The Scepter of Judah

A Christmas Promise

One of the most familiar "Christmas Card" verses is found in Isaiah:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the Throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.

Isaiah 9:6-7

As we mentioned earlier, David's throne didn't exist in Jesus' day. Jeconaiah was the last of David's line to sit on the throne. (Remember the blood curse on his line.1 This curse was "side-stepped" by the virgin birth. Mary was of the line of David, but through Nathan, not Solomon.2 The legal line descended through Solomon to Joseph, but not the blood curse.)

There is another remarkable prophecy-in Genesis-concerning the rulership of the tribe of Judah.

The Scepter of Judah

In Genesis 49, Jacob prophesied over each of the twelve tribes. Among these seemingly cryptic riddles, the best known one concerns the royal tribe of Judah:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

Genesis 49:10

The term "scepter" refers to their tribal identity and the right to apply and enforce Mosaic Laws and adjudicate capital offenses: jus gladii. It is significant that even during their 70-year Babylonian captivity (606-537 B.C.) the tribes retained their tribal identity.3 They retained their own logistics, judges, etc.4

The term "Shiloh" was understood by the early rabbis and Talmudic authorities as referring to the Messiah.5

The Scepter Departs

In 6-7 A.D., King Herod's son and successor, Herod Archelaus, was dethroned and banished to Vienna, a city in Gaul. Archelaus was the second son of Herod the Great.6 The older son, Herod Antipater, was murdered by Herod the Great, along with other family members. (It was quipped at the time that it was safer to be a dog in that household than a member of the family!) Archelaus' mother was a Samaritan (1/4 or less of Jewish blood) and was never accepted. After the death of Herod (4 B.C.?), Archelaus had been placed over Judea as "Entharch" by Caesar Augustus. Broadly rejected, he was removed in 6-7 A.D.

He was replaced by a Roman procurator named Caponius. The legal power of the Sanhedrin was immediately restricted and the adjudication of capital cases was lost. This was normal Roman policy.7 This transfer of power is mentioned in the Talmud8 and by Josephus:

After the death of the procurator Festus, when Albinus was about to succeed him, the high priest Ananius considered it a favorable opportunity to assemble the Sanhedrin. He therefore caused James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, and several others, to appear before this hastily assembled council, and pronounced upon them the sentence of death by stoning. All the wise men and strict observers of the law who were at Jerusalem expressed their disapprobation of this act... Some even went to Albinus himself, who had departed to Alexandria, to bring this breach of the law under his observation, and to inform him that Aranius had acted illegally in assembling the Sanhedrin without the Roman authority.9

This remarkable passage not only mentions Jesus and His brother James as historical figures, it also underscores that the authority of the Sanhedrin had already been passed to the Romans.

Panic Reaction

When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death, they covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth. They actually thought that the Torah, the Word of God, had failed! They should have known better.

The scepter had, indeed, been removed from Judah, but Shiloh had come. While the Jews wept in the streets of Jerusalem, a young son of a carpenter was growing up in Nazareth. He would present Himself as the Meshiach Nagid, Messiah the King, on the very day which had been predicted by the Angel Gabriel to Daniel five centuries earlier.10 

(In fact, every detail of His life had been foretold centuries earlier.)

The Babe of Bethlehem

There is another passage that will catch our attention this Christmas season. As we recall the prophecy in Micah that prescribes that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

Micah 5:2

This verse not only identifies the significance of Bethlehem, it also points to His eventual ruler-ship, and it also mentions His preexistence.

It is the remarkable Book of Ruth which connects the line of David with Bethlehem. As we recall this love story between Boaz (in the role of the kinsman-redeemer) and Ruth, who becomes his Gentile bride, it is interesting to consider the possibility that their fields may have been the very ones in which the shepherds were visited by angels that famous evening.11

His Political Destiny

At this moment, Jesus is sitting on His Father's Throne. The question is, will He ever sit on David's throne? Will the promise that Gabriel announced to Mary also be fulfilled? Of course. And much of what He is about to do is also predicted with the same accuracy. 

As we enter the new year, we each will struggle to remember to write 2000 when we date our checks. The entire world measures its calendar from that singular, incomparable event.

The world will soon be in for a series of surprises! The world wishes it could go on without the reactionary Christians; God will soon give them what they want.

And it may come sooner than any of us realize. So as we reflect on the prospects of the coming year, let us all remember that, fundamentally, we are neither Republicans nor Democrats: we are monarchists! We look for our Coming King ! 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Millennium!


  1. Jeremiah 22:30; See also Footprints of the Messiah briefing package, Koinonia House, 1994.
  2. Lk 3:31; 2 Sam 5:14; 1 Chr 14:4.
  3. Josh MacDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, pp. 108-168.
  4. Ezekiel 1:5,8.
  5. Targum Onkelos, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and Targum Yerusahlmi, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation; The Messianic Exegesis of the Targum, Samson H. Levy, Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, 1974.
  6. Josephus, Antiquities, 17:13.
  7. This transfer of power was recorded by Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Bk 2, Ch. 8 Also, The Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, folio 24.
  8. The Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, folio 24.
  9. Josephus, Antiquities, 20:9.
  10. Daniel 9:24-27. See also Daniel's Seventy Weeks, Koinonia House, 1993.
  11. Luke 2:8-20.


Missler, Chuck, Expositional Commentary on the Book of Genesis and Romance of Redemption briefing package. See also our special on The Christmas Story briefing package.