What God decrees for his people (Zechariah 12:1-9)

What God promised for his people is often frustrated by our unfaithfulness. The good news is that all the promises are fulfilled in Christ.

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?

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Thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13)

How the temple valued Jesus’ leadership is no different to how they valued God’s leadership in the past.

Zechariah 11:12–13 (NIV)
12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.

Thirty silver pieces? Isn’t that the price Judas got for Jesus? Is there a connection? We’ll need to see what this means in Zechariah first, to understand what Matthew 27:3-10 makes of it.

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Is God a good Shepherd if we have bad shepherds? (Zechariah 11)

Why are we living under leaders who fight each other (wars) and crush their people (injustice) if God is on the throne?

Open Zechariah 11.

The Lord will be king over the whole earth (Zechariah 14:9). That’s the theme of Zechariah 10–14, and what an astounding promise! This is the gospel Jesus proclaimed, the good news we believe.

But some find it hard to believe there’s a God taking care of us when there is so much injustice, so much evil in the world. Zechariah 11 faces that issue. God asks the prophet to role-play what our human shepherds do: acting out of self-interest rather for the justice of the eternal Shepherd.

We explained how the shepherd metaphor was used for gods and kings in the Ancient Near East. That makes it the perfect term for addressing the inconsistency between what the Shepherd wants versus what the shepherds are doing. All the wars of history — including the suffering of God’s people at the hands of the nations — it all arises from the disconnect between the Shepherd and the shepherds.

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Shepherds, good and bad

Zechariah provides the background for understanding Jesus as our shepherd.

“The Lord is my Shepherd,” said King David. “I am the good shepherd,” said Jesus. Are there bad shepherds? What’s this shepherd imagery about?

Shepherd is a keyword in Zechariah 10–14, a passage Jesus and the Gospel writers kept alluding to. What was Zechariah saying about the shepherd? How does this help us understand Jesus?

The shepherd metaphor

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The king is coming (Zechariah 9)

How does Jesus fulfil the promises of Zechariah 9 about dealing with their enemies and restoring divine kingship?

The humble king, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Zechariah 9:9 is an outstanding prophecy, worth exploring in context.

The previous eight verses say that God was opposed to their neighbours to the north (Syrians) and south (Philistines). How does that fit with Jesus? Didn’t the previous chapter promise that the nations would come to seek the Lord? (8:20-23) As always, we need to appreciate the wider context.

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Fasting and justice (Zechariah 7)

Is our faith expressed with spiritual disciplines like fasting, or with justice in the community? People have different answers. Zechariah’s is revealing.

Read Zechariah 7.

How important is fasting? Is it crucial for refocusing our time and energy from material things to seeking God? Or does God want us focused on goals like seeking justice for those who are missing out? This almost feels like two streams of Christianity: one focused on a personal relationship with God; the other focused on justice for the world.

These were not separate topics for the OT prophets. People asked Zechariah, Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years? (7:3) His response is explosive.
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Who wears the crown? (Zechariah 6)

The two visions of Zechariah 6 answer these questions: Who’s running the world, and who represents him on earth?

Read Zechariah 6.

We love to think we’re shaping our own destinies, living the dream of being whatever we want. Truth is, none of us controls the world. Much bigger hands shape our history, our nation, our economy, our opportunities. Corporate takeovers can make me redundant. Disasters can destroy my environment.

So, who is in control? Conspiracy theorists promote all sorts of hidden groups, but none of them run the world. There is only one God, one sovereign.

That’s how Israel thought until Babylon swept down from the north and captured God’s nation. Nebuchadnezzar told them he was in charge of their destiny — him and his gods. But that didn’t last. Persia swept in from the east, capturing the Babylonian Empire (including Israel), so who was controlling the world now? Their experience seemed as unstable as the wind.

The two visions of Zechariah 6 address the question of who is in charge.

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Why exile? (Zechariah 5)

As Zechariah calls the exiles home, he sees two explanations of why they went to Babylon.

Read Zechariah 5.

Zechariah began with God’s promise that he would return to reign over his people if they returned to him from Babylon (1:3). Like a married couple getting together after a separation, it’s important that they don’t just repeat the mistakes of the past. They need to learn from their ancestors’ mistakes (1:2-6).

God promised he would restore his leaders for the community, the high priest and the Davidic king. They would lead God’s people to rebuild the temple where God would be present among them and lead his people (Zechariah 2–4).

But why did God send them into exile in the first place? That’s what the two visions of Zechariah 5 address.

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Priest of the restored kingdom (Zechariah 3)

How does Zechariah’s story about a high priest in filthy rags relate to Jesus?

Read Zechariah 3.

The prophets inspired Jesus’ kingdom vision. After God’s nation disintegrated in the exile, prophets like Zechariah delivered God’s promise to restore his kingdom. He said that God had scattered them among the nations because of their unfaithfulness, and God would gather them as his kingdom again because of his covenant faithfulness (Zechariah 1–2).

The two markers of God’s kingship in Jerusalem were gone: the house of God (the palace for his throne), and the house of David (the anointed kingship representing his reign). Zechariah addresses these two problems in Chapters 3 and 4.

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My blood of the covenant (Matthew 26:28)

What did Jesus mean by this phrase? The backstory is not to be missed.

I’m meditating on a phrase Jesus used at his last supper: This is my blood of the covenant (26:28). What did he mean by my blood? How is his blood covenantal?

Since this was a Passover meal, I’ve heard people say that Jesus was the Passover lamb sacrificed for us. You can draw that parallel (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 5:7, to ask us to live unleavened lives). But I doubt that’s what Jesus was saying.

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Giving up your king (Matthew 26:14-16)

When it goes dark, it’s not the time to give up on the light.

Matthew 26:14-16 (my translation, compare NIV)
14 Then one of the twelve — the one called Judas Iscariot — went to the high priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me, and I’ll hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver coins. 16 From then, he was looking for the right moment to hand him over.

What did this mean for Jesus? And what did it mean for Judas? This doorway has two sides.

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An unexpected gift (Matthew 26:6-13)

Sometimes people honour Jesus in ways we don’t expect.

Jesus was a king, but he didn’t ask for the luxuries that usually attend royalty. With his inversion of power where the king served everyone in his kingdom, his servants actually thought it was crazy to give the king an extravagant gift:

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Why did Jesus die? (Matthew 26:1-5)

Ask why Jesus died on the cross, and people usually tell me he died in my place, to forgive me for my sins. Shortly we’ll be looking at the explanation Jesus gave at his last supper, but listen to how Matthew introduces the passion narrative, Jesus’ looming death:

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Who are “my brothers?” (Matthew 25:40)

Who was Jesus expecting us to help when he said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”?

Who are Jesus’ brothers/sisters in this statement?

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40 NIV)

The context is where he’s sorting sheep from goats, based on how they took care of his needs. The sheep ask, “When did we ever see you in need and help you?” And that was the king’s response.

So, was Jesus thinking only of Christians as his brothers and sisters? Or did he have the whole human family in view? It matters, because the church needs to be clear about its mission. The answer you give reveals how you understand the scope of Jesus’ kingship.

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How the king evaluates his people (Matthew 25:34-46)

Our criteria don’t match his.

We’ve been celebrating how the world will be when Christ’s kingship extends to all the people of the world, when all the nations are under his reign. This is what finally brings peace, resolving every conflict.

How does he achieve that goal? His Father, our eternal sovereign, gives the kingship to the son of man, so he has the responsibility to sort out all the people of the earth. Like a shepherd, he separates sheep from goats (25:32).

So how does he know the difference? What criteria does the king use to evaluate his subjects and decide who are his?

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The king who sorts it out (Matthew 25:31-33)

Jesus’ final teaching story in Matthew reveals him as king of all nations, the only leader who can remove what’s wrong with the world and restore God’s reign.

This is the ultimate teaching from Jesus before the final passion narrative in Matthew’s Gospel. Everything Jesus has said about the kingdom of God comes together in this story as the son of man receives the kingship and resolves the justice issues of the world.

This final story contains the most explicit description Jesus ever gave of how he expects humans to live in his kingship. What he expects of his subject is so simple, and his wisdom is so decisive:

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The joy of serving (Matthew 25:14-30)

Two workers found the joy partnering with someone who gave them huge opportunity, while another dug a hole and discovered how small the world of the self becomes. We know it as the “parable of the talents.”

Jesus told a story about a businessman trusting his assets to his staff while engaged elsewhere. How is this “parable of the talents” a story of the kingdom? Is it about Jesus’ return at the end of the era, or does it have a broader application?

First, let’s clear up some misunderstandings:

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Missing the wedding (Matthew 25:1-13)

Lighting the king’s procession.

Jesus continues with three more stories of his coming to kingship. The first is about a wedding where some of the young guests were looking forward to the bridegroom’s arrival, but missed it because they weren’t prepared.

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Serving in God’s house (Matthew 24:45-51)

So, what is the church called to do? A practical answer from the Master of the house.

Okay, so you’re a pragmatic person, and you need to know what practical difference all this stuff about the coming of the son of man makes for how we live our lives now? This post is for you. Jesus answered your question at the end of Matthew 24.

So what does the king want his servants to do now in anticipation of the whole world under his care? Here’s what he does (and does not) want us to do. This is what serving Christ looks like:

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Coming like a thief (Matthew 24:42-47)

Burglars are as unpredictable as they are unwelcome. But a king’s arrival wouldn’t normally be compared to a burglar breaking in to rob the house. What’s going on?

How would you describe Jesus’ role in God’s household? Is he the master of the house, entrusted by the heavenly Father with restoring order to his earthly house? Or is he coming as a thief to take power from those who currently claim to run the world?

A wicked sense of humour probably isn’t the right descriptor for Jesus, but he certainly spun yarns and mixed metaphors in crazy-creative ways. You don’t expect the heaven-anointed king to come like a thief in the dark to rob the householder!

But before you can ask, “Say, what?” he flips the metaphor. Suddenly he’s running the household instead of robbing it:

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