The Gospel of Zechariah

Of the twelve minor prophets, just two are mentioned by Jesus in the New Testament Gospels. Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah as a foreshadowing of the resurrection after three days in the tomb. And in his last confrontation with the religious leaders not long before Jesus was arrested, he holds them accountable for the murder of Zechariah the prophet.

And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Matthew 23:35

Zechariah, whose name means “The LORD remembers,” was both prophet and priest, common to the major prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai, plus both prophets are mentioned in Ezra 5 as contemporary with Zerubbabel, leader of the exiles who returned from Babylon, and Joshua the high priest.  The main focus for all these leaders was encouraging the rebuilding of the temple.

Similar to Haggai, the first part of Zechariah is precisely dated. His ministry began in 520 BC in the fall of the year. The eight prophetic visions came on February 15, 519 BC.  Almost two years later, December 7, 518 BC, Zechariah gave another message, calling the people to repentance and giving them hope of future restoration. The rest of the book is not specifically dated, but probably extended for some years, some suggesting that Zechariah was very young when his ministry began and perhaps some forty years older at the end.*

The book is mainly focused on the future, beginning with a series of eight visions, during the night I had a vision. These vision seems to be in uninterrupted flow, a continuous sequence. While the theme of judgment is present, the overall purpose seems to be encouragement, not only to build the temple in the immediate future, but the promise of a glorious future for the people of God.

What about the Gospel in Zechariah?

The overall Old Testament theme of rescue (salvation) is evident throughout the book. From the first verses, we see this.

“The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me,declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?

“Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve,just as he determined to do.’”

The eight visions carry this theme of rescue and restoration

1:16,17 – ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty. “Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’”  

2:10-12 — “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. 

2:4, 5 — Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.’

This theme of rescue and restoration hits a glorious climax in chapter 8.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.”

This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.”

4, 5 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

7, 8 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”

11-13 But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past,” declares the Lord Almighty. “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops,and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.”

14, 15 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Just as I had determined to bring disaster on you and showed no pity when your ancestors angered me,” says the Lord Almighty, “so now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid.

20-22 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.”

These are wonderful promises and fit the trajectory of the Old Testament that God will rescue and restore His people, Israel. But far beyond that, Zechariah is even more specific about the details of this rescue and even about the rescuer, the Messiah.

Consider the fourth of the eight visions in chapter three, in which Joshua the high priest is seen with Satan** standing at his right side to accuse him. The accusation seems legitimate as Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes, unacceptable for a priest of God.

This exact picture is repeated in Revelation 12 where Satan is seen as our accuser.

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.

They triumphed over him

    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.

What does this have to do with us?  “‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come:

This is definitely a picture of the Gospel.

 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

In spite of Joshua’s disqualification, God determined to rescue Joshua.

4, 5 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”  Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

Do you see this picture of the Gospel, our sin taken away and the righteousness of Jesus imputed to us?

Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.
Psalm 32:1, 2; Romans 4:7, 8

But how can that be? The Gospel answer is right here.

…I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. Do you remember the symbol of the “branch” from Isaiah 11:1-4, one of the images for the Messiah?

 9.I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. And what event could remove sin in just one day?  A more specific image of the cross will be revealed later in Zechariah’s prophecy, but this is surely a reference to Good Friday, the day when Jesus died for our sins.

Another promise related to Messiah is that the role of priest and king will be combined. Prior to this, there was a sharp distinction.  But now Joshua the priest is given the Messianic name, the Branch … and he will be a  priest on his throne. 6:12  Jesus is the only one who can fulfill this as he came to be our priest, offering Himself as the sacrifice for sin, fully acceptable to God, but who will come again to reign and rule as king. Through the book, you see alternating focus of Messiah as priest and king, primarily distinguishing between the first and second advents of Jesus.

Perhaps the most prominent example of fulfilled prophecy from Zechariah is the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, when Jesus said, This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet, Matthew 21:4, 5, quoting from Zechariah 9:9,

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

It was just a few days after Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey that he met with his discipels in the upper room for the Passover meal, again quoting from Zechariah as he passed the cup, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:28, an unquestionable reference to Zechariah 9:11, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit

A more veiled passage is Zechariah 11:12, 13, referencing thirty pieces of silver and Throw it to the potter — the handsome price at which they priced me!  So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter.  Certainly links to the betrayal price of Jesus paid to Judas and his later remorse and throwing the money back into the temple and the money used for a potter’s field. Fulfillment of this in Matthew 26:5-10 references words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.  Perhaps a text in Jeremiah was combined with these images in Zechariah, but the major prophet was named. 

The most dramatic image of the Gospel in Zechariah is surely 12:10-12 –  And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great… 

Isaiah 53:5 prophecies of the Suffering Servant, but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Another quotation of Zechariah by Jesus comes when Jesus prophecies that his disciples will fall away, quoting Zechariah 13:7, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.   Matthew 26:31–35

The dramatic closing of Zechariah’s prophecy speaks of a day of the LORD when Jerusalem will be attacked, I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped.  Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. 14:1, 2

But as awful as this day is, it sets the stage for Messiah’s arrival.

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. 14:3-5

On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.  The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name. 14:6-9

It’s not my purpose here to wrestle with the details of the end times and the place of Israel and the church in the various passages.

One final Good News passage, Zechariah 8:23 –  This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Ultimately, God will complete what was promised to Abraham that all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. Genesis 12:3  

A descendant of Abraham and of David will fulfill this by dying on the cross for our sins, rising from the dead, ascending to heaven, and returning as king to rule over the whole earth. This is Jesus Christ.


*NIV Study Bible, Introduction to Zechariah

**This is only the third passage in the Old Testament in which the name, Satan, is found. The first example chronologically is Job, the dialogue between the LORD and Satan in Job 1 and 2.  The second from 1 Chronicles 21:1 is the account of Satan tempting David to take a census. Satan is the common name for our adversary in the New Testament, equal usage with “devil” for the one introduced in Genesis 3 as “the serpent.”

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