ZECHARIAH-SERIES NR 1
RETURN TO ME – Zechariah 1: 1-6
Zechariah is an exceptional prophetic book. It is very encouraging for Christians who are feeling discouraged and without a way forward. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout all the centuries can identify with the conditions that the Lord’s nation Israel experienced during the time that Zechariah and Haggai were prophets. In addition, the book Zechariah is also filled with prophetic messages pointing to the coming of Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Only Isaiah contains more Messianic references than Zechariah. A prophetic writing is (not contains) without a doubt the timeless Words of God, and definitely has a lot to say about our own day and time.
Therefore, we trust that the Lord will also use this series of studies about Zechariah to uplift and edify our congregation and everyone who listens to it.
Listen just for a moment to what the historic background was at that time. Because it helps one to better understand the content. This prophetic book did not just fall out of the sky. These are the Lord’s words spoken within a particular historical context.
Just try to form a picture in your mind about the following:
The Lord’s people Israel were for decades in Babylon in exile as divine punishment for their idolatry and ungodliness. God is not only love, He is also holy and righteous.
In the year 538 BC King Cyrus the Great granted the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple, because when Nebuchadnezzar had taken the nation into exile, he destroyed the temple, among others.
Approximately 50000 Jews returned to Jerusalem led by Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the high priest).
There were however so much opposition and aggression and indifference on the side of the people living there, that the work to rebuild the temple and city came to a stop.
The temple remained in ruins for a further 18 years. No progress was made.
Then the Spirit of God began stirring things. And where He works, things always start to happen.
In the year 520 BC King Darius was in the 2nd year of his reign as ruler of Persia. In October-November of that year the Spirit of God started to work with Zechariah (whose name means “The Lord remembers”). Actually also in Haggai and Ezra, because the three prophets were contemporaries. And the Lord made their spirit alive so that they could go to the Jews in Jerusalem to encourage and motivate them to restore the temple, and also to get their spiritual priorities in order.
The Lord therefore used these prophets to render such powerful motivation, that the people would be encouraged to complete the tiresome work of rebuilding the temple. The result of this was that the restoration of the temple was completed 4 years later (Ezra 6:15).
At this point we should bear in mind that the rebuilding of the temple was not a purpose in itself, because the temple represented the presence of God. His manifested presence was in the midst of His people – in the Holy of Holies of the temple – behind the curtain where the Ark of the Covenant stood.
The rebuilding of the temple meant therefore in a very literal sense the return of the physical presence of God amongst His covenant people. It was not about the literal building. It was also not only about the manifestation of God’s presence. It was because that city, and that temple would be the place where the Lord Jesus’s feet would eventually walk. It is THERE that Jesus had to clear the temple. THERE that the veil in the temple had to rent in two. In that city the cross of Calvary had to stand. The city and the temple simply HAD to be rebuilt – no two ways about it. Because the airplane of the Messiah was to land exactly there – to put it like that.
In the light of this historical background we can better understand why the Spirit of God seized Zechariah and Haggai to be His prophets to get the people to actively start building, and to deliver them from their fear of men and their sluggish passivity.
But we should also know that the Jews who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, were generally poor, undeveloped, demoralised, with little vigour. When they received opposition, they summarily gave up. Question is: Who or what could get them back on their feet again? Answer: Only the Lord himself – through His Spirit and the prophets as His mouthpiece. It worked miracles.
What were the very first words that the Lord put in Zechariah’s mouth to say to this demoralised people of God? At what point should their road to recovery and new life start? What should a discouraged person hear in order to pick up steam again?
Certainly not that which human logic thinks it should be!
Verses 1-6 of the first chapter of Zechariah says it starts with a realization of God’s anger and ensuing thorough repentance. RETURN he calls it. Because God was very angry, the Holy Spirit is saying in this passage.
Who would have thought that? Who would have imagined that the recovery starts with a realization of God’s wrath? Present-day postmodernist false preachers want us to believe that the Jesus of the Bible does not want people to feel aggrieved and sinful and condemned. It is not beneficial, they say.
One wonders what they do with the Apostle Paul’s pronouncement in 2 Cor 7:10 that says sorrow that God brings about, leads to salvation.
It is this kind of sorrow that Zechariah 1 is speaking of. Sorrow that is awakened in a person when you come to a realization of God’s anger.
In a nutshell, through the mouth of Zechariah, the Holy Spirit was telling the Jews, who’d returned to Jerusalem from exile but stopped with the restoration of the temple:
“The reason why your forefathers was taken into exile to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar 70 years ago, is because of God’s anger. It was God himself who had you taken into exile. It was Divine discipline as a result of your persistent idolatry. It was a result of His anger. Yes, He sent prophets to you to warn you and to call you to repentance, but you disregarded the prophets. And now? Where are your forefathers now? The preaching of those prophets has overtaken them – because everything they said, has come true: The Lord has done exactly what He’d said He would do. Don’t YOU now be unrepentant like your forefathers. Repent, and turn back to Me and I will once more dwell among you. Otherwise I will be forced to repeat the entire discipline-process”.
Therefore: The Lord’s logic works as follows: When He starts to galvanize his people into action in the Kingdom, He starts with repentance and a realization of God’s anger. No, it is not the way human logic works, but it is the way the Holy Spirit revealed it through the prophet Zechariah. Without repentance, one clashes with the anger of God and you can and will never become active in the advance of God’s kingdom. And the other way around.
The essential truths we must see are the following:
1 THE ANGER OF THE LORD IS A REALITY AND REPENTANCE IS ESSENTIAL
It is a fact that the present day postmodern preachers do not want to know, but it appears all over in the Bible. The Lord is (present tense) angry EVERY DAY with those who live wrong (Ps 7:11). Take note: He is angry with the PEOPLE and not with what they are doing. The saying one often hears is that God so-called hates the sin but loves the sinner, but there is absolutely no Biblical basis for that. On the contrary, the wrath of the Lord is directed at the PERSON who lives an unrepentant life. Look at verse 2 again: “The Lord was very angry with your forefathers”. With the PEOPLE!
The problem is that one cannot feel this reality. Therefore one can be misled to think that it does not exist. “Because I do not feel so very sinful and can’t feel an iota of God’s anger, why would I imagine that it is true? No, it is nothing but intimidation!”
Well, it IS true because God’s Word says so!
God’s Word repeatedly said so concerning the nation Israel by way of the prophets. Like Jeremiah for example. The Lord warned the people repeatedly through the prophets that they were on a road to destruction. They were very religious, but disobedient. They put their trust in false gods and false truths. They exchanged their Glory for worthless idols (Jer 2:11). They forsook the Lord, the fountain of living water, and dug their own cisterns that cannot hold water (Jer 2:13). And persecuted and hated Jeremiah and burnt his writings.
And yet the Lord’s Word was fulfilled. Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzar, and the nation was taken away into exile. That is what they received in the end for their unrepentant actions.
In the NT the anger of God is exactly as much a reality – the Lord’s constant hostility towards everything that is wicked and in contradiction with His perfect moral will.
Think of Romans 1:18 and 2:5 where the Apostle warns that God’s wrath is not only something for the future, but a present reality, and how the wicked and godless people are daily storing up wrath for the day of judgment.
The problem is that the sinner cannot deliver himself from this. Even a person’s BEST righteous acts are like filthy rags (Is 64:6). Even your good works will lead to your condemnation on the Great Day.
It is very clear that repentance is vitally important.
2 WHAT REPENTANCE IS
Return to Me (verse 3) and “turn from your evil ways and your evil practices”.
Repentance = Turn
Turn AWAY from something and TO/TOWARD something else
This is true for initial repentance, but also for continuous repentance of the already-repentant person. Keep in mind that Zechariah was talking to people who confessed their faith – they were confessing believers. “Confessing Christians” in our terms. Also for them the same definition of repentance holds good. That is exactly what their forefathers – who were also “confessing believers“ – did not want to hear, and as a result landed in exile. How many Christians are not today sitting in spiritual, emotional and psychological exile – as a result of their unrepentant hearts?
ACTIVELY TURN AWAY from everything that you know, according to God’s Word (not according to what you think and feel), would grieve the Spirit of God. As the younger son (Luke 15) had to actively rise and walk away from the pigsty. Destroy that which is of the flesh. The rage, bitterness, unforgiveness, impurity, slander, greed and idolatry. If you are living with a man or woman and are not married while you KNOW what God’s Word says about it, break with it immediately and walk away from it. Do it wholeheartedly. Do not look left or right. Don’t budge! Turn AWAY!
ACTIVELY TURN TO the Lord in His grace. You must not become a “better you”. A moralistic adjustment or two will not work. You must love and follow and serve the LORD. Think of the prodigal son again: ”I will go back to MY FATHER”. Deliverance is with the father and Him alone.
The way it is done is clearly explained in Hosea 14:2 : “Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: “Forgive all my sins, and receive me graciously “.
3 GOD’S GRACIOUS PROVIDENCE
Verse 3: “’and I will return to you’, declares the Lord Almighty”. The Lord’s anger does not burn for ever. Not for the repentant person. What earthly father or mother will remain angry at a remorseful child? Once again we see it in the attitude of the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15: when the son was still a distance away the father already ran to meet Him.
Forgiveness and acceptance and restored relationship do however NOT take place on the BASIS of human repentance and remorse. God does not forgive just because He is so kind-hearted. Indeed, He CAN NOT forgive only because He is kind-hearted towards remorseful people. He can not forgive unless His righteousness and holiness have been gratified, and the punishment for sin has been paid somewhere. A substitute took that punishment upon Himself: Jesus Christ on the cross. It is when the repentant person cast himself upon CHRIST, that God returns to that person. God’s love and his holiness meet in CHRIST! And more specifically: In the DEATH of Christ.
And how clearly is the Son of God – the Messiah – sketched so vividly in the way with which He was to deal with sin – than exactly here in Zechariah.
This Messiah will be God himself with us (Zech 10, 11). He will stand in the dock on behalf of the sinner (Zech 3:2, 8). He will remove the sin of this land in a single day (Zech 3:9). He will banish sin for ever (Zech 5). He will be both priest and king (Zech 6). He will be sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:13). He will be pierced (Zech 12:10). He will be a fountain to cleanse sin and impurity (Zech 13:1).
4 THE URGENT APPEAL
Repentance is not something you can leave till later. You do not even know IF there will be a later.
The Lord is serious about this. Three times He mentions it in these few verses, and every time He connects His Name to it = The Lord Almighty.
If you are unsaved, your unrepentant heart can cost you eternal life if the Lord Jesus’s sacrifice is regarded with contempt.
If you are already saved, unrepentance can deprive you of a lot of blessings and you can be stuck in the enslavement of you sins.
Take hold of the Lord’s promise: ”Return to Me , and I will return to you”…. (verse 3).
Translated by Marthie Wilson