Dispensationalism and Zechariah 14
Dispensationalists—those enamored with the notion that Christ will return to the earth to establish a political kingdom over which he will reign for one thousand years—rely heavily upon Zechariah, chapter fourteen, as an important Old Testament element of the premillennial scheme. Dispensational writer Hobert E. Freeman characterizes this chapter as a description of “the destruction of Israel’s enemies, salvation of Jerusalem and the millennial reign of the Messiah over all the world from Zion.” He further states:
The prophecy of Zechariah is to the Old Testament what the book of Revelation is to the New. It is the Apocalypse of the Old Testament which portrays God’s future dealings with His chosen people Israel . . . . The book of Zechariah, especially chapter 14, stands as a continual corrective to all those theories which deny the literal, future restoration of Israel, after a period of chastening, in her own land, over whom the Messiah will reign in Zion (1968, 334-335).
Dramatically, advocates of dispensational theology allege that Zechariah 14:1-3 contains a description of the approaching “battle of Armageddon,” which supposedly will be consummated by the descent of Christ “upon the mount of Olives” (v. 4) to overthrow his enemies and to commence his millennial reign.
The truth of the matter is, Zechariah 14 has no reference whatever to a millennial reign of Christ upon the earth. The Bible indisputably teaches that the second coming of the Lord will terminate all earthly affairs (2 Peter 3:4, 10).
A Look at the Text
The prophet Zechariah foretells a coming “day of Jehovah” when the nations will be gathered against “Jerusalem” for a great battle. The horrors of the conflict are interrupted when the Lord intervenes and defends the city against the nations. The mount of Olives east of Jerusalem is rent asunder, providing a passageway of escape for the faithful. The enemies of God are punished with fearful plagues and henceforth Jerusalem dwells in safety, and from year to year the people worship Jehovah who is “King over the whole earth.”
Concerning this exciting chapter, let us note the following:
(1) How would one determine that this prophecy has to do with a “millennial reign” of Christ upon the earth? Did Jesus, during his earthly ministry, so interpret it? Did any inspired New Testament writer quote from Zechariah 14, giving it a dispensational interpretation? The answer is, “No.” There is no evidence at all that would point this prophecy in the direction of premillennialism.
Actually, New Testament writers repeatedly stress that the prophetic thrust of the Old Testament was concerning the salvation of grace (1 Peter 1:10-11) which burst into bloom with the dawning of the gospel dispensation. Peter affirmed that “all the prophets from Samuel and them that followed after, as many as have spoken, they also told of these days” (Acts 3:24). The “these days” were the days of the Christian age. The dispensational view of Zechariah 14 is arbitrary and without evidential proof.
(2) A fundamental problem with premillennial theology is its inability to discern the difference between the literal and figurative elements of the Scriptures. Much of the prophecy of Old Testament literature is couched in figurative jargon, and those who do not recognize this principle are doomed to failure in their interpretation of the text. In his classic book, Biblical Hermeneutics, Professor Milton Terry wrote: “A thorough interpretation of the prophetic portions of the holy Scripture is largely dependent upon a mastery of the principles and laws of figurative language, and of types and symbols” (1890, 313).
The Folly of Literalizing Zechariah 14
A careful study of Zechariah 14 will reveal that those who attempt to literalize the message of this chapter, as the premillennialists do, are pursuing a disastrous course of interpretation.
Consider the following:
(1) If this chapter refers to the literal return of Christ (i.e., the second coming) upon the mount of Olives, exactly who is it that will make that escape flight to the east when the mountain is cleft? It cannot be the wicked, for the Bible plainly teaches that they will be destroyed when the Lord returns (Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Moreover, it cannot be the righteous, for they will be “caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Who else, pray tell, is left?
(2) Verse eight speaks of living waters going forth from Jerusalem in summer and in winter. Since summer and winter will occur only as long as the earth remains (Genesis 8:22), and as the earth will not remain beyond the coming of Christ (2 Peter 3:4, 10), it is obvious that the events of this verse cannot transpire after the literal return of Jesus—which supposedly is alluded to in verse four.
(3) Verse twelve tells of Jehovah smiting his enemies and their “flesh” being consumed. Again, this cannot refer to a period after the literal return of Christ; the coming of the Lord will signal “the end,” at which point the dead will be raised, and the living—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye—will be changed from flesh to a new, spiritual essence. We will pass from corruption to incorruption, from mortality to immortality (1 Corinthians 15:23-24, 51-53).
Consequences Resulting from the Dispensational View of Zechariah 14
The dispensational view of Zechariah 14 strikes at the very heart of the nature of Christ’s atoning work at the cross.
Verses sixteen and twenty-one speak of those who go up to observe the feast of tabernacles, and who offer sacrifices. Again, dispensationalists literalize the language, asserting that Judaism, with all its carnality (cf. Hebrews 9:10) and animal blood, will be revived in the “millennial” age. A thoughtful writer focuses upon the weaknesses of this view:
Are these interpreters ready to accept the restoration of the Old Testament feast with its offering of animal sacrifices? During the feast of tabernacles, which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, daily offerings of animals were made by fire, 199 animals of all kinds were offered, “besides the continual burn-offering, and the meal offerings thereof, and the drink offerings thereof” (Num. 29:12-38). Among these daily offerings was “one he-goat for a sin-offering.” Jesus is our sin-offering, and if we go back to offering he-goats for sin-offerings we must reject Jesus as a sufficient offering for our sins (Lanier 1965, 633).
The Old Testament law, with its rivers of animal blood, was abolished at the cross (Ephesians 2:15-16), hence has been “taken” (erken—in the perfect tense, denoting the permanent abolition of the law of Moses) away for ever (Colossians 2:14).
Truly, dispensationalism is a Judaistic, materialistic, and infidelic system. (For more information on the implications associated with dispensational premillennialism, see our article, Examining Premillennialism.)
Whatever else the meaning of Zechariah 14 may be, it cannot be harmonized with premillennial theology. Two common views of this remarkable chapter, entertained by non-millennial scholars, are as follows:
(1) Some hold it to be a symbolic prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, together with a spread of the gospel throughout the Christian age thereafter (cf. Collins 1954, 761-763; Wallace 1960, 246-248).
(2) The better view, in this writer’s judgment, suggests that the language is a figurative depiction of the history of spiritual “Jerusalem” (the church), from the time of its commencement on the day of Pentecost throughout the Christian age (see Hengstenberg n.d., 1155-1182; Laetsch 1956, 493-506). Woudstra had a nice summary of the matter:
From the mixed character of the imagery employed, referring now to cataclysmic upheavals, now to regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem, it seems to this writer that no such literal interpretation of the passages is intended. The prophecy has in view various aspects of the gospel age with particular emphasis on its conclusion (1960, 377-378).
The millennialist view of Zechariah 14 is to be rejected summarily.
Scripture references: Zechariah 14:1-3; Zechariah 14; 2 Peter 3:4, 10; 1 Peter 1:10-11; Acts 3:24; Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Genesis 8:22; 1 Corinthians 15:23-24, 51-53; Hebrews 9:10; Numbers 29:12-38; Ephesians 2:15-16; Colossians 2:14
- Collins, G. N. M. 1954. The New Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Freeman, Hobart. 1968. An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets. Chicago, IL: Moody Press.
- Hengstenberg, E. W. n.d. Christology of the Old Testament. Vol. 2. Mac Dill, FL: MacDonald Publishing Co.
- Laetsch, Theo. 1956. The Minor Prophets. St. Louis, MO: Concordia.
- Lanier, Roy H., Sr. 1965. Firm Foundation, October 5.
- Terry, Milton. 1890. Biblical Hermeneutics. New York, NY: Eaton & Mains.
- Wallace, Foy E., Jr. 1960. God’s Prophetic Word. Oklahoma City, OK: F E W, Jr. Publications.
- Woudstra, Marten. 1960. The Biblical Expositor. Vol. 2. Carl F. H. Henry, ed. Philadelphia, PA: A. J. Holman Co.