Academic Apologetics Theology
R. L. Solberg  

Zechariah 14 (Part 3)

Continued from Part 2.

Apologetic and Theological Reflection

Like all OT texts, Zechariah’s vision in 14:16–21 must be viewed through the lens of sensus plenior as revealed by the advent of Christ and the revelation of the NT texts. The first observation to note is the apparent absence of the Messiah from the narrative of Chapter 14 as a whole. The preceding chapters closely linked the coming of the kingdom with the coming of a messianic figure, “the Branch (צֶ֫מַח)” (Zech. 3:8; 6:12-13). In one sense, it seems appropriate that Zechariah’s final vision should conclude with Yahweh as King because the entire book has been anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God. On the other hand, in hindsight, the omission of any mention of the messianic Branch is curious. Webb offers some helpful insight.

The key that unlocks so much of how the New Testament refers to Zachariah is the incarnation. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it was not just God’s Messiah who had come to us but God himself. And when Jesus Christ comes again it will be the coming of God. The one who ascended bodily from the mount of olives will one day stand there again.1

God Himself is the Messiah. He is the protagonist of Zechariah’s vision, the One whom the nations will go up to Jerusalem to worship.

Narrowing our focus to the climactic ending of Zechariah’s second oracle, we must next consider the interpretation of the prophet’s imagery and narrative in vv. 16–21. Is there sufficient warrant to anticipate that the scene Zechariah describes will come to pass in an essentially literal way? Is it reasonable to expect a future era in which—perhaps in a process not unlike the annual convening of the United Nations in New York City—representatives of all the political nations on Earth will make a pilgrimage to the city of Jerusalem for one week every year? Moreover, while there, these representatives will each construct a sukkah and live in it for a week, praising God and keeping the Feast of Booths (v. 16). Further, the temple will be rebuilt, and the sacrifices renewed (vv. 20–21). Such changes would necessitate the reconstitution of the Levitical priesthood if they were to be enacted in accordance with Mosaic law. Additionally, in this future “Jerusalem and Judah”2 (v. 21), every pot and bowl (perhaps, more broadly, every kitchen vessel) will be holy enough that worshippers will be able to “boil the meat of the sacrifice in them” (v. 21).

There are at least two significant obstacles to such a literal, wooden interpretation. First, it is difficult to reconcile such a view with the NT. For example, the apostle Paul reveals that the body of believers in Jesus are now God’s temple.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16–17, NIV).3

Moreover, Jesus expressly declared the end of the Sinai Covenant’s geographical requirement for the worship of Yahweh. He told the woman at the well,

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:21, 23).

Under the New Covenant, the body of believers are God’s temple, His Spirit dwells in them, and a building in Jerusalem is no longer a requirement of worship. Without a temple, the feasts and sacrifices cannot be carried out as commanded in the Torah. Thus, any literal interpretation of Zachariah’s final vision requires a biblical explanation for how and why, after ceasing to be required under the New Covenant, the aforementioned Mosaic elements will be re-established at a future time.

Second, in his study of biblical prophecies that were both given and fulfilled on the pages of Scripture, Brent Sandy catalogs insights into the nature of biblical prophecy. He demonstrates how most prophecies were not understood until after their fulfillment, concluding,

The nature of the language of prophecy means it may be fulfilled with pinpoint accuracy or it may be fulfilled with similarity. It may be fulfilled immediately, or it may be fulfilled hundreds of years later…Prophecy is always accurate in what it intends to reveal. But exactly when and how things will happen is generally unclear. 4

Thus, Sandy rightly concludes that neither the original hearers of biblical prophecy nor modern readers are able to anticipate the specifics of how it will be fulfilled.

In its original setting, the prophetic vision of Zechariah 14 was given to a people struggling under the repressive rule of a foreign nation to whom they had surrendered their holy city, Jerusalem. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob declared through his prophet that He would ultimately cleanse the city and cause all nations to submit to his universal Kingship. Many find in Zechariah 14 events that herald the institution of a millennial kingdom with Jerusalem as its center. Just how literally are we to take the prophet’s vision?

Webb urges caution, stating that, in light of the symbolic and figurative nature of the text, “It would be unwise, generally speaking, to take the description of the last things in this chapter too literally. It is language stretched to the breaking point to describe the indescribable.”[5] Boda concurs. “Although there are clearly eschatological implications that can be drawn from this chapter, one should not try to build a literal picture of end-time events from its eschatological language and imagery.”6

 We noted earlier how the NT authors found a basis in Zechariah for understanding the messianic mission of Jesus. For example, they applied Zechariah’s prophecy of a coming king “humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9) to  Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem in the same manner. Mark’s account of this event is notably followed by Jesus cleansing the temple (Mark 11:15–19). Is Mark linking these two events to portray Jesus as Zechariah’s Divine Warrior on the Mount of Olives who has come to defeat the enemies of Israel and cleanse the city/temple? F. F. Bruce sees such a connection in the apostle John’s record of the same temple cleansing event (John 2:13–22).[7] Such NT allusions to Zechariah 14 indicate that the early Church recognized a connection between Jesus the Messiah and the prophecies of Zechariah.

Indeed, a strong case can be made that the fulfillment of Zechariah 14:16–21 began with the advent of Jesus. Christ, the Divine Warrior, went to battle with the enemies of God and His people through His death and resurrection. He now rules as King over the new creation that He inaugurated, and the nations (גּוֹי, goy – “peoples, Gentiles, nations”) of the earth will bend their knees to His rule and come to his throne to worship Him. Boda explains,

The story of the early church describes the initial phase of the submission of the nations to Christ’s rule as the church carried the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. The story of the church today is a later chapter in this same narrative plot, which will reach fulfillment with the return of Christ.8

Indeed, Zechariah 14 depicts the restoration of Yahweh’s kingship on earth. God is boldly described as a victorious King, bringing military victory and subsequently reigning over the nations. “On that day” (a phrase repeated seven times in this chapter), Zechariah foretells the transformation of the created order using language reminiscent of the creation account in Genesis (vv. 6-8) and declares Yahweh’s kingship. “The Lord will be king over all the earth” (14:9). Living waters will flow out to cover the region (v. 8) as Jerusalem, representing God’s secured locus of rule, is elevated above the surrounding land (v. 10). The people-nations of the earth are defeated by King Yahweh, but not to their ultimate ruin. His desire is that they worship Him, and they will then be drawn into His presence in a cleansed and holy Jerusalem to do just that.

In so far as Zechariah’s Jewish contemporaries understood this prophecy, it certainly would have enlarged their theological vision of the future. Their immediate desire was relief from the Persian oppression under which they struggled. However, Zechariah 14 reveals more than the long-awaited defeat of the nations. It foretells that those very nations will ultimately submit to the God of Israel and participate in His worship and ways. Moreover, Yahweh’s holiness will extend to include not just the minutiae of kitchenware and horse tack, but the entire land will be set apart for Him. In these elements is a portent of the Great Commission that would be issued centuries later by the resurrected Christ (Matt. 28:19–20), fulfilling God’s promise to bring His blessing to all the families of the earth through Abraham (Gen. 12:1– 3).

Indeed, Yahweh’s New Covenant people include Gentiles who have submitted to the God of Israel and participate in His worship and ways. Believing Jews and Gentiles alike have been made holy through the redemptive work of Christ and the consecrating work of the Spirit (1 Peter 2:9– 10) and now serve as His kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:5– 6). God’s people are the locus of His earthly presence and, as such, serve the New Covenant role of the temple, the means of worshipping Yahweh (1 Pet. 2:1– 8). The body of Christ, then, is the seat of God’s reign on earth, the realization of Jerusalem, through whom His kingdom is extended to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19–20; Acts 1:8).

Therefore, in the final analysis, we find that Torahism’s expectation of a literal fulfillment of the oracle of Zechariah 14 is not required. Indeed, it is problematic. 

Application and Conclusion

Zechariah 14 serves as both a reminder and a challenge for God’s New Covenant people. The Church is called to an active role in this world. The cosmic, redemptive work of Christ on the cross (Isa. 52– 53; 1 Cor. 1:18; Heb. 12:2) brought victory and inaugurated a kingdom that is at once “at hand” (Matt 3:32) and “in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20–21) and is also yet to come (22:18). As King, Jesus’ command for His people is to extend the boundaries of His kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel to encompass all nations (Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). God’s Kingdom is breaking into this world through the vehicle of His Church and people of every nation are drawn to worship Yahweh as King in any geographic location in which the Holy Spirit is embodied (John 4:21–24). The expansion of holiness down to the smallest detail reminds the Church that God’s people are to be set apart for Him. Our Lord prayed that His disciples would remain so. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15–17). As priests and temple, believers are set apart for Yahweh’s use.

Zechariah’s oracle also reminds us of the cosmic scope of Yahweh’s grand story of redemption. As God works to redeem creation and restore the world to His initial Edenic vision, His activities on the timeline of human history shake all of reality. The advent of Christ split history in two and ushered in a paradigm shift in how human beings relate to their Creator. As Yahweh’s kingdom spreads, so, too, His power and authority extend over the nations, ultimately resulting in the submission of all humanity and the transformation of all creation to His glorious sovereignty.  

Zechariah’s second oracle highlights three enduring theological themes of continuing relevance to believers today: the purity of God’s covenant people, the inexorable establishment of God’s kingdom, and His ultimate sovereignty over all creation. These themes have their genesis in the Garden, are embedded in the Sinai Covenant, took a quantum leap forward at the advent of Christ, and form the basis of the hope and the mission of His Church.


1 Webb, 196.

2 Under a literal interpretation, it is unclear what specific geographical region the term Judah would refer to.

3 See also 1 Corinthians 6:19–20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22.

4 D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (InterVarsity Press Academic, 2002), 154.

5 Webb, 232.

6 Boda, 530.

7 F. F. Bruce, “The Book of Zechariah and the Passion Narrative,” BJRL 43 (1960– 61): 167– 90.

8 Boda, 530-1.

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