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They shall look upon me whom they have pierced

October 12, 2011

Commentators have two different ways of interpreting this prophecy in Zechariah 12:10. One is to apply the prophecy in this chapter to the Jews. In this approach Jerusalem means the earthly city.

The other approach is to apply the prophecy to the Church.

John Calvin applied the prophecy to the Jews, and he said that God illuminates our minds to see his goodness. He wrote in Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 28, Lecture 161:

They shall look to me, he says, whom they have pierced. We then see here that not only an external grace or favour was promised to the Jews, but an internal light of faith, the author of which is the Spirit; for he it is who illuminates our minds to see the goodness of God, and it is he also who turns our hearts: and for this reason he adds, they shall look to me. For God, as I have already reminded you, deals very bountifully with the unbelieving, but they are blind; and hence he pours forth his grace without any benefit, as though he rained on flint or on arid rocks. However bountifully then God may bestow his grace on the unbelieving, they yet render his favour useless, for they are like stones.

Now, as Zechariah declares that the Jews would at length look to God, it follows, that the spirit of repentance and the light of faith are promised to them, so that they may know God as the author of their salvation, and feel so assured that they are already saved, as in future to devote themselves entirely to him: they shall then look to me whom they have pierced.

Calvin addressed a curious question in another lecture. He wrote in Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 29. Lecture 162:

They shall look to me whom they pierced. Was God the Father pierced? By no means; for he had not put on flesh in which he could have suffered; but this was done by his only begotten Son. Why then does the Father say, They shall look to me? the answer given is, because of the unity of the essence.

John Gill’s commentary applied the prophecy to the Jews. Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states:

…and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced; by nailing him to the tree at his crucifixion; and especially by piercing his side with a spear; which, though not personally done by them, yet by their ancestors, at least through their instigation and request;

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary notes that the person who pierced Jesus on the cross was actually Roman:

Ps 22:16 also refers to His being “pierced.” So Joh 19:37; Re 1:7. The actual piercing of His side was the culminating point of all their insulting treatment of Him. The act of the Roman soldier who pierced Him was their act (Mt 27:25), and is so accounted here in Zechariah.

Carl Friedrich Keil limited the prophecy to Jews in the Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament:

The true and full commencement of the fulfilment, however, shows itself in the success which attended the preaching of Peter on the first day of Pentecost, – namely, in the fact that three thousand were pricked in their heart with penitential sorrow on account of the crucifixion of their Saviour, and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:37-41), and in the further results which followed the preaching of the apostles for the conversion of Israel (Acts 3-4). The fulfilment has continued with less striking results through the whole period of the Christian church, in conversions from among the Jews; and it will not terminate till the remnant of Israel shall turn as a people to Jesus the Messiah, whom its fathers crucified.

John Osorius, quoted in Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, said:

We all lifted Him up upon the Cross; we transfixed with the nails His hands and feet; we pierced His Side with the spear. For if man had not sinned, the Son of God would have endured no torment.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary applies the prophecy to Jews:

At the time here foretold, the Jews will know who the crucified Jesus was; then they shall look by faith to him, and mourn with the deepest sorrow, not only in public, but in private, even each one separately.

On the other hand, an interpretation that applies the saying to every Christian is discussed in  Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary:

He is spoken of as one whom we have pierced; it is spoken primarily of the Jews, who persecuted him to death (and we find that those who pierced him are distinguished from the other kindreds of the earth that shall wail because of him, Rev. 1:7); yet it is true of us all as sinners, we have pierced Christ, inasmuch as our sins were the cause of his death, for he was wounded for our transgressions, and they are the grief of his soul; he is broken with the whorish heart of sinners, who therefore are said to crucify him afresh and put him to open shame. … Those that truly repent of sin look upon Christ as one whom they have pierced, who was pierced for their sins and is pierced by them; and this engages them to look unto him, as those that are deeply concerned for him. … This is the effect of their looking to Christ; it makes them mourn.

Jews were the subject of the prophecy according to Thomas Thomason Perowne [Haggai and Zechariah (1890), from the Cambridge Bible series, p. 128.]:

upon me whom they have pierced; unto me, R. V. The Speaker is Almighty God. The Jews had pierced Him metaphorically by their rebellion and ingratitude throughout their history. They pierced Him, literally and as the crowning act of their contumacy, in the Person of His Son upon the Cross, John xix. 37.

According to David Baron, Jewish commentators Rashi (Rabbi Solomon Bar Isaac, 1040-1105), Isaac Ben Abraham of Troki (1533-1594),  and Rabbi David Kimchi (1060-1135) in his commentary on Zechariah, have translated the passage as: “And they (i.e., the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem) shall look up to Me because of Him whom they (i.e., the nations which come against Jerusalem) have pierced.” [See David Baron. The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah. Morgan & Scott Ltd., London. 1918.]

Those who are blind to their own need for a savior point at the Jews, and claim that the prophet referred to them. I suggest that Zechariah’s prophecy refers to those who receive the gift of repentance. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” [Matthew 5:8]

To “look on Him who they pierced” is to see God in the sense that Job did, when he understood the truth, and said: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” [Job 42:5-6]

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