Open Zechariah 12.
We’re looking at how Jesus fulfils the hope of the Old Testament prophets. The Gospel writers say this is how Jesus understood himself and his role, but it’s often not a straight line from prophecy to fulfilment. Israel’s history wasn’t a straight line. They took many detours to reach what God intended them to be: his kingdom.
So, to make sense of how Jesus fulfils the prophets, we need to follow their journey. Without taking those steps, it may feel like the Gospel writers were cherry-picking texts to suit themselves.
Take the classic text from Zechariah 9 about the humble king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Matthew says, This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet. Zechariah was talking about a son of David being recognized as king as he entered the capital to end the conflict and restore God’s reign over them (9:9-10). In all the generations between Zechariah and Jesus, this had never happened. Some exiles had returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but they were still ruled by the nations. How would God restore his reign over them?
That question became more desperate with every passing century as they were ruled by Assyria, then Babylon, Persia, and Greece (the dominant power in Zechariah 9:13).
Zechariah’s vision of a restored world
That’s the backdrop for Zechariah 12, a mǎś·śāʾ — an oracle on not-yet fulfilled promises. It’s a meditation on the heavenly sovereign’s decree (dā·ḇār · yhwh) for his nation (ǎl-yiś·rā·ʾēlʹ).
Zechariah 12:1–3 (NIV)
1 A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel.
The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares: 2 “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. 3 On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.”
That’s astounding! Israel had ceased to exist. Israel had been a separate nation from Judah, with their own king and capital (Samaria), not ruled from Jerusalem since Solomon’s day. Israel had been destroyed by Assyria, leaving only Judah. Zechariah knows all this, yet he speaks of Israel being restored under Jerusalem’s government. A son of David is to lead the tribes of Israel. (David is in 12:7, 8, 10, 12; 13:1).
But, how can God’s nation be secure in the face of the empires? For that to work, God would need to be in control of the nations as well. And that is the claim of the Torah’s opening chapters. Genesis 1–11 traces YHWH’s authority over the heavens and earth, all humanity, including the nations.
Zechariah echoes these creational phrases. YHWH stretched out the heavens. He established the earth. He shaped humanity (literally the Adam-breath). Humanity was created to live in his midst (12:1 isn’t merely about having a spirit in me.) Zechariah anticipated a coming day when God’s promises in the beginning are fulfilled in the end.
That day — when God’s reign on earth is fulfilled in his anointed Davidic ruler — that day is the essence of Zechariah’s meditation. On that day is the key phrase of his final oracles (12:3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11; 13:1, 2, 4; 14:4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 20, 21). Eight times he speaks of how it will be on that day (wehā·yāhʹ ḇǎy·yôm-hǎ·hûʾ), the day when heaven’s reign is restored to the earth through his anointed.
But Zechariah knows there’s quite a journey to get there. The nations who banded together to take God’s power into their own hands (Genesis 11) still gather against God’s city (12:3). That had been Israel’s entire history. For God to restore his reign through his fallen nation would take divine intervention. God would need to make Jerusalem an immovable rock so that any of the nations who tried to move it would injure themselves instead (12:3).
For God’s nation to survive against the armies of the nations, God would need to strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness (12:4). God’s people would need to find their strength in him (12:5). A little match can burn a pile of wood, but the miracle is that they themselves would not be consumed (12:6).
God promised to save his people, restoring the honour of the house of David (12:7), so the feeblest among them will be like David. The house of David will once again represent God’s sovereign presence on earth — like God. The Davidic king will lead them to victory, just as the angel of YHWH led them out of Pharaoh’s power and established them as God’s nation at Sinai (12:8). God will bring justice on any nation that tries to destroy them (12:9).
Jesus’ vision of a restored world
That day had not yet come before Jesus’ time, but John the Baptist proclaimed it: The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near (Mark 1:15). John declared that Jesus was the powerful leader anointed by God’s Holy Spirit to cleanse his people and sort out all that was wrong (Matthew 3:10-12). God confirmed that this was indeed the Son appointed by heaven to lead the world (Matthew 3:17).
Jesus believed God’s reign was being restored in him. Heaven’s anointed ruler (the Christ) restores the reign of the eternal sovereign (my Father in heaven), so the earth is reclaimed as a kingdom of heaven. Jesus proclaimed and enacted this good news — heaven’s reign arriving on earth in him.
Jesus believed the promises of the prophets were being fulfilled in him. That’s why he reframed many of the promises about Israel around himself. What the prophets said regarding God’s people is ultimately fulfilled in the one who leads them. That’s why we hear unexpected echoes of the prophets in Jesus’ statements about himself.
Jerusalem in Jesus’ time was not a fulfilment of Zechariah’s hope. It was not an immovable rock that the nations could not cast down, that they would injure themselves if they tried to dislodge. The leaders of Jerusalem were the enemies of God’s ruler, determined to dislodge him! So, Jesus took the imagery of the rock, and applied it to himself. He, the chosen Son, was the immovable rock. He was the stone the builders tried to cast down, the stone that would injure those who attempt to remove it. That stone is the Davidic king (Matthew 21:42-45, compare Psalm 118:22-23).
So, the line from prophecy to fulfilment has more twists and turns than a Grisham novel. When God finally sent his Anointed to lead them, Jerusalem would not follow her king (Matthew 23:37). They were no different to their ancestors (Matthew 23:30-36). Without his leadership, they would not be an immovable rock for all the nations (verse 3), but they would be overrun by the nations, and it would be the greatest anguish they had ever known (Matthew 24:15-21).
Zechariah declared that Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem (verse 2), and so does Jesus: then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Matthew 24:16). But the outcomes are radically different. Zechariah speaks of the day when God leads his city to liberation, while Jesus speaks of the day when God’s city wants to kill his Anointed. That’s why Jesus declared that Jerusalem would fall to her enemies until they were ready to recognize his kingship (23:38 – 24:2).
That’s why Jesus reframes the promises about Jerusalem around himself. God’s promises for the kingdom arrive in the king. This promise is fulfilled in him:
Zechariah 12 8 On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them.
The feeblest among them is the king whose throne is a cross, but this is their Davidic king doing battle for their release. Representing the house of David, he is like God present among his people in ways they could scarcely understand. He is like the angel of YHWH joining them in the wilderness to lead in the great exodus out of death and into nationhood under God, leading the earth back into heaven’s reign.
All the promises for God’s people find their fulfilment in him (12:7). The salvation and security of the people of God are fulfilled in God’s anointed (12:9).
To appreciate how the promises God made for his people are fulfilled in the leader he appointed, we need to understand how these promises were not fulfilled in the people themselves. Their disobedience kept detouring them from what God had promised. Despite their failures, God raised him up — even when they killed him — the Saviour for God’s people and the nations.
We don’t yet see the whole world under his kingship, but we see God’s anointed, the person in whom all these promises are fulfilled. We see him crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In him God is bringing many sons and daughters into the glory of his reign (Hebrews 2:9-10).
- How Jesus fulfils the prophets (Zech 8)
- The king is coming (Zech 9)
- In Christ: humanity restored (Eph 2:1-10)