Zechariah 1:1-2 - Zechariah’s Prophetic Hope (Rev. Erik Veerman)
We’re starting our new series on the book of Zechariah this morning. Our Scripture reading will just be the first 2 verses. We’ll consider the background and some overall themes. You’ll find that on page 941 in the church Bibles.
Reading of Zechariah 1:1-2
A popular group activity today is the escape room. Maybe you’ve never heard of such a thing. An escape room is a game. You are locked in a room with a theme, like Alcatraz, or a bank vault, or time travel, or you-name-it. Your goal is to escape. The room has clues that lead to special keys or patterns that open objects which reveal new clues.
The first time you’re in an escape room, it’s very disorienting. It takes working together to uncover hidden things in the room and to solve puzzles and riddles. But over time, things start to come together. Wall hangings may hide a safe, which contains a key. A closet may have a secret door. A series of lights or clocks may solve a combination lock. New rooms are revealed. After a while, your initial confusion turns to a realization of how it all works together. Often it’s quite masterful.
The book of Zechariah is similar. A quick read through can be disorienting. It has visions with horses of different colors and flying scrolls and walls of fire. Zechariah also has prophecies which include difficult themes like judgments and references to wars… and coming earthquakes. Mountains that are torn in two. And all throughout are references to people, and places, and things that we are unfamiliar with.
And as you read Zechariah, you may have that same initial feeling like being in an escape room for the first time. Nothing makes sense. The pieces aren’t coming together. And you feel a little stressed. Or are maybe even a little discouraged not knowing how to understand it. Or you wonder about the book’s purpose in the Bible.
In talking with a couple of you, those are some of the things you’ve mentioned. Maybe it’s why most, if not all of you, have never heard a sermon series on Zechariah. The fear of trying to navigate these strange ideas and dream-like visions.
All of that leads to the question of “why?” “Why Zechariah?” “why now?”
Well, lots of reasons. And by the end of this morning’s sermon, you should have those questions answered. By the way, I haven’t suggested you to read Zechariah yet. That was intentional. I wanted to first give you answers to some of the clues to Zechariah. But with those, you can begin to unlock its mysteries and start to see what it reveals. So, I encourage you to read through Zechariah over the next days or weeks. Even after today, you’ll have some keys that will direct you in how to read it. You’ll be oriented in some initial ways to the book.
One of my goals by the end of our series, is that if you are not already in love with the Old Testament, you will be. Now, you may be thinking, “you’re going to try to do that with the book of Zechariah?” Actually, yes. Because what will become apparent over the next weeks and months is how rich and nourishing Zechariah is to your faith. How it deepens your understanding of salvation and God. How it leads you through difficult days and temptations, and how it directs your attention to the life-giving hope of Christ. It’s all there, and it’s written for you.
Think about the New Testament. Most of the books in the New Testament are letters written to people or churches. And they are very structured. Believe this, don’t believe that, do this, don’t do that, for these various reasons. That can definitely be helpful. Right? Clear rational explanations and exhortations.
But truth is also conveyed in the Bible in other ways. Ways that help us grasp in our hearts, the goodness and faithfulness of God, warnings about sin and evil, and the hope of Christ. Scripture reveals these truths and hope through poetry and song which penetrates deep within. Wisdom literature in the Bible takes our thoughts and actions and sifts it through God’s wisdom. Prophecy opens the door to God’s promises by intersecting our lives with God’s plans. God also reveals himself and his redemption through history in the Bible. Truth is revealed through real people and real situations. We’ve already seen that in different ways through the book of Acts.
Part of the beauty of Zechariah is how it weaves history, and prophecy, and wisdom, and poetry. It has apocalyptic like visions similar to the books of Revelation and Daniel, yet some of those visions, as we’ll see, include real people. And Zechariah’s prophecy points to a king and priest to come. A king and priest who will rule and who will intercede far beyond any mere human king or priest.
Zechariah reveals this in history and through the visions and prophecy he’s given. And we’ll pray, as we go through this book, that God would penetrate our hearts and minds with his truth and righteousness. At times you may be rattled, in a good way, and directed to turn back to God and to Christ.
So, while Zechariah may seem confusing and difficult at first, yet it contains secrets that when revealed will capture your attention and turn your hearts towards God and his salvation.
And to begin our journey, I want to give you 3 keys. Answer 3 clues that will help reveal the meaning of Zechariah’s prophecy. But rather than tell you all of them up-front, you’ll have to wait for one at a time.
The Key of Context
The first key is the key of context – historical context. Answering the question “what was happening with God’s people at this time in history?” This is a really important key. Understanding it will help unlock the purpose and goals of Zechariah. Really, understanding the context helps illuminate any book of the Bible. But it especially helps with prophecy and history.
So, let’s take a few minutes to orient ourselves to who God was speaking to through Zechariah. And what I think you’ll find is that as we enter into their situation, we’ll see a lot of similarities to our situations.
Let me give you the broad-brush overview of what was going on, and then connect it to us.
God’s people in the Old Testament were the people of Israel. They started as one family and eventually became a nation. They had their own kings ruling them - King Saul, then David, then Solomon. That started about 3000 years ago - 1000 BC. But this unified nation didn’t last. No, it quickly split into 2 nations. Judah in the south where Jerusalem was, and Israel in the north. None of the kings in the north, in Israel followed God. They were all wicked to some extent or another. In the south, in Judah, there was a mixture of good and bad. This went on for about 250 years.
To make a long story short, God first punished the northern kingdom, Israel. And he used the Assyrians to accomplish this. In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered the northern territory. Then Judah, the southern kingdom, was soon to follow. About 150 years later, the Babylonians conquered Judah. That happened in 586 BC. Earlier this morning, we read from 2 Chronicles 36 about what happened. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, overthrew Jerusalem. He killed many of the men and women, he took the holy items from the temple, and he burned God’s temple to the ground. Jerusalem was also largely destroyed. Its palaces burned and walls torn down. Many of the people who weren’t killed, were dragged off to Babylon as captives. We call this the Babylonian captivity. The people were exiled to a foreign land. By the way, modern day Baghdad in Iraq is near the ancient city of Babylon. That’s over 600 miles from Jerusalem. And God promised that for 70 years the people would be in exile. That promise was given around 586 BC
And when we get to Zechariah 1, we’re given the exact year and month that Zechariah gave his first prophesy. The 8th month in the 2nd year of Darius. You can read that right there in verse 1. That translates to 520 BC. So 66 years after the Babylonian captivity began. And a lot had happened in those 66 years. First, the Babylonians themselves were conquered. The Medo-Persians now controlled the region. And an amazing thing happened. God used the Medo-Persians to begin to bring his people back to Jerusalem. Cyrus, the emperor, even gave God’s people provisions and building materials. He returned many of the temple items that were captured.
And if you read the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah, you will read about a partial rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple.
Zechariah came along a couple of years after that started. It’s now 520. Some of the people had returned, but many were still in exile. The situation in Jerusalem, even though it had improved, was still very discouraging. The temple had not been finished. We’ll get in to the significance of the temple in a future sermon. Many parts of the city still lie in ruins even though much of the walls had been rebuilt. The land was not yielding a harvest. And there was no king in Israel.
In fact, Zechariah’s words there in verse 1, reminded them of that painful reality. “In the second year of Darius” Darius was the current king of Persia. And even though the region was generally at peace, it was still controlled by a foreign kingdom. So, the people who came back to Jerusalem were in some ways foreigners in their own land.
And all these difficult conditions resulted from God’s punishment on their father’s generation. If you look at verse 2 of Zechariah chapter 1, the first words that Zechariah spoke were these, “The Lord was very angry with your fathers.” Zechariah was reminding the people of God’s punishment. He was reminding them why they were experiencing all these struggles. And at the same time warning them not to be like their forefathers, rejecting and rebelling against him.
Part of what’s required to understand Zechariah is to enter into the life of the returned exiles. It’s to understand what Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest were going through. And when we do that, Zechariah’s message will no longer be out there, distant. Rather, it will be a message for us – for you in your discouragement.
Think about, for a moment, some of the Afghan families that we’ve met over the last few months. Displaced far from their homes. They had to flee at a moments notice. Some of their family members were killed. They’ve been separated from friends, from their homes, and from their culture.
Put yourself in their shoes, so to speak. They are in a new land, with a different language and culture. Cramped into a small apartment, or hotel. They have little clothes and blankets to keep warm. The schools are overwhelmed. They worry and fear for their friends and family back home. It’s been a difficult journey of exile.
Imagine 30 years in the future. What if Russia invaded Afghanistan again, but this time, took control. And what if Russia invited all the Afghan refugees scattered around the world to return home. And imagine if many did. As they travelled back, they were excited about going home. Now what if you had been a young parent who fled from the Taliban in 2021. You endured the difficult days and years. But now it’s 30 years later, you are in your 60s. Some of your grown children decide to stay in America, but you have longed to go back home. You dreamed about that day. When you arrive home, though, it’s not what you had imagined. Poverty had overcome your country. Many of the buildings destroyed. Your family homes were either in ruins or had been taken over by Russian occupiers. Fields, which used to be fertile, were now barren. Jobs were few. The political tension extreme. Your excitement of returning quickly turned to deep despair.
It’s not an exact parallel, but perhaps it gives you a sense of the disappointment.
For the Jewish people returning to Judah, it had been over 60 years. Most of the exiled generation had passed away while in Babylon. But all the stories told about the glory of Jerusalem remained. And the excitement was there. But their hopes were dashed when they returned.
Even though they were back in Judah, they lived in difficult circumstances. They struggled with discouragement, with fear and worry, anxiety, uncertainty. They imagined the return from exile would come with a restored earthly kingdom. They wanted the glory of Jerusalem and the temple restored. But it was a far cry from that. They questioned God and their faith was shaken.
These struggles and temptations are similar to some of the things we face today. Both individually and as a church. Maybe your life is very different than what you imagined. Maybe you had hoped to be married or have children, but the Lord hasn’t answered those prayers the way you prayed. Or maybe you are married but married life has been difficult. We all live with painful realities and discouragements. At times that leads to despair. Or worry. Or questioning whether God is really in control. And for the church as a whole – disappointments. Maybe the failure of leaders, or the increasing encroachment of the state or culture upon our faith and beliefs.
You see, the people who God was speaking to through Zechariah, are not unlike us. We ask and pray similar prayers. Where are you, God? How long? Have you forgotten your promises?
The message of Zechariah is a message for you and me. It’s a message of renewal. And more specifically spiritual renewal and hope. That will become very clear next week. We’ll hear God’s call to them to return to him.
And as we work through the visions, we’ll see how they deepened the people’s understanding of God. And of his sovereignty over the difficult situations they face. Through the visions, we’ll see God reveal the depth of his salvation – and how he will save them from the difficult situations they face. And that’s just the first half of the book.
And as we get to the second half of Zechariah. We’ll see how the prophecies focus in on a promised savior. One who is humble but exalted. Who is lowly but a king.
So, as you read Zechariah, read it with the burdens and temptations of the people in mind. And read it with your own burdens and temptations in mind. Their unsettled situation; your unsettled situation. The threats surrounding them, and the threats surrounding you. The temptations to sin that they felt, and the temptation to sin that you experience.
And I think what you will find… is that key alone. The key of historical context will start to unlock doors and open up some of the other clues to the seemingly mysterious aspects of Zechariah. And Zechariah won’t be a book for those people, at that time, but also for you in our time. The clues and answers will begin to unlock hope and deepen your faith and our collective trust in God, even with discouragements around us.
The key of context.
Key of the Kingdom
That brings us to the next key. By the way, these next two keys are a lot shorter. And really, I want to highlight them to unlock part of the message as you read Zechariah.
So far, we’ve just focused on the first couple of verses. But be sure to have you Bibles open. Because we are going to touch upon other passages in Zechariah.
Ok, this next key is the key of the kingdom. One misunderstanding of the people was thinking that the earthly kingdom was going to be restored. And what God taught them through Zechariah is that while, yes, there is some near-term restoration of Jerusalem and the temple, there’s a much bigger restoration that’s happening. God’s kingdom is coming. He is and will be ruling over everything.
In a couple of weeks we are going to get to the first vision. But if you look down at chapter 1 verse 8, you’ll read about a man riding on a red horse and there are other horses. This vision, which we will unpack, is of God’s sovereign rule. The horses represent military might and control. And they are seeing to it that the Lord sovereign will is being accomplished. In fact, turn to chapter 6. In this vision, there are other horses and chariots. They also represent the Lord’s rule, but in a different ways including over sin. And if you scan down to the second half of chapter 6. It speaks of a crown. Verses 11 and 14. Again, that theme of God’s rule over his kingdom.
There’s an escalating emphasis of a king and his rule through the rest of Zechariah. Throughout the book, “Zion” is referenced. Mount Zion was the mountain in Jerusalem that signified the kingship. It’s where the city of David was built. Look at chapter 8. The peace of Zion. Or chapter 9, the coming king of Zion. And this escalation continues and reaches its climax at the very end of Zechariah. Turn to Chapter 14. In verse 9 and following, Zechariah prophesies that the Lord will be king over all the earth. And his people will worship the king. Despite their situation, God is ruling and reigning.
So as you read Zechariah, tune in to all the different kingdom language and imagery. For God is king, he is sovereign, and his kingdom will have no end. The key of the kingdom.
Key of Christ
And that brings us to the third and last key. The key of Christ. Of Jesus.
Zechariah is full of allusions, and references, and prophecies of the coming savior.
As part of the visions and prophecies, we’re given promises of a savior. And we’re given many insights into what he and his salvation will be like.
The very central key is the word Branch. It refers directly to Jesus. Turn to chapter 3. This vision is the central vision. Joshua the high priest’s shame is taken away by the angel of the Lord. And the confirming promise down in verse 8 is that God will send his servant, the Branch. He will be the one to do this cleansing work and save.
Next, turn over to chapter 6. Another key reference to the Branch. Verse 12. He will come and build the temple of the Lord and bear royal honor. By the way, the temple refers to the presence of the Lord among his people.
Almost every single chapter in Zechariah alludes to the priestly or kingly work of Christ. In chapter 9, that the king will come on a donkey. In humility. In chapter 11, the Lord became the shepherd of the flock. Doomed to be slaughtered. Chapter 12, salvation will come through the one they pierced. And as already mentioned, chapter 14, the Lord will be king over all the earth.
The central figure in the whole book of Zechariah is Christ. So as you read through Zechariah, see the savior. Be drawn to his sovereignty and salvation, his humiliation, and exaltation.
He is the main key that unlocks Zechariah.
The returned exiles were looking for God to fulfill his promise. And what God does through Zechariah is reveal the savior. It was still 400 years before Christ would come, but there is perhaps no better picture in all the Old Testament than the picture they were given of Christ. His sovereignty and his saving work over sin and shame. They were to anticipate him and believe.
And this same Jesus is the main key that unlocks the encouragement and hope to battle the discouragement and despair and shame in your own life. When you’ve lost your way. When it seems that there’s no way out. When you are anxious. When despair is overwhelming you. When your guilt or shame is weighing you down. When you’ve tried to save yourself, and you realize you can’t. Christ is the key. Next week, we’ll be directed as to where we need to start.
The key of context, the key of the kingdom, and the key of Christ. As we come to this study of Zechariah, may God bless us with the same hope, and may we see the same sovereignty and salvation, as we unlock his message for us.