ZECHARIAH chapter 14

Overview without seeing any reference to any other Scripture or to Jesus the Messiah
Does Zechariah 14 speak of the return of the Messiah?
Other apparent references to passages in Scripture
   a. Revelation 21:23 parallels Zech 14:6-7
   b. Revelation 22:1-2 parallels Zech 14:8
   c. Deut 14:9 parallels Zech 14:9
   d. John 7:38 parallels Zech 14:8

I noted in my opening comments on chapters 12 and 13, that end times prophecies are not easy to accurately interpret. It’s all too easy to interpret them inaccurately by attributing their fulfilment either to known historical events or to events that we perceive to be imminently upon us, but to perceive how the prophetic word was meant to be understood in the context in which it was written and in the eyes of the people to whom it was originally given is another thing entirely.

To quote just one example from Jewish history, note Josephus’ comments of the Jews of his day as they awaited the approach of the Roman armies as they advanced upon the city of Jerusalem. He writes concerning this passage in Zechariah that (Pages 362-3)

‘...their chief inducement to go to war was an equivocal oracle also found in their sacred writings, announcing that at that time a man from their country would become monarch of the whole world. This they took to mean the triumph of their own race, and many of their scholars were wildly out in their interpretation. In fact the oracle pointed to the accession of Vespasian; for it was in Judaea he was proclaimed emperor’

So, who was right? Josephus or the scholars? Probably neither. But the fact remains that by interpreting prophecy retrospectively as Josephus did one can make it fit the known events of history or, if you’re searching frantically for a Scripture to apply to your situation to give your course of action some justification, one can see almost anything in it!

We must be careful, then, when we come to prophetic writings. Even when we see similar passages that are scattered throughout Scripture.

Passages such as Is 29:1-8 (paralleling Zech 14:1-5) and Micah 4:1-2 (paralleling 14:10-11) - and many other Scriptures that I’ve not time to list here! - seem as if they refer to one and the same event in world history. But actually arriving at a definitive harmony of various passages is never easy.

The Lord, having told us all that will happen, does not necessarily show us how all those pieces will fit together - just like the prophecies concerning the first coming of Jesus the Messiah. God revealed beforehand all that would take place, but those who read them failed to grasp the complexity and the relationship between the differing truths.

We must also take care lest we think that we can itemise a timetable for the return of the Lord. The religious leaders had already defined who and what the Messiah would be when He came the first time, and they ended up by rejecting Him because their definitions were incorrect!!

However, one of the unerring testimonies of Scripture is that, when the Lord’s Messiah will come to set up a visible Kingdom to rule over the earth, the city of Jerusalem must be surrounded by foreign invading armies so that the salvation of His people can take place.

There are many other smaller points that don’t get repeated in many, if any, passages, but the testimony of Scripture when viewed collectively is that the Lord’s return is tied in with the attack upon the Jews while they are resident in the Promised Land (though world evangelisation is the key that unlocks the Lord’s return - Mtw 24:14). Chapters 12 and 13 have begun to introduce this but, as I noted in my comments there, it appears as if these two chapters finish with a different conclusion, the armies of both Judah and Jerusalem routing the enemies that come against them rather than the city being defeated and the Lord Himself having to descend from heaven to fight visibly on their behalf.

Therefore, chapter 14 is taken as being distinct from the preceding passage and I have treated it as so in my notes.

Overview without seeing any reference to any other Scripture or to Jesus the Messiah

Chapter 14 opens with a defeated Jerusalem (14:1), one that is subject to the will of its conquerors who are an international force representing all the nations of the earth (14:2 - which is better than to see a literal fulfilment of the phrase ‘all the nations’. An army sent by the United Nations to wipe out opposition would certainly fit, provided that ‘all the nations’ voted in favour of such an action, although it must be pointed out that I am not saying that this is the way that Scripture will be fulfilled!).

To ease the Jerusalemites’ flight from the international army, the Lord will provide a route of escape for His people. The steep-sided Kidron valley which lies directly outside the eastern wall of Jerusalem is stopped up, thus providing a ramp across which the inhabitants can flee. The Mount of Olives, the steep-sided mountain that falls away into the valley, will be split in two in order for there to be a level pathway for the refugees’ flight (14:4-5).

God Himself will also descend upon the Mount of Olives and fight on behalf of His people against the force that is overrunning Jerusalem (14:3-4). His coming will be attended by the ‘holy ones’ (14:5) and His weapon of war is a plague that will fall upon the army (14:12-15).

It’s important to note that 14:3-5 has the Lord coming to Jerusalem both before the Mount of Olives splits in two and after. As it seems pointless that the Jerusalemites would flee from an army that was being routed by the Lord, I have taken the Scripture to mean that He fights for them after the route of escape has been provided.

The natural light of both the sun and stars will diminish (14:6 - so the Hebrew runs. The RSV obscures the obvious meaning of the text), though it will be continually day (14:7). Continually flowing water shall flow out from Jerusalem both to the east and west (14:8 - the city lies on the natural watershed line between water that flows west towards the Mediterranean and east towards the Dead Sea).

Having defeated the nations’ armies, the Lord will become the acknowledged King over all the earth (14:9). He will have subjugated the world’s authorities and powers so that His sovereignty will be exercised over a vanquished foe.

There will be geological changes in addition to the ones mentioned in 14:4-5. OT Jerusalem, although set upon a hill, was the lowest of the mountains that surrounded it so that it could remain hidden unless one knew it was there. The final part of the journey into the city was always a descent followed by an ascent, but Jerusalem shall be projected above the land round about - not that it shall be elevated above the surrounding mountains, but that it will remain in its place while the land shall subside to form a plain.

In subsequent years, after the defeat of the international force, the nations shall be obligated to send their representatives to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (14:16-19 - as above, a selected number shall be obligated to be representative of the nations, though ‘everyone that survives’ may speak of quite a small number).

Jerusalem and the surrounding land shall once again become a special place to the Lord (14:20-21).

Does Zechariah 14 speak of the return of the Messiah?

One of the problems with eschatological passages is that one cannot always be sure which event (if any) in subsequent world history we are looking at. There are so many parallel passages that it’s very easy for us to see the similarities and lump them all together as referring to one and the same event - but this need not be the case.

What, therefore, are we to make of Zechariah 14?

After the repentance and salvation of the Jews in chapters 12-13 (Rom 11:25-26), it seems natural enough to see in this passage the second coming of the Messiah in power and authority to set up a visible earthly kingdom though there are, admittedly, apparent omissions between this and other passages (notably Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation) that make us wonder whether we should group them together under the same heading.

But what evidence is there for us to regard this passage as speaking of the return of the Messiah?

a. In Acts 1:11, the angel that was present at the Lord’s ascension into Heaven on the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:50-51, Acts 1:12) said

‘This Jesus...will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven’

and, here in Zech 14:4, we read that

‘His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives...’

This is the first time in Scripture that the ‘Mount of Olives’ is actually mentioned and it may be that the present day Mount was given its name because of the prophecy (just as the valley of Jehoshaphat was mentioned in Joel 3:12 and was subsequently the name given to the Kidron valley after the prophecy was given) but the general area is the same as Zechariah goes on to mention as being ‘before Jerusalem on the east’

b. I Cor 15:23 speaks of the resurrection of the dead (rotd) taking place upon the Messiah’s return. A superficial glance at Zech 14 shows us that the event is not mentioned and, as it is one of the most dramatic events associated with it, the question remains as to whether the passage will refer to the Messiah’s return.

However, although a direct mention is not made, there are allusions to it.

Firstly, Zech 14:5 speaks of ‘all the holy ones’ coming with the Lord. Some see a reference to the angelic host, but there is no reason why the believers who have died in Christ should not be referred to. Although at death our bodies are sown in the earth (I Cor 15:42-44), our spirits/souls depart to be with the Lord (Phil 1:23). If the Lord returns with the believers, then it is for the purpose of re-establishing them in a body, resurrected and glorified, which, by implication, means that the rotd must take place (see my notes on ‘Eternal Habitations’ here).

Secondly, the mention of the Feast of Tabernacles as being celebrated by all the surviving nations (Zech 14:16-19) as opposed to any of the other six festivals is significant, for it is this festival that will find its ultimate fulfilment in the rotd. I can’t go in to the reasons for this (that is not within the scope of this section) but, in summary, the Feast of Tabernacles was, Biblically, a celebration that the final harvest had come and a remembrance of once having to live in temporary accommodation (Lev 23:39-43, Deut 16:13-15). Both of these cause us to see a fulfilment in the rotd and a celebration of the event after it has occurred upon the Messiah’s return (see my notes on ‘The Feast of Tabernacles’ here).

So, even though there does not appear to be a specific mention of the rotd, the passage is dependent upon it taking place and/or it having taken place which means that the Messiah is returning or has returned.

c. Zech 14:4 speaks of the Lord’s ‘feet’ as standing on the Mount of Olives. Although in other Scriptures the Lord is attributed with other parts of the human anatomy in order to convey truth to His people in their own language, a literal fulfilment is by no means impossible and fits in perfectly with the return of God in humanity, the return of Jesus the Messiah.

There seem to be enough pointers in the text for us to conclude that the return of the Messiah is prophesied and that His return is tied up with a battle waged against Jerusalem. But where other passages fit into the events of Zech 14 is difficult to determine as there are many events that are problematic when we attempt to construct an eschatological timetable.

Other apparent references to passages in Scripture

a. Revelation 21:23 parallels Zech 14:6-7

Zech 14:6 should read ‘There will be no [sun?] light and the stars will diminish’ Unfortunately, the RSV obscures the obvious meaning of the text.

b. Revelation 22:1-2 parallels Zech 14:8

If these are, indeed, parallel passages, then the final couple of chapters of Revelation must be understood as referring to the return of the Lord upon the Mount of Olives and not, as is often taught, a time after both the Lord’s return and a period of a thousand years when satan is bound (Rev 20:1-10).

It is difficult to be dogmatic here and both these passages do not appear to be able to be finally harmonised.

c. Deut 14:9 parallels Zech 14:9

The ‘Shema’ (the statement that the Lord is one) is the background to Zechariah’s statement that ‘...the Lord will be one and His name one’

There is an implication in the words that this is an event that will take place and, if this is the correct understanding of the passage, the Godhead is deemed to be disunited (but not divided in the sense of purpose) while first Jesus, then the Holy Spirit, is one earth.

When heaven unites with earth’s inhabitants, Father, Son and Holy Spirit will be perfectly One and be seen to be so.

d. John 7:38 parallels Zech 14:8

as Jesus proclaimed it at the Feast of Tabernacles while He was on earth. The phrase ‘living waters’ refers to the outflowing of the Holy Spirit from a believer’s life but it is not obviously apparent from the passage in Zechariah that this is so.

For more background see part 3bii in my notes on ‘The Feast of Tabernacles’ here.