In the School of Theology extra session on the Book of Revelation, Mark Bonnington quipped that in order to properly understand the Revelation, you need to be familiar with the Book of Zechariah. Like Revelation, the Book of Zechariah is dripping with visions, and prophecies which we may find rather confusing. However, in it are dreams and images that paint a beautiful picture of God’s ultimate salvation plan.
Zechariah is set in the middle of the return from Babylonian exile (see Ezra 5) and starts with a call to repentance, a call for Israel to turn and follow God once more (Zech 1:1-6) before it dives into a series of eight symmetrical dreams.
The first and last visions (1:8-17 & 6:1-8) are of Four Horsemen who patrol the Earth, reporting that the world is at rest and peace. Which for Israel would have raised the question: if our 70 year exile is almost up, is it time for God to bring His Messianic Kingdom? God determines He will fulfil these promises to His people.
The second and seventh visions (1:18-21 & 5:5-11) are both reflections on Israel’s past sin leading up to the exile. The four horns in the second vision are symbolic of Assyria and Babylon, the nations that attacked and scattered Israel and Judah. The four horns themselves are then scattered by four blacksmiths, representing the nation of Persia. The seventh vision is of a woman in a basket, representing Israel’s rebellion, being carried off to Babylon by other flying women (I did say it was confusing!)
The third and sixth visions (2:1-13 & 5:1-4) both talk about the building of a new Jerusalem. We see a man measuring the city, that Jerusalem will be rebuilt and become a beacon to the nations. The sixth dream is about a flying scroll that punishes thieves and liars in the new Jerusalem- the new Jerusalem will be a placed purified of sin by the scriptures.
At the centre of the visions are visions four and five (3:1-10 & 4:1-14) and they focus on the two key leaders post-exile: Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel, the royal heir of David. Joshua’s stained clothes, representing Israel’s sin, are replaced with fine robes and a turban, a symbol of God’s promise for his messianic king. The two trees in the fifth vision again represent Joshua and Zerubbabel and that success for Israel must be dependent on the work of God’s spirit- not their own effort.
The final set of visions are littered with Jesus shaped imagery, talking of the king coming on a donkey (9:9) who becomes the rejected shepherd of Israel (Ch 11). Chapters 12-14 show an image of God confronting the evil among the nations with his justice, but also God pouring a spirit of repentance on his people also. Like Revelation, Zechariah concludes with the new Jerusalem being the gathering point for all the nations, from which life eternal will flow once more.