The prophet Zechariah prophesied around 520 BC, the second year of Darius, king of Persia. Like his contemporary Haggai, Zechariah was commissioned to motivate the post-exilic Jews, but unlike the fiery speeches of Haggai, Zechariah encouraged with positive glimpses of Jerusalem’s future. He pleaded with his fellow-Jews to learn from and not repeat the sins of their forefathers, while he issued warnings to the enemies of God’s people. He also shared visions of Jerusalem’s glorious future, along with a number of messianic allusions (e.g. 9:9; 12:10; 13:7; 14:9).
In the midst of these prophecies the Lord declared: “‘And it shall come to pass in all the land,’ Says the Lord, ‘That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, But one-third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (Zech. 13:8-9 NKJV).
This is clearly a messianic prophecy, as v. 7 is quoted in Matthew 26:31 and applied to Jesus. The initial focus of Christ’s earthly ministry was “the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). Although most would reject him, ultimately the Lord’s flock was much larger than the physical descendants of Abraham (John 10:16; Rom. 9:24-26). Nevertheless, the Jewish people were God’s initial flock. They were the first or “firstborn” (cf. Rom. 1:16; 2:10, 17-20; 9:4; cp. Luke 15:11-32).
In Judaism the firstborn not only had special status but greater responsibility and was therefore granted a double portion of the family’s inheritance (Ex. 4:22; Deut. 21:17). This, it seems, is the significance of “two-thirds” in Zechariah 13:8. The majority of the original flock, having been granted a double portion – a covenant with God, the law, the land, special favor (Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4-5; etc.) – rejected Christ and would then suffer the consequences (Matt. 23:37-38; Rom. 2:5).
A remnant (Rom. 9:27; 11:2-5), inclusive of Gentile believers (Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; 11:15-23), would face fiery persecution and be refined through it (1 Pet. 1:6-7), calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21; 9:14, 21; 22:16). They would be counted as the people of God “in all the land” (Heb. erets, or “earth”), beginning in Jerusalem and all Judea but ultimately throughout the world (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 15:17).
“Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Return to me,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 1:3).
--Kevin L. Moore
Related Posts: Minor Prophets (Part 3)
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