The Gospel According to Zechariah

The Gospel According to Zechariah

The Gospel According to Zechariah.

Zechariah was a prophet in Jerusalem around 520 BC, after the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland. Back home after 70 years in exile, the people were harassed by neighboring countries, and discouraged at their small numbers. A majority of the Jews in exile decided to remain in their new home in Persia/Babylon, so this remnant was on their own in the rebuilding process. While in Babylon, the Jews had lost their spiritual identity. Their faith had been consistently ridiculed and discounted for decades, with no central religious leadership or influence, or even a place to worship together. The Jews had no self-identity to rely on as they settled into rebuilding their lives and their Temple. The newly released Jews were more concerned about bringing their homes and livelihoods back from ruins, and not so much their central religious place where God had once met with them to worship. Here comes Zechariah (and his contemporary Haggai) to the rescue. His job was to encourage the people to once again embrace their faith, and to inspire them to rebuild the all-important Temple in order to enjoy the presence of their God. Through his visions, messages and prophecies, Zechariah succeeded in bringing fresh hope and faith to the exiled Jews, and he brought them to a place where they could once again live into their sacred history as God’s chosen people. Zechariah, which means, “he whom God remembers,” wanted to speak the word of the Lord in such a way as to assure this small band of Jews that they were remembered by their God. Zechariah spoke of their present dilemma of the need for repentance and forgiveness. He also spoke often of the future reign of the Messiah at the end of the age. Zechariah’s book is loaded with references to the future appearance of their Messiah. He foretells the gospel story and the coming of Jesus, and is by far the most messianic of all the “minor” prophets. When it comes to anticipating God’s Messiah/King, Zechariah was nothing less than major.

Ch. 1:1 – The Word. “The Word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet, saying…” The language here parallels the language used by John to describe Jesus in John 1, “In the beginning was the Word…” This Word coming to Zechariah is truly Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God. A personal Word literally came to the prophet with a message from Yahweh.

1:3 – Repent. The message from the Word calls to mind the preacher Jesus at the beginning of His ministry… “Repent, and believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:15). Zachariah preached much the same thing… “Return to me, says the Lord, and I will return to you. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets preached, saying ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.” This same message of repentance and forgiveness anticipates Messiah Jesus, and was a central part of the Good News.

1:11 – Angel of the Lord. This is another mysterious appearance of a specially designated Angel of Yahweh. In many places in the Hebrew Bible, this particular Angel is identified with the Lord God and is distinguished from Yahweh. This heavenly Messenger would appear as a divine visitor to Abraham, a welcome comfort to Hagar, and a wrestling opponent to Jacob. This Angel appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and as a sustainer to Elijah and a redeemer to Isaiah. Most scholars, including the early church Fathers, considered this special Angel to be God in the form of a Man, the preincarnate Christ, Lord God’s unique representative to speak His mind and do His will on earth. It is safe to say that it is Jesus Himself who is meeting Zechariah and giving him the Word of the Lord.

1:12 – Priest. This Christ figure, the Angel of Yahweh, is eager to intercede for the people of God. Jesus is seen here speaking before the very throne of God. “O Lord of hosts, how long will you not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah?” This intercession is an early example of the intercessory work of Christ, and foreshadows the High Priesthood of Jesus. Christ Himself continues to intercede for us before the King on His throne in heaven. (Hebrews 7:25).

1:14 – Zeal. I have been jealous for both Jerusalem and Zion with great jealousy.” The Hebrew word for jealousy means zeal. And the Word reminds us here that we serve a jealous God. In other words, we are devoted to a God who is impassioned and zealous to protect His honor and influence, and anything that threatens His relationship with us. “God’s jealousy is a praiseworthy zeal on God’s part to preserve something supremely precious.” (J. I. Packer). We certainly saw this jealousy of God in the gospels when Jesus cleared out the Temple from all merchants and ungodly commerce. The disciples later remembered that reference to Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house has eaten me up.” Jesus is jealous for God’s honor and glory throughout the gospels, and we call to mind… like Father, like Son. We serve a righteously jealous God. (Exodus 20:5).

2:10,11 – Presence. The Lord says something crucial once, and then He says it again seconds later to underscore its importance. “I will dwell in your midst.” In the gospels God was present in human form through His Son. Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Hundreds of years after Zechariah, Jesus fulfilled these words through His incarnation, the Word becoming flesh. Numerous times in the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh promised to dwell with His people, ever since the prophecy in Lev. 26:12, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.” This is the gospel story, the Good News. Actually, this is the best news! “Ring out your joy, for the great one in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 12:6).

3:1-5 – Clean and Pure. We see in a vision that the High Priest Joshua comes to the judgment seat, with Jesus being the judge and Satan the prosecutor. Joshua is wearing filthy clothes as he represents the chosen people. The Hebrew term here for filthy implies being covered in excrement, which reveals God’s thoughts on sin and impurity. Jesus our great High Priest in His incarnation had to take on the flesh of humanity, wearing our filthy rags and bearing our sins, accused and judged unjustly for our redemption. Joshua receives clean apparel in the vision, and the clean mitre of priesthood was placed on his head. This is a clear picture of the gospel story of the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and eternal priesthood of Christ.

3:8 –Branch. “Behold, I am bringing forth my Servant the Branch.” The Messiah is referred to,  time and again, as the Branch in the Hebrew Bible (Is 4:2-3; Is. 11:1-4; Jer. 23:5-6; Jer. 33:15). One can easily imagine Jesus as the flourishing branch from the Tree of Life. God promised David that his kingdom would endure forever in 2 Samuel 7:16. But not very long after that word from God, David’s reign, his royal line, seemed to betray the truth of that promise. The royal line was chopped down, and the reign of David’s kingdom seemed nothing but a dead stump. But God’s word to David remained in place. The ideal king, the Messiah, coming from David’s line, would somehow emerge in Israel in due time. When Jesus was called “the son of David,” the people were acknowledging that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the fulfillment of the prophecy given to David so long ago. And so the Messiah, a righteous Branch, will shoot out miraculously from that dead stump. And Jesus is that Branch. He is the new growth springing forth from that old root beneath the ground, given up for dead. And what little village becomes Jesus’ adopted home, but Nazareth, a word meaning “Branch.” Nazarene meant the Branch! Certainly the biblical scholars witnessing the crucifixion that day must have realized that Pilate’s sign on the Cross, right there above Jesus’ head, proclaimed for all to see, “Jesus the Branch, King of the Jews.” Thank you Pilate, for that prophetic word.

4:6 – Spirit. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” The Hebrew word for might also means army, implying the strength of many. The meaning of power stands for that of one person. Both of them together represents human strength of every description, the combined strength of the multitude. But human power alone will not rebuild the Temple or accomplish God’s will. Only complete dependence on the Holy Spirit will achieve what God wants. The vision of the lampstand being miraculously fueled by an eternal source of holy oil is the picture God wants to portray (4:1-3). The oil of the Spirit is the secret to spiritual success. Only the Holy Spirit, not human strength or ability, will enable our light to shine, and God’s will to be done.

4:10 – Small. “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.”  Could there be a better description of the way of the gospel? The small beginning of Jesus’ humble birth in a barn in rural Bethlehem. The small beginning of Jesus’ anonymity, hidden away at home till He was thirty years old. The small beginning of the mustard seed faith of Matthew 17:20, that only flourishes through faith in Christ. The small beginning of a handful of fired up disciples who sparked a blaze that flamed around the world. Jesus is all about small beginnings that grow beyond measure unexpectedly, due to the power of the Lord. Starting small in Christ, not flashy, not impressive, not overwhelming, is the way to live into the gospel.

7:8-10 and 8:16-17 – Lifestyle. One would have to refer to the Sermon on the Mount to get a comparable listing of gospel values. These verses in Zechariah reflect the very heart of Jesus, and are revealed here in Zechariah to show what should characterize the lives of faithful believers. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Exercise true justice, show mercy and compassion on everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother… Speak the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these things are things that I hate, says the Lord.” These are rock solid gospel values expressed 500 years ahead of its time, and still lived out today in the Christian faithful.

8:23 – Prayer Shawl. Many see this verse as messianic, predicting a time when people would “grab hold of the hem of one Jewish man’s garment (prayer shawl), saying ‘We will go with you, for we heard God is with you.” The woman with the distressing condition is one example of someone who grabbed at the hem of Jesus’ prayer shawl and asked God for mercy (Mark 5). This prophecy surely seems fulfilled according to Matthew 14:35-36, when “they brought to Jesus all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. and as many as touched it were made perfectly well.” It turns out that the “one Jewish man” in Zechariah was none other than Jesus Christ.

9:9 – Lowly. Jesus fulfilled this very precise messianic prophecy when He made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. That was the sign the He indeed was the long-awaited Messiah/King (Matt. 21 and John 12). Jesus did not storm through the gates while riding a victorious warhorse. He came as the Prince of Peace, a humble king, riding on a lowly donkey, on the strength of His righteousness and divinity. Surely those who witnessed this scene in Jerusalem were struck by the specific way it fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy of so long ago.

11:11-13 – Pieces of Silver. Zechariah here discusses in a vision when the good shepherd/messiah is betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. And don’t forget that in Zechariah the thirty pieces were thrown into the house of the Lord for the potter. This actually happened of course as reported in Matthew 27:9-10. In Zechariah, the shepherd was considered no more worthy than a common slave, and the same was true of Jesus. Judas the betrayer fulfilled this prophecy without a doubt, for the thirty pieces of silver Judas was paid to betray Jesus were returned to the Temple and used to buy a potter’s field.

12:10 – Pierced. This verse from Zechariah travels in time and space as it foretells Pentecost and then Jesus on the Cross. Could there be a better description of the grief felt by those believers watching the horrific crucifixion of Jesus? “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and prayer; then they will look on me who 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. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem.” Indeed, Jesus was literally pierced (John 19:34), and the witnesses were crushed with grief, just as described by Zechariah.

13:1 – Fountain. Zechariah is once again speaking in symbols. This time, he is foretelling that time when God will provide a never-ending supply of forgiveness and mercy unto salvation. “On that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the people of Jerusalem, a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and impurity.” Jesus is that fountain, providing the waters of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is that source of living water for all who are spiritually thirsty. Jesus is the fountain, for “whoever believes in Him, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:38).

13:7 – Scattered. Jesus assumed that Zechariah was well known by His contemporaries, for He quoted Zachariah in Matthew 26:31… “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” Jesus here observed when He was captured during the Passion, that His disciples would abandon Him. He knew beforehand that His followers would scatter when He was arrested. Jesus knew well the words of Zechariah, and His disciples deserting Him in a time of need only added to His misery.

14:8 – Living Water. Jesus wonderfully continues as the fountain in Paradise, in the final kingdom. Jesus is the eternal fountain giving life to all the members of the New Jerusalem. “And on that day it shall be that living water shall flow from Jerusalem. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. On that day, there will be one Lord – His name alone will be worshipped.” As foretold by Isaiah, “Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation.”  (Is. 12:3).