Background of Zechariah
Author and Date
Zechariah was a prophet and a priest. He began his ministry in 520 BC, shortly after Haggai had begun his prophetic work.
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.
1. The need for turning to the Lord in repentance (Zechariah 1:1–6) and serving him with sincerity (ch. 7).
2. The Lord’s concern and care for his people’s difficulties (Zechariah 1:8–17; 4:10).
3. Jerusalem’s future expansion and blessing (Zechariah 2:4, 12; 8:1–8; 14:16).
4. The complete and permanent removal of the people’s sin (ch. 3; 5), and the removal of false prophecy and idolatry from the land (Zechariah 13:2–6).
5. The importance of the temple as the source of God’s blessing (ch. 4).
6. The Lord’s wrath at the nations that plundered Judah and Jerusalem (Zechariah 1:18–21; 14:3–5).
7. The Divine Warrior’s return to terrorize Israel’s foes (Zechariah 9:1–8), and the coming of the Branch, a Davidic ruler who will save his people, cleanse their sins, and establish peace (Zechariah 3:8; 6:9–15; 9:9–10).
8. The pouring out of God’s Spirit, resulting in repentance and the opening of a fountain for the cleansing of sin (Zechariah 12:10–13:1).
9. Judgment on the wicked shepherds of God’s people and their replacement by a good shepherd (Zechariah 11:1–17).
10. The striking of the good shepherd and the scattering of the flock (Zechariah 13:7–9).
11. The Lord’s final triumph over the nations (ch. 14).
I. Oracles and Visions (1:1–8:23)
A. Introduction: return to me and I will return to you (1:1–6)
B. Eight night visions and a sign-act (1:7–6:15)
C. From fasts to feasts (7:1–8:23)
II. The Return of the King (9:1–14:21)
A. The first oracle: leaders and their people (9:1–11:17)
B. The second oracle: the people and their leaders (12:1–14:21)
The Near East at the Time of Zechariah
The Global Message of Zechariah
“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people” (Zechariah 2:10–11). The global message of Zechariah is that through the judgment that is justly coming upon God’s enemies, God is nevertheless gathering a people for himself from all the nations of the world— all made possible through the work of a righteous priest-king, Jesus Christ.
Zechariah in Redemptive History
Israel’s Calling Squandered
Although Israel had been called out to be a light to the nations of the earth, the people had failed miserably in that calling. Yet this failure was not the last word over their destiny. “As you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing” (Zechariah 8:13). Indeed, not only was God going to fulfill his promise that Israel would be a blessing to the world, but God was also going to restore the flourishing abundance of Eden (Zechariah 8:11–12). Yet this restoration would be extended not only to Israel but to all the nations of the world, as originally intended in the mandate given to Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3). As Zechariah’s prophecy puts it, “the Lord has an eye on mankind and on all the tribes of Israel” (Zechariah 9:1).
Israel’s Calling Fulfilled
How would this redemption of the world be achieved? Only through the work of Christ. In Christ, the temple, the place where God dwelt with his people, is rebuilt as promised (Zechariah 1:16). Zechariah’s prophecy is filled with strange and wonderful hints of the coming global king who will achieve salvation for his own. We read of Joshua being clothed with clean garments amid Satan’s accusations (Zechariah 3:1–5). We hear a prophetic word of a “Branch,” a priest-king who will build the temple of the Lord (Zechariah 6:12–13; compare Jeremiah 23:5–6; 33:14–16; John 2:19–22). We read of a righteous and humble king, riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9; compare Matthew 21:5; John 12:15), as well as of the piercing of one who is like an only child (Zechariah 12:10; compare John 19:37) and of the scattering of the sheep when the shepherd is struck (Zechariah 13:7; compare Matthew 26:31). We read of “living waters” flowing out from Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:8; compare John 7:37–39).
The result of the work of this coming king is that humanity will be restored to its Creator, coming to him from every corner of the earth:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.” Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zechariah 8:20–23)
Universal Themes in Zechariah
“Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. . . . And he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:9–10). Zechariah’s prophecy presents a vision of a globally minded God on a mission to restore the world to the way it was originally created to be. This includes welcoming in people from all the tribes and nations and people groups of the world. Such worldwide salvation is also the note on which the prophecy ends (Zechariah 14:16–19).
Joy in God’s Redemption
Time and again throughout Zechariah we see the joy that comes with God’s merciful redemption of his people. The fasts that will be celebrated at the time of Zion’s coming restoration will be “seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts” (Zechariah 8:19). Amid judgments on Israel’s enemies, to Israel herself God says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!” (Zechariah 9:9). When God visits his people to restore them to himself, “their hearts shall be glad as with wine. Their children shall see it and be glad; their hearts shall rejoice in the Lord” (Zechariah 10:7). A crucial common denominator to the salvation God grants in Christ, regardless of geographical location, is joy. Of all people, the redeemed supremely have reason to rejoice.
The Importance of Godly Leadership
Throughout Zechariah we see the metaphor of “shepherd” applied to those who lead God’s people—more often than in any other prophet (Zechariah 10:2; 11:4, 7, 9, 15, 16, 17; 13:7). “The people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd” (Zechariah 10:2). God’s people throughout the world require strong, godly leadership from those who are called to lead them—the testimony of biblical history is that, as go the leaders, so go the people. Ultimately, Jesus himself is the global church’s Shepherd, laying down his life on behalf of the sheep (John 10:11; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4).
The Global Message of Zechariah for Today
The Supremacy of Christ
As is true of every part of Scripture, Zechariah’s prophecy tells us of Christ and the great redemption God has won for us through him. And Zechariah is filled with an unusually high number of striking promises that are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. As believers around the world read Zechariah, we commune with God and are given glimpses of the mighty friend we have in his Son, Jesus Christ. Amid the many diverse kinds of adversity facing Christians today, Jesus himself, whose very heart is “gentle and lowly” (Matthew 11:29), walks with his brothers and sisters. Our fellowship with him cannot be broken, and it transcends the many cultural differences that distinguish believers around the world.
Compassion for the Needy
In the meantime, as we await Christ’s second coming in great power and glory, Zechariah reminds us to extend compassion to the needy and oppressed around the world even as Christ has extended compassion to us. God’s heart for the socially disadvantaged shines through in Zechariah, as in so many of the prophets. It is a message strongly relevant to twenty-first century global Christianity. “And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor’” (Zechariah 7:8–10; compare 8:16–17).