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Jesus is High Priest and King

December 4, 2012

The following is a lecture by Charles Henry H. Wright given at the University of Oxford, England in 1878, in which he presents a commentary on the prophecy of Zechariah 6:9-15. Wright applied the prophecy to Jesus Christ, who is described in the New Testament as both High Priest and King.

[From: Charles Henry H. Wright. Zechariah and his prophecies, considered in relation to modern criticism; with a commentary and new translation. The University of Oxford Bampton Lectures, 1878. Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1879. pp. 145-158.]


When the eventful night during which the prophet had seen his seven visions was over, and the morning of the next day dawned, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, commanding him to perform an act in public, by which the Divine seal should be affixed to the visions he had seen, and the people would be encouraged to go forward boldly in their work, under the conviction that the Divine blessing was certain to rest on their labours.

Zechariah was commanded to go and take with him certain Jews who had just arrived from Babylon with gifts and offerings for the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. He was to go with these men to the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah, who had hospitably lodged this deputation from Babylon, and having made a crown of the gold and silver which they had brought, the prophet was to go forth with the members of the deputation to Joshua the high priest, and to place that crown upon his head.

The expression “take of the captivity” no doubt refers to the Jews who were still sojourners in the land whither they had been carried away captive. Ezra uses the expression “the captivity” to denote the exiles who had returned from the land of their exile to Jerusalem. But such cannot be meant here. The persons who are named are distinctly mentioned as having come from Babylon, and allusion is made afterwards to that fact as prefiguring those people who from far countries should in later times come and build the temple of the Lord.

The construction of the Hebrew is so peculiar that Hitzig, Schegg, and others, have viewed the word “take” not as a command addressed to the prophet himself, but as a direction given more generally to the Jews of Jerusalem, bidding them to receive without scruple for the temple the gifts sent by their brethren who still tarried in the land of exile. According to this view, it is supposed that the leaders of the colony at Jerusalem, who had refused permission to the Samaritans to co-operate in the building of the sacred edifice, had scruples as to whether it was right to accept gifts from those whose continued sojourn in the land of exile was a transgression of the Divine command. On the other hand it is clear that while the Jews refused altogether the proffered aid of the Samaritans for special reasons, they accepted, without any scruple whatever, the gifts presented for the use of the temple by heathen kings, princes, and people (Ezra i. 4, 6, 7, vi. 4), not merely such gifts as might have been possibly viewed in the light of a restitution of what had previously belonged to God’s house, but also such as had never in any sense belonged to that holy place (Ezra vi. 810, vii. 15, 16). Consequently they could have had little scruple in receiving from their own people gifts for the same purpose, whatever they might have thought of their continued disobedience to the Lord’s command, in not returning to the Holy Land and to the cities of their forefathers.

The prophet did as he was directed, and made the crown which was to be placed on the high priest’s head. Hengstenberg, indeed, has doubts whether this act commanded to be done was designed to be really performed (see his Christology, vol. iii., note on verse 14, p. 360, English transl.). He thinks that verse 11 tends rather to show that this was not the case, “for the prophet can hardly have been a goldsmith, and yet he was ordered to make the crown.” Hengstenberg, therefore, prefers to regard the action as not actually performed, but as an act which, like those recorded in chap, xi., took place only within the sphere of the spiritual perception.

It seems, however, to us more natural to view the act commanded as one actually performed in the sight of the people. The act commanded here was totally different from the acts enjoined in chap, xi., which latter could not have been actually performed. The direction to make the crown signifies nothing more than that the prophet, in some way or other, was to get the crown or crowns duly made. Nor need that command have occasioned any considerable delay. A few hours were all that was needed, as the crown, or crowns, may have been simple twisted wreaths of silver and gold. The expression “this day” can scarcely signify anything else than the day succeeding the night in which the prophet had seen the visions, or possibly the day on which the gifts from Babylon were to be presented in the temple (Hitzig). [1]

It has been disputed whether the prophet was to make a crown, or crowns. The word in the original is plural. Hitzig maintains that at least two crowns, one of silver, the other of gold, were signified, while some explain the plurality of crowns as indicating the royal and the priestly dignity. But the high priest is never said to have worn a crown, or to have had a throne. The suggestion of Ewald (followed by Bunsen) that the words “and upon the head of Zerubbabel” should be inserted in verse 11, which assumes that the two crowns must have been designed for the two leaders of the people, is arbitrary, and would necessitate other alterations to be made in order to make the passage at all consistent with itself. But inasmuch as the passage simply states that the crowns were to be placed on the head of the high priest (no mention being made of Zerubbabel in the entire passage), and as the word actually occurs in the plural elsewhere to denote a single crown (Job xxxi. 36), the passage really presents no difficulty. The crown on this occasion may have consisted of several fillets of gold and silver, intertwined together and arranged so as to be fitted for a single head. In Rev. xix. 9, 12, many crowns are spoken of as placed upon the head of Christ, by which is meant a diadem, composed of, or encircled with, many crowns.

The prophet having placed the crown of silver and gold upon the head of the high priest, addressed him in the following words: “Behold the man, Branch (Shoot) is his name, and he shall branch up (shoot up) from his place, and build the temple of Jahaveh, even he shall bear majesty, and shall sit and rule upon his throne, and he shall be priest upon his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between the two of them,” or “them both.”

The high priest wore no crown; the crown placed upon his head by the prophet was however a symbol of royal dignity. The high priest must have been fully conscious that the words used by the prophet did not refer to himself. For the “Branch” was the title distinctly given by the prophet Jeremiah to the Messiah, who was to come of the house of David, to which royal house the high priest did not belong. Had Zerubbabel been crowned instead of Joshua the high priest, there might have been ground afforded for some such mistake. Hence in all probability the crown was not placed upon the head of Zerubbabel, but upon that of the high priest. Neither Zechariah, the priest-prophet, nor Joshua the high priest, could well have been ignorant of the fact that in Ps. cx. the Messiah was predicted in the character of both king and priest. And inasmuch as the high-priestly office was a typical one, the high priest and the people no doubt saw something remarkable in the prophetic words, addressed indeed to the high priest, but evidently referring to the Messiah, accompanied, as they were, by the symbolical act of crowning the high priest with the mark of royal dignity. The whole transaction was a symbolico-prophetical act. In the crowned high priest addressed by the prophet of Jahaveh in those solemn words, a striking picture was exhibited before the people of the long-expected Branch of David.

No plainer prophecy could have been uttered as to the coming of the Messiah, or as to the offices that he was to fill. Even those commentators who are the least inclined to admit definite Messianic predictions have been constrained to acknowledge that the Messiah is here spoken of. The words “and he shall grow up from his place” admit of no other meaning. Compare Exod. x. 23, which is the only other passage where the expression occurs. [2] The Messiah, as Köhler remarks, is called “the Branch,” or “Shoot,” not because he causes all things to shoot up, but because he himself, by the Divine power, springs up from the stem of David’s tree when at its lowest condition (comp. Isa. xi. 1). Thus in this significant sentence the lowly origin of the Messiah on the one hand, and his royal dignity on the other, are both not obscurely referred to.

The statement “he shall build the temple of the Lord” cannot refer to the temple whose foundation had already been laid by Zerubbabel; for the prophet had predicted that that temple should be completed by Zerubbabel himself, and, therefore, the words must allude to another building than that material edifice. In favour of the idea that the literal temple is meant, Hitzig refers to verse 15, where other builders are spoken of as building together with Zerubbabel; and he further argues that it is conceivable that the original edifice might be thought of as enlarged and beautified by the Messiah. Such an idea would, however, scarcely be conveyed by the expressions here used. Moreover, Haggai had predicted that the house then in course of erection should be filled with glory, so that its glory would exceed the glory of the temple erected by Solomon. The prophecy, therefore, of Zechariah must needs refer to that temple of which both the tabernacle and the temple of Solomon were types, namely, the Church or people of the living God (Hos. viii. 1; Eph. ii. 21, 22, etc.). For that the Church is the true temple of God was (as Köhler remarks) a truth by no means too deep to be understood from the Old Testament standpoint, and one which might well have been comprehended by a prophet with the deep spiritual insight of Zechariah. That the Lord was in the midst of his people, and that he dwelt not in temples made with hands was a truth as old as Solomon (1 Kings viii. 27; 2 Chron. ii. 5; Isa. lxvi. 1). The truth set forth by the prophet was that the Messiah should build the spiritual temple, and that the true Israel should be the dwelling-place of the Most High.

A comparison is evidently drawn in verse 13 between the Messiah and the high priest Joshua. This is denied by Keil, but on insufficient grounds. Köhler maintains the correct interpretation. Joshua was engaged about the building of the temple in conjunction with Zerubbabel. In the prosecution of that work the prophet Haggai had exhorted him as well as Zerubbabel to be strong and of good courage, and to persevere in the work (Hag. ii. 4). The building, however, of the true temple was to be effected by a greater than he. In reference to that coming Branch, Zechariah repeats with emphasis, “And he shall build the temple of Jahaveh” (comp. the ה֣וּא in Gen. iii. 15; Isa. liii. 4). The emphatic nature of the pronoun is recognised by Ewald. While the brow of the high priest was still encircled with the crown (which by Divine command had been placed upon it), Zechariah was further directed to proclaim with reference to the great Messiah, “And he (i.e., the Messiah) shall bear the majesty,” i.e., the royal honour and glory, which was typified by the crown on the head of the high priest, and had been worn by that high priest only as a type of him who was to come.

The word translated “glory” (הדר), or ” majesty,” is often used specially to indicate royal honours (Jer. xxii. 18 ; Ps. xxi. 6; Dan. xi. 21). It is employed also in a variety of other significations. The Messiah is said to bear or carry the glory, inasmuch as glory is spoken of as something which can be laid upon a person, and which, therefore, can be borne (Num. xxvii. 20; Dan. xi. 21; 1 Chron. xxix. 25). The word is used often (not to say with Dr. Pusey, “almost always,”) of “the special glory of God,” and of that of the king as God’s representative. With the light of the New Testament reflected upon the prophecies of the Old, we may profitably compare the many passages in which the glory of Christ was said to have been manifested, as in his first miracle at Cana of Galilee (John ii. 11), and his transfiguration (Luke ix. 32); or in which his glory is spoken of as that into which he finally entered after his suffering (Luke xxiv. 26), when he was glorified with the glory which he had with the Father before the world was (John xvii. 5), which glory Isaiah saw in vision (John xii. 41), and which the Lamb has upon his throne (Rev. v. 12, 13).

The royal dignity of the Messiah is specially alluded to in the next clause, “and he will sit and rule upon his throne.” The expressions signify that the Messiah would be in possession of the honour and dignity of a king, and would also exercise the authority which belongs to that dignity. But in his case the priestly office should be combined also with the royal dignity, for it is further said, “and he shall be a priest upon his throne.”

The latter clause has indeed been variously translated. The Greek translators have rendered it, “and there shall be a priest upon his right hand;” Hitzig and Stähelin, “and there will be a priest upon his throne,” that is, at the time when the Branch of David should possess the royal dignity, there would be a priest who would also sit upon his throne. The pronoun “his” cannot well be supposed to refer to Jahaveh. It must refer to the second subject, “he,” i.e., the Branch. The passage certainly does not mean that the Messiah and the high priest should sit both together on one throne. The high priest is nowhere said to have had a throne. His duty (as Köhler notes) was not to sit as a king on a throne, [3] but to stand before Jahaveh, and to do him service (comp. Jud. xx. 28 ; Deut. xvii. 12). There would have been nothing remarkable in this prediction if it only meant that there should be a priest in the time of the Messiah; for the congregation of God could never be thought of without a priest to make atonement for sins. Ewald has ventured to insert the name “Joshua ” in the clause, “and Joshua will be a priest upon his seat,” which reading he considers required by the statement following, “and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” These two persons, according to Ewald, can be no other than Zerubbabel and Joshua. But no such violent alterations of the text can be accepted, if our object be to seek to understand the meaning designed by the prophet himself.

Ewald’s explanation of the last clause as referring to Zerubbabel and Joshua must, therefore, be rejected. Nor can even Hitzig’s opinion be defended, namely, that the Messiah and an ideal priest are referred to in the clause, “the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” Rosenmüller, Kliefoth, and others consider that the offices of priest and king are alluded to. But the phraseology constrains us to think of persons and not of abstract offices (Hitzig), and it is impossible to speak of a “counsel of peace” between two abstracts (Köhler). It is more natural to take the words as referring to the Messiah as priest and king, and to regard them as signifying that the counsel of peace is to exist between the ruler and the priest, these two characters being combined in the person of the Messiah (Hengstenberg, v. Hofmann, Umbreit, Keil). But if this be understood to mean that the greatest unity and peace would exist between the two characters (as Umbreit and v. Hofmann seem to suppose),the clause would be superfluous. Köhler, therefore, adopts the view advocated by Hengstenberg, that the reference is to the two offices of priest and king combined in the person of the Messiah, and that the prophecy speaks of a plan devised by the Messiah in his double character, whereby peace and salvation should be secured for the people of God. If the combined efforts of Zerubbabel and Joshua had, as Hengstenberg notes, been already productive of beneficial results to the people of Israel, what might not be expected when the true High Priest and King should come to his people and produce peace by means of the combination of the two great offices in his own person.

The Branch of the Lord is thus described as one who by his individual action as king and priest should procure peace for his people. This fact agrees with the New Testament statements, in which the angelic choirs are represented announcing “peace on earth” as one of the results of Christ’s birth; and with our Lord’s own words, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John xiv. 27, xvi. 33), the full realization of which blessing is exhibited in the final vision of the book of the Revelation.

There is, however, some harshness in this explanation of the clause; for the words could not have been so understood by the contemporaries of the prophet. Moreover, there is no New Testament passage in which a “counsel of peace” is spoken of as devised and carried into execution between Christ in his office as king and Christ regarded as the priest of his people. It is clear no doubt that the pronoun “his” in the expression “his throne” is used twice in verse 13 in reference to the Messiah, and cannot well be regarded as relating to Jahaveh. The royal dignity of the Messiah is specially referred to, inasmuch as the Messiah as king would have power to perform the work which he had to do. But the fact that the pronoun in the phrase “his throne” cannot refer to Jahaveh, does not prove that Jahaveh cannot be one of the two persons alluded to at the close of the verse. Two, and only two persons are referred to in the verse, namely, the Lord and the Lord’s Christ; and many eminent scholars, as Cocceius, Vitringa, Reuss, Pusey, following Jerome, have considered that these are the two persons to whom reference is made in the clause, “the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” The prophecy, indeed, seems closely connected with Ps. cx., where a “counsel” between the Lord and his Christ is plainly referred to, and where the Messiah is depicted as king and priest. This is the natural meaning, and the way in which the words were no doubt interpreted by the hearers of the prophet Zechariah. The thought of some ideal king and priest, who would coincide in some blessed unity of purpose, would never have occurred to their minds. Peace between the civil and ecclesiastical heads of the nation was not such an uncommon occurrence in Israel as to make such unity in Messianic times a circumstance deserving of special mention. The priests and kings of Israel and Judah were rarely at variance, though contests between the kings and the prophets were of frequent occurrence. Nor could the Jews have been able to conceive that the whole prophecy meant that the Messiah as king was to consult and devise a plan whereby peace and salvation were to be brought about by himself in his priestly character.

On the other hand, frequent mention is made in the New Testament of a blessed unity of design existing between Christ and the Father for the accomplishment of the salvation of mankind. Our Lord repeatedly spoke of himself as having come into the world not to do his own will but the will of him that sent him (John vi. 38). That will was the salvation of his people (John x. 15-18). The will of the Father is expressed in the well-known text, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved” (John iii. 16, 17). “It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell, and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself” (Col. i. 19, 20).

Such is the most simple and unconstrained meaning of the passage. There is no doubt some unevenness of diction in the verse as thus interpreted; but no serious difficulty lies in the way of this interpretation. For both Jahaveh and the Messiah are distinctly alluded to in the verse, though the Messiah is not mentioned by name. It is the explanation most agreeable to the prophetic psalm (Ps. cx.) which seems to form the basis of the passage, and it is that most in accordance with the analogy of the New Testament statements. That eminent scholars have laboured hard to ascribe other unnatural interpretations to the passage, by which its Messianic sense is obscured, is a fact which only demonstrates that orthodox theologians are not the only persons whose interpretations of sacred Scripture have been warped by prejudice or preconceived opinions.

The crown of silver and gold, placed by the prophet upon the head of Joshua the high priest, was not long permitted to rest upon his brow. The prophet was bidden to take that crown and deposit it in the temple as a memorial of those Jews who from a far country had brought offerings for the work of the Lord at Jerusalem. They, and their host, who had so warmly received those pilgrims to the holy city, were to be had in gracious remembrance before the Lord. [4] There may have been something peculiar in the conduct and lives of those men which rendered them especially worthy of such distinction. “Them that honour me,” saith the Lord, “I will honour” (1 Sam. ii. 30).

The real cause for which the crowns were to be deposited in the temple, and hung up in that sacred edifice (a command which there is no reason to believe was not actually carried into execution), was because the Jewish exiles from Babylon were types of the strangers from among the Gentiles who should hereafter be brought into the community of the Lord, and who should even become builders in the great spiritual temple whose foundations should be laid in the holy city. For the prophecy closes with the promise of a glorious accession of Gentiles to the Jewish Church, an accession of strength and power which was to be accorded in Messianic times. The conversion of the Gentile nations, and their incorporation into the Covenant Church, had been plainly revealed to the prophet at the close of the third vision. The glorious promise is here repeated in different words: “And they that are afar off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord of hosts; and ye shall know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you.” It is scarcely possible that the Jewish “diaspora” only could have been referred to. The prophecy must rather be interpreted in the light of the prediction in chap. ii. 11, and of the earlier prediction of Haggai (ii. 7). The great apostle of the Gentiles may have had this prophecy in his view, when he reminded his converts in Ephesus, that “now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off have become nigh through the blood of Christ” (Eph. ii. 13); and when he set forth the work of the great Redeemer in those beautiful words, “He came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh” (Eph. ii. 17). On the other hand, St. Peter probably understood the similar expressions to which he gave utterance as referring to the dispersed of Israel: “The promise is to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts ii. 39).

The closing words of the prophecy, “and this shall come to pass if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God,” have sometimes been understood (as by Jerome, Theod. and by Maurer among later critics) to affirm that the fulfilment of all these promises was conditional on the obedience of Israel to the voice of their God. But there is no need thus to interpret it, nor to suppose (with Ewald) that the words were added by some later copyist of the prophet. [5]

The passage is best understood as Dr. Pusey has explained it: The share of the Jews in all these promises should depend upon their faithfulness to the covenant of their God. “None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand” (Dan. xii. 10). There is a wisdom which is from above, whereby alone men can understand and embrace the truth of God. It is this to which the prophet Hosea refers when he says, “Whoso is wise shall understand these things” (Hosea xiv. 10).

Thus were the Jews reminded that the blessed results of the coming of the Messiah would belong only to those who should fear God, and seek to be led in his way. “The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way.” We may recall to mind the words of our Lord added by him to his gracious invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” namely, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls” (Matt. xi. 28, 29). “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John i. 12). Wisdom, glory, honour, peace, immortality, eternal life, are the gifts bestowed upon believers. But to those who do not obey the truth, “indignation and wrath, tribulation and distress, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile” (Rom. ii. 7-9).

Notes and References

1. On the changes in the proper names of the persons, see note on page 156.

2. The words cannot be rendered impersonally, as Hitzig, Maurer, and others, following the LXX., Vulg. and Luther, render them, viz., “It shall grow up under him,” i.e., blessings shall spring up in his steps and follow him. The similarity in gender of the two verbs proves the identity of their subject. Drake, in the Speaker’s Commentary, explains the text thus: “And he shall sprout forth from under himself, i.e., send forth shoots as from a parent stem, indicating the effect of Joshua’s example upon his countrymen in inciting them to do their duty, but also in the higher sense of the words, implying the growth of all Christian holiness from Christ as from the root-stem.” We cannot agree with this exegesis.

3. 1 Sam. iv. 13, 18, certainly does not prove that the high priest had a throne, but that he could sit on a seat like an ordinary man, though Thenius considers that Eli is represented sitting on a throne at the outer door of the sanctuary, because in 1 Sam. i. 9 he is represented as sitting on his seat at the inner door.

4. The variations which occur in the names repeated in verse 14 are of no special significance. Helem (***) was not a second name for Heldai (***), but is with far more probability regarded as a mistake of an ancient copyist, which either was not found in the MS. which the Syriac translator used, or, if it occurred in his copy, was corrected by that early translator. The word rendered in our Authorised Version as a proper name, “and to Hen the son of Zephaniah,” is better rendered with Hitzig, Ewald and Köhler, “and for the favour,” i.e. the kindliness and good will, “of the son of Zephaniah.” That is, the kind hospitality which he, no doubt from love to God as well as to his people, had exhibited towards this deputation of Jewish exiles from Babylon, would (as in the case of Gaius in the New Testament) in no wise lose its reward, even in earthly honour and esteem (Matt. x. 41, 42).

5. Neither need we regard the words as an abrupt aposiopesis, as Hengstenberg, “and it will come to pass if ye hearken to the voice of the Lord your God that–” For, as Köhler notes, the gap thus left would not be naturally supplied by the people, as Hengstenberg supposes, by “Ye shall participate in all these blessings, and the Messiah shall make atonement for you as your high priest, and promote your prosperity as your king.” We can see no reason why the passage should have been left thus unfinished. The passage may be regarded (as Köhler views it) as a warning that Israel could not reasonably expect the fulfilment of such glorious promises until they should be prepared for their reception by a careful walking in the ways of the Lord.

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  1. December 21, 2012 at 5:45 am
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