The prophet Zechariah not only brought a message of hope for the people of his day, but for all of mankind down through the ages right up to our present time.
Zechariah is a commonly used name in the Old Testament and means the LORD remembers, a meaning that contributes to the hope of the Messiah’s first and second coming prophesied in Zechariah’s book.
The dates mentioned in the book confirm that he was a contemporary of Haggai (Zechariah 1:1, 7; 7:1). Haggai had been preaching for two months, and the construction of the temple had already started, when Zechariah began his work. Haggai’s recorded ministry lasted about four months. Dated prophecies in Zechariah cover about two years, though the prophecies of chapters 9 through 14 are not dated.
Main theme of Zechariah
Both Haggai and Zechariah were called and sent by God to motivate the inhabitants of Jerusalem to complete the construction of the temple. They played a key role in rousing the elders and people under Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest to complete the building program (Ezra 5:1-2; 6:14).
These were difficult times for the small Jewish community, as they faced continual opposition from local Samaritans. The construction at the temple site began again in 520 B.C., and the building was completed about four years later. With God’s encouragement and help, their determination and hard work finally paid off.
The coming of the Messiah
Zechariah’s prophecies include several references to Jesus Christ’s first and second comings. He talks about Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem on a colt (Zechariah 9:9), His being betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (11:12), and His being pierced (12:10). Zechariah also describes the Day of the Lord when Christ’s “feet will stand on the Mount of Olives” (14:4), beginning His reign as King of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Despite the fact that Judah will be severely punished for her sins, God will not forget or forsake her. Ultimately the people of Judah will once again be “remembered of God,” and Jerusalem will be a great, prosperous and peaceful city. That will be a time when all families of the earth will go there to worship Christ as King, the Lord of Hosts (Zechariah 14:9, 16).
Zechariah’s message is truly one filled with hope!
Outline and structure of Zechariah
Following is a suggested outline of the book of Zechariah.
The book is organized into two parts: chapters 1-8 (messages during the building of the temple) and chapters 9-14 (undated messages, probably after the building of the temple).
Chapter 1:1-6: First message—a call for national repentance.
Chapters 1:7 through 6:8: Second message—the eight “night visions” of Zechariah.
- The first vision: The horseman among the myrtle trees (1:7-17).
- The second vision: Four horns and four skilled workmen (1:18-21).
- The third vision: Measuring Jerusalem for future development (2:1-13).
- The fourth vision: Joshua the high priest accused; the Branch comes (3:1-10).
- The fifth vision: The golden lampstand and the two olive trees (4:1-14).
- The sixth vision: A flying scroll bringing a curse (5:1-4).
- The seventh vision: A basket going forth carrying a woman (5:5-11).
- The eighth vision: Four patrolling chariots and horses (6:1-8).
Commentaries and most Bible scholars agree that the exact meaning of many of these visions is obscure and uncertain. And here lies an important lesson: It is unwise to attach our own personal meanings to these visions, except where there is clear support from the Bible.
For instance, the fifth vision depicts a lampstand producing light. As for the meaning of light, we understand that Christ came into the world as a Light (John 1:1-9, 14). He is the Light that illuminates the way of truth and the understanding of life. Psalm 119:105 states: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Christ referred to His disciples as lights in a dark world and encouraged them to be shining examples to other people: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Chapter 6:9-15: Sequel—the Branch (the Messiah) will build the temple of God.
Chapters 7:1 through 8:23: Third message—fasting and obedience.
When the temple was nearly completed, a delegation was sent to Jerusalem to ask the priests and prophets regarding certain national fasts instituted as days of mourning over calamities that occurred before the captivity. These were human traditions and do not refer to the fast proclaimed by God on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32).
Zechariah provided a response from God in chapters 7 and 8 under four sections. Each section starts with the same basic wording (7:4, 8; 8:1, 18). There is no condemnation of these national fasts, but God gives an important lesson regarding the motive for fasting. The people were not fasting to draw close to God (7:5), but were fasting for selfish reasons (verse 6).
While in captivity the people should have used these fast days as opportunities to contemplate the sins they had committed that had brought about their national punishment. These fasts should have been times of self-examination leading to heartfelt repentance and a changed lifestyle. Instead, they were absorbed with feelings of self-pity and outward remorse. The prophet asked what good their fasting did in the past, since it was done out of habit and tradition (7:4-7).
Christ also condemned hypocritical motives for fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). For more about proper fasting, see our article on fasting.
Was the matter of fasting resolved? There is no indication that final decisions were made. However, Zechariah points forward to a time when national fasts would become joyful feasts (Zechariah 8:19). He sketches a utopian setting when Jesus Christ will be ruling (8:3). This will be an age of peace and prosperity, with little children playing in the streets of Jerusalem (8:5) and older people sitting along the streets without fear (verse 4). What a far cry from the current hostilities prevalent in many countries in the Middle East!
Consider the following description of conditions when Christ rules from Jerusalem:
“The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us continue to go and pray before the LORD, and seek the LORD of hosts. I myself will go also.’
“Yes, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD” (8:21-22).
These verses describe a world without fear, poverty, disease or the other social ills that afflict so many now.
The Universal Bible Dictionary, edited by A.R. Buckland, states: “The remaining six chapters contain a series of predictions, unfolding the future history of the people of God from that period to the end of the world; with which are mingled many prophecies relating to the person, character, and work of the Messiah, the promulgation of the gospel, the calling of the Gentiles, and the final glory and blessedness of the Church of God, uniting Jew and Gentile in the one holy community under their great High Priest and King (9-14).”
The focus of the last six chapters is mostly on events relating to the end time.
Chapter 9:1-8: Judgment on the surrounding nations.
Chapter 9:9-17: This is a prophecy of Christ riding into Jerusalem a few days before His suffering and death (Matthew 21:2-7; John 12:12-15). Yet these verses also refer to Christ’s second coming when He will save His people and bring prosperity and peace to Jerusalem and the entire world (Zechariah 9:16-17).
Chapter 10: God has an indictment against the “shepherds,” possibly rulers or spiritual leaders, who failed to lead people away from evil and sin. However, this situation will change with Christ’s second coming, a time when “I will strengthen them in the LORD, and they shall walk up and down in His name” (verse 12).
Chapter 11: God continues His accusations against the false shepherds who have led the flock astray. During His ministry Christ stated that He was the good Shepherd who was willing to give His life for the sheep. The “hireling” fails to care for the flock and forsakes them (John 10:11-14). A woe is pronounced against the “worthless shepherd” (Zechariah 11:17).
Chapter 12: Monumental and disastrous events are described, as nations are embroiled in a destructive battle in the environs of Jerusalem.
When will this battle take place?
It is likely a reference to the final climactic battle that will rage at the return of Christ. Nations will be motivated to fight against the returning Christ but will be utterly defeated (Revelation 19:16-21; Joel 3:1-2). Much of Zechariah 12 describes the battle scenes and how God will “defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 12:8).
Notice this remarkable statement in verse 10: “Then they will look on Me whom they have pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son.” This is a clear reference to Christ, who was pierced at His first coming (John 19:34, 37) and will be seen on His return to the earth (Revelation 1:7).
Chapter 13: The phrase “in that day” in verse 1 shows a continuation of the story flow of events described in chapter 12. Christ will defeat His enemies and begin the process of restoring true religion, starting with cleansing and purifying the people “for sin and for uncleanness” (verse 1).
Chapter 14 is one of the most hopeful and encouraging chapters in the Bible. It pictures Christ’s intervention in human governments and affairs, depicting His return in power and glory and culminating in His millennial rule over the entire earth.
- Verses 1-3: Armies attack Jerusalem; Christ fights and defeats them.
- Verse 4: “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. … And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two.”
- Verse 5: “And all the saints [shall be] with You.”
- Verse 9: “And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—‘The LORD is one,’ and His name one.”
- Verse 11: “And no longer shall there be utter destruction, but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited.”
- Verses 16-21: Representatives of all nations shall travel to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. Blessings will abound for those willing to obey God’s commandments.
These inspiring millennial verses are moving, uplifting and exciting. As Zechariah’s name implies, God will remember His promises, and we can be sure that He will not forget to implement them!
Learn the lesson of the past
The apostle Peter warned that in “the last days” scoffers would appear saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For … all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4). In effect, these scoffers are saying that we don’t have to be concerned about the prophetic warnings of the Bible, as these claims are false.
Zechariah 1:5-6 describes a similar attitude among the people during the prophet’s day. Earlier prophets died before their prophetic utterances were fulfilled, and so they reasoned that these prophecies were false and unreliable. And yet both Israel and later Judah went into national captivity exactly as God had predicted through His prophets!
What some people forget is that God is alive and will ensure that His prophecies are fulfilled (Isaiah 55:8-11). This is a vital lesson we should learn and remember.
Not by might nor by power
In Zechariah 4:6 we read: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.” It is not solely through human effort and ability that the spiritual temple, the Church (2 Corinthians 6:16), will be built.
Christ promised, “I will build My church,” and that it would never cease to exist (Matthew 16:18).
It is up to each of us to prove where that true Church is today. Explore the biblical teaching about the Church in the section on “The Church: The Body of Christ.”
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.