before the Babylonian captivity.[14]

No one person present at this event is the focus of God’s message, rather it pointed to someone else in the future named the Branch. Rabbi Rashi commented that while he believed the prophecies are about Zerubbabel, he did not rule out that this second Branch prophecy was about the Messiah.[15] Jewish sage Rabbi Maimonides, on the other hand, viewed Zechariah 6:12 as a Messiah prophecy.[16]

Prophecies from Isaiah before the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah during the Babylonian captivity and Zechariah after the Babylon captivity, all point to a future figure called the Branch. Viewed as Messiah prophecies, at least in part, by both Judaism and Christianity, what are the odds that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of the Branch prophecies?

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