The Minor Prophets: Zechariah

Minor-Prophets-series_Zechariah

Without question the most enigmatic book in the Minor Prophets is the book of Zechariah. Zechariah contains fourteen chapters, making it the longest book in the Book of the Twelve. The visions given to the prophet foreshadow similar visions given to the Apostle John on the island of Patmos and recorded in the book of Revelation. Not coincidentally, then, believers who have a keen interest in eschatology (the study of last things) and the apocalyptic genre are fascinated by Zechariah, while others who find Revelation and similar literature impenetrably opaque shy away from studying these unusual books of the Bible. Both reactions are equally problematic. Believers who are fixated on eschatology tend to miss the contemporary relevance of Zechariah for the church and its members, while those who flee from eschatological texts lose the benefit of Zechariah, which is part of the God-breathed Scripture profitable to equip the man of God thoroughly for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

The historical background of this book is the same as the background of Haggai. The Jews have returned to the land from exile and have allowed the rebuilding of the temple to languish. Zechariah, the younger prophet who was by all accounts trained and mentored by Haggai, was sent by God to encourage the rebuilding project. Zechariah was a priest, descended from a priestly family who went into exile and returned with Ezra (Nehemiah 12:4). His name means the Lord remembers, which is fitting for a prophet who proclaimed the faithfulness of God to His covenant promises to His people. God has not forgotten Israel or His promises to them despite Israel’s continued obstinance and disobedience. Unlike many of the Minor Prophets, Zechariah came and preached a message that was generally positive and lacked much of the themes of judgment found in the other books in this corpus. He was a prophet who came to encourage God’s people to obedience by reminding them of God’s promises to them. Shockingly, we find that Zechariah, despite his message of hope, was murdered by his contemporaries. The leaders of Israel executed him in the very temple he had strengthened them to rebuild (Matt 23:35), an ironic and tragic demise for a prophet who loved God’s people with such fervency and fidelity.

Perhaps the most surprising and thrilling aspect of the book of Zechariah is its focus on the Incarnation of the Son of God and His sufferings and death. Only the Psalms are quoted more frequently in the passion narratives of the four Gospels. Given how compact the book of Zechariah is compared with the Psalms, no other biblical source is quoted as frequently as Zechariah in explaining the work of Christ.

IMAGE: Michelangelo Buonarroti: The Prophet Zechariah

IMAGE: Michelangelo Buonarroti: The Prophet Zechariah

The references to Christ begin quickly in the book, with explicit mention made in Zechariah 3:8, where the Lord promises to send His servant, who is called the Branch. Zechariah picks up this image from Isaiah 11:1, where the reference is clearly messianic. Zechariah, however, goes further in explaining the role of the Branch in Zechariah 6:11-13. The Lord commanded the prophet, “Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest.” While this action might not seem terribly unusual to a contemporary reader, the command to place a royal crown on the head of the high priest was unthinkable. The priestly line descended from Levi through Aaron’s sons, while the royal line was promised to Judah through David. How could God command the crown to be placed on the head of the high priest? He explains in verse 13, “Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He will who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.” Who is this mysterious figure who will bring harmony and unity to the priesthood and the kingship? Verse 12 says it is none other than the Branch, who will build the temple of the Lord. The Messiah Himself will be both priest and king. He will sit on His glorious throne and rule while also being the one who builds the house of the Lord. During His Incarnation, Jesus explicitly declared that He would build the temple in John 2:19, which the Apostles understood as a reference to His death and resurrection. The Apostles then connected the temple of His body with the church, which is the body of Christ. Jesus said He would build His church (Matt 16:18), just as Zechariah prophesied. Furthermore, He would reign as king for all to see, as He made clear in Matthew 27:64.

Zechariah goes into further detail about the life and death of Christ in Zechariah 9:9-10, where he prophesies of Israel’s king coming to them endowed with salvation and riding on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Matthew 21:5 notes this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In Zechariah 12:10, the prophet says that when the Spirit is poured out on Israel, they will look on Him whom they pierced and mourn for Him as for an only son, and they will weep bitterly as one weeps for a firstborn son. When the Apostle John summed up the events at the crucifixion in John 19:35-37, he quoted this verse in Zechariah and noted that the crucifixion of Jesus was a fulfillment of that verse. Furthermore, as we read through the rest of the New Testament, we learn that Jesus was God’s one and only Son (John 3:16), and that He was the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29-30; cf. Col 1:15, 18). The sufferings of Christ are further explained in Zechariah 13:7, where the prophet says that when the Shepherd has been struck, the sheep will be scattered. Jesus quoted this verse in Matthew 26:31, noting that at His arrest, trials, and death, the disciples would all fall away from Him and be scattered. This word of the Lord gave rise to Peter’s faulty assertion that he would never deny Christ, after which Jesus rebuked him and told him that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. Zechariah’s prophecy is alluded to numerous other times in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament as his message about the Messiah reverberates throughout the pages of the Apostolic writings.

All of these references in the New Testament to Zechariah make plain to the contemporary reader that this book, while filled with mysterious visions and apocalyptic imagery, is not a locked vault of hidden information but a treasure chest filled with the glorious riches of Jesus. Zechariah vividly portrays the sufferings of the Messiah to reveal to the reader God’s unfathomable forgiveness and irrevocable promise to save His people from their sins.

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