The Shepherd of Zechariah 13

I’m not presently reading through the book of Zechariah, but in our Sunday Bible study we just recently finished up the gospel of Mark and in Mark chapter 14 Jesus quotes from the prophet Zechariah, saying,

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:
” ‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Mark 14:27-28

How much effort do you make to understand how the New Testament interprets and applies the Old Testament? How much do you use that example and guide for leading you in your own understanding of the Old Testament?

It is an unfortunate thing that many Christians do not read in the Old Testament and say, “What does the New Testament say about this?”

Instead, so many people read the Old Testament without even attempting to bring to bear the light of the New Testament on what they have read in any deep or consistent fashion.

In my constant harping on the centrality of Christ in Scripture I have tried to keep in sight the central over-arching aspect of this New Testament revelation, and in my recent piece, “Interpreting Ezekiel” I applied that in a more particular and extensive manner. Today I’m going to briefly bang on that drum some more.

I think that when New Testament figures quote the Old Testament modern day Christian readers often attempt to understand what the New Testament figure was saying-but without going back to the Old Testament to see how the usage by the New Testament figure informs our understanding of that particular Old Testament passage, the surrounding Old Testament text, and other parts of Old Testament Scripture.

That was my first thought on reading in Mark where Jesus quotes from the prophet Zechariah. Jesus isn’t using Zechariah out of context–he is supplying the context and meaning of what Zechariah is saying. And, with this authoritative statement about what Zechariah was really speaking about, we ought to go back and see how Zechariah is enlightened for us.

My second thought when I looked over Zechariah was how what Zechariah was saying, and the interpretive light that Jesus brought to the prophet’s words, echoed quite strongly what I had been saying regarding Ezekiel. So I thought to bring your attention very briefly to Jesus and his interpretation of Zechariah.

Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 in relation to his impending death, but to begin to understand the interpretive impact we must look at the immediate context of Zechariah 13:7-9:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who is close to me!”
declares the LORD Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered,
and I will turn my hand against the little ones.

In the whole land,” declares the LORD,
“two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
yet one-third will be left in it.

This third I will bring into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’ ”

Here we see that the stricken shepherd in Zechariah 13 is part of something larger that the prophet is saying. The act against the shepherd is tied to activity regarding the people.

Outside the interpretive understanding Christ provides on the eve of his crucifixion, one might read the passage in Zechariah and conclude it spoke about some physical battle in the historical land of Israel where the leader of the people of Israel would perish in battle and two thirds of the people along with him. On first glance that seems to be what it is talking about. But we are not left to such speculation because Christ has provided the definitive interpretation of Zechariah 13, applying it to his crucifixion and the events that follow.

From this declaration of Christ we are provided an interpretive locus, a point which provides the understanding and meaning for the rest of the statement contained in this second part of Zechariah 13.

What was the end result of the crucifixion of Christ? His resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. In short, the completion of the new covenant and the bringing to realization the new people of God. The closing statement “I will say ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’ ” echoes the language in Jeremiah chapters 30-33 regarding the new covenant, summed up in the passage of Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

And as Paul quotes Isaiah in Romans 9:

Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:
“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea,
only the remnant will be saved.
For the Lord will carry out
his sentence on earth with speed and finality.

It is just as Isaiah said previously:
“Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us descendants,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.”

(Romans 9:27-29, Isaiah 10:22,23, 1:9)

Christ informs us that the struck shepherd is himself, and the scattered sheep are his people, and from that application we understand the verses of Zechariah 13:8-9 are speaking in figurative language about the remnant of Israel that will be saved, the few that will be called as the new spiritual Israel in the new covenant of Jeremiah chapter 31. The “struck down” and the “live” speaks about the divide between spiritual death and spiritual life that comes between those who rejected Christ and those who found newness of life in Christ. I don’t think it is any accident that in Zechariah it says, “This third I will bring into the fire” when on Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down on the believers in tongues of flame. That was the beginning of the New Covenant when,

They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’

Christ presented the defining interpretation of Zechariah 13:7-9, but it doesn’t end there. Our understanding of that passage also affects our understanding of what was spoken about in Zechariah both before and after that section. Christ’s application has wide ranging implications if one stops to consider Zechariah as Jesus indicates we should.

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