We have come at last to the final chapter of Zechariah’s final oracle, the most prophetic and profound (and for many scholars, puzzling) of the prophet’s visions.
Chapter 14 picks up the prophecy of world events where Zechariah had left off, with the Battle of Armageddon.
“And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”God to the prophet, Zechariah 12:9 (NRSV)
Only now, the prophet would add some more details of that Great and Terrible Day of the Lord. God will gather the nations, but world leaders will think it is their own idea.
See, a day is coming for the Lord, when the plunder taken from you will be divided in your midst.
For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.Zechariah 14:1-3 (NRSV)
- Jerusalem will be taken.
- The houses plundered.
- The women raped.
These were all grim casualties of war in that ancient day, the expected forfeiture of the defeated foe. It is hard for us today to imagine what deadening of the soul is necessary for soldiers to do such things to an already subjugated people, or what trauma the victims endured.
As Zechariah gazed at that devastation, in the vision God had given him, his heart must have been crushed. To his eyes, and certainly in the eyes of those future conquerors, the nations arrayed against the people of God will think they have won. Then the Lord will go out and fight for His people.
On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward.
And you shall flee by the valley of the Lord’s mountain, for the valley between the mountains shall reach to Azal; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.Zechariah 14:4-5 (NRSV)
It is a heart-stopping scene!
This is one of many bewildering predictions in Zechariah’s final oracle. What does it mean? What did the prophet see? Scholars are not of one mind on this, for it touches on how the end of time is understood. However, if God was revealing the last things to Zechariah, then this is how some (including me) read this passage.
The Lord Jesus is going to return in exactly the way He was taken up into heaven.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
“you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
“This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”Acts 2:6-11 (NRSV)
The last place Jesus’ feet had stood was on the actual Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Note what the heavenly messengers told those gathered, watching Jesus ascend into heaven—the last place Jesus’ feet stood would be the first place Jesus’ feet would touch when He returns.
Mark’s gospel corroborates this report. When Jesus was prophesying concerning the end of time, He said,
“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
[Quoting Isaiah 13:10, 34:4]
Then they will see ‘the Son of [Humanity] coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.Mark 13:24-25 (NRSV)
Jesus had already made a previous reference in that gospel to His return, saying, “The Son of [Humanity] . . . will come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Matthew’s gospel also confirms Jesus’ prophecy, perhaps speaking of this very scene in Zechariah’s vision, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of [Humanity] coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory.” Luke’s gospel remembered these words of Jesus as well.
As it happens, there is a long fault line that runs from Lebanon to the Gulf of Aqaba, called the Jordan Valley Fault, with the Dead Sea situated well below sea level. Moreover, active fault lines run throughout Israel due to how the tectonic plates fit together all along this Dead Sea Rift that runs the full length of Israel.
According to Zechariah, then, when Jesus’ feet touch the Mount of Olives, there will be a massive earthquake—in fact, half the mountain will go north, and the other half will go south, creating a new valley. It will be into this new, sheltered basin where the Israelites will find escape from the escalating war.
Along with Jesus will be the redeemed in the Lord, the holy ones, whom many believe will be the resurrected saints. When nineteenth century Bible scholars were trying to piece together all the prophecies concerning the end of time events, many came to believe that Jesus would gather to Himself all His own in an event that came to be known as the Rapture. The apostle Paul described this event in two of his letters.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.
For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.
—For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven,
—and the dead in Christ will rise first.
—Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air;
and so we will be with the Lord forever.1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 (NRSV)
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
—For the trumpet will sound,
—and the dead will be raised imperishable,
—and we will be changed.
For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.1 Corinthians 13:51-53 (NRSV)
Having been made like Christ, glorified, these holy ones will be so beautiful they will hardly be recognizable, just as Jesus was after His resurrection.