Introduction. Authorship. The book of Zechariah falls naturally into two parts: chapters 1-8 and 9-14. In the first part we find dates locating the prophecies in the Persian era (late sixth century b.c.), references to Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the Davidic governor, encouragement to rebuild the temple, and a mixture of oracles and visions. However, in the second part dates are missing, the leaders are unnamed shepherds, and the rebuilding of the temple has no place. These differences plus distinct stylistic features have led most scholars to see more than one author of this important prophetic work. Zechariah wrote the first eight chapters, but perhaps chapters 9-14 stem from a later anonymous prophet. If so, it is important to emphasize that chapters 9-14 are still fully inspired, just as the anonymous New Testament book, Hebrews, is inspired. Many scholars also connect the second section of Zechariah with Malachi because Zechariah 9-11, Zechariah 12-14, and Malachi all begin with the word "oracle." Alternately, some scholars argue that chapters 9-14 were composed by Zechariah, but at a later time in his life.
Historical Background. In 587 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, exiling many of Judah's leaders to Babylon. After a time God raised up Cyrus, the Persian king, to defeat Babylon (539) and to release the Jews from captivity by issuing an edict in 538 allowing them to return to their land. Not only did he liberate them; he returned the temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had plundered and gave them permission to rebuild their temple with Persian funds ( Ezr 6:3-5 ).
Rebuilding the Temple. When the Jews returned from Babylon, they followed the restoration program of the earlier prophets, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. The former predicted the rebuilding of the temple (Ezek 40-48). Both foresaw Judah being led by two rulers: a Zadokite priest ( Jer 33:18 ; Ezek 44 ) and a Davidic prince ( Jer 33:15-17 ; Ezek 34:23 ). Sheshbazzar led the first group of Jews home. Since he was a Davidic descendant (son of the last king of Judah, Jehoiachin) he was qualified to be the first governor. However, he only succeeded in laying the temple's foundation ( Ezra 6:16 ). Zerubbabel, Sheshbazzar's nephew and Jehoiachin's grandson, became the second governor. He assumed leadership during a severe economic crisis. The Lord raised up the prophet Haggai to reveal the cause: neglecting to rebuild the temple ( Hag 1:1-11 ). At about the same time God inspired Zechariah to prophesy. Together Haggai and Zechariah joined in common cause to encourage Zerubbabel, the Davidic governor, and Joshua, the Zadokite high priest, to complete this important building project ( Zec 4:9 ).
Theological Themes. Building for Christ. Christians emphasize the spiritual world and the second coming of Christ to such an extent that they neglect material needs. The Book of Zechariah shows the importance of this world. It affirms the necessity of human institutions, political structures, and mundane things such as buildings. In order for the Jews to reestablish themselves in the land, they had to rebuild the temple and restore the priesthood; they also had to set up a form of governance.
This provides an example for us today. Although "our citizenship is in heaven" ( Php 3:20 ), we still are members of political communities on earth. While we cannot hope to bring the eschatological kingdom of God to earth by our efforts, we can be involved in society as influences for good. Our government is not a theocracy as was that of Zechariah, so we may not be able to fashion our secular and pluralistic governments completely according to Christianity. But we can attempt to make our societies more just.
We are also members of Christian societies: local churches, denominations, and parachurch organizations. We can encourage the building of houses of worship, hospitals, rescue missions, mental health centers, food distribution centers, and shelters for the homeless, the battered, and unwed mothers. In addition we should construct Christian schools, colleges, and theological seminaries for the purpose of training Christian leaders.
Worship. With its emphasis on the temple, the prophecy of Zechariah also speaks to us about the importance of worship. Following the reforms of Josiah (ca. 620 b.c.) the only acceptable place to offer animal sacrifice was Jerusalem. God was pleased when the faithful would entreat his favor there ( Zec 8:20-22 ). The sacrifices made Jerusalem holy ( 14:20-21 ). People were expected to come to Zion for the pilgrim feasts if they wanted to receive heaven's blessings ( 14:16-17 ). Not only were there shouts of joy and songs of gladness in the temple ( 8:19 ) but there were times of holy silence in the awesome presence of God ( 2:13 ). This last part is directly applicable. It is good to worship God both with loud praises and with silent devotion.
Some scholars have discounted the religious value of this book because it is tied so closely to the Jerusalem cult. However, we must be careful not to read Christian biases into the Old Testament. Of course, Jesus spoke of a day when the devout would not need to go to Jerusalem for God would accept all who worshiped "in spirit and truth" ( John 4:20-24 ). And we know that God's presence is not limited to human shrines ( Acts 7:48 ; 17:24 ). Furthermore, we now that animal sacrifice is now unnecessary on account of our Lord's final sacrifice for sin (Heb. 9-10). Nevertheless, through Moses God had given his people the forms of worship that eventually became established in Jerusalem; these were valid for their time.
Zechariah is still relevant for our time, though, because it highlights the necessity of obedience in worship. Although today we enjoy greater freedom in the ways we approach God than the Old Testament believers did, we still must be careful to worship as God ordains, not in ways entirely of our choosing. Under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifice was required. Under the New Covenant, we must come to God through the sacrifice of his Son. Also, instead of the blood of dead animals, God desires us to offer our bodies as "living sacrifices" ( Rom 12:1 ) and to offer continually the "sacrifice of praise" ( Heb 13:15 ). As with the tower of Babel ( Gen 11:1-9 ), humans are still trying unsuccessfully to reach God through edifices made of false religions or good works. These ways lead to confusion, for Jesus is the only way to the Father ( John 14:6 ).
The Sovereignity of God. Christ is controlled by Israel's God, not by the pagan deities. One of the reasons for the punishment of exile was that the Jews had been participating in the Canaanite fertility cult. They erroneously thought that Baal rode upon the storm cloud bringing rain to the crops. However, it is the Lord who blesses the farmer with showers in response to prayer ( Zec 10:1-2 ). He also controls history. God scattered his people among the nations; he will bring them back to their land again ( 10:9-10 ). Moreover, he will punish the nations who harmed his people ( 2:8-9 ; 10:11 ; 12:9 ).
Providence. The Persian authorities allowed the rebuilding of the temple but it was not until later, in the time of Nehemiah (445 b.c.), that permission to restore the city walls was granted. Because some of the local peoples opposed the Jews, the returnees were concerned about their security. But God dispelled their fears by promising to encircle Jerusalem with his protective fire and by assuring them of his presence in their midst ( 2:5 ). An additional sign of his providence was his commitment to end the economic depression. As a reward for their obedient response in rebuilding the temple, God would bless his people with prosperity ( 8:9-13 ).
Satan. In Zechariah 3 we catch a glimpse of a heavenly tribunal in which Joshua, the high priest, stands accused by a figure known as "The Satan" or "The Adversary." The term in Hebrew has the definite article so it should be translated as a title rather than by "Satan, " as if it were a proper name. As represented in Zechariah, he is not good, for he is rebuked ( 3:2 ). However, at this stage in progressive revelation, he was not understood to be thoroughly evil either, since he is presented as a member of the divine King's court. He is somewhat akin to a prosecuting attorney in modern, Western societies. Similarly, Revelation 12:10 calls him the "accuser of our brothers." God's revelation in the Old Testament is limited; having the benefit of the New Testament our picture of Satan as an entirely wicked spiritual foe, fallen from heaven, is more complete. Nevertheless, Zechariah agrees with the New Testament that we should not be afraid of the enemy of our souls. We must trust God for forgiveness as Joshua did; then we do not need to fear any accusations.
Sin, Sanctification, and Salvation. The book opens with a call to repentance, reminding the people of the sins of their ancestors. The former prophets had risen up to rebuke the previous generation but no repentance followed. Zechariah exhorts the Jews not to repeat the past. Instead God promises that if the people return to him, he will return to them ( 1:2-6 ; cf. 7:8-14 ). Specific sins of idolatry ( 13:2 ), pride (of Assyria, 10:11 ), and lack of compassion ( 7:9-11 ) are listed.
The outward evidence of the inward repentance was the willingness of the returnees to start building the temple again. God showed his favor by first removing the guilt of Joshua, the high priest ( 3:1-5 ) and then the guilt of the land ( 3:9 ). The prophet also sees iniquity and wickedness being transported from Judah to Babylon in the vision of the measuring basket ( 5:5-11 ). The second part of the book reveals that toward the end of history, God will open a fountain capable of cleansing from "sin and impurity" ( 13:1 ). In that day, the Lord will save his people by bringing them back to their land ( 8:7 ; 10:6-10 ) and by providing for them ( 9:16 ).
Ethics. Zechariah highlights the importance of acting justly toward others and treating them with kindness and mercy. We should especially be careful not to mistreat those weaker elements of society: widows, orphans, and resident foreigners (7:9-10). This teaching goes back to Moses ( Exod 22:22 ; 23:9 ), is central to the prophets ( Isa 1:16-17 ; Jer 7:5-7 ; Amos 5:15 Amos 5:24 ), and is confirmed in the New Testament ( Acts 6:1-3 ; James 1:27 ).
There is also a warning not to mistreat God's chosen people, the Jews, for they are "the apple of his eye" ( Zec 2:8 ). The Gentiles will be punished for any harm they inflict on them ( 2:9 ). Consequently, Christians must take a stand against anti-Semitism. Today, however, God's people is a more inclusive group comprised of Jews and Gentiles who have believed in Jesus ( Rom 11:13-24 ). But God has not rejected the Jews ( Rom 11:2 ) who will one day return to the Lord as a people ( Rom 11:26 ).
Preparation for the Gospel. Zechariah anticipated the day when the door of salvation would be opened to non-Jews. He predicted that many nations would worship the Lord in Jerusalem. They will take hold of the robe of a Jew and say, "We have heard that God is with you" ( 8:20-23 ). Those nations refusing to participate in the festival of tabernacles will be punished ( 14:16-19 ). This inclusiveness theme is not unique to Zechariah. Isaiah and Micah also looked to a day when the nations would seek God in Zion ( Isa 2:2-3 ; Micah 4:1-2 ). The Jews were to be a light to the nations ( Isa 42:6 ; 49:6 ); they were to be God's witnesses ( Isa 43:12 ). Foreign peoples, including some of their rulers, would come to the Jews bringing their wealth and acknowledging the God of Israel to be the only deity ( Isa 45:14 ; Isaiah 49:7 Isaiah 49:22-23 ).
Although Judaism has not been a missionary religion throughout most of its history, there were those Jews in the second temple period who endeavored to convert Gentiles to Judaism ( Matt 23:15 ). Those foreigners who responded partly fulfilled Zechariah's prophecy. It was also partly fulfilled in the many pagans who became "God-fearers." These did not fully convert but gave up their idols to worship the one, true God. They could enter the court of the Gentiles in the Jerusalem temple but were forbidden upon pain of death from going beyond the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles. Christians see an even greater fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the finished work of Jesus. The separating wall has been destroyed by the death of Christ so that all may come to God through him, whether Jew or Gentile ( Eph 2:13-16 ).
Pneumatology. Zechariah teaches us not to rely on our own strength, for God accomplishes his will through the Spirit ( 4:6 ). Furthermore, it teaches us to trust in God's Word, which is inspired by the Spirit ( 7:12 ).
Messianism. Zechariah contributes to the development of messianism in the Old Testament. Isaiah predicted that a branch would grow out of the stump of Jesse (David's father), who would rule in righteousness and bring about a return to paradise ( 11:1-9 ). Zechariah focused his attention on Zerubbabel, the Branch, or descendant of David, who would rebuild the temple ( 3:8 ; 4:9 ; 6:12-13 ). As mentioned above, the postexilic Jews were following the restoration plan of Ezekiel. He had described paradise-like conditions accompanying the rebuilding of the temple ( 47:1-12 ). Because of this and because of Haggai's words, that God was about to overturn the kingdoms of the world and appoint Zerubbabel his signet ring ( 2:20-23 ), many hoped that Zerubbabel was the messiah and would usher in the kingdom of God. However, in spite of the fact that crowns are mentioned, only Joshua the priest is crowned ( Zec 6:11 ). There are hints of restoration of the monarchy"royal honor" and "throne" ( Zec 6:13 )but nothing comes to fruition. Haggai's prophecy was fulfilled because God did shake the nations by raising up the Persians to free his people. And Zerubbabel did serve as God's signet ring by carrying out divine plans in his capacity as governor of Judah. But he did not become king, and did not bring the kingdom of God to earth.
Zechariah's prophecy was fulfilled because Zerubbabel did complete the temple. The fact that Joshua is crowned but not Zerubbabel, with that one crown being kept in reserve in the temple ( 6:14 ), indicates that it was not God's time to introduce the messiah, the Davidic descendant who would reign forever in righteousness. Rather, God was planning to provide spiritual leadership and governance through the priestly line. This is exactly what happened following Zerubbabel when God sent Ezra the priest to the people in 458 b.c.
Eschatology. The second part of Zechariah announces the universal peaceable domain of a humble human king ( 9:9-10 ). Zerubbabel was a type of that one who was to come. Zechariah 14:1-9 also testifies that the Lord himself will come to earth to reign over all. Jesus, who is fully man and fully God, inaugurated God's kingdom in his first advent but his reign will not be completely realized until his second coming ( 1 Cor 15:24-28 ). In that day, Jesus will descend to the Mount of Olives ( Zech 14:4 ; Acts 1:11 ) in the same way that he ascended, bringing his heavenly host with him ( Zech 14:5 ; Matt 25:31 ).
The two olive trees, or anointed ones, in the Book of Zechariah are clearly Joshua and Zerubbabel ( Zechariah 4:3 Zechariah 4:11-14 ). However, John reuses this imagery to disclose the two endtime witnesses of the apocalypse ( Rev 11:1-13 ).
New Testament Usage. The New Testament quotes Zechariah seventy-one times. Thirty-one of these are in Revelation and twenty-seven in the Gospels. The second half of Zechariah is the source of the more familiar passages cited in the New Testament. For example, Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey shows that he is the king whom the prophet foretold ( Zech 9:9-10 ; Matt 21:4-5 ; John 12:14-15 ). For betraying the Lord, the chief priests paid Judas thirty pieces of silver ( Matt 26:31 ), which he subsequently cast into the temple ( Matt 27:3-5 ). Matthew interpreted this to be a fulfillment of the Old Testament (cf. Matt 27:9 , which mentions Jeremiah but is a quote from Zech 11:12-13 ). Zechariah 13:7 says, "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered." This was fulfilled when the disciples abandoned Jesus during the trial and crucifixion ( Matthew 26:31 Matthew 26:56 ). A double fulfillment is recorded for Zechariah 12:10, which predicts mourning for a pierced one by those who pierced him: first, when Jesus' side was pierced on the cross ( John 19:34-37 ), and second, when Jesus returns at the end of time ( Rev 1:7 ).
William B. Nelson, Jr.
Bibliography. E. Achtmeier, Nahum-Malachi; J. G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; R. J. Coggins, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; P. D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic; R. A. Mason, The Books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; C. L. Meyers and E. M. Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah1-8; D. L. Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8; R. L. Smith, Micah-Malachi.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Zechariah, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".