What motivates you to make it through the tough times, perform at a high level, or keep your commitments? In general, externally motivated people do something because they want to receive a reward or commendation; internally motivated people perform for their own reasons and personal rewards.
God is not beyond using various people and methods, including rewards, to motivate us to serve and obey Him. In the Old Testament, when God’s people failed to follow Him with their whole hearts, God sent prophets to motivate them with the promise of blessing for obedience. Sometimes a prophet’s fiery brand of ministry worked; sometimes, it did not.
The post-exilic prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—illustrate the many ways God motivates us to obey Him. For example, Haggai took direct aim at the people’s misplaced financial priorities and rebuked them for having left the temple reconstruction project incomplete after sixteen years.
Zechariah, on the other hand, took a different approach to solve the same problem. Through a series of eight visions, four sermons, and two oracles, the prophetic priest inspired God’s people with Messiah’s promised arrival. Messianic glory would inhabit the worship facility. However, God’s blessing was contingent upon their obedience. This should have provided enough motivation for them to reprioritize their lives in a Godward direction and complete the temple.
Zechariah’s writing style was much more poetic than Haggai’s, and his content was mostly prophetic. He foretells the story of Messiah’s coming more than any other prophet except Isaiah. For example, in Zechariah, Christ is the Branch (3:8), the Good Shepherd (9:16, 11:11), the Stricken Shepherd (13:7), and the One who enters Jerusalem “humble and mounted on a colt” (9:9). Zechariah also envisioned Christ’s betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (11:12-13) and the time He splits the Mount of Olives when He returns at the end of the age (14:3-8).
The Lord sent Zechariah to the Jewish remnant that returned to Jerusalem to repopulate the city and rebuild the temple after seventy years of Babylonian captivity. The once-powerful nation was now back in the land God promised to them, albeit by permission of a foreign ruler. Zechariah’s name means “God remembers,” indicating that the Lord, who is “very jealous for Zion” (1:14, 8:2), will remember the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and King David.
Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Zechariah was from a priestly family (1:1, 7). His grandfather, Iddo, was part of the remnant that returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest. Born in Babylon, Zechariah served the Lord at a young age, being influenced by his father, Barachiah, a priest (2:4). Jewish tradition says that Zechariah was among the scholars of the Great Synagogue who collected and preserved holy Scripture. According to Jesus, Zechariah’s life ended tragically, as he was “murdered between the sanctuary and the altar” (Matthew 23:35).
Israel’s Immediate Future and Fortune
Returning to the Lord is a common theme throughout the Minor Prophets. The Lord sets forth this idea at the beginning of Zechariah’s ministry by saying, “The Lord was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts” (1:2-3). Zechariah implores this present generation not to disappoint the Lord as their forefathers did.
Eight visions follow the Lord’s initial call to repentance (1:7-6:15). These visions remind me of Hebrews 1:1-2, which reads, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”[i]
Let’s take a closer. The eight visions Zechariah received from the Lord develop the call to repentance more fully; they also speak of God’s plan for Israel. The first vision was of a horseman among the myrtle trees, who was riding on a red horse (1:7-17). He and others had been patrolling the earth, which they found at peace. An angel tells Zechariah that God is “exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion” and will restore Jerusalem. “My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem” (1:17).
The second vision was of four horns and four craftsmen (1:18-21). The angel tells Zechariah that the four horns are the four kingdoms that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem—meaning Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Medo-Persia. The four craftsmen are coming to “cast down the horns.” In other words, God will defend His people and defeat their enemies.
The third vision was of a man with a measuring line, a surveyor, who comes to measure the city of Jerusalem (2:1-13). God promises that Jerusalem will become a city without walls to encompass her large number of inhabitants, including people from many nations. “‘Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people” (2:10-11).
The fourth vision was of Joshua, the high priest (3:1-10). Zechariah saw Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord in filthy clothing; Satan, the accuser, was standing next to him. The Lord rebukes Satan. Then, He gives Joshua clean clothes as a symbol of his righteous standing before God after an encouragement to remain obedient. Ultimately, this vision is symbolic of the Branch who is to come, the Messiah, who is also the all-seeing Stone.
The fifth vision was of a golden lampstand and two olive trees (4:1-14). This time the angel of the Lord awakens Zechariah from sleeping. The prophet immediately sees two olive trees feeding oil to a golden lampstand. The olive trees are symbolic of Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest. The golden lampstand represented God’s work inside the temple. The point of the vision is how the Lord, by His Spirit, will use these men to rebuild the temple and continue the Lord’s work. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (4:6).
The sixth vision was of a flying scroll, which symbolized God’s judgment upon those who broke His commandments, especially those who steal (5:1-4). The seventh vision was of a woman in a basket (5:5-11). The angel of the Lord opens a basket, about the size of a bushel, for Zechariah to see a woman inside. The angel says to the prophet, “This is wickedness,” and then closes the lid. Then, two women with stork-like wings pick up the basket and take it to Shinar, the location of the Tower of Babel or Babylon. This vision pictures the removal of wickedness before Babylon returns at the end of the age (Revelation 17).
Finally, Zechariah saw four horses pulling four chariots (6:1-8). The four colored horses—black, red, white, and dappled—are strong and patrol the earth. The Lord’s Spirit is at rest after the horses return from delivering judgment. The apostle John describes a similar scene in Revelation 6:1-8 known as the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
This section closes with a symbolic crowning of Joshua, the high priest, combining the offices of priest and king (6:9-11). This act pictures Christ the King, who sits on His glorious throne as high priest when He returns to earth to establish His millennial kingdom.
Seasons of Joy and Gladness
Chapter 7 begins two years later with a committee of men from Bethel inquiring of the priests about continuing the practice of fasting. Zechariah records four messages in response to their inquiry.
The first message (7:4-7) rebukes the people for their selfish motives when fasting. The Lord says through Zechariah, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” Henrietta Mears says wisely, “Fasting is only profitable as an outward sign of an inward confession of sin. Merely refraining from eating will never bring a blessing. God wants a humble and contrite heart."[ii]
The second message (7:8-14) reminds Judah of her past disobedience and the consequences of her unwillingness to obey the Lord, including unanswered prayer. “‘As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,’ says the Lord of hosts” (7:13).
The third message (8:1-17) predicts the coming peace and prosperity of Zion. Despite Judah’s stubborn rebellion, the Lord has mixed feelings about her. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath” (8:2). What parents cannot identify with the Lord’s vacillating emotions when a child they love behaves poorly?
However, the Lord goes on to picture a day when old men and women will inhabit Jerusalem, and boys and girls will play in the streets. Soon, happy days are here again! “For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things” (8:12).
The fourth message (8:18-23) envisions the recovery of joy in the kingdom of God, turning solemn fasts into “seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts” (8:19). The joy in people’s hearts became the catalyst for inviting friends and neighbors to the holy city to seek the Lord and entreat His favor.
Messiah’s Ultimate Return and Reign
In the final section of the book, Zechariah envisions the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and the worldwide kingdom His Messiah will establish. Two oracles appear in chapters 9-14, anticipating the first and second advents of Messiah. It should not surprise us that Zechariah skips right over the present church age, as the ecclesia was kept a mystery until Jesus revealed it to His disciples at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16).
In the first oracle, the Lord judges Israel’s enemies (9:1-8). Messiah arrives “humble and mounted on a donkey” to save His people (9:9-17), and He whistles to regather His people (10:8-9). Yes, the Lord whistles! The shepherd allegory of 11:4-17 is one of the most puzzling passages in the book, although it yields the prophecy about “thirty pieces of silver” linked to Jesus’s betrayal by Judas (Matthew 26:14-16).
The second oracle begins in 12:1 and concludes in chapter 14 with Messiah’s glorious return at the end of the age, followed by His millennial reign. The chapter begins with a gripping description of a time when the nations will gather against Jerusalem to battle God’s people. This is the war of wars known as the Battle of Armageddon (14:1-15). According to Zechariah, half of the Jewish citizens will flee the devastation, but the other half will remain in the holy city.[iii]
Stunningly, Christ will return to the Mount of Olives, a hill east of Jerusalem, with “all the holy ones with him.”[iv] His feet will make the mountain “split in two from east to west,” perhaps the result of a massive earthquake that happens at the exact moment of His return, creating a huge valley.[v] The Day of the Lord, which the prophets foretell in unison, will unfold, Christ will defeat Israel’s enemies, and then He will sit gloriously on King David’s throne in Jerusalem. “And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘Holy to the Lord’” (14:20).
So, what motivates you to serve and obey the Lord? Zechariah’s prophecies should provide us with enough reasons to pray, “Even so come, Lord Jesus,” and to serve Him faithfully until then.
[i] The primary way God speaks to us today is through His written word and the Living Word, who is Jesus Christ.
[ii] What the Bible Is All About, Henrietta Mears, p. 325.
[iii] One third of the Jewish population will still be alive in Jerusalem after the Tribulation (Revelation 13:8). On the awesome Day of the Lord, half will flee the city, but the other half will stay.
[iv] Christ will return at the end of the age with His “holy ones,” the church, which He raptures out of this world seven years earlier and before great tribulation falls upon the earth (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). He returns to the same place from which He ascended after His first advent, according to the angels (Acts 1:9-11).
[v] This is perhaps a reference to the same earthquake the apostle John foresaw in the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:11-21).