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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.

Zechariah 12-14 consists of seven “festal” cycles, following the order laid out in Leviticus 23. But this section is the third of a three-level house. Zechariah 1-6 describes “Garden” or Sanctuary events, the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood; Zechariah 7-11 describes “Land” events, the “brother versus brother” rivalry between priesthood and kingdom; Zechariah 12-14 describes “World” events, that is, the deconsecration of Israel as a blessing for all nations in a new Melchizedekian priesthood. Just as the visions established a new Jerusalem, the prophecies describe its end.

TRANSCENDENCE

SABBATH: Zechariah 12:1-9 (Creation)

A promise of victory and rest. Just as the seven day week set the pattern for Israel’s year, so this initial sevenfold ‘week’ sets the pattern for the entire cycle.

Sabbath: The prophetic burden (maś·śā) and the authority of God (Creation/Ark)
Passover: Jerusalem as a cup of trembling (Division/Veil)
Firstfruits: The city itself as a crushing burden (ma·‘ă·mā·sāh) too heavy to lift, against whom all the Gentiles of the Land gather (Ascension/Altar & Table)1See Their Table Made A Snare.
Pentecost: God will strike horse and rider with madness and panic and blindness, as he did at Midian (Judges 7:19-23), but His own eyes will be open (Testing/Lampstand)
Trumpets: Judah’s clans set the world on fire, devouring the Gentiles (Maturity/Incense)
Atonement/Day of Coverings: Judah’s defenseless “tents” are given salvation first, not the rulers of the city (Conquest/Mediators)
Booths: The Lord will protect all those who dwell in Jerusalem, especially the weak, and destroy their Gentile attackers (Glorification/Booths/Shekinah)

Each of these seven stanzas is also sevenfold, but we will only plot the shape of the final one, in which the festal structure comes to the fore, as it does in the final cycle of 12-14:

On that day the Lord (Sabbath)
will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, (Passover)
so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, (Firstfruits)
and the house of David shall be like God, (Pentecost)
like the angel of the Lord, going before them. (Trumpets)
And on that day I will seek to destroy (Atonement)
all the nations that come against Jerusalem. (Booths)

Just as the first cycle was the entire process rolled up in a single “Sabbath” week, so the second cycle is the mourning of Passover expressed through a festal architecture. If we look closely, we can see that the entire Old Testament history and its animal sacrifices would be cut off in Christ:

HIERARCHY

PASSOVER: Zechariah 12:10-14 – Zechariah 13:1 (Division)

Sabbath: A Spirit of grace poured out (Adam to Noah)
Passover: The one pierced as an only son, (Abraham to Joseph)
Firstfruits: as a firstborn son (Moses to Samuel)
Pentecost: Mourning as great as that after the death of king Josiah (David to Zedekiah)
Trumpets: Israel as a royal priesthood, a “bridal” body: David and his grandson, Levi and his grandson, and their wives put away (Ezra to Malachi)
Atonement: A fountain opened (The Gospels & Acts)
Booths: for cleansing (The Letters including Revelation)

ETHICS

The next stanza takes us to the threefold Ethics section of the Covenant, and the theme here is Israel’s failure to “go up” and possess the Land (Day 3).

FIRSTFRUITS: Zechariah 13:2-6 (Ascension)

Transcendence: 1) Idols cut off; 2) False oaths (memorials);
Hierarchy: 3) Sabbath: uncleanness removed from the Land; 4) Father and mother;
Ethics: 5) Murder of prophets; 6) Adultery: Pierced through by false “Phinehas”;
Oath/Sanctions: 7) Theft: Adamic skins (Abel/Shem); 8) False Witness: Slavery (Cain/Ham/Canaan);
Succession: 9) Coveting House: Christ’s sufferings; 10) Coveting Contents: Betrayal of Israel.

The historical fulfilment is clearly the death of Christ on Israel’s behalf under the Law of Moses, and the division of Israel by the Gospel into Abels and Cains, that the blood of Abel might finally be avenged and the animal sacrifices cut off. This is represented as sacred architecture, working from above (head), to beside (left and right hands), to below (feet), which not only makes it cruciform, but shows that the entire pattern is contained in the original prohibition of idols of things made in heaven (above), things on the Land (beside) and things in the Sea (below) (Exodus 20:4).

PENTECOST: Zechariah 13:7-9 (Testing)

The second “Ethics” stanza describes the work of the Spirit in Pentecostal or “kingdom” terms. Both Moses and David, and possibly Paul, spent years in the wilderness learning that a true king is a shepherd (Abel) rather than a wolf (Cain), and that is the theme in the first half. The second half is also a contrast between Abel and Cain, but here the worker of the ground discovers that the true riches from the earth, as true kingdom, must be refined by the holy fire of Testing. The shift from flesh and blood to metal is the process of ascension in the Tabernacle, and fulfilled in Christ as the metallic “Tabernacle man” in Revelation 1. Also, Solomon began as a true shepherd (Song of Solomon 1:7), but his lust for kingly riches began the corruption of his heart. The two-thirds/one third judgment alludes to the previous judgment of Israel under the king of Babylon (Ezekiel 5:2) and culminated in the final judgments upon Jerusalem (James 5:3; Revelation 16:19).

Sabbath: The kingly sword awakes (Genesis/Noah)
Passover: Strike the shepherd, scatter the sheep (Exodus/Moses)
Firstfruits: God’s hand against the little ones (Leviticus: See Numbers 3:12)
Pentecost: Israel divided: Two thirds cut off (Numbers 32:13)
Trumpets: One third refined as silver and gold (Deuteronomy 28: Plunder and plagues)
Atonement: He answers when they call (Joshua 24:15: Oath)
Booths: They are His people (True Judges: Shelter for the nations)

TRUMPETS: Zechariah 14:1-11 (Maturity)

Before we look at this section we will zoom in on its first stanza, which is remarkable. The tribulation of the saints is coming to an end and the judgment of Jerusalem has begun. The center of the world’s worship has become not only a new Sodom and Egypt but also a new Babel. On behalf of the cosmos, she would be “de-created.” The allusive power of so few words here is breathtaking.

The day of the Lord (Creation – Light, Day 1)
The spoil divided (Division – Waters, Day 2)
The nations gathered around Zion (Ascension – Land, Day 3)
The city taken (Testing – Governing Lights, Day 4)
The houses plundered and women raped (Maturity – Hosts, Day 5)
Half the city exiled (Conquest – Mediators, Day 6)
The Lord fights the nations (Glorification – No Rest, Day 7)

Notice that the spoil is divided at Division/Passover and the people are divided at Conquest/Atonement. Architectural riches are always measured out in human flesh. Cultus always becomes culture.

Now we can zoom out again and take a look at the entire stanza. This brings us to one of the most perplexing statements in Scripture, the prediction that the Mount of Olives would be split into two parts. The solution is, of course, architectural.

Since the entire “ziggurat to heaven” which Israel represented served as a sacrificial substitute for all nations,2See Cosmic Language – Part 1. the prophets often used the language of Tabernacle architecture to explain Covenantal events. After the exile, Jerusalem became known as the “holy city,” and every Jew, not just the priesthood, was concerned with genealogy. The new Jerusalem was an architectural extension of the Temple, so the ministry of the city is described in terms of furniture.

Sabbath: The day of the Lord (Creation – Light)
Passover: The Mount of Olives divided (Division – Veil)
Firstfruits: The people flee as from an earthquake (or ‘land’ quake) (Ascension – Bronze Altar)
Pentecost: A perfect morning and evening (Testing – Lampstand)
Trumpets: Living waters from the old city (Maturity – Hosts)
Atonement: The entire Land turned into a plain, but Jerusalem lifted up (Conquest – Mediators)
Booths: Jerusalem inhabited, dwelling in security (Glorification – Shekinah)

Although this stanza describes the destruction of the Temple and city of Jerusalem, one image employed is that of Ebal and Gerazim, the two mountains between which Israel passed before the conquest of the Land. The blessings of the Law were sung from Gerizim and the curses from Ebal (Deuteronomy 11:29). In Matthew’s Gospel, there are seven mountains. Jesus stands upon Olivet twice, once for cursing (Matthew 24), and once for blessing (Matthew 26). After this, it seems He was crucified on this same mountain.3See Seven mountains in Matthew. James Jordan writes:

The Olive Tree is taken as a symbol of Israel, but it is quite a bit more specific than that. The Olive Tree is a symbol of the Temple of God, created by the Holy Spirit, and it is especially a symbol of the Holy of Holies…

…while Jesus was being crucified, the veil of the Temple was ripped in half from the top to the bottom. For this event to have been seen, or its effects perceived, those perceiving it would have to be due east of Jerusalem, on a line with the Temple’s doorways. Luke 23:44-47 indicates that the centurion did perceive this event. It cannot have been the darkening of the sun that shocked the centurion, for that had been going on for three hours. And it could not have been Jesus’ death, because that was an expected event, hardly unusual in the case of crucifixion. Thus, the centurion must have been standing up the slope of Olivet and been able to see westward into the Temple area. This puts the crucifixion on the Mount of Olives.4James B. Jordan, Christ in the Holy of Holies, The Meaning of the Mount of Olives.

Moreover, these “World” mountains are the final form of the two bronze “Garden” mountains in Zechariah 6:1. The cultus of the Restoration era had become culture, and its fruit would now be judged.

But what are those two bronze mountains? They are the Bronze Altar of the Temple of Solomon, which had become like the altar of Jeroboam, and would be broken down by a new Josiah (2 Kings 23:15-16). This altar was deconsecrated and split in two, or torn down, and its ashes spilled out. Just as the rocks were split and the veil torn at the crucifixion of Jesus, so now the entire mountain would be split and the “flesh” of Israel divided like the two goats on the Day of Atonement. The fragrant smoke would ascend, and the cursed ashes would be swallowed by the earth. The theme of Maturity is the ascension of fragrant clouds of smoke.

The mountain is split north to south, and the saints move from the east to the west, that is, into the sanctuary of a better Temple, a better Garden, a heavenly country. The mention of Azal possibly links this event with the “Azal” goat on the Day of Atonement. The imagery of the Temple as a humaniform house is also important, since one of the meanings of the original Temple’s bronze pillars was the legs of a glorified Adam. From the air, the Temple and Olivet together formed a giant, cruciform man standing on a holy mountain.

Notice also that the splitting of Olivet and the “de-Ascension” of Zion mirror each other in the chiasm. We must remember that the city described here is becoming a “new Jerusalem,” the one which is above, so the language is shifting from the type to the antitype, from the Jerusalem which was below, in bondage with her children, to the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4:25-26).The ascension of the new Jerusalem required the sacrificial offering of the old one. The new Jerusalem, situated in heaven, is thus unassailable.

Notice also that the earthquake and the outflow of living water match each other. The other overlay is that of the rock split in the wilderness, perhaps signifying that this was the final end of the ministry of Moses, the sacrificial offering of all Israel as a blessing to all nations.

OATH/SANCTIONS

ATONEMENT: Zechariah 14:12-15 (Conquest)

The martyrs of the Jew-Gentile “new Jerusalem” having ascended as the “first goat,” judgment is poured out upon the Jew-Gentile harlot-beast, the Herodian/Neronic power structure.

Sabbath: The Lord sends a plague (Creation – Ark of the Testimony)
Passover: to strike all those waging war. (Division – Veil)
Firstfruits:
Their flesh (Priesthood),
eyes (Kingdom)
and tongues (Prophecy) rot away (Ascension – Bronze Altar)
Pentecost: A panic falls upon the armies, Rome against Herod, then Jew against Jew (Testing – Lampstand)
Trumpets: The gathered nations are plundered (Maturity – Hosts)
Atonement: The plague also falls on the beasts (Conquest – Mediators)
Booths: The survivors will keep the Feast of Booths (Glorification – Shekinah)

SUCCESSION

BOOTHS: Zechariah 14:16-21 (Glorification)

The Feast of Booths is finally fulfilled in the worship of the nations. But the purified “Israel” under whom they shelter is the body of Christ in heaven. With the Temple and Aaronic priesthood deconsecrated, everything is now sacred. Anyone who “turns back” to the old way is cursed.

Sabbath: All the families of the earth worship the King (Genesis – Initiation)
Passover: Barrenness will fall on all nations which refuse Christ (Exodus – Delegation)
Firstfruits: Not only no rain, but also plagues (Leviticus – Presentation)
Pentecost: This is according to a new Law, under a new Covenant (Numbers – Purification)
Trumpets: Like the High Priest, upon whose turban was inscribed “holiness to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36), in this new Israel everything was sacred (Deuteronomy – Transformation)
Atonement: The sacrificial meal is now open to all who believe, not just the Levite priests (Joshua – Vindication)
Booths: The end of Canaan brings the end of all Cainite and Canaanite (Land) sin, and a new ministry to the World (Judges – Representation)

Zechariah 12-14 was fulfilled “literally” in a historical sense, but the prophecy itself is “literary,” that is, it requires a deep familiarity with the images and patterns of earlier Scriptures to be understood. The beautiful words of the prophets are not mysterious but revelatory. Under inspiration, they revealed the purpose of the dark sayings, types and symbols of the Torah, and how those architectural blueprints informed the history of Israel, right up to its tragic end.


Art: Vincent Van Gogh, Olive Grove.

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