[Note: This is the prepared text of a sermon given to the Dalles congregation of the United Church of God on the Feast of Trumpets, Sabbath, September 19, 2020. Slightly edited, the message was given at the Feast of Tabernacles in Montego Bay, Jamaica on October 6, 2020.]
Who will sit on the throne of David after the return of Jesus Christ? As today is the Feast of Trumpets, it is worth exploring what is in fact a trick question. After all, several verses in the Bible like Matthew 19:28 and Hebrews 12:2 tell us that Jesus Christ will sit on His glorious throne, and we know from Psalm 110 that Jesus Christ is known as the son of David. Matthew 19:28 also tells us that the twelve disciples will sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel in the world to come. Other verses like Hosea 3:5 and Amos 9:11 let us know that Israel will return again to seek God and that David will be their king. So far then we already have a large number of people sitting on the throne of David and ruling over Israel after the return of Jesus Christ. But there is one more person to consider, and that is the mysterious person known as the Prince, who is spoken of in Ezekiel 45 and 46. What can we learn about this mysterious person who is also said in the Bible to be ruling over Israel. Why, if we already have Jesus Christ and David and the resurrected twelve apostles ruling over Israel do we need a prince to do so? Let us briefly explore these issues in the time we have remaining to us today.
Let us look at the three passages that where this prince is listed in Ezekiel 45 and 46 and then comment on the details we learn from them, so that we may come to understand the purpose for his office. In reading what Ezekiel 45 and 46 has to say about him, we can draw some clear differences between him and the other people we have spoken about so far who sit on the throne of David as resurrected spirit beings, and these differences allow us to recognize his purpose in God’s plan for Israel in the millennium. Let us begin with Ezekiel 46:1-15. This passage provides us with a view of the manner of worship that will go on in the millennium, and it offers some distinctive elements that are very different from the way that we worship now. Ezekiel 46:1-15 reads: “Thus says the Lord God: “The gateway of the inner court that faces toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath it shall be opened, and on the day of the New Moon it shall be opened. The prince shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gateway from the outside, and stand by the gatepost. The priests shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings. He shall worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he shall go out, but the gate shall not be shut until evening. Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the entrance to this gateway before the Lord on the Sabbaths and the New Moons. The burnt offering that the prince offers to the Lord on the Sabbath day shall be six lambs without blemish, and a ram without blemish; and the grain offering shall be one ephah for a ram, and the grain offering for the lambs, as much as he wants to give, as well as a hin of oil with every ephah. On the day of the New Moon it shall be a young bull without blemish, six lambs, and a ram; they shall be without blemish. He shall prepare a grain offering of an ephah for a bull, an ephah for a ram, as much as he wants to give for the lambs, and a hin of oil with every ephah. When the prince enters, he shall go in by way of the vestibule of the gateway, and go out the same way. “But when the people of the land come before the Lord on the appointed feast days, whoever enters by way of the north gate to worship shall go out by way of the south gate; and whoever enters by way of the south gate shall go out by way of the north gate. He shall not return by way of the gate through which he came, but shall go out through the opposite gate. The prince shall then be in their midst. When they go in, he shall go in; and when they go out, he shall go out. At the festivals and the appointed feast days the grain offering shall be an ephah for a bull, an ephah for a ram, as much as he wants to give for the lambs, and a hin of oil with every ephah. “Now when the prince makes a voluntary burnt offering or voluntary peace offering to the Lord, the gate that faces toward the east shall then be opened for him; and he shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings as he did on the Sabbath day. Then he shall go out, and after he goes out the gate shall be shut. “You shall daily make a burnt offering to the Lord of a lamb of the first year without blemish; you shall prepare it every morning. And you shall prepare a grain offering with it every morning, a sixth of an ephah, and a third of a hin of oil to moisten the fine flour. This grain offering is a perpetual ordinance, to be made regularly to the Lord. Thus they shall prepare the lamb, the grain offering, and the oil, as a regular burnt offering every morning.”
In many ways, this is a strange passage to us. We see that the account of the worship at the restored temple discussed in this passage reminds us a lot of the workings of the temple and tabernacle system that existed during the time of Solomon and during the lifetime of the first generation of the church before the destruction of Jerusalem. It is striking to us that this prince is viewed as being like one of the people, going to worship in the temple when they do, and offering up what he wishes to offer on the Sabbath and at other times as freewill and voluntary offerings. It is well worth noting that while there are sacrifices listed here that there are no sin or trespass offerings listed, in stark contrast to the sacrificial system of ancient Israel. So if this passage reminds us of what we read when we look at the first few chapters of Leviticus or Numbers 28 and 29, there are clearly differences here as well that are worth reflecting on.
It is in the next passage when we view the inheritance laws that we get a better idea of who the prince is. And this helps us to understand why he too is sitting on the throne of David and ruling over Israel. If we continue on in Ezekiel 46:16-18, we read the following about the inheritance laws related to the Prince. It reads: “Thus says the Lord God: “If the prince gives a gift of some of his inheritance to any of his sons, it shall belong to his sons; it is their possession by inheritance. But if he gives a gift of some of his inheritance to one of his servants, it shall be his until the year of liberty, after which it shall return to the prince. But his inheritance shall belong to his sons; it shall become theirs. Moreover the prince shall not take any of the people’s inheritance by evicting them from their property; he shall provide an inheritance for his sons from his own property, so that none of My people may be scattered from his property.” By this point it should be clear that the prince is a human being who is expected to marry and have children who succeed after him as prince, and who has certain limits placed on his rule so that he does not take advantage of the ordinary people. We will see no eminent domain law where the prince will be able to seize good land and add it to the royal demense the way that is the case in our own present world when governments want what the people have. This passage is clear that we are dealing with a human being. After all, Luke 20:35 and Matthew 22:30 tells us that those who enter into the world to come do not have children and do not marry, and this prince does both. Likewise, those who come up in the resurrection to eternal life need not care about the extent of their lands because they will be beyond such concerns that drive human beings. The prince, though, has restrictions placed on how he hands physical property relating to heirs of his body, reminding us that he is a physical being.
This understanding that the prince is human and will be subject to the laws is reinforced when we look at Ezekiel 45:7-12, in the previous chapter to what we have been reading from so far. This passage tells us the following: ““The prince shall have a section on one side and the other of the holy district and the city’s property; and bordering on the holy district and the city’s property, extending westward on the west side and eastward on the east side, the length shall be side by side with one of the tribal portions, from the west border to the east border. The land shall be his possession in Israel; and My princes shall no more oppress My people, but they shall give the rest of the land to the house of Israel, according to their tribes.” ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Enough, O princes of Israel! Remove violence and plundering, execute justice and righteousness, and stop dispossessing My people,” says the Lord God. “You shall have honest scales, an honest ephah, and an honest bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of the same measure, so that the bath contains one-tenth of a homer, and the ephah one-tenth of a homer; their measure shall be according to the homer. The shekel shall be twenty gerahs; twenty shekels, twenty-five shekels, and fifteen shekels shall be your mina.””
What is the point of all this? Why do we need a human prince running Israel at all if we have perfect resurrected beings able and willing to judge over Israel? What is the benefit of having human beings rule in the millennium? This passage gives us some understanding. It is not merely enough that God wants humanity to be ruled over by perfect beings. After all, if God wanted to right now, in this life, he could make sure that we were governed by perfect beings. But we are not. We are given practice in self-rule and self-government over ourselves, our families, our churches, our societies, and while we are not often very good at the practice of authority, we are expected to practice it anyway. And so it is in the world to come as well. The rule of Jesus Christ and of resurrected believers over humanity does not mean that God is taking away from mankind the responsibility of self-government and developing the capacity to rule and judge justly. It just means that on top of this physical layer of government we find a spiritual layer that keeps mankind in line and prevents him from going crazy like we are prone to do from time to time. And that is why the ruler of mankind is only a prince, because the spots for kingship have been taken, and it will be clear that this ruler is not the ultimate authority, but is himself subject to being ruled by others and being subject as well to the law. And, as often happens, from learning about how human beings will rule in the millennium, we can learn something about how God wishes for us to exercise authority for the purpose of justice and righteousness here and now.