“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the rulers staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples…” (Genesis 49:10 ESV)
Exemplified above is a key concept in Biblical interpretation known as “the Federal Head.” Without understanding the term and how it’s applied, false meanings are guaranteed. Judah is not the sole beneficiary of his father Jacob’s blessing, his brothers were too. In the laying on of hands on Judah, Jacob is speaking a divine promise to his son’s offspring, the full manifestation of which is not David but Christ, the Head of His Church, the holder of the scepter and King of all Nations.
Examine the Olivet Discourse, Jesus’ principle teaching on the end times. In it we find a Federal Head example.
“So when you see, the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Matthew 24:15-16)
“See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.” (Mark 13:5-7)
“But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake... You will be hated by all nations for my name sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives (Luke 21:12, 16-19 ESV).
To properly understand prophecy or what is foretold by God, it is vital we link His promises of the past to the present and the future. Who is the Promiser? If we know the Promiser it is likely we will know the “who,” to whom His promises were made.
To whom is the oft repeated second person pronoun you or its possessive your (the Federal Head) referring in Luke 21? We then also know the who, when, what, where and why of the end of the age. Who are your Federal Heads to whom God made his precious and great promises? Answer that and you can teach prophecy accurately.
Though the answer may be obvious, within Christianity there remain differences of opinion. There are reasons for the differences. If certain popular doctrines accepted the plain meaning of the text, it would disprove their tenuous position. One prominent view believes that in the Olivet Discourse context, Jesus’ prophetic words only concerned Jews. Another side argues prophecy should not be taken literally. That group goes on to say that Jews have been replaced by the Church in God’s covenant (promises). The two sides thoroughly reject each other and poke holes in the other’s position. What the easily made holes suggest is neither is accurate.
This is how the Federal Head works: Promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are cumulative and apply to their heirs. Prophecy over Jacob’s children included the promises made to their ancestors. For example, the promise inherited by Judah also applies to his offspring, David, and his son Solomon. All is, of course, conditional upon obedience, and still is. David’s son Jesus was heir to all of it. As heirs of all this and promises made throughout the New Testament, if faithful Jesus’ disciples of every generation have accumulated all the promises made to the aforementioned Federal Heads, and their spiritual and physical seed as well, until time is no more.Their job was to reproduce themselves and teach others who will teach the promises to each succeeding generation.
Consider Matthew 24:9-10, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me,” who is the “you?” It is obvious by the phrase “hated by all nations” that the original disciples were not the ones hated globally. Their seed is pictured afterward in Revelation 7:9, those who came out of the midst of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:14).
When properly applied, the Federal Head principle clarifies that what is promised to heirs is based on familial relationships. So if you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus, the Son of the Promiser, to whom does the “you” in prophecy refer, be it good or bad?