We finished our studies in Haggai last week. And do you remember in chapter 2, God spoke to his people about the future glory of the temple and of future blessings for his people and about a future kingdom. By speaking of a future kingdom, he was anticipating how Christ is the King who will one day come to shake the heavens and the earth. And the kingdoms of the world — which now seem so powerful and mighty — will be brought down and destroyed, whereas his kingdom — which he’s building on the earth through the reading and preaching of his word — will be the only kingdom that will last, because his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and all who belong to his kingdom will live for ever.
And by speaking about the future glory of the temple, he was anticipating how his people will live for ever in the new heavens and earth as part of the new Jerusalem to come. There won’t be a physical temple there, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple and their presence will fill the city and all of God’s people — who have come from all the nations — will dwell in the presence of the Lord for ever and for ever. And the glory of the new Jerusalem which is filled with the presence of God will surpass the glory of Solomon’s temple.
And by speaking of future blessings for God’s people, he was anticipating how all those who trust in Christ are blessed by God, instead of cursed. We are blessed because we receive the forgiveness of our sins. We are blessed because we receive the hope of everlasting life. And we are blessed because we have the Spirit of God, living inside us, to make us holy so that we become more and more willing and able to do God’s will here on earth while we wait for Christ the King to come again.
All those years ago, God spoke to his people in Jerusalem through Haggai the prophet about betters things to come. And God still speaks to his people today through Haggai the prophet about better things to come for us and for all who trust in his Son.
Today we turn to the next book of the Bible, which is the book of Zechariah. And Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries. In fact, both of them were prophesying, not only at the same time, but also in the same place, because both of them were preaching in Jerusalem around 20 years after the first exiles had returned from Babylon. So, if you glance back to Haggai 2:10, you’ll see that Haggai received his last recorded messages on the 24th day of the ninth month in the second year of Darius. And if you look now at Zechariah 1:1, you’ll see that he received his first recorded message in the eighth month of the same year: the second year of Darius. So, they were contemporaries. And I mentioned before that they are mentioned together in Ezra 5 and 6. And having studied Haggai over the last two Sundays, we’ll now spend our time on Sunday evenings on Zechariah, because these two books belong together.
And you’ll see that today’s passage can be divided neatly into two parts. In verses 1 to 6 we have the first message which Zechariah received. And in verses 7 to 17 we have the second message. But they’re very different, aren’t they? The first message is straightforward. The word of the Lord came to Zechariah and this is what the Lord said to him. But the second message is less straightforward, because it’s a vision. So, it’s not so much what Zechariah heard, but it’s what he saw. And verses 7 to 17 are the first of eight visions which Zechariah received from the Lord. They’re typically known as Zechariah’s night visions, because we’re told in verse 8 that he received the first vision during the night; and we believe he received all eight at the same time. And if you cast your eye over the night visions, you’ll see how he says things like ‘Then I looked up’ and ‘Then he showed me’ and ‘I looked again’. He’s telling us what he saw. And, of course, we’re familiar with this kind of prophecy from the books of Daniel and Revelation, because Daniel and the Apostle John as well as Zechariah received visions from the Lord. And the Lord was using these visions to speak to his people about the present and the future, about what he would do in Zechariah’s day and about what he was planning for the days to come. But before we get to the first of the night visions, we have the opening word from the Lord to his people through Zechariah the prophet in verses 1 to 6.
The opening message
So, it’s the eighth month of the second year of Darius, king of the Medes and Persians. So, while many of the exiles have returned to Jerusalem, they’re still living under a foreign king and the land of Judah remains part of the Persian Empire. Darius, of course, was a great king and he ruled over a mighty empire. In an article I was reading about Haggai, there’s a photograph of an image which is carved into the rock on a mountain in western Iran which shows a row of kings, all with their hands tied behind their backs and all of them are chained together with chains around their necks. So, these are all kings who have been conquered. But then there’s another king, who is taller than the rest and he’s not tied or chained. This is Darius. He’s the conquering king. In fact, there’s another king, lying on the ground, under Darius’s feet. So, Darius is presented as the king of kings. He’s the one who rules over the other kings and the other nations. And one of the nations he ruled over was the land of Judah.
However, now the Lord speaks. And he’s the true King who rules and reigns in heaven above over all that he has made. As we’ll see, he’s the one who rules the nations, raising up one and tearing down another. He exalts and he humbles. He’s the one who determines what will be. Darius is not the true king. The Lord God Almighty is the true king.
And when the Lord speaks, we discover why it was that his people were taken away into exile. Why was it that the Babylonians were able to overwhelm the people of Judah all those years ago when they invaded the land and captured the people and took them away to a far off land? And the answer is that the Babylonians were only able to accomplish what they accomplished because of the Lord God Almighty, who was angry with his people and who sent them into exile. So, look at verse 2: the Lord announced that he was very angry with their forefathers. That is, he was very angry with the people who were alive at the time of the exile. And jump down to verse 4, where he tells the people in Zechariah’s day not to be like their forefathers before the exile, who disregarded what the former prophets said. So, before the exile, God sent his prophets to the people to say to them that they must turn from their evil ways and their evil practices. Turn from your sin and rebellion and return to the Lord. Listen to him. Believe in him. Obey him. But they would not listen or pay attention to me, said the Lord in verse 4. I sent them prophets to declare my will. I sent them prophets to warn them. I sent them prophets to tell them to repent. But they would not listen. They put their fingers in their ears and they continued in their evil ways.
Where are they now? That’s what the Lord asks in verse 5. And even the prophets: where are they? Well, all of them are no more, because what God warned them about has come upon them and all the curses which they deserved for their sin and rebellion fell on them, because they did not listen to the prophets and turn from their wicked ways and their wicked practices. God had promised blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. And because they did not turn from their disobedience, but continued in it, then he sent his curses upon them and they were overwhelmed by their enemies. And even the prophets were caught up in the judgement that befell them, so that the people are no more and the prophets are no more. My words, says the Lord in verse 6, and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtook your forefathers and they were swept away. The Babylonians swept into Judah; and Jerusalem was destroyed; and many of the people were killed; and many others were taken away into exile. And this matches what we read at the end of 2 Chronicles, where it says the people mocked God’s messengers and despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians and God handed them over to Nebuchadnezzar. He was very angry with his people.
But God — who is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love — allowed his people to return to the Promised Land and to Jerusalem. And he sent them another prophet, Zechariah. And Zechariah said to them in verse 3: ‘Return to me.’ You’ve returned to the land; now return to me. Turn from your sins and walk in my ways once again. Return to me and I will return to you. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who saw his son coming home, and he got up and ran to welcome his wayward son home, so the Lord will welcome his wayward people if only they will return to him with all their heart and soul. If they repent and return to him, he will not reject them. He will not send them away. He will not be angry with them. He will welcome them.
So, don’t be like your forefathers who disregarded the word of the Lord when he sent prophets to tell them to repent. And because they refused to repent, they were sent away into exile. Don’t be like them. Repent.
And look at the second half of verse 6, where it says:
Then they repented….
It’s not entirely clear, but it seems likely that this is referring to the people in Zechariah’s day. So, when they heard the word of the Lord, they repented. And they confessed that the Lord was right: the Lord has done to us what we deserved, because for so long we have been disobedient. And presumably they’re referring to what we read in Haggai about how the Lord had acted against them so that while their crops grew and they had food, nevertheless they had far less than they were expecting. And the Lord had acted against them because they had got their priorities wrong and instead of building a house for the Lord, they had built houses for themselves. And so, the Lord sent them Haggai; and then he sent them Zechariah. And the Lord used the preaching of his word to change his people so that they repented of their sins and began to obey the Lord again.
And God continues to send preachers to declare his word to his people to tell them to turn from their sins, because even though we may be believers, we remain sinners throughout our lives who are prone to wander, because of our own sinful flesh which misleads us, and because of the world and the Devil who tempt us. And so, we disregard the will of the Lord and we turn from his ways and we sin against him. And so, we too need to hear the call to repent so that when we sin, we will turn away from it. If we do not turn from it, and if we continue in it, disregarding the will of the Lord, then we will only bring temporal judgments on ourselves, so that in this life the Lord will discipline us for our waywardness. But if we confess our sins and turn from them, we will find that God is willing to pardon us, because Christ our Saviour has paid for our sins with his life and he shed his blood to cleanse us. And so, turn from your sins and turn again to the Lord, who is ready to be gracious to you and to forgive you for the sake of Christ the Saviour.
Night Vision #1
And so, we come now to verses 7 to 17 and to the first of these eight night visions. It’s now the 24th day of the 11th month in the second year of Darius. And do you see how the 11th month is called ‘the month of Shebat’. That’s the Persian name for the 11th month. So, it’s a reminder once again that God’s people were still under the rule and authority of a foreign king. Though they had returned from exile, they were not yet free. And so, they were longing for better days to come when they would have their own king to rule over them.
And at that time, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah. As I’ve said, the word of the Lord at this time was in the form of a vision. And in his vision, Zechariah saw a man riding a red horse. And he was standing — presumably the man and his horse were standing — among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Myrtles trees are not really trees, but evergreen plants which often grow near water. And while the NIV says the myrtle trees were in a ravine, some of the commentators say they were by the deep. Some commentators discuss the significance of the myrtles trees and the deep, suggesting that the myrtle trees represent the people of the Lord, and the deep represents the enemies of the Lord. However, the focus of the text is not so much on the trees and the deep, but upon the rider on the red horse and on the other riders who are with him. We assume there are other riders, because Zechariah saw other horses at the end of verse 8. So, there were red horses and there were brown horses and there were white horses. And in verse 9, Zechariah asked, ‘What are these, my lord?’ And we’re told that there was an angel with Zechariah who was talking to him. This angel is sometimes referred to as the interpreting angel, because he explains to Zechariah what he is seeing in this vision. And the interpreting angel says that he will show Zechariah what these horses and their riders are.
But before the interpreting angel says anything more, the man on the red horse answers Zechariah and explains that the horses and their riders are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth. The commentators point out that the Persian kings had riders who would go out throughout the Empire on fast-running horses to see how things were going and they would report back to the king. And so, just as the kings of Persia sent out riders to patrol the Empire, so the Lord God Almighty has riders to patrol the earth.
And according to verse 11, the riders have returned from their patrol and they reported that they’ve gone throughout the earth — because God’s Empire spans the whole earth — and they have found the whole world at rest and in peace.
Before we get to their message, notice that the riders on patrol reported to the Angel of the Lord, who was standing among the myrtle trees. And since the rider on the red horse was standing among the myrtle trees, most commentators take it that the rider on the red horse and the Angel of the Lord are one and the same person.
The Angel of the Lord appears from time to time in the Old Testament. He is sometimes depicted as someone who is distinct from the Lord. So, for instance, he speaks to the Lord or he has been sent from God. But sometimes he is depicted as someone who is identical with the Lord. In other words, he is the Lord. And since he is both distinct from God and the same as God, Christian interpreters suggest that he is in fact God the Son. So, before God the Son came into the world as one of us, he visited the world in the form of an angel. And on this occasion, the riders on their horses are reporting to him what they found when they patrolled the earth.
And they found everything at peace. Now, that might seem good news. After all, don’t we want peace on earth? However, look how the Angel of the Lord responds to their message in verse 12. He said:
Lord God Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?
These are the words of a lament, aren’t they? When the Lord’s people are in trouble, they cry out to the Lord and they say, ‘How long, O Lord? How long must we endure this?’ So, the Angel of the Lord hears that all is at peace in the world, and he responds with a lament about Jerusalem. Why does he do this?
It’s because the nations of the world have what the Lord’s people do not yet have. The Lord’s people may have returned from exile to Jerusalem, but they’re still living under the power and authority of a foreign king. They were expecting God to send them a new king after 70 years in exile who would overthrow the nations and who would give peace and prosperity to Jerusalem. But that hasn’t happened yet. So, how long, O Lord? How long before you show mercy to Jerusalem and to the towns of Judah? God sent his people into exile because he was very angry with them. And it seems as if he is still very angry with them, because while all is well with the pagan nations, we your people are still suffering.
And in response to this lament, the Lord himself spoke kind and comforting words to the interpreting angel who was with Zechariah. Do you see that in verse 13? And he goes on to make clear to Zechariah that he is very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. We think of jealousy as something bad, but this is a good kind of jealousy, because the Lord is saying that he loves his people and he wants to protect them from the nations, the way a husband loves his wife and he will do everything he can to protect her. So, the Lord is very jealous for his people and he is very angry with the nations. And he’s very angry with the nations because of what they have done to his people, when they destroyed Jerusalem and killed some of the people and took others away into exile. At that time, God had been a little angry with his people, because of their sin and rebellion. But what the nations did to his people has made God very angry with them.
So, if God is very jealous for his people and very angry with the nations, what will he do? Look at verse 16. I will return to Jerusalem with mercy and my house will be rebuilt and the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem. Builders use a measuring line when they’re building a new house to map out where the walls will go. And so, the Lord is promising that the temple will be rebuilt and Jerusalem will be rebuilt. The temple and city have been lying in ruins, but the Lord will help them to rebuild the temple and city. And he will not only bless his people in Jerusalem, but he will bless his people in the towns around Judah. They will overflow with prosperity. And the Lord will once again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem. For a while, he had rejected them. But now he will comfort them and he will choose Jerusalem as the place where he will dwell among his people.
The angels on patrol around the world speak to us of what I said near the beginning about God’s sovereign control over all the world. Darius was a great king and he ruled over a mighty Empire and he sent riders throughout his Empire. But his Empire didn’t embrace the whole world, the way the Lord’s authority covers the whole world.
The Lord is the one who made all things; and he’s familiar with all that is happening in every country; and he’s the one who rules over all. He’s the one who sent his people into exile and he’s the one who determined when they would return. When he was angry with them, he used the other nations to discipline them. And when the time was right, he would punish the nations for what they did and he would bless his people once again. Nations come and they go; they rise and they fall; but the Lord our God rules and reigns for ever and he’s working out his purposes for the world and for his church. And since we have peace with him through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, then we can turn to him for the help we need and trust in him to work together all things for good.
But notice now the Lord’s attitude towards his people. When they sinned against him, he sent them into exile. And he was angry with them for seventy years. For a time, he showed them no mercy. For a time, he did not have kind or comforting words for them. But then he was angry with them no more and instead he loved them with a jealous love. He was prepared to show them mercy and to enable them to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem and he was prepared to pour out his blessing on the city and on the towns. And he spoke kind and comforting words about them. Once he rejected Jerusalem, but now he was prepared to choose Jerusalem once again.
And what was it that made the difference? Why did his attitude towards them change? Well, the answer lies in verse 12, doesn’t it? The Angel of the Lord prayed to the Lord, lamenting what had happened to Jerusalem and appealing to God to show them mercy once again. And, as I’ve said, many Christian interpreters believe the Angel of the Lord is none other than God the Son. So, before he came to earth as one of us, he visited the earth in the form of an angel. And he revealed himself to be the mediator between God and sinners, because here he is, making peace between us. God was angry with his people in the days of the exile. He was very angry with them. He sent them away. He rejected them. But then the Angel of the Lord appealed to God on their behalf, crying out to God to show them mercy. And after he appealed to the Lord, the Lord spoke kind and comforting words about them and he announced that he was ready to return to them in mercy and to bless them once again.
And this is what the Lord Jesus does for you, because he came to earth as one of us; and he took your sin and guilt upon himself; and he took the blame for all that you have done; and he satisfied God’s justice on your behalf, giving up his life to pay for your sins so that you can have peace with God for ever. And after he died, he was raised, and he now appears before the Father in heaven on your behalf as a constant reminder that your sins have been paid for and God’s justice has been satisfied so that God will never condemn you now, because Christ has made peace for you with God. And at the Father’s right hand, he intercedes for you, asking God to show you mercy; and he ensures that you receive all the help you need. And because of Christ, who lived and died for you, you can come to church and hear kind and comforting words, words of peace and words of hope, because, as a result of what Christ has done for you, God has put away his anger from you and he now loves you with an everlasting love.
And just as the work of the Angel of the Lord led to the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem, so the work of Christ on the cross leads to the building of the church on the earth, where God dwells with his people by his Spirit. And it leads as well to the building of the new Jerusalem, which is the church in glory, where we will live in perfect peace and rest with the Lord God Almighty and with Jesus Christ his Son, who is the only mediator between God and sinners and who gave up his life as the ransom for all his people.
And so, rejoice in the Lord who sent his Son to be our Mediator and to make peace for us with God. And rejoice because of the great hope we have through Christ of everlasting life in the new Jerusalem to come.