I The Eight Symbolic Visions, A The Commencement, 1 The Preface to the Call, Text: 1:1, Title: Hidden Truths

Introduction

There is a class of prophets who are called post-exilic, that is, they prophesied after the Jewish people returned from Babylon and began rebuilding. This is in the same period as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Zechariah writes, In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo. The second year of Darius is 520 BC, and the eighth month is around October/November. This is just two months after Haggai began prophesying who is another post-exilic prophet. Nehemiah 12:4 tells us that Iddo, Zechariah’s grandfather was one of the priests who returned to Zerubbabel and Joshua from Babylon. This man, then, was both a priest and a prophet. The design of both Haggai and Zechariah was to encourage the people and their religious and civil leaders, Joshua and Zerubbabel, in their work of rebuilding the temple, after the interruption caused by the Samaritans.  Ezra mentions them as the two Prophets who encouraged the rebuilding of the Temple in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14. In 5:1 and 2 we read, Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them. I have read books about Ezra and Nehemiah which were manuals on leadership and management. Undoubtedly these men are good examples of that. However, what they represent best is not builders of church buildings and walls, but builders using living stones to build up the body of Christ, the true Church. Congregations can worship anywhere in the New Testament era. This is why we read in John 4:21-24, Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Zechariah, the prophet was dedicated to reviving the people’s faith and so we look first at the context in which he prophesied, and then his commission, and finally his communication.

I The Context

The second year of Darius was  good year and a bad year. It was a good year because the second year of Darius was the eighteenth year after The forced exile ended in 538 BC. After the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus, the Great, he gave the Jews permission to return to Yehud province and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. It was a bad year because the rebuilding was stalled by forces both internal and external. In Haggai 1:3 and 4 the Lord asks through the prophet, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. Nehemiah received  similar message back in Babylon when he was told in 1:3, Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire. The people were comparing their efforts to the glory of Solomon’s temple which had been looted and destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. For approximately 300 years Solomon’s temple had been the center of everything Jewish and was thought to be protected by God and impregnable. When it was destroyed the cost was more than material: it was exceedingly demoralizing. When God tells the people he would be with them through Haggai, the prophet, it should have reminded them that they did not need the temple in order to have God close and helping. They had heard the word of the Lord through Habakkuk declaring But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” However they were a superstitious bunch and thus very discouraged. Oddly enough this fixation with the temple has continued to this very day among orthodox Jews who are committed to seeing the temple in Jerusalem rebuilt. People are still clinging to the outward form and not realizing that God does not dwell in temples made with hands as Paul declares in Acts 17:24 and 25, The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. The message of Zechariah is intended to direct the attention of the covenant people away from the small beginnings and into a glorious future.

II The Commission

In the Old Testament the prophets are sometimes designated, the mouth of the Lord. Thus Zechariah begins by saying that he had received the Word of the Lord. John Calvin comments, “The word of God comes in two ways to men. God addresses all from the least to the greatest; but in the first place he sends his word especially to his Prophets, to whom he commits the office of teaching. The word of God thus comes to private individuals, and it comes also to teachers, who sustain a public character, and become God’s interpreters or messengers. It was thus that God’s word came to Zechariah, not that he might keep to himself what God had said, but that he might be a faithful dispenser of his truth.” The word prophet is from two Greek words which mean speak forth. In its essence it has nothing to do with prediction as it is commonly used in the twenty-first century. It is true that the prophets predict both blessings and curses but these depend upon the people’s compliance with the demands of the Lord which are issued in the prophet’s speaking forth the message of God. Thus, the Babylonian captivity which they had now left, and the effects of it which remained with them were all predicted as the coming result of their unfaithfulness and idolatry. Since God is a merciful God and he cannot forget his promises to the fathers, the restoration from Babylon was also predicted especially  by Jeremiah who set the period of rejection at 70 years. The problem is the people could not see the woods for the trees. Their idea of restoration was a resumption of what they had previously experienced, but God had something much better in store. He had promised a Messiah and deliverer centuries before and now He was setting the scene for that Messiah’s advent. Thus, the restoration would be much greater than they imagined. This is the hidden truth. It would involve a total change in their understanding, their worship and their expectations. Zechariah plays a part in that preparation directing their attention to the future.

III The Communication

Through sermons, visions, and symbolic actions Zechariah communicated encouragement not only to the temple builders, but to the founders of a new hope and new restoration in Jesus Christ. Zechariah does so especially by unfolding in detail the glorious future in connection with the present depressed appearance of the theocracy, and its visible symbol, the temple. Zechariah speaks in Old Testament language which cloaks the revealing of New Testament wonders such as a new Jerusalem, the calling of the Gentiles, the crushing of the wall separating Jew and Gentile, the permanent removal of iniquity through Christ, the uniting of the priesthood and the kingship, the building of the Church as the true temple, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the coming of Christ as the true branch of the Lord, God gathering His people and dwelling in their midst, the ministry of Christ, the death of Christ, the universal dominion of Christ, and the multiplication of the people of God to a numberless multitude. Shrouded in forms that the people of Zechariah’s day could understand, all of these and more will be discovered in Zechariah’s communication. So we enter our study with enthusiasm as the curtain is pulled aside and we discern  God’s glorious purposes for us.