Zechariah has seen eight visions (1:7-6:8). The visions portrayed a God who is sovereign over the nations (first and eighth visions), a God who punishes the evil of the nations and removes it from Judah (second and seventh visions), a God who reestablishes temple and covenants with his people (third and sixth visions), and a God who restores the priestly and royal functions to Judah (fourth and fifth visions).What is the cumulative meaning of these visions?
Zechariah 6:9-15 is neither a vision nor does it belong to chapter 7 which is separated by from chapter 6 by the dating of the next oracle. Zechariah 6:9-15 stands as a prophetic comment on the visions. The meaning of the visions is embedded in this “word of the Lord” (Zechariah 6:9).
Zechariah is given a task by Yahweh. This task is itself a prophetic sign, a performed word. What Zechariah does enacts the reality of the divine promises. It inaugurates the present but it also promises a future. The word of the Lord is “already, but not yet.”
It appears that some priests (e.g., Tobiah, cf. Ezra 2:59-62) had recently arrived from Babylon with treasures of gold and silver. They were part of the exiled community that has returned and the text anticipates that more will return (same verb is used in 6:10 and 6:15). What the exiled priests bring back to Jerusalem will be used as a symbol (“memorial” in 6:14; cf. Exodus 13:9; 28:12, 29; Numbers 10:10) for what God is promising those who have returned to Jerusalem. It is a performed sign, an effective sign–much like the sacraments within the Christian faith. The headgears (“crowns” is plural in Hebrew) that are constructed out of the gold and silver are symbols of promise—they are signs that God will do what he has promised.
One “crown” is placed on the head of Joshua, the high priest. The other crown is reserved—as a memorial—for another head. The word “crown,” Boda suggests (NIV Application Commentary on Zechariah, p. 338), may refer to royalty but more often denotes beauty and honor (cf. Isaiah 28:1-5). It is not strictly reserved for kings or queens. It does not necessarily have a royal coronation but rather a matter of honor or official recognition. Joshua is the high priest. He is an honored official.
The other “crown” is for the Branch. Joshua is not the Branch (though the NIV translation makes it appear that way). Literally, “Behold a man, Branch is his name…” will come. Joshua is promised that another leader will come who has not yet arrived or who is not present at the moment. This leader, presumably, is Zerrubabel (based on the fifth vision). The word of the Lord to Joshua through Zechariah describes this one who is coming (the below structure is from Boda, p. 340, though others think Zechariah is alternately speaking to Joshua and then Zerubbabel):
Behold, a man, Branch (semah) is his name
He will grow (samah) from his place
He will build the temple of the Lord
He, indeed, will build the temple of the Lord
He will be clothed with majesty
He will sit and rule on his throne
A priest will be on his throne
A counsel of peace will be between them
The language of “Branch” comes from Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:7-16. It is a Davidic descendent who will return Judah to prosperity after their exile. The Davidic line will remain and rule over Judah. Zechariah identifies this Branch as the one who will rebuild the temple as well as sit on the throne of David.
It is important to note that “he will rebuild the temple of the Lord” is said twice. It is the point of the word about the Branch. Post-exilic Judah is assured by the Lord that the temple will be rebuilt and this is means that the Lord will return to temple, the dwelling place of God.
But there is yet another mentioned in this word from the Lord–there are “two” in the last line. He is a priest who sits on a throne and there will be peace between the Davidic Branch and this priest. The fact that there are two, rather than just one person, is indicated by the last line in Zechariah 6:13. But can a priest occupy a throne? Eli did (1 Samuel 1:9; 4:13,18), but the reference is probably to a council seat near the king. Others sat on thrones as they advised kings (cf. 1 Kings 2:19; 22:10). The priest who sits at the right of the king is enthroned as his counsel, and their relationship is harmonious. They will cooperate in the rebuilding of the temple. Joshua will assist Zerubbabel who will rebuild the temple.
What is the word of the Lord in this text? What is the promise? Fundamentally, it is that the temple will be rebuilt. Zerubbabel and Joshua will cooperate in its rebuilding. This is the promise of the Lord to Judah through the words of the prophet Zechariah.
The fundamental meaning of the visions is that the temple will be rebuilt. As Israel returns to God, so God returns to Israel–which is the basic message of Zechariah (Zechariah 1:1-6). The temple will be built and God will come to dwell among his people. The memorial crown is Judah’s assurance that God will accomplish his promise. God will return to his people just as assuredly they have returned to the land of their forefathers.
But is there more to this? The message has a clear historical grounding in the situation of Judah in the Persian period. At the same time, the message has a Messianic ring as even Second Temple Judaism recognized. This word encompasses more than the rebuilding of the temple but, taken with all the night visions, it points to another who will unite the priestly and royal offices in a new temple of God. It points to a time when the nations themselves will become part of the people of God.
The “crownings” of Joshua and Zerubbabel are real but symbolic. They function as divine representatives in Judah but they point beyond themselves to a Messianic figure. There is a temple to be built by those who “afar off”—which probably refers not only to the Jewish diaspora but also the inclusion of the nations (cf. Zechariah 2:11; 8:22). The temple of Joshua and Zerubbabel is not the final temple, the final dwelling place of God. Rather, the Messiah will build a new temple and the reign of God will fill the earth. And, ultimately, that reigning Messiah will bring a new Jerusalem to the new heavens and new earth where there will be no need for a temple because God and the Lamb will dwell there.