Every year, the Armenian Church reserves a day in its liturgical calendar to remember one of the more obscure figures of the Old Testament: the Prophet Zechariah.
Zechariah’s collection of prophecies and oracles stands among the last books of the canonical Old Testament. In its opening verse, Zechariah situates himself in time during the reign of the Persian King Darius the Great— some 500 years before the birth of Christ. It was a time when the Hebrews had returned to their ancestral homeland after the long, enforced absence of the Babylonian Captivity.
Zechariah, who seems to have descended from a priestly clan, was deeply concerned with the re establishment of a holy, Godly way of life for his people, as they reclaimed their patrimony in Jerusalem and its surrounding regions. His name means “God remembered”; but it was clearly Zechariah himself who remembered the God of his fathers in his writing, and who was trying, with a certain desperation, to awaken that memory in his forgetful countrymen.
As prophetic books go, Zechariah’s is notoriously difficult to understand. It seems to lurch back and forth unpredictably between Zechariah’s living memory, his experiences and observations, and his ecstatic visions of a future when the Messiah would arrive to right the world’s wrongs and establish his everlasting rule.
To arrive at that day, however, the world would have to undergo a painful tribulation. It was Zechariah’s view that mankind’s own degeneracy would be the spur that invited the saving intervention of God’s Messiah, and his prophetic oracles provided the vocabulary for the “apocalyptic” literature of later ages. Vivid images that we associate with the New Testament Revelation of John: the Four Horsemen and the Harlot of Babylon, find their origins in Zechariah’s powerful visions.
But these are not the only New Testament echoes of Zechariah. The Gospel writers themselves seem to have been influenced by the prophet as they set down and made sense of the life of Jesus. Consider these extraordinary parallels with some of the most famous Gospel passages:
From Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.”
Now compare that to the story of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, at Matthew 21.5-7. “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
From Zechariah 12:10: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born.”
Compare that to John 19:34-37, where the Roman centurion stabs Christ’s side following our Lord’s death on the cross: “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled:“Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
From Zechariah 11:12-13: “Then I said to them, ‘If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.’ And they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Cast it into the treasury’—the lordly price at which I was paid off by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver and cast them into the treasury in the house of the Lord.”
Compare that to Matthew 27:3-10, the account of Judas’ guilt over his betrayal of Jesus: When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
All of these examples show the Gospel writers drawing on the language of Zechariah to remind their readers that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies—even in ways, he couldn’t have controlled.
Elsewhere in the gospels, however, we see a conscious use of Zechariah by Jesus himself. On the night of his arrest, camped out with the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sadly predicted how his own friends would abandon him in his time of need. “You will all fall away because of me this night,” Christ says at Matthew 26:31; “for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”
This is a direct allusion, from the very lips of Jesus, to Zechariah 13:7: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me, says the Lord of hosts. Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered…”
In these and other Scriptural moments, we can see how an obscure, misunderstood prophet affected the life of Jesus and his contemporaries, and thus shaped the world that would arise on the Christian faith.
The deepest of Zechariah’s concerns was the purity of worship life, especially as it was exemplified in the rituals of the Hebrew Temple. His ancestors had witnessed in horror the destruction of the original Temple of King Solomon; and his immediate forebears had erected a second, less elaborate Temple when they returned to Jerusalem after their exile.
In this, Zechariah’s experience was not so different from that of the Armenian people, who at various times in their history would see their houses of worship seized and demolished; but who never gave up the hope of restoring them, and revivifying them with the music and rituals of Holy Badarak. Perhaps this is why the Armenians took the unusual step of sanctifying one day each year in Zechariah’s memory.
In his own day, however, Zechariah could only dream of such a restoration to holiness. In his writings, he laments the degraded worship life of his people. He rails against the commodification of the Hebrew Temple, where material transactions had come to displace matters of the spirit. In the last line of his prophetic book, he pictured a future time when worship would be purified, and “there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day” (Zechariah 14:21).
Though he did not live to see it, Zechariah’s long-awaited Messiah did come, to cleanse the Temple of the money changers and their wares. “Take these things away,” said Jesus (at John 2:13-16), in what is arguably another nod to the Old Testament prophet. “You shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
Ref: Christopher Zakian @ vemkar.us