Zechariah 14:20-21 On That Day, a Holy City to the Lord (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Rev. Erik Veerman
On That Day, a Holy City to the Lord
We’ve come to the last two verses of Zechariah. I hope our study been a blessing to you as much as it has to me. Starting next week, we’ll do a short series in Romans 12. I’ve been going back to do different chapters of Romans in-between our full sermon series. Then, after Romans 12 we’ll dive into the book of 1 John. That will be a nice change of pace from Zechariah.
But let’s now turn our attention to these final two verses. You can find them on page 952 of the pew Bible. Zechariah 14:20-21
Please stand for the reading of our sermon text as we give all due respect to God’s word. Zechariah 14:20-21. Hear now God’s holy word.
Reading of Zechariah 14:20-21
Those last three words are a very fitting ending to the book, “on that day.” Well, on that day, the grass withers, the flower falls, But the word of the Lord stands forever.
I would like to do a thought experiment with you.
What if the Old Testament presented every detail about the future Messiah? In other words, what if the prophets prophesied the exact year when Jesus would be born? What if they identified Jesus parents and specifics of where he would live? What if the prophets gave details about the cross and what year Jesus would die. And what if the Old Testament explicitly said that after 3 days Jesus would be resurrected?
When I think about those possibilities, every what-if has led me to a dead end.
For example, if the exact location of the messiah’s birth was known beforehand, imagine what would have happened to that location in the lead up. Or how people would have flocked to Jesus in his infancy or childhood. He wouldn’t have gone through the childhood experiences of the common man. We already know that in his public ministry, he often had to withdraw because the crowds were overwhelming. Jesus himself hid his identity for a period of time. Why? Because, as he said, his time had not yet come.
Or if all the details of Jesus death was revealed beforehand, think of how that itself would undermine, in different ways, his crucifixion. Same with his resurrection.
Every scenario I’ve thought about regarding Jesus or his kingdom, has made me realize how God orchestrated it all, in his perfect time, providing prophecies and promises that all together is astounding.
We have spent a lot of time in the book of Zechariah since February. And we’ve seen in every chapter a different highlight of the coming savior, the salvation he would bring, and the nature of his coming kingdom. From visions to direct prophecies, to people whose represented Christ’s priestly and kingly role, to the temple itself and the lampstand, to events that happened which point to Christ and his kingdom.
With the variety of prophecies and promises, the book of Zechariah is similar to the Old Testament as a whole.
In fact, if you add up all the ways in the Old Testament in which redemption in Christ is foreshadowed, it’s overwhelming.
•Events like the Exodus
•Feasts and festivals that reveal aspects of salvation
•People that prefigure Jesus in different ways like David and Moses.
•The temple itself and all the priestly activities that point to the holiness of God and the cleansing reconciliation of the coming savior.
•Psalmists wrote of sin and a messiah who would save.
•Prophets pointed to many aspect of Jesus birth and life, and death and resurrection.
•And the list goes on.
The point I’m trying to make is that Zechariah and the whole Old Testament paints a beautiful, full-orbed picture of the Gospel. Yes, it’s veiled so that God could work it out in his perfect timing, but the picture is richer, deeper, broader, and (I would argue) more comprehensive than if the Old Testament were a detailed movie script of what was to come.
And it should instill in us an amazement at how God orchestrated it all and brought it to pass… all for his glory and our good.
These last two verses of Zechariah conclude the book in a similar way. They further expand on God’s future promises for his people. …I would say, in a climatic way.
So let’s jump in.
Since we’re just talking about two verses, let’s work through these systematicly.
I have three question for us to answer:
•First, what do these verses mean? I’m talking about the people receiving Zechariah prophesy – what is the significance for them?
•Second, how do these last two verses fit in the book as a whole?
•And third, how does they relate to us? How do we make the jump from them to us?
In some way, we’ve been working through these kinds of questions throughout the whole book, so it’s a fitting conclusion.
1. The Original Meaning
Let’s start with the original meaning.
You’ve probably noticed that these verses are about holiness. Well, holiness was something very significant to the people in Zechariah’s generation. Remember, Zechariah was prophesying to the people who had returned from exile. That’s only a portion of the people. There were many still in Babylon, far away to the east. But why did some return? Well, Jerusalem was a special place. It was sacred to them. The city and surrounding region had historical and religious significance. The people who returned wanted to return because they wanted to be there. But remember, this generation was born in Babylon. So it’s not likely that they had been to Jerusalem before, rather, their families had retained their Jewish identity. This generation had been taught the law. They knew of the ceremonies and the history of the fathers and kings. And they knew that the centerpiece of Jewish life in Jerusalem had been the temple.
Some of the people who had arrived, came before the temple was rebuilt. The first half of Zechariah’s prophecy was written before the temple was finished. So, many returned exiles were there when the temple was rededicated. It was a shadow of its original glory, but nonetheless, it was restored and the priestly activities resumed. And that event drew more people back to Jerusalem - a functioning temple.
But what was it about the temple that was so special? If you were to pick one word that described the temple, what would that one word be? It would be the word “holy.” Holy - we’ve come across it before. It means “set apart” in a righteous kind of way. To be holy was to be distinguished from un-pure, un-clean, and common things. And that word is directly connected to God. God is holy – one of his very character traits as God is holiness – holy, holy, holy.
The temple itself had two inner chambers. One was called the Holy Place. And the other was called the Holy of Holies. Only the priests could go into the Holy Place and only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies once a year. In generations past, it’s where God’s presence and glory dwelt.
To be sure, the priests were like everyone else in that they were, of course, human. Sinful. Unholy. And as such, in order to fulfill their responsibilities, they had to go through ceremonial cleansing and wear special robes and attire. It didn’t mean they became holy. Rather, it symbolized the holiness required to be the go-between to a Holy God.
And what was their job? Besides keeping the temple clean, the priests performed sacrifices – animals, like doves and lambs, were sacrificed as part of the cleansing ritual for the people. It showed the people what was needed to atone for sin. Blood needed to be shed in place of the sinner being punished.
You follow me so far? The temple was set apart as a holy place for a holy God, who set apart priests from among the people. They had holy responsibilities.
We read a few verses from Exodus 28 earlier. It spoke about the high priest. He had to wear very special garments. He wore a turban on his head. And on the turban, as we read, was to be affixed a pure gold engraving that said, “holy to the Lord.” And in Exodus 28, God said that “Aaron,” who was the high priest, “shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.”
The high priest was very set apart. He went before God on behalf of the people, so that they might be accepted by God.
The people were very familiar with the idea of holiness, but holiness was reserved for a small subset of priests and temple objects, which were designated as holy.
But look what Zechariah 14, verse 20 say: “And on that day, there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘Holy to the Lord.’”
Person: “What?! Zechariah, did I hear your prophecy right?” Are you saying that on that day, animals will be holy?”
Zechariah: “Yes, Yes, I am In fact regular ordinary cooking pots will be like the special set apart cooking pots used for the sacrificial meat.”
Person: “But Zechariah, the temple pots were cleansed by the priests themselves. Are you saying that priests will have to go door to door to clean our pots?”
Zechariah: “No, actually, what I am saying is that you will all be priests on that day. Like my prophecy says, all who sacrifice may come and use the holy pots.”
Do you see what this prophecy is describing? There would come a future day when everything will be holy. This would have been mind-blowing for them. This idea of everything being holy was radical compared to what they were used to. The city will be like one big temple.
One commentator I read captured it well: “The city of Jerusalem will be one massive sanctuary, so much so that even the most common of objects will be sacred. Holiness will not be limited to the specially consecrated items in the temple. All of Jerusalem will be a ‘holy’ zone.”
Zechariah adds one more comment. In the beginning of the very last sentence, he adds, “There shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord.” That word “trader” is the word for “Canaanite.” They were known as merchants, so some translations like ours translate it as “trader.” This either means that there won’t need to be merchants in the temple (you know, the kind that Jesus drove out). Or it means that there will not be any people there who don’t believe in the God of the bible - like the Canaanites. Either way, it further emphasizes the future holiness of the city and people.
So to summarize: These two verses were saying to the original audience that a future day was coming when no temple or priests would be needed. Why? Because everything and everyone in the city would be holy to the Lord. A future holy city and holy people.
So that answers the first question, what was the significance of these two verses to them?
2. Connection to Zechariah
But related to that, is the next question, how does this connect to the rest of the book?
Well, the simple answer is it very much aligns with what God had been teaching them. God wanted them. Remember some of the very opening words, “Return to me.” It wasn’t about the physical city or temple, rather it was about God’s covenant relationship with them. They were his people, and he desired their hearts.
Remember the beautiful picture of the golden lampstand in chapter 4? (I have to pull my menorah out one more time). Remember that the vision wasn’t about the physical lampstands in the temple. Rather, it was a picture of God’s people, who would be fueled by the golden oil – the Holy Spirit. And they would be vessels that shine the light of Christ.
These last two verses of the book are a fitting conclusion. It reminded them to look beyond the physical city and temple. Their temptation was to latch on to the temple and earthly priests, as if they were the things that would save them. No, they merely prefigured a future day where a temple was no longer needed. A day when God’s people would be holy to the Lord.
Another connection is these last 3 chapters - chapters 12-14. They’ve been progressing. God had revealed through Zechariah about the coming Messiah – Jesus, and his salvation. He was the pierced one (chapter 12), who would be the rejected shepherd (chapter 13), and in chapter 14, we see the completion of salvation. A resurrected savior, a final battle and victory, and a new and eternal city, where true worshippers of God from all nations would be present.
In other words, these last 2 verses are the climax. They are the pinnacle of God’s fulfillment of salvation.
•A fully restored city with everything and everyone holy.
•The final cleansing from sin and evil, which has been a theme, is complete.
•And a day will come when there’s no more sin. Everything and everyone will be holy.
And that’s the summary of the second question… how these verses fit in. They culminate God’s message to his people. A future day will come where God’s holiness is reflected in everything and everyone who are in his holy city.
3. Meaning for Us
And that brings us to the third and last question. How does this apply to us? This is the “so what” question? So what does this mean to me?
Kids, have you ever asked your mom or dad, “why do I have to study math? You know, like, I don’t want to be an accountant or engineer someday.”
And how did your mom or dad respond? “Well, honey, God has made the universe beautiful and orderly. And when we study math, we are learning the very principles that help us see and know and wonder at God’s created order. Besides, math works itself out in every-day life. We study it so we can be faithful to use the resources he has given and give him the glory in all of it.”
I’m guessing your parents said something like that. And what did you say in response? Maybe “humph!”
You see, there are parts of the Bible that seem distant and irrelevant at first. But as we uncover their truths and see them in light of God’s story of redemption, they become alive.
Zechariah has been like that.
We share many similarities with Zechariah’s generation. They lived in a time of uncertainty which can be unsettling. Some of God’s promises had come true, but the realities around them were difficult and painful. They were awaiting the fulfillment of those promises.
We live in a time of uncertainty which, as you know, can be unsettling. Some of God’s promises have come true, but the realities around us are difficult and painful. And we also await the fulfillment of those promises.
The difference is, they lived before the first coming of the promised savior - Jesus. We live before the second coming of Jesus. For us, some of the future prophecies of Zechariah have already come true. We’ve seen that in many ways. But, there are still prophesies of Zechariah that have yet to be fulfilled.
So let’s apply this in two ways. First, a present reality and second, a future hope.
Let’s begin with the present reality.
These verses, in a spiritual way for us, have already been fulfilled. The promise to them was that a day would come when everyone who worships the Lord would be holy unto the Lord. It’s not talking about every single person. Remember what it said in the verses just before these? It’s those who keep the feast of booths, who would receive the blessing of God. In other words, those who believed in the coming savior and worship him.
If you are in Christ, you know and believe and trust in Jesus and worship him alone… if that’s you, you are holy to the Lord. Right now! You see, despite your sin, God has reconciled you in Christ. You are his by faith. You have the righteousness of Christ. God has given you that. Remember chapter 3? The vision of Joshua the high priest – how his dirty robes were removed and he was given clean ones. That is the promise. We have the righteous robes of Christ. It’s not that we don’t sin any longer. Rather our sin is covered by the blood of Christ.
In fact, the Bible speaks of God’s people as a holy priesthood. We are priests, through Christ, just like these verses prophesy. We can come to God, in his presence, now. Jesus is the earthly mediator – the perfect one. Through him, we can come in God’s presence and be priests, ministering to one another.
And today, there is no more need for a temple. That’s because Jesus has come. He perfectly fulfilled all of the priestly role. And we have his presence here and now. We don’t need an earthly priest or temple or sacrifices. He is the eternal high priest who gave himself on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice.
You see, these are realities now. The returned exiles looked forward to what we have now. And we can rest and trust in God for all that he has done and is doing because of Christ. We can worship God in Christ, we can come to him in repentance. To be sure, they had faith and salvation in the same savior. Theirs was a faith in the future reality of the Messiah and his prophesied salvation. Our faith is the present reality that he has come and has saved.
But if we only saw these final two verses of Zechariah as present realities, then we would miss out on the future hope that they also give.
Part of what is promised here remains in the future for us, just as it was in the future for the returned exiles. It’s the promise of a fully restored future and holy city.
In Revelation 21, the apostle John was given a vision of the heavenly Jerusalem. One of his descriptions included this: “…I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” In the heavenly Jerusalem there will be no temple! Just like our text. There will be no need for a temple.
Not only will we be holy because of the righteousness of Christ, but there will no longer be any sin in us. All evil will be gone. The effects of the fall will be reversed. The term that the apostle Paul uses in Romans 8 is glorified. We will be fully glorified with Christ. Fully restored without even the ability to sin.
•On that day, we will no longer sin against God or one another. Our thoughts will be pure. Our actions will be undefiled. Repentance will not be needed. We will no longer be tempted to lust or covet. Idols of all kinds will be gone. It will be a day when holiness is infused through everyone and everything.
•On that day, our relationships with one another will be completely peaceful. All the strains and tension that we have today will be gone. We will be perfectly reconciled to one another in Christ. We will not fail one another. There will be no more gossip nor hurt. We will no longer have broken hearts
•On that day, we will no longer live in the pain of doubts and fear. We will no longer have feeling of shame. No, because on that day, we will have perfect communion with God. We will no longer cry out to him in our sorrow wondering where he is. Because we will be basking in his presence and glory day after day after day.
It is a day to look forward to. A day to long for. It’s a day that give us hope now knowing what is to come.
Let me end with the words of Jesus about that coming day. These are words that we began our worship service with from Revelation 22 verse 20. Jesus said this about that day: “surely, I am coming soon.” And the apostle John’s response should be ours as well. He said, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Come, Lord Jesus quickly come.