Martin Luther said of Zechariah 14, “Here, in this chapter, I give up. For I am not sure what the prophet is talking about.” This chapter has been considered an enigma by many commentators. We will try to do better in interpreting this chapter. Many problems arise for commentators because of their insistence of applying these images to future events that have not occurred yet. Most consider the images found here to be things that will happen at or just before the second coming of Christ. David Baron says, “We have a great and solemn prophecy which will yet be literally fulfilled in the future.” This is the reason why these commentators find so many difficulties. While this is a difficult chapter, I believe we will find that the difficulties are not impossible to overcome.
Judgment on Jerusalem (14:1-2)
Physical or spiritual Jerusalem?
In these first two verses we see that the day of the Lord is coming against Jerusalem. We have noted earlier that Jerusalem represented the new people of God under the reign of the Messiah in chapter 12. Are these verses referring to the spiritual Jerusalem, the people of God, or are these verses referring to physical Jerusalem, the Jews who were in Jerusalem? Because of the details found in verse 2, I believe that this judgment is against physical Jerusalem. The details of the description given concern not only the people, but the city itself. Verse 2 tells us that the city shall be taken and the houses will be plundered. In a graphic description, we see also in verse 2 that the women would be ravished, or raped. These are powerful, graphic images of what would take place in the Roman assault upon the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. I do not see nor understand how these graphic images can be spiritualized and then applied to the people of God.
Further, we see at the end of verse 2 that the remnant of the people will not be cut off from the city. This came to fruition through Jesus’ warning of the coming judgment against the city. In Matthew 24:15-18 Jesus warned that when the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel is standing in the holy place, then all those who are in Judea were to flee to the mountains and not turn back to retrieve anything. In Luke 21 Jesus was very clear as who was the abomination of desolation, where Jesus says, “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies.” This is clearly Jesus’ prophecy concerning when the Romans would surround, besiege, and conquer the city. Jesus said to run to the mountains when you see the armies coming if they were to be spared. Those who would listen to Jesus would be the remnant that would not be cut off in the city’s desolation.
Premillennialists suggest that these first two verses prove that there will be a Jewish nation centered around Jerusalem in the end times. But why look to the future when we can see that these words were fulfilled in 70 A.D.? Further, the time markers that are found in this chapter constrain us to the days of the Messiah again. Notice in verses 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, and 20 the repeated phrases, “in that day.” As we noted in the last lesson, this is a prophetic reference to the last days, which are defined by Peter and the writer of Hebrews as the days of the Messiah. Chapters 12 and 13 of Zechariah were describing events “in that day” which we saw were things concerning Jesus Christ. This chapter must also fit in the same time frame, in the days of Messiah.
Judgment on the nations (Rome) (14:3-8)
The Lord will fight (14:3)
In verse 3 we read that the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations. Who are “those nations” that the Lord will fight against? In verse 2 we see the Lord say, “I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem.” The nations that fought against Jerusalem will now find the Lord going forth and fighting against them. The Roman Empire was the world power at the time in which all the nations were consumed into it. Nations were allowed to maintain their governments as long as they did not rebel and continued to pay heavy taxes to the emperor. Because the Jews continue to revolt and rebel against Rome, the Roman empire destroyed them. Thus, I believe the Lord is saying that He is going to go forth and fight against the Roman empire. After Jerusalem is taken captive and the city is taken, God will then go and fight against that which took Jerusalem captive. Thus, the Lord will fight against the world empire of Rome. This is the theme of Daniel and Revelation, and now pointed out in Zechariah’s prophecy as well. The Jews will be judged and the city of Jerusalem destroyed. However, God will judge Rome for their wickedness and destroy them.
Thus the Lord my God will come (14:4-8)
This is probably one of the more difficult areas to understand in this chapter. Premillennialists argue that since Jesus has not returned and stood on the Mount of Olives, that these things have not happened yet. John Gill says, “He (Jesus) did not appear at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem; therefore this must refer to a time to come.” However, I believe that this is too simplistic of a way to understand this passage. Further, Jesus says that He did appear at the destruction of Jerusalem. In fact we read many times in the New Testament about the return of the Son of Man such that He will be seen as He judges the people. First, this language is used against the Jews in the destruction of Jerusalem. In Luke 21:25-28 Jesus says in the context of the fall of Jerusalem (see Luke 21:20), “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the power of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” Notice that Jesus linked the same two things together here: judgment, then the Lord bringing redemption. These are the two things that Zechariah is prophesying would take place: judgment, then redemption.
Consider also Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:29-30 in which He also spoke about Jerusalem’s destruction. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” This is also very similar to the words of Zechariah in chapter 12 concerning the mourning and chapter 14 concerning the judgment.
I believe this is what is being expressed in Zechariah’s prophecy. After Jerusalem’s destruction, the Lord will set His feet on Zion and judge. This is what Jesus is saying also in Luke 21 and Matthew 24, that after the tribulation (the destruction of Jerusalem) the Son of Man will appear in power and glory. This is not a literal appearing in human form. This is the appearing of the power of God as the Lord judges and destroys all peoples and nations that are in rebellion against Him. Thus, those nations and peoples will not longer give their light but the glory of God will appear giving light in His judgments.
Another reason to tie together Zechariah 14:3-7 to Matthew 24 is the statement found in Zechariah 14:7. Concerning these events, Zechariah says, “It shall be one day which is known to the Lord.” Jesus said the same thing when asked by disciples when these things would take place in Matthew 24:26, “But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” This again seems to be Jesus tying these words to the prophecy of Zechariah.
The writer of Hebrews seems to understand the shaking of the earth in the same way. Consider Hebrews 12:26-27, “…whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’ Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of thing that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.” The removal of the Jewish system and the old covenant were considered the things that are being shaken.
One final point, it should be interesting for us to notice that when Jesus gave these prophetic words concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, He was on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3). I do not suppose that this is only a mere coincidence but rather a way to tie together the prophecy of Zechariah to His teachings that He was about to give on that mount.
The Kingdom of Our Lord (14:9-21)
Lord over the earth (14:9-11)
In the subjecting of the rebellious peoples and nations, it is declared that therefore the Lord is the King over all the earth. While many deny this fact, the scriptures clearly teach that the Lord is ruling over the earth at this time (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:22). All the land will be turned into a plain (brought low), while Jerusalem will be raised up (exalted). The locations listed are to show the great width and length of the new city, which represents the remnant, as seen in Zechariah 14:2. These are the new people of God under the reign of the Messiah. God’s people will dwell in safety and will have no fear of destruction. This description should remind us of the new Jerusalem described by John in Revelation 21-22. Particularly we see similarities in Revelation 22:3, “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.” A description of the city gates can be compared in Revelation 21:12-14.
Plague against the enemies of God’s people (14:12-15)
Judgment now is predicted against those who have stood as enemies of God and His people. The judgment is here described as a plague upon all the people. Verse 12 gives graphic description: “their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, and their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths.” In Revelation 16 we read about the bowls of wrath that brought about the plagues upon the people who were in rebellion to God, specifically the Roman empire. Revelation 16:9 says, “And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.” Again read Revelation 16:10-11, 21. These describe the judgments against the wicked people who have striven against God’s people (Revelation 16:4-7).
Repent or suffer (14:16-19)
The prophecy continues that those who are left among the nations will go up and worship the King, the Lord of hosts. Those who do not worship will be cut off from the blessings of God, here symbolized as rain. Further, those who have not learned the lesson and worship God will suffer from the plague as punishment. These images seem to be a figure of the remnant of converted Jews being joined with the converted Gentiles. This would explain the reference to the family of Egypt. Thus both will worship God according to His prescribed service. Recall that the feast of tabernacles was to remember when the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness after Egyptian bondage. I am not particularly sure that this has particular meaning in this passage. It is possible that this is referring to the wandering in the wilderness of sin until coming to Christ. However, it seems more fitting that this is simply a general reference to God’s demand for His people to worship Him or be punished.
Holy to the Lord (14:20-21)
In verse 20 we read that in that day “Holiness to the Lord” will be engraved on the bells of the horses. These were the words that were engraved upon the plate of pure gold on the turban of Aaron the high priest (Exodus 28:36-38). Further, in verses 20-21 we see that even pots in Jerusalem and Judah are considered holy to the Lord of hosts. In the new kingdom of God, all things in the kingdom would be considered sacred and holy to the Lord. Nothing would be considered common or unclean any longer. This seems to be a prophecy concerning the change that would take place under the new covenant. Gentiles would now be included and no one unholy in heart will be in the kingdom (14:21). Further, the distinctions between clean and unclean that were so prevalent under the old covenant would now become clean under the new covenant as seen in Acts 10 concerning Peter’s vision. To be in Jerusalem, God’s chosen people, is to be holy. No one can be part of spiritual Jerusalem and not be dedicated as holy to the Lord.
As we wrap up this lesson, I would like for us to consider one verse in this chapter that I intentionally skipped over, which is 14:8. In that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem. In Jeremiah 2:13 and 17:13 the Lord calls Himself “the fountain of living waters.” Jesus made reference and application to these living waters on a couple of occasions. The first occasion is with the Samaritan woman in John 4. In verse 10 Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Upon further questioning by the woman, Jesus says in verses 13-14, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” Jesus was prophesied to come and bring living waters that will bring life to all who would come to Him.
Notice in Zechariah 14 that the living waters flowing in all directions from east to west. Further, the living waters flow in all seasons. There is not a time when the living waters of eternal life are not offered while we live. The second occasion where Jesus spoke of living waters is in John 7:37-38. “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” The living waters would be offered through the sanctification and regeneration of the Holy Spirit upon those who will submit to Jesus. But first, Jesus had to be glorified, that is, die on the cross for us to be redeemed from sin and death. Once that was accomplished, the gift of the Holy Spirit could be given to all who repent and are baptized, so that we are given a new life and new spirit by God (Titus 3:5-7). Will not you submit to God loving call and receiving the fountain of living waters that brings eternal life?