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No. 71: The Counsel of Peace

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 71
March, 1995
Copyright 1995, Biblical Horizons

A prime difficulty in the interpretation of this verse is the antecedent of the pronoun "them." A number of alternatives have been offered. Some suggest that the "two" are the offices of kingship and priesthood. This view has been dismissed, rightly I think, as too abstract; a counsel of peace, we would expect, is an agreement between persons, not between institutions or offices. Others have suggested that the two are Joshua and Zerubbabel, but Zerubbabel is not mentioned anywhere in the passage.

Historically, covenant theologians have used this verse as one of the prooftexts for an eternal covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son. I think these theologians are on the right track in recognizing that the only two persons mentioned in the relevant verses are the "Lord" and the "Branch." Yet, without wishing to dismiss the notion of an eternal covenant of Father and Son, it is certainly not in view in Zechariah 6.

To see why, we need to look at the Zechariah 6:9-15 as a whole. First, we may note that 6:9-15 are structured chiastically, as follows:

From this arrangement, we learn that the building of the temple is the crux of the matter. The building of the temple is the hinge on which everything turns.

It is important to see the fulfillment of the prophecy in the restoration period. Zechariah’s prophecy of the crowned, enthroned, temple-building Branch (vv. 11-13) refers first of all to Joshua the high priest. The crown of the Davidic kingdom was held in trust by Joshua and his successors until Messiah came; this passage thus provided Scriptural warrant for the high priests’ royal powers during the restoration and "intertestamental" periods. (Commentators usually assume that the crown was placed on Joshua to symbolize the future Messiah, then taken off and placed in the temple as a memorial [vv. 11, 14]. But the text does not say the crown was taken from Joshua; it seems preferable to conclude that the crown was in the temple because it remained on Joshua’s head [cf. 3:9, possibly a reference to the priestly "crown"].)

If Joshua is the branch who builds the temple and sits on a throne, then the peace established is between Joshua and the Lord. As high priest, Joshua, of course, stands as a representative of the people; a counsel of peace between Joshua and the Lord is also a counsel of peace between the Lord and Israel. Previously in Zechariah’s visions, Joshua has been cleansed and filled with the Spirit (Zech. 3-4); now, he has been crowned; Joshua is thus equipped to build the temple whose desolate condition angered the Lord (cf. Hag. 1:1-11; Zech. 1:16). When the temple is completed, Joshua (and Israel with him) will enter on even greater privileges (i.e., he will be enthroned), and the treaty of peace between the Lord and His priestly people will be renewed.

The Branch of verse 12 is ultimately Jesus Christ, the Greater Joshua. That he "sprouts up from underneath" may refer to his origins from the Davidic line or to His lowly beginnings. In either case, the sprouting up of the Branch implies His appearance in history for our salvation. Already, the text places us in a redemptive-historical setting; it is not concerned with the eternal intimate relations of Father and Son.

What "temple" is being described (vv. 12b-13a)? Taking this as a prophecy of Jesus Christ, we must say the temple is not architectural but spiritual. This still does not answer the question, since Jesus built two temples: His body (in the resurrection) and the church. While Zechariah 6 could be taken in either sense and while the two temples are inseparable in any case, it makes better sense as a reference to the rebuilding of His body-temple after three days in the grave. Thus, verses 12-13 describe the appearance of the Jesus "from below," the rebuilding of His temple-body in His resurrection, and His exaltation to the right hand of the Father in His ascension. As we saw above, everything turns on the rebuilding of the temple, that is, on the resurrection.

It is in this context that the "counsel of peace" between the Lord and the Branch is mentioned. In context, the counsel is between the incarnate, risen, and exalted Son, the Priest-King of a new Israel, and the Father. The counsel of peace that is described here comes into effect after the Branch has "sprouted up," after He has built the temple, after He has received honor and taken His place as a priest on His throne. Whatever is going on here, it is describing something that is brought into effect by the historical work of the Branch.

The counsel of peace is, most simply, the New Covenant. Like Joshua, Jesus appears as the representative man, to make peace between the Father and all who are in Him. As Hebrews makes clear, in Jesus’ ascension as High Priest and King into the heavenly sanctuary the benefits of His work are secured; the treaty of peace is fulfilled in His enthronement in the heavenlies. Through His historical work (and not in eternity), the Branch has established a peace treaty with the Father.