In Jacob’s blessings of his twelve sons, he says this about Judah: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Genesis 49:10).
In ancient times a scepter was often a full-length staff—note that, in the poetry of Jacob’s prophecy, the words scepter and ruler’s staff are used in parallel. A scepter was usually made of carved wood and sometimes embellished with fine metal or gems; it symbolized a ruler’s absolute power and authority over a tribe or nation. The same Hebrew word translated “scepter” is sometimes translated as “club,” “staff,” or “rod,” all of which can be used as weapons. Scepters symbolized the irresistible civic and military power that a ruler had at his command.
When Jacob said, “The scepter will not depart from Judah,” he was giving, in part, a divine prediction concerning the children of Judah. Centuries later, when Jacob’s descendants formed a nation in the Promised Land and kings began to rule, it was the line of Judah that became the royal line. Starting with David, the line of Judah’s kings continued through Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, and many others, all the way through Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. Jacob’s prophecy came true: the tribe of Judah possessed the scepter—the kings of the Davidic dynasty were all descended from Jacob’s fourth son, Judah.
When Jacob said, “The scepter will not depart from Judah,” he was also giving a divine prediction of one Descendant in particular who would come from the line of Judah. Jacob says the tribe of Judah would possess the scepter “until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor” (Genesis 49:10, NLT). Some more literal translations, such as the KJV and the NASB, render the prophecy as “until Shiloh comes”—Shiloh being a title of the Messiah.
Later in biblical history, God tells King David, a descendant of Judah, that his throne would be established forever, confirming that the Messiah would be descended from him (2 Samuel 7:8–16). The One who fulfills this prophecy is Jesus Christ, the Son of David, whose kingdom is eternal (2 Peter 1:11). Jesus is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5). Because of Jesus Christ, the scepter has not departed from Judah.
Worldly authority, symbolized by the scepter, is temporary, and earthly kings often find their scepters slipping out of their grasp. But the scepter wielded by the Messiah, Jesus Christ, will never be lost, stolen, or set aside. When He establishes His kingdom on earth, it will be one of perfect justice: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (Hebrews 1:8–9; cf. Psalm 45:6–7). Jesus’ reign will include a final judgment of the nations, and He “will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Revelation 2:27; cf. Psalm 2:9; cf. Revelation 19:15).
Just before they crucified Jesus, Roman soldiers mocked Him, placing a crown of thorns on His head and a staff in His hand as a royal scepter. They bowed before Him in jest, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” then struck Him repeatedly with the fake scepter (Matthew 27:27–31). How supremely ironic that the scepter, a symbol of worldly authority, was used to batter the One who holds the highest authority in heaven and on earth!
A 4,000-year-old prophecy, “the scepter will not depart from Judah,” will be fully realized some day when Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, returns with His saints and angels. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will wield the scepter: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 1:14–15).