We’ve been working our way through the eight night visions which Zechariah received from the Lord to encourage the Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon and who were now given the task of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Today we come to the last of these eight night visions which is recorded for us in verses 1 to 8. And then, verses 9 to 15 are a kind of conclusion to the night visions.
But before we get to today’s passage, someone asked me about the previous visions. I’ve been saying that these night visions which Zechariah received from Lord were not only for the people in Zechariah’s day, but they’re for God’s people in every generation. What the Lord was promising in these visions was partially fulfilled in Zechariah’s day. However, God was also promising better things to come.
So, in the first vision, the Lord promised that Jerusalem would be rebuilt. But he was not only referring to the city at that time, because he was also referring to the church of Jesus Christ, which God is building throughout the world; and where he dwells by his Spirit; and which will be glorified in the life to come. In the second vision, the Lord promised to bring down those nations who had risen up against his people. But as well as referring to the way he would punish them at that time, he was also referring to the judgment to come on all the nations. In the third vision, the Lord promised that Jerusalem would be an ever-expanding city; and he would be a wall of fire around it; and he would dwell in the midst of his people; and the nations would come to it. But as well as referring to the rebuilding of Jerusalem at that time, the Lord was promising that the church of Jesus Christ will be ever-expanding, because people from every nation will be added to it. In the fourth vision, he referred to the coming Branch, who is Jesus Christ the Lord; and he promised to remove the sin of the land in a single day. And we believe he’s referring to the day when the Lord Jesus gave up his life on the cross to pay for the sins of his people. In the fifth vision, the Lord promised that every obstacle to the rebuilding will be removed; and the temple will be built, not by human might or power, but by his Spirit. And though the church seems small and weak to us, and there are many obstacles to prevent its growth, nevertheless God has promised to build his church by his Spirit. The sixth and seventh visions warned of how God will send down his curse on unrepentant sinners and he will remove them from the Promised Land. And commentators suggest this happened when Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70 and the Jews were once again scattered to the nations. But it also speaks to us of the coming day of judgment when God will send the wicked out of his presence for ever, whereas his people who trusted in Christ for salvation will live with him for ever.
The person who spoke to me asked me how do we know that these visions refer to future events and aren’t limited to what was going on in Zechariah’s day. It’s a good question. So how do we know?
Firstly, we know because the visions were written down and recorded for us. If they were only for the people in Zechariah’s day, then Zechariah could have told them what he saw. And that would be that. But since these visions were written down, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then that tells us that these visions from the Lord are for us as well and they’re not for them only.
Secondly, there’s a sense in which the Old Testament is an incomplete book. It’s an unfinished book. Let me explain what I mean. In the parts of the Old Testament which deal with the history of God’s people, we read about the covenant which the Lord made with his people; and we read about the temple they built in Jerusalem; and we read about kings and we read about God’s people; and we read about heaven and the earth. And then in other parts of the Old Testament, and especially in the prophets, we read about a new and better covenant; and we read about a new and better temple; and we read about a new and better Jerusalem; and we read about a new and better king; and we read about a new and better people and we read about a new and better heaven and earth. So, the Old Testament tells us about certain things; and it also tells us of better things to come. And when the Old Testament comes to an end, none of those better things have happened. And the Old Testament referred to the coming day of the Lord, when the Lord would come to deliver his people and punish his enemies. But the Old Testament came to an end before the coming of the Lord. And so, the Old Testament is incomplete.
Thirdly, we believe that God is almighty and all-powerful and nothing is too hard for him so that he’s able to do all that he has planned. What he has promised will happen. And so, if what he has planned didn’t happen during the days of the Old Testament, then they will surely happen one day, because no one is able to thwart God’s plans. And so, the prophets spoke about a new and better temple to come; and the people in Jerusalem after the exile knew that the temple they were building was not the new and better temple the prophets prophesied about. And so, the prophets must be referring to something else, something more.
Fourthly, the New Testament makes clear that God’s promises find their fulfilment in Christ and his church. And so, we have the story of the Lord Jesus who went into the synagogue and he read from the Old Testament Scriptures and he announced afterwards:
Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
He came to fulfil what God had promised in the Old Testament. He is the new king who was to come. And he established the new covenant in his blood. And he’s building the new and better temple, which is the church of Jesus Christ, in which God dwells by his Spirit.
And fifthly, the New Testament, like the Old Testament, is incomplete, because it also speaks of a new Jerusalem and it speaks of a new heaven and earth to come, where all of God’s people will dwell with him for ever. And we’re still waiting for that. And when the Old Testament prophets referred to the coming day of the Lord, they did not realise that the Lord would come twice. He came the first time in weakness and humility to suffer and to die for his people. And he will come a second time with glory and with power to punish his enemies and to gather his people together to live with him for ever. And we’re still waiting for that second coming to happen.
And so, how do we know that God’s promises to his people in Zechariah’s day were not for them only, but they were also for future generations? We know because what God promised them has not yet been fulfilled in all their fullness. His promises may have been fulfilled in part, because the temple and the city were rebuilt and their enemies were overthrown by other nations. God’s promises were fulfilled in part. But he promised them so much more; and those promises are only fulfilled in all their fullness by Christ.
Verses 1 to 8
Having said that, let’s now turn to verses 1 to 8 and the last of the eight night visions. When Zechariah looked up, he saw four chariots which were coming out from between two bronze mountains. The Bible scholars discuss the significance of the two bronze mountains and some compare them to the two bronze pillars which stood at the entrance to Solomon’s temple. You can read about them in 1 Kings 7. And the commentators therefore suggest that since there were two bronze pillars at the entrance to the earthly temple then perhaps these two bronze mountains are standing at the entrance to the heavenly temple. In that case, it means the chariots are coming from the presence of the Lord.
And one chariot has red horses; one chariot has black horses; one chariot has white horses; and one chariot has dappled horses. And all the horses are powerful. These are strong and mighty horses. The horses and their colours recall the first night vision in which Zechariah saw different coloured horses and their riders. Those riders were sent out into all the world to gather information about the nations and to report back on what they found out. However, while horses and riders might be sent out to gather information, chariots are not sent out to gather information. Chariots are sent out into battle. And so, these chariots are being sent out of the presence of God to fight God’s enemies. And if you glance down to verse 7, you’ll see that they were straining to go and the charioteers were having to hold them back until the order was given for them to leave.
But turn back to verse 4, where Zechariah asked the interpreting angel to tell him about the chariots. And the angel describes them as the four winds of heaven. By comparing them to four winds, he’s conveying the idea that they’re sent from God to uproot and to destroy, because isn’t that what a strong wind does? A strong and violent wind uproots trees and houses and carries them away. And so, the Lord is sending these chariots and their charioteers to uproot and destroy his enemies.
And notice how the angel describes the Lord in verse 5. He’s the Lord of the whole earth. And he’s the Lord of the whole earth, because he’s the one who made the whole earth and everything in it; and he has the authority and the power to do with the world whatever he wants. The nations are like a drop in the bucket to him; they’re like dust on the scales. He exalts one nation and tears down another. He lifts up and he brings down. All the nations and everyone in the world are in God’s hands. And the Lord of the whole earth is now sending these chariots out from his presence to destroy his enemies.
According to verse 6, the chariot with the black horses was sent to the north country. That’s Babylon. It’s the north country. The NIV says that the chariot with the whites horses went to the west. The ESV says it went after the chariot with the black horses. And the ESV translation is more accurate. So, two chariots were sent to Babylon. The chariot with the dappled horses went towards the south. That could be towards Edom or Egypt, both of which were old enemies of Israel. So, two chariots went to the north and one went to the south. Nothing is said about the chariot with the red horses, but perhaps because the Lord’s army is so powerful then not all of his army is needed.
The focus though is on the north country, the land of Babylon. The Babylonians were the ones who had attacked Judah and had destroyed Jerusalem and had taken the people away into exile. Back in the third vision, those Jews who were still living in Babylon were commanded to flee from it, because the Lord was going to destroy it. And in the seventh vision, the Lord warned that the wicked in Jerusalem would be sent back to Babylon. So, Babylon stands for the enemies of the Lord. It’s the den of iniquity, the place of the wicked, who are destined to perish. And in this final night vision, the Lord is saying that he’ll send his army to destroy it. When it says in verse 8 that God’s Spirit will rest in the land of the north, it means he will rest after the wicked have been destroyed.
And that brings us back to the first vision. Do you remember the first vision? The horses and their riders were sent out to patrol the earth and to report back afterwards. And when they returned they announced that they had gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace. But when the Angel of the Lord heard their report, he began to lament before the Lord, because something was wrong. Why was it that the whole world was at rest and in peace, whereas God’s people in Jerusalem were not? They weren’t at rest because, although they has returned from exile, they were still living under the power and authority of a foreign king. And so, the Angel of the Lord interceded on behalf of the Lord’s people, asking, ‘How long? How long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem?’
And then, in the intervening visions, the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to his people. Those nations who oppressed you will be cut down. And Jerusalem will become an ever-expanding city. And I’ll cleanse you from your guilt. And every obstacle in your way will be removed and the temple will be completed. And the wicked within you will be removed and sent far away from you. And taken together, all of those visions mean that the Lord was going to give peace and rest to his people in Jerusalem. And, according to this final vision, the wicked outside Jerusalem will be destroyed. The Lord will take away from them their peace and rest when he sends out his chariots to destroy them. And after they have been destroyed, God’s Spirit will be at rest.
And so, this final vision speaks to us again of the final state of the wicked. All those who remain in Babylon — in other words, all who belong to the unbelieving world and who have not come out of it and who have not become a member of Christ’s church — will suffer the wrath of God and will be punished forever and forever. They will not escape the wrath of the Lord of all the earth, because he will come to punish them. And so, whoever does not believe should turn from their sins in repentance and they should trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up his life to pay for our sins. And by faith in him we’re pardoned and have peace with God. And those who have already trusted in Christ can rejoice, because we know that Christ our Saviour has saved us from the coming day of judgment and from the wrath of God. We know we deserve to be condemned with the rest of the world, because we too are sinners. But Christ the Saviour has delivered us from that and he has given us the hope of everlasting life and he has promised us perfect peace and rest in the presence of God forever.
Verses 9 to 15
And then we have the second part of today’s chapter. And instead of a vision, Zechariah receives a word from the Lord. He’s told to find these three men who have returned from exile and to take silver and gold from them. And Zechariah was commanded to go to another man’s house and to make a crown from the silver and gold. And then he was to take the crown and place it on the head of someone we’ve met before. He was to place it on the head of Joshua, the High Priest. And, of course, that’s very unusual, because the office of king and the office of priest were normally kept separate in Israel. One person served as king and another person served as priest. But now a royal crown was to be placed on the priest.
Why was Zechariah asked to do this unusual thing? It’s because crowning the priest was to be a sign for the people to let them know what God was planning to do. Look at verse 12. Zechariah was commanded to say something to Joshua. And note that he was commanded to say something to Joshua and not about Joshua. He was commanded to say to Joshua:
Here is the man whose name is the Branch.
More literally, he was told to say:
Behold. A man. Branch is his name.
The name ‘Branch’ might ring a bell with you, because the Branch was mentioned in the fourth vision, where the Lord promised to send his servant, the Branch. And the Branch is a title in the Old Testament for God’s Anointed King. It’s a title for the Messiah, the Christ, God’s Special Servant sent to save and to rule over God’s people. Jeremiah refers to the Branch in Jeremiah 23 and 33. Ezekiel refers to him in Ezekiel 17. And in Isaiah 11, Isaiah refers to him as a root, which would grow out of the stump of Israel. So, whenever Israel was cut down and humbled, this new king would come. And, of course, that’s what happened, because when Israel was a small and defeated nation, ruled over by the Romans, the Lord Jesus Christ was born and wise men from the east came to see the new king. The root, the Branch, is Jesus Christ the King.
But let’s go back to Zechariah’s vision, because we learn several things about this Branch. Firstly, he will branch out from this place. That is, he will come from Israel. So, he won’t be a foreign king, but he’ll be a true Israelite. And that apples to the Lord Jesus, who, according to his human nature, was descended from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and from David the Great King.
Secondly, he will build the temple of the Lord. Since the temple was already being constructed in those days, then this word from the Lord must be referring to a different temple. So, this Branch — who is Jesus Christ the King — will build a temple, but it won’t be a temple made of stone, but a temple made of men and women and boys and girls, all those who believe the good news and who have added to the church, where God dwells by his Spirit.
Thirdly, he will be clothed with majesty. Being clothed with majesty refers to the splendour of a king and it applies to the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus, because when the Apostle John saw the Lord Jesus in Revelation 1, John was overwhelmed by his glorious appearance and he fell down as though dead. John was overcome by the Lord’s exalted majesty.
Fourthly, he will sit and rule on his throne. And we know that the Lord Jesus is now seated on God’s throne, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he rules over all things for the sake of his church here on earth.
Fifthly, not only will he be king, but he will also be a priest. That’s in verse 13 where it says he will be a priest on his throne. And so, now we know why Zechariah was commanded to crown Joshua the priest. Crowning Joshua the priest was a sign of the coming Priest–King. And the Lord Jesus is both our king and our priest. As our king he rules over all things on our behalf. And as our priest, he offered himself as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice to take away our sins. And do you remember what the writer of Hebrews says? He said that after the Lord Jesus provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. That is, he sat down on a throne in heaven. Just as God announced through Zechariah, our Great High Priest who died to purify us from our sin and guilt is now seated on a throne as king. And since our Priest–King is alive forevermore, then he’s able to make intercession for his people, which means he appears continually on our behalf before the Father in heaven, asking the Father to pardon our sins for his sake and to provide us with all the help we need each day.
And sixthly, there will be harmony between the two. It’s not clear who ‘the two’ are in verse 13. Is he referring to the Lord’s two roles as king and priest? Or is he referring to the Lord Jesus and God the Father? It’s not entirely clear, but the point is that he will accomplish, not harmony, but peace. The word he uses is that Hebrew word ‘shalom’ which conveys the idea, not only of peace, but of a sense of well-being and contentment and rest. And that’s what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for all his people who trust in him. He’s the Branch, the Priest–King, who gives peace to his people.
In verse 14, Zechariah was told that the crown, which he placed on Joshua to signify the coming king, was to be given to those same men mentioned in verse 9. And it seems they’re to place the crown in the rebuilt temple as a memorial. In other words, the crown in the temple would be a reminder to the people and to the Lord of the promise God made to send this Branch, who is Jesus Christ the King, to establish peace for his people. Now, God will not forget what he promises. God cannot forget anything. But the crown in his presence in the temple was there to reassure his people that he will never forget.
And according to verse 15, the temple in Jerusalem which the people were building will be rebuilt with help from those who are far away. He could be referring to foreigners or he could be referring to more exiles who will return. But the temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt so long as they listen to the word of the Lord and diligently obey all that he has commanded them.
So, in the days of Zechariah the Lord announced to his despondent people in Jerusalem his great plan to send this Branch, this Priest–King, to give them peace. For those who belonged in Babylon, there would be no peace, but only destruction. But for those who belonged in Jerusalem, there would be peace.
This is the word of the Lord to Zechariah; and it’s the word of the Lord to you, because it’s a word about the Lord Jesus, who was coming into the world to be your great king and your great priest and to give you peace. He came into the world as one of us and he laid down his life on the cross to pay for your sins. And he was raised from the dead to live forever. And now that he’s alive and in heaven, he intercedes for you before the Father. And so, when the Devil tempts you to despair, when other people point out your faults, when your own conscience accuses you, when you remember your many sins and all the ways you have fallen short of doing God’s will, you can remember and believe that Christ your great High Priest is in heaven to represent you before the Father and to plead your case and to secure your forgiveness, because he has paid for your sins in full.
And Christ your great High Priest is also Christ your great King and he sits enthroned in heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords. And from this throne, he rules over all things in heaven and on earth for the sake of his church. And that means he rules over all things in heaven and on earth for you. And he promises to keep you forever and to work out all things for your good, so that whatever happens to you in this life — whether good or bad or even very, very bad — he’s able to use it for your good. So, you don’t need to be afraid of anything and you don’t need to be anxious or troubled or worried, because all things are under his power and authority and there is nothing that can happen to you or to anyone else without his say so.
And so, this is a message for God’s despondent people today. And it’s a message of peace. Peace for a troubled conscience, because Christ our Priest has taken our sins away. And it’s peace for an anxious mind, because Christ our King rules over all things for you. And when your great Priest–King comes again, he’ll come with glory and power to deliver you from all the troubles and trials of this life and from everything which makes you weep; and he will bring you into the eternal rest and the peace and the joy of the new and better world to come.