This is the manuscript of the sermon preached at Albemarle Reformed Church on Sunday, 3/24/13
This morning I would like us to examine the prophecy found in Zecheriah 9:9 in light of the gospel account and fulfillment in the gospel of John. Consequently, John and Matthew are the only two gospel writers that mention this event as a fulfillment of Christ’s coming. Of course, Matthew writing from the perspective of Jesus as King focuses on that aspect (Mt 21:4-5). On the other hand, John, who focuses on the eternalty of Christ quotes the prophecy in a matter-of-fact style and then relaying to his readers the ignorance of the disciples in picking up on the event, which is common in the gospels.
Instead of looking at this passage from an expositional view, I would simply like, this morning, to look at the implications of this prophecy. First, we need to look at the prophecy, found in Zechariah 9, in its context to gain a better understanding of how it is fulfilled in the gospels. We will look simultaneously at both passages and do our best to keep them within their given contexts.
Background Information on Zechariah
Zechariah was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai and most commentators place his first prophecy about two months after Haggai’s first prophecy to Israel. While Haggai concerns his own message strictly with the rebuilding of the temple, Zechariah’s message extends beyond the captivity into Israel’s future. It is commonly agreed that he was a somewhat young when God called him to his prophetic ministry. He succeeds his grandfather as priest.
Zechariah is a book about the past and future of Israel. It opens with a solemn reminder of Israel’s past sins and God’s punishment on His people. Yet, God tenderly calls them to repentance and restoration with Himself. The name ‘Zechariah’ is interesting in itself in that it means Jehovah remembers. This would have been an especial encouragement for the people as they had been in captivity for seventy years. In fact, the opening verses of Zechariah reflect this.
Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’ (Zech 1:12)
The verses following show God’s concern for His people as He assures them that He will judge the nations for their harsh treatment of them and that He will once again set them in the midst of their own land and guard them against their enemies. In his exposition of the entire Bible Albert Barnes notes that the book of Zechariah can be divided into four major sections. He divides them as such:
Zechariah’s book opens with a very simple, touching call to those returned from the captivity, linking himself with the former prophets, but contrasting the transitoriness of all human things, those who prophesied and those to whom they prophesied, with the abidingness of the Word of God. It consists of four parts, differing in outward character, yet with a remarkable unity of purpose and end. All begin with a foreground subsequent to the captivity; all reach on to a further end; the first two to the coming of our Lord; the third from the deliverance of the house then built, during the invasion of Alexander, and from the victories of the Maccabees, to the rejection of the true Shepherd and the curse upon the false; the last, which is connected with the third by its title, reaches from a future repentance for the death of Christ to the final conversion of the Jews and Gentiles.i
The book of Zechariah is filled with Messianic prophesies and Ernst Hengstenberg cites these prophecies as “only second to that of Isaiah.”ii For example, the prophecy of the Branch of David (Zech 3:8) as well as Christ being sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:13) as well as the disciples forsaking Christ at His arrest (Zech 13:7). The prophecy we are concerned with this morning comes in chapter 9 of the book.
The Context of the Prophecy
The chapter opens up with a doom for several nations. The regions of Philistia is especially prominent as are the cities of Tyre and Sidon. Chapter 2 verses 8-9 inform us that several nations “plundered Judah” and “scattered them abroad.” Though God Himself was the one that sent these nations to punish Israel for their sin many of them went to extremes in their conquests. The book of Obadiah is especially telling in Edom’s treatment of Israel. The Assyrians were especially cruel in their treatment of the nations that they conquered. It is no wonder why Jonah tried to run from God when God wanted to show mercy to Nineveh.
But now the Lord was sending His retribution upon them by allowing His people a time to plunder their enemies. Here in this chapter we see that these particular nations are Israel’s enemies and God stands ready to defend His people from their threats and attempted conquest of them. In verse 9 we see the salvation of the people through the promised Messiah.
The condemnation comes to each of the peoples mentioned, starting as The burden of the word of the Lord Interestingly, the word ‘burden’ is the same word used for a nation that paid tribute to a conquering nation. Likewise, the LXX uses the word λημμα which means an expense or something paid. The idea is that these nations were now “paying” for their actions and God’s word of prophecy was the acting agent to bring that message. The message to each peoples are as follows:
Hadrach—not much is known about this particular place as it is never mentioned again in Scripture. But Old Testament scholars Keil and Delitzch surmise this:
[it] can only be a symbolical name formed by the prophet himself (as Jerome maintained, according to a Jewish tradition), from chad, acris, sharp, brave, ready for war (in Arabic, ḥdd, vehemens fuit, durus in ira, pugna), and râkh, soft, tender, in the sense of sharp-soft, or strong-tender, after the analogy of the symbolical names.iii
Damascus—this city seems to be a part of Hadrach as it is said, “[Hadrach’s] resting place.” perhaps it is the epicenter of this land. This is the same Damascus where Paul, formerly Saul, went with letters from the chief priests to arrest those who belonged to Christ, therein on his way met the Christ and was converted. The city itself is not very large, and according to the ISBE is only about a half mile wide and a mile long. It is situated on the border of desert country and is somewhat of an oasis to those traveling from that area as in certain Arabic literature it is described as a paradise. Whatever the case it is condemned by God for its part it played in Israel’s past or future demise.
Tyre & Sidon—these two cities are almost always mentioned in connection. They are important cities in the Phoenician world. They are known for two things: for their impenetrable city and for their amass of silver. Yet God warns them that they will be stripped bear. This prophecy was actually fulfilled when Alexander the Great conquered the city as relayed by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown:
Alexander, though without a navy, by incredible labor constructed a mole of the ruins of Old Tyre (fulfilling Eze 26:4-12, &c., by “scraping her dust from her,” and “laying her stones, timber, and dust in the midst of the water”), from the shore to the island, and, after a seven months’ siege, took the city by storm, slew with the sword about eight thousand, enslaved thirteen thousand, crucified two thousand, and set the city on “fire,” as here foretoldiv
Philistia—next comes the entire region of Philistia. These people were enemies of the Israelites from of old. From the time of the judges to the established monarchy these people were a thorn in Israel’s side. Samson certainly had his bouts with them and David engaged them time and time again as he sought to bring peace throughout the entire nation.
In this prophecy each province of Philisita is given special attention. Ashkelon is afraid of the destruction that it has seen of the previous two cities; Gaza is said to be in such fear that it writhes in pain; Ekron looses all hope as it sees her neighbors around her collapsing and Ashkelon abandoning its towns. The final result of Philistia will be that it is emptied of its natives and inhabited by complete foreigners (Zech 9:6).
Then comes the prophecy! Jehovah announces with clarity and certainty that He will send His servant the Messiah to come in righteousness and bring salvation to His people. But when His servant comes He will look much different. The Pulpit Commentary on Zechariah states this about the fulfillment of this prophecy:
In illustration of his poor or afflicted estate; it is this, and not merely the peace. fulness of his reign, that is meant by this symbolical action, as we see by the following clause, where the youthfulness of the animal is the point enforced. And (even, and that) upon a colt the foal of an ass; such as she asses bear, and one not trained; as the evangelist says, “whereon never man sat.” Christ sat upon the foal. In old times judges and men of distinction rode upon asses; (Gen 22:3 Jud 5:10 10:4) but from Solomon”s days the horse had been used, not only in war, but on all state occasions; (Jer 17:25) and the number of horses brought back on the return from Babylon is specially mentioned.v
Their Savior would not be quite what they expected. He is said to be lowly (not high-minded), righteous (judging rightly and impartially), and humble (no big fanfares to announce His coming). This is exactly how our Lord entered the world. For He came to lowly shepherds first, those who were despised even by the common man.
The Implications of the Fulfillment
We now return briefly to our text in John 12 to see what implications Christ had on the fulfillment of this specific prophecy.
The Messiah came not as a conqueror of men, but of sin (vv. 14-15). All of Israel, including Christ’s own disciples expected a warrior-king to deliver them. Tired of Roman oppression and rule they were ready to do whatever it took to find their “savior.” They demonstrated this after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand when the crowds wanted to force Jesus to be their leader and deliverer (John 6:14-15). The Jews were so tired of their burden that a group of assassins known as Zealots often plotted against Roman authorities and those Jewish leaders that were in cohorts with them. In fact, it was one of these men, Simon, that Jesus chose as one of His disciples. But Christ would not meet their expectations for His mission was to be a spiritual Savior not physical one. It is only at His second advent will He rule and reign the nations as the completed fulfillment of His Kingdom.
The Messiah had come to be glorified (vv. 23-24). The glory of the cross lay before Him. And though others would see it as a defeat Christ saw it as part of His triumphant entry into the city. He explains the cost of this glory in verse 24, giving the illustration of a kernel of wheat falling to the ground. The wheat itself dies but the seeds that it leaves behind falls to the fertile soil and brings forth new life. Even so, His death and the shedding of His blood (the “seed” so to speak) would produce an untold harvest of worshipers. It was this glory that caused Him to “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:51) Though He Himself would express a human fear and concern as demonstrated by His sweat drops of blood during His petition to the Father at Gethsemane. Yet His own words, “Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done,” is the echo of this glory. The culmination of His entire earthly existence was about to take place. Once He had borne the sins of His people (Mt 1:21) He would once again have the same glory with the Father that He enjoyed before the foundation of the world (John 17:5).
The Messiah had come to cast out the ruler of this world (vv. 31-32). When Adam and Eve traded God’s glory for their own Satan became the ruler of this world. He ever lives to make trouble for the saints of God. He is a liar, a deceiver, a murderer, but most of all he is the accuser of God’s people. He stands before the throne of God calling out the sins and atrocities that God’s own people have committed against Him. And if it were not for our advocate we would doubtless fall into the deepest recesses of Hell and burn with the enemies of Jehovah. But thanks be to God for His unending mercy in the death and glorification of His Son, Jesus Christ. We see the the intercession of Christ for His people in the New Testament, but here in the book of Zechariah is one of the most comforting and endearing intercessions of all: (Zech 3:1 -12)
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
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?”
Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments.
And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”
And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.
And the angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua,
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.
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 Branch.
For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.
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.”
What a comfort, brothers and sisters, that God defended His priest from Satan, who aptly pointed out his faults! And a comfort even still knowing that this man was a priest chosen by God to minister before Him. If God’s own priest, chosen by Him would be accused by Satan, how much more us? Yet we can rejoice with the apostle Paul when he states, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1) This is what it meant for Christ to become poor for our sake so that we may become rich. The miracle of the cross is an extraordinary thing: the innocent (Christ, a Lamb without spot or blemish) is condemned and the guilty (us, whose righteousness are as filthy rags, Isa 64:6) are set free. It is as the apostle states in Romans 3:26 that God is just (in punishing sin in Christ) and at the same time the justifier of those who have faith in His Son.
What is the implication of the fulfillment of this prophecy? I believe it can be summed up with one passage of Scripture:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1John 3:2-3)
For believers the fulfillment of this prophecy has the greatest implication of all: that we will one day, not only be freed from our burden of sin, but that we will spend an eternity in the presence of the One came “righteous and having salvation; humbled, and mounted on a donkey.” What greater implication can there be for mankind?
i Barnes, A., 2012. Barnes’ Notes on the Old Testament-Book of Zechariah. Graceworks Multimedia.
ii Hengstenberg, Ernst Wilhelm. Christologie Des Alten Testamentes Und Commentar Über Die Messianischen, vol 3, pg. 296, Weissagungen. English. T. & T. Clark, 1858.
iii Carl Friedrich Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets (T. & T. Clark, 1871), vol 2, pg. 322
ivJamieson, Robert, Andrew Robert Fausset, and David Brown. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, vol 1, pg. 727. S.S. Scranton, 1875.
v Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. The Pulpit Commentary, vol 34, pg. 314Funk & Wagnalls Company, 189AD.