Open Zechariah 12:10-14.
How do you understand this astounding statement from the Old Testament?
They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son (Zechariah 12:10).
There’s a strong temptation to simply read this through the lens of the cross: Jesus the Father’s only Son, God pierced for us. That may be how the story plays out (compare John 19:37), but we miss the richness if we don’t ask what it meant in Zechariah’s context.
When Zechariah says, “They will look on me”
- they = “the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (12:10a).
- me = God, since Zechariah is speaking for God (“the word of the Lord” 12:1).
How could they pierce me?
And how can God’s people piercing him be compared to grieving for a firstborn son?
Zechariah is unfolding a very specific story: the story of God’s anointed (the Davidic king) representing heaven’s authority (the kingdom of God) in a world where people (both the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the nations) resist God’s reign.
Old Testament background
Zechariah’s message is about David (12:7, 8, 10, 12; 13:1). God gave the kingship to David forever (2 Samuel 7:16), but the nations had deposed God’s king. There was no longer a kingdom ruled by the Lord and his anointed (Psalm 2:2), the son on earth leading on behalf of his Father in heaven (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7).
Zechariah promised the king would return in joy (9:9), but they were still mourning the loss of the kingship. Mourn, grieve, and weep are keywords (seven times in 12:10-12). Leading this mourning is David’s dynasty and the prophet who proclaimed his dynasty (12:12).
Jerusalem’s mourning is compared to the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo (12:11). While commentators argue over who or what Hadad Rimmon refers to, there’s no question how the plain of Megiddo relates to the fall of the Davidic kingship.
Josiah was the last good king of Judah. He renewed the covenant relationship with God, removed the false gods, and taught his people to follow the Lord. They remembered him as the best king they ever had:
Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did (2 Kings 23:25).
And yet Josiah — their ideal king — was killed at the hands of the nations:
While Josiah was king, Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt went up to the Euphrates River to help the king of Assyria. King Josiah marched out to meet him in battle, but Necho faced him and killed him at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29).
The Former Prophets struggled to make sense of this tragedy. 1 & 2 Kings insist that each king received what he deserved, just as the Torah promised (blessing for obedience, curses for disobedience — Deuteronomy 28). But with Josiah, that fell apart. The best king suffered the worst fate. It was effectively the end of the Davidic kingship.
Four kings reigned after Josiah, but none represented God’s kingship. They were all appointed or deposed by foreign powers:
- Jehoahaz: Pharaoh Necho put him in chains at Riblah in the land of Hamath so that he might not reign in Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:33).
- Jehoiakim: During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal (2 Kings 24:1).
- Jehoiachin: Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:15).
- Zedekiah: He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done. It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence (2 Kings 24:19-20).
The divinely appointed kingship effectively ended with Josiah. That’s why his death at Megiddo became the focal point for lamenting the fall of the kingdom (2 Chronicles 35:22-25).
The appointment of God’s anointed in each generation had been a celebration of great joy. Now the loss of God’s anointed was a memorial of great grief as they yearned for the joy of God’s reign to return (Zechariah 9:9).
Mourning for hurting God
Zechariah sees a softness of heart being poured out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, leading them to call out to God for the restoration of his gracious kingship over them. This outpouring of a spirit of grace and supplication reverses the reason the kingship failed (12:10).
Even before Josiah’s reign, God had already decreed the end of Judah as his kingdom because previous sons of David (like Manasseh) had abused the power they held in God’s name:
2 Kings 23:25–27 (NIV)
25 Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did — with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.
26 Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to arouse his anger. 27 So the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘My Name shall be there.’”
King and kingdom had pierced God’s heart.
Broken relationship cannot be mended while you’re looking away. Reconciliation begins with looking at the person you’ve hurt. Zechariah sees that his people will need to turn back towards God, to look on the one they have pierced (12:10).
Reconciliation recognizes the other’s pain as well as your own. Israel was suffering as a fallen nation, but God was suffering too. God was so invested in the Abrahamic project that the death of his nation felt like the death of his firstborn son. That’s how God expressed it to Pharaoh: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may serve me.” (Exodus 4:22-23).
The death of Josiah was more than a lament in Israel. Each time a son of David was crowned in Jerusalem, he was installed by the heavenly sovereign’s decree: You are my son; today I have become your father (Psalm 2:6-7). When the last God-appointed king died and there were no more because of the disobedience of the sons of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, God’s heart was pierced: mourning as one mourns for an only child, grieving as one grieves for a firstborn son.
They had pierced God’s heart. To be reconciled, they would need to look on his face and own the pain they caused him. To be reconciled, they would need a gracious spirit, a yearning to be restored into his family.
This was God’s promise for his people through the prophet:
Zechariah 12:10 (NIV)
10 And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.
The weeping in Jerusalem is so intense because they’re grieving not only their own loss, but what they have done to God (12:11). It starts at the top (the house of David). It incorporates the prophets who speak for God (Nathan), the priests who seek atonement with God (Levi), the enemies of David (Shimei), all the people, both men and women:
Zechariah 12:11–14 (NIV)
11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives.
This is Zechariah’s vision of the people of God being restored as his kingdom.
Fulfilment in Christ
When Jesus came announcing the good news that the kingdom of God was being restored in him, the Jerusalem leadership was still so preoccupied with their own power that they had no qualms over how they treated God’s anointed leader.
When he rode into Jerusalem as the son of David fulfilling Zechariah 9:9, he found no spirit of grace and supplication at the temple. He found it occupied by robbers no different from Manasseh, actors pretending to be God’s appointed leaders but ready to fill Jerusalem with blood to keep their own power just like their ancestors. It was clear to him that they — and the city they controlled — must fall to make way for God’s reign. He was grieved, describing the most intense suffering of their entire history, yet declaring that God would give the kingship to the Son of Man. (That’s the logic of Matthew 21–24.)
Jesus was the Christ, God’s anointed ruler returning to Jerusalem. God finally overturned Josiah’s death, restoring the King of the Jews. But his own people (Judas, Caiaphas) handed him over to their enemies (Pilate, Herod) to put him to death.
The Josiah tragedy recurred. This generation was no better than their ancestors. They understood nothing of the grief they caused God. They saw nothing of God’s presence as they pierced him. They felt nothing of their Father’s tears for his only child, the firstborn Son he sent to lead them.
That was the moment in history when God overturned the Josiah tragedy, the death of his anointed. Raising his Son from death to the throne, Heaven declared Jesus to be the Son entrusted with all authority in heaven and on earth, above angels and people (Hebrews 1:5-8 echoing Psalms 2:7 and 45:6-7).
That’s the good news Peter proclaimed:
Acts 2:36– 38
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Would you call that a spirit of grace and supplication? Not everyone, but 3000 on that day looked on the one they had pierced, realized their offence against Heaven, and recognized Jesus as the Christ, their Heaven-sent resurrected king.
Others joined them. One of those, Saul of Tarsus, described a great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart, a willingness to be cut off from the Messiah for the sake of my people (Romans 9:3). Does that qualify for what Zechariah described as a spirit of grace and supplication?
What changed Paul from persecutor to ambassador of Christ to the nations? Wasn’t it looking on the one we had pierced, hearing him say, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:6; 26:15)?
This is how our Heavenly Father restores his sovereign authority to the human family on earth. The love of power corrupts us. The power of love restores us.
It’s the grief in God’s heart that brings us home. Looking at him, the one we have pierced. Seeing the pain in his heart. Realizing his grief: a Father mourning for an only child, grieving as one grieves for a firstborn son.
We see the Father’s heart when we see Christ crucified.