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Alex's Blog for December 9, 2010 - The Meaning of the Attacks on Jerusalem in
Zechariah 12-14 (Part 3)
By Alex Dodson
Now we come to chapter 14 of Zechariah which will be the final article in this three part series. This chapter is not easy to understand. Matthew Henry wrote concerning the contents of this passage, "These verses are dark and hard to be understood." (Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 1468) David Brown comments, "The whole context of this passage is highly figurative, and involved in difficulty, as is evident from the diversities among commentators…" (Christ's Second Coming, Will It Be Premillennial?, p. 63) There are various interpretations of this chapter among those who seek to expound its meaning. The interpretation is usually determined by the commentator's eschatological views and presuppositions. Today, the popular view among evangelicals is that this chapter refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ and the events associated with it. We should also clarify that by saying the popular view we mean the dispensational view of the second coming. All orthodox Christians believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ but there are various views as to the circumstances relating to His second coming. The most popular view today among evangelicals is seen in such publications as the Left Behind Series or even older books such as The Late Great Planet Earth. Both of these are based on the dispensational view of the second coming.
The dispensational view of the second coming has been popular for the past 100 years or so and was made popular primarily through the well liked Scofield Reference Bible early in the last century. Today, most evangelicals hold to the dispensational view whether knowingly or unknowingly due to its overwhelming popularity. Few evangelicals even know of any other view. However, it must be said that this has not always been the case. From shortly after the Reformation to the latter part of the 19th century, a very different view was popular among evangelical Christians. This view was much more optimistic and spurred on the beginning of the modern missionary movement. It was a view that was reflected in the old hymns such as Jesus Shall Reign Where'er the Sun by Isaac Watts or From Greenland's Icy Mountains by Reginald Heber. It is also described in books like The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray or As the Waters Cover the Sea by James A. DeJong. It was the view held by most of the Puritans and by great Bible scholars such as Jonathan Edwards who lived at the time of the First Great Awakening in America. It was also held by the great pioneer missionaries such as William Carey and David Livingstone. Their view was that the gospel would eventually be victorious and that the whole world would be won to Christ. There would come a time when the nations worldwide would acknowledge Christ and there would be a time of peace throughout the world as prophesied by Isaiah. Some called this "the latter day glory". Instead of the world growing worse and worse and Christianity going down in defeat, they saw Christianity conquering the whole world and Christ reigning victoriously over the nations in this age. Instead of the late great planet earth, the world would have the knowledge of the Lord permeated through it fulfilling Habakkuk's prophecy, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." (2:14) They saw a future millennium, alright, but one in this age resulting from the victory of the gospel worldwide.
So, in looking at Zechariah 14, I will come at it with this presupposition that I believe in the victory of the gospel in this age and that Christ will not return until after that victory has been achieved. Overall, I believe that Zechariah 14 is referring not to the second coming of Christ in the near future as many believe today but in a worldwide revival that will transform the world into a place of righteousness. Iain Murray wrote, "Is there any event predicted by Scripture to take place in history of which one can say with any certainty that it is yet unfulfilled? In considering this question I came to believe that there is at least one event, namely, a great revival, which is both promised and, as yet, unaccomplished…he (Paul) teaches us (in Romans 11) that we are to look for a larger fulfillment in history of some of the grandest Old Testament predictions. When I saw this, like Bunyan's Pilgrim I was ready to emerge from Doubting Castle. Men have spoken too soon in claiming the world has now entered a post-christian era and we have been fools to believe them." (ThePuritan Hope, p. xxi)
What we have in this chapter, I believe, is a great deliverance for the Jewish people and their conversion to Christ accompanied by a worldwide revival that will effect all nations. In chapters 12 and 13, we have already pointed out that at some point God will come and deliver Israel and the result will be their wholesale conversion to Christ as a people. Chapter 14 teaches the same thing with some symbolic imagery included. Today's popular teaching is that this can only be referring to the second coming of Christ evidenced by the wording of the latter part of verse 5 which says, "…Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him." We cannot say that this can only refer to the second coming of Christ. There is no mention in this verse of Christ although it can very well mean Christ by the words "the Lord my God." Zechariah was giving a prophecy that could as easily refer to the first coming of Christ as the latter part of chapter 13 seems to do. To say that this verse can only refer to the second coming of Christ cannot be said with certainty by any means. In the New Testament alone, we can see that the coming of the Lord can refer to different events. Matthew 25:31 says, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory." Most believe that this verse definitely refers to the second coming of Christ. Jesus refers to His coming in John 14:3 when He says, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." Which coming does this verse refer to? Does it refer to his coming for us at death or does it refer to his second coming? I believe it could refer to both. This verse is definitely a comfort to a Christian who is facing death or to loved ones who have lost a family member or friend. In the very next chapter, Jesus talks about another coming in which he says, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:16-18) This verse is clearly not talking about the second coming but about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and future outpourings of the Spirit. Another example of the coming of the Lord is found in Revelation 2:4-5 where Jesus addresses the church in Ephesus and says, "Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." This coming of the Lord Jesus is a coming in judgement on this church for its lack of repentance. It is not a visible coming but a coming of the Lord to His people to correct and discipline them. In a clear reference to the judgement on Jerusalem in 70 AD, Jesus tells the parable of the tenants. After the landowner had sent several servants unsuccessfully to receive some fruit from his tenants, he decides to send his son. We read in Luke 20:13-16 - "Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.' But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. 'This is the heir,' they said. 'Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. When the people heard this, they said, 'May this never be!'" This was fulfilled in 70 AD, when the Lord brought judgement upon Jerusalem and the Jewish people for their rejection of the Messiah. The gospel then went to the Gentiles. This was a coming of the Lord in judgment though it was not a visible coming.
All the foregoing is said to show that there are references to the Lord's coming that do not refer to the second coming. The Lord can come to us at death. He comes to us when He sends the Holy Spirit. He comes in discipline and judgment.
The Old Testament talks numerous times about the Lord coming to punish the sin of a people or nation. For example, Zephaniah 2:1-2 says, "Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's wrath comes upon you." Passages like this are not necessarily talking about the end of the world but can be applied to specific situations in history when the Lord came in judgment on a people or many times to discipline His own people Israel. In this case in Zechariah, the context seems to indicate that the words, "Then the Lord my God will come and all the holy ones with him," (14:5) is referring to a deliverance of Israel from her enemies and judgment on those enemies. Most commentators take "holy ones" to be angels. Some also include believers especially those who believe this passage is referring to the pre-millennial second coming of Christ. My interpretation would lean toward angels in that it is probably not a visible coming of the Lord at this point.
Another verse I would like to consider is verse 8 which says, "On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter." This verse could easily refer to the first coming of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the sending out of the gospel into all the world. Yet, due to the context that we are looking at, this seems to refer to a time future to those events. It is probably referring to a future great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a further sending out of the gospel all over the world with wonderful conversions everywhere. In other words, it is looking forward to a great worldwide revival associated with the conversion of Israel and the Jewish people. Matthew Henry seems to point to such a revival in his interpretation when he writes, "Here are blessings promised to Jerusalem, the gospel-Jerusalem, in the day of the Messiah, and to all the earth, by virtue of the blessings poured on Jerusalem, especially to the land of Israel." He goes on to expound on this by saying, "Jerusalem shall be a spring of living waters to the world; it was made so when there the Spirit was poured out upon the apostles, and thence the word of the Lord diffused itself to the nations about: Living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; for there they began, and thence those set out who were to preach repentance and remission of sins unto all nations….The gospel shall spread into all parts of the world, into some that lie remote from Jerusalem one way and others that lie as far off another way; for the dominion of the Redeemer, which was thereby to be set up, must be from sea to sea, and the earth must be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea, and as the waters that in various channels run to the sea. The knowledge of God will diffuse itself every way." (p. 1470)
The gospel began in Jerusalem and was dispersed out into the world. It has continued to be dispersed into the world even unto this day. This passage seems to indicate a further dispersion of the gospel into the world yet future. From my viewpoint, I take this as pointing to a great revival in the future which will help to issue in the latter day glory spoken of by Christians of the past. I don't think this is talking about the second coming of Christ to set up his millennial kingdom as those who hold to dispensational teaching talk about. Rather, I believe it is referring to an explosion of the gospel worldwide in a great Spiritual revival that will change the whole world. This is something that will be in the present age and will lead to a time of blessing on the world not yet experienced. The whole gospel age has been leading up to such a period in history which is yet to come to pass.
The next verse we will consider is verse 9 which says, "The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name." This verse is interpreted in various ways depending on ones understanding of this whole chapter. The dispensational understanding would be that this verse is referring to the millennial-kingdom that Jesus will set up at his second coming. This, of course, is the most popular interpretation among evangelicals today. Yet, this has not always been the case. Evangelicals of former generations saw this as something to be fulfilled in this age through the preaching of the gospel. John Gill (1697-1771) was an English Pastor and Bible Scholar who in commenting on Zechariah 14:9 wrote, "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth…This refers to the spiritual reign of Christ in the latter day; upon the success of the Gospel everywhere, there will be great conversions in all places; Gospel churches will be set up and ordinances administered everywhere; the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord; his kingdom will be from sea to sea, from the eastern to the western one, and his dominion will reach to the ends of the earth; Popish nations, Mahometan kingdoms, Pagan ones, and all the kings of the earth, will become Christian, and submit to the scepter of Christ's kingdom…" (www.studylight.org) John Gill's Commentary on Zechariah
In their commentary on verse 9, Keil and Delitzsch translate the word "earth" as "land" referring to the land of Israel but take it also to symbolically mean the whole world. They comment, "To this blessing there is added the higher spiritual blessing, that Jehovah will be King over all the land, and His name alone will be mentioned and revered. (The Hebrew word for "earth" or "land") does not mean the whole earth, but, as in verses 8 and 10, the whole of the land of Canaan or of Israel, which is bounded by the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. It by no means follows from this, however, that Zechariah is simply speaking of a glorification of Palestine. For Canaan, or the land of Israel, is a type of the kingdom of God in the full extent which it will have on the earth in the last days depicted here." (p. 407 Commentary on Zechariah) Both of the above interpretations refer this verse to this age rather than a future millennial-kingdom set up by Christ at His second coming.
Before concluding this article, I want to look at the last two verses of the chapter, verses 20-21 - "On that day Holy to the Lord will be inscribed on the bells of the horses and the cooking pots in the Lord's house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord Almighty." These verses are referring to the same period of time that verses 8-9 referred to - "On that day". These verses look forward to a time of universal holiness all over the earth in the time that the Lord will be king over the whole earth. Again, we take this not as a future millennial-kingdom that is set up after Christ's second coming but rather as something to be fulfilled in this age through the preaching of the gospel worldwide. Evangelicals of former generations referred to this time as the latter day glory.
The sense of these two verses is that not only will the sacred bowls of the altar be considered holy but even every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy. Even the horses will wear bells inscribed with the words Holy to the Lord. There will no longer be an ungodly person (a Canaanite) in the house of the Lord. All will be holy. Holiness will spread everywhere. Matthew Henry sees a fulfillment of these verses at least to some extent in the present age. He writes, "In gospel times the true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and in truth, and neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem (John 4:21). One place shall be as acceptable to God as another…and one vessel shall be as acceptable as another." (p. 1474) Yet, he goes on to point out that the ultimate fulfillment of these verses will come only in the eternal state. He writes, "Yet this will not have its full accomplishment short of the heavenly Jerusalem, that house of the Lord of hosts, into which no unclean thing shall enter…." (p. 1474 - 1475)
David Brown (1803 - 1897) makes the comparison with Malachi 1:11 which says, "From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts." Brown comments, "Do not all understand the prediction to mean simply this, that not at Jerusalem only, but everywhere, and not by Jews only, but by all nations without distinction, from one end of the world to the other, acceptable worship shall ascend to God? And how is it that all unite in so understanding it? Clearly because 'incense' and 'offering,' in the Jewish sense, having given place under the Gospel to 'spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,' there is no other kind of worship of which we can understand the prediction…" (p. 367 Christ's Second Coming - Will It Be Premillenial?)
The imagery in Zechariah 14 point to a time when holiness will prevail in the earth among the nations. Do we await a millennial - kingdom after Jesus returns for this to be accomplished or should we expect this to happen in this age through the preaching of the gospel and before Jesus returns? Again, the answer will depend on one's presuppositions and eschatological views. Those who hold to the dispensational view of scripture will interpret this chapter in the former way and those who hold to the older view of evangelicals of long ago will interpret in the latter way. Do we look for a millennial - kingdom after Jesus returns or do we look for a latter day glory in this age before Jesus returns? I believe Zechariah 14 can just as well be interpreted in the second way.
In commenting on the latter day glory, Jonathan Edwards wrote, "The visible kingdom of Satan shall be overthrown, and the kingdom of Christ set up on the ruins of it, every where throughout the whole habitable globe…Now the kingdom of Christ shall in the most strict and literal sense be extended to all nations, and the whole earth…What can be more universal than that in Isaiah 11:9 - 'For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.' As much as to say, as there is not part of the channel or cavity of the sea any where, but what is covered with water; so there shall be no part of the world of mankind but what shall be covered with the knowledge of God." (The History of Redemption, p. 315) Let us pray toward that end.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise
Brown, David. Christ's Second Coming - Will It Be Premillenial?. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1983. (From the 1876 edition of Robert Carter and Brothers)
Edwards, Jonathan. The History of Redemption.The National Foundation for Christian Education, Marshallton, Delaware, first published in 1773.