Minor Prophets XVI: Zechariah 1-6
Zechariah is one of the most difficult books of the Bible to understand because it is full of apocalyptic imagery. Even though “apocalypse” means “revelation,” we often finish reading these portions of the Bible feeling like we know less than when we started. But these parts of the Bible challenge us to look deeper into God’s Word so that we might see the world rightly. Christians must not be simplistic in their understanding of the world but rather grow up into wisdom. Zechariah prophesied at the same time as Haggai and called Israel to see and understand the cosmic and political implications of rebuilding the temple and worshiping God.
The Text: The first six chapters of Zechariah are structured around seven visions bracketed by exact day, month, and year dates (like Haggai). Exact measurements and dates to the day in the Bible are always associated with holy people and holy space (Gen. 1, Gen. 6, Ex. 14-40, 1 Kgs. 6-8, Ez. 40-48). Following a call to repentance (1:1-6), Zechariah sees seven visions in one symbolic night (1:7).
Vision 1 (Zech. 1:8-17): Angel & Horses “over the deep”: Stirring up the nations to remake Jerusalem
Vision 2 (Zech. 1:18-21): Four Horns & Craftsmen: building the temple altar is what will overcome the false worship/oppression of the nations
Vision 3 (Zech. 2:1-3:10): Measuring Line & Cleansing the Temple: Jerusalem will have no walls & God’s fire will surround them (like Exodus) & Israel will be cleansed
Vision 4 (Zech. 4:1-14): Seven Lamps & Two Olive Trees: The power of the Spirit
Vision 5 (Zech. 5:1-4): Flying Scroll to expel thieves and liars
Vision 6 (Zech. 5:5-11): Women & the Basket: A False Ark driven back to Babylon
Vision 7 (Zech. 6:1-15): Horses, Chariots & Rest: God’s people on conquest
What does this mean?
The first thing is to notice that Zechariah presents the work of temple building in cosmic/political terms. As God’s house is built, He plans to stir up the nations. As the altar is rebuilt, the craftsmen will terrify the false worship of the nations. As the measuring lines are snapped, God will spoil the nations of His people and remove all the uncleanness from Israel. As they establish the burning lamp in the holy place, the Spirit of God will glorify His people in the earth. When God is worshiped in His house, He will judge thieves and liars. And God will drive false worship into the far lands. Then, when God’s people go out into the lands it will be for the blessing of the whole world. And all this by building the temple. But secondly, notice that this is pictured as a recapitulation of the original creation week. As the Jews rebuild the temple, they are involved in God’s re-creation of the world. The point is not some kind of crass materialistic voodoo. The point is that as God’s people put God first and worship Him rightly, God is at work in the world remaking all things. As Israel worshiped at Jericho and the walls came tumbling down, God inhabits the praises of His people and shakes the empires of men to the ground.
Conclusions: Apocalyptic Vision
Zechariah invites us to see the world the way God sees the world. But Zechariah is pointing ahead to Jesus who was the Greater Prophet, the Greater Apocalypse. Jesus is the revelation of God, and He came to unveil God’s reality. The center of this unveiling is in the cross where His death swallowed up death, where He bore the sins of His people and exhausted the wages of sin. He exposed worldly power as ultimately weak and demonic and revealed the weakness of suffering and service as the power of the Spirit. But to believe in this Gospel is to believe in a new vision of the world, it’s to believe that things are not as they seem.
We enact and embrace this new vision in the words and symbols and gestures and rituals that Jesus gave us. There’s a way for Christians to play dress up, pretending to have their own trendy Harry Potter world while holding God at arm’s length. But we aren’t playing: the gospel message really changes hearts, gives sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf (Rom. 10:17, 2 Cor. 4:5-6). If all you see is water, then baptism doesn’t save, but with the eyes of faith we see God revealing the truth about the world, toppling kingdoms, freeing slaves, proclaiming His covenant promises, His grace, His love (1 Pet. 3:21). And at the table, we are handling and tasting the powers of the age to come (Heb. 6:5). But all of this is a call to believe God’s word, and to see this world and your life through the eyes of faith, with apocalyptic eyes.