Bible Study Series

Jerusalem’s New Birth

Part 1: Before the Great Day of the Lord

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The Prophetic Setting

Thus says the LORD, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him. (Zech 12:1)

What is so astonishing about this introduction to Zechariah’s final prophecy is how deliberately Zechariah picks up the three key phrases highlighted above from Isaiah’s prophecies of the new creation, the coming Kingdom of God:

Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk on it: (42:5)
I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, and of the son of a man who will be made like grass? And you forget the LORD your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth … where is the fury of the oppressor? … I am the LORD your God, who divided the sea whose waves roared–The LORD of hosts is His name. And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, that I may plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, “You are My people.” (51:12-16)
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people… (65:17-19; cf. also Isa 44:24-28, 45:8-12)

Zechariah 12-14 is not just another series of prophecies about the “last days”: It is specifically about the creation of God’s People, the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God. It is the time of the new heavens and earth, the new order of things that replaces the world as we know it now. We are standing with Zechariah on the very threshold of the Kingdom of God on this earth, and he is about to reveal to us how it will all come to pass.

Have these chapters become so familiar due to countless Bible expositions and public talks that the absolutely remarkable revelation before us has been lost? If so, these articles are an invitation to see these dramatic prophecies from a different vantage point. Familiar and unfamiliar will mix together as we ponder each of the events that portend the coming birth of the New Jerusalem.

Before the Days of Trouble – Political Conditions

A careful reading of Zechariah 12 and 13 provides a wealth of information about the political and religious conditions among God’s People before the great day of conflict. Consider first the political aspect that arises from the ‘Jerusalem Problem’:

Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it. (12:2-3)

The competing claims for Jerusalem today are probably reasonably well known. Here’s a summary:

Christians: In 1993, after the PLO agreed to formally recognize Israel, the Catholic Church broke with 1500 years of tradition and theology to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Why? So, they would be guaranteed a large role in deciding the final disposition of Jerusalem and its Christian holy places (on behalf of all Christians, of course). To this day the status of church property remains an issue for the Vatican, as the Catholic Church has extensive property holdings in Israel. The Orthodox Church (in Russia) has also demanded a say concerning Jerusalem since the majority of Christian holy sites are under their oversight. Protestants, while lacking the political clout, also have a vested interest in the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Moslems: Jerusalem is holy to all Moslems as well. The Dome of the Rock, on the sacred site of the ancient Jewish Temple, covers the stone from which, it is said, the white horse carrying Mohammed sprang into heaven. The nation of Jordan, through the lineage of the deceased King Hussein, claims the historical right to maintain and control all Moslem holy sights in Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim this right also, and the right to have eastern Jerusalem set aside as their capital city. Hamas, the violent arm of fundamentalist Islam, likewise desires absolute and complete control of the city they believe belongs solely to the rightful heirs of Abraham – the Arabs.

Jews: Pressed, sometimes violently, between these two competing forces, are the Jews who lay claim to this city for Biblical, historical and personal reasons. Above all else, Jerusalem, is for them the soul of the Jewish people, the center of all their messianic hopes and desires. “Next year Jerusalem” has been the rallying cry and stay in all their ages of wandering and dispersion. They will never yield the very soul of all their hopes to other peoples!

With these things in mind, now consider the details in 12:2-3 that begin Israel’s final days of trouble:

surrounding peoples”: Palestinians and the Arab countries around Israel are the only ones that can fit this description.

siege”: This does not necessarily refer to open warfare, rather to a settled state of conflict where one force seeks to surround and overcome another. Is this a description of what is called today the Palestinian “Intifada”? Increasingly bloody confrontations between Israel and the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors over the failure of Israel to resolve the Jerusalem problem would seem to be indicated. We are well experienced in our day how failed political solutions lead ultimately to military solutions.

Judah”: Escalation of these political problems begins to directly affect the Judean area as well as Jerusalem. Given that this area encompasses most of the “West Bank” claimed by the Palestinians, this is not surprising.

cup of drunkenness”: This fascinating descriptor indicates the outcome of the “siege”. The image of a drunk man attempting to accomplish some task comes to mind. The implication is clear: No matter how often or how long the nations round about seek to overcome and overwhelm Israel, they will fail as assuredly as a drunk man.

heavy stone for all peoples”: International attempts to resolve the Jerusalem quagmire meet ever-increasing Jewish intransigence; in short, all the peace processes will fail. But note, it is God (“I”) who makes the problem unresolveable (unmovable). Those nations who do try to remove this “burden” are severely injured (lit. “lacerated”). Is this politically? economically? Time will reveal the full extent and kind of these injuries.

against it”: In this context, it hardly takes prophetic insight to recognize the implications of these words. Intense ill-will generated by these failures to resolve the Jerusalem problem will grow against Israel leading ultimately to international isolation: Israel left alone, even by her friends, at very time their support against escalating Arab hostility is critical to her survival.

Before the Days of Trouble – Religious Conditions

Chapter 13 provides a fascinating insight into religious conditions in Israel prior to the Day of the LORD. It is important to realize, though, that this chapter is not describing those conditions directly, but the fallout after the Days of Trouble have come on God’s people. A careful reading will allow us to determine what it must have looked like earlier, conditions that would give rise to the details in vv.2-6. This will help us build a picture of what things will soon be like in Israel before the climax of this prophecy is reached.

names of idols” (v.2): Note the plural. In the land will arise an excess of mighty ones and mighty things for Israel to put their trust in. God has always called Israel’s idols the “work of their own hands” (e.g. Isa 2:8). This is a powerful description of the things people craft in their cleverness to provide a sense of confidence and security. Today, such idols don’t have to be images of various animals or celestial objects, they can refer equally well to the things Israel invents by means of their enormous skill and ingenuity, inventions to provide protections and security and defense from all their enemies.

prophets”: People will always flock to someone who seems to have answers, especially when those answers are what they want to hear. How much more then when these “someones” speak in the name and authority of the LORD!

unclean spirit”: Is this a reference to the godless Gentile philosophies so eagerly embraced by modern Jewry as they wandered among the nations? “Unclean” is often used to describe what comes from Gentile sources (e.g. Acts 10:28, 2 Cor 6:11-18, Isa 52:1,11, Ezek 36:16-27,31).

robe of coarse hair”: This is an amazing descriptor. The first connection would have to be with Jacob who used the hairy skin of a goat to deceive his father (Gen. 25:25). But there is another, startling, connection:

They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” (2Kgs 1:7-8 ESV; cf. 2 Kgs 2:8,13,14 where his mantle would likely be the hairy skin of some animal)

Elijah? But this individual is attempting to deceive the people! The prophecy of Malachi promised that God will send Israel “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Mal 4:5). Is this, then, a reference to a false Elijah seeking to capitalize on this prophecy? Wow, this is a bit unexpected, but should it be? We will come back to this question later, but consider the other descriptions in this small prophecy:

I am no prophet, I am a farmer”: Is this meant to take our minds to another prophet who told the people,

“I was no prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I was a herdsman and a tender of sycamore fruit” (Amos 7:14)?

If so, then we are now dealing with false prophets too. (Remember that the false prophet description begins in v.4.)

What are these wounds in your hands”: This is perhaps the most unexpected of the three false prophets. The Hebrew phrase is literally, “between your hands” which places the wound on the upper body or chest of this would-be prophet (see other modern translations). The audacity of this claim from this 21st century prophet is utterly amazing as he appears to be claiming identification with the Messiah! (Compare what is said in Jn 20:25-27 about the marks on Jesus’ body.) In other words, this prophet is a false Christ!

Why did these things happen? Was it a response to the increasingly desperate and hopeless situation faced by the Jewish people? Was this the result of the overwhelming stress and distress of the nation? In desperation were some trying to fulfill the messianic prophecy of Malachi and the other prophets? Or was their message like those ‘prophets’ in Jeremiah’s time, when the nation stood on the brink of national catastrophe, messages of “Peace, peace” (e.g. Jer 6:13-15)?

But does not “false” imply the existence of the “true”? Is there at this time also a community of Jews led by a true prophet? Is this the time when the true Elijah appears in Israel? Whether true or not, one thing is certain: Complete religious and spiritual chaos prevails in Land of Israel before the great Day of the LORD. Even more amazing, it is exactly as Jesus himself told us:

And Jesus answered and said to them: Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many… Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. …
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. (Matt 24:4-5, 11-12, 23-25)

A small problem with huge implications

This brings us to a small problem in this chapter, whose solution has some very disturbing implications.

“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My companion,” says the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; then I will turn My hand against the little ones.” (Zech 13:7)

When was this prophecy fulfilled? In the first century? If so, why is it found in a twenty-first century context? The reason for the confusion is not hard to find. Consider this quote from Matthew:

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Matt 26:31, also in Mk 14:27)

If Jesus quotes this passage as being fulfilled in his day, then why is it found at all in Zechariah 13? Let’s see if we can unravel this mystery.

strike the Shepherd”: While Jesus did quote the Zechariah 13 passage, when exactly was it fulfilled in the first century? How was this passage fulfilled? While our immediate response is to look for this fulfillment at Jesus’ death, there is a problem with this interpretation. Consider the word that describes the response of the disciples.

scattered”: The word used by Jesus (“scattered”) means to “disperse”. Here is an example illustrating its meaning:

After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. (Acts 5:37)

Here’s the problem: This just does not describe what happened to the disciples. They were disillusioned, dismayed, and confused, but they stayed in Jerusalem or its environs for at least three days and were then united through Jesus’ resurrection appearances.

If this did not happen at the crucifixion of Jesus, when did it happen? Consider Stephen, the first martyr and imitator of Jesus’ death. After he spoke in the Synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem, the leaders of the synagogue put before the Sanhedrin false witnesses with essentially the same accusation against Stephen as was said against Jesus, the destruction of the Temple (cf. Mk 14:58 with Acts 6:14).

When he attempted his defense, they became enraged, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him to death (Acts 7:57-60). These men in striking Stephen were striking Stephen’s Lord! Like Moses, instead of speaking to the Rock, they smote it (twice!), thus showing their utter disregard for God. Here is the principle stated:

Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 9:4-5; see also Acts 11:19)

What was the outcome of this expression of violence against this representative of the Master?

Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. … Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. (Acts 8:1, 4)

The ”striking” of Jesus with the sword began with Jesus’ death, but continued with the death of Stephen, gathering greater intensity through the violent persecutions of Saul. And, as prophesied, God’s hand was turned against His “little ones” (lit. small, insignificant ones).

But here’s the irony: Saul thought he was being strengthened to “scatter, disperse” [diaskorpizo] his enemy, but God had a different plan: God used the persecution of this small, faithful remnant in Christ for good, not evil! He used it to “scatter, sow” [diaspeiro] the Gospel message to many others! (See also Heb 10:32-39.)

Perhaps now the 21st century context of Zechariah 13:7 is beginning to come together for us: The 1st century fulfillment will be repeated in the 21st century!

How will this happen? Following the pattern of what we have discovered from the 1st century, are we not being led to expect the emergence in Israel of a community of Jews who have become followers of the true, Biblical Jesus? And will we then see the same vehement hatred of Jesus as was evident at the “striking” of Stephen repeated against this 21st century group of followers — “striking” or persecuting these Jewish followers of Jesus, and for some even death? A persecution then that will manifest the same vehement hatred of Jesus as in the 1st century. [1]

Now, every element of the Olivet prophecy has a 21st century fulfillment!

But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist [2]. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. (Lk 21:12-17)

Summary of Conditions Before the Conflict

  • Bloody confrontations over Jerusalem increase – intifadas, but they will all fail miserably.
  • Painful failure of international attempts to resolve the “Jerusalem Problem” leads to growing international isolation for Israel and threat of major war.
  • Religious turmoil abounds; Jewish people do not know where to turn.
  • False prophets and messiahs fill the void with their plans for peace and security.
  • Community of true Christian Jews bitterly persecuted, with some killed by their own people.


[1] Compare Jn 16:1-4 with Isa 66:5 to see how the persecutors justify their actions.

[2] Remember Stephen’s defense.

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