Reading Zechariah 9-14 – What? Where? When?

My Wednesday evening class–about 25 of us on average–have walked through Zechariah together. We began in January and finished Zechariah 14 last week (May 16). They are a patient bunch! It has been an exciting ride. The good news present in Zechariah is tailored for a disappointed people. Their hopes, dreams and expectations had not been fulfilled. Though returned to the land, they still lived in exile in several senses (especially under pressure from the surrounding nations and existing as a backwater province of the Persian Empire).

While we noted the Messianic and Eschatological (“last days”) allusions and hopes throughout the book, it was important to read the whole before offering any definitive interpretations. In particular, the question is what the promises and when and where will they find their fulfillment? Before moving to that question, first, a brief summary of Zechariah 9-14.

Summary of Zechariah 9-14

The basic theme is the establishment of the reign of Yahweh over the whole earth (14:9), inclusive of the house of David and Jerusalem as God’s dwelling place (12:7-9) to which the nations come (14:16-19). This will involve the deliverance of Israel from exile and oppression through restoration to their land (9:1-8, 14-17; 10:6-12) while at the same time defeating the nations that oppose God’s reign (12:4-5). Both the nations and the worthless shepherds (leaders) of Israel are judged (10:3; 11:4-6). Israel will be cleansed (13:1-6) and Jerusalem plundered (14:1-2). In the process of this establishment of Yahweh’s reign, his appointed leader (the Messianic shepherd from the house of David) is received (9:9), rejected (11:4-17; 12:10) and then reappears (12:7-9) to inaugurate the fullness of the reign of God over the whole earth. On that day—when Yahweh stands on the Mount of Olives—there will be no night, no drought, no curse, and no barriers to entrance into Jerusalem (14:4-15). On that day, the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship and everything will be inscribed “Holy to the Lord” (14:16-21).

Interpretative Options

It is difficult to reduce different ways of reading Zechariah 9-14 to brief summaries. Hopefully these summaries are generally accurate though particular representatives may vary to one degree or another. In general, I see six major ways of reading Zechariah 9-14 in terms of attempting to answer the questions of what, where and when.

  1. The text addresses a contemporary situation that the prophet expects to be resolved in his own context. Consequently, the text might be read as a piece of Jewish nationalistic hopes that might find expression in the Maccabean period or some failed hope in the Persian or Hellenistic periods. (Historical Criticism)
  2. The text is fulfilled in the ministry and passion of Jesus who comes as Messiah to cleanse and liberate Israel.  However, this liberation is not a nationalistic one but rather the renewal of Israel that establishes a community inclusive of the nations. Consequently, the passage is fulfilled in the Church and there are no Jewish nationalistic hopes entailed. (Amillennialism)
  3. Including point 2, the text also describes the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. by the Romans and the resultant expansion of the Church throughout the world (nations). The New Jerusalem is interpreted as the Church. (Preterism)
  4. Without denying 2 or 3, the text also describes a historical period of the Church prior to the second coming of the Messiah where the Church triumphantly reigns in the world—a kind of Golden Age of the Church which will precede the second coming of Christ. (Postmillennialism)
  5. Though there is some sense in which 2 & 3 are true, the text ultimately describes the last days when God will revive nationalistic Israel and it will come under attack from the nations. But God will deliver Israel by the second coming of Christ and inaugurate a thousand-year reign upon the earth from Jerusalem with a rebuilt temple. (Premillennialism)
  6. Understanding 2 and 3 as the first or initial stage of (“already”) fulfillment, the text also anticipates the (“not yet”) new creation when God will recreate the heavens and earth as new and the New Jerusalem will descend to the new earth within which God and Christ will reign forever with the resurrected saints. (New Creationism)

Hermeneutical Lens for the Early Church

As a Christian reader of Zechariah and one committed to the story narrated in the Gospels and Epistles, it is important for me to hear how the New Testament reads Zechariah 9-14. Mark Black, my colleague at Lipscomb University, wrote his dissertation on how the Gospels read Zechariah 9-14.  He summarized his conclusion in this way:

“What the early church discovered after being led to Zech. 9-14 is a whole eschatological schema which involved the sending of the messiah; his subsequent rejection, suffering, and death; the repentance, cleansing, and restoration which would follow the death; and the resurrection of the saints which would follow in the messianic kingdom.” (Mark Black, “The Rejected and Slain Messiah Who Is Coming with His Angels: The Messianic Exegesis of Zechariah 9-14 in the Passion Narrative” [Ph.D., Emory University, 1990], 239.)

Early Christians used Zechariah 9-14 as a lens through which to understand and interpret the story of Jesus. They saw him as the triumphal king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, but also the rejected shepherd who was pierced (killed). They also saw Jesus as the king who would inaugurate the reign of Yahweh upon the earth and return to deliver Jerusalem from the nations. They saw Jesus as both a historical (one who rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was killed by the authorities) and an eschatological (one who would bring the “last days” and ultimately the fullness of the Messianic kingdom) figure–though we don’t want to make that distinction a radical one.

The two charts below identify Gospel and Revelation texts that (1) understand the story of Jesus in the Gospel through the lens of Zechariah 9-14, and (2) understand the eschatological goal (“the end”) through the lens of Zechariah 14. The first chart establishes that early Christians believed the ministry and passion of Jesus were “fulfillments” of Zechariah 9-14.  The second chart establishes that Revelation understood Zechariah 14 in particular as “fulfilled” in the age to come, that is, the new age of the new heavens and new earth in the New Jerusalem.

I advocate interpretative option six though not with any absolute certainty. It seems to me that, though the drama began with the ministry and passion of Jesus, the ultimate hope in Zechariah 9-14 is yet future. In the New Creation, the living water of the New Jerusalem will nourish the earth and the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship–a time of healing for the nations.  The name of God will be inscribed on every forehead. God will reign over the whole earth from Jerusalem.

Zechariah 9-14 and the Story of Jesus[1]

Topic

Zechariah Text

New Testament Text

Royal Donkey Ride Zechariah 9:9 Matthew 21:5; Mark 11:1-11; John 12:15
Covenant Renewal and Peace among the Nations Zechariah 9:10-11 Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28
The Appearance of the Lord to Deliver His People Zechariah 9:14 Matthew 24:31
Sheep without a Good Shepherd Zechariah 10:2 Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34
Shepherd Rejected Zechariah11:4-17 Matthew 27:51-53: Mark 12:1-12
Handed over to Rulers Zechariah 11:4 Mark 9:31
Thirty Pieces of Silver: Messiah Betrayed Zechariah 11:12-13 Matthew 27:9-10
They Will See the Pierced One: Death of the Messiah Zechariah 12:10 John 19:37; Matthew 26:64;  Luke 21:27; Mark 14:62
Mourning the Pierced One Zechariah 12:10,14 Luke 23:27
Strike the Shepherd Zechariah 13:7 Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27
Fleeing of the Disciples Zechariah 13:7 John 16:32
Shepherd Giving Life Zechariah 13:7-9 John 10:11, 15, 17
Cleansing of the People Zechariah 13:1, 8-19 John 7:38; Mark 14:24
Cleansing Fountain Zechariah 13:1 John 19:43
Judgment upon Jerusalem Zechariah 14:1-2 Matthew 24: Mark 13
Behold the King Zechariah 14:4 Mark 11:1-12; 13:1-3
All the Holy Ones with Him Zechariah 14:5 Matthew 24:30
Moving Mountains Zechariah 14:4 Matthew 17:20; Mark 14:23
Earthquake Zechariah 14:3-5 Matthew 27:51-53
Living Water Zechariah 14:8, 16-19 John 4:10; 7:38
No Traders in the Temple Zechariah 14:21 Mark 11:15-16

Zechariah 9-14 and Revelation

Topic

Zechariah

New Testament Text

Seeing the Pierced One Zechariah 12:10-14 Revelation 1:7
No Night There Zechariah 14:6-7 Revelation 21:25; 22:5
Living Water in Jerusalem Zechariah 14:8 Revelation 22:1
Jerusalem Inhabited—Never to be Destroyed Zechariah 14:11 Revelation 22:3
Removal of the Curse Zechariah 14:11 Revelation 22:3
Healing of the Nations Zechariah 14:16 Revelation 22: 2
Name Inscribed Zechariah 14:19-20 Revelation 22:4
Jerusalem is Holy Zechariah 14:19-20 Revelation 21:10
Nothing Impure in City Zechariah 14:21 Revelation 21:27

Reading Zechariah 9-14 with Two Vistas:

  1. The first vista is the ministry, passion and resurrection of Jesus (first chart). The church understood that Zechariah 9-14 was enacted in some form in the story of Jesus. This inaugurated the “last days” (the eschatological age).
  2. The second stage is the second coming of Jesus to bring the New Jerusalem to the new earth under the new heavens as anticipated in Revelation 21-22 (second chart). This consummates or ends the “last days” (the eschatological age).
These vistas are vantage points from which we see what, when and where the realities which Zechariah 9-14 envisioned are realized. We look back to see the story of Jesus playing out the drama of Israel described in Zechariah but we also look forward to the time when everything–when the reign of Yahweh fills the whole earth–will be inscribed “Holy to the Lord.”

[1] Based on multiple sources but primarily drawing from Mark Black’s dissertation, Mark Boda’s NIV Application Commentary on Zechariah, and N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God.



One Response to “Reading Zechariah 9-14 – What? Where? When?”

  1.   rich Says:

    boy oh boy
    just great
    john mark
    blessings

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