In the Angel’s intercession (v. 12), the focus moved from the deep to the myrtles (cf. vv. 8-11); in this closing oracle (vv. 13-17), the focus is on the Glory-Presence or, in terms of the symbolism of this first night vision, on the rider of the red horse.
1. Literary Structure: The oracular response of Yahweh of hosts to the Angel of Yahweh is communicated by this divine Angel (denoted in v. 13 simply as “Yahweh”) to the interpreting angel and then relayed by the latter to Zechariah to be proclaimed to God’s people. Though the act of response is not explicitly narrated, the ultimate divine speaker of the oracular message handed along in this complex transmission chain is made clear by the interpreting angel’s fourfold repetition of the formula, “thus says Yahweh of hosts,” within vv. 14-17. That the contents of vv. 14-17 are to be understood as the expected divine response to the Angel’s plea in v. 12 is further indicated by their general appropriateness as a reassuring answer to the concerns expressed by the Angel. Also, like v. 12, they refer to both Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (called “my cities” in v. 17). Standing as the link between the petition of v. 12 and the response of vv. 14-17, the statement in v. 13 is plainly intended as an introductory summary of the response. Confirming this is the appearance of the verb “comfort” (nhm) in the latter (cf. v. 17), echoing the description of the Angel’s words in the former as “comforting” (nihumim).1
Zechariah receives the oracle in the form of a charge to proclaim it. This charge, expressed by the verb qara’, “cry,”2 plus the messenger formula, “thus says Yahweh of hosts,” frames and thus unifies the oracle, for the interpreting angel begins with this commissioning of Zechariah to prophetic activity (v. 14) and concludes with a repetition of it (v. 17).
In v. 16a, the word of solemn verification, laken (“verily”), with the messenger formula introduces the central, utterly crucial affirmation of God’s presence. The preceding part of the oracle (vv. 14,15) relates directly to the report of the horsemen about the oppressor nations (v. 11), and the following part (vv. 16b, 17) deals with the mercies which God purposes to bestow on Jerusalem. As the Angel’s intercession showed (v. 12), the disheartening status of the covenant community was implicit in the reported contemptuous ease of the dominant nations and accordingly there is already a reflection on this in the reference to Jerusalem and Zion in the first part of the Lord’s response concerning the nations (cf. v. 14). But in the concluding part of the oracle, the plight of the covenant people is addressed directly as the Lord promises them a future of blessing that will spell the end of the world power’s dominance over them. Prospects for the temple and city are presented in v. 16b and then restated in v. 17, with reversed sequence (i.e., city and temple). The mention of Zion and Jerusalem at the close (v. 17) forms an inclusio echoing (again in chiastic arrangement) the reference to Jerusalem and Zion at the beginning (v. 14), and is thus an additional unifying feature of the oracle as a whole.
2. Covenantal-Typological Context: What we shall find to be the sum and substance of this oracle is the promise of a restoration that would, in effect, bring to consummate form the holy kingdom covenanted from the beginning in Eden. At its origination the kingdom in the garden had as its cultic focus the mountain of God’s Glory-council. There the heavenly King was present, the protector and provider of his priestly family on earth. Set before mankind was an historical mission, the global propagation of the human family and expansion of their delegated dominion over creation. They were to develop the kingdom-city from its original cultic focus to its cultural fulness, to a predestined pleroma. The cultural task would be cult-oriented for the kingdom-city at its fulness would still retain its cultic focus; it would be a temple-city, the city of the great King. Moreover, the pleroma of mankind would itself be God’s temple, destined for incorporation into the heavenly temple of the Glory-Spirit.
This original goal of the Covenant of Creation was resumed as the telos of the program of redemptive restoration after the Fall. The heavenly temple-city became the ultimate kingdom hope to be achieved through the coming One, the promised Messiah. In premessianic times the heavenly inheritance of the redeemed humanity in Christ was symbolically modelled in the form of the kingdom bestowed on Israel in Canaan, a provisional pointer to the true fulfillment of kingdom promise to be attained under the new and better covenant ratified by the sacrifice of the God-man mediator. In Israel’s paradise in Canaan, the type of heaven, a cultic focus was established, Zion the mountain of God, crowned by the temple-city of Jerusalem. It was set in the center of the kingdom fulness defined by the stipulated bounds of the promised land. Henceforth in biblical revelation particular features of the typological kingdom of Israel would serve in prophetic parlance as designations for their counterparts in the messianic kingdom. In this idiom, Zion and Jerusalem signify the true heavenly mountain and temple-city of the world to come.
Also portrayed in Israel’s typological history was the fact that the eternal city would be secured as an act of gracious restoration of blessings forfeited in the Fall. Like man under the Covenant of Creation, Israel broke a covenant of works (the principle operative in the typological kingdom dimension of the Mosaic economy), lost its covenant status and was exiled as Lo-Ammi, Not-My-People, from its holy paradise. However, in a display of divine grace, Israel was regathered from Babylonian exile to the land of promise and that was, of course, the immediate historical context of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. While this typological restoration of Jerusalem, the temple, and the cities of Judah is indeed addressed in the Lord’s response in Zechariah 1:13-17, the oracle looks beyond to a greater restoration of which the typological history becomes a figurative image. It serves as a symbolic medium in which the Lord expresses the promise of a future restoration of the kingdom of God, a restoration not realized in Old Testament times, a messianic restoration not fully realized until the end of this present world.
B. Return of the Lord of Glory (cf. the Rider of the Red Horse): In our treatment of the particulars of the Lord’s response (1:14-17) we will begin with the heart of the matter, which is stated in the middle of the oracle (v. 16a). “Truly, thus says Yahweh, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies.” The verb return (shub) is used in the opening exhortation in 1:1-6 to sum up both the covenant obligation of the people to commit themselves anew to their holy calling and the covenant blessings which the Lord promises to bestow on them: “return unto me…and I will return unto you” (v. 3).
The personal presence of the One who covenants with us to be our God is the preeminent reality of biblical religion. “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none on earth that I desire besides thee” (Ps. 73:25). In Ezekiel’s visions the essence of exile-judgment is captured in the scene of the departure of the Glory of Yahweh from the temple-mount (Ezk. 10:18, 19; 11:23) and, correspondingly, the epitome of restoration is represented as the return of that Glory from the east and its presence once more, filling again the temple in Jerusalem (Ezk. 43:2-5). Apart from God’s Presence there is no restoration, no holy land, no holy city, no holy temple, for it is this Presence alone that sanctifies. Nor is there paradise land of life, for the Glory-Spirit is the life-giving Spirit. He is the One from whom all blessings flow, the fount of all covenant beatitude.
Agreeably, “with mercies” is appended to the promised return of the Lord (1:16a). The reference is to the benefits that will accompany his presence, the benefits of vindication (1:14,15), sanctification and exaltation (1:16b,17). God’s mercies or compassions (rahamim) are often mentioned in the context of prayer (cf., e.g., Neh. 9:27; Dan. 9:18; Zech. 10:6). In the oracle of Zechariah 1:14-17 the promise of mercies is in response to the plea of the Angel that the Lord show mercy (the verb raham) to his people (v. 12). Deuteronomy 30:3; Isaiah 14:1; 49:10,13; 54:8; Jeremiah 33:6; Ezekiel 39:25; and Hosea 2:19(21) are other passages where either the verb or noun in question is used with reference to restoration from a state of exile. All of these are prophecies of new covenant restoration (some so interpreted in specific New Testament citations), reminding us that the Zechariah 1 oracle also has this antitypical dimension.
Supreme among, as well as source of, all the other promised blessings is God’s own Presence, granted in grace. In the development of the theme of the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Zechariah’s third vision, the thought of God as the all in all is expressed by the picture of his Glory as an all-encompassing and all-filling presence in the temple-city: “For I, saith Yahweh, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and I will be the glory in the midst of her” (Zech. 2:5; cf. the original paradise-sanctuary in Eden).
Insofar as the return of God’s Presence affirmed in Zechariah 1:16 had reference to the prophet’s own day it had to be accepted by the Israelites on faith on the basis of God’s word, because to ordinary mortal eyes it was not a visible presence (cf. 2 Kgs. 6:17). Only the prophet-seer himself, in the Spirit, saw the Presence. The Lord’s declaration, “I am returned,” was simply a verbalizing of the reality symbolized in the vision of the rider on the red horse, present in the midst of the myrtles. The divine Presence was present in the person of this divine Angel-rider, Lord of angels, judge of the nations, advocate of God’s elect, making intercession for the myrtle community in the wilderness by the deep.
A new stage in the history of God’s presence begins with the advent recorded in the Gospels. Christian hearts rejoice in the incarnation-presence of the messianic Angel, Immanuel his name, who declares that he who has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:9). In him the Lord of mercies has returned to mankind in their exile from Eden, dispersed in the wilderness of the fallen world. Though in these post-ascension, preconsummation days the divine presence is again not visible, the Son having gone to the Father, we bear witness to God’s presence in the Spirit. In joyful faith we say: Let the Feast of Tabernacles be celebrated. The Lord is present, tabernacling in the midst of his people here and now in the Spirit, forming us anew in his image as his spiritual temple. The re-creation has begun within, an invisible token of the future return of Glory (a kind of inside-out sacrament). In the Spirit’s presence we have the foretaste of the new heavens and new earth and its temple-city, New Jerusalem, the kingdom inheritance of the saints in the consummate, eternal age of creation’s history.3
The Angel whose appearance in Zechariah’s vision manifests the return of God to his people is the Angel of the Presence. He is the agent of the Glory-Spirit, the One who is executor of the covenant’s dual sanctions of blessing and curse. Such was the twofold office of God’s Presence in the redemptive judgments of the flood and exodus. He shielded and guided the people of God (Exod. 13:21; 14:19,20), but discomfited and destroyed their foes and persecutors (Exod. 14:24). Consonant with that, the assurance of God’s return in the Angel of the Presence in Zechariah 1:16 is attended by the declaration that the Lord will both comfort Jerusalem and deal in anger with the nations. The threat of wrath comes first in the divine oracle (vv. 14,15), then the promise of blessings (vv. 16,17).
C. Jealous Wrath against the Nations (cf: the Deep): Beginning with an announcement of what the Lord’s return portends for the nations, the oracle speaks of his “great jealousy” and “great wrath.” In intensity of feeling this response matches the importunate intercession of the Angel. The Lord of hosts displays as much zeal for granting salvation in fulfillment of his covenant as did the advocate of his people in requesting it. His great jealousy and wrath here are complementary aspects of his attitude towards one and the same object. This combination is found again in an elaboration of this theme in Zechariah 8:2, where the Lord says he is “jealous with great anger.”4
Most frequently in the Old Testament God’s angry jealousy is his response to Israel for disloyalty to him in favor of other gods. So, for example, the identification of Yahweh as a jealous God in the curse sanction attached to the second stipulation of the Decalogue-covenant (Exod. 20:5; Deut. 5:9) threatens judgment on those who violate their sworn commitment by worshipping some creature-thing, not the Creator Lord himself. Such jealousy is a matter of offended honor and outraged majesty. Another notable instance of God’s jealousy directed against Israel is found in the judicial witness song of Deuteronomy 32. Here Moses warns that when Israel, prosperously ensconced in Canaan, provokes God to jealousy with their no-gods and to anger with their vain idols, he will respond by applying the lex talionis, provoking them to jealous anger with a no-people (w. 16-21).
But the situation in Zechariah 1:14,15 is distinct from that in which Israel is the one who provokes God to jealousy by giving service to idols. Here it is the nations of the deep, not the covenant people, who have incited the angry jealousy of Yahweh. The fact that his jealousy is said to be “for Jerusalem and for Zion” (v. 14; cf. 8:2) has misled some into separating the jealousy from the anger against the nations and viewing the former as a solicitous jealousy for Israel’s welfare, a zeal to prosper them. Actually, the phrase “for Jerusalem and Zion” goes with the anger as much as with the jealousy and indicates the area with respect to which the nations have offended the Lord God and made him angrily jealous against them. The point is that Jerusalem-Zion represents the people whom Yahweh had claimed as his own servants, bringing them under his suzerainty by covenant; Israel was his own vassal people. They were his private, personal possession, the portion he set aside as his royal inheritance long ago when he was distributing the people of the earth among the sons of El (Deut. 32:8,9).5 And Yahweh’s prerogatives as suzerain over the Israelites had been challenged by the great kings of the earth who took them into captivity. These usurpers were exacting from Yahweh’s vassals the tributary allegiance which belonged to him. His great name was being scoffed at among the nations by reason of Israel’s inglorious state. It was, therefore, out of concern for his own name and sovereign claims that the Lord was jealously furious with these rival suzerains, these antichrists who would grasp his domain and spoil him of his own with respect to Jerusalem and Zion. This jealous concern for the reclaiming and repossessing of what was rightfully his finds further expression, as the oracle continues, in the repeated possessive pronouns: “my house…my cities” (1:16,17).
Joel 2:18 also speaks of Yahweh’s jealousy in a context of threats to drive off the aggressor nations that brought reproach on Israel and scorn on the name of their God (2:17,19,20). There too Yahweh’s concern for his own prerogative and property surfaces in the possessive pronouns: he “was jealous for his land and had pity on his people.” Once more in Ezekiel 39:25, another passage that mentions the divine jealousy in a restoration context, the jealousy is for God’s own honor. Dispersal of his people from their land had resulted in defamation of God’s name among the nations and he states specifically that it is out of jealousy “for my holy name” that he will take action to sanctify his name and glorify himself in the eyes of his people and of all the nations (Ezk. 38:16,23; 39:6,7,21,22,27,28). Back of all these prophetic passages lies the Mosaic witness song of Deuteronomy 32. We noted above that the situation in Zechariah 1:14,15 is to be distinguished from that in Deuteronomy 32:21, where the divine jealousy is provoked by Israel and is manifested in the infliction of the covenant curses through the agency of the foreign nations. But later in this song a subsequent situation of a different kind is addressed. As a sequel to the exile of Israel, it is related that the nations God employed to execute his threatened curse-sanction would misunderstand this event and exalt themselves, discounting the God of captive Israel. Thereupon, out of concern for his maligned name, the Lord would bring vengeance on those nations and restore his covenant people (Deut. 32:26-43; cf. Heb. 10:30,31). This later situation is the one that is in view in Zechariah 1:14,15.
Such is the understanding of this jealous fury of God indicated by the reason assigned for it: “Because I was angry [only] for a little while, but they [the nations at ease] helped for evil” (Zech. 1:15). God had indeed been angry (cf. “very angry,” Zech. 1:2) with Israel, as Moses had warned (Deut. 32:19-25), but his ultimate plans for his covenant people in Christ, in faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, were for shalom, “not for evil” (Jer. 29:11). Through Isaiah the Lord declares: “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great mercies I will regather you. In overflowing wrath I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will show mercy to you, says Yahweh your Redeemer” (Isa. 54:7,8). Though the Lord would cast off Israel for breaking the Mosaic covenant of works, he would remember his covenant of grace with Abraham (continuous through the Mosaic economy and foundational thereto) and fulfill its promises. Beyond Israel’s fall, and even through it, God purposed to bring about the fulness of Israel in Christ (cf. Isa. 27:7-13; Rom. 11:11-32). This divine purposing of good beyond the evil of the covenant curse came to expression in the Babylonian exile of Israel in the limitation of seventy years set on the judgment with a view to the subsequent restoration of the typological order. And that restoration was designed in God’s master plan of salvation to tide things over until Christ, the promised seed of Abraham, came as a covenant of the people, to speak peace unto the nations.
Blind, however, to God’s purpose and power, the nations used by him to accomplish his righteous will upon Israel misconstrued their role (as Moses also foretold, Deut. 32:26-43) and “helped for evil” (Zech. 1:15).6 That is, they performed their appointed historical function, but, if not in ignorance, certainly with malicious motives and in a manner subversive of God’s glory and his intentions for his people’s future hope and peace. It is against this perversity that Zechariah 1:14,15 registers the Lord’s jealous indignation.
Zechariah was resuming a theme found in Isaiah 47. There, Babylon is contemplated, prophetically, as guilty of cruelty to the people of God, who were delivered by him into her hands (v. 6). Thereby Babylon displayed contempt for the name of Yahweh of hosts, the holy Redeemer of Israel (v. 4), boasting that she would be “mistress of kingdoms…forever” (vv. 5,7). For this offense Babylon is threatened with God’s judgment of sudden desolation (vv. 1 ff., 11).
As we have previously observed, the nations would persist in provoking this jealous wrath of the Lord, already incurred by their treatment of captive Israel, throughout the history of the typological kingdom. Whatever degree of restoration occurred at that old typological level, there was not a basic change in the relation of the world power to the covenant community. Beyond that, suppression of the community of faith continued on into the new covenant era. Even though in this new age the promised return of the Lord to his people has taken the form of the divine Angel in Jesus Christ, the beast-powers (as they are symbolically represented in the books of Daniel and Revelation) still oppress and persecute the saints. Also, the Scriptures foretell a climactic manifestation of the antichrist spirit of the nations “at ease” that will provoke God’s final fury, bringing to an end at last the tensions of prolonged eschatological delay, voiced in the poignant cry, “How long?”
One prophecy of this final crisis is found in the section of the Book of Ezekiel to which we pointed for a case of God’s jealousy against the nations, parallel to that in Zechariah 1:14,15 (cf. Ezek. 39:25). Ezekiel describes the advent of Gog, head of the hordes of hostile forces. At the end of the years he comes from Zaphon, the pseudomountain of God, to attack Zion, the true mountain of divine assembly (Har-Magedon), and so presents himself as a rival claimant to Yahweh’s lordship over the world (Ezek. 38:2ff.).7 Challenged by antichrist-Gog, Yahweh, in wrathful jealousy for his name, pours out fiery doom, delivering his besieged people and destroying forever the power of the satanic enemies (Ezek. 38:18ff.; cf. Rev. 6:12-17; 11:11-18; 16:17-21; 17:14b; 19:17,18,20,21; 20:9b,10). So at last God’s jealous wrath is completely satisfied and his name everlastingly glorified among the nations (Ezek. 38:16,23; 39:6,7,21-29).
D. Renewal on Zion (cf. the Myrtles): Moving on from the ominous consequences of God’s return (v. 16a) for the nations of the deep (vv. 14,15), the oracular response announces the blessings that must follow from the divine Presence in the midst of the myrtles (vv. 16b, 17). These mercies were the implicit corollary of God’s judgment on the hostile world and that means that they, like the threatened judgment, span the entire future of redemptive history and indeed concern especially the new covenant order, including its consummate stage. Chiastically arranged, this section opens (v. 16b) and closes (v. 17c) with the promise of the rebuilding of the temple, while the middle part deals with the restoration of the rest of the theocratic community (vv. 16c and v. 17b, with a renewal of the prophetic charge to Zechariah in the center, v. 17a).
Return of the holy Presence of the Lord to dwell among his kingdom people in Jerusalem calls for the reconstruction of his royal temple-residence there. Hence the assurance, “I am returned,” is at once followed by the promise, “my house shall be built in it” (v. 16b). This promise is reiterated in the closing declaration that Yahweh “will again choose Jerusalem” (v. 17b; cf. 2:12; 3:2). Jerusalem’s election was anticipated in the repeated references in the Deuteronomic covenant to the place that the Lord would choose to put his name (Deut. 12:5,21; 14:24) or cause his name to dwell (Deut. 12:11; 14:23; 16:2,6,11; 26:2). God’s name is his theophanic Glory. He would select a site in the promised land as a permanent dwelling and place of enthronement for his Glory-Presence, and that would then also be the location of the central altar. In due course Jerusalem was designated as the site of God’s Name and the temple was constructed there. That the choosing of Jerusalem refers specifically to the building of God’s house there is also evidenced in the pairing of the two in Solomon’s prayer of temple dedication: “the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your name” (1 Kgs. 8:44,48; cf. 1 Kgs. 11:36).
Rebuilding of the temple was naturally, indeed necessarily, attended by the reconstruction of the city of Jerusalem, the place chosen as its site. Hence, immediately following the promise of the former (Zech. 1:16b) is the statement: “a line shall be stretched over Jerusalem” (v. 16c). In view here is the builder’s marking out the planned perimeters of the city with a cord. Job 38:5 attributes to God the performance of this particular task in the constructing of the earth at creation. Somewhat earlier than Zechariah, Jeremiah had used the same imagery of the measuring line when he too was portraying the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Jer. 31:39) and the context makes clear that the line was being employed to establish the contemplated boundaries of the city (cf. Jer. 31:38-40).
Significantly, the setting of this parallel picture of the restoration of Jerusalem in Jeremiah is his classic prophecy of the new covenant age (cf. Jer. 31:31ff.). The new Jerusalem he speaks of is a messianic product, the eternal holy city of God’s Glory-Presence provided in the cosmic re-creation at the consummation of the ages. Just as it was the Lord God who stretched the line over the earth in the beginning, so it is he who does so again as he builds the New Jerusalem in his creating of the new heaven and new earth, the event which Jeremiah, and Zechariah following him, prophesied. This heavenly city is the sum of the inheritance promised in the Abrahamic Covenant to the patriarch and his seed, and God is its architect and artisan (cf. Heb. 11:10). Agreeably, when Zechariah in his third vision resumes the theme of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, it is the divine Angel who is engaged in a related function involving a measuring line (2:1). Christ, the Angel incarnate, is the builder of the new temple city, for in the new covenant the city and temple coalesce, and Christ is the one who, with his body the church, is the temple and builds the temple.
According to the original commission given man in Eden, the kingdom city was to expand from its cultic focus at the mountain of God outward to a global fulness. So again in the symbolic re-establishment of the Edenic order in Israel, God’s kingdom reaches out from Jerusalem, the temple-city focus, and embraces the full promised land with all the satellite cities in orbit around Zion. Employing this typological symbolism to picture the restoration of the kingdom, Zechariah’s vision does not stop, therefore, with the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem but includes the renewal of the total theocratic domain. “Thus says Yahweh of hosts: My cities shall yet overflow8 with prosperity” (1:17b). Like the other promised mercies associated with it in the oracle, this outward felicity of the kingdom envisages more than the reconstruction of the cities of Judah in Zechariah’s days; it too looks ahead to the new covenant and the new heaven and earth.
Between the reference in 1:17b to the prosperity of the other theocractic cities and the closing declaration concerning the choice of Jerusalem (v. 17c) comes the promise: “Yahweh shall yet comfort Zion.” Does this promise connect with the former and pertain to relief from political-economic distress through a revival of paradise-like conditions, or is it linked with the latter and thus have to do with the temple? Favoring the first option is the similar prophecy of Isaiah 51:3, where Yahweh’s comforting of Zion is explained as his having compassion on her ruins and turning her wilderness into a luxuriant, joyful garden of Eden. However, the second option is favored by the structural parallelism of the last two clauses in Zechariah 1:17. If so, then Mount Zion is used here as a synonym for the city located on it, chosen to be the site of God’s Presence and sanctuary-residence. Mount Zion is thus promised that it will again enjoy the status of mountain of God, seat of God’s enthronement between the cherubim, assembly place of the heavenly council. Like the similar prospect in Isaiah 51:3, this promise to comfort Zion will then signify a restoration of the arrangements found in Eden, but particularly its cultic focus. It is a prophecy of the re-creation event, when Eden is not simply restored but consummated, when the mandated kingdom fulness has been realized, when indeed the cultic focus has expanded and become co-extensive with the kingdom fulness in a cosmic temple-city on the heavenly mountain of God.
At the beginning of the oracle (Zech. 1:14) and again in the midst of the announcement of blessings (v. 17a), the Angel of the Lord (through the interpreting angel) charges Zechariah to proclaim (qara’) God’s words of comfort (cf. v. 13). A comparable charge to proclaim comfort (same terminology) is found in Isaiah 40:1,2. There too the leading thought is the advent of the divine Glory with recompense for his people (Isa. 40:5,9-11). This divine advent is to be heralded by a voice crying (qara’) in the wilderness9 to prepare the processional way of the Lord (Isa. 40:3), a voice identified in the Gospels with John, the forerunner of Jesus (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). Bringing together Isaiah 40 and Malachi’s prophecy of the advent, Jesus identified John with the “Elijah the prophet” who was to prepare the way for the messianic “Angel of the covenant” in his appearing for judgment and salvation (Mat. 3:1ff.; 4:5 [3:23]; Matt. 11:10; Luke 7:27). And the Angel of the covenant is, of course, Jesus himself.10 Reflecting on the message of comfort in Zechariah 1:14-17 in the light of its relationship to Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3 and 4 we become more distinctly aware that the giving of a charge by the Angel of the Lord to Zechariah to proclaim that message was an act of the pre-incarnate Son, commissioning a herald of his own future advent. It was a charge to the prophet of the myrtles community in the wilderness by the deep to be a precursor of the later voice crying in the wilderness by the Jordan.
E. Persevering in Hope. That the eschatological range of Zechariah’s first vision extends into our new covenant age is confirmed (as has been previously intimated) by the remainder of his prophecy. Preliminary to noting some of the salient evidence, a couple of comments on the literary structure of the book will be useful.11
First: The seven night visions are arranged in two triads around the central, fourth vision. The unitary nature of the first three visions is attested by the way the second and third visions develop in turn the two themes of the divine oracle in the opening vision, namely, God’s wrath against the nations and his restorative mercies for Jerusalem and the temple. Second: The Book of Zechariah overall is a diptych, the seven visions of 1:7-6:8 being balanced by the “burdens” of 9:1-14:21, which are an apocalyptic recasting of the visions, arranged in parallel sequence. In this pattern, the first vision is paralleled by 9:1-17.
God’s choice of Jerusalem as the place of his Presence, the main affirmation of the oracle in vision 1, is again the major theme in vision 3 (2:1-13 [2:5-17]). There, Jerusalem’s election as the temple site, with the concomitant restoration of the city, is portrayed as a rebuilding of Jerusalem, expanded to unprecedented dimensions (2:4), and this symbolism is interpreted in terms of an ingathering of converted Gentiles, a distinctive feature of the church age: “Many nations will join themselves to Yahweh in that day and will be my people” (2:11). Associated with this development is the total reversal in the power relationship of “Jerusalem” and “Babylon” (2:8) that does not occur until the Final Judgment. Moreover, all of this is said to serve as validation of the divine authorization of the mission of Messiah: “You will know that Yahweh of hosts has sent me unto you” (2:9,11[13,15]).
Once more we encounter the main themes of the first vision in 9:1-17, its parallel in the “burdens”: God’s presence and the promise to restore his house, proclamation of glad tidings to Jerusalem, and prosperous prospects for all the covenant community around Zion. The new covenant age is again the eschatological setting. God’s presence takes the form of the advent of the messianic king, come to speak God’s reconciling peace to the nations and to exercise his universal sovereignty (9:9,10). And the prosperity of the covenant kingdom is achieved through a final divine conquest of the hostile world, which introduces the time of sabbatical peace that knows no interruption (9:8).
Zechariah’s opening vision is then to be understood as prophetic of the perfecting of the kingdom under the new covenant with its better promises and better country. Not that it failed to address the typological realities of Zechariah’s day. The promised mercies of Zechariah 1:16,17 were experienced at that level of the Mosaic Covenant in the completion of the temple, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its walls, the resettlement of other cities and the general re-establishment of the theocratic order under the Law. But what we want to reflect on in closing is how this vision speaks to us upon whom the ends of the ages are come and particularly on the relevance for us of the central issue of the eschatological delay raised in the “How long?” of the messianic Advocate (1:12).
Our present church age is the time of the missionary harvesting of the nations that results in the swelling of “Jerusalem” into “a city inhabited as villages without walls” (2:4; cf. 1:6). Not yet, however, has the hour of Final Judgment struck when the world is shaken to its foundations, the worldly powers become a spoil to the saints, and all the habitations of God’s people henceforth overflow with the prosperity of heaven’s eternal glory (1:17).
As disclosed in Revelation 6:10, Christian martyrs are still raising the cry of Zechariah 1:12 during this church age: “How long, O Sovereign holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And the divine response is that they must wait in their intermediate state of rest while the number of the martyr-witnesses is being filled up in the course of church history on earth (Rev. 6:11). Such is again the characterization of this age of the great commission in Revelation 20, there symbolized as a thousand years. The millennium is a time when believers are being beheaded for the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 20:4)12 as they advance the gospel witness out from Jerusalem into all those nations hitherto in the darkness of satanic deception, but no longer so because Christ has bound the devil for these thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3).
Revelation 20 knows nothing of a political dominion of the church over the earth during this millennial age of the great commission. That expectation is a delusion of the prophets of theonomic postmillennialism, who, in their impatience with the way through the wilderness, have succumbed to carnal cravings for worldly power. It is revealing that in order to defend their false forecasts they find it necessary to scorn as losers those whom the Scriptures honor as overcomers, indeed as “more than conquerors” (cf. Rom. 8:35-37), the martyr-witnesses who overcome Satan “because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life unto death” (Rev. 12:11). One cannot but be appalled at the railing of certain of these reconstructionist postmillenarians against the Holy Spirit’s soteric ministry thus far in the church age. What has been in the eyes of heaven a triumphant working of the Spirit of Christ, effecting the salvation of all God’s elect in every nation and every generation without fail, a sovereign fulfilling of the good pleasure of God’s will to the praise of his grace—this is dismissed by the pundits of this postmillennialist cult as dismal failure and a history of defeat. Nothing betrays more clearly than this blasphemous contempt for the gospel triumphs of the Spirit how alien to biblical Christianity is the ideology of theonomic reconstructionism.
Psalm and prophecy foretell a time when the conspiring nations gathered by antichrist-Gog will rage against the Lord God and his Christ, and the Almighty will vent the jealous fury of his wrath on them (Ps. 2:1ff.; Rev. 11:17,18). Meanwhile the saints witness and wait. They watch and pray, confident that their prayers ascend through their Advocate to the heavenly throne (Rev. 8:3) and evoke divine judgments that culminate at the seventh trumpet in the finishing of the mystery of God (Rev. 10:7). But until that final trumpet sounds and there is “delay no longer” (Rev. 10:6) and the time has arrived for the dead to be judged and the saints to be vindicated (Rev. 11:18), the cry “How long?” will continue to be wrung from the soul of the church. Until he who promises, “Yea, I come quickly,” does come, the church in the wilderness by the demonic deep will be pleading out of the depths of its great tribulation (Rev. 7:14; cf. 1:9), “Amen: come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
Unseen, the rider of the red horse is present in the midst of the myrtles. The Lord who is to come is the one who was and who is, who is with us now, within us now. He is within us now by the Holy Spirit of promise, who seals us in Christ and is the earnest guaranteeing our inheritance, hoped for but not yet seen (Eph. 1:13,14). We persevere in hope, persuaded that the momentary, light affliction of this age works for us a far greater, eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). Through Christ’s holy Presence within we are strengthened with all power by his glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (cf. Col. 1:11,12), “to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
South Hamilton, Massachusetts
* This is the concluding part of an article begun in Kerux 6:1 (May 1991), pp. 16-31.
1. These interrelationships between the several sections of vv. 12-17 argue against the critical denial of the oracle’s integral connection with the first vision.
2. The same verb is used in summarizing the paraenesis of the pre-exilic prophets in Zechariah 1:4.
3. One of the problems with postmillennialism is its tendency to render heaven anticlimactic. G. North’s attempted defense only compounds the evil. He asserts that if there is to be an historical realization of the kingdom it must be preconsummation (preferably postmillennial style). In doing so, he explicitly dehistoricizes (mythologizes?) the consummation stage of creation history (Millennialism and Social Theory [Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990], pp. 6,25,89,91, passim).
4. Note also the parallelism of God’s jealousy and wrath, both directed against the same offender, in Deuteronomy 32:21 and Psalm 78:58.
5. On this passage, see my Kingdom Prologue (privately published, 1989), pp. 195-96.
6. Various alternative renderings have been suggested for the verb (‘zr) in this phrase, explaining it on the basis of alleged Arabic or Ugaritic equivalents or through emendation. The most plausible of these would result in the idea of multiplying or prolonging the evil. This would provide a more precise contrast to the temporal aspect expressed by me’at, “a little while.”
7. See the reference to the beast from the abyss in Kerux 6:1 (May 1991), p. 28.
8. For this meaning of pws; cf. 2 Sam. 18:8; Job 40:11; Prov. 5:16. That the preposition min here means “(overflow) because of” not “(be scattered) from lack of” is clear from its use in the related picture of urban expansion in Zech. 2:4(8).
9. Incidentally, the phrase “in the wilderness” is to be taken both with what precedes, viz., the voice crying, as in LXX and NT quotes, and with what follows, viz., the preparation of the way, as is required by the parallelism with “in the desert.” This is a recognized poetic device, employed elsewhere by Isaiah himself (cf., e.g., “in warfare” in Isa. 27:4).
10. In Israel’s exodus march to Zion, the Angel of the covenant or Presence proceeded as king at the head of the processional way (Exod. 23:20). In the new exodus there is again the royal procession, the way prepared by prophets (and disciples, cf. the triumphal entry into Jerusalem), and it is again the Angel of the Lord, now the Lord incarnate, who is the royal leader.
11. For an extensive account see my article “The Structure of Zechariah,” Journal of the Evangelical Society, 43:2 (1991): 179-93.
12. The state of the martyrs during the millennium is depicted here as one of royal-priestly rest (v. 4), as in Revelation 6:11. Clearly, both passages deal with the same epoch.