The Festal Structure of Zechariah 12-14

The prophecies in the final chapters of Zechariah, taken in isolation, are extremely confusing. They seem to describe, very darkly, some events which took place in the first century. Yet they also describe some things which clearly did not take place. Or did they?

The key to interpreting the prophecy is its structure. It follows a formula which is second nature to Jewish people: the process of Israel’s annual feasts. If they had their wits about them, the Jews would hear these words and be able to say, “I see what you did there.” Once they are recognised as literary art, these words are not only completely intelligible, they are also brilliant and beautiful. And terrifyingly ironic.

Jesus’ Three Ascensions

Our familiarity with the Bible is a two-edged sword. Knowing it well enables us to wield it, but it often shields us from being truly exposed to it. By this I do not mean the moral and spiritual challenges from which we benefit in our reading and our study. What I mean is that we forget how terribly eccentric this book of God actually is. Its strangest parts are like the weird uncle at family gatherings. We have become so accustomed to his idiosyncrasies that we no longer question them. Instead of asking “Why is it so?” we settle for the fact that it is simply so, and must be accepted without question. “What’s done is done.”

Daniel’s Long Shadow

The book of Daniel is itself the blueprint for a new Temple. It is a “literary ziggurat.”

…by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous… (Isaiah 53:11)

The High Priest made two approaches to the Most Holy on the Day of Atonement – one for the Head (Adam) and one for the Body (Eve), lifting the curse on the Land and the Offspring. As Israel represented all nations, so one man represented all Israel. Once a year, one man would “die” for the people.

We see the same Head-and-Body (totus Christus) structure in the book of Daniel. The first six chapters concern the Jewish head, lifted up into the court of the emperor, and the last six concern the Jewish body in subsequent history. As we see in the Creation Week, the book has a Forming (priestly) and a Filling (kingly), and ends with a promise of the Future (prophetic). Daniel’s ministry as court prophet was a microcosm of Israel’s “latter day” prophetic ministry throughout the empire. His ministry to a single empire laid the foundation for Israel’s ministry to all four empires, culminating in a fifth, the rule of Christ and His Church.

The book of Daniel is itself the blueprint for this new “social” Temple, a literary ziggurat with three stages. Each heptamerous stage becomes the first step of a larger heptamerous pattern. It has a Most Holy Place (Daniel 1), a Holy Place (Daniel 1-7) and Gentile Courts (Daniel 1-12). This ziggurat shape means that the book resembles the mountain of God in textual form, a blessing flowing from the obedience of one man in the highest court flowing through a four-cornered Altar-Land into all the nations.

Garden – Daniel 1
Land – Daniel 1-7
World – Daniel 1-12

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Garden – Daniel 1

Creation – Captivity: The glory of the Lord goes before His people as the articles from the Temple are taken to the treasure house of Nebuchadnezzar
Division – Priests: The young Judahites are taken to Babylon to be trained as Babylonian “court magicians”
Ascension – Gifts: As high priest of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar appoints three years of training, with the king’s food and wine
Testing – Miracle: Daniel and his friends refuse the food of “Egypt” and are fed miraculously by God in the wilderness. They are given new names
Maturity – Gifts: God gives them gifts of wisdom, interpretation, strength and beauty
Conquest – Priests: They are chosen to serve before the king, above all the other wise men
Glorification – Captivity: Daniel’s ministry continues until the first year of the next empire, the proclamation that brings the end of the seventy year captivity

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Land – Daniel 1-7

TRANSCENDENCE
Genesis / Sabbath
– Daniel resists the offer of kingdom without priestly obedience (Ark)
HIERARCHY
Exodus / Passover
– Daniel shelters the wise men by interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s night vision (Veil)
ETHICS (Law given, Law opened, Law received)
Leviticus / Firstfruits
– Daniel’s mighty men are offered to the flames (LAW OF MAN) (Altar)
Numbers / Pentecost – The king of kings is humbled as a beast and regains his kingdom as a man (LAW OF GOD) (Lampstand)
Deuteronomy / Trumpets – Daniel warns Belshazzar that the kingdom is about to fall. He has drunk from the Lord’s prophetic cup and been found “wanting” (LAW OF GOD’S MAN) (Incense)
OATH/SANCTIONS
Joshua / Atonement
– Daniel survives the lions’ den, and is “resurrected” from the sealed “tomb” (Priest and People)
SUCCESSION
Judges / Booths – Daniel is given a vision of the end of the Restoration Covenant era, the final Old Covenant Succession (Shekinah)

As the final verse of Daniel 1 is opened in Daniel 1-6, so the final chapter in this second section (chapter 7) is opened in chapters 8-12. Israel’s “latter day” future, her “Succession,” is revealed to Daniel.

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World – Daniel 1-12

Creation/Day 1 – The Lord establishes worship outside the garden and land in the world (Daniel 1-6)
Division/Day 2 – The world empires are revealed in a night vision as Land beasts (some with wings) carrying Israel over the Sea. The saints rule the firmament (Daniel 7).
Ascension/Day 3 – Daniel sees the conquest of Persia by Greece. This time, the empire beasts are sacrificial Land animals, a ram and a goat. The Herods exalt themselves to the heavens at the “terminal time” (Rome) and usurp the throne of the priestly “STARS” (Daniel 8 ).
Testing/Day 4 – After fasting and prayer, Daniel is shown that this second 490 years (the latter days) of the Temple would end the same way as the first 490 years (the former days), with its desolation by a Gentile flood. The Messiah would be both High Priest and sacrifice (Daniel 9).
Maturity/Day 5 – Daniel experiences “death and resurrection” at the hand of a metal man sent to reveal the last days of the Jews (Daniel 10).
Conquest/Day 6 – From Alexander the Great, the history of Greece and the Herods (Rome) is predicted (Daniel 11).
Glorification/Day 7 – There is a great “time of trouble” that brings an end to the wicked. The coming of the Word of God awakens some to everlasting life and some to everlasting contempt. The saints witness to the truth and shine like priestly STARS (Daniel 12). This “first (corporate) resurrection” brings the Old Covenant to an end.

If we do not read the Bible as literary architecture, a lot of it isn’t going to make sense. But if we do, we will find it has a disarming beauty. Here, we can see that just as individual sin becomes corporate sin, so individual holiness becomes corporate holiness. God rips a holy man open to make a holy place, a shelter for others. As the man becomes a Holy Husbandman, so the barrenness and trouble of Eve is removed (Genesis 3). The entire restoration era rested upon the foundation of Daniel’s faithfulness, a life which began with a simple refusal to compromise in a day of “small things.” The long shadow of Daniel is a robe, a flowing train, of righteousness, which resulted in the construction of a Bridal city. God is faithful in transforming a life of faithful witness into a legacy that benefits many generations.


If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.