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Preaching on Zechariah

An overview of the historical background and theology of Zechariah to help you develop your sermon series and apply it to your hearers.
Preaching on Zechariah
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Historical Background

Zechariah’s ministry spanned four decades. His first recorded message took place between Haggai’s second and third messages (Oct./Nov., 520 BC, Zech. 1:1-6). His eight “night visions” (1:7-6:8) occurred four to five months later (February, 519 BC), and sermons on repentance and blessing (Zech. 7-8) two years after that (518-17 BC). Then there appears to be a gap of 40 years—a Jewish generation—with his final visions (Zech. 9-14) occurring after 480 BC.

Zechariah was a part of a group of 50,000 returnees to the land under their new governor Zerubbabel after their 70-year exile to Babylon (see Ezra 1-6). Cyrus the Great permitted them to return (see Isa. 45:1-7) and encouraged them to rebuild their Temple to Yahweh, as Persian foreign policy sought to gain the favor of all the gods of the peoples in their empire, covering all their bets.

As the contemporary of the prophet Haggai, their books should be read together, along with the first six chapters of Ezra, to help grasp the context. The two prophets are mentioned together in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14. The personalities and callings of Zechariah and Haggai mirror what we often see in our ministries, where you have two highly gifted individuals but with very different gifts and burdens. They deal very differently with the same spiritual realities. The Spirit illumines each to see a different set of needs that must be addressed for spiritual health to prosper. One is not right and the other wrong, but they do exist in tension (like the gift of faith and the gift of administration).

They returned to a totally devastated city and country—think of New Orleans after Katrina, only let it remain untouched and unrepaired for an additional 70 years! The Babylonians were thorough in their destruction, hardly leaving one stone on top of another. What would happen to the street where you live if houses were wrecked and burned and it were then deserted for 70 years? What would you find when you returned? How would former houses, yards, farms, and fields appear?

No economy, trade, or markets existed, no working farms for food, no infrastructure, no military or police, no government services, and no Temple or city wall. Just wreckage—piles and piles of it, overgrown with weeds, brush, and trees. Wild animals and vermin all would have taken over. Plus, everywhere were the skeletons of unburied bodies (Jer. 16:4), bones dragged everywhere by predators which gnawed on them left behind after the final Babylonian siege. There was no time to bury them before the survivors were marched off into exile. It is no exaggeration to call it an early holocaust, with a similar emotional impact on the first returnees who saw it and had to clean it up.

The tasks they faced were overwhelming, even with an army of motivated people. Again, think of post-hurricanes Harvey or Katrina, but with no bulldozers, lumber yards, or Home Depot. The returnees started rebuilding quickly because they had to, including laying the foundation of the Temple. But then the Samaritans (a people resettled in the Northern Kingdom of Israel by Assyria two centuries earlier) offered to help.

It is hard to know the Samaritans’ motives, whether the offer was honest or duplicitous—but the Jews refused the offer. Men like Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah knew Israel’s history and the impact of integrating with idolatrous peoples that surrounded them. The Samaritans were highly insulted by the rejection though, and they became an ongoing threat politically and militarily, creating the resentment that continued into Jesus’ day. Exactly what that looked like, again we are not sure, but we get some sense of it in Nehemiah’s day (445-44 BC), when he had the workers on the city wall equipped with both trowel and sword because of the threat. Their threat discouraged/frightened the people enough to stop their work on the Temple in the early days.

Their anxiety was legitimate, due to extreme vulnerability. They were in a dozen different kinds of danger all the time. That kind of anxiety is a fertile field for a creative communicator to plant seeds, both then and now. God enables Zechariah to see and report on “things that are unseen,” not dissimilar to Elisha praying his servant’s eyes to be opened to see that “those who are with us are greater/more than those who are with them” (2 Ki. 6:11-19). Vulnerable people need to understand how God is protecting them, and that he knows what is going on with them, even when their circumstances look bleak.

God thus gives the prophet Zechariah a dovetail task to the prophet Haggai (whose message was about task-oriented priorities). Zechariah’s message is about security, that highest level of need on Lazlow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.” If people do not feel secure or safe, if they experience vulnerability, fear, and anxiety, then their priority becomes self-protection.

Sermon Series

The three sections of Zechariah (Ch. 1-6; 7-8; 9-14) should probably be separated when preaching, as they each have their own purpose. Another possibility is to preach “The Amazing Verses of Zechariah” as there is approximately one very familiar verse or passage per chapter (on a variety of topics) that could be done as a summer series if they were set in their context.

However, if you preach through the book, a sermon series on the first section, Zechariah’s “night visions” (Ch. 1-6) to the battered, frightened group of returned exiles to whom he spoke could be titled: God’s Protection from Unseen Dangers; or God’s Ultimate Security System; or God Secures Our Present and Our Future; or When You Feel Vulnerable.

The second section (Ch. 7-8) comes two years later where God reveals to a delegation sent from a resettlement of Bethel why he has not responded to their corporate fasting in the fifth and seventh months. It is because they have made a division between their religious and their moral practices, similar to Isaiah 58:1-6, “the fast God chooses.” God explains how his discipline and even wrath came because the Israelites separated their religious and moral lives, just as modern believers often experience severe cultural pressure. The culture doesn’t mind if we “practice our religion” in private, they just don’t want it interfering with our business or political decisions. God makes sure they understand that those who truly believe in him do not have that option and gives them a history lesson in why he sent the previous generations into exile.

Possible series (or sermon) titles for this second section are: Making It Real; or Permeating Truth; or How to Eliminate Hypocrisy; or Taking Truth Past the Parking Lot.

The third section (Ch. 9-14) is highly Messianic, with some of the most wonderful and well-known prophecies about both the First and Second Coming of the Messiah. It could be an Advent series on Getting Ready for the King; or focus on leadership qualities prophesied of Christ How to Recognize a Great Leader. One striking feature is the repeated phrase “on/in that day,” seventeen times in Chapters 12 and 14. Chapter 12 is focused on the First Coming of Messiah and Chapter 14 on his Second Coming.

Overview of the Sections
Text: Zechariah 1-6
  • Summary: After a sober warning to start the book (1:1-6), Zechariah is given eight visions covering different facets of the protection God provides from unseen dangers.
  • Need/Situation: The returned exiles were as vulnerable as they could be, with dangers on every side and no walls, economy, or infrastructure to protect them.
Text: Zechariah 7-8
  • Summary: Zechariah reminds them of their not-so-good history and what God seeks from them.
  • Need/Situation: A delegation was sent to find out why months of “fasting” did not seem to “work” to gain God’s favor.
Text: Zechariah 9-14
  • Summary: A breathtaking view of future (to Zechariah) Jewish events, primarily related to Messiah’s comings (alternating First and Second Coming), who is identified by a number of titles.
  • Need/Situation: For people digging out of the ruin sin caused in their culture, hope of a better future—centered on Messiah—is profoundly motivating and gives meaning and purpose to their efforts.
519 BC, Zechariah 1-6, The Eight Visisons of Protection from Unseen Dangers
Text: Zechariah 1:1-17
  • The Vision: The Night Patrol of Angelic Watchers and the Cry for Compassion on Jerusalem
  • The Danger and God’s Protection: Israel had no military, no walled cities, no police, nothing to protect them from anyone or anything that wished them ill. But God is quietly watching over her and will have compassion on her.
Text: Zechariah 1:18-21
  • The Vision: The Four Horns (Human Empires) and Angelic “Craftsmen” Who Reshape Them in Support of the Jews
  • The Danger and God’s Protection: The “powers that be” (old empires and those on the rise) all might have designs on the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, but God will sovereignly “shape” them to be supportive.
Text: Zechariah 2:1-13
  • The Vision: The Young Man with a Tape Measure to Measure Jerusalem
  • The Danger and God’s Protection: Will Jerusalem measure up? “Measuring lines” had been used to measure how far short they fell before the exile. God declares he will now be a “wall of fire” around her.
Text: Zechariah 3:1-10
  • The Vision: The High Priest Is Found Totally Defiled and Unfit before God, Who Graciously Cleans Him Up and Makes Him Fit
  • The Danger and God’s Protection: We have an Adversary before God that accuses “day and night” those who minister—and the accusations are valid! But God cleanses and removes the iniquity of those who mediate for Israel.
Text: Zechariah 4:1-14
  • The Vision: The Menorah and the Two Olive Trees
  • The Danger and God’s Protection: God takes responsibility for supplying what leadership needs to overcome the obstacles they face, and it will be “not by might nor by power.”
Text: Zechariah 5:1-4
  • The Vision: A Flying Scroll Written on Both Sides
  • The Danger and God’s Protection: Two hidden sins (lying and thievery) can eat the heart out of a culture seeking to rebound spiritually. God will seek out and deal with both.
Text: Zechariah 5:5-11
  • The Vision: Flying Women with the Basket Containing “Wickedness”
  • The Danger and God’s Protection: “Wickedness” is symbolized as a feral woman who gets removed from Israel and taken to Persia where she is enthroned.
Text: Zechariah 6:1-15
  • The Vision: Patrolling Chariots and the Promise of the “Branch” Who Unites the Royal and the Priestly Lines
  • The Danger and God’s Protection: Zechariah finishes his visions the way he started, with angelic patrollers among the strong empires. But Israel has someone coming who will unite the roles of King and Priest to lead them into the future.
518-517 BC, Zechariah 7-8, History and Hope
Text: Zechariah 7
  • Title: Never Forget Your Painful Lessons!
  • Exegetical Idea: Though restored, Israel needs to remember the things that caused their national pain.
  • Big Idea: Learn from your journey, however tough!
Text: Zechariah 8
  • Title: Becoming a ‘People of Truth’
  • Exegetical Idea: The restoration and shalom God provides is complete and positively impacts every part of life.
  • Big Idea: Nothing is more attractive to a watching world than believers who live out what they believe.
480 BC, Zechariah 9-14, ‘The Ultimate Prophecies,’ The Comings of the Shepherd-King
Text: Zechariah 9
  • Title: Ultimate Leadership
  • Exegetical Idea: God deals severely with the leaders of the nations who exalt themselves, but protects his people and enthrones his King, who comes humbly. (First Coming)
  • Big Idea: In God’s sight, the way up is down.
Text: Zechariah 10
  • Title: Ultimate Provisions
  • Exegetical Idea: God leads his people back and provides whatever his people need to face their future victoriously. (Second Coming)
  • Big Idea: Follow God closely through the path of distress.
Text: Zechariah 11
  • Title: Ultimate Wastes of Time and Money
  • Exegetical Idea: God assigns Zechariah to be a shepherd of a “doomed flock,” when favor and union are lost in Israel. (First Coming)
  • Big Idea: Don’t follow “foolish” leaders.
Text: Zechariah 12
  • Title: Ultimate Devastation and Salvation
  • Exegetical Idea: As Israel and Jerusalem become the center of international conflict, God pours out his Spirit and opens their eyes to see their true Messiah. (Second Coming)
  • Big Idea: Give us the Spirit to trust Jesus in our turmoil.
Text: Zechariah 13
  • Title: Ultimate Cleansing
  • Exegetical Idea: God “opens a fountain” to cleanse his people by “striking his Shepherd” and warns them about listening to the wrong people. (First Coming)
  • Big Idea: We get clean and stay clean by listening and responding to truth.
Text: Zechariah 14
  • Title: Ultimate Victory
  • Exegetical Idea: The great final battle is fought in Jerusalem, and Messiah returns and “melts” the opposition. The awesome prophecy ends with the tinkling of holy bells and the smell of holy cooking. (Second Coming)


Israel had learned hard lessons as a result of the Babylonian Exile. Nothing that God did in sending them there should have been a surprise. God made the covenantal consequences of idolatry crystal clear in Deuteronomy 28-29. The Deuteronomy scroll had been found in the generation before the exile under the reign of Josiah, and that godly king realized the implications when it was read to him and tore his robes in grief.

But the ruin that Nebuchadnezzar wrought on Judah’s cities, Temple, and people, and the seventy-year exile burned idolatry out of the hearts of a large segment of the Jewish captives. Idolatry was crammed down their throats in Babylon! Daniel illustrates how the Babylonians did this, requiring everyone to bow to their gods and threatening those who didn’t. Ziggurats, like mountains, towered over the visual landscape, and every clay brick on the bricked highways was stamped with “To the Glory of Marduk.”

The exiles were thus reminded of their idolatry and called to repentance and a return to covenantal faithfulness by men such as Ezekiel and, later, Ezra. The commitment of heroes like Daniel in the face of enormous pressure would have inspired them. Many returned to their covenantal commitments to God over those seventy years. The synagogue became the center of Jewish life and culture and the center of Scripture study while in exile. It still is in many places, but it all started in Babylon.

I believe it is always best for preachers to immerse themselves into the context of the biblical author, to become an audience member listening to them to sense their issues. The post-exilic prophets had a unique cultural/religious context in that devastated country to which they spoke. To grasp this, modern preachers should use their imaginations to “breathe the post-exilic air, smell the post-exilic smells, see the post-exilic sights, and swat the post-exilic flies.” Zechariah prophesied over a period of twenty years and things changed from beginning to the end of that period, both in Israel and in the surrounding countries. A preacher must have a sense of those transitions.

The more deeply one immerses into the cultural context of post-exilic Israel, the more clearly one sees applications and touchpoints within our own cultural context. They were a people, a community, a culture, and a country under threat with little infrastructure to provide security. The devastated surroundings produced a continual sense of insecurity as well as a mixture of sorrow and grief (for what they had lost as a people). Zechariah provides a God-given message of security and hope for the future.

Again, the final chapters (9-14) make a great Advent series, alternating as they do between the First and Second Comings.

Theological Themes

The key to Zechariah is the vulnerability of the exiles who have returned to their ruined country. They have little or no security, that highest of needs in Lazlow’s Hierarchy. One of the great themes of the Scripture is God as our “Keeper” (shomer). That theme begins in Genesis 2 where God defines Adam’s responsibilities to “cultivate and keep” the Garden. Things take a turn in Genesis 4 when Cain, after murdering Abel, asks God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Psalm 121 expresses some of the many ways God keeps his people. Zechariah focuses in on some of the ways God keeps his people from the dangers they don’t see.

In the light of that fundamental theological truth, here are some specific theological themes of Zechariah.

The Doctrine of God

The sovereignty of God comes through the book powerfully. He is in control and watching over every detail of their lives to keep them safe in a very unsafe world, cleansing them and supplying their needs. He facilitates their leaders, and describes their immediate and distant future, both its challenges and their ultimate victory under Messiah.


Zechariah is filled with prophetic “indicators” of the unique ministry and character of Messiah as Sacrifice, Priest, and King, as well as specific references to his Incarnation and Second Coming, especially in Chapters 9-14. He is often referred to as “Branch,” an indication of his human roots.

The Holy Spirit

Zechariah was given one of the great OT verses about the nature of the Spirit’s ministry in 4:6, a message to the governor Zerubbabel in the face of serious obstacles to his leadership: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” He is also identified as “the Spirit of grace and of supplication” when he is “poured out” on the inhabitants of Judah and city of Jerusalem, convicting them of their part in Messiah’s sacrifice and leading them to repentance (12:10).


There is much about the Final Battle (Chs. 12-14) when the nations surround Jerusalem and Messiah comes to take his stand on the Mount of Olives (14:3-4) to fight for them, something alluded to in the “Olivet Discourses” of the Synoptics as well as Revelation. The Jews take Zechariah’s promise seriously (and literally), burying their dead all over the Mount of Olives that they might be the first to meet him when they are resurrected. But that will not be before they “look upon me, the One whom they have pierced, and weep for him as one weeps for an only son” (12:10). The change in pronouns is profound.

The Gospel

The gospel is woven through Zechariah, as God’s redemption, cleansing, and forgiveness get expressed through the visions of both the present and the future. We are all “brands plucked from the burning” (3:2), combustible material whom God graciously saves from the fire, and cleanses through no merit of our own (3:3-5) and prepares us for good works alongside the One known as “the Branch” (3:6-10). After the great revelation and mourning for “the One Whom they have pierced,” (12:10) God will “open a fountain for … sin and impurity” (13:2).

My Encounter with Zechariah

I “read” Zechariah through the years but avoided studying it because many of its images and visions just seemed weird to me and it was difficult to discern modern personal applications. But I used to tell my “Bible Study Methods” students at the seminary that “Any time you open the Scriptures with a responsive heart, God will feed you Vanilla Wafers. Vanilla Wafers are good. I like Vanilla Wafers. But the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut cookies, warm from the oven, are on the upper shelf. God reserves those cookies for those who wrestle with difficult passages of Scripture and don’t give up until he imparts their meaning.” The truths and principles of Zechariah are not on the lower shelf.

I came to Zechariah with fear and trepidation. I immersed myself in it for over a year. It did not take long for my attitude to change as I got to know this amazingly sensitive man whom God called to speak to his people at a crucial, dangerous, vulnerable time in their history. I grew to flat-out love him, and I have put him at the top of my list of people with whom I want to spend time in the Kingdom! I don’t think there will be a long line outside his door.

In our day of political division, spiritual danger, and turmoil, both here and around the world, believers need to know how God’s sovereignty works to protect and secure them in unseen ways, whichever way the political wind blows. This doesn’t mean life won’t be hard and scary at times, but God’s patrolling angelic army knows how vulnerable we are and is ever watching over us to keep us. Plus, those in ministry may struggle with sinful habits that we feel cover us with excrement and render us unfit for our calling, but we serve a Lord who can and will clean us up from the most offensive things and make us fit for service again.

Maybe you will join me in line outside Zechariah’s heavenly home. He is one interesting individual.


David Baron, Zechariah: A Commentary on His Visions & Prophecies (Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 2001).

Mark J. Boda, Zechariah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).

Eugene H. Merrill, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Exegetical Commentary (N.L.: Create Space, 2014).

Kenneth Quick is Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology at Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Greenbelt, Maryland. Previously, Ken was a Senior Pastor for 23 years. He now serves as Director of Consulting for Blessing Point Ministries.

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