Zechariah’s prophecy concerns the restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple after the return from exile. As with Isaiah, biblical scholars see the book of Zechariah as having been written by two authors. Chapters 1-8 are said to come from 520-516 BC, and thus from a contemporary of Haggai. Chapters 9-14 are from the fifth century and are made up of two oracles concerning Jerusalem’s future glory. These two parts are generally referred to as First and Second Zechariah, with the latter being notoriously difficult to understand.
Most of First Zechariah includes eight night visions. These visions are revealed to Zechariah by an angel and are elaborately symbolic, much more so than in any other Old Testament prophetic book. The main themes of the visions concern the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. Zechariah sees that the nations will be judged, and then the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel are confirmed as God’s choice for leading the restoration.
Zechariah 7 also repeats a theme addressed in other prophetic books. Fasting is a ritual that must be accompanied by right motives. What God truly desires is justice, mercy, and compassion, especially on widows, the fatherless, the alien among them, and the poor. The people are reminded that their pre-exilic forefathers neglected these things and so God scattered them into exile. In the end, however, Jerusalem’s full recovery is certain. People from all the nations will cling to the hem of the robe of God’s people, begging to be taken to Jerusalem, “because we have heard that God is with you” (8:23).
Second Zechariah has a very different feel than First Zechariah. This section is divided into two oracles, chapters 9-11 and 12-14. In both, it is not clear what historical period the prophet is referring to, though certainly the future restoration of Jerusalem is very much central. Chapters 12-14 especially contain apocalyptic language; that is, language of cosmic upheaval used to describe events of great historical significance.
Christians often interpret these chapters are predictions of the coming of Jesus. In particular, several New Testament authors use these passages and their images to speak of Jesus: the king entering Jerusalem on a donkey (9:9), sheep without a shepherd (10:2), thirty pieces of silver (11:12), and looking on one who has been pierced (12:10). These passages from Second Zechariah have certainly been applied by the Gospel writers to help their readers see how Jesus’ ministry and death are connected to Israel’s story. But the passages themselves are not predicting such far off events. As is the case with biblical prophecy in general, the prophets were concerned with contemporary (or near future) events interpreted in language that evokes feelings of great cosmic significance.
In that respect, Second Zechariah is concerned to tell a fifth century audience that God has not abandoned them. One day, a new era will dawn and Jerusalem will have a glorious future. By appealing to these prophecies in Second Zechariah, the Gospel writers are declaring that the glorious future hoped for in the monarchy and in the temple are only truly realized in the crucified and resurrected Son of God.
– Peter Enns