What is the Book of Zechariah About?

Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and inspire you to read Zechariah!


Historical Context

Zechariah was a prophet and a priest. 

—ESV Global Study Bible

The introductory genealogy does contain a puzzling statement. Why does Zechariah 1:1 identify Zechariah as “son of Berechiah, son of Iddo” when Ezra 5:1 and Ezra 6:14 read “Zechariah the prophet, the son of Iddo?” It would appear that Zechariah 1:1 contradicts Ezra 5:1 and Ezra 6:14. The simplest explanation is that Zechariah was the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo. The Hebrew term ben often means “grandson” or “descendant” in other contexts (Exodus 34:7; Proverbs 13:22).   

—George Klein  

Source: George Klein, quoted from his book, “Zechariah: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture” in The New American Commentary Series. 

The New Testament provides one additional piece of biographical information having to do with Zechariah’s death. In Matthew 23, as Jesus was speaking his woes upon the Pharisees and upon Jerusalem, he recounted the people’s record of killing the prophets. “On you,” he cried, “may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar” (v. 35). Liberal commentators consider this an error in the Bible, since 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 records a different Zechariah being slain in the temple courtyard, long before the time of our prophet. This assumes that there could not have been two different prophets of this name (and Zechariah is a fairly common name in Scripture) so that Jesus was therefore in error. Rather than presupposing Jesus’ fallibility, we do better to accept his word and conclude that our Zechariah, the postexilic prophet, had his own life ended at the hands of the people in the very temple God used him so mightily to see to completion. As such he was the last of the prophets slain in the Old Testament, a line started outside the gates of the Garden with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain.  

—Richard D. Phillips 

Source: Richard D. Phillips, quoted from his commentary, “Zechariah” in the Reformed Expositional Commentary Series. 

From Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Zechariah for your good and to lead you into joy.

Zechariah began his ministry in 520 BC, shortly after Haggai had begun his prophetic work. 

The Near East at the Time of Zechariah

c. 520 BC

Zechariah prophesied to the people of Judah soon after they had returned from exile in Babylon. Several years earlier, in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great had conquered Babylon and absorbed its territory into his empire. A year later he permitted the people of Judah to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple. Cyrus and his son Cambyses extended the Persian Empire until it stretched from Egypt and Lydia to the borders of India. 

Nearly 20 years after returning from the Babylonian exile in the time of Cyrus (538 BC), God’s people were discouraged. The foundation of the temple had been laid shortly after the initial return, in 536 BC, but powerful opposition had prevented any further progress on rebuilding the temple. And, there was little evidence of the kind of spiritual renewal that the earlier prophets had anticipated. Jewish sovereignty had not been restored. A moral reformation of the people had not occurred. Jerusalem was still only partially rebuilt and had no significance among the surrounding nations. Under the circumstances, many people concluded that theirs was a “day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10) in which God was absent from his people. Many viewed faithful obedience as useless. It seemed to make more sense to forget God and to pursue the best life possible. 

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Message Series

Zechariah by John MacArthur

This sermon series will not only help you understand the book of Zechariah, but it will also fill your own vision with the glory and goodness of Jesus. Pastor John MacArthur takes his time in these hour-long messages to help us understand and treasure the book of Zechariah.

Zechariah Dictionary

As you read through Zechariah, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know!

A place where sacrifices were made to worship God. An altar could be a pile of dirt or stones, or a raised platform of wood, marble, metal, or other materials. The bronze or brazen altar was used for burnt offerings in the tabernacle’s courtyard. It was a large box, eight feet square and four-and-a-half feet high, made of wood covered with bronze. A much larger altar replaced it when Solomon built the temple. The altar of incense (also called the golden altar) was smaller, covered with gold, and placed just in front of the veil to the holy of holies. Every day, both morning and evening, incense was burned here, symbolizing the prayers of the people.

A powerful and aggressive nation, the most powerful Middle Eastern empire from the tenth century BC through most of the seventh century. Nineveh was the capital city. Assyria conquered Israel and took its inhabitants captive.

The capital city and the country that was one of the major political and cultural centers of the ancient world. The city of Babylon was located at the junction of the Euphrates River and major east-west caravan routes. For nearly 1,000 years, until the rise of Assyria in the ninth century BC, Babylon dominated much of the Middle East. Near the end of the seventh century BC, Babylon regained its independence and for nearly 100 years asserted its influence throughout the region and was a constant threat to the kingdom of Judah, finally resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of Judah’s leading citizens. Babylon was captured by the Persians in 539 BC and then continued to decline, until it was destroyed by the Greek army under Alexander the Great.

The stone that holds two walls together; the final most important stone that finishes a wall. When the Bible calls Jesus a capstone, it reminds us that he is the head of the Church and that he holds all Christians together.

A large stone in the foundation of a building at the corner of two walls, holding the two walls together. The cornerstone is the first and most important stone laid when a building is started. Jesus is called the cornerstone of a Christian’s faith in God because he is the most important part of knowing who God is.

An agreement. In the ancient Near East, sometimes covenants were made between two people or groups of people. Both sides decided what the agreement would be. However, in the Bible, the word usually refers to agreements between God and people, when God decides what will be done and the people agree to live by the covenant. The Old Covenant of law set standards of behavior in order to please God. The New Covenant of grace presents God’s forgiveness based on faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The most important priest of all the priests, who served God in the tabernacle and later in the temple. In the Old Testament, the high priest offered the most important sacrifices to God for the people. In New Testament times, he was also a powerful political leader. He was the head of the Sanhedrin—the group of men who governed the Jewish people. He even had a small army. The high priest wore special clothing described in Exodus 28:1-39. Aaron was the first high priest. All other high priests were his descendants. The New Testament says that Jesus Christ is now our high priest, the one who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins (see Hebrews 8–9).

Pure; set apart; belonging to God. God is holy. He is perfect and without sin. Jesus is holy too. He is without sin and dedicated to doing what God wants. Because Jesus died to take the punishment for sin and then rose again, people who believe in him have the power to be holy too. God helps them to become more and more pure and loving, like Jesus.

The most important city of Bible times. Jerusalem was the capital of the united kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. The temple was built in Jerusalem, so many people traveled to the city to worship God. In 587 BC, Jerusalem was captured and mostly destroyed by Babylonian armies. The city was rebuilt when the Jews returned after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Jesus taught in the city of Jerusalem, was crucified outside the city wall, was buried near the city, and then rose again. The first Christian church began in Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit came to the believers there.

(1) One of the sons of Jacob and Leah. (2) The descendants of Jacob and Leah’s son of the same name, who became the tribe of Judah. (3) The southern kingdom when the Israelites divided into two separate countries after the death of King Solomon (The northern kingdom was called Israel.)

Among the Jews, a man who offered prayers and sacrifices to God for the people. Priests led the public worship services at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Often the priests also taught the Law of God to the people. The priests of Israel were all descendants of Aaron’s family. All Christians are also priests (see 1 Peter 2:9). We are to help others learn about and worship God.

Men and women in the Old and New Testaments chosen by God to tell his messages to people. Also refers to the seventeen Old Testament books written by prophets.

A person who takes care of sheep. Shepherds find grass and water for their sheep, protect them from bad weather and wild animals, bring them safely into a sheepfold (or some other sheltered area) at night, and care for sick or hurt sheep.

The unseen part of a person that controls what he or she thinks, feels, and does; soul. The Bible says that God is a spirit, showing that he does not have a physical body.

The permanent place in Jerusalem where the Jews worshiped God. The first temple was built by King Solomon and the people by following the instructions God had given Solomon’s father, King David. The temple was a very beautiful place. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice. In AD 64, the temple was destroyed again but was not rebuilt.

(1) One of the hills on which the city of Jerusalem was built (Mount Zion). (2) The entire city of Jerusalem. (3) Another name for the nation of Israel. (4) Another name for heaven.

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions