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Lesson 17: The Triumph of the Coming King (Zechariah 14:1-21)

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The older you get, the less you look forward to birthdays. They are just another reminder that “the old gray mare ain’t what she used to be”! (That applies to the old gray stud, too!)

But kids love birthdays! When our kids were young, for weeks in advance of their birthdays they would excitedly look forward to that day. They would tell strangers they met, “I’m five but I’m almost six!” They looked forward to the party and the presents. Having a birthday meant that you could go to school and tell the other kids, “You’re only five, but I’m six!” Even though the other kid may turn six in a few weeks, it gave you the competitive edge!

There is a day mentioned repeatedly in the Bible that we should be anticipating with eagerness. It is called “the day of the Lord.” It is a major theme of this chapter (14:1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 20, & 21). The day of the Lord is not a 24-hour day, but that future period of time when the Lord will bring judgment to the wicked and salvation to His faithful. The New Testament makes clear that the hallmark of this day will be the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth. He will destroy the nations that are on the verge of destroying Israel, and establish His millennial reign over all the earth from Jerusalem.

But before He comes, Jesus prophesied that there will be a time of tribulation such has never occurred before, nor ever will occur after. I used to believe that the church will be raptured before the tribulation, but I now am not so sure about that. But whether we are raptured beforehand or go through the tribulation, we certainly must be prepared for persecution. At the end of the tribulation, there will be cataclysmic events in the heavens, all the nations of the earth will mourn, and then “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” He will send forth His angels to gather His elect from all over the earth (see Matt. 24:21-31). Then Jesus will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Rev. 12:5; 19:15).

Zechariah 14 refers to this coming “day of the Lord.” Although some seek to explain the chapter in terms of past historical invasions of Israel or the ongoing spiritual battles of the church, I think that in light of the context of Zechariah, this chapter is best explained in reference to the Jews and to events that are yet future. It refers to the great final battle, elsewhere called the Battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:16; 19:11; see Ezek. 38 & 39). When Israel is surrounded by the armies of the nations and on the verge of annihilation, the Lord Jesus will return in power and glory.

When Christ returns as King, He will defeat His enemies and establish His righteous kingdom over all the earth.

We can divide the chapter into two parts: 1-15 describes the return of Christ and the defeat of His enemies; 16-21 portrays the establishment of Christ’s righteous kingdom over all the earth.

1. The return of Christ as King will mean the defeat of His enemies (14:1-15).

The first verses of chapter 14 go back to the last two verses of chapter 13, and to the battle mentioned in 12:2-9. The earlier description did not mention that Jerusalem would be overrun before the Lord would intervene, but that is the picture here (14:2-3). In 14:1, the enemies are leisurely dividing the spoil from Jerusalem in its streets, thinking that they have defeated the Jews. Then Jesus will return, His feet will touch down on the very place from which He ascended, the Mount of Olives, it will be split in two, the surviving remnant will escape, and Jesus will rout His enemies. I can’t deal with all the details, but note 3 things:

A. It will be a sudden defeat—Do not be deceived!

Israel’s enemies will be gloating over what they think is their victory when the Lord will suddenly wipe them out. Verses 12-15 describe in more detail the extreme suddenness of God’s victory: The enemy’s “flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and they eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth” (14:12). The same fate will befall their animals (14:15). It sounds like a description of a nuclear attack, but it may be a plague from God. Before this plague destroys everyone, in panic, the enemy coalition will fight against each other (14:13). But the point is, it will be a last minute, sudden victory for God.

Revelation 18 pictures it the same way. The evil world system, called Babylon the Great, is sitting pretty. The merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality. She boasts, “I sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.” But then in one day, in one hour, judgment falls and she is destroyed (see Rev. 18:3, 7, 8, 10, 17, 19).

These prophetic sections of Scripture were not written so that we could draw up cool prophecy charts and speculate about the end times. God wants us to apply these prophecies. The application is: Do not be deceived! In spite of how things now look, this evil world will not win. God will win and He will win big! He sovereignly gathers the nations against Jerusalem for this final showdown (14:2). His purpose for the ages is to enthrone Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords, and He will accomplish His purpose!

We’re all tempted at this point. We look around and it seems like the bad guys are winning. The guy at work who cheats and lies gets the promotion. You’re honest and come out the loser. Worldly people spend their time and money pursuing pleasure and seem to live pretty well. You obey God, give your money to His kingdom, and seem to have problem after problem. Like the guy in Psalm 73, you wonder, “What’s going on? The wicked forsake God and prosper. I follow God and am chastened every day!” You’re tempted to join the other side. But God warns us, “Don’t be deceived!” Even if you suffer persecution or martyrdom, you will be blessed because God’s side is going to win in the end!

You may be thinking, “That’s easy to say. But how can you know for sure that these prophecies will literally come true? What if I deny myself and suffer for Christ’s kingdom, but He never comes back? What if I put all my hope in heaven, but it isn’t true?”

There are good reasons within the Book of Zechariah (not to mention the rest of the Bible) for staking your life on these prophecies. Zechariah has given us many specific prophecies about the first coming of Jesus Christ that were literally fulfilled. He predicted that Jesus would come to Jerusalem, “humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). Jesus fulfilled that prophecy on Palm Sunday. Zechariah prophesied that Jesus would be rejected by the nation, sold for 30 pieces of silver, and that the money would be thrown to the potter in the house of the Lord (11:12-13). Judas Iscariot precisely fulfilled that prophecy in his betrayal of Jesus.

The point is, if Zechariah could precisely predict these events about Christ’s first coming 500 years in advance, shouldn’t we believe that he is accurate in predicting the details about Christ’s second coming, especially when his predictions line up with many other Scriptures? So when it seems as if evil is winning, don’t be deceived! Don’t switch sides! Jesus is coming quickly and His reward is with Him (Rev. 22:12).

B. It will be a powerful defeat—Do not despair!

The defeat of God’s enemies at Armageddon will be accompanied by an awesome display of power. As we’ve seen, a powerful plague will rot off the flesh of His enemies while they are still standing. In addition, there will be frightening changes on the earth and in the heavens. The Mount of Olives will be split in half, creating a large valley (14:4). A new river will flow out of Jerusalem, half toward the Dead Sea and half toward the Mediterranean Sea. I understand this to be a literal river that also has a spiritual meaning (which I will explain in a moment). The land surrounding Jerusalem will be leveled into a broad plain, with Jerusalem elevated above it (14:10). While we cannot determine the exact locations of all these sites now, the specific names show that they should be taken literally.

There also will be cataclysmic changes in the heavens (14:6-7). (The NIV translation, “no cold or frost,” is not based on the Hebrew text and should be rejected.) The sun, moon, and stars will be dimmed (Isa. 13:9-10; Joel 2:31; 3:15; Matt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12-14; 8:10-12; 16:8-10). It will be a kind of murky twilight, unlike any time before. The phrase “at evening time there will be light” probably refers to the end of that period of judgment when light from the heavenly bodies will be restored and the light of the glory of the Lord will illumine the earth. It will be an eerie, frightening time, demonstrating God’s mighty power through His creation.

Two other facts here underscore the Lord’s power. The first is that Zechariah clearly believed in the deity of Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. In 14:5 he states, “Then the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with him!” “Holy ones” refers both to the angels (Matt. 25:31; 2 Thess. 1:7) and to believers who have been in heaven with the Lord (1 Thess. 3:13; 4:16-17). The Lord, whose human feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, is God in human flesh. He is powerful enough to defeat all His enemies!

The second fact that underscores the Lord’s power is His personal, bodily coming. He is coming back just as He departed (bodily, not just spiritually), so that every eye will see Him (Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7). Jesus describes His second coming as being “with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). John saw Him as a mighty warrior on a white horse, His eyes a flame of fire, His robe dipped in blood, a sharp sword coming from His mouth, and all the armies of heaven following Him on white horses (Rev. 19:11-16). He is going to win big!

The application is, Do not despair! You may be overwhelmed by horrible trials or powerful enemies. It may look as if the evil side has already won. Perhaps you are filled with doubts and despair. But our dire extremities become God’s choice opportunities to display His mighty power on our behalf! Remember the theme of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo: Whom the Lord remembers (“Zechariah”) He blesses (“Berechiah”) at the appointed time (“Iddo”). God has not forgotten you in your trial. He will deliver you in His appointed time.

You may be thinking, “I know that God is able to deliver me from any and every trial. But what if He doesn’t do it? What if the enemy—sickness, persecution, some catastrophe—wins?

At such times, our answer should be the same as the answer that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego gave to Nebuchadnezzar when he threatened to throw them into the furnace for refusing to bow down before his idol. They said, “… our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18). They did not know if God would deliver them from death, but they knew that He is still the only true God. They remained obedient to Him even in the face of impending death. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:36-39, even if we are put to death as sheep for the slaughter, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

Thus the Lord’s triumph over His enemies at the last day will be sudden, so that we should not be deceived when it seems that evil forces are winning. It will be powerful, so that we should not despair when we are overwhelmed by enemies that are stronger than we are. Also,

C. It will be a thorough defeat—Do not be wrongly aligned!

Note verse 9: “And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one.” Right now, only a minority of the earth’s population worships God as the only true God, and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Vast segments of the world are under false religions and beliefs. Most of the world’s Jews reject Jesus as their Messiah. Even in Christendom, millions of people wrongly think that they will get into heaven based on their good works, rather than through faith alone in Jesus Christ and His shed blood. But in that day, when Jesus returns, the whole earth will bow before Him as Lord and King. Satan and his demons will be bound, so as not to deceive the nations (Rev. 20:2-3). Righteousness will prevail on earth.

Granted, some will only feign obedience to Him, while their hearts are still in rebellion (14:17-19; see Ps. 66:3). At the end of the millennium, Satan and his evil forces will be loosed to stage one final rebellion before he is defeated and thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:7-10). But during His millennial reign, Psalm 2:8-9 will literally be fulfilled. The Father says to the Son, “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.”

A few years ago, I had a friend who was not able to watch the Super Bowl on the day it was played, so he videotaped it and planned to watch it the next evening. He studiously avoided listening to the radio or looking at any TV or newspapers that would reveal the outcome of the game, because he wanted the suspense of not knowing in advance who won. Suppose that I had watched the game and I offered to bet him a lot of money on the outcome. (Gambling is wrong, but bear with my illustration.) That man would have been crazy to place that bet, because the outcome of the game was certain.

There is no doubt about the outcome of world history: Someday, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11). Jesus Christ will be king over all the earth! All of God’s enemies will be thoroughly defeated. Why would anyone want to put, not their money but their eternal destiny, on the losing side? Jesus will reign! Make sure that you are on His side before He comes to judge the earth!

So the return of Christ as King means the defeat of His enemies (14:1-15). But also,

2. The return of Christ as King will mean the establishing of His righteous kingdom over all the earth (14:16-21, 8, 9, 11).

Let’s face it, righteousness or holiness doesn’t get good press in our day. Even to the Lord’s people, it may not sound too exciting or fun. But our text reveals three reasons why you will enjoy and should look forward to the day when Christ rules the earth in righteousness.

A. A righteous reign means refreshment, peace, and joy for those who submit to Jesus Christ (14:8, 11, 16).

*Refreshment—living waters, year round (14:8). While the river that will flow out of Jerusalem is literal, it has a spiritual significance. In that hot, desert climate, the picture of an abundant river, flowing all year, meant refreshment. Imagine hiking in Phoenix in the summer. You’re parched and about to faint when you come to a clear, cold stream of pure water. Ahh!

Holiness or righteousness is like that. Sin not only defiles us, it is like a disease that slowly destroys us. God’s Word cleanses us and renews us. Jesus’ righteous reign will be refreshing!

*Peace—security (14:11). When righteousness reigns, people dwell securely. They do not need to lock their doors in fear of intruders. They do not have to worry about their children being abducted on the streets. They do not fear terrorists or foreign armies invading their cities.

*Joy—the Feast of Booths (14:16). The Feast of Booths was the last of the feasts in the Jewish calendar year. It commemorated when Israel lived in temporary shelters after their deliverance from Egypt (Lev. 23:33-44). It was also a feast of ingathering, or harvest (Deut. 16:13-15). Thus was a joyous celebration (Lev. 23:40; Deut. 16:15) of God’s salvation and provision for His people.

On the last day of this feast, the Jewish priests would leave the temple, go to the Pool of Siloam, draw water, and carry it back to the sanctuary. They would pour it out while the worshipers recited Isaiah 12:3, “You will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” One day as they completed this ritual, a young man stepped forward and cried out loudly, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). When that speaker, the Lord Jesus, reigns in holiness in your heart, His Holy Spirit, the living water, will fill you with refreshment, joy, and peace.

B. A righteous reign means punishment on those who refuse to submit to Christ (14:17-19).

There will be justice on earth when Jesus rules with a rod of iron. We do not know for certain why Egypt is singled out here from other nations. Perhaps because of Egypt’s historic oppression of Israel, they are mentioned here to show both God’s kindness (in that they are included in the millennium at all) and His severity (in that He will judge all that do not submit to Him).

The punishment on those nations that do not submit to Christ will be drought or no rain. While this will be literal, it obviously has spiritual ramifications. Those who do not submit their lives to Jesus and know the joy of His salvation will experience dryness and famine in the soul. Finally,

C. A righteous reign means that every aspect of life is sacred for God’s people (14:20-21).

“Holy to the Lord” was the inscription on the plate worn on the forehead of the high priest. In the millennium, that inscription will be put on the bells of the horses, which were animals of commerce and transportation. The meaning is that all of life, including mundane work, will be as sacred as the rituals performed in the temple by the priests. Even the cooking pots in the temple and in private homes will be holy to the Lord in that day. “No Canaanite in the house of the Lord” (14:21) means that no spiritually or morally unclean person will defile the Lord’s house in that day.

These verses mean that when the Lord reigns in righteousness, His people will not divide life into sacred and secular compartments. When you do that, you quickly fall into hypocrisy. On Sundays, you put on your religious hat and look “Oh, so spiritual!” The rest of the week, you set aside your religion and live like the rest of the world lives. It’s phony to the core! God’s people should live all of life as holy to the Lord. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Conclusion

Zechariah’s bottom line is this: If Christ is returning as King to defeat His enemies and to establish His righteous reign over all the earth, then we must walk in holiness before Him. As John puts it, “Everyone who has this hope [of His appearing] fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). As Peter contemplated the day of the Lord, he concluded, “What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God …” (2 Pet. 3:11-12).

Do you long for His coming like a child longs for his birthday? God’s aim in history is that Jesus Christ will reign as King over all of heaven and earth. “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost…. He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:17, 20)!

Discussion Questions

  1. Knowing the final outcome of the world, should we labor to make it a better place through social policy, ecology, etc.?
  2. Why does God let evil run rampant throughout history? (See 2 Peter 3:3-13.)
  3. What are the boundaries for the proper versus improper use of biblical prophecy?
  4. If Christ is not coming until the end of the tribulation, how can His coming be imminent? See Matt. 24:42 in context.

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: Christology, Eschatology (Things to Come), Kingdom, Prophecy/Revelation