The commentators vary in their interpretations of Zechariah 12-14. Some say it’s all referring to what happened to Jerusalem in 70AD. Others say it points to an event in the future that has not yet taken place. Others say it refers not to Jerusalem but to the church. What then is the correct interpretation? I really don’t know for certain nor does anyone. We can only say what we think it might mean as compared to the rest of Scripture. For example Ezekiel also talks about an invasion of Israel. Some say that invasion took place at the first exile and return of the Jews. Others say it is yet to happen. I, personally, believe that invasion is yet to happen as reflected in my earlier blogs on the restoration of the Jews but what about these invasions spoken of here in Zechariah?
It would be easy to say that I just don’t understand what these chapters mean. The various interpretations are too confusing. Yet, we must seek to understand at least something of what the Lord is telling us in these chapters. In his book The Last Days According to Jesus, R. C. Sproul writes, “Debates over eschatology will probably continue until the Lord returns and we have the advantage of hindsight rather that the disadvantage of foresight. The divisions that exist within the Christian community are understandable, considering that both the subject matter and the literary genre of future prophecy are exceedingly difficult. This does not mean that we may push the Bible aside or neglect its eschatological sections. On the contrary the interpretative difficulties presented by eschatological matters simply call us to a greater diligence and persistence in seeking their solution.” (p. 203).
Portions of Zechariah 12-14 may be referring to events that are yet to come. However, 13:7-9 probably refers to 70 AD and the events associated with the destruction of Jerusalem. A portion of that passage is referred to in Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14:27. In predicting his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus said, “This night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” He was quoting from Zechariah 13:7. So, we must then believe that Zechariah 13:7-9 refers to an event that happened at Christ’s first coming and the events associated with that time period. The whole passage says, “’Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”
In this article, we will concentrate on these three verses and then examine the rest of the entire passage in upcoming articles. This passage seems to fit what happened in the first century when Jesus was here and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Jesus is the shepherd who was struck. The sheep of the flock who were scattered were the apostles and other disciples who were scattered when Jesus was arrested. This seems obvious due to the fact that Jesus quotes the Zechariah 13:7 passage and attributes it to what was going to happen the very night he was arrested. The phrase, “I will turn my hand against the little ones” could also be translated “I will bring back my hand over the little ones.” This would be in a more positive sense. Keil and Delitzsch in commenting on verse 7 write: “The offending of the disciples took place when Jesus was taken prisoner, and they all fled. This flight was a prelude to the dispersion of the flock at the death of the shepherd. But the Lord soon brought back His hand over the disciples. The promise, ‘But after my resurrection I will go before you into Galilee,’ is a practical exposition of the bringing back of the hand over the small ones, which shows that the expression is to be understood here in a good sense, and that it began to be fulfilled in the gathering together of the disciples by the risen Savior.” (p. 399)
Now let’s turn to Zechariah 13:8 which says, “’In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.” A popular teaching in recent years is that this passage refers to a future invasion of Israel where two thirds of the Jews in the nation will die and one third will be miraculously saved. However, we should ask ourselves this question: Is this future or is this something that has already happened in the past? If the first part of this passage is referring to the time of Christ’s first coming, should not the continuation of this passage also refer to this same time period? We know that the land of Israel was invaded by the Romans less than forty years after Christ died and rose again. People were still living who were living at the time of Christ. It would make sense to see this invasion in that same time period rather than a time in the distant future. Keil and Delitzsch write, “The cutting off of the two-thirds of Israel commenced in the Jewish war under Vespasian and Titus, and in the war for the suppression of the rebellion led by the pseudo-Messiah Bar Cochba.” (p. 400) Matthew Henry writes, “The Roman army laid the country waste, and slew at least two-thirds of the Jews.” (p. 1467) This happened at 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. I see no reason then to take this invasion of Israel as any time other than this event that occurred in the first century not many years after Christ was here on earth. Adam Clarke, basing his comments on Josephus’ history of the Roman invasion, says, “To St. Matthew’s account, St. Luke adds, chapter 21:24, They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles, till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. The number of those who fell by the sword was very great. Eleven hundred thousand perished during the siege.” (p. 91 – quoted by John L. Bray, Matthew 24 Fulfilled) Certainly two-thirds of the Jews were killed at that time and there is no reason to think that this is an event that is yet to happen.
The last verse in this section says, “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” (Zechariah 13:9)
Who, then, is this third that are not killed and remain of the Jews. It is most likely that this refers to the Christian Jews who escaped before the final destruction. They had already been warned by Christ to escape Judea when they saw the armies surrounding it. In Luke 21:20-21, it says, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.” Matthew Henry agrees with this interpretation when he writes, “When Jerusalem and Judea were destroyed, all the Christians in that country, having among them the warning Christ gave them to flee to the mountains, shifted for their own safety, and were sheltered in a city called Pella, on the other side Jordan. We have here first the trials and then the triumphs of the Christian church, and of all the faithful members of it.” (p. 1467 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Zechariah) This remaining third would represent the Jewish Christians who began the Christian church. These are the Jews who truly accepted the Messiah and were the seed of the New Testament Church. The verse could then refer to not only the Jewish Christians who began the New Testament Church but to the Church in general through the coming age. This remnant that would escape from Jerusalem would represent the Church of the New Testament age a church that would go through trials and tribulations to test them but would in the end endure and carry on the faith. They would be the true people of God and would be the ones who would truly acknowledge that the Lord is our God.”
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise
Bray, John L. Matthew 24 Fulfilled. American Vision Press, Powder Springs, Georgia, 1996.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 4 – Isaiah to Malachi. Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, New Jersey. (Preface written by Matthew Henry in 1712)
Keil, C.F. and Delitzsch, F. Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, Vol. 10, Minor Prophets. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids.
Sproul, R.C. The Last Days According to Jesus. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1998.
For further information on the conversion of the Jews, read more of Alex’s Blogs