Sometimes a whole lot of meaning is packed into one word. This is the case with the word “until,” where it appears in Genesis 49 in one of the earliest prophecies in Scripture.
Jacob, later named “Israel” (Genesis 49:2), was the grandson of Abraham, and he knew that he was about to die. So he gathered his 12 sons to bless them (verse 28) and to tell them what would “befall [them] in the last days” (verse 1). When it was Judah’s turn to be blessed, Jacob proclaimed the coming of Jesus in Israel’s last days (see also Hebrews 1:1-2, 9:26):
“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk” (Genesis 49:8-12).
The word “until” speaks volumes here. For many centuries, Judah’s tribe would hold onto the giving of the law and the scepter, which is defined in Strong’s Concordance as a staff of authority for ruling. However, Judah’s hold on the scepter and the law was only temporary. Shiloh (Jesus) was coming! He was to take over this scepter, and the people of God would be gathered to Him to obey Him.
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah…until Shiloh comes” =
The scepter will depart from Judah when Shiloh comes.
In David’s time, we see that God still referred to Judah as His scepter (Psalm 60:7, 108:8). Then after David and Solomon reigned, there was a split between the 10 northern tribes of Israel and the tribe of Judah, also known as the house of David (I Kings 11:29-36, 12:16-20). In 722 BC, the 10 northern tribes were defeated and captured by Assyria, and for the most part they remained scattered among the nations.
In 586 BC, Judah was also defeated and captured by Babylon. However, after Medo-Persia defeated Babylon (Isaiah 13, Daniel 5-6) in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great allowed the people of Judah to return to Jerusalem in 538 BC (Ezra 1:1-8, Isaiah 45:1-8). Zerubbabel, who led them, was from the lineage of David and appeared in the genealogies of Jesus (Matthew 1:12-13, Luke 3:27). During the next few centuries, Judah had rulers among themselves even while they were under Persia, Greece, Syria, and the Romans. By the time Jesus came, the people of Judah were submitted to the rule and the law of the Sanhedrin (e.g. John 18:31).
As Jacob prophesied, the scepter remained with Judah all the way up until Jesus came. The coming of Jesus is one of the reasons, and the greatest reason, why Judah was preserved and kept intact while the 10 tribes were not. In Revelation 5:5, it’s significant that Jesus is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (see Genesis 49:9, quoted above).
Christian Zionism, dispensationalism, and the Hebrew Roots Movement would nearly (or outright) have us believe that the scepter has not passed from Judah to Jesus. According to these movements, Jesus is not the center of prophecy; national Israel is. According to these movements, the plans, purposes, and promises of God do not belong primarily to Jesus and His followers, but to national Israel and/or the Jewish people. According to these movements, Jews are God’s chosen people (whether they love Jesus or hate Him), but Jesus and His followers are not God’s chosen people (or this is true of us only in a secondary sense). According to these movements, Torah (the law of Moses) is often preeminent, being at least as important as the law of Christ and His teachings.
Jesus has come, and the scepter is in His hands. To Jesus belongs the obedience of God’s people. He is the Desire of All Nations (Haggai 2:7), the One who has gathered “together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad” (John 11:52), and the One who draws all people to Himself (John 12:32). He is the “Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6; 7:22).
The law, the covenant(s), and the priesthood were transferred out of Judah’s hand 2000 years ago, and there’s no handing back of the baton to Judah/Israel. All the types and shadows of the old covenant find their reality and fulfillment in Jesus. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.