Zechariah: 10 Portraits of the Messiah

Street Theologian
14 min readFeb 15, 2024
Michaelangelo, Zechariah Profeti, all images from WikiMedia Commons unless otherwise mentioned

The Scarcely Touched Gem filled with Messianic Prophecies

For many, Zechariah is somewhat like an untouched gem. Hidden somewhere in their Bibles and rarely opened or talked about.

However, the New Testament authors frequently included allusions to Zechariah in their writings.

1. God sent by God

2. The Branch

3. The Priestly King

4. Humble King riding on a donkey

5. Cornerstone

6. Exchanged for 30 pieces of silver

7. Pierced One

8. The Fountain

9. Good Shepherd Struck

10. Feet of God standing on the Mount of Olives

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When it comes to Messianic prophecies, the book of Zechariah is a gold mine. Today we will take a quick look at some of the passages, buckle up and enjoy the ride!

When was Zechariah written?

Zechariah is a very common name in the Old Testament. In this instance, we are referring to Zechariah the priest who was the son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo (Zech 1:1).

Zechariah means YHWH remembers

Zechariah, literally means YHWH remembers, which is a fitting title in the time of Zechariah’s ministry. Initially filled with enthusiasm when returning from Babylonian captivity, the people of Israel are starting to lose heart nearly 20 since the return (as per Duguid) from exile during the time of Cyrus (538 BC). They needed reminding YHWH remembers.

Day of small things

Taxes were high, political oppression was rife and there seemed minimal evidence of the type of transformation God’s former prophets spoke of.

For Zechariah’s audience, their life felt like “the day of small things” (Zech. 4:10) where God was absent and not working his plans through their lives. Have you ever felt like this yourself?

Hope offered

Yet, amidst this despondent state of mind and the drudgery of day-to-day life, God offers hope to his people.

This hope, however, is not the type of hope one might readily expect, for “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:10).

As we consider the Messianic portraits in Zechariah, the element of surprise we might have at the type of solution God is offering may well grow.

New Testament use of Zechariah

Alred Edersheim in his, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, outlines how over 20 passages in Zechariah were associated with the Messiah by Jews at the time of Jesus. Please note, that not all of the passages we will cover today are on this list but several are.

Goodreads

GK Beale in his Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, outlines how New Testament authors allude to passages from Zechariah in books such as Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Peter, and, most prominently, Revelation.

Goodreads

One estimate, according to Iain Duguid, finds 54 passages from Zechariah in 67 locations in the New Testament. Some scholars however have higher estimates while some have lower.

1. God sent by God

In Zechariah 2:8–11,YHWH or the LORD is sent by YHWH:

For thus said the LORD of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye: 9 “Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me. 10 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. 11 And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.

This is not dissimilar to Genesis 19:24 where YHWH sends fire from YHWH out of heaven!

Some will contend the one sent is Zechariah in v.11, however, that would have to mean Zechariah is the one coming to dwell amid the people in v.10 which does not work!

God says, God rebuke you!

Even a few verses later on in Zechariah 3:2, YHWH rebukes Satan but seemingly through another person called YHWH:

And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”

Notably, YHWH doesn’t say I rebuke you but YHWH rebuke you. This implies that YHWH though One in Being (eg. Deut 6:4), is more than one person!

Zechariah 2:10 treated as Messianic in the Targum

That’s all well and good you might say but how is this passage Messianic? Alfred Edersheim in his colossal work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, contends that Zechariah 2:10 was viewed as a Messianic passage by Jews during the time of Jesus.

Edersheim adds that this verse also “has a Messianic cast in the Targum.” The Targum is an Aramaic-translated version of the Hebrew Old Testament with some additional material to explain passages.

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2. The Branch who brings peace

The branch is a common Messianic image.

Zechariah 3:8,10 reads:

8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch10 In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”

Edersheim explains, “The designation ‘Branch’ is expressly applied to King Messiah in the Targum. Indeed, this is one of the Messiah’s peculiar names (p.1560).”

This echoes the Messianic Branch theme in passages such as Isaiah 11:1 and Jeremiah 23:5 as outlined below:

Is. 11:1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Jer. 23:5 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Moreover, the image in Zechariah 3:10 of inviting one’s neighbour to come under his vine and fig tree is one of peace.

3. The Priestly King

The Branch is alluded to again in Zechariah 6:12–13:

And say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. 13 It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”

Here the Branch is both a King, bearing royal honour and ruling from a throne as well as being a priest!

According to Edersheim, Zechariah 6:12 “is universally admitted to be Messianic.”

Hebrew scholar, Michael Brown explains the significance of this passage:

Messianic Jewish and Christian scholars speak of two streams of messianic prophecy: the royal prophecies, which point to the worldwide reign of the son of David, and the suffering prophecies, which point to his vicarious suffering and death (see especially Isa 53). In contrast, traditional Judaism embraces the royal stream of prophecy as messianic while rejecting, for the most part, the messianic interpretation of the suffering passages since these passages neither speak of a descendant of David nor describe the beatific Messianic Era prophesied elsewhere (see, e.g., Isa 2:1–4; 9:6–7 [5–6]; 11:1–16; Jer 23:1–6).

Zechariah 6:9–15, then, is highly significant, since it explicitly connects the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, with “the Branch,” which is an epithet of the Messiah son of David (see esp. Jer 23:5; 33:15; cf. also Isa 4:2; Zch 3:8, all with semah; cf. further Isa 11:1 with neser). Thus, the royal messianic prophecies connect here with the priestly (= suffering) messianic prophecies, since it is a high priest who is crowned and who sits on a throne, all while serving as a sign of “a man whose name is the Branch” (Zch 6:12).

Hence, this passage is at odds with a traditional Jewish view of the Messiah that fails to consider the Messiah’s priestly or sacrificial duties.

4. Humble King riding on a donkey who brings peace to the nations

In Zechariah 9:9–10, the Messianic King is depicted as being humble and lowly:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you;

righteous and having salvation is he,

humble and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the war horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,

and he shall speak peace to the nations;

his rule shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Notably, the King speaks peace to the nations, echoing Zech. 8:22–23 where the favour and peace of YHWH is extended beyond the people of Israel.

The Jewish belief this passage is Messianic was so deeply entrenched that in the Talmud (collection of early rabbinic teachings) we read “if anyone saw an ass in his dreams, he will see salvation” (Ber. 56b).

Both Matthew (Matt. 21:5) and John (John. 12:15), apply this passage to Jesus in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

5. The Cornerstone

The Cornerstone is a portrait of the Messiah in various parts of the Old Testament. The cornerstone upholds a building and plays a foundational and fundamental role in keeping a structure standing.

Exemplifying this, Jesus applies Psalm 118:22 in which, the stone that the builders rejected becomes the chief cornerstone, to himself in Luke 20:17.

Zechariah 10:3–4 contains similar imagery:

My anger is hot against the shepherds,

and I will punish the leaders;

for the LORD of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah,

and will make them like his majestic steed in battle.

4 From him shall come the cornerstone,

from him the tent peg,

from him the battle bow,

from him every ruler — all of them together.

Edersheim notes that Zechariah 10:4 was applied to the Messiah in the Targum.

6. Exchanged for thirty pieces of silver

It is well known that Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. What is less well-known is how Matthew applied a passage from Zechariah in describing Jesus’ betrayal.

Zechariah 11:12:

Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.

Matthew 27:9–10:

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

Matthew takes words from both Jeremiah (19:1–13) and Zechariah. Matthew attributes this to Jeremiah as the more prominent prophet, similar to how Mark quotes Isaiah and Malachi but only mentions Zechariah (Mark 1:2; Is. 40:3; Mal 3:1).

Thirty pieces of silver matched what an ox owner owed a slave’s master if it gored the slave to death (Ex. 21:32). In effect, Jesus was betrayed for the price of a slave.

Edersheim outlines that this passage was not normally applied to the Messiah and when it was, the application was more allegorical in the sense of relating to 30 precepts the Messiah is to give to Israel.

7. The Pierced One

Zechariah 12:10 reads:

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

The one pierced is likened to a firstborn or only child. Consequently, this has potential Messianic implications. David, a prototype of the Messiah is likened to a firstborn (Ps. 89:27). Psalm 2:7–9, speaks of God’s Son being begotten and is filled with Messianic imagery.

John 19:31–37 recalls how Jesus was pierced before his death and John even quotes Zechariah 12:10 in John 19:37 (see also Rev. 1:7).

Interestingly, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 was wounded, beaten, pierced and crushed for our iniquities (v.3–5).

8. The Fountain

Repentance over piercing the one like a firstborn, contextually gives rise to a fountain that cleanses God’s repentant people from their sin.

Zechariah 13:1:

On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.

There are some striking parallels between the Pierced One and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Both are rejected by the people of Israel, yet through the suffering of both comes cleansing from sin!

The image of the water in Zech. 13:1, is like the running water necessary for ritual purification (eg. Lev. 14:5; Ezek. 47:1–12; Rev. 22:1–2).

9. The Good Shepherd Struck

In some ways, the final chapters of Zechariah are a story of two different types of shepherds. The worthless, foolish shepherd who deserts God’s people whom he is meant to protect and the good shepherd who is God’s associate.

Zechariah 13:7 speaks of the good shepherd being struck:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the Lord of hosts.

“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
I will turn my hand against the little ones.

Jesus applies Zechariah 13:7 to himself in Matthew 26:31, in reference to his disciples falling away at the time of his betrayal and subsequent death.

Notably, this shepherd stands next to God, functioning as an associate and potentially even a co-ruler. Similarly, the Son of Man in Daniel 7:9–14 referred to by Jesus in Mark 14:60–64, is at God’s right hand, co-ruling with him. The Son of Man is Jesus’ favourite title for himself.

Jesus’ Favourite Name for Himself: 3 BIG Implications

Beale explains that Zechariah 13:7 was referenced in one pre-Christian Jewish source and the source referred to this passage as Messianic (Commentary on New Testament Use of the Old Testament, p.92).

10. Feet of God Standing on the Mount of Olives

Zechariah 14:3–4 refers to the coming of YHWH in judgement against the nations:

Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4 On 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

The LORD or YHWH himself is standing on the Mount of Olives. Edersheim explains this passage was frequently associated with the Messianic wars in the Midrash (an ancient Jewish commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures).

Luke, it could be argued, makes an implicit connection with this passage in Acts 1:9–12, when Jesus ascends to heaven from the Mount of Olives and the two men in white robes explain to Christ’s followers that he will return in the same way he ascended.

By implication, Jesus is connected with YHWH of Zechariah 14:3–4 who will come in judgement standing on the Mount of Olives.

Is Jesus the Messiah?

In our article on Messianic prophecies in Daniel we covered how the Messiah must:

  • Arrive during the time of the Romans
  • Be called the Son of Man with a throne besides God
  • Arrive before the Second Temple was destroyed

Is Jesus the Messiah? 3 Portraits from Daniel

Jesus meets all these criteria.

The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) asked the question of whether the Messiah will be like the King who is the Son of Man in Daniel 7 or the lowly King riding on a donkey in Zechariah 9.

In Jesus, turns out, the Messiah is both. Jesus rode humbly on a donkey into Jerusalem, yet also claimed to be the Son of Man, seated at the right hand of God.

Moreover, Jesus fits the portrait over other Messianic prophecies in Zechariah.

  • YHWH sent by YHWH- Jesus applied YHWH passages to himself (eg. Matt. 21:16; Ps. 8:2)
  • The Branch from David’s line- Matthew and Luke emphasise the Davidic background of Christ’s family
  • The Priestly King- Jesus suffered for his people to cleanse them from their sins in his priestly role, yet purported to be the divine King, the Son of Man
  • Cornerstone- Jesus considered himself the cornerstone
  • Betrayed for 30 pieces of silver
  • Pierced on the cross and being considered God’s Son
  • The Fountain who cleanses the lost from their sin and makes it possible for people to drink from the water of life (Rev. 22:17) while promising his believers he will quench their thirst and from their own hearts will flow rivers of living water (John 7:37–38)
  • Jesus came to shepherd God’s people, yet was struck, betrayed by his own
  • Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives and the men in robes claimed he would return the same way

Who pierced Jesus?

The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is wounded for our transgressions. The piercing of Jesus is not something we can solely attribute to Roman officials and Jewish religious leaders from 2,000 years ago.

We cannot absolve ourselves from responsibility. For we too are traitors, betraying our Shepherd.

Our hearts need cleansing from the fountain of living water. In Christ, the humility of a meek man riding on a donkey meets the might of a King riding in the clouds of heaven and standing on the Mount of Olives. God sent by God. Perfection in divinity. Sympathy with our humanity.

Zechariah deepens our appreciation for the work of the Messiah, with varying portraits penned over 500 years before Christ.

Only one Man and one Man only, like the portraits in Daniel, fits these varying portraits to such a profound extend. Much like how a hand fits a glove or a cable finds a socket.

Will you allow yourself to be shaped and cleansed by this truth?

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Street Theologian

Theology and apologetics for those who want to get their hands dirty