Zechariah is the longest of the minor prophets and also the one most quoted in the NT passion narratives. The book can be divided into three sections: chapters 1-6, containing a series of eight visions; chapters 7-8, containing two messages; chapters 9-14, containing two oracles.
In 1:1-6, the prophet (his name means ‘Yahweh remembers’) calls the people to return to Yahweh. This is the main message of the book. From 1:7-6:8, Zechariah records a series of eight visions he saw. Following the Hebrew pattern, the climactic points are at the beginning, middle and end. (In modern storytelling, the climax is normally at the end.)
Visions one and eight are similar, both having variously coloured horses and messengers reporting peace. Visions four and five, in the middle, both have their fulfillment in Messiah. The fourth is about the then-high priest, Joshua; the fifth about the then-governor and heir to the throne, Zerubabbel. But as the Lord says in 3:8, Joshua and Zerubbabel were symbolic of things to come—they had no idea! Visions two and three both have God winning victories. Visions six and seven both have God purging sin.
In 6:9-15 the Lord’s servant, the Branch, reappears. The Branch would be a priestly king, unheard of under the law of Moses. Zechariah and his contemporaries had no idea what God was planning!
The message in chapter 7 is prompted by a question from the people on whether they should continue to fast in commemoration of the destruction of the temple (the fast of the fifth month) and the assassination of Gedaliah (the fast of the seventh month). Had they been obedient, God responded, there wouldn’t have been any need for those fasts. The obedience required of them at that time is spelled out in 7:8-10; it is exactly what God had told His people before the exile, and what He requires of His covenant people even today.
The message in chapter 8 looks ahead, not back. Yahweh burns with jealousy for Zion, and will return to Jerusalem to bring peace and security to the inhabitants whom He will rescue. This message strengthened Zechariah’s listeners to continue with the work of rebuilding the temple. The same message gives us hope of a day that is yet to come, when Messiah will reign uncontested.
As God marches towards Jerusalem He brings judgment on His enemies. His arrival in Jerusalem results in praise, peace, protection and provision. But there’s a problem: God is angry at the bad shepherds. He promises a shepherd for His flock, but the shepherd is rejected (11:4-17).
This second oracle likewise begins with the destruction of God’s enemies (12:1-14). God gives His people victory and repentance. 12:10 must have been perplexing for Zechariah’s original audience: How could Almighty God be pierced? And who is the ‘him’ that would be mourned for? Oh, they had no idea!
God promises to cleanse His people in chapter 13, but that happens at the expense of the shepherd. It is worth noting that the piercing, the opening of the fountain and the smiting of the shepherd all focus on the cross. Chapter 14 ends the book on a triumphant note, with God establishing His rule. As a result, the nations will go up to Jerusalem to worship. And all the cooking pots in Judah and even the bells on horses will be holy to the Lord (14:20-21). Come, Lord Jesus!