Zechariah 14:12-19 The Great Reversal: From War to Worship (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Rev. Erik Veerman
The Great Reversal: From War to Worship
Originally, I had planned that this would be our last sermon in Zechariah. But we’re going to have one more next week. The last two verses of the book provide a great conclusion, and so we’ to wrap up then.
Our sermon text this morning, is Zechariah 14 verses 12-19. You can find that on page 951 In the church Bible. They continue the theme of God’s judgment and deliverance. In fact, for a little bit of context, we’ll start in verse 9.
Let’s now turn our attention to God’s Word.
Zechariah 14 starting in verse 9.
Reading of Zechariah 14:9-19
Martin Luther, the great reformer of the 16th century, wrote two commentaries on the book of Zechariah based on his lectures. Not one, but two. The first he wrote in Latin. The second commentary, he wrote in German. In fact, his Latin commentary ended with chapter 13. He didn’t know what to make of Zechariah chapter 14. Luther’s second commentary, however, did include chapter 14. He gave his analysis, but in the end, he wrote this: “Here, in this chapter, I give up. For I am not sure what the prophet is talking about.”
Zechariah 14 is considered one of the most difficult chapters in the whole Bible to interpret.
Coleman did a great job last week with the opening verses. He tied the imagery in chapter 14 with the Exodus and the parting of the Red sea… as well tying the chapter to Jesus’ description of the end times. And how all of it connects with God’s salvation and his judgment.
Someday when Coleman is a pastor of a church, he’ll probably say to his pastoral intern, “you think your passage is difficult, try preaching on Zechariah 14!”
In many ways, Zechariah 14 is like parts of the book of Revelation – the last book of the Bible.
The chapter is full of graphic imagery and allusions to other events and ceremonies, including destruction and judgment and victory. Mountains are torn in two (verse 4) and then flattened. A city rises up above the surrounding area (verse 10). Women are raped (verse 2), flesh rots (verse 12). It’s no wonder this chapter is a difficult one. Not just to interpret, but to apply.
The reason I bring this up is because I want to offer you my analysis, but with humility. It may be that one day in eternity the Lord says to me “nice try, but you missed the mark.” So, with a desire to be faithful but with a level of uncertainty, let me present my case. But know this: the breadth and depth and richness of this chapter will only be fully understood and appreciated in heaven. And we’ll give glory to God, for it.
Ok, two objectives this morning. First, a further analysis of Zechariah 14. I say “further” because I think Coleman nailed it last week. He captured the theological heart of the opening verses, which deal with God’s justice, salvation, and deliverance. More specifically, I want to work through how the prophecy of Zechariah 14 has been or will be fulfilled. That will be the first half of this morning’s sermon.
And then in the second half, we’ll dive into these verses, 12-19.
So that’s where we’re headed.
And to start out, let me give you my thesis – the summary of what I believe Zechariah 14 is about. And then 3 arguments for why I believe it’s a faithful understanding of the chapter.
And here it is: Zechariah 14 points to the completion of God’s salvation in Christ, emphasizing his return and a heavenly Jerusalem, not a restored earthly city.
Let me say that again and explain it.
•Zechariah 14 points to the completion of God’s salvation in Christ. In other words, salvation was accomplished through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and in the resurrection, but that’s not the end. No, God will complete salvation when sin and death are no more.
•And what I want to argue is that Zechariah 14 points to that completion of God’s salvation in Christ. And it does that by emphasizing Jesus’ return and the heavenly Jerusalem to come. That completion will happen when Jesus returns. We call that his second coming. He first came as a baby in a manger, but the Scriptures describe his second coming very differently. (like in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4). He will come again on the clouds of heaven with trumpets and he will judge the world and save his people forever. There will be a new heavens and earth for his people and with his presence forever.
•Zechariah 14 is not predicting, in my view, a restored earthly city, rather it predicts a heavenly city – a new heavens and earth, without sin and sickness and death.
One more time - Zechariah 14 points to the completion of God’s salvation in Christ, emphasizing his return and a heavenly Jerusalem, not a restored earthly city.
To be sure, I believe Zechariah 14 does predict some events on earth, but those are just the lead up to the ultimate event, Christ’s return.
And now, let me make my argument… with 3 reasons.
1. Number one. The progression of the book as a whole leads up to this last chapter as the consummation of salvation. Remember in chapter 13, we talked about how the book began with broad categories of salvation but then focused in on specifics and the savior. It’s progressed kind of like a skydiver descending and being able to see more details below. Well, in the book, there has also been a forward progression in how God would fulfill his promised salvation. Coleman highlighted a little of that last week. The last half of Zechariah paralleled the week leading up to and including the cross. Well, chapter 14 continues and concludes that progression.
We’ve spent time talking about the phrase “On that day” In the last 3 chapters of Zechariah, it’s used 17 or 18 times. As a reminder, it’s not referring to a single day. Rather an age. I would argue that each section that begins with “on that day” emphasizes a different aspect of salvation. Part of chapter 12 and 13 emphasized the cross – the pierced one and the shepherd who was struck. Other “on that day” sections emphasized our individual salvation as a result of God’s work. Like repentance and sanctification.
For you baseball fans, think of the world series last year. On that day, the braves won the world series. But it wasn’t just one day. No, they had to win multiple games, and each game had big plays and great pitching. You see, there were multiple “on that day” events which each added up to the big “on that day” event when the final game ended. And they are still world champs, at least until October (maybe longer). So it’s ongoing.
To summarize the first argument. Zechariah as a whole and especially these last 3 chapters lead up to the final consummation of salvation – Jesus’ return.
2. Second, the overall language of chapter 14 is heightened and speaks to that final completion. Like verses 6. “On that day, there shall be no light, cold or frost” and at the end of verse 7, there shall be light in the evening. We saw that parallel last week between that description and how heaven is described in Revelation 21. Add to that, verse 8 - living waters shall flow forth from Jerusalem, east and west. That’s very similar to Revelation’s description of the new Jerusalem in heaven, which as verse 8 say, will continue in winter and summer. You see, it’s lasting and eternal language.
Or take verses 10 and 11. Jerusalem shall be raised up! And all the surrounding mountains and areas shall become a plain. That’s very symbolic language. It’s like Jerusalem will be raised up to the heavens. It’s not talking about the city on earth now, but the new Jerusalem and the new earth in heaven. God’s people! And in verse 11, the language there is also lasting and eternal, “there shall never again (ever!), be a decree of utter destruction. Jerusalem shall dwell in security.” Do you hear the finality in those words.
And what is going to kick off all these lasting heavenly things? Well, it’s exactly what Coleman highlighted last week. Verse 4. A new Exodus. Christ will come and he will metaphorically part the Mount of Olives, like the parting of the Red Sea. The final escape from sin and death. And to give you a preview of next week, the last 2 verses of chapter 14 show even more of that finality.
Related to all that, chapter 14 includes language of judgment. Besides the opening verses, we’ll see more judgment language in verses 12-19. But the language also has a finality to it. The nations will go up against Jerusalem, against God’s people, but in the end, the Lord will be victorious. When Christ returns, the Scriptures speak of his final judgment again sin and the devil – all the enemies of faith will be defeated. So even the language of judgment language points to Christ’s return.
3. Ok, my third argument relates to Jerusalem. You could be agreeing with me up to this point but still think these future prophecies are about the city of Jerusalem that exists today. But think back to the situation of the returned exiles. Even with all the positives, including many people who returned from Babylon and a rebuilt temple, there was still the overwhelming situation. A foreign nation was still in control and the city walls were still in ruins. And God, though Zechariah, was calling them back to him. All throughout, his promises were not about the physical city of Jerusalem.
•For example, Chapter 2 – the true city will have walls of fire, not stone walls.
•Or chapter 8 - Jerusalem will be a blissful perfect city. It was pointing to the heavenly city.
•Or chapter 12, the promise of a future Jerusalem was connected directly to the savior and the cross.
One of the main purposes of the book has been to draw people to faith and repentance, to the coming savior and his coming salvation. It has not been about a restored earthly kingdom. All throughout, Zechariah has been emphasizing an eternal priestly king who will reign over earth and heaven with a kingdom that is spiritual and eternal.
I guess what I’m saying is that if the book up to this point has been about people, presence, and peace… about cleansing from sin and salvation. It would not make sense for chapter 14 to make a 180 deg turn and be about an earthly kingdom and city.
So, to summarize.
#1 - The progression of Zechariah has been leading up to a final consummation of salvation when Jesus returns again.
#2. The language of chapter 14 itself points to this completion of salvation
#3. The context and emphasis is not on an earthly city, but on a spiritual and eternal city
That’s my case! That Zechariah 14 is about the completion of God’s salvation in Christ, emphasizing his second coming and the heavenly Jerusalem of God’s people, not a restored earthly city or kingdom.
That’s what I *think* is the best way to understand this chapter. But honestly, you could come up to me after the service and ask “ok, but what about this little detail, or this phrase” And I would answer, “great question.” I just think that the questions are much bigger with other interpretations.
Well, that brings us to sermon part 2. Verse 12-19.
And let me say, these verses also connect to each of those prior points. For example, one of the themes throughout Zechariah has been that the nations will come to Christ. Many who were once enemies of God and his people will become friends. That theme was in chapter 2 and chapter 9. Well, here in chapter 14, there’s a final emphasis of the nations turning to worship God.
So, let’s briefly work through these verses, 12–19.
As we read, it starts out with some heavy plagues. Flesh and eyes rotting. Internal conflict within the ranks of the people who had been fighting against God. Utter panic.
And we ask, what is going on here? I mean, is this going to happen? Is there going to be a day when all the enemy peoples come to Jerusalem, the city, to fight against God’s people?
I think you already know my answer. No, rather, these verses are here as a contrast to the opening verses of chapter 14. In verses 1 and 2, God’s people were judged, defeated, exiled. The enemies were winning the battle. But when we get down to verses 12-19. It’s a great reversal! While God’s enemies may have won the battle up in verses 1-2, now it's the enemies who are utterly confounded and judged. In fact, we could say that in these later verses, God’s enemies lost the war. They would be plundered, and utterly decimated.
I believe it’s a picture of the spiritual battle against the church and God’s final judgment on his and our enemies. The reason I think so is similar to my arguments earlier. The language of judgment and war has a finality to it. Like in verse 19. It says, “this shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations.” It’s like verse 19 is saying that what was described earlier – the horrible plagues and the judgment – is for all who remain enemies of God. And it’s an image of hell – chaos, death, suffering. The final judgment of Christ when he returns. Do you see how that fits in to the chapter?
But something radical happens. Just like in earlier chapters, some of the very people who were battling against God and his people, become his people. Verse 16, “everyone who survives… shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts.” As one commentator put it: Warriors against God have become worshipers of God.
In the early 1960s, a young tribal warrior in Equador had a radical transformation to Christ. His name was Mincaye. Missionaries had come to his tribe bringing the hope of Christ. In fact, many in his tribe came to profess faith in Jesus. Over the decades, Mincaye became dear friends with a man connected to the missionary families… Steve Saint and his family. Mincaye became like a father to Steve. Steve’s father had been killed when he was just 5 years old.
Mincaye was part of the Saint family. They were fast friends. They would often visit one another, either in Equador or the United States. They prayed for and loved each other.
But let me tell you about the very first missionary contact with Mincaye’s tribe. 5 missionaries were killed by them. That included Nate Saint, Steve’s father, as well as Jim Elliot and 3 other missionaries. Mincaye’s tribe felt threatened and had attacked and killed them.
Steve Saint wrote a book about the event and the missionary endeavors that followed. It’s titled End of the Spear. There’s also a movie and documentary based on it. Steve wrote that many years later, he was talking to Mincaye about that day – they had never before discussed what had happened. But it’s then that Steve found out that Mincaye was the one who had killed his father and one of the other missionaries. Can you imagine? Nonetheless, it did not change their relationship in one bit, Steve wrote. He recognized that God had used that to do an amazing Gospel work –Mincaye had become a worshiper of Jesus, a brother in Christ, and a father like figure to him. It’s a beautiful picture of redemption and forgiveness. From a warrior to a worshipper.
You see, Zechariah 14 verses 16-19 is speaking of the Gospel going forth to the nations, who were enemies of God. Peoples from every tribe and tongue and nation believing in the savior.
Notice that three times, these verses mention the Feast of Booths – you’ll see that at the end of verse 16 and the end of 18 and the end of 19. And in each case, it speaks of people from the nations, including from Egypt, the very people who had enslaved God’s people, coming to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Feast of Booths.
Now, this particular feast was a remembrance of God’s provision in the wilderness. It’s also called the feat of tabernacles. We read about it earlier in the service from Leviticus chapter 23. They were to make tents or booths of sticks and branches. They were to live in them for a week. It was a remembrance of the events following the exodus from Egypt. God’s people lived in tents in the wilderness as they travelled to the promised land. And God provided for their needs. He provided food – called manna, and water, and their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out. This remembrance happened every fall. It was like a fall harvest festival. And it was to remind them that even the crop that they harvested was a provision from the Lord.
And part of the feast involved praying for rain for the upcoming planting season. That’s why verses 17 and 18 mention rain. Rain indicated God’s blessing. Those who celebrated the feast were blessed by the Lord with rain. Those who didn’t celebrate the feast of booths were not blessed with rain, instead were punished with the plagues.
These verses are not saying that in the future, Christians will have to travel to Jerusalem every year, and celebrate the feast of booths. No, no, no! As it says in Colossians 2, these festivals are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. In other words, Jesus has come. He has fulfilled the ceremonial feasts. He is the one to whom they pointed. These verses are not about restarting the feast of Booths again. That would be a step backward in the revealing and fulfillment of salvation in Christ.
So then, what’s the point of these verses? It’s that there will be people, like us, from all the nations, who will believe in the Lord God, the promised Savior, and who will trust him by faith for provision. And it’s those people, us and others from every tribe and tongue and nation, whom God will bless and who will celebrate in heaven with him forever. We who were aliens and enemies of God – even warriors against him and his people, brought near by the blood of Christ.
So to summarize, verses 12 to 19 reveal God’s ultimate judgment, which will not be based on where you are from or what language you speak. Or even whether you were at one time an enemy of God. Instead, his ultimate judgment will be on whether you are a worshiper of the one true God in Christ.
When Jesus returns. On that day, we will each stand before the judgment seat of Christ and he will separate those whom he knows and who know him and worship him from those who do not believe.
If you believe by faith and worship him, he will call you to an eternal blessing in heaven… in the new Jerusalem with him.
As we close, we’ve spent a lot of time this morning trying to discern what this chapter means. As you know, some Scripture is a lot more clear. For example, with clear calls to living out our faith in our thoughts word and action, other scripture drives our hearts and minds toward God in the wonder of his character and holiness. Yet other passages in the Bible give us comfort in affliction and remind us of God’s grace.
Well, this chapter fits in the category of God’s future promises for us - more specifically, end times. And even with some of the uncertainty of how it will happen and how this chapter speaks to it, yet there are still very clear promises of what God will do. So, let me end with certainty. And in that certainty, we can each grasp hold of God’s future promises and believe.
Next week, by the way, as we conclude the series we’ll spend a lot more time on what it means to live in the present with the eternal perspective of God’s future glorifying work in us.
But for now, here these great promises for you, who are in Christ.
•The eternal son of God, Jesus, who is reigning now as king… He will return one day. And on that day, sin will be no more. Death, and the enemies of faith will be defeated once and for all.
•Furthermore, when Christ returns, we will be united and reunited with all the believers by faith in him - people from all nations throughout the centuries who have come to God by faith in the savior. Eternity together in perfect communion as the bride of Christ…
•And finally, at the very center of that future heavenly eternity will be Christ himself - our King and Lord. God’s presence and glory will be with us forever. And there will be lasting peace – peace among us and peace with God.
God will complete his work of salvation on that day, in each of those ways.
Beloved in Christ, those are God’s assured eternal promises for you. Amen.