B. Zechariah preaches to us:
Zechariah gave a message of prophecy of great things to come if the people completed the task for which they were commissioned to do upon their return. Since the message of the prophecies was directed to their immediate audience, it was not a message for us today of things in our future. We participate in the outcome of the fulfillment of the prophecies in that we now enjoy the blessings that came through the Branch who is now reigning as priest and king over all things.
It would be an interpretive mistake to steal away the message of prophetic hope that Zechariah gave to his immediate audience in order that we might speculate concerning supposed events in our future. In reference to our time, the Messiah has already come. The Branch has been revealed. He has offered His blessing of salvation to all the world.
The remnant that was enduring the hostility of the local opposition during Zechariah’s ministry needed to hear a relevant message in prophecy for their encouragement in order that they have hope in their efforts to reestablish the identity of Israel in Palestine for the coming of the Branch/Messiah. Zechariah’s prophecy of great things to come gave them purpose for rebuilding the temple, and later, purpose for rebuilding the walls of the city. The prophecies of the Messianic age encouraged them to build for more than just reestablishing national Israel. They were building for world salvation, though they did not fully understand all the implications of the prophecies that Zechariah made at the time. Nevertheless, they did understand enough in reference to the coming Branch that they were inspired to build.
1. Self-oriented faith does not please God. During Israel’s seventy years of Babylonian captivity, and the sixteen idle years while the temple laid in waste, a religious culture developed among the people that was nationalistic and self-centered. In chapters 7 & 8, God saw through their legal religiosity by which they soothed their consciences. It seems that their fasting during the captivity was over the loss of their land and temple. It was somewhat void of mourning over their sin of rebellion. So God began His self awareness examination of their faith with a question: “When you fasted and mourned … even those seventy years [while in captivity], was it actually for Me that you fasted?” (Zc 7:5). The question was a direct admonition of their twisted reason for fasting.
God knew that their fast was really over the destruction of Jerusalem. It was more about their nationalistic pride being bruised than their rejection of the one true and living God and His word. God awakened them to this reality by posing another question concerning their eating and drinking after their fast: “And when you ate, and when you drank, did you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” (Zc 7:6). Their faith became self-oriented. Instead of focusing on God through those things God commanded that should stir their thoughts of Him, they focused on their own appetites when they came together to feast.
They fasted because their nationalistic pride had been bruised by the destruction of Jerusalem. God’s judgment of their attitude was that they should have been mourning over their sin and crying out for a restoration of the word of God in their lives. God’s accusation was clear: “Should you not hear the words that the Lord has cried out by the former prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity …?” (Zc 7:7).
The lesson is pointed. When we are in mourning, we should search deep in our hearts and determine the real reason for our mourning. It is sometimes like the mourning of a criminal who has been caught. He mourns over the fact that he was caught, not over the fact that he was violating the law. In order to shock Israel into the reality of why they ended up in captivity, God reminded them that they not fall into the same moral degradation that their fathers did before the captivity. Through the former prophets before the captivity, God called on them to change their behavior and conform to His directions.
Execute true justice and show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. And do not oppress the widow, nor the fatherless, the foreigner, or the poor. And do not allow any of you to imagine in your heart evil against his brother (Zc 7:9,10).
When these principles are violated, then it is time to fast. But their fathers had rejected these moral principles, and subsequently gave up their right to represent God among the nations. As a result of their rebellion, the nation of Israel was terminated in Palestine and the residents sent into captivity. It was as God said,
But they refused to hearken and turned to a stubborn shoulder. And they stopped their ears so that they would not hear. Yes, they made their hearts as flint, lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of armies had sent in His Spirit by the former prophets. (Zc 7:11).
But now things had changed. It was a time for rejoicing because God had returned the remnant to the land (Zc 8:1-17). Their fast that was for sorrow over the loss of their nationhood, should now be turned to “joy and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah” (Zc 8:19). If this is done, a marvelous thing will happen in their present and in their future. Their zeal to follow the instructions of God to rebuild the temple and city will be a signal to the world that God was again with His people. The oppressing nations that afflicted His people before the captivity were all gone. But since Israel was being resurrected after their destruction and captivity, they were a signal to the people of the world that God was with Israel as in the days of old.
In those days it will come to pass that ten men from every language of the nations will take hold of the garment of him who is a Jew, saying, “We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zc 8:23).
2. We must be inspired by hope to build for the future. One of the exciting messages of Zechariah is that it is a book filled with encouragement that inspired the returnees to restore the identity of Israel for the sake of God’s work that was yet in their future. The message of both Haggai and Zechariah was that the people should build, though they did not understand all the reasons for the building.
God discouraged their thinking about fasting over the loss of their past. It was now time to fast in hope of the future. Something was coming that would eventually reveal the purpose for which God originally established the nation of Israel. So through Zechariah specifically, and later through Malachi, God wanted the returnees to know that they must build with faith in the future.
God was working toward the consummation of national Israel, but this consummation (end) of Israel would be for the salvation of the world. When the immediate audience of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi understood this purpose through prophecy, then with zeal they would have purpose in building. Their zeal was not based on simply building a physical structure in which they could take pride. Their building was based on the fact that they needed to identify again the nation of the fathers, in order that the promises to the fathers be fulfilled in the coming of the Branch/Messiah and the new paradigm of God’s work among men. Embedded in Zechariah’s message are several great prophecies in reference to the future when God would eventually reveal His eternal plan of salvation.
We must remind again those zealous futurists of today not to steal away this hope from the Jews to whom these prophecies of hope were first delivered. They were prophecies in reference to the restoration of national Israel after the captivity in order to usher in the Messianic age to come over four centuries later. They were not prophecies for us today that God is going to usher in another Messianic age or supposed millennial reign of Jesus on earth.
For us, the prophecies have been fulfilled. For the immediate audience of Zechariah, they were unfulfilled prophecies, but prophecies that contained hope for their future. Let us not selfishly steal away the hope of the prophecies from the first recipients in order that we might have some twisted speculation concerning our future. We need not make God a liar to them by stealing the hope of the prophecies from them in order to make the prophecies apply to us. Our encourage from the prophecies is that God fulfilled them with the coming of the Messiah in the first century. We live in the time of their fulfillment.
The New Testament gives us hope in the fact that God will fulfill His promises that He has made specifically to us. Our faith is in Him to fulfill His promises to us because He fulfilled His promises to Israel before the cross. We remember Hebrews 6:18:
… so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
We have hope in the promises that God has given to us in the New Testament because He fulfilled the promises He made to His people in the Old Testament. We have so much hope in the New Testament promises that we do not have to steal the hope of the promises that were given to God’s people before the cross.
We must not forget what God stated through Zechariah in 13:2,3. It was a warning to any would-be prophets today who would presume to stand up and prophesy of future events.
“And it will come to pass in that day [our day],” says the Lord of armies, “that … I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land. And it will come to pass that when any would still prophesy [of the future], then is father and his mother who begat him will say to him, ‘You will not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord.’ And his father and his mother who begat him will thrust him through when he prophesies.”
The seriousness of this statement cannot be overemphasized. God is serious about those who presumptuously stand up and say they are prophets of future events, but are actually liars. He is so serious that if one does presume to be a prophet of future things, his parents were to do him some serious damage.
Regardless of this stern warning, however, it seems that we today still have to endure the nonsense of so many self-proclaimed prophets who are proclaiming the end of times. They make their lies concerning the future, nothing happens, and gullible people will still follow them. It is because people are as children tossed to and fro by every self-proclaimed prophet who would through prophecies concerning blood moons, eclipses and star alignments, predict future events. The supposed dates of prophecies come and go, while the prognosticators smile on their way to the bank after making millions of dollars on the sale of books that should have been burned as those in Ephesus (See At 19:18-20). We have found that regardless of the unfulfilled prophecies of the modern-day liars, people will still follow them. People are indeed gullible as what Paul wrote. They are as children tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching (Ep 4:14).
Nevertheless, the prophecies of Zechariah were very encouraging to the people to whom they were initially addressed. They are encouraging to us because we live on this side of their fulfillment. We know that Zechariah did not lie to the people. We read our New Testaments with joy because the Spirit testifies to the fact that every detail of the prophecies of Zechariah were fulfilled in the first century.
We must not miss the point of what God said in Zechariah 13:2,3. Since the prophets of future events would pass out of the land, the “prophets” of the New Testament were not prophets as those of the Old Testament. They were not in the business of making proclamations of future events. The gullible people of the Old Testament sought to listen only to false prophets of future events. God said through Zechariah that these prophets would no longer exist among His people. And since there would no longer be any Isaiahs or Jeremiahs, Daniels or Ezekiels, then there would never be among God’s people any foretelling prophets who would falsely assume to be a prophet of future events. Therefore, anyone today who would profess to be a prophet of future events is simply a liar to the people. He is not counted among God’s people.
When we read of the prophets of the New Testament church, therefore, we conclude that these were not prophets of future events. They were inspired teachers of the word of God in the absence of the written word of God (See Ep 4:11-16). When the word of God was eventually written and circulated among the disciples, there was no longer any need for inspired teachers among the people.
Zechariah’s message was filled with hope for the returned remnant. His message was filled with hope in the Messianic future of great things that was yet to come in their future. The following are some of the primary messages of hope that were given to those who faced great opposition in rebuilding the temple:
a. Zechariah 6:12,13:
Behold, the Man whose name is the Branch. He will branch out from His place, and He will sit and rule on His throne. And He will be a priest on His throne. And the counsel of peace will be between them both.
This prophecy was for hope in a new priest and king to come. The Branch would be both a priest and king upon His throne. The Hebrew writer affirmed that this prophecy was fulfilled in Christ Jesus:
Seeing then that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession (Hb 4:14).
Now consider that if Jesus were on earth, He could not be a priest. God had promised David that He “would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne” (2 Sm 7:30). This promise was fulfilled in that God raise up Jesus and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places to reign on the throne of David (See Ep 1:20-22; Ph 2:9-11). In the Hebrews 4:14 passage above, the verb is past tense. At the time the passage was written, Jesus was already our high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hb 5:6; 7:14,21-28). It is at this time, therefore, that “we have such a high priest who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hb 8:1).
It was prophesied by Zechariah that Jesus would be both a priest and king on David’s throne. His function as a priest and king would occur at the same time. He is now a priest and king on His throne. Zechariah’s prophecy has been fulfilled.
Hebrews 8:4 presents a problem to those who say that Jesus is coming again in order to reign as a king on this earth. “For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest ….” If Jesus did come again to reign on this earth, then He would have to give up His priesthood. But He is a priest forever. He will never give up this intercession for us as our high priest. Therefore, we know that when Jesus does come again, He will not be coming to reign on this earth because He is our priest forever and will not give up His priesthood for us (See Hb 7:3,23,24).
God wanted Zechariah’s audience to understand that there was a new high priest coming, One who would not pass away. He would not pass away because He would also be a king upon the throne of David. And since the King now has all authority (Mt 28:18), He guarantees by His authority that He will be a priest while He reigns.
This hope was given to Zechariah and his contemporaries. Their kings and priests of the past were often morally corrupt, and sometimes simply wicked. But the kingship and priesthood of the Branch would be different. We are now living in the reality of Zechariah’s prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus. The prophecy will not be reversed in the future when Jesus comes again. He came first to become our priest. He is not coming again to give up His priesthood. He remains a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, whose priesthood had neither beginning nor ending.
b. Zechariah 9:9:
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, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
What Jesus did on His last trip into Jerusalem fulfilled this prophecy. The prophecy was quoted by Matthew in order to convince his Jewish readers that what Zechariah prophesied was fulfilled in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (Mt 21:5).
c. Zechariah 11:12:
Then I said to them, “If you think good give me my wages, and if not, refrain.” So they weighed for my wage thirty pieces of silver.
In prophecy, it was often difficult to understand the meaning of the prophecy until the time of fulfillment. Since this statement was embedded in the context of prophecies concerning the coming of the Branch out of Israel, then the immediate audience assumed that there was some significance to it in reference to the coming Messianic age. At the time of fulfillment, therefore, when thirty pieces of silver were weighed into the hands of Judas who betrayed Jesus, the light bulb came on in the minds of the Jews (See Mt 26:15). They understood that Zechariah’s statement was a prophecy of an event that would take place during the betrayal of the Messiah.
d. Zechariah 12:10:
Then I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications. And they will look on Me whom they have pierced and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son. And they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
We have no doubt about the fulfillment of this prophecy. John quoted it in John 19:37. It was Jesus they looked upon and over whom they mourned and wept. The prophecy was fulfilled in the crucifixion of the firstborn Son of God who came in fulfillment of the prophecy that God would set One upon the throne of David (See At 2:33-36).
e. Zechariah 13:7:
Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.
Previous to His betrayal and arrest, Jesus said to His disciples, “All of you will fall away this night because of Me, for it is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Mt 26:31). Since Matthew directed his book to the Jews, Jesus’ Jewish disciples knew exactly to whom the prophecy of Zechariah referred. They then determined that Zechariah’s statement was a prophecy of their behavior at the time Jesus was betrayed, for they all fled the scene.
Zechariah’s prophecy of 13:1 explained the purpose for God’s struggle throughout the centuries to preserve Israel until the coming of the Seed that would crush the head of Satan.
In that day there will be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness (Zc 13:1).
In that day, the day about which Joel prophesied in Joel 2:28-32, those who mourned over their sins could do as Peter instructed when all these prophecies were fulfilled in the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus:
Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (At 2:38).
All that God had worked to complete throughout the centuries, from the fall of Adam to the revelation of the Branch—the Redeemer—was fulfilled in Christ. We live in the era of enlightenment in reference to the fulfillment of these prophecies. We are blessed with the privilege to live in the time when we can enjoy the cleansing of our uncleanness through the blood of Jesus (1 Jn 1:7).
We cannot bypass the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament that were made specifically in reference to the Redeemer who came into the world over two thousand years ago. We must keep in mind that every effort to make the prophecies of the Old Testament bypass their fulfillment at the cross of Jesus, weakens the impact of their fulfillment and the joy that we experience today by their fulfillment in Christ. In the prophecies, God gave hope to the immediate recipients. Their hope, however, was not in reference to what would transpire at the end of the world. Their hope was in God’s work to use them as the seed of Abraham to bring the promised Blessing of Abraham into the world for the salvation of all men.
[Great encouragement from Zechariah. Now for Malachi.]