Michael J. Vlach on Zechariah 14:1–9
In Zechariah 14:1, Jerusalem’s spoil is divided up in her midst. The spoil is her possessions, and prophecy is one of the things given to the church, which many have treated as if it were a spoil. Dr. Michael J. Vlach discussed Zechariah 14:1-9 in his post, Zechariah 14 and the Timing of the Kingdom. In this prophecy, Zechariah described the mount of Olives being cleaved in the midst, and the two sections of the mountain moving apart, in opposite directions.
Vlach denies that the subject of the prophecy of Zechariah 14 is the church. But the name Jerusalem is applied to the church in the New Testament. Jesus said it is “the city of the great king.” [Matthew 5:35] In 1 Peter 1:1-12, the apostle Peter said the prophets ministered “not unto themselves, but unto us.” Perhaps the armies that Zechariah described, who come against the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, include those who misinterpret prophecy.
Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
On these verses Vlach commented:
God says “I will gather” which indicates that what is to take place is in accord with His sovereign plans and initiative.
We also see that “the nations” will be coming “against Jerusalem.” Note that “nations” here is plural which means the attack involves several nations, not just one.
The city being attacked is “Jerusalem.” This means that the city of Jerusalem has important significance to God. The consequences of this attack upon Jerusalem initially are awful—the city is captured; houses are plundered; women are taken advantage of; and half the city is exiled.
Since Zechariah said all nations, he must have meant more than several; surely, it includes people from every nation on earth. In Zechariah 12:3, the whole world is involved in the siege of Jerusalem: “And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.” The statement in Zechariah 14:2, “I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle,” must refer to the same event. These are universal in scope, but Vlach does not admit that all the earth’s population could be involved in an assault on Jerusalem, because his doctrine claims the prophecy applies to a military siege of the earthly Jerusalem. He knows it would be impractical, and absurd, to claim that every nation on earth will travel to the earthly city. But because Christians are scattered in all parts of the earth, and the gospel has gone to all the world, and to every nation, the opposition of men to the gospel, and to Christ’s rule, is a reality today. The prophet describes the spiritual state of men, and is fulfilled in a spiritual sense. Denying that all nations are involved wrests the scripture, but to deny that all nations are involved, and also claim to have a literal interpretation, reeks of hypocrisy.
If “all nations” has any meaning at all, it must mean all humanity, which eliminates the earthly city as the subject. I suggest Zechariah’s prophecy describes the spiritual desolation of the heavenly Jerusalem, the church. Christians have long been captive to tens of thousands of sects, cults, and denominations, and there are countless “isms” by which they are seduced; women “ravished” alludes to the influence of false teaching; in 2 Corinthians 11:3, the apostle Paul wrote: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
According to verse 3, “the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations.” This indicates that the terrible calamity upon Jerusalem is temporary and not permanent. Jerusalem is attacked and wounded, but only for a time. The Lord comes to Jerusalem’s defense.
Verse 4 states that the LORD’s feet “will stand on the Mount of Olives” in front of Jerusalem on the east side. And the Mount of Olives “will be split in its middle from east to west.”
Jesus often stood upon the mount of Olives during his ministry, and in particular, it was there that he gave the prophecy called the Olivet Discourse to his disciples, which partly fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy. If the mount of Olives represents that prophecy of Jesus, the tectonic events that Zechariah described, the mountain being cleaved in the midst, and half moving towards the north, and half moving towards the south, depicts the two opposing interpretations, preterism and futurism. In preterism, the things foretold in the Olivet Discourse all apply to the Jews of that generation living in the first century, while in dispensationalism, they apply to Jews in a future seven year tribulation. In Zechariah’s prophecy, the valley between the two parts of the mountain, to which he said to flee, represents the present age of the church.
The theories of preterism and dispensationalism displace the Olivet Discourse from its true application. The prophecy Jesus gave on the mount of Olives applies, not to Jews in the future, or to the Jews in the first century, but to Christians throughout the whole of the church age. That is why Zechariah said, “flee to the valley of the mountains.” This valley is associated with a wonderful promise: “and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.” [Zechariah 14:5] This is a promise that the Spirit of Christ will come to his saints, those who obey him, and who heed his advice to “flee to the mountains.” In prophecy, mountains represent God’s promises.
Verse 5 declares that the LORD God will come with His holy ones, His heavenly army. Verses 6 and 7 also indicate that there will be cosmic signs. Verse 8 shows that at this time “living waters will flow out of Jerusalem.” Half will flow toward the eastern sea and half to the western sea. This will be the case in both summer and winter. Thus, kingdom conditions will bring nourishment and prosperity to the area.
All of these things lead up to the statement in verse 9 that: “And the LORD will be king over all the earth.” Thus, various events happen in connection with the Lord’s kingdom over the earth:
- The nations will attack Jerusalem and cause temporary harm to the city.
- The Lord will fight against these nations who attack Jerusalem.
- The Lord will return to the Mount of Olives and cause major geographical changes to the area.
- There will be cosmic signs.
- Living waters will flow out of Jerusalem.
- The Lord will be king over the earth.
I understand these events to be literal. As Merrill states, “There is no reason to take this in any but a literal way, unless one is prepared to deny a literal coming of YHWH as well.”
Vlach says, “I understand these events to be literal,” but his approach denies that all nations are involved in the siege. And to say that the prophecy has be understood literally excludes any application of it to the church, which is an approach to prophecy that is similar to that of the man who buried his talent in the ground, in Jesus’ parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14-30. Jesus commended the man who traded with his talents and gained more. If talents are symbolic of the prophecies of scripture, trading talents is like interpreting prophecy. Applied to the earthly Jerusalem, Zechariah 14 has little meaning for Christians; the spectacular tectonic events at the mount of Olives could impress only those living at the time of the event, and who happen to be in a position from where they could flee to the valley. But what benefit is there in possessing a prediction about an earthquake that says to flee after it occurs? And what would the people be fleeing from? Wouldn’t it be foolish, to flee towards the site of a recent, very violent earth movement? What about the danger from aftershocks? Furthermore, the mount of Olives is not so steep, that pedestrians can not easily walk across it; why create a wide valley there? There are even roads over it, so one can drive across. A literal interpretation of Zechariah’s prophecy makes little sense. In fact, it destroys its real meaning.
The benefits of literal rivers flowing from Jerusalem to the sea would be rather limited, as the Dead Sea lies only a few miles to the east, so it would be a very short river. The area that could be irrigated by it is small. Whatever benefits there might be would be restricted to people in the local area living in Palestine. But the prophet was not speaking of literal rivers. Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” [John 7:38] The rivers flowing from Jerusalem are spiritual; they represent the holy Spirit of God, and the truth of the gospel going to the world. It is shameful, and impious, to belittle such great promises by saying the rivers of living water consist merely of literal water.
One of the truths of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is already reigning on David’s throne, in the heavenly Jerusalem. Paul explained that Christ has already been given authority and power that is “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” [Ephesians 1:17-23]
The New Testament shows Jerusalem has been raised up, as Isaiah foretold. [Isaiah 2:1-3] Zechariah said those who fight against Jerusalem will be smitten with a plague: “And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.” [Zechariah 14:12]
This plague is a spiritual one; it affects the eyes, which represents their spiritual understanding; typically, these people are blind to the reality of Christ’s present kingdom; they think, for him to come down to reign in the earthly Jerusalem, will be a promotion. It affects the tongue, and their speech, and even what they say in print. The plague causes their flesh to consume away while they stand upon their feet. This unpleasant spectacle seems to depict in a colorful way the effects of a flawed understanding of the gospel on spiritual health and well-being.