Zechariah is the second of the three post-exilic prophets. So after this we only have one more Old Testament book to go through. In checking with other churches I have noticed that Zechariah is not a book that has been completely preached through very often. And part of the reason may be because of how confusing it is if you read it as a linear progression. It seems to be talking about the Maccabees and then about Jesus and then about the Maccabees. So to some people it seems like certain passages are totally out of context. But if you recognize the Hebrew structure (and I have put an extensive structuring of the whole book on the back page of your outlines), then things begin to fall into place. It's sort of like following a roadmap.
Admittedly, on any reading it does have some very beautiful and straightforward prophecies of Jesus. But it also has some prophecies that have puzzled the greatest of minds. For example, who are the three shepherds that were dismissed in one month in chapter 11:8? David Noor and I discovered over forty different interpretations of those three shepherds. And you see other passages that are just as vexing. So I am sure that I will not settle all the debates on this book. But you know me - I will try. I do believe that I understand the whole book, but I want to approach this book with humility.
And the first thing I like to do when I am studying a book is to set the context for the book. Ezra 5:1-2 gives us some very helpful background that helps to slice through some issues. Ezra 5, beginning to read at verse 1.
Ezra 5:1 Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. 2 So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them.
When you compare those two verses with the first verse of Zechariah, you discover at least five things that you can know with absolute certainty.
- First, you know that his prophecy must have something to do with encouraging the people to build the temple - Ezra says so. That's a huge clue to interpreting the first half of the book.
- Second, we know that he was a contemporary of Haggai, and had tag teamed with that prophet.
- Third, based upon the dates in Zechariah, we know exactly when all of this ministry integrates with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Though the second half of the book came a few years later, he starts prophesying in 520 BC.
- Fourth, because of that fact we know that the temple had not yet been built, and like Haggai, Zechariah is interested in getting the people to do so. It will be another four years before the temple is finished.
- Fifth, we know that his prophecies began two months after Haggai's began.
So there is not a lot of guesswork on background. That means that I can dive straight into an overview of this amazing book.
Overview of the book
In the broadest brush strokes, every major section of this book describes the need for the Messiah and His kingdom and anticipates that kingdom in some way. But it also helps the Jews who had returned from Babylon to realize that the opposition they were receiving from Persia should not be surprising - it was not simply a political issue. There are principalities and invisible powers behind those empires that they must contend with. And this book has some marvelous instruction on spiritual warfare.
If you were to divide the book into two parts, the first 8 chapters deal primarily with Zechariah's day, even though there are some types of Christ that occur there. The second half of the book (chapters 9-14) deal primarily with the future.
If you were to divide the book up by the nations or empires that Satan manipulated to oppose God's kingdom, then this book could be divided into four major parts. And I think this is a helpful way of dividing up the book. Let me list those four for you. And you will see these four in the red letters on the charts on the back of your outlines.
- Chapters 1-8 demonstrate quite well that the power and might of Persia cannot stop God's plans for the Messiah. Those eight chapters would have been a tremendous encouragement to Israel in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, who often faced enormous opposition from Persian emperors and other government officials. Zechariah is giving them a behind the scenes look at spiritual warfare, and that it is the invisible battles that determine the visible ones.
- Then chapters 9-10 show that the next empire (the Greek empire) will not be able to stop God's plans for the Messiah. So he is moving from the spiritual battles of Persia to those of the next empire, Greece. That section actually has to go all the way up to the time of the Roman Empire when discussing Jesus, but the emphasis is on how God helped the Maccabees successfully stand for liberty and justice against the demonic persecutions of the Greek states - especially Antiochus Epiphanes. God would use that wretched man's persecutions to purify Israel of compromise and idolatry. And far from stopping God's plans, that wicked state was actually fulfilling God's plans. It gives you a totally different perspective on bad times.
- The third section, chapter 11, comes historically after the second. It shows that even apostate Israel could not stop God's plans for the Messiah. And Israel would become so apostate that they would reject their Messiah, and the Messiah would in turn reject Israel. And God explains why He is allowing all of that to happen. That's all in chapter 11.
- Then the last section, chapters 12-14, shows how even the Roman Empire (during the same time period as chapter 11) cannot stop God's plans for the Messiah. And all through that section, the phrase "Yehowah of Armies," stands in contrast to the armies of man. And in that section you will see amazing discussions of the greatest tribulation that the church would ever face - their tribulation under Nero. It will also discuss the War against Jerusalem, and God's judgments of other nations after that.
But what is the upshot and conclusion of the whole book? The last paragraph, chapter 14:16-21 shows that the Messiah will gradually build His kingdom so successfully that it will cover the whole world and will bring everything defiled into a state of holiness. It's an incredibly encouraging book. So that is the overarching look at where the book is taking you. It's good to fly over the forest before you start investigating the details of the forest.
Let's now back up to the first section and try to get a handle on what is happening there. And hopefully the outline that I have given to you will prove to be a helpful road-map.
You can see that it is in the form of a giant chiasm. I've actually been quite surprised at the number of books in the Old Testament that have ended up using chiasms to structure the material. And when you look at the center of that chiasm, you can see that it is symbolically pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom. But this whole section was designed to encourage the Israel of Ezra chapter 5 to get back to the work of building the temple. You will see on the Red Letters on the right that the outward parts of the chiasm are universal in scope, then move in to Persia, then to Judah, then to the temple, and then to the Messiah who is the center of it all. It's beautifully structured. But he discusses the temple in a way where no one will conclude that the temple is anything but a symbol of the Messiah and His New Covenant kingdom. There is nothing in here about rebuilding a temple in our future. Let me walk you through the parts of the chiasm.
The A sections are simply the introduction and conclusion. And both of them call upon the people to remember the covenant. It was violation of the covenant that led to their captivity, and in the first A, the people acknowledge that. They want better for themselves. The themes introduced in that first A are remembering, covenant, law, that God is the God of armies, and spiritual warfare will be a big part of this book. In fact, that name "Lord of hosts" (or literally, "Yehowah of Armies") occurs 53 times in the book. So the introduction calls upon people to remember the covenant and to return and draw near to God.
In the second A God repeats some of those themes and makes sure that they will remember the covenant by making a beautiful memorial. And in that section Joshua play-acts as a type of the Messiah.
The B sections describe spiritual warfare that goes on throughout the earth with very vivid descriptions of four horses with four different colors, and four riders, and four spirits, and spiritual warfare that these strange angelic beings must engage in. It is as a result of their vigilance that they can report in chapter 1, verse 11, "We have walked to and from throughout the earth, and behold, all the earth is resting quietly." Almost identical language is used in the second B section (chapter 6:1-8). I don't have time to get into all the details of how encouraging this section would have been to the Jewish remnant of Zechariah's day.
The C sections both promise to cast occultic powers out of Israel. I love these sections. It is possible to get the occult out of a nation. Why would the occult have even been there? Weren't these Jews who returned to Jerusalem all believers? And the answer is, "No." You don't have to read far in Ezra or Nehemiah to realize that the occult had infiltrated into Israel through intermarriage and alliances with Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. In fact, a few years later after this chapter is written, Eliashib the next high priest, had prepared a huge guest suite for Tobiah right in the temple. The antichrist is living in the temple. It infuriated Nehemiah. And according to this book, it infuriated God. So the first C section has the horns (or rulers) that have been troubling Israel being scattered by four symbolic carpenters (or prophets). These horns are not only the powers of the nations, but the occult that stood behind those powers.
But let's go ahead and look at the second C section, chapter 5:5-11. This also deals with the occult being cast out. It is a very gut-churning image. Beginning at verse 5:
Zech. 5:5 Then the angel who talked with me came out and said to me, “Lift your eyes now, and see what this is that goes forth.” Zech. 5:6 So I asked, “What is it?” And he said, “It is a basket that is going forth.” He also said, “This is their resemblance throughout the earth: 7 Here is a lead disc lifted up, and this is a woman sitting inside the basket”; 8 then he said, “This is Wickedness!” And he thrust her down into the basket, and threw the lead cover over its mouth. [So here we have a good angel restraining this demon-woman - but she is still there ready to pop out. Verse 9] 9 Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were two women, coming with the wind in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven. Zech. 5:10 So I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they carrying the basket?” Zech. 5:11 And he said to me, “To build a house for it in the land of Shinar; when it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base.”
The two women with stork wings are unclean spirits (the stork being an unclean bird) who are helping this woman. And they fly her away so that they can build a house (or a temple) to her in the land of Shinar wihch will stand in opposition to God's house (or temple). Genesis 10:10 is the first reference to the land of Shinar, and it is identified there with Babel, and in Genesis 11 with the tower of Babel. He could have just called the place that they went to Babylon or Persia, but he wanted to make the occult connection quite clear, and the opposition to God quite clear. So here is a demonic presence being cast out of Israel just as the four horns were cast out. And there is an interesting little tidbit in verse 6.
So I asked, “What is it?” And he said, “It is a basket that is going forth.” He also said, “This is their resemblance throughout the earth:"
Literally that last clause can be translated, "This is their eye throughout the earth." The eye was what was considered precious. Earlier God had called the godly remnant the apple of His eye, because He cherished the remnant and considered them precious. What God is saying here is that the entire earth treats this demonic woman as precious - as their eye - as the ring of Maldor. The whole earth cherishes and clings to and protects the occult in their disobedient dealings. Now, they might not recognize it. Israelites may have been horrified to realize that their disobedience to God's law was actually an embrace of this wicked woman, but any time we disobey God we give legal ground to the demonic to be at work in our lives.
So those two C sections are God's call and authorization to purge Israel of the occult - a command that Ezra and Nehemiah took to heart. Nehemiah ends his book exhausted, but saying that he had achieved this goal of purifying Israel of all wickedness.
The D sections are similar - they use two different symbols of evaluating Judah according to the law of God and bringing reformation. Chapter 2:1-13 uses the familiar image of a measuring line. When that D section is interpreted in the context of the book of Esther, everything comes to life. Israel was backslidden and refusing to obey God in Esther, just like here. The nations were intent on plundering the Jews under wicked Haman (Zechariah 2:8), but in verse 9 God promises that He will turn it around and cause the Jews to spoil their enemies (as later happened in the book of Esther). As a result of this tumultuous time, verse 11 says, "Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in their midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you." This was exactly fulfilled in the book of Esther. Esther 8:17 says, "Then many of the people of the land became Jews" - they converted. And as a result of the fulfillment of this prophecy in Esther, Zechariah was esteemed. And there are many other ways I can’t get into that show a beautiful interweaving of Zechariah with the historical books.
The second D section (chapter 5:1-4) uses the image of a flying scroll - a huge scroll measuring about 10 yards by 5 yards. If you had a bible flying around that was that big, it would definitely get your attention. That scroll represents the law of God measuring the actions of the Israelites, and putting a curse upon rebels while bestowing blessing on the rest. Did you know that disobedience results in God's curse? And by the way, don't knock the idea of blessings and cursings as being an antiquated idea. Angels and demons back up blessings and cursings unless those cursings are covered in the blood of Christ. Both of those sections say a lot about curses. That is a subject that needs to be studied and understood.
But that brings us to the heart to the chiasm - chapters 3 and 4. These two symbols of Jesus and His atonement show the spiritual power of God Himself helping us to overcome curses and enter into the blessings through the Spirit.
This event took place during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. Satan was attacking them from every angle that he could. Satan brought greed, immorality and other things designed to weaken them and make them ineffective. Those historical books show the visible. But Zechariah shows the invisible behind-the-scenes situation. Zechariah 3, beginning at verse 1.
Zechariah 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him.
He is not a type of Christ in this paragraph because we will shortly see that he is covered with filthy garments and powerless before Satan. In this paragraph the filthy garments represent this believer's ongoing sins and it is the clean garments that represent Christ's righteousness and His armor. Verse 2:
Zechariah 3:2 And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?"
Notice that Joshua is not the Messiah here. He is a brand plucked out of the fires of hell. He had to be saved just like we do. He needs the Messiah. And God had already rescued him from hell. But he still has sins that Satan tries to take advantage of. Verse 3:
Zechariah 3:3 'Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Zechariah 3:4 “Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, "Take away the filthy garments from him." And to him He said, "See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes." Zechariah 3:5 And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the LORD stood by.
Once Joshua was cleansed, and all of the moral ground that Satan had claimed in his life was removed, and once Joshua had been clothed from head to foot in the provisions of Christ, God stood by to hear his prayers. Nothing could hinder his priestly intercession. He had power. His intercessions would be heard just like Christ's intercessions are always heard because he is now clothed with Christ. This is what I mean by protective covering from the Lord. All of us need to daily confess our sins, letting Christ remove our sins and put on His righteousness. And then we can daily engage the enemy in intercessory prayer.
But the clothed Joshua now transitions into being a type of Christ in verses 6-10. And he will carry that typology forward much more in chapter 4. But there is a curious stone that stands as a type of Christ as well. Look at chapter 4, verses 8-10:
Zech. 3:8 “Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, You and your companions who sit before you, For they are a wondrous sign;
A wondrous sign refers to a divinely given prophetic sign. Where the Branch of the next phrase makes Joshua a type of Jesus (and it does so by quoting the Branch language from Isaiah), these companions of Joshua were types of believers who would work with Christ as a priesthood of believers; they typify us. He goes on:
For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. 9 For behold, the stone That I have laid before Joshua: Upon the stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave its inscription,’ Says the LORD of hosts,
Let me stop there. The stone is also a type of Jesus, who is the chief cornerstone of the temple, just as this will be a cornerstone for the physical temple. But this symbolic cornerstone for the temple was an unusual one. It had seven eyes on it, which some translate as seven facets, while others see actual eyes on it. Revelation interprets the seven eyes as being the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And it was engraved by God Himself. So the stone stands as a type of Christ, filled with all of the fullness of the Spirit, and commissioned by God the Father. No wonder the last clause of verse 9 says,
“And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.
This is a prophecy concerning Jesus. On Nisan 14, AD 30, Jesus was crucified, and in one day He removed the sins of the land and the sins of His people forever. Verse 10 then speaks of the millennial promise of shalom as flowing from the cross:
10 In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, “Everyone will invite his neighbor Under his vine and under his fig tree.’ ”
Those were standard images of Millennial shalom.
I won't go in depth into the prophecy of the lampstand and the two olive trees in chapter 4 since I dealt with that pretty extensively in my Revelation series. But that chapter contains some absolutely fabulous symbolism. The lampstands represent the New Covenant church. The oil represents the Holy Spirit's filling of the church and empowering the church and making it shine with the light of Christ. Likewise, Zerubbabel and Joshua are types of the two aspects of Christ's kingship and priesthood. And the capstone represents the fact that there will come a time in Christ's kingdom when every prophecy will be fulfilled and His spiritual temple will be finished. It will be like there will be a final capstone to finish off the kingdom. Right now we are still being built up as a spiritual temple, but when the last stone is added, history will end.
But I do want to read the words of encouragement that Zechariah gave to his contemporaries who were so discouraged. This is chapter 4, verses 6-7.
Zech. 4:6 So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts. 7 “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone With shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!” ’ ”
God's Spirit and His grace can level mountains and make impossibilities come true. The encouragement that they needed to persevere in God's work can help us to depend upon His grace as well.
I won't say a great deal about chapters 7-8, other than that it answered questions about whether they could quit fasting, as they had been doing for 70 years. Though they are back in the land, there is still tons of opposition. And it mystified them - do we celebrate or do we fast? Zechariah basically doesn't want them to ritualize fasting. He calls them to feast in faith that God will fulfill His promises. No need for fasting - at least not those monthly fasts for the whole nation.
If you study those two chapters on your own, you will see that it teaches us a lot about good and bad fasting. It is clear from these two chapters that fasting is meaningless unless it is done unto the Lord, in dependence on His Spirit, and is accompanied by prayer. It is clear that God is not endorsing an ascetic approach to life that feels guilty about food and fun. It is clear in this section that fasting should always be for a specific purpose of humbling ourselves. Otherwise, God loves to bless us with feasting, and feasting can be a statement of faith. It was certainly a statement of faith in this chapter. I remember one time Kathy and I had been in fasting and prayer for a difficult situation and we suddenly got a sense from the Lord that He had answered our prayers and that we were to now feast in faith. And we did. Even though we hadn't seen the answer yet, we feasted in the knowledge that it had come. We had an absolute confidence that the prayers were answered. And there is something similar going on in these two chapters.
But I want to get into the difficult and controversial sections of this book, because they too are practical and helpful.
Chapters 9-10 focus on the opposition to God's kingdom from the Greek empire, and to some degree from the Roman empire that would come after it. Why these warnings about empires opposing the coming Messiah and His kingdom? And the simple answer was already given in the first section - Satan hates everything that Christ and His kingdom will stand for, and will do everything in His power to stop Messiah from coming, or barring that, will do everything in his power to oppose and resist God's people. So these encouraging sections tell us that empires are no match for God and should not be feared by us. We can say the same about any empires today.
You will notice that chapters 9-10 are not in the form of a chiasm. Zechariah uses a different Hebrew structural technique known as Midscale Parallelism or it is sometimes called Midscale Parallel Symmetry. Sometimes those repetitions can go on for quite some time before being resolved - ABC ABC ABCD ABC, A. In this case, it is a simple ABC, ABCD, A structure. And though it touches on the Roman empire when dealing with the Messiah, the bulk of these two chapters focus on the horrible Greek Empire that got divided up into four parts.
Chapter 9:1-8 describes some of the turmoil that happened after Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great and moving forward. Though some of the Greek kings following Alexander were rather horrific, and though Satan used them to try to exterminate Israel and keep Messiah from coming into the world (Antiochus Epiphanes being one of the worst), Satan was unsuccessful.
So the first B section, verse 9 is a well-known prophecy of Jesus. He is at the heart of what Satan had been previously opposing.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.
Though Christ came in peace, the next verse shows that He was quite capable of war. So the C section takes us up to the AD 70 war - Christ's war against Israel.
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off.
And consistent with other Old Testament references to the war against Jerusalem, the second half of verse 10 shows that the kingdom glories would come afterwards.
He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be “from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.’
This is another quotation from Isaiah. And actually, it is from two prophets - Isaiah 2 and Micah 4. So this is a shorthand way of promising everything that the Isaiah 2 and Micah 4 had promised. Both of those prophecies indicate that though this is the ultimate accomplishment of Christ's kingdom, it will come gradually. In any case, he mentions it in connection with AD 70 when this forward progress starts - when He starts speaking peace to the nations. And then He talks about emptying out Sheol in what Revelation 20 calls the first resurrection. Verse 11 says,
11 “As for you also, Because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
The waterless pit is Sheol. Since believers are no longer in Sheol, but are in heaven, this had to occur AD 70 or earlier when all believers were in Sheol. And having been brought up from Sheol, God promises a double reward in verse 12. So the first half of the Midscale Parallelism takes us from the Greek empire all the way up to the kingdom of Christ.
The second half of the Midscale Parallelism does exactly the same thing.
It starts with a later stage of the empire of Greece. So the next A, chapter 9:13-17 is a classic description of the Maccabean fight for liberty against Antiochus Epiphanes, who pretended to be the lightning God, Zeus, incarnate. God showed that He Himself was in control of lightning, not their fake god, Zeus. Verse 14 says,
14 Then the LORD will be seen over them, And His arrow will go forth like lightning. The Lord GOD will blow the trumpet, And go with whirlwinds from the south.
Is there any historical reference to God being seen over them in this fashion? Actually, yes. 2 Maccabees 5 says that for 40 days everyone in Israel could see God's armies battling from the sky, and spears, and arrows, and the flashes of light. It was a miraculous opening of God's people's eyes to the spiritual battles that God was bringing against the armies of Antiochus. And I'll put that quote up on the web. Anyway, this whole section shows the remarkable successes that God gave to the Maccabees.
However, the B section encourages them to not think that this is the best that God has to offer. No, there are far better things promised once the Messiah comes. They are encouraged in chapter 10, verses 1-2 to pray for the latter rains of the New Covenant probably a reference to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the millennial rains to follow.
Then the C section moves us from Pentecost up to AD 70 again, where God would battle against the evil shepherds.
But lest people think that AD 70 is the total end of apostate Israel, God assures them in verses 6-12 that Israel's rejection will not be total. In other words, there will always be a remnant of Jews scattered around the world who will be saved. And he goes on to say that their rejection will not be final, since eventually the whole nation will be saved. He will whistle for them from every place that they have been scattered to and save them. It's a fantastic background passage for the proper interpretation of Romans 11. I know some of you don't agree with my take on Romans 11, but do compare this passage with Romans 11. I think it is yet another background passage that really opens it up. If I ever preach through the book of Zechariah verse by verse, I hope to do justice to that section. It is a very important section for eschatology.
But then in chapter 11:1-3 we are back to the problems that will come against Israel during the Greek empire. It's obvious he has gone back in time again. Why? I believe the structure itself is teaching us something. Since they were in the Old Covenant, it seems that the good is always bracketed with a lot of evil - bracketed with the A sections. It is not till the New Covenant that this begins to be reversed and completely overturned. So even this lends itself to the thematic flow of the book.
And that brings us up to the rest of chapter 11 - a chapter that has generated countless contradictory interpretations. I have examined a ton of possible alternative explanations, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that this describes the reasons and results of the war against Jerusalem. Look at the center of the chiasm, which is verses 11-13. I always try to see how the New Testament interprets a passage. Since Matthew quotes these verses (along with Jeremiah) and says by inspiration that these exact words were fulfilled in the Garden of Gethsemane, this gives us an inspired anchor point. Let me read verses 11-13.
11 So it was broken on that day. Thus the poor of the flock, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the LORD. 12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. 13 And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter.
This symbolic action was a prophetic type of the thirty pieces of silver that Judas betrayed Jesus for - the price that the law sets for a dead slave - definitely not very much. The phrase, "that princely price" is sarcasm, though it was what the Prince of Peace was sold for. And God guaranteed by this prophecy that Judas would have remorse, would throw the silver into the temple, and that it would be given to a potter in order to buy a potter's field. These verses are a sad prophecy that Israel would betray and reject their future Messiah.
Why would Israel reject their Messiah? Well, the A sections document that the religious leaders of the first century were worthless shepherds. Caiphas and his family were murderous thieves who gathered a fortune at the expense of God's people. They served themselves, not the sheep.
The B sections both deal with the equipment of shepherds, with the first B section being the equipment of the Good Shepherd and the second B section being the equipment of the worthless shepherd. Though false pastors hold up a Bible as their symbol of office, they flagrantly violate the Bible and fail to feed their sheep. And they misuse the other implements or equipment that God has given to them - such as church discipline. But will worthless shepherds last forever? No.
The C sections point to Christ, the Good shepherd. He knows how to take care of bad shepherds. In the first C section He breaks the staff called "Grace" as a symbol that there will be no more grace for Israel as a nation after AD 70. He was done with them. They were a rejected nation - at least in the first century. In the second C section, He breaks the staff called "Union," to guarantee that Israel would be a house divided against itself. And indeed, the three Jewish factions fought each other and killed more of each other than the Romans did. The point is that Israel became a graceless house divided against itself.
I will try to comment on the most controversial verse in chapter 11. Verse 8 is part of Zechariah play acting as yet another type of Christ. You will see that this book is full of typology. In the midst of this play acting, he says, "I dismissed the three shepherds in one month. My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me."
Who on earth are those three shepherds? As I mentioned earlier, David Noor and I ran across evidence of over forty interpretations of their identity. With that kind of confusion, I will not be totally dogmatic. But let me at least put forth some ideas that you can run with, and maybe one of you will get the Nobel Peace Prize for discovering the answer - or maybe not - knowing who gives out those prizes.
Because I see this as a typological foreshadowing of Jesus, there are probably two sets of three that we need to look for: three who acted as the type in Zechariah's day and three who are the antitype in Christ's day. That's the way types work, right? Most commentators believe that this chapter was written a long time after the first eight chapters - at least 18 years later, though I think it was on Nehemiah’s second visit. Since Nehemiah is the background, here are some possibilities.
- Nehemiah 6:10-14 describes a false prophet by the name of Shemaiah, who tried to convince Nehemiah that God wanted him to flee for safety into the temple. And he did this in order to discredit Nehemiah. Nehemiah exposed him as a false prophet who had actually been hired by Sanballat and Tobiah, the pagan officials who opposed them. Antichrist was using the shepherds of Israel. The same passage mentions other prophets that had been hired by them, but Shemaiah seems to be the head prophet, and certainly fits the bill of one kind of shepherd - a prophet.
- Second, Eliashib was the high priest in the days of Nehemiah - 18 years later. Joshua had died, and Eliaship was a worthless high priest who had replaced him. He actually made a room in the temple for Tobiah to stay in. He let the antichrist dwell in the temple. Nehemiah threw Tobiah's household goods out of the temple and cleansed it. Eliaship was certainly a worthless priestly shepherd - a second kind of shepherd that needed to be dismissed by God's authority. Malachi indicates that he had surrounded himself with other corrupt priests as well. But he was the head priest.
- The third possibility from Nehemiah was Joiada, the son of the high priest, who had married the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite.
Can I prove that these are the three in the background? No. But I find it significant that there were exactly three shepherds mentioned in Nehemiah who were used by Satan to undermine God's purposes in the days of Zechariah. We aren't told that Zechariah dismissed those precise people either, but they were certainly three men who considered themselves to be shepherds of Israel and who needed to be dismissed.
So if those were the types, who were the antitypes? Well, if the structure of the passage is correct, then they have to be three individuals in the first century AD. And they probably have to be leaders of three corrupt groups in order to match the type. Let me give you the three most likely candidates out of forty. The first one is my view.
- First, and perhaps most likely, would be the three leaders of the religious groups known as the Sadduccees, the Pharisees, and the scribes. Christ consigned all three to destruction in Matthew 23. If those three groups were consigned to destruction, that would include their three leaders, Caiaphas being one of the most notorious. I tentatively hold to this interpretation because it most closely matches the three figures that stood as a type in Zechariah's day. If this is true, then you would probably have to translate this as the New King James does, as dismissed, rather than destroyed.
- Others think that it was the three political leaders of Israel at that time, who lost their control over Israel in one month when the zealots took over Jerusalem. That is definitely a possibility since rulers are sometimes called shepherds. And it does appear that they lost control in one month.
- Others think that it was the three revolutionary leaders of the three factions who fought each other during the war. I used to think this, but I am not sure that all three could be said to have been dismissed in one month, destroyed in one month, or have vanished in one month - however you interpret the word. So again, the first of those three interpretations makes the most sense to me, though the second is also a possibility. But if you want to dig into it more, there are a bunch more suggestions out there.
But that brings us to the last section of the book, chapters 12-14.
Chapter 12:1-9 is another description of the pre-first-century nations that would come against Israel in warfare, and that A section parallels chapter 14:1-15 (the second A section) that describes the first century gathering of the nations against Israel in warfare. In both cases, the nations are not exempted from God's covenant judgments. All nations are in covenant with God and all nations will be judged by God as to whether they have submitted to Christ or rebelled against His law. You have been seeing throughout the Old Testament that Gentile nations are just as subject to God's laws as Israel was, and therefore there is no excuse for Christians to throw out God's law for the state today.
But I want to quickly take you through the second A so that you can see that it really is a first-century judgment on Israel and the nations. Reading chapter 14:1-15.
Zech. 14:1 Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, And your spoil will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem;
In my Revelation series I documented that all nations of the Roman empire did indeed gather against Jerusalem in that first century war. And the result is given in the next verses. Starting to read in the second line of verse 2:
The city shall be taken, The houses rifled, And the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
A lot of people focus on the judgment that came against Israel, but God was just as angry with the Gentile nations of the Roman empire. And He brought enormous judgments against them. Verse 3:
3 Then the LORD will go forth And fight against those nations, As He fights in the day of battle.
In a couple verses he will prophesy more of that fighting against those nations. But in verse 4 he returns to discussing the war from Israel's perspective and he tells of a remarkable event that will happen.
4 And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, [Even the antichristian Jewish Talmud records that the glory cloud left the temple and stood on the Mount of Olives for three years] Which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, From east to west, Making a very large valley; Half of the mountain shall move toward the north And half of it toward the south.
There are disagreements among scholars on how this should be translated. I won't give a definitive interpretation this morning. Some see this as a double landslide, such as Josephus says had happened under Uzziah and that it fills the valley rather than making a valley. And archeology certainly shows a first century massive landslide on both sides of the Mount of Olives. So there were two valleys that were filled. But even if we take it the way that the NKJV translates it, there is evidence that the split we see today on the Mount of Olives may well have happened during this earthquake on the day of Pentecost of AD 66. And if you want a ton more details on these verses, you can look up my sermon on Revelation 12:13-14. Verse 5 says,
5 Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal.
According to Martin, Azal is on the other end of that dip in the wilderness. I haven’t been able to verify this, but this is the most logical route for the Christians to have followed on their way to Pella. It goes on:
Yes, you shall flee As you fled from the earthquake In the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the LORD my God will come, And all the saints with You.
Notice that it is not an end-of-the-world kind of flight, but they were to flee just like they fled in the days of King Uzziah. That is much less cataclysmic than Premils want to make this.
And as a sidenote, if they had not obeyed God's command, they would likely have been killed by the zealots who remained behind in Jerusalem. But the Zealots were likely to avoid a brand new rift made by an earthquake, accompanied by a landslide, especially if the Glory Cloud was sitting on top of it. That would have been unnerving. And that the Jews were unnerved can be seen in the fact that this Glory Cloud presence on that mountain is mentioned to this day in the Talmud. Anyway, this valley was the one place that these Christians could run to without being molested. Verses 6-7 shows two more things that happened during that war:
6 It shall come to pass in that day That there will be no light; The lights will diminish. 7 It shall be one day Which is known to the LORD— Neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen That it will be light.
This first sign was recorded by Tacitus as the sun darkening during the day and a bright light shining during the night. We looked at those signs when I preached on Revelation 6:12-17. The Roman soldiers were freaked out by the sun being darkened because they knew that it was not a solar eclipse. It was obvious that it was a supernatural darkness. And both the Roman historian Tacitus and the Jewish historian Josephus record that a miraculous light lit up the whole city of Jerusalem so brightly “that it appeared to be bright daytime.” This miracle literally fulfills verse 7 which says, “When evening comes, there will be light.” But what a beautiful symbol of the end of the Old Covenant (the sun being darkened) and the beginning of the New Covenant (supernatural light from heaven lighting the earth). Verse 8 gives the other sign.
8 And in that day it shall be That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, Half of them toward the eastern sea And half of them toward the western sea; In both summer and winter it shall occur.
In my Revelation series I commented on both the literal and the symbolic significance of this prophecy. It was fulfilled.
Verse 9 then goes on to say that Christ's kingdom would expand over all the world after that war. But I want to comment briefly on the most controversial portion of this chapter - verse 12.
Zech. 14:12 And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem:
Who fought against Jerusalem? It would be Rome. And of the various nations composing the Roman empire, verse 12 says,
Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, Their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, And their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths.
When you read the historical accounts of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, this is a perfect description of exactly what happened to the legion armies that were vacationing there. Mount Vesuvius exploded and released a massive pyroclastic surge that covered several Roman cities. The surge was so hot (some volcano experts estimating about 1000 degrees Fahrenheit) that it would have consumed the soft tissues of anyone found within a certain radius before their bodies even hit the ground. This is a literal fulfillment.
Then verse 15 goes on to describe plagues subsequently hitting Roman citizens and animals. And Roman historians say that immediately after Mount Vesuvius erupted, plagues hit the empire killing animals and men. The historians blamed the plague on the ash from the volcano - who knows? But that there were disastrous plagues is indisputable.
Verse 16 says, "And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem..." That implies that they were decimated. How were the nations decimated? Well, they were decimated by civil war raging throughout the empire killing millions. Then plagues hit killing more. Then the Bar Kochba rebellion decimated so many Romans that they had to conscript boys to fight against Israel again in AD 135. God did indeed humble the nations. Both Israel and the nations were judged.
But these were redemptive judgments that also led to massive growth of the church. Already by the time of Tertullian he was claiming that the Christians were taking over the empire. And though Jews were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem for centuries, a Christian church was established there, and for many centuries to come Christians made regular pilgrimages there as the next verses indicate.
Enough on that last section. Let's move on to the B sections of the chiasm, and we will end shortly.
Chapter 12:10-14 gives the first B, which shows God's salvation and preservation of the remnant during the Great Tribulation. This is parallel on the chiasm with the purifying and preservation of the remnant in the same tribulation in chapter 13:7-9. Let's look at each one. First, Zechariah 12, beginning at verse 10:
Zech. 12:10 “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. 11 In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 And the land shall mourn, every family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; 13 the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of Shimei by itself, and their wives by themselves; 14 all the families that remain, every family by itself, and their wives by themselves.
Three things to notice in terms of identifying who these people were and when this event would take place.
- First, the very ones who pierced Jesus are the ones who will mourn. This is not talking about people thousands of years after Christ was crucified.
- Second, verses 12-14 also nail this down to the time before AD 70 since all tribal distinctions have been lost among self-proclaimed Jews today. There are no tribal divisions today. Certainly no one can tell whether he is from the house of David, the house of Nathan, or the house of Shimei. But back then they could. And the text mandates that they must be able to. So this cannot be any time after AD 70.
- Third, did people see Jesus in the time leading up to AD 70? Yes. In our Revelation series I gave some quotes to prove that happened. They saw a huge and beautiful figure in the sky leading armies of angels.
The other thing that needs to be settled is whether their mourning was a mourning for judgment or a mourning of repentance unto salvation. This too is a huge debate, even among partial preterists. I believe this is talking about first century Jews who were saved. Let me give you two of several proofs that I gave in our Revelation series.
- First, verse 10 says that a Spirit of grace and supplication is poured out on these people. That is a positive indication of salvation, not judgment.
- Second, they will mourn for Jesus as if mourning for a firstborn. In other words, they genuinely love Christ.
But if they are first century Christians, then it perfectly parallels chapter 13:7-9. Let's read chapter 13:7-9.
Zech. 13:7 “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, Against the Man who is My Companion,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered; Then I will turn My hand against the little ones.
This verse is quoted in Matthew 26:31 as being fulfilled in AD 30 - the time when Jesus, the Shepherd was struck, and when the disciples were scattered. So we have an inspired commentary that anchors this verse in AD 30. From the death of Christ until the late 60's there would be increasing persecution of the church. But the tribulation that verses 8-9 describe doesn't start in AD 30. It says, "And it shall come to pass." It starts later than AD 30. I believe this refers to the Great Tribulation, which began in AD 62, really heated up in AD 64 (and that's where some people actually start it - when Nero blamed the fires in Rome on the Christians), and finally was cut short when Nero was killed in June of AD 68. That tribulation was so great that it almost wiped out the entire church. Jesus said that if it hadn't been cut short, the elect would have perished. But in Israel there were far more preserved than elsewhere in the empire - another astonishing sign of God's kindness and grace. Let's read this description of it in verses 8-9.
8 And it shall come to pass in all the land,” Says the LORD, “That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, But one-third shall be left in it: 9 I will bring the one-third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, “This is My people’; And each one will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’ ”
These were true believers. This was the remnant that survived the war. This was the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation. If the Jewish church that survived the Great Tribulation was at least 144,000, that means that prior to this there were 432,000 Jews saved in the land. Though a remnant, it was a sizeable remnant.
The heart of the chiasm, the C section, deals with the foundations of the New Covenant - atonement and a completed revelation - no more prophecy to be given. I preached on this during the Revelation series as well, so won't say more on that today.
But though the book starts with troubled times, it ends with glorious times. The conclusion of the whole book is that Messiah's Kingdom will be successful and will spread all over the world. It uses the Feast of Tabernacles as the symbol describing this future age because it is par excellence the festival for the Gentiles. At that festival there were 70 bulls gradually killed over the course of several days as a sacrifice for the seventy Gentile nations that would gradually be converted over New Covenant times. It also had the Jews living in outdoor booths to symbolize the fact that they would be rootless and wandering until the last feast of the year, Purim - which speaks of the salvation of Israel and even greater blessings to the Gentiles. So this ties in with the earlier passage of Israel being scattered and a remnant of them being saved continually during the times of the New Covenant.
But what a glorious picture of our future. How extensive will holiness be in Christ's Kingdom? Chapter 14:20-21 says that everything will be holy, including (amazingly) the bells on the horses. The bells of the horses were never holy in the Old Covenant. Defilement always was more dominant than holiness in the Old Covenant. But in the New Covenant God reverses that and makes the leaven of the kingdom cast out the leaven of sin. There will be no more places of unholiness. That's an astounding reversal.
But an even more astounding reversal is in the last verse. The last verse implies that there is coming a time when there will no longer be any unbelievers. It says, "In that day there shall no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts." Well, Cannanites hadn't existed for a thousand years in Zechariah's day. What's he talking about? It's obvious that there will be no Canaanites. There were no Canaanites in his day, if he is talking about literal Canaanites. But throughout he is using symbolic language. He is using the annihilation of the Canaanites in the book of Joshua as a symbol that all Christ's enemies will be subdued beneath His feet. Using the symbolism of Joshua taking the conquest of Canaan, Jesus the greater Joshua of Hebrews 4 will be so successful in advancing the Great Commission and using the sword of the Scriptures that no Canaanites will remain. Translated into literal language it simply means that there is coming a time when there will be no more enemies of Christ and there will be no more unbelievers. And this is of course the promise of 1 Corinthians 15 - that Christ must remain at the right hand of the Father until all enemies are placed under His feet.
I hope you can see that Zechariah is a book designed to encourage our faith. May it do so. Amen. Let's pray.
Zechariah 1:1 says that he began to prophecy in the eighth month of king Darius' second year, and Haggai 1:1 says that Haggai started prophesying on the first day of the sixth month. So Zechariah started prophesying about two months after Haggai did, and he continued to prophecy in the second half of this book for much much longer. ↩
Some of the Jews returning from Babylon had brought a gift of gold, and Zechariah makes a crown out of it, and gives a prophetic enactment pointing to Jesus. He puts a crown on the head of Joshua the high priest and calls him "The Branch" - a title of the future Messiah that has already been used twice by Isaiah (Is. 4:2; 60:21). Because Isaiah is being quoted, Joshua would know that this phrase could only refer to a future Messiah. But he is part of the play acting that prophetically looks to Jesus, who will build a spiritual temple and will rule as a Priest-King. Joshua was not a king, but in the play acting, he was. And its a glorious prophecy of the triumph of Christ and the growth of His kingdom. That's all I have time to say about the A sections. ↩
Here are some hints: These two sections form the imagery background for sections of Revelation that deal with spiritual warfare over the nations. When the people intercede, remarkable things happen in the angelic realms. What might seem impossible for us, is totally possible for God. And just as Haggai had promised an astonishing reversal once the people obeyed God in faith, Zechariah promises that astonishing success will come once the people obey God in faith and begin to build Jerusalem. This is being said before Nehemiah came to help with that project. Nehemiah had to twist arms to get anyone to move into Jerusalem. So when Zechariah gave this prophecy people might have wondered: "Really? People are going to dwell in that heap of ruins?" But when they obeyed, astounding things began to happen. So both B sections provide awesome encouragement to the remnant in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. ↩
5:1 "At about this time, Antiochus made preparations for his second departure against Egypt. 2 Simultaneously throughout the city for almost forty days apparitions were sighted in the air: there were cavalry at a gallop, dressed in garments of cloth of gold, and troops of armed spearmen formed into regiments; 3 sabres were drawn; squadrons of cavalry formed for battle; there were charges and countercharges from both sides; shields were moved, spears were massed, missiles flew, gold trimmings flashed, and there was all manner of armor." Jonathan A. Goldstein, II Maccabees: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 41A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 244. ↩
The Mount of Olives is now actually composed of three summits: the northern summit called Scopus, the middle summit called Nob, and the highest point. ↩
Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.3. ↩
While Josephus does indeed mention a miraculous change in the physical water coming into and out of Jerusalem, because this text uses the phrase "living waters," (which Ezekiel clearly uses for the Holy Spirit leaving the temple) this is most likely referring to the living waters of the Holy Spirit leaving the temple and going to the ends of the world - especially since almost identical language is used of the Holy Spirit in other passages. Nevertheless, it is interesting that Josephus says that the literal spring-fed-stream that supplied water to Jerusalem had almost completely dried up (unheard of), but once Titus had conquered the city, that stream miraculously surged with far more water than it had previously. Josephus says, War 5:409 (5.9.4) although Magnus and Sossius did not only suffer nothing, but took the city by force; as did Vespasian go from the war he made against you to receive the empire; and as for Titus, those springs that were formerly almost dried up when they were under your power3 since he is come, run more plentifully than they did before; War 5:410 (5.9.4) accordingly, you know that Siloam, as well as all the other springs that were without the city, did so far fail, that water was sold by distinct measures; whereas they now have such a great quantity of water for your enemies, as is sufficient not only for drink both for themselves and their cattle, but for watering their gardens also. ↩