Isaiah first wrote of the coming Branch. A ‘he’ from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was coming. Jeremiah followed by stating that this Branch would be known as the LORD – the Jewish name for Creator God, and would be our righteousness.
Zechariah continues The Branch
Rishi-prophet Zechariah lived 520 BCE, when Jews began returning to Jerusalem from their first exile. Upon their return, the Jewish people started rebuilding their destroyed temple. The High Priest at that time was a man named Joshua, and he was re-starting the work of Temple priests. Zechariah, the Rishi-prophet, partnered with his colleague Joshua, the High Priest, in leading the returning Jewish people. Here is what God – through Zechariah – said about this Joshua:
‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch.” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’ (Zechariah 3:8-9)
The Branch! Started by Isaiah 200 years before, continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah carries on further with ‘The Branch’ even as the Royal dynasty was now cut down. Like a banyan tree this Branch has continued by propagating roots from a dead stump. The Branch is now called ‘my servant’ – the servant of God. In some way the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BCE, colleague of Zechariah, was symbolic of this coming Branch. But how? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD. How would that happen?
The Branch: Uniting Priest and King
Zechariah explains later. To understand we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the Old Testament. None of the Kings could be priests, and the priests could not be kings. The role of the priest was to mediate between God and man by offering sacrifices to God for atonement of sins, and the responsibility of the King was to rule with justice from the throne. Both were crucial; both were distinct. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:
‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’ (Zechariah 6:9-13)
Here, against previous precedent, the high priest in Zechariah’s day (Joshua) was to put on the king’s crown symbolically as the Branch. (Remember Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’). Joshua, the High Priest, in putting on the kingly crown, foresaw a future uniting of the King and Priest into one person – a priest on the King’s throne. Furthermore, Zechariah wrote that ‘Joshua’ was the name of the Branch. What did that mean?
The names ‘Joshua’ and ‘Jesus’
To understand we need to review the history of Old Testament translation. The original Hebrew Old Testament was translated to Greek in 250 BCE, and known as the Septuagint or LXX. Still widely used, we saw how ‘Christ’ was first used in the LXX and here we follow that analysis for ‘Joshua’
As you can see in the figure Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’. Quadrant #1 shows how Zechariah wrote ‘Joshua’ in 520 BCE in Hebrew. It is transliterated ‘Joshua’ in English (#1=> #3). ‘Yhowshuwa’ in Hebrew is the same as Joshua in English When the LXX was translated from Hebrew to Greek in 250 BCE Yhowshuwa was transliterated to Iesous (#1 => #2). ‘Yhowshuwa’ in Hebrew is the same as Iesous in Greek. When the Greek is translated to English, Iesous is transliterated to ‘Jesus’ (#2 => #3). Iesous in Greek is the same as Jesus in English.
Jesus was called Yhowshuwa when spoken to in Hebrew, but in the Greek New Testament his name was written as ‘Iesous’ – exactly how the Greek Old Testament LXX wrote that name. When the New Testament is translated from Greek to English (#2 => #3) ‘Iesous’ is transliterated to the familiar ‘Jesus’. So the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’, with ‘Jesus’ going through an intermediate Greek step, and ‘Joshua’ coming directly from the Hebrew. Both Jesus of Nazareth, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BCE had the same name, being called ‘Yhowshuwa’ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both were called ‘Iesous’. This is similar to how बरगद = bargad (transliteration) = banyan = Ficus benghalensis (scientific Latin name).
Jesus of Nazareth is the Branch
Now the prophecy of Zechariah makes sense. The prediction, made in 520 BCE, was that the name of the coming Branch would be ‘Jesus’, pointing directly to Jesus of Nazareth.
This coming Jesus, according to Zechariah, would unite the King and Priest roles. What was it that the priests did? Representing the people they offered sacrifices to God to atone for sins. The priest covered the sins of the people by sacrifice. Similarly, the coming Branch ‘Jesus’ was going to bring a sacrifice so that the LORD could ‘remove the sin of this land in a single day’ – the day Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice. With the removal of sin, the power of death would lose its authority over us.
Jesus of Nazareth is well-known outside the gospels. The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other historical writers about Jesus, both friend and enemy, always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’, so his name was not invented in the Gospels.
Jesus comes ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. Jesus possessed wisdom and understanding to a degree that sets him apart from others. His shrewdness, poise and insight continue to impress both critics and followers. His power through miracles in the gospels is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them. Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.
Now think of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He certainly claimed to be a king – The King in fact. This is what ‘Christ‘ means. But what he did while on earth was actually priestly. The priest’s job was to offer acceptable sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish people. The death of Jesus was significant in that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. His death atones for the sin and guilt for any person, not just for the Jew. The sins of the land were literally removed ‘in a single day’ as Zechariah had predicted – the day Jesus died and paid for all sins. In his death he fulfilled all the requirements as Priest, even as he is mostly known as ‘The Christ’ or The King. Then in his resurrection, he showed his power and authority over death. He did bring the two roles together. The Branch, the one that David long ago called the ‘Christ’, is the Priest-King. And his name was predicted 500 years before his birth by Zechariah.
The Prophetic Evidence
In his day, similar to today, Jesus had critics who questioned his authority. His answer was to point to the prophets that came before, claiming that they foresaw his life. Here is one example where Jesus said to those opposing him:
… These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39)
In other words, Jesus claimed that his life was prophesied hundreds of years previously in the Old Testament. Since human insight cannot predict hundreds of years into the future, Jesus said this was evidence to verify that he had really come as God’s plan for mankind. The Old Testament is available still for us today to verify this for ourselves.
Let us summarize what the Old Testament prophets have predicted thus far. Jesus’ coming was hinted at the beginning of human history. Then Abraham foretold the location where Jesus was to be sacrificed while the Passover foretold the day of the year. We saw that Psalm 2 was where the title ‘Christ’ was used foretell a coming King. Here we have seen that his lineage, priestly career, and name were predicted. Can you think of anyone else in all of history whose life was even as remotely predicted as Jesus of Nazareth’s was by the many Old Testament prophets?
Conclusion: Tree of Life offered to all
The riddle of how and what the Branch was prophesied to do, mirrors the story of Savitri and Satyavan. Like the pure Savitri, the Branch would face death for his love. But instead of the love of a wife for her husband, the Branch would have powerful sacrificial love that would gain him a spiritual wife, who would be rescued from death forever.
The image of an immortal and sustaining tree, like that of a banyan tree, continues to the very last chapter of the Bible, where it again foresees into the future, picturing the next universe, with a ‘river of water of life’ where
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)
So, peoples of all nations – including you – are invited to experience both deliverance from death and richness of the Tree of Life – a truly immortal banyan tree. But the Old Testament rishi-prophets prophesy for us how this would first required that the Branch be ‘cut off’, as we see next.