One of the areas of biblical studies that I have yet to gain a firm grasp upon is the study of eschatology, or the study of the events of the end times. Like so many areas of theology, to understand the end times, we cannot study one passage in isolation. The complete picture only comes when piecing together the teachings of Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah along with the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. So, lacking a comprehensive study of all these makes me a little apprehensive when trying to explain portions of the Bible like the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah.
This particular chapter of Zechariah is one of the reasons I am more and more convinced of an earthly reign of Christ upon His return, what is often referred to as the Millennial Kingdom. Revelation 20 speaks of a period of 1000 years where Satan and his angels are bound in the bottomless pit, and the saints reign with Christ for a 1000 years over the nations.
4Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20.4)
7And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. (Revelation 20.7-8)
While there are many who believe that the “1000 year reign of Christ,” popularly known as the Millennial Kingdom, is only symbolic, a position known as Amillennialism, passages of Scripture like Zechariah 14 are more and more convincing to me. If we take the prophet at his word, there must be an earthly reign of Christ.
Before the Return of Jesus Christ
Zechariah 14 describes the events that take place just before the return of Christ as well as the events surrounding His return and earthly reign. It helps to have your Bible open to Revelation 19 as you read Zechariah 14.
Before the return of Christ, the horrible events of Zechariah 14.1-2 will take place.
1Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. (Zechariah 14.1-2)
Those who try to understand Zechariah 14 literally place these events after the rise of the antichrist. This is the man of lawlessness whose coming must precede the coming of Christ (see 2 Thessalonians 2.1-12). But before he appears, the Jews will be gathered again in Jerusalem. They will not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, but they will be gathered again to Jerusalem, and will most likely rebuilding the Temple.
During that time, the antichrist will make a covenant with Israel, but will break that covenant after 3.5 years (see Daniel 9.27). At that point, he will demand to be worshipped as a god, bringing about the “abomination of desolation” spoken of by Daniel (see Matthew 24.15). The Jews will refuse, and the man of lawlessness with gather the nations to Jerusalem to destroy them.
The destruction is brutal, as described by Zechariah, but it will be under the direction of the Lord. The Lord will gather the nations to battle. Once again, He will judge the Jews for rejecting Him, and this destruction will be fierce. Jesus spoke of the same destruction,
15“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24.15-22)
The Return of Jesus Christ
When the nations gather to destroy Jerusalem, the only hope will be to flee to the mountains. But when the night seems the darkest, a greater hope will appear.
3Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. 5And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. 6On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. 7And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. 8On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. 9And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one. 10The whole land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem shall remain aloft on its site from the Gate of Benjamin to the place of the former gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s winepresses. 11And it shall be inhabited, for there shall never again be a decree of utter destruction. Jerusalem shall dwell in security. (Zechariah 14.3-11)
There is so much prophetic truth in these nine verses, that there is no way to do it justice in one brief article. But to make a few observations.
First, Jesus will return and put His feet on the Mount of Olives. He will return in the same way in which He left (remember Acts 1.11, “He will return in the same way”). He will return in the same resurrected body that the disciples witnessed
Second, cataclysmic events will surround His return. There will be a massive earthquake, and the heavenly lights that provide light by day and night will cease to shine. Waters will flow from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and to the Mediterranean Sea. And a massive plain will replace the mountainous regions around Jerusalem so that the city of Jerusalem is elevated. The words of Zechariah sound very much like the words of Jesus.
23Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25See, I have told you beforehand. 26So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 29“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Matthew 24.23-29)
Third, He will return as a mighty warrior, not as a meek child in a manger. Revelation 19 describes His awesome power.
11Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19.11-16)
Fourth, He will return with His “holy ones,” the saints. Over and over again, when the Bible speaks of the return of Christ, it speaks of the saints coming with Him (see 1 Thessalonians 4.14 and 1 Thessalonians 3.13). And these holy ones will reign with Christ during His earthly reign (see Revelation 20.6)
The Earthly Reign Of Jesus
After the return of Christ, He will set up His earthly reign from Jerusalem. The Lord will be King over all the earth, not just Jerusalem. And He will deliver Jerusalem from her enemies and judge them on the spot.
13And on that day a great panic from the Lord shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other. 14Even Judah will fight against Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance. 15And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps. (Zechariah 14.13-15)
God will use the divine weapons of confusion and plague to deliver Jerusalem, just as in the days of Samuel, Gideon, and Hezekiah.
After the Lord delivers Jerusalem from her enemies and established His throne in Jerusalem, He will rule the nations.
16Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 17And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. 18And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. 19This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. 20And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. 21And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day. (Zechariah 14.16-21)
A few observations about the messianic kingdom.
First, there will still be other nations. This is one reason why an earthly reign of Christ is the only way to make sense of Zechariah 14. The prophet cannot be speaking of heaven for there are still other nations, other kingdoms, and other families of the earth.
Second, some people on the earth will still refuse to obey the commands of the Lord. Some will refuse the command to travel to Jerusalem to worship the King and to keep the Feast of Booths. The judgment will be the lack of rain and plagues.
Third, holiness will become the common order of the day. While there may be some who refuse to give God His due, the vast majority will recognize that the Lord is the One True God and will follow His commands. Everyone, and everything, will be holy unto the Lord. Previously, this designation was reserved for the high priest, but in the messianic kingdom, everyone will wear that name. There will no longer be any unclean, unbeliever in the house of the Lord during those days (the better translation of “trader” is probably “Canaanite,” a name symbolic of the unclean and unbelievers).
And this is how the prophetic message of Zechariah ended.
The prophecies of Zechariah are amazing indeed. They speak to a coming day when the Jews will be gathered again in Jerusalem. The established of the state of Israel in 1948 makes us all wonder if these events are close at hand. Still, there are many events that must take place before the events of Zechariah 14 could become a reality. The temple must be rebuilt in order for the abomination of desolation to take place. The antichrist must arise and be embraced by the world.
These two events are significant events yet to come, but history is moving a breakneck speed. Who would have thought the ruler of Egypt would be deposed without a shot being fired. Gaddafi seems to be out in Lybia. What could happen in the next 12 months is beyond even our imagination.
But my final thought is to wonder how on earth, literally, could there be so many who will witness the return of Christ and still not believe? With the cataclysmic signs, with the earthquakes, with the visible return of Christ with His holy ones, how could any nation still rebel against the King of Kings? Signs and wonders will not carry the day, for the antichrist will have those powers, as well. Even when the lawless one is removed, so many will refuse to love the truth and to be saved.
7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2.7-12)
Why will there still be those who will refuse to believe despite the wonders surrounding the return of Jesus? Because they did not believe the truth and took pleasure in unrighteousness. The enjoyed sin, didn’t want to be delivered from the darkness, and they rejected the truth. And the Lord gave them over to their sin and to the lies they wanted to believe.
As we wait for the events of Zechariah 14 to unfold, it is so important that believers keep their faith, continue in their belief of the truth, and continue to repent of all unrighteousness. The mystery of lawlessness is at work, even today. May we stand firm in the strength of the Lord against its work.