Visions in the night
“During the night I had a vision—and there before me was a man riding a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown, and white horses. I asked, ‘What are these, my Lord?’” (Zechariah 1: 8-9)
The name Zechariah means “the Lord remembers,” and he is fittingly called the “prophet of hope.” No other Old Testament prophet spoke more fully of the coming Messiah, or of His kingdom. Few Old Testament books contain a clearer picture of Christ’s first coming or of the events associated with His triumphant return. Much of the book of Zechariah consists of visions. These visions appear hard to interpret. However, each vision conveyed a message to Zechariah’s community and they convey a message to Christians today.
Some 50,000 Jewish people lived in the tiny province of Judea. When Cyrus of Persia overthrew the Babylonian Empire, they were given permission to return to their ancient homeland. They had been in Judea for close to 20 years when Zechariah began to minister. Their religious enthusiasm was stirred to complete the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. They were small in number but they had great hopes. According to God’s promises, Jerusalem would be the center of the world, the capital of the Messiah destined to establish a worldwide kingdom of righteousness and peace.
Following a series of night visions, Zechariah encouraged this hope. But at the same time, he warned the small community of Jews that there would be centuries of Gentile domination before that hope would be realized.
Lessons learned from Zechariah and His Visions
The Man Among the Myrtle Trees
“Return to Me…and I will return to you,” (Zechariah 1:1-4). Zechariah began his ministry with a lesson from history. God had urged earlier generations to turn to Him and away from their “evil ways and practices.” They had refused. Because they rejected the Lord, Israel and Judah had fallen. Zechariah warned his generation: “Do not be like your forefathers.” “How long will You withhold mercy?” (Zechariah 1:7-17). The first few verses of Zechariah look backward, but the rest of the book looks to the future. Lessons from the past can serve as a warning, but we are more motivated by a future that holds bright prospects.
Lesson #1 Evil ways and practices have consequences. Someone has said that experience is the best teacher. But how much easier for us to learn this lesson from the experience of others rather than actually going through it ourselves. How many other civilizations of the past have fallen due to ungodly practices?
The riders in Zechariah's vision had scouted the nations and found them at peace. This was not good news because the Gentile world powers had to be overthrown before Messiah's kingdom could be established. God did not want His people concerned about "when" the Messiah's kingdom would be established. What He wanted them to be certain of is that He would "triumph."
Lesson #2 Christians are to build their lives on the certainty of God’s ultimate triumph, without being concerned about when it will take place. Jesus may return in our lifetime, He may not. Knowing exactly when the Lord will return should not be what motivates Christians to serve Him. It is knowing for sure that His coming will definitely take place.
Four Horns and Four Craftsmen
The four horns are world powers that will dominate Jerusalem, as in Daniel 7 and 8. The workmen represent historic forces that operate to throw down each in turn, as history marches toward God's triumphant conclusion. When Zechariah spoke, Judea was a tiny district in one of 120 provinces in the vast Persian Empire. Yet one day Judah and her capital, Jerusalem, were destined to become the center of the world! What gave the exiles hope was certainly not present blessings as the Holy Land was then a barren wasteland. What gave the exiles hope was the vision of what the Holy Land would become.
Lesson #3 We may not have much cause for pride or confidence in our current situation. But when we look ahead, and remember God’s promises, we will overflow with confidence! What gives Christians hope is the vision of what we will be—as Christ continues His work in us and the certainty of His return.
The Surveyor with a Measuring Line
In this vision, Zechariah saw a man with a measuring line go and measure Jerusalem to find out its length. An angel came up and told the angel talking to Zechariah, "Run, tell that young man, 'Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,' declares the Lord, 'and I will be its glory within'" (Zechariah 2:4-5). What an incredible prophetic statement since Zechariah was seeing his visions and giving his messages to the returning exiles of Israel who were in the process of building a wall around Jerusalem.
Lesson #4 The vision was showing that there would be a Messianic day when Jerusalem would grow to vast proportions and not need a wall because of God's protection. Never has this vision been fulfilled, except in the past 100 years. We see here a demonstration of God's future blessing on restored Israel.
Clean Garments for the High Priest
Zechariah was given another vision in which the angel calls the men in it "symbolic of things to come." (Zechariah 3: 1-10). When Messiah comes and renews the priesthood by taking up His own priestly ministry, God's people will at last be secure. This symbolism holds implications for God's children today as well.
Lesson #5 For any human being to know God’s peace, he or she must be cleansed by God and clothed in His righteousness. Then, as we walk in His ways, we will have assured access to the Lord and the power to live holy lives.
The Gold Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees
Zechariah's fifth vision teaches dependence on the Holy Spirit, the One who enables us to to live holy lives until the Messiah's return. The vision was directed to Zerubbabel, the governor and a descendant of the line of David. Judea at that time seemed insignificant and powerless. But the Lord reminded the governor that progress is made. "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," says the Lord Almighty. (Zachariah 4:6)
Lesson #6 In all we do, we are to rely not on our own might or power, but on the Spirit of God. If we serve in His strength, nothing that we do for the Lord will be a “small insignificant thing.” God will use even the smallest thing that we do for Him in a great way.
The Flying Scroll
The scroll that Zechariah saw had God''s commandments written on it. It was called a "curse" because violation of the commandments brings punishment. Where is the message of hope?
Lesson #7 When the guilty are punished, the innocent in the community are safe. When those who do wrong go unpunished, soon no one is safe. Modern society can only be safe when its laws are rooted in God’s commands and when those laws are enforced.
The Woman in the Basket
Wickedness, personified as a woman, is carried off to Babylon. See the reversal here? Earlier the people of Judah had been carried off to Babylon because of their wickedness. Here we see evil itself being taken away from God's people and sent to Babylon.
Lesson #8 We can hold onto wickedness and suffer terrible consequences. Or, we can let the Lord bind the evil in our hearts and isolate us from its power. The Holy Spirit can do in our hearts what Zechariah predicted He will one day do for His people, Israel.
In Zechariah's final vision war chariots manned by heavenly warriors set out in every direction. The pronouncement of rest (Zechariah 6:8) suggests the final victory of God. Following the final vision, Zechariah was told to make a silver and gold crown and to crown Joshua, the high priest, representing the "Branch," a common term for the coming Messiah. This crown is not a normal priest's headdress, but a royal crown.
Lesson #8 The promises God has made to His people will be carried out, but only by the Messiah, who in Himself will unite the offices of both Priest and King.
Zechariah 1 – Not soon, but Certain
Zechariah 1 reminds us that God expects us to be satisfied with “certain.” We are even to be satisfied with “not soon….but certain.” After seeing the first vision Zechariah, the prophet begged God to tell him, “How long will You withhold mercy from Jerusalem?” God made a binding promise. “I will return to Jerusalem with mercy.” God’s commitment to do good to His people is certain. (Zechariah 1: 7-17).
Zechariah had to be satisfied with God’s timing. God had promised and His promises would be fulfilled. It would not take place soon, but it was certain. There are times when we have to live with the “not now” answer to our prayers. You need help; you are hurting, fearful, you desire a change in your marriage, your spouse, your children or yourself. You beg for God to meet your needs. Sometimes answers to prayers are delayed. We get impatient. We want results now! The next time you feel impatient because it looks like your prayers are not being answered….think about God’s message to Zechariah. God’s Word to us is often the same. “Not soon, but certain.” Focusing on the “not soon” will only cause you anxiety. But focusing on the “but certain” will give you peace. No matter what your circumstances may be, God is committed to doing good for His children. Of this we can be certain and sure.