Divine sovereignty and human suffering (Zechariah 14:1-5)

Puzzled over how to understand God’s sovereignty? It’s the hope of a suffering world.

Zechariah’s final chapter extends astounding hope in a puzzling framework.

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Strike the shepherd (Zechariah 13:7-9)

Why was the shepherd of God’s people struck? Why did Jesus relate Zechariah’s message to himself and the scattering of his little flock?

Open Zechariah 13:1-6 and Matthew 26:31-32.

The night he was arrested, Jesus expected his friends to abandon him. He knew they would because the prophets said so.

Matthew 26:31 Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (NIV)

Reading Zechariah 13, it’s not immediately obvious why Jesus would apply this to himself. To make sense of how Jesus understood the text, we need to read the prophets in the context of the story they were telling.

Who was “my shepherd” in Zechariah 13:7?

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A cleansed, non-prophet kingdom? (Zechariah 13:1-6)

Interested in seeing the gospel in the Old Testament? This example from Zechariah 13 shows how to (and how not to).

Open Zechariah 13:1-6.

The ideal kingdom is a wise king with a responsive community. Zechariah’s hope is for Israel’s failed kingdom to be restored after being exiled and dominated by foreign powers. He anticipates what life could be like on that day (13:1, 2, 4).

King and kingdom are reconciled as God gives them a spirit of grace and supplication, and they respond by seeing how they hurt him — looking on the one they have pierced (12:10). They stabbed God’s heart by rejecting his kingship, giving themselves to other rulers and their gods. This has been Zechariah’s core message: Return to me, and I will return to you (1:3).

So, on that day when they turn back to God’s kingship, God cleanses the house of David — the kingship God sacked because they were self-serving. On that day, God cleanses the inhabitants of Jerusalem — the people who gave themselves to other rulers and their gods.

Based on the Torah, Israel was to be a nation under God’s leadership. Their sovereign gave them his laws and defined how to remain ritually pure in his presence. Sin or impurity could make them unclean, so he provided cleansing rituals (e.g. wash occurs 35 times in Leviticus). So when they turn back to God, Zechariah declares that God will open a fountain to cleanse his people, so they’re devoted to him alone:

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The one they pierced (Zechariah 12:10-14)

“They will look on me, the one they have pierced.” What does this mean in its OT context? How does it relate to the Messiah?

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.

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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 10)

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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Lord of hosts (Zechariah 8)

Zechariah uses the same name for God 18 times in one chapter. What was he saying? How does this help us understand Christ and our life in him?


What does it mean to call God the Lord of hosts? What are the hosts under his control? Angels? People? Armies? Israelites? Foreigners? How does this relate to Christ? And what is our role in relation to the Lord of hosts?

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How Jesus fulfils the prophets (Zechariah 8)

With a chapter never quoted in the NT, we see how Jesus fulfilled what God promised through the Prophets.


The hope Jesus proclaimed was deeply rooted in the promises of the prophets. Matthew keeps telling us that Jesus fulfilled the prophets, using phrases from Zechariah far more than we do today.

Many of us struggle to make sense of how the NT writers used the prophets. Read Zechariah in context, and it may not sound like predictions. For example, the blood of the covenant in Zechariah 9:11 seems to refer back to the Sinai covenant (Exodus 24:8), yet Jesus used the phrase for his Last Supper (Matthew 26:28).

Maybe our understanding of “context” is too narrow. You probably know to check a few verses either side of a quotation, so as not to take it out of context. In a limited sense, that’s true. But for Jesus and the New Testament writers, context was much broader — their place in the story of God.

When Jesus announced the good news of the kingdom, his context was the Jewish world that had not been a kingdom since the exile. Most of them lived in other countries, scattered like sheep without a shepherd. That’s how Zechariah had described them 500 years earlier (Zechariah 10:2; 13:7 etc), and it still described their context in Jesus’ day (Matthew 9:36; 10:6; 15:24).

Jesus fulfilled the prophets not merely by doing some particular thing they predicted. That happened, but it was far more: everything God promised to restore was finally fulfilled in his Anointed. That’s the scope of what Jesus fulfilled: All the promises of God find their Yes in him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So, let’s take a chapter the NT writers never quoted. How is Zechariah 8 fulfilled in Christ?

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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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Rulers of the restored kingdom (Zechariah 4)

Two olive trees supporting the menorah? How does this relate to Jesus?

Read Zechariah 4.

Matthew promotes Jesus’ agenda — the kingdom of God — as the fulfilment of the promises God gave through the prophets, with numerous allusions to Zechariah. We’re looking at how Zechariah’s visions informed Jesus’ agenda.

When the kingdom fell apart and the people were exiled to Babylon, Zechariah delivered God’s call for the exiles to return (1:3), declaring that God would lead them home like a new exodus (2:6-12). He said they would see the twin signs of God’s leadership over them: Joshua the cleansed high priest in God’s house, and “the Branch” of David’s house who would reign as God’s anointed (3:8).

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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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Zechariah’s hope of kingdom restoration (Zechariah 1–2)

Prophets like Zechariah delivered God’s promise to restore his kingdom after the exile. What they said informed Jesus’ kingdom ministry.

Jesus was not the first to proclaim the kingdom of God. That was already Israel’s story when God anointed David to rule on earth, and when God established Israel as his nation at Sinai. It was the hope for the nations promised to Abraham. It was the covenant God made with all people through Noah. By design, humans exist as images of the heavenly sovereign in his earthly creation.

What was unique was Jesus’ vision of how the kingdom of heaven would be restored to the earth. There was a whole history of getting off-track in the generations of Adam, Noah, Israel, and David. Then it completely fell apart when Babylon took the nation into captivity, destroying the symbols of God’s kingship: the house of God (with the ark that represented his throne), and the house of David (the anointed kings who that represented his reign).

So, how did Jesus envision the restoration of God’s reign? In part, his kingdom vision was shaped by the promises God gave through the prophets, particularly Zechariah.

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