Questions From Readers
Since Jesus descended from both Jesse and David, why is he called “the root” of his ancestors Jesse and David?
You normally think of a root of a tree or of a plant as coming before the trunk or the branches. So it would seem that Jesse (or his son David) would be spoken of as the root from which Jesus eventually sprang. Still, Isaiah 11:10 foretold that the coming Messiah would be “the root of Jesse,” and Romans 15:12 applied this prophecy to Jesus Christ. Later Revelation 5:5 called him “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the root of David.” There are reasons for these designations.
The Bible often uses a plant, such as a tree, illustratively. Sometimes this draws on the fact that as a seed sprouts and grows, the roots develop before the boughs, other branches, or fruit being supported by the roots. For example, Isaiah 37:31 reads: “Those who escape of the house of Judah, those who are left remaining, will certainly take root downward and produce fruitage upward.”—Job 14:8, 9; Isaiah 14:29.
If harm comes to the root, the rest of the tree feels the effect. (Compare Matthew 3:10; 13:6.) Accordingly, Malachi wrote: “‘The day that is coming will certainly devour them,’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘so that it will not leave to them either root or bough.’” (Malachi 4:1) The meaning is clear—complete cutting off. The parents (roots) would be cut off, as well as their offspring (boughs).* This underscores the responsibility parents have toward their minor children; the lasting future of minor children could be determined by their parents’ standing before God.—1 Corinthians 7:14.
The language at Isaiah 37:31 and Malachi 4:1 draws on the fact that boughs (and the fruit on secondary branches) derive their life from the root. This is a key to understanding how Jesus is the “root of Jesse” and the “root of David.”
In a fleshly way, Jesse and David were Jesus’ ancestors; they were the roots, he the offshoot or bough. Isaiah 11:1 said of the coming Messiah: “There must go forth a twig out of the stump of Jesse; and out of his roots a sprout will be fruitful.” Similarly, at Revelation 22:16, Jesus calls himself “the offspring of David.” But he also terms himself “the root of David.” Why?
One way Jesus is the “root” of Jesse and David is that by means of him their genealogical line stays alive. No human today can prove that he is of the tribe of Levi, Dan, or even Judah, but we can be certain that the line of Jesse and David lives on because Jesus now is alive in heaven.—Matthew 1:1-16; Romans 6:9.
Jesus also received the position of heavenly King. (Luke 1:32, 33; 19:12, 15; 1 Corinthians 15:25) This bears on his relationship even with his ancestors. Prophetically, David called Jesus his Lord.—Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34-36.
Finally, Jesus Christ is empowered as Judge. During the coming Millennium, the benefits of Jesus’ ransom will extend also to Jesse and David. Their life on earth then will depend on Jesus, who will serve as their “Eternal Father.”—Isaiah 9:6.
Consequently, though Jesus sprang from the line of Jesse and David, what he has become and will yet do qualifies him to be called “the root of Jesse” and “the root of David.”
An ancient Phoenician funerary inscription used similar language. It said of any who opened the burial place: “May they not have root below or fruit above!”—Vetus Testamentum, April 1961.
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Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.