Upon the decree of Cyrus about 50,000 Jewish exiles had returned to Judea under the leadership of *Zerubbabel (see Ezr 1:8; 2:1, 2, 64, 65). Shortly after their return they laid the foundation for the Second Temple (ch 3:1-10), and some progress was made during the remainder of Cyrus' reign (535-530 b.c.) and the reign of Cambyses (530-522), despite enemies who sought to halt the work (ch 4:5). Eventually work virtually ceased, owing mainly to the continued opposition and hindrance of the Samaritans (vs 1-5). The reign of the false Smerdis, Cambyses' successor (522), was too brief to affect the work for long, and Darius I, the legitimate successor to the throne, who slew Smerdis, gave specific permission to proceed. But even before his official decree reactivating Cyrus' original decree authorizing the rebuilding of the Temple (chs 5:3 to 6:13), the people, encouraged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, had enthusiastically set to work again (see Hag 1:2, 12-15; Zec 1:1; Ezr 5:1) and were prospered by God (Hag 2:5, 15, 18, 19). The work went forward rapidly until the Temple was completed in the 6th year of Darius (Ezr 6:15). Zechariah's prophetic messages were delivered during this final period of reconstruction (520-518), their purpose being to inspire hope in the glorious possibilities that lay before the Jews upon their return from captivity on condition of their obedience.
Following the Captivity, God had promised to renew His covenant with Israel (Eze 36:21-27, 34, 38; cf. Jer 31:10-38; Zec 1:12-17; 2:12), and offered to bestow its accompanying blessings (Jer 33:4, 6-26; Eze 36:8-15). All that He had promised might yet come to pass if His people would only cooperate (Zec 6:15; cf. Is 54:7; Eze 36:11; 43:10, 11; Mic 6:8; Zec 10:6), and the prospective golden era would have reached its climax with the coming of Messiah. But like the messages of the prophets before him, Zechariah's forecast of Jerusalem's glorious future was conditional upon Israel's cooperation (Zec 6:15; cf. Jer 18:6-10), and her failure as a nation to measure up to God's minimum requirements was clearly evident a century later in the days of Malachi (see Mal 1:6, 7, 12, 13; 2:2, 13, 14, 17; 3:7, 13; etc.).
Zechariah's prophecies may be summarized as follows: The first of Zechariah's 3 messages consists of a series of 8 apocalyptic visions (Zec 1:1 to 6:15) which depict symbolically the complete restoration of the chosen people and reach a climax in the Messiah's advent. The 2d message (chs 7:1 to 8:23) constitutes a reproof for sin and an appeal for righteousness. The 3d message (chs 9:1 to 14:21) depicts the closing events of history in terms of God's original plan for Israel, including a glorious deliverance from all their enemies.
In the introduction (Zec 1:1-6) the Lord appeals to His people, €œTurn ye unto me, €¦ and I will turn unto you € (v 3). He appeals to them not to follow the evil example of their fathers, to whom, in captivity, had been fulfilled the curses invoked in the Law of Moses for disobedience (Zec 1:4-6; cf. Dan 9:11, 12). In the first of the series of 8 apocalyptic visions (Zec 1:7-17) Zechariah sees a man seated upon a red horse in a grove of myrtle trees and behind him other horses. The question is asked of the Lord, €œHow long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem? € (v 12), and the Lord answers that He is €œjealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy, € that He is €œvery sore displeased with the heathen € who have so oppressed His people (vs 14, 15). Now He has returned to Jerusalem with mercy and the Temple will be rebuilt (vs 16, 17). In the 2d vision the work of the nations that have oppressed Jerusalem is symbolized by 4 €œhorns, € and the means the Lord proposes to use to repair the damage done, by 4 €œcarpenters, € who are to €œcast out the horns of the Gentiles € (see Zec 1:18-21). In the 3d vision Zechariah sees a man with a measuring line (ch 2:1-13) who sets out to €œmeasure Jerusalem € (v 2), laying plans for its restoration. The city is to be inhabited again (v 4), and the Lord Himself will protect it against all enemies (vs 5-9). He will €œdwell in the midst € of it (v 10), and €œmany nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day € (v 11). The 4th vision (ch 3) depicts Joshua, the high priest, in his role as representative of the returned Jews, standing before the angel of the Lord with €œfilthy garments. € Satan accuses him before God as unworthy. The Lord rebukes Satan and promises Joshua-and thus his people-a €œchange of raiment € (vs 2-4) if they will walk in His ways and honor Him (v 7). Then Messiah, €œthe Branch, € will come, and Israel will dwell in safety (vs 8-10). In the 5th vision (ch 4) Zechariah sees a golden lampstand with 2 olive trees beside it providing oil for the lamps. Accompanying this vision is God's message to Zerubbabel that His glorious purpose for His people is to be accomplished €œnot by might, nor by power, but by my spirit € (v 6). The time of Zerubbabel is €œa day of small things, € but a great future lies before the people. In the 6th vision (ch 5:1-4) Zechariah sees €œa flying roll, € or €œcurse, € that will enter into the house of everyone who fails to measure up to the divine standard. This flying roll represents the revealed will of God to His people, particularly His moral law (see v 4). The 7th vision (vs 5-11) depicts the manner in which God proposes to dispose of the sinners of vs 1-5. Zechariah sees an ephah (that is, a container of the capacity of an *ephah, II) with a cover of lead, and a woman inside; this, he is told, represents the €œwickedness € (v 8) of unrepentant Jews, which is symbolically carried back to the land of Shinar (to Babylonia). In the 8th vision (ch 6:1-8) Zechariah sees 4 chariots pulled by 4 kinds of horses. These, he is told, are €œthe four spirits of the heavens € (v 5) that go €œto and fro through the earth € (v 7) to superintend the working out of God's purpose for Israel. God will not leave His people until he has accomplished for them all that He purposed to do. In the conclusion of the 1st section of the book, Zechariah is instructed to place symbolic crowns upon the head of Joshua, the high priest, as a proclamation of the coming of the Branch, the Messiah (Zec 6:11, 12), who was to be a royal priest (v 13). In His day men shall come from €œfar off € to €œbuild in the temple of the Lord € (v 15). The joyous future depicted in these symbolic visions would all €œcome to pass, € said the prophet, if only the people would €œdiligently obey the voice of the Lord your God € (v 15).
In the 2d message (Zec 7; 8) the prophet first denounces certain hypocritical religious practices, and declares that what the Lord desires of His people is justice and mercy, €œevery man to his brother € (ch 7:9), which is the essence of true religion. For want of this, God had permitted His people to go into exile (v 14) and to languish in Babylon for 70 years. But He is still €œjealous for Zion € (ch 8:1) and will carry out His purpose for it (v 3). He will return to Jerusalem, bring His people from the land of exile, cause them to dwell safely there, and reconstitute them as His chosen people (vs 7, 8). Therefore, He says, €œlet your hands be strong € (v 9) €”strong in moral character (vs 16, 17), strong to €œlove the truth € (v 19). If they do so, the nations of earth will €œgo speedily €¦ to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem € (vs 21, 22). From all parts of the earth people will join the Jews, saying, €œWe will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you € (v 23).
The 3d and last message is divided into 2 sections, each of which Zechariah refers to as a €œburden, € or €œoracle, € a solemn message (Zec 9:1; 12:1). In the first of these God proposes to overthrow Judah's enemies, turn their people to Himself, and set up Messiah's kingdom (ch 9). He will refresh His people (ch 10:1), and it will be €œas though I had not cast them off € (v 6; cf. vs 8-12) €”that is, into captivity. Chapter 11 constitutes a solemn warning to the false €œshepherds, € or leaders, who have led astray the people under their care.
The 2d €œburden € (Zec 12-14) outlines the closing events of history as they would have come to pass had Israel proved faithful (see ch 6:15). The picture presented is comparable to Ezekiel's battle of Gog and Magog (Eze 38; 39), and these 2 passages form the prophetic basis for the picture of the last great battles to be fought at the close of time, at Armageddon (Rev 16:12-16) and the battle of Gog and Magog after the millennium (Rev 20:8, 9). As Zechariah depicts the scene: €œall the people of the earth € lay siege to Jerusalem (Zec 12:2, 3), but the Lord defends its inhabitants (v 8) and destroys €œall the nations that come against Jerusalem € (v 9). During the course of these events the people apparently pierce their Messiah-deliverer but, realizing what they have done, mourn bitterly (vs 10, 11). Nevertheless, €œin that day € a fountain is €œopened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness € (ch 13:1), and God cleanses the land of idols and false prophets (vs 2, 3). Messiah having been €œwounded in the house € of His presumed €œfriends € (v 6), the people are scattered as a result (v 7). Two thirds in all the land are €œcut off and die € but the 3d part is brought €œthrough the fire, € €œrefined, € and is evermore to be God's people (vs 8, 9). They are the ones to whom the €œfountain € of v 1 is opened for cleansing from sin and uncleanness. Then the Lord goes forth to €œfight against those nations € (ch 14:1-3) that attack Jerusalem, and descends to the Mount of Olives, which splits apart and makes a great valley (v 4). In that day living waters go forth from Jerusalem (Zec 14:8; cf. Eze 47), the Lord is €œking over all the earth € (Zec 14:9), and Jerusalem is €œsafely inhabited € (v 11). The means by which God disposes of those among the nations who have rejected His gracious invitation to unite with His chosen people, and who fought against Jerusalem, is depicted in vs 12-14, 17-19. Eventually €œevery one that is left of all nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts € (v 16).
On the conditional nature of the prophecies made to ancient Israel as the chosen people, to which Zechariah calls attention (Zec 6:15), and on the degree of their application to the people of God in the last times, after unfaithful Israel forfeited the fulfillment of the promises, see Chosen People; Prophet, II.
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.