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Lesson 15: God, the Mighty Savior (Zechariah 12:1-14)

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Just outside of Madrid is a famous old monastery, the Escorial. The kings of Spain have been buried there for centuries. The architect who built the church made an arch so low that it frightened the king. Fearing that it would collapse, he ordered the architect to add a column to uphold the middle of the arch. The architect protested that it was not necessary, but the king insisted and so the column was built.

Years later, the king died and the architect then revealed that the column was a quarter of an inch short of touching the arch, and that the arch had not sagged in the slightest. I have heard that tour guides still pass a lath between the arch and the column as mute proof of the architect’s knowledge (Donald Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate [Revell], p. 245).

That arch illustrates our salvation, which comes totally from the Lord. It stands because of God, not because of anything that fallen sinners can add to it. But, like the Spanish king, people want to add something to help God out. The idea that salvation is totally from God is an affront to our pride. So even many that profess to believe in Christ as Savior are prone to think that their salvation rests at least partially on something that they must do, rather than completely on what God has done. We keep adding our columns, but God’s Word clearly shows that God’s salvation does not need our human support.

God’s mighty power will save His people according to His purpose.

Zechariah 12-14 contains the second “burden” that the prophet received from God (see 9:1). This burden focuses on Israel, and specifically on Jerusalem (22 times in these chapters). The phrase “that day” occurs 17 times and “the nations” occurs 14 times, pointing to the period of time when God brings His purpose for Israel and the nations to culmination. As we saw last week, chapter 11 predicts Israel’s rejection of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and her subjection during the Tribulation to the worthless shepherd. This will plunge the nation into a time of severe testing, described by Jeremiah (30:5-7) as “the time of Jacob’s distress.” Daniel (12:1) calls it “a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time.”

This time of testing culminates in the Battle of Armageddon (Joel 3:9-16; Rev. 16:16-21; Zech. 12:1-9; 14:2-3), when God will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle. At the last minute, just before Israel is annihilated, God will supernaturally rout the enemy and deliver His people. Our text describes the physical deliverance of Israel in verses 1-9, and the spiritual deliverance of Israel in verses 10-14. The great military victory that God will achieve for His helpless people illustrates the great spiritual salvation that He also brings. Both sections emphasize the truth that God is mighty to save His people according to His purpose.

1. God is mighty to save His people physically (12:1-9).

First, God establishes His sovereign authority and power as seen in His role as the creator and sustainer of the universe. Then He shows what will take place with His chosen people, Israel, in the end times, and how He will “destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (12:9).

A. God’s supreme authority and power are seen in His sure word and in His role as creator and sustainer of the universe (12:1).

“Burden” means a message from God that is weighted with important words of judgment and deliverance. We might say, “That’s a heavy message.” It is a burden “of the word of the Lord concerning Israel.” This is further underscored by “Thus declares the Lord…” So before he even describes who the Lord is, Zechariah wants us to know that this is not his human word; it is the word of Almighty God.

Then he describes God as the one “who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.” The Hebrew participles refute the idea of deism, that God created the earth, but has nothing to do with it now. Rather, He continually stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him (E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament [Kregel], p. 355). As Colossians 1:17 states of Jesus, “in Him all things hold together.” If Jesus decided to “let go,” the universe would chaotically self-destruct! He is the Lord who is speaking here! If He spoke the universe into existence and sustains it by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3), then when He states what is going to transpire in the future, He has the authority to make it happen. We should thus believe His word and submit ourselves to Him as the Sovereign Lord.

B. God’s mighty power to save is seen in the way that He will deliver Israel from all her enemies (12:2-9).

If all that we had to go on was 12:2-9, we might conclude that the battle will not be too bad for Israel. These verses show how God will strengthen the nation for battle so that her enemies will be defeated. But 13:7-9 and 14:2-3 reveal that things will get pretty desperate for Israel before the Lord intervenes. The city will be captured, houses plundered, women raped, and half of the city exiled before the Lord fights against the nations. Two parts of the land will be cut off and perish and the third part will be brought through the fire. Only after this will Israel be delivered.

God will make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the nations (12:2). The nations will greedily consume Israel like a cup of wine, but instead of satisfying them, it makes them stagger and fall to the ground. God also promises (12:3) to make Jerusalem a heavy stone, so that whoever tries to lift it will only injure himself. Also, God will strike the horses with bewilderment and the riders with madness (12:4). Scholars differ over whether there will be literal cavalry in the campaign of Armageddon or whether the prophecy uses language of the times (maybe God will cause the computer systems to go haywire!).

Some understand verse 5 to mean that the leaders (NASB, “clans”) of Judah will side with the nations until they recognize that God is empowering those in Jerusalem (F. Duane Lindsey, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books], 1:1566). Or perhaps the faith of those in Jerusalem will inspire these leaders to trust in God. He will make them like a fire to consume their enemies (12:6).

Then (12:7) God promises to “deliver the defenseless country [“tents of Judah”] before the fortified and well-defended capital, so that both may realize that the victory is of the Lord” (Charles Feinberg, God Remembers [American Board of Mission to the Jews], p. 225). Merrill Unger observes, “The Lord will manifest Himself in such deliverance as will honor faith, unite His people, and cause them mutually to make their boast wholly in the Lord, instead of partially in themselves” (Zechariah: Prophet of Messiah’s Glory [Zondervan], p. 212, italics his). God promises further that the weakest of the inhabitants of Jerusalem will be like David and the leaders (“the house of David”) will be like God, further described as like the angel of the Lord going before them.

In 12:9, when the Lord says [literally] that He “will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem,” it is not as if there is any doubt about the outcome! Verse 1 shows us God’s omnipotent ability to do whatever He purposes to do. Rather, it is using human language in the sense of focusing full attention on the matter, so as to say, “When God sets His mind on doing it, it’s a done deal!” (See Unger, p. 213.)

God’s reason for delivering His chosen people physically (12:2-9) is so that later He can save them spiritually (12:10-14), and all of this is for His glory. Many of God’s people can testify that God saved their lives from physical death years before He later saved their souls from spiritual death. John Newton, the wicked slave trader, who was saved to become a pastor and hymn writer (“Amazing Grace”), more than once narrowly escaped death before his conversion. Once he fell overboard when he was drunk and was harpooned to get him back on deck, but he survived! If God has spared your life, but you have not yet come to Christ, He wants you to turn in faith to Him today!

There is another lesson here: The safest place for any of God’s people is in the center of His will and purpose. When Zechariah wrote, many Jews were still in Babylon. Perhaps they thought, “It’s just not safe to move back to Jerusalem. There is no army there and no wall around the city. The place is surrounded by hostile neighbors. I’ll just stay here in Babylon.”

But Zechariah is showing them that even if all the hostile nations in the world are lined up against Jerusalem, it is the safest place in the world to be, because Almighty God has promised to destroy the nations that come against Jerusalem. This doesn’t mean that we should throw caution to the wind, or that there are not times when God’s servants should flee for their lives. But it does mean that God watches over His people (12:4), and that no one can touch them unless it fits with God’s purpose. All the armies on earth can line up against God’s people, but they will not thwart God’s mighty purpose to save His people for His glory.

2. God is mighty to save His people spiritually (12:10-14).

Verse 10 is one of the most remarkable prophecies in the Bible. There is no way to explain it apart from the incarnation, death, and resurrection of one who is both God and man. The speaker throughout this passage has been God, who now says, “They will look on Me whom they have pierced.” “Pierce” is consistently used of someone being run through by a sword or spear (Num. 25:8; Judges 9:54; 1 Sam. 31:4). No one can pierce God, unless God first takes on human flesh. And the Jewish nation cannot someday look on this one whom they pierced unless He is then living, having been raised from the dead. When the soldier thrust his sword through Jesus’ side as He hung on the cross, he inadvertently fulfilled this prophecy in remarkable detail (John 19:36-37)!

Before we look at several aspects of the spiritual salvation that God promises to bring to His chosen people, note that it is entirely of God. God does not say, “I would like to save My people someday, but they must exercise their free will in order for the process to happen.” Nor is this prophecy based only on God’s foreknowledge of what will happen, but rather on His mighty power that causes it to happen. In other words, God isn’t looking down through the centuries here and exclaiming, “Finally, after all these years, I can see that the Jews will soften their own hearts by their own free will and trust in Me! I’ve always wanted them to do this, but I couldn’t do anything about it because of the sovereignty of human free will. I’m so glad that they finally decided to follow Jesus!”

That is how many evangelicals view salvation in our day, but it is definitely not what the Bible teaches. It shows that salvation is of the Lord, from start to finish. While we must trust in Jesus Christ and repent of our sins, neither saving faith nor repentance originates in the fallen human heart. They are God’s gift, so that none can boast (Eph. 2:8-9; Acts 5:31; 11:18).

Note briefly five things about God’s salvation:

A. God often prepares us for salvation through trials.

Before God saves the Jews spiritually, He will take them through the awful events of the Tribulation, culminating in the horrifying campaign of Armageddon. Lest you think that God is merely describing what will happen in the future, apart from His causation, in 14:2, He states, “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle….” Those nations will be accountable for their hatred against the Jews, but behind all events is God, “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).

When you encounter trials, you are prone to doubt either God’s love or His sovereign power. You may even go so far as to doubt His existence: “If there is a loving, all-powerful God, then why are these terrible things happening to me?” But our text is clear that God is by far stronger than the most powerful armies in the world and that He cares for His people, whom He will save.

There are Christians who say that anything bad that happens to us is from the devil and that it was not God’s will (imagine!). But the implication, then, is that Satan got one over on God! The Bible is clear that God sometimes uses Satan to carry out His will, but Satan can go no farther than God permits (Job 1-2). It brings far more comfort to know that even severe trials are under God’s sovereign will, than to think that somehow they are not.

In the chemistry lab, every substance has its melting point. The same is true of the hard human heart. God graciously brings trials into our lives to soften us and prepare us to receive His grace. Before the trials, we didn’t know that we needed God. We thought that we were in control. So God yanks the rug out from under us by bringing all the armies of the world against us to cause us to cry out to Him for help!

B. God brings us to salvation through the Holy Spirit.

God promises to pour out on the Jews “the Spirit of grace and of supplication.” This is a reference to the Holy Spirit (Isa. 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; note all three persons of the Trinity in Zech. 12:10). Jesus told Nicodemus that the new birth is effected by the Spirit (John 3:5-8). “It is the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63). Unless the Spirit of God convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8) and imparts new life to us, we remain dead in our transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1, 5), excluded from the life of God because of our hard hearts (Eph. 4:18). Salvation, like the original creation, requires the sovereign power of God (2 Cor. 4:4, 6).

He is called here “the Spirit of grace and of supplication.” Grace means God’s undeserved favor. The Jews who pierced their Messiah do not deserve God’s favor, and neither does any sinner. Grace means that we do not have to clean up our lives or accumulate good works in order to qualify for salvation. Those things follow salvation, but they do not precede it to prompt God to act.

The “Spirit of supplication” means that when He graciously intervenes in a sinner’s heart, that sinner cries out to God, “Save me, Lord, or I perish!” All subsequent prayer stems from God’s gracious Spirit of supplication moving us to cry for help. If you recognize that you are a sinner in God’s sight and you have cried out to Him to save you, it is because He has poured out His Spirit of grace and supplication on you. If you know Christ as Savior, but you lament the hardness of your heart, and you are crying out, “God, soften my heart towards You,” it is because His Spirit of grace and supplication is working in you.

C. God’s salvation brings us to see the Savior accurately.

Israel will “look on Me whom they have pierced.” As I said, the only way that this can be explained is if the one pierced is both God and man. In the 16th century, John Calvin fought against the same errors that we face in Unitarianism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny that Jesus is fully God. He comments on this text to show that Christ is the same in essence with the Father and the Spirit, but distinct in person. Thus God the Father was not pierced, because He did not take on human flesh. But He can say, “They shall look on Me” because He is one in essence with the Son (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on The Twelve Minor Prophets, pp. 365-367). While you do not need to understand the Trinity to be saved, you really cannot understand the gospel unless God opens your eyes to see that Jesus is fully God and fully man. He had to be God to be sinless, so that His sacrifice would be acceptable to the Father. He had to be man or that sacrifice could not apply to humans.

But not only must we see the Savior accurately, as God and man; we must also see that “He was pierced through for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:5). There is no salvation apart from Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2:2). Apart from the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness for sins (Heb. 9:22). To follow Jesus as a great moral example is not enough. To be saved, you must apply His shed blood to your sins.

The Jews who will be living during the Battle of Armageddon did not physically kill Jesus. True, their ancestors did. But God says here that they pierced Christ. We need to apply this to ourselves: I pierced Christ by my sins! You pierced Him! If you do not see that fact, you do not understand God’s salvation.

Thus God often prepares us for salvation through trials. He brings us to salvation through His Spirit and by opening our eyes to see the Savior accurately.

D. God’s salvation requires that we look to the Savior in faith.

The emphasis in looking “on Me whom they have pierced” is not on looking on the Messiah literally, but on looking to the Messiah in faith (Kenneth Barker, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], 7:683). It is the same as when Moses erected the bronze serpent, and whoever looked to it in faith lived (Num. 21:9). Some interpret this as happening at the second coming of Christ, but I understand it to be just prior to that event. At that point, there will be a widespread conversion of the Jews, as Paul states in Romans 11:25-27. No one, Jew or Gentile, can be saved apart from looking in faith to Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Son of God.

E. God’s salvation produces genuine repentance in the hearts of His people.

Israel will mourn over the pierced Savior, as one mourns for an only son, and as the Jews mourned for the good King Josiah in the plains of Megiddo, when Pharaoh killed him.

Genuine repentance is not something that a person must work up in order to be saved. But it does necessarily accompany saving faith, so that the New Testament views saving faith and repentance as flip sides of the same coin (Acts 20:21; 26:18). Just as saving faith is not a one-time thing, but ongoing, so with repentance. Ongoing repentance should mark the life of a believer, as we continually look to the Savior who was pierced for our sins.

As believers, we should look frequently to the Savior whom we pierced, and mourn. It must be personal, so that even husbands and wives mourn separately. That is the point of the repetition of “by itself” (12:12-14). The family of David refers to the rulers; the family of Levi refers to the priests. “All the families that remain” refers to everyone else. True repentance is not glib, shrugging off sin as no big deal. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). The Lord’s Supper is a good time to look in faith to the Savior whom we pierced.

Conclusion

Why did God give this remarkable prophecy to people who lived at least 2,500 years before it would take place? It was not so that they could draw up prophecy charts and read books about how soon these things would take place. He gave these prophecies to comfort His people as they went through trials and faced threatening enemies with the solid truth that He is a mighty Savior, and that no one can touch His elect apart from His purpose.

That’s how He wants us to apply it. If you have not yet repented of your sins and trusted in Christ as your Savior, God may have kept you alive until now so that today you would look on Him whom you pierced and mourn. If you have trusted in Christ, He wants you to know that no enemy, whether “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword,” or even death itself, will be able to separate you from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39)!

Discussion Questions

  1. What theological problem arises if you ascribe all trials to the devil? What problem arises if you ascribe them to the Lord?
  2. Should we pray that God would bring trials into the lives of loved ones to bring them to repentance? Why/why not?
  3. Why is it essential to understand properly who Jesus is? Can a person be saved and deny the deity or humanity of Jesus?
  4. How does mourning over sin fit in with “rejoice always”?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Faith, Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit), Prophecy/Revelation, Soteriology (Salvation), Suffering, Trials, Persecution