According to Anthony Petterson, lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew at Morling College in New South Wales, Australia, the only book the New Testament quotes more than Psalms in the context of Jesus’s death is Zechariah. Yet I’m not sure I have ever heard a sermon series on the book, and I’ve never taught through it myself. Petterson admits that Zechariah—with its combination of visions, oracles, ancient imagery, and narrative—isn’t easy. But that, he says, is what makes it thrilling when we invest time and study and then experience that “aha!” moment of discovery.
Those endeavoring to teach through Zechariah will be helped by Petterson’s contribution to the ESV Expository Commentary: Daniel–Malachi volume, where he provides input on how to organize teaching through the book, as well as how to grasp and communicate its central themes—which include the sovereignty of God, the return of the Lord, and the hope for a future Davidic kingdom.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Anthony Petterson: Part of the joy is the intrigue that you’re puzzling about, “What could this mean? How does that fit together?” eliminating some of the possibilities until you have that “aha” moment? That’s how Zechariah’s visions are designed, in a sense. I don’t think they’re meant to be easy. What Zechariah has done in that is he’s actually drawn you into that world, so that when you have the “aha” experience, you’re part of that visionary world. And so, as we try to teach Zechariah, we want people to be drawn into that world by asking the questions until they have that “aha” moment, and see it’s actually about them as well.
Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible,” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help Me Teach the Bible” is a production of The Gospel Coalition, sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org. It’s my joy today to be at the Sydney Olympic Park outside of Sydney, or really, it’s not outside, or is it?
Guthrie: It’s my joy to be in the Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia, and I’m talking today with Dr. Anthony Petterson. Dr. Petterson, thank you for being willing to help us teach the Bible.
Petterson: Oh, thank you very much for having me.
Guthrie: I came a long way…
Petterson: You have.
Guthrie: …to talk to you. No, I didn’t come just to talk to you, but I am so grateful to be here in Sydney and have the opportunity to talk with you. Dr. Petterson is lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew at Morling College here in New South Wales, Australia. He’s been a pastor, associate pastor, and he is a contributor to one of the first volumes that’s coming out in a new series that Crossway is publishing called the ESV Expository Bible Commentary, and there’s one of those things about commentary is one of the first to come out is actually volume seven, which can be a little bit confusing, on the books Daniel through Malachi. It has 13 different contributors that all take on one of these prophetic books of the Old Testament. Dr. Petterson, contributed to that volume on the book of Zechariah. This is not the only thing you’ve written on Zechariah, is it?
Petterson: No, I’ve done a commentary on Zechariah, and there’s also the new Zondervan Study Bible, I’ve got the notes in that for Zechariah as well. So, I’ve written a few things.
Guthrie: So, some people are listening they think, “I’m not sure I’ve even read Zechariah.” What about this book has given you a passion to write about and teach about it?
Petterson: The more you study the book, the more you want to go on in studying it further and…
Guthrie: Oh, I can see you’re passionate about it.
Petterson: I am passionate.
Guthrie: Do you feel that way, like you like to study it further?
Petterson: I love the book. Yeah. It’s…
Guthrie: Why do you love this book?
Petterson: Oh, there’s so many different ways to answer that. I think at the end of the day though, the book points us to the Lord Jesus Christ in no uncertain terms. If you go to the passion narratives in the Gospels, the book of Zechariah, after the Book of Psalms is the most quoted part of the Old Testament.
Guthrie: It is.
Petterson: So, Zechariah informs our understanding of Jesus’s death, which is at the heart of our faith. So, studying the book and putting those passages into the context of the book, you come to appreciate them all the more, I think, and so, that’s one of the reasons why I love the book. It’s also difficult, and I like a challenge, and, you know, wrestling with God’s word, and when you see how it all fits together, there’s a thrill to that as well. Zechariah also stands between…at the end of the prophets, at the end of the Old Testament, but also quoted in the New Testament. It stands at that transition point. And so, you’re kind of looking backwards across the Old Testament and looking forwards to the new. And so, in terms of biblical theology, it’s a great book to study because it’s at that transition point, you’re going backwards and forwards in the story. I really enjoy that.
Guthrie: It seems to me that with any prophetical book, with any of the Old Testament prophets, we have to get a sense first of where they fit in the chronology, don’t we?
Petterson: Exactly, yeah.
Guthrie: You’ve to know who the prophet is speaking to. Is he speaking to Israel, the northern tribes, or to Judah, the southern tribes? We have to know is he writing before exile, during exile, after exile?
Petterson: Well, sometimes it’s even more complicated than that because you might have a prophet like Hosea who was actually addressing the northern kingdom, but then their book has been preserved and treasured by the southern kingdom because the northern kingdom was, you know, effectively wiped out by the Assyrians. And so, the book is then addressing a different audience to the prophet, in a sense. So, it can get even more complicated sometimes as to who the audience is. The audience…
Guthrie: Well, what do we need to know about Zechariah in those regard?
Petterson: Well, Yeah. In terms of the context in which Zechariah was operating, the people of Judah have just returned to the Promised Land. Many of them have returned. Many…
Guthrie: All right, so it is after exile, after they had been in Babylon.
Petterson: Exactly, so things were difficult, you know, the Persians were still in control. They were having to pay taxes, and crops were failing and those… So, the situation was very different to what the prophets had said, and it’s into this context that you’ve got Zechariah, and the book of Haggai as well. They come with God’s word to say, “Yes, no, that earlier prophetic expectation, that earlier prophetic hope of blessing, and restoration, and abundance, that’s still what God has intended for you people. But you need to get back to Him, return to Him, return to the work that He’s got you to do, rebuild the temple in the first instance, get back to living out your covenant relationship with the Lord, and trust Him and wait and pray as He will send His Messiah who will ultimately bring His kingdom in.”
Guthrie: You mentioned a couple of other books as you answered that. You mentioned Ezra, which isn’t a prophetical book, it’s more of history.
Petterson: It’s one of the writings, yes.
Petterson: But Ezra is telling the story of what happens when the people first go back, and I love that little line in the beginning of Ezra, “All the people whom God had stirred,” in whom God had stirred to go back, and the focus is very much on going back to rebuild the temple. So, it seemed to me if we’re preparing to…
Petterson: Oh, yes.
Guthrie: …teach this book, that…
Petterson: Ezra would be a great…
Guthrie:…Ezra is going to help us…
Petterson: Yeah, definitely.
Guthrie:: …get a sense of it.
Petterson: The first part of Ezra, particularly.
Guthrie: Now you also mentioned Haggai. So, how does this book relate to Haggai?
Petterson: Well, Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries. Interestingly, they don’t directly refer to each other, but there’s a little instance in Zechariah 7 where a delegation from the city of Bethel go to Jerusalem with a question about whether they need to continue to fast. And they go and speak to the priest, but also to the prophets. Zechariah is the one who’s answer we have in the book of Zechariah, but it’s clear that he wasn’t the only prophet there. And we know that Haggai and Zechariah are both mentioned in Ezra as being the prophets who were responsible for seeing the temple being rebuilt. So, while they don’t refer to each other, it seems that they were operating together to get the people, or to preach God’s word again, to teach God’s word so that the people would get back on program with what God was doing and rebuild the temple in the hopes for God’s return, so they would experience His blessing once again.
Guthrie: One thing I really loved when I looked at the manuscript for this ESV Expository Bible commentary that’s on these, is it 13 prophetic books?
Petterson: Well, it’s on Daniel plus the minor prophets.
Guthrie:: Yes, Daniel plus the minor prophets.
Petterson: Isaiah through to Malachi. So, they’re 12.
Guthrie: One thing I really liked about this volume, I felt like it would be so helpful for the average Bible teacher. One thing I really liked about it was in the beginning, you had a sample way of how you could break down this book into either a 12-week or a 6-week series. And I love that because that’s almost one of the first decisions someone who’s gonna teach a book has to make that deals with the reality of Bible teaching, which is, am I gonna try to teach this in one week, or have I got four weeks, have I got 12 weeks? And so, we’ve got to immediately kind of figure out the structure of the book to figure out how we can break it down. So…
Petterson: Thank you, that’s useful, yeah, yeah.
Guthrie: I love that in this book you have done that work. So, yeah.
Petterson: Yeah, yeah. Funnily enough, I’ve preached on Zechariah more than I’ve preached on any other book of the Bible, which I found astounding. If you go to your computer and look up the past sermons that I’ve done, I don’t think too many people would be able to say that, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I tend to get asked to preach on Zechariah at church camps and things like that these days, so…
Guthrie: Well, it’s a good thing for me and for our listeners today because it reminds us that you know what you are talking about. And so, if we’re gonna make that decision, maybe you could just give us a 12,000-foot overview of the book.
Petterson: Of the book.
Guthrie: In terms that’s gonna help us understand its basic structure. What’s in it?
Petterson: Zechariah is essentially a book of three parts, I think. So, chapters 1 to 6, and the heart of those chapters are these 8 night visions that are reported for us where, you know, Zechariah has these visions, and there’s an angel that interprets them for him. And then at the end of that section as well, there’s a prophetic sign action that Zechariah is called to act out where he takes some of the silver and gold from the returned exiles and makes a crown for the high priest. Joshua is the high priest’s name, and symbolically crowns him with the hope of the coming of the branch, or the shoot, the Messiah. And so, that’s where the first section finishes. Chapter 7 and 8 are really a transition in the book. They are a narrative, as I was saying before, there’s a delegation that comes to the temple as it’s almost been rebuilt asking a question about whether they need to continue to fast. It seems like fasting and lamenting were put in place after the destruction of Jerusalem so that the Lord might return to his people with favor, hear their confession of sin, bring forgiveness. And so, the question arises, do we need to continue to fast if the temple is almost rebuilt and God’s about to return? You know, and that’s the question they come to Jerusalem with.
Guthrie: So, they’ve returned from the exile too, but not to the city of Jerusalem, is that…?
Petterson: No, there seems to be settlements outside of Jerusalem as well. Bethel is not too far from Jerusalem, and they come to us…
Guthrie: But still their hearts.
Petterson: Their hearts are…
Guthrie: Their hearts and lives are centered on the temple even though they’re not living in Jerusalem.
Petterson: Well, this is the question. This is what Zechariah asks. He uses this as an opportunity to challenge them about their hearts really, to see whether their fasting has just been a ritual, they’ve been going through the motions, or are they really on board with God’s covenant, with what He wants them to do? And so, He uses that question as an opportunity to challenge them about how they’re treating one another, how they’re treating the poor and the vulnerable in society. Are they really living out the covenant that demands them to love their neighbor and to love the Lord their God?
They come with a simple question, but it’s not until two chapters later that Zechariah finally gets to answering that question and he says, “No…essentially, those fast days are going to turn to days of feasting. And when God returns to the temple, the nations will come. They’ll wanna be part of God’s people, they’ll grab the hem of a Jew and say, ‘Can we go with you?’ And that fasting will become feasting in God’s kingdom.” But there’s something that’s more important than just ritual. And that is, you know, that your lives have been transformed by God’s message, that you’re living out what it means to be one of God’s covenant people. And so, that’s the transition section in the middle of the book where it’s really addressing the people’s hearts. And then the third section of the book comprises two oracles, they’re called, Chapters 9 to 11, and then Chapters 12 to 14.
Guthrie: To someone who’s not familiar with what an oracle is, could you give us a brief definition?
Petterson: Yes, sure. Another translation might be a prophecy, but it’s really a word of the Lord. If it’s got a technical meaning, it’s looking back to earlier prophecies and saying that those prophecies stand. God is…in the sense that God is gonna keep His word. He’s gonna fulfill His word, essentially these oracles are saying that those earlier prophecies stand, and God’s gonna keep His word. He’s gonna come in judgment, but He’s also gonna come in salvation and establish His kingdom. And as I was saying before, one of the central hopes that Zechariah presents in those chapters is the hope for a coming king, a future messiah who’s central to God’s establishing His kingdom. And that’s why the New Testament quotes that section of Zechariah so often because that’s what we look forward to as well.
Guthrie: Well, let’s go back to this first section. You described it in three sections, and then Chapters 1 through 6 have these eight…
Petterson: Visions, yeah.
Guthrie: …visions, reminds me a little bit of Ezekiel, we see visions. Are there other prophets that are primarily visions?
Petterson: Oh, yeah. Amos has visions. Visionary experiences are not unique to Zechariah, but he’s a reasonably unique. I mean…
Guthrie: Well, it’s also interesting. I mean, just as you look at the text itself, I’m looking in my ESV, and they’re so well marked, looks to here to just be a clear series, this vision, then that vision, then that vision.
Petterson: Yeah. Each of them are clear, distinct things that Zechariah sees, so that you can give them a heading as much of the Bible translations do, don’t they? They describe in a heading what Zechariah actually sees. Yeah.
Guthrie: In many ways, these kind of visions are unfamiliar to us, and we have a hard time figuring out how we’re gonna relate these visions to the people in front of us. And so often, as teachers, we know there’s people…they want something that they can take away tomorrow that applies, they wanna say to real life. And, of course, we know all of the Bible applies to real life, but how do we kind of bridge the gap as we work our way through these visions?
Petterson: Well, the visions are really picture painting with words. So, if you can picture what’s going on, that’s going to help you. One of the things I do with my students is, for some of the visions, I get them to actually draw them. Have a go at drawing them. The Menorah vision in Chapter 5, for instance, where Zechariah sees a lamp stand, and there’s pipes and other things going on. If you’re in a home group, you might have a chance to have a go at drawing what’s going on. And as you draw them, see how the different parts of the picture relate to each other because sometimes, that’s not always clear.
Sometimes later, bits of the picture…we’re told later on about bits of the picture that aren’t first described. And so, if you can try to picture in your mind’s eye or even draw what’s going on, that will help. One of the things about the pictures though, is some things in the picture are just there to contribute to the scene. I think when we come to interpreting the Bible, we often want to see significance in every feature.
Petterson: Every detail.
Petterson: Every detail must represent something in our modern world, or something in their world, or something…And I think that’s a bit of a mistake. Some elements of the picture are just there because they’re there, they’re helping us to…So, for instance, in the first vision, he sees horses, different colored horses in a ravine, and there’s myrtle trees, and you think, “What do the myrtle trees represent? What are they about?” And, well, maybe they’re not about anything.
Guthrie: Maybe they’re just myrtle trees.
Petterson: They’re just myrtle trees, and that’s where they were, you know? Yeah. But the things that are really important when we’re interpreting the visions are the things that are explained to us, and Zechariah had this interpreting angel, and he’s often asking him, what are these? What are these?
Guthrie: Well, that’s convenient for us as teachers, isn’t it?
Petterson: Well, that’s highlighting the things that we need to understand. But even then, not everything is crystal clear for us when we first read it, and we may have questions and puzzle. And part of the issue here is that Zechariah’s visionary world is a little different to ours in that Zechariah’s visionary…he had his visions against the whole backdrop of the Old Testament, which sadly, we’re not as familiar with as perhaps we should be or could be. And so, there’s elements of his vision that if we’re schooled, if we understand the Old Testament world, we’re gonna see what that’s representing.
So, to see a lamp stand, for instance, may not mean much to us until…
Well, actually the lamp stand, in the Hebrew…the Menorah, is actually representing what was there in the tabernacle and in the temple. And so, that takes us into the Old Testament world. So, if we can get ourselves into that world… But also, it’s not just the Old Testament world, there’s also parts of Zechariah’s own world. So, for instance, the horseman in the first vision, they seem to be modeled on what happened in the Persian Empire. So, Persia was, you know, way off to the north of the people of Judah. But Persia were the ones in control. And so, the way that they kept track of what was happening in the kingdom was that they had these riders on horses who’d go out from, you know, the Persian headquarters, trek around the lands, and then report back what was happening.
I think this is where Tolkien gets his ring rites from in the “Lord of the Rings,” if you’re a “Lord of the Rings” fan, the riders on the horses, they were dark, you know, instruments of Sauron and they were dark forces. These ones are riders on the horses, but they’re modeled on that Persian world. But in this visionary world, they’re the Lord’s horsemen. So, it’s a way of saying that, you know, they’re in Judah, but these riders on horses are reporting to the Lord. He’s the king. He knows what’s going on in his kingdom. So, even though you might think Persia is in control, no, the Lord is the one who has control. He is the sovereign king. He is the one who everyone will have to give an account to. So, you know, there’s something of Zechariah’s world that we need to know as well as the Old Testament world in order for these visions to really start to come together.
Guthrie: That’s the challenge for a lot of us as teachers.
Petterson: It is. It is.
Guthrie: Maybe the Old Testament world, we have a little bit of a leg-up on if we spent some time in that text, but it’s that other element, I mean, like what you brought in there about these Persian horses. I think to myself, “If I was beginning to study this, how would I know that?”
Petterson: Yeah. That’s where a commentary…
Guthrie: That’s why I’m really glad you wrote a commentary, right?
Petterson: …comes in help, I guess, but yeah, it’s a challenge. Because I wanna say you don’t need to have that background to understand God’s word, you know, it’s simple enough for the plowman, you know, is to be able to understand God’s word. But there is sometimes, you know, the Hebrew language isn’t something that we understand most of us, so we’ve got to go and learn that to… And the Hebrew language is a window into a culture, and culture is really what we’re talking about when we’re talking about things like horses and chariots and what was happening back in that day. But it’s not so far removed from our culture as well. As I said, you know, “Lord of the Rings” brings it contemporary as well, doesn’t it?
Guthrie: That gives a vivid picture for people to…put a picture in people’s minds as we teach it.
Petterson: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Guthrie: On these visions, are they a number of ways of communicating the same message, or over the course of these eight visions, are they all distinct messages? So, I guess I’m asking, like, are we gonna group them together in some ways we teach them because they have some similar themes, or is it the kind of thing they’re all over the map?
Petterson: No, no. I think there’s a theme that runs through all the eight visions, and it’s essentially that picks up on the introduction of the book as well. God said, “Return to me and I’ll return to you.” The first five visions are about the Lord’s return to His people, the overthrow of the nations who have been hostile to God’s people, the return of the glory to Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the temple, the reestablishment of the priesthood, particularly the cleansing of the high priest, Joshua. So, all the things that need to happen for God’s return to His people is really the first five visions, Chapters 1 to 4. And then, with God’s return to his people, the parallel movement, or the opposite movement is, in visions six, seven and eight, for the eradication from Jerusalem of all that is opposed to God and His kingdom.
So, those covenant violations such as, you know, theft and swearing falsely, and wickedness, and idolatry, they’re all driven out of God’s kingdom, driven actually to Babylon. And then God sends out His heavenly army in the final vision, which ultimately puts down all opposition to His kingdom and establishes His rule for all time. So, the return of God to His people is the movement of the first part of the visions, and then the eradication of all that’s opposed to God, is the movement of the second half of the vision. I think once you see that overarching movement that helps you to understand some of the details as well in the particular visions.
Guthrie: Would you pick one of these visions and just give us a sense of how you would present it? Is that a reasonable question?
Petterson: Oh, absolutely. I love them all.
Guthrie: Maybe you should pick the…
Petterson: Can I do them all?
Guthrie: Maybe you should pick the hardest one, the one that we’re gonna have the hardest time figuring out what to do with.
Petterson: I’ll pick the short one, the second vision, where Zechariah looks up, “And there before me are four horns. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ‘What are these?”‘He answer me, ‘These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.’ Then the Lord showed me for craftsmen. And I asked, ‘What are these coming to do?’ He answered, ‘These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise their head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.'”
So remember the context is…the people of Judah are living under the Persian Empire in the midst of the nations. They’re not independent. They’re having to pay taxes. They’re feeling the threat. They’re feeling the threat of the nations. And here’s this vision of God returning to His people. At the end of the first vision, God has said to Zechariah that, “My towns will again overflow with prosperity, the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.” So, there’s the promise of restoration. How is this going to come about? Well, how does this vision of horns and craftsmen, what’s that contributing? How do we go about interpreting that?
Well, the horns…what does a horn bring to mind? If you track back into other parts of the Old Testament, you know, you’ve got all kinds of horns. You got horns that are musical instruments, you’ve got horns of the altar of the temple, you’ve got, intriguingly in the book of Daniel, horns that represent the nations, so they’re animal horns that are powerful and do damage if you come too close to them. These horns are said to have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. So, what type of horn fits with that scattering of God’s people? It seems to me that it’s almost like Daniel, that vision of the nations as being animal horns that have done damage to God’s people is what’s being spoken of here. So, it’s not a musical instrument, it’s not an altar. So, just understanding the context, understanding the Old Testament background helps you to limit the type of horn that it might be, but then Zechariah’s shown something else, these craftsmen, and these craftsmen come and terrify the horns. What’s going on there? Well, again, if you do a little bit of work in the Old Testament, I did a word study of this word craftsman, and it’s intriguing that the other places where it occurs most often, is in the construction of the tabernacle, and the construction of the temple, so that craftsman has a particular usage surrounding the building of the temple.
And hey, God just promised that the temple’s going to be rebuilt in the previous vision, and Jerusalem is going to be rebuilt. So, if these craftsmen are those who are going to terrify the horns, how do we link all this together? God is gonna use, I would say, the building of the temple, to bring about the overthrow of the nations, so that the horns have opposed God’s people, but as they get and rebuild the temple, God will return, and the nations will be turned from enemies to friends, and they will come and be incorporated to God’s people.
Now, some of the interpretation there also I bring in because I know what’s gonna happen in the next few chapters of Zechariah as well, where there is such a focus on the rebuilding of the temple. So, you’re interpreting the parts in the light of the whole, but also the parts in the light of the bigger whole, the Old Testament as well. That’s what you’re trying to do when there’s these mysterious parts of the…but part of the joy is the intrigue, as you’re puzzling about what could this mean? How does that fit together? Eliminating some of the possibilities until you have that “aha” moment, “Ah, that’s what it’s about.” That’s how Zechariah’s visions are designed, in a sense. I don’t think they’re meant to be easy. I think they’re meant to draw you in as a reader to ask these questions, “What is that about?” To get you, you know, thumbing through your Old Testament to do the work of understanding what it’s all about and the background to these visions until you finally see, and you say, “Aha.”
But what Zechariah has done in that is, he’s actually drawn you into that world so that when you have the “aha” experience, you’re part of that visionary world. You’re part of the action, so to speak. And so, as we try to teach Zechariah, we want people to be drawn into that world by asking the questions until they have that “aha” moment, and see it’s actually about them as well. So, I think that’s what we wanna try and do.
Nancy: So, was our next step then, to try… We’ve looked at this vision, and so, is our next step as a teacher to then think about, so what would be the implications of this for them then?
Petterson: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.
Guthrie: For those people in that day before we jump to anything else, is that our next step?
Petterson: Yeah, exactly. And a good commentary will help you to do some of this as well. But one of the big themes through Zechariah is the rebuilding of the temple, as it is with Haggai as well. And the temple is a biblical, theological theme that goes right back to the Garden of Eden and stretches right forward to the, you know, there is no temple in the New Jerusalem because…
Guthrie: The lamb is there…
Petterson: …that’s what it was all about, anyway. You know, it’s being realized fully in the new Jerusalem, God’s rule, God’s presence, God with His people to bless, you know, that’s where it ends up. But there’s some interesting trajectories through the Bible, aren’t they? Particularly, again, with Jesus because he embodies the temple in so many ways. And this is what people didn’t understand, but what he wants, you know…when he goes and cleanses the temple in John 2, and, you know, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I’ll rebuild it.” And the temple he spoke of was his own body. So, he embodies God’s presence and God’s rule. And you see it also when Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman.
You know, the Samaritans being from the old northern kingdom of Israel, they worshiped on Mount Gerizim, and the Jews had returned to Jerusalem. They don’t know it’s Mount Zion. So, she’s asking Jesus, “Where do we worship, in Gerizim as Samaritans, or in Jerusalem with the Jews?” And Jesus says, “No, now that I’m here, you don’t worship in Gerizim or Jerusalem, you worship in spirit and in truth.” And in John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus is the one who embodies the truth. He’s the spirit. We worship not in a geographical location now that Jesus come, but we worship God through him. He’s the way, the truth, and the life. So, he embodies… So Zechariah and Haggai’s focus on the temple, leads us to Jesus, and Jesus also in his ministry commissions us as his people to go and build his church. And Ephesians uses the imagery of the temple to speak of the church and what God is doing to build us up as His people.
And so, I would say, you know, that imperative that Zechariah and Haggai have for building the temple for us as Christians is about being in Christ and then building his kingdom as we seek to proclaim Jesus until he comes again. Build his church is how we built his temple today. How do we then apply that? If that’s the building project that they are engaged in, and, you know, the building project that we’re engaged in is building God’s temple, the church. Well, what it says to us, craftsmen…when you think about a craftsman, what do you think of? Someone who’s powerful and strong. Well, some translations translate it as blacksmith, you know, with the heavy anvil, but I don’t think that’s what we’re to think of. A craftsman is someone who works with clay and materials, and, you know, building the temple, engraving, and not necessarily a figure of power, but what they’re doing is really significant.
But it may be a figure, you know, of weakness in many ways. And so, God isn’t using the powerful and the strong and brute force to bring in His kingdom these days. He’s using, you know, the weak, the powerless, as we proclaim His message in the power of His power. It’s not through our strength, it’s not through our might and power of our personalities, and all that kind of thing. It says we just get on and do the things that He’s given us to do, that He will grow His kingdom powerfully in His strength, which links into another feature of Zechariah as well. “Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit.” That’s one of the other key themes. It’s not through our strength that the kingdom will come. It’s in His strength.
Guthrie: I appreciate what you did there, because as you were talking earlier about the temple, I thought to myself, if you’re teaching through this book and it is also related to the temple, we want to get to Christ as we teach through it, but we don’t want it to sound the same every week. So, we want it to come out of the specific passage that we’re in right there. So, this vision you just talked about, it sounds to me like you’re getting there a little bit through specifically that word “craftsman.” That’s how you would get to Christ.
Petterson: Yeah, yeah. An image I like to use with my students is that the Old Testament is like a beam of light, and, you know, when a beam of light hits a prism, it refracts into all the different colors. Well, the Gospel is that prism, the Old Testament light shines into it, and it refracts into a spectrum of color. And so, we need to try and do that as best we can in our own teaching of the Old Testament, to refract it through the Gospel, into that color. And so, it’s not the same every week. You’re not just taking on Jesus because I know that’s what I have to do as a…
Guthrie: And there would be certain things about the temple that you could find yourself just going back to every week. And so, I guess…opposed to a certain degree, we have to do that.
Petterson: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But if there is…
Guthrie:But yet we wanna find something…
Petterson: Something that’s particular…
Guthrie: On this test.
Petterson: …some little ray of color, that’s not what you might expect.
Guthrie: All right. So, you’ve helped us a little bit, a lot with imagery as a tool to use in this first section of Zechariah as we work our way through these eight visions. We’ve got to apply some Old Testament understanding, bring that to these visions, understand this setting in terms of the rebuilding of the temple, and what’s going on with the nations around Israel at this point. That’s gonna help us…tools we can bring to understand this section. But you mentioned earlier that this book has a different genre that are a part of it. So, then we get to Chapter 7 and 8, and this is more narrative. You described earlier this delegation that’s coming to…
Petterson: To Jerusalem.
Guthrie: …to Jerusalem.
Petterson: To the priests and the prophets.
Guthrie: And then they wanna know, yeah. So, help us a little bit with 7 and 8. How does our teaching in this book kind of shift because we’re going to this narrative section, or does it?
Petterson: I think in many ways, we’re in more familiar territory and this…
Guthrie: Little more comfortable than we are with those visions.
Petterson: Yeah, because what’s happening here is more similar to what we’re used to in the other prophets, and in many ways, that’s what Zechariah is doing. He’s reiterating what the earlier prophets had said, you know, so he says, “This is what the Lord Almighty says, administer true justice. Show mercy and compassion.”
Guthrie: Where are you?
Petterson: Oh, this is Chapter 7:9. “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against one another.'” So, Zechariah at this point is, he’s quoting the earlier prophets, and saying, “Hey guys, this is what you need to be doing.
It’s not just about building the temple, it’s not just about carrying out this fast. It’s also about living out your relationship with the Lord, your covenant relationship, which has a content…
Guthrie: Rebuilding a people of God.
Petterson: Rebuilding the real people of God, the real temple. That’s right, yeah. And so, that’s more familiar territory in those chapters, I think. But also Chapter 8, there’s lots of similarities with Haggai in the first part of Chapter 8 as well in terms of the message there. Chapter 8 restates the hope that God had earlier announced through the prophets. You know, of, for instance, in Chapter 8:4, “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” Because in times of warfare, which Jerusalem’s just been through, you know, it’s the weak and the vulnerable who are the ones who perish, the elderly, and the children. But here’s a vision of the…and also not just they perish, they’re also if they’re alive, they’re involved in the family business, in manual labor, in just survival mode. But here are the young and the elderly with time on their hands, they’re able…
Guthrie: And security.
Petterson: And security.
Guthrie: You can sit in the middle of the street and be secure.
Petterson: Well, street brings to our minds, you know, busy highways and things like…The street I think is just the open places between the houses. So, it’s more like parks or gardens we’d think of. That would probably more equivalent thing today, to speak of the parks and the gardens that the elderly and the children play in because they’ve got time to do that, and it’s a picture of God’s blessing, and His presence amongst His people once again. So, this is fairly familiar territory with the prophets, isn’t it? They’re working in the area of pictures, and showing what God’s coming kingdom will look like.
Guthrie: Well, we get to beginning in Chapter 9. This is this third section you talked about. And just when we look at it on the page, once again, we can tell we’re changing genres a bit because immediately…
Petterson: Big time.
Guthrie: …in Chapter 9, it looks like poetry on the page, this oracle. So, I suppose an interesting transition going from Chapter 8, this beautiful promise of what’s ahead for the city of Zion, and for Jerusalem, and this incredible space, and enjoyment, and blessing as you said. Then we get to Chapter 9, and we’re immediately launching into an oracle of judgment. That’s probably one of the hard things about teaching the prophetical books, isn’t it? Those twists and turns going from a beautiful picture that fills us with hope and longing for this future kingdom, but then we turned immediately to this oracle of judgment.
Petterson: Yes, yes. Yeah. There is a big change at this point. We’ve just seen at the end of Chapter 8, that you’ve got the nations and people from all languages and nations taking firm hold of one Jew saying, “Let us go with you because we’ve heard God is with you.” So, what a wonderful picture of the nations coming and sharing in God’s kingdom. But that’s…
Nancy: I want in on the goodness of God.
Petterson: But that’s exactly where the next part ends as well. In Chapter 14, you’ve got this vision of the holiness of the Lord being inscribed in Jerusalem, and then the nations wanting to go up and celebrate with God’s people all the feasts, and the festival of tabernacles. And so, it ends in feasting as well with…So, both parts of the book wind up with the nations coming and sharing in the holiness, and the blessings of God’s kingdom.
So, there’s some similarities of themes, even though the genre is quite different. I think this second oracle, Chapters 9 to 14 of Zechariah probably come from a later part of Zechariah’s Ministry. Essentially, they’re in continuity, although I think the temple is now being built, and they still feeling the opposition of the nations. Once again, I think one of the keys for interpreting these chapters is the earlier prophets. Zechariah draws on the imagery of Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Isaiah in the language that he uses and the imagery that he uses, particularly in his presentation of a coming king. But he’s saying again that…and putting it up on a big screen for all to see, that God’s kingdom will come, but what he’s saying, it’s not gonna be without cost to God’s people. There’s going to be another battle at Jerusalem that was like the earlier battle of the Babylonians.
There’s going to be great hardship. You are gonna go through a time of tremendous suffering, but in the aftermath of that, God’s kingdom is assured, and there’s great…a fountain of cleansing that’s going to open, there’s forgiveness of sins, there’s blessing that opens up, not only for the people of Judah, but for all nations. If you read it from Chapter 9 through to 14, it seems like there’s a whole sequence of battles. There’s one after the other. I don’t think it’s a sequence of battles, but rather one battle that’s looked at from different perspectives. Chapter 9 gives you the overview, but then as you read on, Chapters 10 and 11 really address the issue of leadership of God’s people. And so, there’s a focus on leadership, Chapter 12 there’s a focus. We begin to focus in again on Jerusalem and what it will mean for God’s people. End of Chapter 12 into 13, there’s a real focus on the leader of God’s people, the Messiah, and then Chapter 14 replays it again, the battle again, but it looks at it on the biggest scale possible, what it means for the whole cosmos, what it means for Jerusalem, but the whole shaking of the heavens and the earth, a new creation, in a sense, is where you wind up in Chapter 14 and also that theme I mentioned before, of the nations coming and sharing in this as well. So, there’s a battle where the nations are against Jerusalem, but God intervenes and saves through His Messiah, and that brings salvation for the world. Does that sound familiar? Sounds like the Gospel, doesn’t it?
Petterson: So, you can see why the gospel writers quote this part of Zechariah, but I think the key is to see it as not a sequence of battles, but one battle, and teased out from different perspectives. What does it mean for these different groups? And when you get that, I think some of the details start to fall into a bit more place as well.
Guthrie: When you talk about a battle, and these are oracles of judgment, it seems to me that would lead us to the ultimate battle, the ultimate judgment that fell on the king of this kingdom.
Petterson: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, this is what Jesus says in, you know, at the end of Luke’s Gospel when he says that, you know, the prophets say that the Messiah must suffer. Jesus saw in these prophecies his own mission.
Guthrie: And like he says to him on the road to Emmaus, basically if you’d read your bibles…
Petterson: You would understand what…
Guthrie: …you would understand the messiah was gonna suffer before being glorified. And so, we’re seeing some of that in these chapters, aren’t we? This is the way they could have known.
Petterson: This isn’t reading back. This is reading out of what the Old Testament prophets saw. Zechariah’s drawing on these elements of Israel’s history to paint a picture of God’s coming kingdom, and they think, “How will that come to pass? What’s ultimately gonna deal with sin in our world and cleanse God’s people?” And what they see is it’s through the death of God’s own son, the Messiah, that’s gonna bring this to pass. That it’s through him being pierced, him being struck, that the judgment of God, is taken on the Messiah, so that God’s people can be cleansed. This is the insight that the Messiah will represent the people in his own death.
Guthrie: It seems to me this would be a section in which we’d have to go to 1 Peter 1:10 through 12 to see where Peter writes about these prophets that they wrote about things, but that they long…
Petterson: For that day
Guthrie: …to understand when and who. And so, in a sense, these prophets, and that would include the prophet Zechariah, he’s writing about more than he knows.
Petterson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I think he’s writing about more that he knows that we don’t think he knows. That make sense? I think he knew more than we often give him credit for.
Guthrie: What do you mean by that?
Petterson: I think sometimes we can think that the prophets, they long to see that day, but, you know, he wasn’t really speaking about it. Some scholars will say, you know, he wasn’t really talking about the Messiah. He didn’t really know what he was talking about. It’s only in the light of Jesus that we read those things back into the Old Testament, and I wanna say, and I want to give them a bit more credit that they actually knew what they were speaking about. Sure, they didn’t know that that Messiah was Jesus, and he was gonna be born in first century Palestine, and, you know, the details, but they still saw in broad outline the way that God would send his Messiah who was going to be central to His coming kingdom, particularly through the Messiah’s death. So, in broad terms, I wanna say they did see a lot more than we perhaps give them credit for. Does that make sense?
Guthrie: Mm-hmm. When we finish teaching through the book of Zechariah, what would be an appropriate hope?
Petterson: Great question.
Guthrie: What do we hope happens in them?
Petterson: Yeah, great question. And this is why I think Zechariah is so relevant for us today because there’s such a similar pattern between Zechariah’s day and our own day. If you think about it, the people of Judah had just returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, rebuild the city, get online with what God was doing to establish His kingdom. They had the promises of God’s coming kingdom. They’d started to realize those promises, but those promises were much bigger than what they experienced. And in the same sense, we live in a very similar time because, you know, the promises of God had been realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God’s kingdom has come, and yet, there’s aspects of those promises as well that we still long for, don’t we? The, you know, the doing away of sickness, and crying, and pain, and sin in our own lives and in the lives of others.
We long for that day when the kingdom will be realized. So, in that sense, the promises have come and yet they’re still to come, and so, Zechariah encourages us. He talks about his day as being the day of small things, and in many ways, our day can be a day of small things as well, particularly in the west and Christianity is often opposed, and we’re finding it more and more difficult to swim in our culture, and feel like we’re drowning sometimes.
But Zechariah reminds us of the promises of God, that God is a God who keeps His word. He’s establishing His kingdom. He sent His Messiah, and His Messiah will return. And so, in the meantime, what are we to do? Get on with building His kingdom, building His temple, which is the church, and He’s given us the resources to do that as well. The Gospel and, well, His word, as we preach His word, just as Zechariah proclaimed the word that saw the temple built. You know, we’re called to proclaim the same word of a crucified Messiah that will build his temple today. So, there’s those great parallels, I think, that that’s where Zechariah really speaks. It’s an encouragement to get on with His work and to be reminded that He is the sovereign Lord. And His kingdom will come.
Guthrie: Well, this has been so helpful, Dr. Petterson. I wonder if you would close this way if you would close by speaking directly to those who might be listening, who are thinking about or preparing to teach the book of Zechariah. Would you give them a word of challenge, encouragement, and instruction?
Petterson: Yeah, I think Zechariah is one of the undiscovered or underappreciated jewels of the Old Testament. It’s not the easiest book to get your head around, but any work that you do to understand it, I think it will richly repay you. You’ll appreciate it all the more, and you’ll appreciate the whole Bible because Zechariah stands at that transition between the Old Testament and the New Testament. And so, it gets you to look back and forwards, and as I said, so much of the New Testament…sorry, so much of the Gospel is about what Zechariah foresaw. So, we’ll appreciate what Jesus has done all the more as we delve in to do the hard work in Zechariah. Well, I think Zechariah also challenges us about our own lives and what it means to live as God’s people today, and there’s plenty of ethical challenges for us as God’s people in the book as well. And it’s an encouragement and a challenge. So, I’ve found it richly rewarding in my own personal life, and I thank you for the opportunity to talk about this some more, and hopefully, encourage people to study it for themselves.
Guthrie: I believe that’s the case.
Petterson:: Be Blessed.
Guthrie: Thank you so much. You’ve been listening to “Help Me Teach the Bible” with Nancy Guthrie, a production of The Gospel Coalition, sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks, including the ESV Bible Expository Commentary series that includes this new release of volume seven, Daniel through Malachi. Learn more about Crossway’s gospel-centered resources at crossway.org.