Zechariah's First Vision
Whether its adults, teens, or children, the majority of bible questions our congregation asks me deal with the study of the end-times, known as eschatology. People have legitimate questions like, “What will our bodies be like?”, “What will the tribulation be like?”, and “Is the millennium figurative or literal?”
Important as these questions are, they aren’t the primary questions the Bible is answering when it teaches about the future. If you read prophetic books like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation, they emphasize these major issues:
- How will God restore His creation and dwell in it? God originally designed creation, including humans, as “good” and interacted with Adam and Eve in the garden in Genesis 2-3. When the Bible describes the end-times, it analyzes how God restores creation to that original design.
- How will God fulfill His promises to Israel? Genesis 12, 15, and 17 give the details of God’s promise to give Abraham land, seed, and blessing. Jeremiah 31 states that this promise is everlasting. Whenever the Bible talks about end-times, it always describes the final fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Furthermore, it tells how believing Gentiles fit into this fulfilled promise.
- How will God render justice on all nations? When you read about the end times, there’s always judgment. God’s wrath comes swiftly, His court judges individuals, and His reign establishes justice throughout the world.
Introduction to Zechariah
If you want to get the most out of the Bible’s teaching about the future, I think the book of Zechariah is a good place to start.
The book of Zechariah was written to the exiles who had returned to Jerusalem after Cyrus, King of Persia, authorized their return in 539 BC. It was written at the same time as the book of Haggai, from 520-518 BC. Both of them told the people that if they honor God by rebuilding His temple, He would bless the nation. Haggai is a practical book of two chapters; Zechariah contains 14 in-depth chapters which look into God’s perception of the nation and plan to redeem it in the future.
The message of Zechariah is simple: “Return to me and I will return to you” (1:3). The nation had returned to the land, but not to Yahweh Himself. God doesn’t just want Israel’s attendance; He wants their repentance. Generally speaking, chapters 1-6 are written to address the present situation of Israel, 7-8 deal with a fundamental question about fasting, and 9-14 speak prophetically about how God will return to Jerusalem, bring about the restoration of Israel, and establish justice in the world.
Zechariah’s First Vision
Zechariah begins by describing the first of eight visions he received from God in one night in the twenty-fourth day of the second month, in the second year of the reign of Persian King Darius (1:27). In our time, that would be about mid-November, 520 BC. This precise dating is not only fascinating, it clarifies the weak political status of Israel, its weak spiritual life, and the strength of the Persian Empire, which reached its greatest expansion during this period. This vision couldn’t be more timely to encourage the weak nation of Israel.
In the first vision, is an assessment of the entire world in Zechariah’s time (1:8-17). Zechariah sees a man “riding on a chestnut horse” who stands among the myrtle trees, an “angel who was talking to me”, and “the angel of the Yahweh” deliver God’s message to Zechariah in the first vision.
These beings tell Zechariah that God has sent four horses to patrol the earth and their assessment is given in verse 11: “Right now the whole earth is calm and quiet.” The nations of the earth are “calm and quiet” in the sense that they are operating like usual and God is not bringing His wrath on them for their sin.
Immediately, the angel of Yahweh responds to that assessment, “How long, Yahweh of Armies, will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that you have been angry with these seventy years?” (1:14) Since God has not yet brought wrath on the nations for their sins and the injustices they have done to Judah, the angel pleads for God to complete His justice and restore Judah to its promised glory.
Finally, God replies through another angel to tell him: “Proclaim: Yahweh of armies says: I am extremely jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. I am fiercely angry with the nations that are at ease, for I was a little angry, but they made the destruction worse. Therefore, this is what Yahweh says: In mercy, I have returned to Jerusalem; my house will be rebuilt within it—this is the declaration of Yahweh of Armies—and a measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem. Proclaim further: This is what Yahweh of Armies says: My cities will again overflow with prosperity; Yahweh will once more comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.” (1:14-17)
This means that Yahweh will fix things, but in His own timing. In time, not only will He restore Judah, its cities will “overflow with prosperity”. He will again “choose Jerusalem” as the place for His dwelling.
As we continue through the book of Zechariah, we will see Jerusalem mentioned more often here than any other book. Why is it so important to Zechariah? Because it answers one of the key questions of eschatology: how will God restore His creation and dwell in it?
Notice the importance of Jerusalem in other books
When God answered Daniel’s great lament in chapter 9, what was the topic? Jerusalem.
When Jesus was mourning over His rejection, what city did He focus on? “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you did not want it.” (Matthew 23:37)
Likewise, John’s final vision in Revelation is new Jerusalem (21:1-27).
Eschatology, the study of end times, emphasizes God dwelling on earth, fulfilling His promises, and establishing justice in His kingdom. Nothing is more exciting to genuine believers than our anticipation of this time because that’s what we were designed for in Genesis 1.