January 06, 2018

The Coming Branch as a Violent King

Isaiah 11:1-9

He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

—  Isaiah 11:4

Tragically for Israel, the promise of a king who would reign forever suffered a serious setback after the people were taken into captivity. No king from the line of David reigned in Jerusalem again. But God’s prophet said a branch would grow from this stump and rule justly over the earth. Christians see that this branch is Jesus.

Descriptions of this branch, though, picture the Messiah doing violent warfare. But this imagery about slaying the wicked with the breath of his mouth hardly fit Jesus’ career. Why did Jesus seem to adjust the expectations of the Messiah?

It is important that we know the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testa­ment. Jesus is against violence because the kingdom is no longer represented by a physical country or piece of land. The enemy is no longer represented by nations who threaten God’s people, but by the spiritual ­forces of evil at work in individuals and in corrupt systems. So Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).

To follow the Messiah today means we must adjust our expectations. Some day Jesus will judge us all, but he is not the warrior who takes our side in every earthly battle we imagine. Jesus is the Prince of Peace who expects us to refuse the path of violence and to wage peace so that our enemies will see his love.

Jesus, may your peaceable kingdom fill our thoughts and relationships and saturate the world. Amen.

About the author — Dean Deppe

Dean Deppe has been a pastor in inner-city, suburban, and rural ­churches. Currently he teaches New Testament theology at Calvin Theological Seminary. His courses include one on the parables of Jesus. He and his wife have four grown children.

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