MAR 3, 2019: ZECHARIAH OVERVIEW*

Author & Date

Zechariah was a prophet and a priest. He began his ministry in 520 BC, shortly after Haggai had begun his prophetic work. Nearly 20 years after returning from the Babylonian exile in the time of Cyrus (538 BC), God’s people were discouraged. The foundation of the temple had been laid shortly after the initial return, in 536 BC, but powerful opposition had prevented further progress on rebuilding it.

Purpose & Occasion

Nearly 20 years after their return from the Babylonian exile in the time of Cyrus (538 B.C.), discouragement dogged God’s people, replacing their earlier enthusiasm. The foundation of the temple had been laid shortly after the initial return, in 536 B.C., but powerful opposition had prevented any further progress on rebuilding the temple. Under the circumstances, it was easy for the people to conclude that theirs was a “day of small things” (4:10) in which God was absent from his people. In such a context, faithful obedience was viewed by many as useless: pragmatically, it made more sense to pursue the best life possible in spite of the present difficulties. Zechariah addressed such discouragement by reminding his hearers that, though hidden, God’s envoys were watching everything, and that when the time was right, he would act to reorder the universe (1:8–11).

Literary Features

The main genre of Zechariah is futuristic prophecy. Although the second half of the book (chapters 9—14) contains some conventional oracles of judgment and oracles of redemption, in the first half (chapters 1—8) the preferred medium is visions that embody in symbolic form what God plans to do. This part of the book needs to be approached much like the book of Revelation—by first allowing the images and symbols to activate the imagination, and then by exploring what those details symbolize. Visions and oracles of salvation predominate over images of judgment. Chapters 1–6 of Zechariah, with their striking otherworldly visions in the company of an angelic interpreter, form an important precursor to later apocalyptic literature.

The Gospel in Zechariah

Zechariah’s prophecy begins with a cycle of vivid and complex visions, and it would be easy to get lost trying to explain all of the intricate details. Yet we are not left alone to try to understand these visions: the Lord sent an interpreting angel to Zechariah (and to us), and we can find the meaning of the visions explained in the angel’s comments. He repeatedly points us to the coming of “the Branch” (3:8; 6:12), the messianic offspring of David promised in Jeremiah 23:5 and 33:15, who combines in himself the offices of king and priest (Zech. 6:13). This Branch will purify his people and remove their sin in one day (3:9).

Writing to people who were discouraged by living, after the exile, in a “day of small things” (4:10), when there seemed to be little progress toward the glorious future promised in the earlier prophets, Zechariah encouraged them to look forward to the day when the Lord would act once again. The righteous King was coming to bring salvation and to bring an end to war and suffering (9:9–17).

That coming would, strikingly, result in the piercing of God himself, which would be the means by which a cleansing fountain would be opened for sin (12:10–13:1). The Good Shepherd would be struck for his sheep, who would continue to endure great suffering until the time of the end (13:7–14:5). Yet the outcome of that time of suffering and pain would be the final victory of God and the vindication of his people (14:9). Given all of these messianic themes, it is not surprising that the book of Zechariah is one of the Old Testament books most frequently quoted in the New Testament.

* Taken from ESV Study Bible & ESV Gospel Transformation Bible.

For a video on Zechariah via the Bible Project, click here.

This week’s Bible reading schedule:

Monday: Zechariah 9 Thursday: Zechariah 12
Tuesday: Zechariah 10 Friday: Zechariah 13
Wednesday: Zechariah 11 Saturday: Zechariah 14