Jerusalem In That Day: Interpreting Zechariah 12-14
This article is an excerpt from a theological work now completed, entitled, The High King of Heaven:Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Time Debate (Redemption Press, 2014).
It is drawn from a chapter dealing with the proper interpretation of OT Kingdom prophecies (OTKP’s). In discussing this challenging subject, you will find that I often refer to the New Covenant Hermeneutic (NCH). This is simply the NT method of interpreting the OT generally, and OTKP in particular.
In order to understand the NCH better, you may wish to read the short, introductory article found here.
By the way, your comments on these articles are always welcome.
Jerusalem In That Day: Interpreting Zechariah 12-14
We turn our attention now to the most prolific—and most fascinating—of the three post-exilic prophets: Zechariah (fl. 500 BC). Like his rough contemporaries, Haggai and Malachi, this great OT priest, seer, and martyr comforted a subjugated and much enfeebled nation with visions and prophecies of a glorious future: the coming of the Messiah, the final defeat of Israel’s enemies, and the final restoration of God’s people, land, temple, priesthood, and holy city—Jerusalem.
Our focus in this study is Zechariah 12-14. It is the second of two lengthy prophetic oracles dealing with the future Kingdom of God. To better understand the second, let us look briefly at the first.
Overview of Zechariah 9-11
In essence, these three chapters constitute a single word of promise: In days ahead, God will send the Messiah, a mighty warrior-king who will lead Israel—fully regathered in a Second Exodus from all the nations where God had scattered them—to victory over her perennial foes, and then to the eternal enjoyment of universal peace and prosperity in his completed Kingdom (9:1-10:12).
Observe, however, that this oracle concludes on a dark and mysterious note: Far from welcoming their Messiah, it appears that Israel’s wicked leaders will actually reject their Shepherd-King, thereby annulling the Old Covenant, forfeiting God’s protection, and exposing the nation to destruction (11:1ff)! Yet in spite of all this, God will still have mercy upon a portion of his people, “the afflicted of the flock” (10:2, 11:7, 11,13:7).
How are we to resolve this apparent contradiction? Here, NT hindsight gives us much-needed insight: The afflicted of the flock are a remnant of elect Jews (Rom. 9:6ff), called by God to recognize the divine-human Messiah (11:11; John 1:14, 6:40), enlist in his spiritual army (10:5f, 2 Cor. 10:4-6, 2 Tim. 2:4), preach his Gospel (9:10, 10:4f, 2 Cor. 2:14-16), gather eschatological “Judah” and “Ephraim” from the four corners of the earth to their spiritual Homeland (9:11-17, 10:6; Titus 2:11-14), and—together with their new-born Gentile brethren—follow him to consummate victory on the Day of the LORD (9:11-17; Rev. 6:1-2, 19:11-16).
We find, then, that Zechariah’s first oracle is primarily fulfilled in the first stage of the Kingdom; the stage in which “the Israel of God,” through Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, is purchased, gathered out of the Domain of Darkness, and led into triumphant Gospel combat beneath the banner of the High King of Heaven.
This brings us to the second oracle, and to our focus in the present section, chapters 12-14.. Here again the theme is the future Kingdom, but this time with an emphasis upon the Consummation. I have entitled it “Jerusalem in that Day,” since here the expression “in that Day” occurs some 15 times! To read the oracle itself is to understand why: In essence, it is a series of prophetic “snapshots,” most of which point ahead to one or another facet of the eschatological “Day” wherein God will bring his Kingdom purposes to complete fulfillment. As we shall see, this does indeed include a few references to the Era of Proclamation and Probation. But again, the emphasis here clearly falls upon the Consummation; upon the Day in which the LORD will intervene in history one last time to execute final judgment upon Israel’s enemies, administer final redemption to his people, and then usher them into the everlasting Day of blessing and worship for which they have patiently waited, hoped, and longed, generation after generation.
In short, the “burden” of Zechariah’s final oracle is to reveal the final acts of God in the final stages of Salvation History.
As every student of the prophetic Scriptures knows, Zechariah 12-14 is an especially difficult and controversial OTKP. Therefore, we do well to ask at the outset: How can we best arrive at a good understanding of the Spirit’s intended meaning? In particular, what method of prophetic interpretation will best guide us through the maze of competing interpretations, and bring us safely into the insight and certainty we desire?
As we have seen, our premillennarian brethren are not shy about answering: We must use the method of prophetic literalism. Wayne Grudem, a respected historic premillennarian, is one of them. Citing Zechariah 14:5-17, he writes:
“Here again the description does not fit the present (Church) age, for the Lord is King over all he earth in this situation. But it does not fit the eternal state, either, because of the disobedience and rebellion against the Lord that is clearly present. . . (Passages like this) indicate some future stage in the history of redemption which is far greater than the present church age but which still does not see the removal of all sin and rebellion and death from the earth.” (Systematic Theology, pp. 1127, 1129).
In this defense of premillennialism, Grudem does not openly espouse prophetic literalism. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that he approaches Zechariah’s prophecy—and all OTKP—on the assumption that it is indeed the only valid method of prophetic interpretation. And if Grudem is right, then his conclusion is right as well: Zechariah’s oracle must be fulfilled in a future millennial stage of the Kingdom, since, literally interpreted, it cannot be fulfilled in any other (i.e., in the present Era of Proclamation or in the perfected World to Come)!
Now, as natural as Grudem’s prophetic literalism may seem to be, we have seen, both by precept and example, that the NT consistently rejects it. For again, both Christ and his apostles teach us that the true sphere of fulfillment of all OTKP is the New Covenant, the two-staged spiritual Kingdom it creates, and the new spiritual nation to which it gives birth: the Church, the eschatological “Israel of God” comprised of elect Jews and Gentiles. But if this is so, then we cannot interpret OTKP literally, nor can we embrace premillennial approaches. Instead, we must interpret it eschatologically, covenantally, typologically, and ecclesiologically; as being a series of “veiled” and “mysterious” OT representations life under the New Covenant in the two-staged Kingdom that it creates. In short, it is through the NCH, and through it alone, that Christians can attain what, in these last days, they so much need and desire: the full assurance of understanding (Col. 2:2), and the unity of the faith in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3, 13).
A Critique of Premillennial Approaches
Because premillennial interpretations of Zechariah 12-14 are so widespread, we must pause a moment to examine some of the problems involved.
As we just saw in the quote from Grudem, premillennarians approach this oracle—and all OTKP—in three fundamental ways: literally, ethnically and futuristically. First, they assume the sole validity of prophetic literalism; this forces them to conclude that the prophet’s focus is on ethnic Israel; and this in turn forces them to conclude that he must be speaking of events to befall ethnic Israel in the future; in that portion of Salvation History prior to, at, or immediately following the Second Coming of Christ. But, as Grudem pointed out, since literalism does not permit us to see Zechariah describing the Church era or the New Heavens and the New Earth, premillennarians conclude that he must be talking about events leading up to, and including, the millennial stage of the Kingdom, wherein Israel will be the head, and the Gentiles the tail.
In all this, we see once again that the way in which we enter a prophecy—hermeneutically speaking—will profoundly influence where we come out!
Importantly, we find that there are some notable differences among premillennarians themselves. Historic Premillennarians like Fausset and Grudem admit that when Zechariah’s words are fulfilled, Christ’s Church will be in, on, or about the premises—a conclusion that makes it difficult for them to explain why the prophet does not mention the Church, or what resurrected, glorified Christians will be doing during the millennium.
Dispensational Premillennarians like Scofield, Walvoord, Pentecost, and MacArthur, contend that Zechariah foretells God’s dealings with ethnic Israel immediately following the Rapture of the Church into heaven; his dealings with Israel and the nations during the Tribulation (i.e., Daniel’s seventieth week of years), the Great Tribulation (i.e., the final three and a half years), the Battle of Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ, and the thousand year reign of Christ over all the earth. This reign, they argue, will emanate from a geographically transformed Palestine and from the newly restored Jerusalem, where the glorified Christ will live.
So then, there are indeed some significant differences; but again, all premillennarians agree in asserting that in this oracle Zechariah is speaking exclusively about the eschatological agony, conversion, and exaltation of ethnic Israel.
But again, we have seen that the NT positively forbids this approach. And even if it did not, the text itself presents grave problems for any premillennarian literalist. In the exegetical paragraphs below, I will touch on some particulars. Here, however, a few general observations are in order.
First, the oracle says nothing at all about a temporary millennial reign of Christ. Anyone who reads the text objectively, refusing to import millennial presuppositions into it, will see immediately that in fact Zechariah is speaking of the conversion of eschatological Israel, the Last Battle, the Day of the LORD, and the World and Worship of the (eternal) Age to Come. It is completely counterintuitive to think that an oracle so grand—so cosmic—in its scale, should have as its terminus ad quem a temporary millennial reign of the Messiah, rather than the ultimate glories of the perfected Kingdom of God.
Secondly, we have already seen that this oracle gives us one of at least five different OT prophecies of the Last Battle. We have also seen that if we interpret them all literally, then it immediately becomes impossible to reconcile the conflicting data. Therefore, the only possible solution that retains the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture is to affirm that in each case the Spirit is giving us a symbolic—a typologically veiled—revelation of the final clash between the Church and the World, a clash whose true nature is fully disclosed only in the NT.
Thirdly, there is the problem of anachronisms. Do we really want to say, for example, that at the end of the present (and very modern) age, the nations of the earth will come up against ethnic Israel riding horses, camels, and donkeys; or that they will bring cattle with them to serve as food (12:4, 14:15)?
Far more seriously, how is it that in the Millennium—when Christ himself is allegedly seated upon his throne in Jerusalem—Israel and the nations will revert to observing the Mosaic Law; a Law that, according to the NT, Christ himself fulfilled and rendered obsolete (Mt. 5:17, Rom. 10:4, Heb. 8:13)? Will parents really take it upon themselves to administer Mosaic sanctions by executing the false prophet who sprang from their loins (Deut. 18:20, 13:13)? Will the nations really go up to a physical Jerusalem to join ethnic Israel in observing the Feast of Booths (14:16)? Will they really bring animal sacrifices to a physical Temple; and will priests really lay those sacrifices upon a physical altar, or boil them in physical cooking pots (14:20-21)? The mind steeped in NT revelation cannot bring itself to assent to such propositions, but instead looks immediately and instinctively for the spiritual NT realities of which all these mysterious pictures are OT types, shadows, and symbols.
Finally, what is the bearing of the rest of the book upon the interpretation of this particular oracle? In all of the OT, was there ever a prophet whose writing more fully embodied the “apocalyptic” mode of divine revelation than Zechariah? Was there ever a prophet who more consistently edified and encouraged God’s OT people by clothing great redemptive truths about the wrap-up of Salvation History in vision and symbol? If, as all agree, the first half of Zechariah’s book (1-8) is completely devoted to eight mystical visions loaded with Messianic and Kingdom symbolism, is it not likely that the second half of the book (9-14), which is devoted two great prophetic oracles, is loaded with Messianic and Kingdom symbolism as well? Indeed, since the first half of the book also contains a number of prophecies, and the second half also contains a number of visions, is it not clear that the book as a whole is apocalyptic through and through, and that it must therefore be interpreted symbolically, rather than literally?
We conclude, then, from evidence found both in the NT and the Old, that premillennial interpretations of Zechariah 12-14 are fatally flawed, and that our only hope of penetrating to the deep meaning of this great oracle lies in the skillful use of the NCH. In just a moment, we will attempt this very thing.
First, however, an important introductory word. As mentioned above, Zechariah’s final oracle is composed of a series of prophetic “snapshots.” The Reformation Study Bible explains it this way:
“Our understanding of the teaching of Zechariah is greatly helped when we recognize that the prophet gives pictures of the future in snapshot fashion, in which the pictures are not placed in any particular sequence. When we read a passage, we see only what is happening in that snapshot, not how it relates to the other snapshots.” (p. 1326)
In this helpful observation, the key word is sequence. Yes, the snapshots are related, but thematically, rather than chronologically. We see this vividly in the frequent appearance of the eschatological marker “in that Day.” Through its use, the Spirit is letting us know that he is now speaking of the two-staged Kingdom of God and Christ. But through its use he is also letting us know that he is now giving us yet another cameo, yet another fresh miniature portrait of some event or characteristic of life proper to that (stage of the) Kingdom.
Does the oracle as a whole have any chronological drift or momentum? To be sure. Moreover, once we abandon premillennial literalism and futurism in favor of the NCH, we are able to see it clearly. Broadly speaking, it turns out that the prophecy is much like Ezekiel 36-38: It passes from the Era of Proclamation and Probation (the Kingdom of the Son), through the Last Battle and the Day of the Lord, into the World to Come (the Kingdom of the Father). Nevertheless, even as we bear this overall perspective in mind, we must recognize that each snapshot, each cameo, stands more or less on its own. Yes, its exact place in the total oracle will help us to interpret it; but having received that help, we must look for its essential meaning in the OT symbols themselves, and in the NT truths to which those symbols so mysteriously point.
With this as introduction, we are now ready to begin our exegetical journey through Zechariah 12-14.
Strong in the LORD (12:1-9)
The opening prophecy, highly reminiscent of material found in chapters 9-10, sounds the theme of the oracle as a whole: In the eschatological conflict between “Israel” and the nations—that is, between the Church and the World—God will be the strength of his people, and will lead them through much suffering to final triumph. Importantly, the phrase “in that day” recurs five separate times. The NCH would have us receive this as a sign: Here we are dealing events to occur in the eschatological era, the New Covenant era, the Kingdom era, the Church era. We must, then, with the Spirit’s help, endeavor to “decode” the prophecy, so as to discern the NT meanings here embedded in OT language and imagery.
Since each of the nines verses in our snapshot is a prophetic nugget in its own right, I will briefly comment upon them one verse at a time.
In verse 1, Zechariah characterizes the entire forthcoming oracle (12-14) as “the burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel.” It is a burden because it brings heavy tidings, and also because it burdens the prophet with a sense of urgency to deliver it to God’s people.
It concerns, not ethnic Israel, but eschatological “Israel:” the Church, which is comprised of Jews and Gentiles living and serving together as one family and one nation under Christ (Gal. 6:16, Eph. 2:15, Rev. 12:1f).
Importantly, the oracle emanates from the Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos, the One who is sovereign over all history for the sake of his people and his glory (Rom. 8:28, Eph. 1:11-12). Since Zechariah will speak of the Consummation later in his oracle, we may safely conclude that here, in the opening snapshot, his focus is largely upon the Church’s spiritual warfare throughout the entire Era of Proclamation and Probation; throughout the first stage of the Kingdom, the stage that the Holy Spirit, in the Revelation, refers to as the Great Tribulation (Acts 14:22, Rev. 7:14).
According to verse 2, the sovereign God has purposed to make the Church—the NT City of God (Gal. 4:26, Heb. 12:22)—a cup that causes reeling to all the (hostile) peoples around her. All who reject her Gospel and attack her will become drunk with God’s judicial blindness, and will therefore stagger and fall beneath his final judgments (Jer. 25:15-16, 2 Thess. 2:1ff). Such is the fate of all who would harm his (gospel) prophets; of all who would touch the apple of his eye (Psalm 105:15, Zech. 2:8, Rev. 11:5). The eschatological siege—mounted throughout the Church Era—will not only be against the capitol city of the holy nation (i.e., Church leaders and public institutions), but also against the tribal villages as well (i.e., the laity themselves). All who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (Mt. 5:10-12, 1 Thess. 3:1-4, 2 Tim. 3:12).
In verse 3 the imagery changes, though the message remains much the same. In the eschatological Era, God will place the Church as a stone before all peoples. Those who build their lives upon this stone—by building them upon the Christ she proclaims—will live (Mt. 7:24ff; 1 Tim. 3:15). But those who stumble over it (1 Peter 2:4-8) and thereafter seek to “lift” it out of their way via persecution, will be severely injured. Indeed, Jesus, the Head of the Church, says such persons will be ground to dust and scattered like powder (Mt. 21:44). Throughout the Era of Proclamation, many (unbelieving) peoples will gather against the Church; at the end of the age, all will (14:2).
In verse 4, the Spirit uses OT martial imagery to promise that throughout the Era of Proclamation God will continually watch over—and rise to the defense of—his eschatological “house of Judah,” the redeemed tribe of his Messianic Son, the Church. This calls to mind the many occasions in which God confounded the plans of the enemies of Christ’s apostles, so that they might fully proclaim the Gospel to one and all, and so finish their course victoriously, with great joy (Acts 4:1-27, 5:17ff, 12:1-19, 13:4-12, 16:16-40, 18:1-17, 19:21ff, 20:24, 2 Tim. 4:18).
Verses 5-6 depict the gladness and dynamism of the eschatological “clans of Judah”—that is, of Church leaders serving all throughout the Era of Proclamation. In verse 5, we find them reveling in the spiritual vitality, loyalty, and support of “the inhabitants of Jerusalem;” reveling in the graces of everyday church members eager to serve the cause of Christ. Here, one thinks of the apostle Paul, effusing over the prayers, outreach, and generosity of the Gentile assemblies he had founded (2 Cor. 8, 9; Phil. 1:3-11, 4:10ff, 1 Thess. 1, 2).
Verse 6 pictures the great unction and effectiveness of these latter-day Gospel warriors: Ablaze with the Spirit, they will be led in triumph in Christ, with God diffusing through them the knowledge of the Redeemer in every place, and infallibly building up his Church (2 Cor. 2:14-17, Eph. 4:7-16). Some (i.e., those who are being saved) they will “consume on the right hand,” torching their opposition to Christ, and so transforming them into spiritual brethren and fellow-citizens of the Jerusalem above (Phil. 3:20). Others (i.e., those who are perishing), they will “consume on the left hand,” consigning them, through their own impenitence, to the fires of judgment (John 3:19-21, 20:23, Acts 13:46). At the end of the Era of Proclamation, when the battle is over and the victory complete, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem will dwell securely in their eternal home(s), with none to frighten or attack again (John 14:3).
The message of verse 7—a prophetic nugget best interpreted in isolation from verses 5-6—is that “in the day” God will introduce a new social dynamic into the eschatological nation: None of his people will glory above the rest. Special honors will no longer be accorded to a royal family, or to the inhabitants of a capitol city (let Rome take note!). Instead, God will distribute the gifts of his Spirit in such a way as to preclude divisions in Christ’s Body; in such a way that the members of the Body will have the same care, one for another (1 Cor. 12:22-25). Therefore, far from seeking to exalt himself, he who is greatest in that Day wlll be the servant of all (Mark 9:35); each will regard his brother as more important than himself (Phil. 2:3); and all will seek glory and honor, not for themselves, but for Christ (2 Cor. 10:17, Gal. 6:14).
Verse 8 uses vivid OT imagery to declare that throughout the Era of Proclamation the LORD will defend his NT warriors and make them mighty through God for the tearing down of (spiritual) strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4f). Though their bodies may indeed fall into the flames, not a hair of their head (i.e., their eternal life with God) will perish (Luke 21:18, John 17:11, 15, 1 Cor. 13:3). In and of themselves they are a picture of spiritual weakness and poverty, but they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them, even to the casting of (spiritual) mountains into the depths of the sea (Zech. 4:6-7, Mt. 5:3, 21:21, 2 Cor. 12:9, Phil. 4:13). Through them, God’s eschatological Zerubbabel will build his Church (Zech. 4:1-10, Mt. 16:18).
While verse 9 is indeed applicable to the entire Church era, its contents and position at the end of this prophetic snapshot suggest that here the Spirit is mainly looking ahead to the Day of the LORD, a theme to be taken up in chapter 14. If this is correct, the judgment here in view will be the one which immediately follows the Last Battle, when Christ descends from heaven to rescue his beleaguered Bride and to destroy the assembled enemies of God, once and for all (14:2f, Rev. 19:11ff).
Before Strength, Tears (12:10-14)
How is it that eschatological Jerusalem will become a cup of reeling to the nations (12:2); how is it that God will so zealously come to her aid (12:4, 9); how is it that his people will find such great strength for the battle (12:5-7)? Zechariah’s next prophetic snapshot supplies the answer: They will enjoy these blessings because “in that Day” God will grant them deep, Spirit-wrought repentance and faith in Christ (12:10-14).
This will be the key to their eschatological victory. Why? Because this kind of repentance and faith will be earmark of regeneration and justification; and because regeneration and justification will make them party to the New (and eternal) Covenant, constitute them as God’s New Covenant nation (the Church), and secure for them the all-encompassing promise of the Eternal Covenant: redemptive rescue from every enemy of the Domain of Darkness, and redemptive restoration to all the blessings of eternal life. Such a people—with such a covenant-keeping God on their side—cannot fail to triumph in the great eschatological clash of the kingdoms!
When will this beautiful prophecy be fulfilled? Premillennial interpreters, bound by their literalist hermeneutic, feel compelled to interpret it ethnically, and therefore futuristically. John MacArthur writes, “Israel’s repentance will come because they look to Jesus, the One whom they rejected and crucified, in faith at the Second Advent” (p. 1180).
But this view is deeply problematic. How did the Jews described in 12:1-9 enjoy such strength and blessing from God if they were not yet converted to Christ? How shall the houses of David, Nathan, Levi, and Shimei suddenly reappear on the stage of history just prior to Christ’s return? And how can Israel’s national conversion be effected by the visible return of Christ, when, according to pervasive NT teaching, God’s pleasure and purpose in NT times is to save sinners strictly by the “foolishness of preaching” (Mt. 28:18ff, John 17:17, Romans 10:14ff, 1 Cor. 1:21)?
No, premillennial literalism cannot uncover the meaning of this prophecy, nor can it illumine the time of its fulfillment. But the NCH can. Let us therefore bring that hermeneutic to the text for a closer look.
Zechariah’s words will be fulfilled “in that Day,” that is, in the eschatological era, the New Covenant era (12:11). Moreover, as the words themselves make clear, they will be fulfilled in the first stage of that Era: The Era of Proclamation and Probation.
Verse 10 gives us the theme, verses 11-14 elaborate. Each phrase of the long first verse is rich with meaning and deeply affecting.
In that Day, the sovereign God will pour out his Spirit upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In other words, beginning at Pentecost and continuing right up to Consummation, he will pour out his Spirit upon his elect, both Jew and Gentile (Acts 2:1ff). As the NT teaches, these are God’s latter day Israel (Gal. 6:16), his Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), and his chosen City of Habitation (Gal. 4:26, Rev. 21:1-4).
When the Spirit falls upon them, he will be to them “a Spirit of grace and supplication.” That is, he will graciously make known to them the grace of God provided in Christ, and he will move them to supplicate God and Christ for a salvation they suddenly realize they desperately need (John 1:14, Acts 2:37, Acts 11:18, 16:30, 20:24, Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 2:11-14).
In this process, the NT saints of all generations “ . . . will look upon Me whom they pierced.” The NT explains: When Christ is lifted up through the preaching of the Cross (John 3:14-15, 12:32), the Spirit will enable God’s people to look upon him (Christ), behold his deity (John 1:14, 6:40, 14:9), and see that, in a very real sense, it was they themselves who nailed him to the Tree. How so? Because the (God-ordained) death that he died, he died not for his own sins, but for theirs (Mark 10:45, Rom. 6:10,1 Peter 3:18, Rev. 5:1ff). Moreover, the same Spirit will enable these newborn saints not only to look upon Christ as the God-Man, but also to look to Christ as their Redeemer; he will enable them to trust, obey, and believe in Christ—and Christ alone—for the salvation of their immortal souls (John 4:14-15, 6:29, 40, Heb. 12:2).
In the end, the fruit of this spiritual rebirth will be joy unspeakable and full of glory; but the birth itself will not be without mourning and tears (Luke 15:7, John 16:21, 1 Peter 1:8). This is the theme of the rest of the prophecy. Conviction of sin—and corresponding sorrow over all that sin has cost God, Christ, and man—will run deep, deep as the grieving of parents over the loss of their only son (12:10); or deep as the grieving of a whole nation over the loss of a godly and beloved king (12:11; 2 Chron. 35:20-27, Mt. 26:75, Luke 7:36-50, John 16:8-14).
This sorrow will also be universal: It will touch every inhabitant of the land, every marriage, every generation of every family (e.g., David and his son, Nathan; Levi and his grandson, Shimei), and every institution (e.g., kings, priests, people), (11-14). And yet Zechariah’s words are indeed glad tidings, for here, draped in OT type and shadow, is yet another proclamation of one of great promises of the Kingdom: Through the eschatological gift of the Spirit—and the resulting gifts of repentance, faith, and a new, circumcised heart—all of God’s people will be holy (Deut. 30:6, Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 36:24-32, 1 Peter 1:16, Phil. 3:3, Col. 2:11, Heb. 8:6-13). All of God’s people will be born again (John 3:3, 7, 1 Peter 1:23).
In passing, I want to acknowledge the element of truth present in premillennial interpretations of this passage. Premillennarians say this an OT prophecy of the latter-day conversion ethnic Israel. They are right, in part. For whenever a Jewish man or woman is called to Christ, it is fulfilled (Rom. 11:5). It will also be fulfilled when God, at the end of the age, through the preaching of the Gospel, calls a great multitude of Jews to faith in the First of Israel’s “firstborn” sons, thus grafting (much of) ethnic Israel back into the vine of Abraham, the father of all the faithful (Rom. 4:1ff, 8:29, 11:11-32, Col. 1:18, Heb. 1:6, 12:23).
We must understand, however, that these are only partial fulfillments of our text, and that Zechariah 12:10-14 is fully fulfilled, neither in Jewish converts alone, nor in Gentile converts alone, but in all converts; in the One New Man and the One New Nation that is the Spirit-filled Body of Christ, comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:15, 1 Peter 2:9).
So then, our premillennarian brothers are correct when they assert that this prophecy is fulfilled among latter day Jews. But they err when they say it is fulfilled exclusively among latter day Jews, exclusively at the end of the age, and exclusively at the Second Coming of Christ.
Thanks be to God for the NCH, which helps to see these things clearly, and so to make our way, together, towards his eschatological truth!
After Tears, Cleansing (13:1-6)
This is the third prophetic snapshot in Zechariah’s oracle. Aided by the NCH, we can readily discern its essential meaning: In the New Covenant Era, and as a result of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin, God will sanctify his Church, purging it—and ultimately the whole world—of idolatry, false religion, and the deceiving spirits that are behind them. God’s people themselves will have a role in this, using Church discipline, wherever and whenever necessary, to maintain the spiritual purity of their assemblies. Let us look briefly at the text itself to see exactly how the Spirit conveys this encouraging message.
In 13:1, God unveils the basis, or ground, of his sanctifying work in the Church. Every phrase is rich with meaning. “In that Day,” points ahead to the Era of Fulfillment, especially the Era of Proclamation. “A fountain will be opened”—at Calvary, where Christ’s blood will be shed in order to make atonement for sin, in order to secure the regeneration, sanctification, and eventual glorification of God’s covenant people (Mk. 14:24, Rom. 3:25, 8:29-30). “For the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem”—for the Messiah’s spiritual seed, and for God’s spiritual City: the Church of all ages (Luke 1:32-33, John 10:11, 15, Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25). “For sin and impurity”—not only to forgive it, but also to wash it away; to cleanse (the souls of) God’s people from all inward defilement. Again, such cleansing—such sanctification—is the focus of our text, a focus shared by the apostle when he wrote of Christ that “ . . . (he) gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14; 2 Cor. 7:1, Eph. 4:26-27, Col. 1:22, John 1:9).
Verse 2 specifies two results of the open fountain of Christ’s blood. First, God will cut off the names of the idols from the land. That is, by the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Spirit, he will remove the names of every false god from the lips of his NT people, seeing that henceforth they will desire only to call upon His name and the name of his Son (Ezek. 36:25, 1 Cor. 1:2, 8:1-6, 2 Tim. 2:22). And secondly, he will remove the false prophets and the unclean spirit from the land. That is, he will remove false prophets, false teachers, and the deceiving spirits that animate them, from the Church, a people seated in heavenly places in Christ, and therefore justly referred to here as the inhabitants of Immanuel’s Land (1 Tim. 4:1-3, 2 Tim. 3:1ff, Heb. 12:22, 2 Peter 2:1f, 1 John 4:1-6).
Verse 3 intimates one way in which the cleansing will come about. Under the Law, false prophets who enticed Israel to serve other gods were punishable by death; and indeed, relatives of such prophets—including their parents—were specifically warned not to hesitate in delivering them up to that punishment (Deut. 13:6-11). In our text, God is therefore saying that “in that Day” eschatological Israel will, at long last, rise eagerly to the fulfillment of their duty under the Law: Zealous for the presence of the Holy One of Israel in their midst, they will even hand their own (spiritual) children over to death.
The NT fulfillment of this prophecy is not difficult to see: In the Era of Proclamation, Christian parents will subject even their own children—whether physical or spiritual—to Church discipline, discipline up to and including the spiritual “death penalty” of excommunication (Mt. 18:15-18, 1 Cor. 5:1-5, 1 John 2:19, 4:1-4, Rev. 2:2). Thus shall the Holy Spirit—and the Holy People— preserve the spiritual purity of Immanuel’s Land: the Church of Christ.
Verses 4-6 picturesquely envision a Day when the Spirit-filled people of God will be so vigilant and so discerning that false prophets will not dare ply their wicked trade among them, but will resort to deception and lies in order to protect themselves from accusation and judgment. Verse 6, which alludes to the physical self-abuse practiced by the worshipers of pagan gods (Lev. 19:28, 1 Kings 18:28), is a parable of what will occur: When eschatological Israelites confront false prophets with the telltale marks of their idolatrous faith (e.g., error, immorality, confusion, disunity, etc.), they (the teachers) will conceal the truth with outright lies. Many NT texts—and the bloody theological battlefield of Church history—bear witness to the truth of this prophecy: Always and everywhere, ravenous spiritual wolves—false brethren, false teachers, and false prophets, dressed up as Christ’s sheep—have sought to infiltrate the Lord’s folds and win a following, only to be discovered, reproved, and expelled by the faithful undershepherds of the flock (Mt. 7:15, Acts 20:29, Gal. 2:1-5, 6:13, 2 Peter 2:1, Jude 1:4, Titus 1:10-16, Rev. 2:2).
The Stricken Shepherd, the Gathered Flock (13:7-9)
We come now to the fourth prophetic snapshot of Zechariah’s oracle. Quite fittingly, it brings the first part of the oracle—the part dealing with the Era of Proclamation—to a close (12:1-13:9), even as it transitions to the second and concluding part, the part dealing with the Consummation and the World to Come (14:1ff).
The great theme here is the God-ordained, atoning death of the Good and Faithful Shepherd of God’s flock—the Lord Jesus Christ—, and the subsequent ingathering of the flock (the Church) that will infallibly issue from it. Accordingly, like those preceding it, this snapshot spans the entire Era of Proclamation, teaching us yet again (13:1) that through the Work of Christ (in the days of his humiliation) all the previously promised blessings of the Kingdom will flow to God’s people: strength for victorious spiritual warfare (12:1-9), tears of repentance in token of justifying faith (12:10-14), and inward spiritual cleansing, resulting in outward covenant loyalty to God (13:1-6). Let us explore these ideas by looking briefly at each of the three verses comprising our text.
As the prophecy opens (verse 7), we hear the voice of the LORD, commanding a sword to awaken against his Shepherd, against the Man who is his Associate. This cryptic line anticipates whole tracts of NT theology. The sword of the LORD, emblematic of divine retribution for sin, has been asleep, seeing that in ages past God has mercifully “passed over” the sins of his people (Isaiah 66:16, Jer. 50:35-37, Ezek. 21:1ff, Rom. 3:25). Now, however, by his all-controlling Providence, the God of Justice awakens it on Mt. Golgotha, so that it may fall, in mercy and grace, upon a Substitute, the very One he has appointed to be the eternal Shepherd of his people (Isaiah 53:2ff, Zech. 13:1; Mt. 27:46, Mark 10:45, John 3:14-16, 12:27-33, Acts 2:23, 4:27-28).
That the great work of atonement may be accomplished, the Shepherd will stand before God in two ways. First he will be “The Man,” the Last Adam, who will serve as the Head, Representative, and Substitute of his people; and who, in that capacity, will bear in his own person the just penalty for their sins (John 10:11, Rom. 3:21-26, 5:12ff, 1 Peter 2:24, 3:18).
But secondly, he will also be God’s Amith: not just a man, but also a divine—and therefore a holy— Peer, Friend, and Companion to the Father. As such, he will be in perfect tune, and walk in perfect step, with the Father’s nature, purpose, plan, presence, and power. Therefore, he will win a perfect righteousness for his own, later to be imputed to every afflicted sheep who puts his trust in him (John 8:29, 55, Rom. 3:26, 5:1, 2 Cor. 5:21)!
When God strikes his Shepherd, the sheep will be scattered. There will be two kinds of them. The first is “the little ones,” loyal but frightened and disoriented Jewish disciples of the Shepherd who are temporarily scattered but later regathered (Mt. 26:31). The second are impenitent Jews who ought to have followed their Messiah, but refused to, and who will therefore be scattered permanently, through divine judgment at the hands of Rome (Mt. 8:12, 23:36-39, Luke 21:20-22). Here Zechariah anticipates NT teaching to the effect that the Good Shepherd’s death will indeed result in judgment, but much more in mercy, seeing that, because of it, God will be able to lay his hand upon “the little ones”—the afflicted of the flock (11:7, 11)—for salvation. He will be able—and he will begin—to gather his eschatological flock, the spiritual Israel of God (Gal. 6:16).
Verses 8-9 speak of this very thing. Note carefully that at this juncture the prophecy enters the eschatological era, the last days; days in which the exalted Christ spearheads the thrust of the Gospel into the earth, and so enters into covenant with all his people (v.9). Therefore, “all the land” of verse 8 cannot refer simply to Palestine (as premillennarians claim), but rather to that which OT Palestine typified: the whole earth, the earth that in the end will become Immanuel’s Land (2:12, 3:9, 9:16, 12:12, 13:2; Rom. 4:13). “This is not to be taken in a literal sense, but as representing the domain covered by the Kingdom of God” (The Millennium Bible, p. 303).
If this view is correct, the message of verse 8 is solemn indeed, but comforting as well: By the end of Era of Proclamation, “two parts”—i.e., the larger portion—of all who hear the Gospel will perish from “the land” through their willful disobedience to it. However, through God’s sovereign grace (v. 9), one part—i.e., a smaller portion, an elect remnant, a little flock—will be gathered safely into his Shepherd’s fold, and will therefore remain in the Land. That is, having safely passed through the Judgment, they will inherit eternal life in the New Heavens and the New Earth (Mt. 7:13-14, Luke 12:32, 1 Cor. 1:26-31, Eph. 1:6, 2:8-9, 1 Peter 2:4-10). (1)
This line of interpretation seems thoroughly vindicated by verse 9, in which we hear God making marvelous promises that resonate deeply in the heart of every NT believer. First, he will bring the Shepherd’s flock through the fire: Despite all manner of painful temptations and persecutions, God will preserve his elect in Christ until they safely enter the World to Come (John 10:29, 17:15, 1 Cor. 1:4-9, 10:13, Jude 1:1). Secondly, he will test and refine them, even as men test and refine silver and gold. This immediately calls to mind the words of the apostle Peter, who encouraged believers to understand that God uses manifold trials as a kind of holy fire by which he purifies the faith and character of his people, so that at the revelation of Christ they themselves may receive praise, glory, and honor from him (1 Peter 1:6-9; Proverbs 17:3, Isaiah 43:2, John 15:2, Rom. 5:1-5, Eph. 5:25-27, Heb. 12:1ff)!
Verse 9—and the prophecy as a whole—conclude, appropriately enough, with a reiteration of the great OT covenant formula: God’s people will call on his Name, and he will answer them, saying, “They are My people;” and they will say, “The LORD is my God.”
When exactly will all this happen? Doubtless it will happen throughout the entire Era of Proclamation: It will happen when, in the fires of conviction, God’s people first call upon Christ for salvation (Luke 18:13, Acts 2:37f); and it will happen later, when, in the fires of temptation and persecution, they call upon him for strength and deliverance (Rom. 15:30-32, Phil. 4:13, 2 Tim. 4:18).
However, to judge from its position in the text, it may well be that the Spirit especially has in view the end of the age, when the saints will have finished passing through the fires; when they will have finally entered the World to Come. The Revelation certainly seems to confirm this view: When John beholds the Holy City descending to the new earth as a Bride adorned for her Husband, he also hears these triumphant words: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and he shall dwell among them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be among them” (Rev. 21:3). Here, the days of fire are over; the everlasting Day of Glory has begun!
Many commentators, and especially premillennarians, assert that this prophecy refers exclusively to God’s dealings with ethnic Israel. However, as I have just tried to show, the logic of the NCH, the text itself, and the context surrounding it all argue against this interpretation. Will Jewish disciples of Jesus be able to see themselves in this text? Yes. Will God’s latter day dealings with ethnic Israel fulfill it? To be sure. But that is not because Zechariah’s words refer exclusively to ethnic Israel. Rather, it is because they refer comprehensively to the eschatological “Israel of God”—the Church—, and because elect Jews are part of that Church; because they are part of the one flock that has the one Shepherd as its Head (John 10:16, Gal. 6:16). Therefore, I must concur with the anonymous commentator who wrote, “These verses envision God’s chosen Shepherd who suffers at the hand of God (v.7). Out of this judgment emerges the true people of God (v.9). No clearer picture of Jesus and his suffering Church is given in the Old Testament” (RSB, p. 1340).
The Last Battle (14:1-2)
Like the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel, Zechariah’s oracle has eschatological momentum: It is ever moving towards the grand finale of Salvation History. Here in chapter 14, which brings both the oracle and the book to a close, Zechariah reaches his goal: a colorful mosaic of five prophetic snapshots all dealing with the majestic events of the Consummation and with the life of the World to Come. Having already addressed many of these prophecies in earlier portions of this book, my comments here will be somewhat briefer.
I have entitled the first snapshot, “The Last Battle” (14:1-2). Here Zechariah picks up a theme first mentioned in 12:1-9, bringing it to its logical conclusion: The age-long warfare between the Church and the World will culminate in a final, decisive clash between the two. As ever, this divine warning concerning the Last Battle is forthright and sobering, but also laden with encouragement. Indeed, verse 1 sounds the note of final victory at the very outset, a note that resonates throughout the entire chapter: In the end, God will effect a great inversion, such that the manifold “goods” maliciously taken from his people—their work, their property, their health, their honor, their right to public worship, their very lives—will be restored to them once and for all (Mt. 10:29-30, Luke 6:20-26, Heb. 10:34). Like Israel’s heroes of old, Christ will plunder the plunderers, and will cause the meek who trust in him to inherit the land (Gen. 14:1ff, 1 Sam. 30:1f, Psalm 37:9, 11, Mt. 5:5).
Verse 2 gives us the Last Battle itself. As elsewhere, so here: The Spirit uses images drawn from Israel’s long history of attack by hostile nations to picture the final assault of a consolidated world-system against the visible Church (Psalm 48, Ezek. 38-39; Rev. 20:9). God himself, through the secret workings of his Providence, will bring it to pass, in part to sanctify the Bride of Christ, in part to move sinners to repentance (13:9, Ezek. 38:4, Eph. 5:27, 2 Thess. 1:3f, 2:3, Rev. 13:5-10).
Since, according to 1 Cor. 15:46, the “natural” (i.e., physical) events and institutions of OT history were meant to picture spiritual NT realities, we cannot assume that the specific forms of suffering mentioned here will literally come to pass. According to the NCH, the essential message of our text is simply that a Satanically controlled global State will maliciously and effectively suppress—though not completely destroy—the visible Church, how we do not know (2 Thess. 2:1ff, Rev. 13:5-10).
Nevertheless, Zechariah 14:2, pervasive NT teaching, Church history, and current events themselves all agree in reminding us that God has indeed appointed his children to holy tribulation, and that the purifying fires of Last Battle will be as intense as any they have ever known (Acts 14:22, 1 Thess. 3:1-5, 2 Tim. 3:12, Heb. 11:35-40, Rev. 11:7-13). Thankfully, that tribulation will be as brief as it is intense, and will be followed immediately by joy unspeakable and full of glory.
The Day of the LORD (14:3-5)
According to the NT, it is Christ himself who will bring the Last Battle to a close at his Parousia, when he arrives in power and glory in the skies above the earth to destroy his enemies and to glorify both his people and their world (Mt. 13:36-43, 24:29-31, 1 Cor. 15:20-28, 2 Thess. 1, 2, 2 Peter 3, Rev. 11:11-19, 14:14-20, 16:17-21, 19:11-21, 20:7-15). According the NCH, the snapshot before us is a symbolic picture of that very thing. Let us see if our text—and its context—justifies this important conclusion.
Verse 3 tells us that at the time of “Jerusalem’s” eschatological agony, the LORD himself will go forth and fight against her foes, even as he did on many previous occasions in Israel’s history (Exodus 14:1ff, 15:1-18, Isaiah 36-37, Rev. 15:2-3). This will be the last of them, the great and notable Day of the LORD. However, from the NT we know that the Day of the LORD will in fact be the Day of the Lord Jesus Christ at his Parousia (2 Cor. 1:14, Phil. 2:16, 2 Thess. 2:2, 2 Peter 3:4, 10). Therefore, this particular snapshot is indeed fulfilled at Christ’s Parousia, and must be interpreted accordingly.
Verse 4 pictures the LORD creating an unexpected way of escape for his people; verse 5 pictures them using it. This is God’s way with all his people, both OT and New (1 Cor. 10:13). Quite intentionally, the imagery used here reminds us of how God miraculously delivered Israel at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1ff). Importantly, verse 4 is not telling us that Christ will literally stand upon the Mount of Olives; or that he will literally split it apart so as to create a literal valley. Similarly, verse 5 is not predicting that literal Jews of a physical Jerusalem will flee to the tiny village of Azel. Those who take this approach are falling into confusion by abandoning the NCH, which teaches us to interpret this prophecy figuratively, in terms of NT truth. (2)
What then is the real message of verses 4-5? We begin to see our answer when we remember that a number of OT texts picture the God of judgment treading upon the high places of the earth so as to split valleys and melt mountains beneath his omnipotent feet (Psalm 97:5, Isaiah 64:1-2, Micah 1:3-4, Nahum 1:5). Similarly, we remember that in OT times the LORD was faithful not only to rescue his people from coming destruction, but also to provide them with cities—or other places—of refuge, to which they could flee (Gen. 19:20-26, Numbers 35:9f, Joshua 6:1ff, 1 Sam. 24:22).
Bearing all this in mind, we can readily discern the theological concepts underlying the concrete imagery of these verses: In the Day of the LORD, when the world itself is about to undergo final destruction, the presence and power of the covenant-keeping God of Israel will descend to the earth and draw near to his Beloved and persecuted City. Then he will supernaturally open a way for his people to flee eastward towards him (for the LORD likes to come to his children from the East: Isaiah 63:1, Ezek. 43:4, Rev. 7:2), and so find safety in a City of Refuge. When the last of his redeemed children has entered that City, then the LORD and all his holy ones will come, and final judgment will fall upon all Israel’s enemies.
It requires but a small hermeneutical step to see how the NT actually fleshes out these broad theological promises: In the Day of the Lord Jesus, the glorified Christ himself will descend from heaven to the skies just above the earth, thereafter circling the globe from east to west, even as the earth and its works begin to melt with intense heat (Mt. 24:27, 2 Peter 3, Rev. 7:2). By his Spirit and through the agency of his holy angels he will swiftly draw near to his people (his Beloved City) wherever they may be, and will supernaturally open a way through the air for his saints to fly to him, their one true City of Refuge (Mt. 13:36-43, 1 Thess. 4:13ff). When in this way he has gathered all his children safely to his side, he, they, and all the holy angels will “come” in such a way as to consign the enemies of God—both human and angelic—to the fire’s of God’s eternal judgment (Mt. 13:42, 25:31ff, Rom. 16:20, 1 Cor. 6:2, Rev. 19:20, 20:10).
The World to Come (14:6-11)
Having promised and pictured Israel’s victory in the Last Battle, Zechariah’s oracle now transitions to the eschaton, to the final state. The remaining verses constitute three large-scale snapshots, all of which feature a series of mini-snapshots. They are: 1) The World to Come (14:6-11), 2) The Judgment to Come (14:12-15), and 3) The Worship to Come (14:16-21).
The prophecy of the World to Come is itself divided into two parts: Verses 6-8 use OT imagery to describe the New Heavens and the New Earth; verses 9-11 use OT imagery to describe (life in) the New Jerusalem.
Our first mini-snapshot (vv. 6-8) points to a radical transformation of the physical heavens, a transformation that the NT says will occur at “the restoration of all things,” when Christ returns (Mt. 19:28, Acts 3:21, Rom. 8:21, Phil. 3:21). The Hebrew text of verses 6-7 favors the rendering of the NAS and the NKJ. We may paraphrase it as follows: In the (physical) world to come there will be no more natural light, for the luminaries of the former world—the sun, moon, and stars—will have passed away. The result, for God’s people, will be something altogether new: a ‘Day” that is neither day nor night as we once knew them, but an eternal Day whose exact nature is known only to the LORD.
Happily, the NT sheds further light on this mysterious promise, teaching us that it is Christ himself who will “diminish” the luminaries at his Parousia (Mt. 24:29, 2 Peter 3:10,Rev. 6:13); that in the World to Come, the glory of God and the Lamb will illumine all things, both inwardly and outwardly (Rev. 21:11, 23, 22:5); and that this “unique” eschatological Day will stand as a perpetual testimony and reminder: Because of Christ, the Domain of Darkness has passed away once and for all (Rom. 13:12).
Verse 8 reprises the great OT theme of the eschatological River of God (Psalm 46:4, 65:9, Ezek. 47:1-12, Joel 3:18). The living waters are, of course, the very life of the living God, streaming into the new creation from God the Father, through Christ the Son, by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33, Phil. 1:19). Interestingly, the prophet sees them flowing out of (New) Jerusalem; that is, out of the Church, the eternal people of God (Rev. 21:2). He also sees that the river will flow both east and west, filling the seas on either side of the City, both in summer and in winter (i.e., year round). However, Rev. 21:1 tells us there will be no seas in the World to Come; meanwhile, Zech 14:6-7 (along with several texts in the Revelation) assures us there will be no seasons.
The meaning, then, is figurative and theological: In that Day, the life of God will continually replenish the creation of God through the people of God (see Rom. 8:20-23). Even now, the saints enjoy a foretaste of this life-giving ministry, building one another up through the ongoing exercise of their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7, Eph. 4:11-16, 1 Peter 4:10). However, to know exactly what this will look like in the World to Come, they shall doubtless have to wait for the Day itself!
The theme of our second mini-snapshot (vv. 9-11) is the eternal security of the eschatological City of God, forever dwelling in the Land of God. The NCH opens it up richly. Verse 9 promises that in the eschaton the completed Kingdom of the Triune God—his direct redemptive reign—will be universal and absolute. For this reason, his Name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—will be the only name, since all other names and all other gods will have been swept away in the Judgment. God Triune will be all in all (Micah 4:5, John 17:6, Acts 4:12, 1 Cor. 8:6, 15:28, 2 Cor. 10:5, Phil. 2:9-11).
In verse 10 we learn that the exaltation of the sovereign LORD over all creation will bring with it a corresponding exaltation of his people (Mt. 13:33, 1 Cor. 3:21-23, Col. 3:4, Rev. 21:7). Commentator Richard Phillips does a masterful job of addressing the particulars and probing the symbolism:
“Verse 10 tells of the exaltation of Jerusalem, which is situated among larger hills in uneven country . . . Jerusalem’s surrounding terrain is to be flattened out; the territory of Judah, bounded by Geba and Rimmon, becomes like the Arabah, which is the plain through which the Jordan River flows. The hills are made level to form a plateau wall, while Jerusalem is raised up to be seen by all around. This verse gives the dimensions of the city in its greatest days; the whole city will be made secure and will rise up exalted. The point here is theological rather than topographical; it is the prophetic ideal achieved in the glorification of God’s Mountain and City.”
Verse 10 is, then, a tightly knit skein of word-pictures depicting events to occur at and after the Parousia.
First, the hills and mountains surrounding Zion will be leveled: That is, all that is sinfully high and lifted up will be brought low, even unto destruction (Isaiah 2:12, 17; Luke 1:52, Rev. 14:8, 17:9, 18, 18:1ff).
Secondly, the territory of Judah will become a (well-watered) plain: A supernaturally purged and transformed creation will become the inheritance of Messiah’s tribe, and will henceforth serve as the staging area for the City of God (Rom. 8:20-21, Peter 3:13, Rev. 21:1-3).
Thirdly, Mt. Zion—and the Holy City that rests upon it—will be lifted up: The natural world will be glorified (thus becoming the Holy Mountain of God), and so too will the saints, who shall have that world as their eternal home (Isaiah 11:9, 65:25, Rom. 8:20-23, Heb. 12:22, Rev. 21:10).
Finally, the Holy City will be restored to her greatest dimensions: The dimensions of the Church’s eschatological City will be the dimensions of Eden itself, and of all that was offered to man in Eden at the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:1-2, 14).
In passing, we should note, with Phillips, that the exaltation of Jerusalem here described speaks not only of the consummation of the saint’s redemption, but also of the great moral inversion it represents: The Holy City—presently small, hidden, despised, powerless, and persecuted amidst “the Great City” (i.e., the fallen world-system, the Domain of Darkness), will suddenly be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Christ (1 Peter 1:13, Rev. 11:2, 8, 17:6, 18:1ff, 21:2). As Jesus taught: In that Day, the poor will become rich, the hungry will be satisfied, and the sorrowful will rejoice. It will happen when meek, at long last, inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5, Luke 6:20-23).
Verse 11 brings the prophecy to as close: Settled on the Mountain of God, secure in Christ, and redeemed from the Curse of the Law, the Holy City will experience the life of God, with God, forever (Rom. 8:1, Gal. 3:13, Rev. 22:3).
The Judgment to Come (14:12-15)
These verses, which reprise the battle imagery of 12:1-4, draw heavily upon OT Law and history to depict the eschatological defeat of the enemies of Christ’s Church at his Parousia, and the eternal punishment to follow (Mt. 24:29-25:46, 1 Thess. 1, 2 Thess. 2, Rev. 11:7-13, Rev. 14:14-20, 19:11-21, 20:7-15).
Verse 12, a ghastly portrait of the eternal destruction of the wicked in hell, represents their torments in terms of the plagues that formerly befell God’s enemies, whether in Egypt (Ex. 7-12), or, more aptly, at the gates of Jerusalem itself, where the Angel of the Lord struck the Assyrian army and rescued the trembling but trusting people of God from their would-be destroyers (Isaiah 36-37; cf. Lev. 26:16, Deut. 28:22, 2 Thess. 1:9, Rev. 20:10,14).
Verse 13 tells us that, as in OT times, so again at the Last Battle: God will judge his enemies by confusing their thoughts, undermining their unity, and turning their hand one against another (Judges 7:22, 1 Sam. 14:20). The final destruction of Antichrist’s kingdom will be heralded by the preliminary destructiveness of war within his kingdom (Dan. 11:36ff, Rev. 17:16-18). Conceivably, this verse also portrays the eternal hatred and conflict of the wicked in hell.
Verse 14 enlarges upon 14:1, speaking of the eschatological plunder to occur after the Last Battle. The royal tribe (the Church) will fight bravely in defense of the Holy City (also the Church), teaching, preaching, and encouraging one another in such a way that they may endure to the end, and so be saved (14:14, NAS, NIV; Mt. 10:22, Acts 14:22, 1 Thess. 3:2-3, Rev. 2:10). As a reward for their faithfulness, Christ, at his return, will cause the world and its wealth, now purged of sin, to pass forever into the custody of the saints (Luke 19:15f). In that Day, all things will be theirs, they will be Christ’s, and Christ will be God’s (1 Cor. 3:21-23). The humble in Christ will inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5).
Verse 15 declares that the final plague will fall even upon the animals that carried God’s enemies into battle. This image recalls the “ban” under which God placed all living things when he sent Joshua into Canaan; when he sent him into the land of the Amorite, whose iniquity had then grown full (Gen. 15:16, Deut. 20:16-18). The NT message is this: When the world’s iniquity is finally complete, Christ, God’s eschatological Joshua, will return and utterly destroy it. The former things will pass away, so that new and eternal things may spring forth (Isaiah 42:9, 1 Cor. 7:31, 1 John 2:17). God himself will make all things new, and will bestow those things upon his beloved sons and daughters. In that day, they will be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Gal. 4:1-2, Rom. 8:17, Rev. 21:1-5, 7).
The Worship to Come (14:16-21)
Our final snapshot pictures worship in the World to Come. It is divided into two parts. The first speaks of the eschatological Feast of Booths (16-19), the second of the perfect holiness of eschatological Judah and Jerusalem (20-21). Earlier, we discussed the reasons why a literal, premillennial interpretation of this text is impossible. Let us therefore see what help the NCH can offer us in disclosing the deep, New Testament meaning of Zechariah’s words.
On the surface of things, the message of verses 16-19 is quite simple: In the World to Come there will be two different kinds of nations (or families). Both of them, at one time or another prior to the Judgment, came up with hostile intent against Jerusalem (v. 16). Now, however, the first group goes up annually (and eternally), not to attack Jerusalem, but rather to worship God as their King, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem’s holy precincts. Meanwhile, the other group, which apparently has Egypt at its head, consists of stiff-necked nations that persistently refuse to go up. These the LORD will punish with a plague of drought (vv. 17-19).
How can we best understand the meaning of this mysterious prophecy? To begin with, we must ponder for a moment the typological meaning of the Feast of Booths. A look at Leviticus 23:33-34 reveals that this was an especially joyful feast, celebrated at harvest time, wherein Israel was to commemorate not only their great deliverance from Egypt, but also God’s faithfulness in leading them through the wilderness of Sinai (where they camped in “booths” or “tabernacles”) into the Promised Land. Here, I believe, is the key to understanding this prophecy, a prophecy designed to comfort devout OT saints with a picture of the eternal worship of the glorified Church, cast in the language and imagery of Israel’s most joyful OT feast!
How exactly does this work? To begin with, we learn that Zechariah’s eschatological Feast of Booths will indeed be a harvest feast, since there, in the World to Come, all the saints will have been gathered in at last (Mt. 13:30, John 4:38, Rev. 14:14-16). Formerly, they were indeed enemies of God and of his people; but Christ, prior to the Judgment, harvested them through the Gospel and turned them into eternal friends (Mt. 9:37, Acts 26:17-18, Rom. 5:8, 1 Tim. 1:12-12, Titus 3:3f). It will also be an everlasting Feast: The saints will forever “go up” in worship, through Christ, unto God their King (1 Peter 2:5, Rev. 7:9-10, 14:1-4). In his City, and as his City, they will ever rejoice, not only in the hour of their salvation—their own, personal rescue from the Domain of Darkness—, but also in the subsequent faithfulness of God, who, through Christ, by the Spirit, led them safely through the deadly wilderness of “this present evil age,” and into the Promised Land of the New Heavens and the New Earth (John 6:38-40, Gal. 1:4, Phil. 1:6, Rev. 12:7-17, 19:11).
But what of Egypt, and of the families of the earth that follow Egypt’s lead in refusing to go up? Clearly, these typify all men and nations who refused to participate in the eschatological exodus; who refused to accept spiritual rescue from the Domain of Darkness, and spiritual transfer into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13); who refused to follow in the footsteps of Moses, who esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt (i.e., the fallen world-system); and who refused to walk with Christ through the wilderness of this world to the Promised Land (Heb. 11:26, Rev. 12:1f). Puzzlingly, in the prophecy, we see these rebellious nations in earth, but far from Zion and Jerusalem, where the friends of God celebrate the Feasts of God. But in the Revelation, the puzzle is solved: In the World to Come, where the prophecy is fulfilled, we once again see these nations far from Jerusalem—outside the gates of the Holy City— , but this time in the Lake of Fire (Isaiah 66:24, Rev. 20:14, 22:15). It is, therefore, in death (and hell) that the impenitent enemies of God will experience the very plague of drought they chose for themselves in life, when they refused to drink of the Rock, and to follow the Rock, that God offered them in the Gospel. And that Rock is Christ (Mt. 12:43 NAS, Luke 16:24, John 7:37, 1 Cor. 10:4, Rev. 21:6, 22:17).
Part two of our prophecy (vv. 20-22) celebrates the perfect, all-pervading holiness of the World to Come. In that world, the distinction between holy and common, clean and unclean, has completely disappeared (Acts 10:15). The bells on the horses are holy. The cooking pots in the LORD’s house are holy—as holy as the altar itself. Yes, even the cooking pots in the houses of the people of Jerusalem and Judah are holy, so holy that men may boil their sacrifices to God in them. Here the boundary between the sacred and the profane is obliterated. Here, every act is an act of worship, every day is the Lord’s Day. Here, every Canaanite—a type of unregenerate, sinful man—has been expelled (14:21, Rom. 16:17-20, 1 John 2:19, Rev. 22:15). Here, Israel itself has become the eternal house of the LORD of hosts, the gracious, loving Redeemer who fought triumphantly in their behalf (14:21, Eph. 2:22).
For this reason, in that Day the saints will weep no more, but in an eternal celebration of the Feast of Booths will rejoice in the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; in the Holy One of Israel, who, by his righteous life and atoning death, so mightily prevailed that he made both them and all their world forever holy, even as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16, Rev. 5:5, 21:2, 22:11).
1.Commenting on this verse, John MacArthur writes:”Only a portion of the people of Israel will remain faithful to Christ and be alive in the end. The spiritual survivors will be the remnant who look upon Christ in repentance at His return (12:10-13:1), who will include those who make up the 144,000 (Rev. 7:4). (MSB, p. 1881)
This is puzzling, indeed. How shall the one third of Tribulation Jews be loyal to Christ—and, in the case of the 144,000, preach Christ—when, according to MacArthur himself, they will not be converted until Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation? Such is the confusion to which prophetic literalism drives us; such is the confusion that the NCH avoids and dispels.
- It is true that at Christ’s ascension certain angels told the watching disciples that their Lord would return in the same way as they saw him go (Acts 1). This need not mean, however, as premillennarians often assert, that Christ will literally descend to the Mt. of Olives. Rather, the importance of the angel’s remark consists in this: Just as Christ ascended from earth into heaven bodily, so too, at his Parousia, will he descend from heaven to earth bodily. His return will not be mystical, or “spiritual,” but physical.
And again, NT teaching about the Parousia positively rules out the literal interpretation of Zechariah 14:4f. It does not teach that Christ will return to modify the topography of Palestine or even the earth as a whole. No, it teaches the Christ will return to destroy the present earth by fire, and then re-create a new, earth-centered universe filled with the glory of God, the eternal home of the redeemed (Rom. 8, 1 Thess. 1, 2 Peter 3, Rev. 21-22). All OTKP’s predicting the eschatological transformation of nature are speaking of this and this alone.