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Zechariah

Author: Zechariah, son of Berekiah and others
Date Written: 520-400 BC

 

Zechariah was a prophet from the priestly family of Iddo who returned to Palestine from Babylon with a group of Jewish exiles before 520 BC.  He was a contemporary of Haggai, with whom he encouraged the people during the reconstruction of the Temple (Ezra 5:1, 6:14).  His name means "The Lord has remembered."


The book is usually divided into two basic sections: Ch. 1-8 and Ch. 9-14.  Ch. 1-8 are precisely dated to 520-518 BC and include eight mysterious visions, surrounded by two exhortations.  Ch. 9-14 focus on the coming Messiah and the restoration of Israel.  The differences between these two sections have led some scholars to contend that Zechariah wrote them at different periods in his life and many other scholars to argue that the latter section was not written by Zechariah himself.


Zechariah was born in exile and returned with his fellow Jews to the land after the Persians took over Babylon.  The Persians' policy was to return foreign peoples to the their homelands and allow them to worship their own gods, rather than to displace people and suppress their religious practices as the Babylonian conquerors had done.  Zechariah and Haggai prophesied during a time of great transition.  There were a few Jews who had remained behind in the land and many who were returning from exile to find a mostly empty Jerusalem, a destroyed Temple and a distressing political situation.  Through formidable obstacles, the returnees succeeded in building a humble Temple and restoring sacrificial worship.  Joshua, the high priest and Zerubbabel, the political leader of the community, were very important figures in this time and in the prophecies of Zechariah and Haggai.  Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, was especially important since he embodied the hopes of the people to restore the kingdom.  He is referred to as "the branch" in Zechariah (3:8; 6:12) and is often labeled a "type" of Christ.


The book contains many visions which are challenging to understand.  Fortunately, most of the visions in the first part (1-8) have an angel interpreter who explains what they mean.  Pay close attention to the angel's words.  The images mainly point to the prosperity of Jerusalem and the Lord's protection of the Jewish people from their enemies.  Through Zechariah's ministry, the Lord calls the people to return to himself (1:3) and announces the coming restoration of Judah (8).


The second part of the book (9-14) is thoroughly messianic.  Zechariah sees many things about a coming king who will be betrayed and put to death (9:9; 13:7).  In Zechariah's time, the hopes of restoring the kingdom of David remained unfulfilled, but Jesus takes up these expectations and fulfills them as the true Son of David. The Gospel writers quote and allude to Zechariah consistently showing that they understand Jesus to be fulfilling Zech 9-14.  The messianic vision of Zechariah concludes with a prediction that all of the nations will worship the Lord together at Jerusalem, the in-gathering of the nations (14:16).  This prophecy is fulfilled in the proclamation of the Gospel to the Gentiles so that every knee may bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (cf. Phil 2:11).

 

Zechariah's visions have often been subjected to fantastic interpretations.  But they must be read in the context of the post-exilic Jewish community in Jerusalem, rebuilding the Temple and renewing their covenant with the Lord.  Yet they were not brought to fulfillment until Jesus came preaching "the kingdom" (Matt 3:2).

 

By Mark Giszczak

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