The Last Days Summarized
7"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.
8"In the whole land," declares the Lord,
"two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
yet one-third will be left in it.
9This 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 in Zechariah 13:7-9, the Lord (thought Zechariah) gives an introduction to the final section of the book of Zechariah. This introduction summarizes the last days, which Zechariah depicts in the final section of his book. The theme of this section is "the judgment by means of which Israel will be finally purged and transformed into the holy people of Jehovah" [Baron, 473]. In the summary: the Messiah is struck down; the children of Israel are scattered, and suffer; when back in their land, two-thirds are struck down; the remnant is purified; the remnant turns to God.
This introduction to the final section prophesies first the persecution of the Messiah: "‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’ declares the Lord Almighty" (vs. 7). Here we have, in effect (since this is the prophecy of God), the divine decree that Christ would die for our sins. It was not an accident of history that Jesus died on the cross. It was part of God’s perfect plan, as evidenced by the many Old Testament prophecies that the Messiah would suffer.
The "shepherd" spoken of here is, of course, the Messiah. The Messiah as shepherd is a recurring motif in the book of Zechariah. Other symbolism in this verse indicates that the Messiah would die at the hands of authorities. "The sword is the symbol of judicial power. The taking away of life being the highest function of government, the sword, which is the instrument of violent death, was selected as the symbol of these functions. The magistrate was called one who beareth the sword (see Rom. 13:4), because he wielded judicial power. Hence the great doctrine here set forth is, that the death of Christ was a judicial act, in which He endured the penalty of that law whose penal power was symbolised by this sword of divine wrath" [Moore, 213].
Jesus came to earth as the Messiah to His own people, the children of Israel, and their rejection of Him led to the events that resulted in His death. And so, it is not surprising that they would experience affliction as a result of rejecting Him. The first adverse result was that the children of Israel were driven from their land and scattered throughout the world, as prophesied here: "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones" (vs. 7). The prophecy of the "scattering" of the sheep was fulfilled in a couple ways. First, immediately after Jesus’ arrest, His disciples scattered, leaving Jesus to suffer alone. Jesus cites this verse as being fulfilled in this way: "Then Jesus told them, ‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered"’" (Matt. 26:31). Then also, as I and many other commentators believe, this verse had further fulfillment in the general dispersion of the children of Israel from the promised land. "The scattering of the sheep must not be limited exclusively to the dispersion of the disciples on the night of Christ’s arrest, but refers to that general dispersion that should follow the death of Messiah" [Moore, 214]. The children of Israel not only were scattered physically after the Messiah was stricken, they were also, in a sense, scattered spiritually as a direct result of the death of the Messiah. The death of the Son of God is a stumbling block to many children of Israel, even in light of the many places where the suffering Messiah is prophesied in the Old Testament.
Verse 7 also succinctly predicts the suffering that the children of Israel would face as they were dispersed throughout the world: "… and I will turn my hand against the little ones" (vs. 7). Then in verse 8, the prophecy jumps to the end-times, after the children of Israel have returned to the land, when they will face great affliction: "‘In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it’" (vs. 8). Though two-thirds "will be struck down", yet, "one-third will be left." God always leaves His remnant. Isaiah prophesies similarly: "Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will return. Destruction has been decreed overwhelming and righteous. The Lord, the Lord Almighty, will carry out the destruction decreed upon the whole land" (Isa. 10:22-23). This remnant, essentially the final remnant taken from the children of Israel, will be precious to God. Yet they too will face affliction. However, their affliction will be a cleansing affliction, similar to the refining fire of silver or gold: "This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold" (vs. 9). This refining affliction will achieve its goal. It will turn the hearts of the chosen remnant toward God: "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’" (vs. 9). What a glorious day that will be! The angels will surely be rejoicing when the remnant of God’s chosen people finally turn their hearts back to God, and worship their Messiah, Jesus Christ, as Lord.