Dr. John Piper
Desiring God
"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him"
John Piper
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December 5, 1982 (Morning)
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor


Three of Zechariah's prophetic messages are dated (1:1; 1:7; 7:1), so we know that
Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. Both prophets spoke to the Jews in Jerusalem
who had recently returned from exile in Babylon, and both of them encouraged the people
to rebuild the temple in spite of discouragements and opposition (Ezra 5:1,2). The main
point of Zechariah is probably best expressed in 8:13-15,

And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and
house of Israel, so will I save you and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your
hands be strong. For thus says the Lord of hosts: as I purposed to do evil to you,
when your fathers provoked me to wrath and I did not relent, says the Lord of hosts,
so again I have purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of
Judah; fear not.

The main point is: Fear not, for I purpose to do you good, says the Lord. The whole book
is made up of visions and prophecies of how God is going to save Israel and make her a
blessing to others. And these promises are intended to fill the Jews with hope in God and
make them fearless and strong.

One of the problems for gentile Christians like us is how a book full of promises to
Jerusalem and Judah can be a help to us today. Let me try to sketch very briefly the
principles that guide my interpretation of prophecies like this.

First, I think these prophecies are aimed primarily at the ethnic people of Israel. They were
the audience; and when they heard Zechariah refer to "the house of Judah and the house
of Israel" they would naturally understand the Jewish people not the church of Christian
gentiles. These prophecies are aimed at the ethnic people Israel.

Second, I think there is a glorious future for Israel even yet when she repents. It is too
simple to say that since the time of Christ the church has replaced Israel as God's chosen
people, even though that is true, in a sense. The reason it is too simple is that in Romans
11 Paul teaches that God is not finished with ethnic Israel. In verse 1 he says, "Has God
rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a
member of the tribe of Benjamin." Paul insists that God has not finished with the Jews,
first of all because he is a Jew (of the tribe of Benjamin!). Paul does admit that the Jews
are temporarily rejected through their unbelief, but this is for the benefit of us gentiles; and
when the full number of gentiles is complete the remaining Jews, too, will repent and be
saved. Romans 11:12,15, "Now if their (Jews) trespass means riches for the world, and if
their failure means riches for the gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
If their (Jews) rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance
mean but life from the dead?" Here Israel is distinct from converted gentiles and is
promised a glorious future. So a few verses later in verses 25,26, Paul says, "A hardening
has come upon part of Israel until the full number of the gentiles comes in, and so all Israel
will be saved." In the context of Romans 11:12,15 it is unwarranted to interpret "all Israel"
here to mean anything other than corporate ethnic Israel. So one of my guiding principles
in reading Old Testament prophecy about Israel is that there is a glorious future ahead
when Israel will repent, turn to Christ and be saved.

Third, by faith in Christ gentile believers become full partners in the promises made to
Israel in the Old Testament. The two key texts to support this principle are Galatians 3:29,
"And if you are Christ's then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise,"
and Ephesians 2:19 and 3:6, "So then you (gentiles) are no longer strangers and
sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of
God (you are) fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in
Christ Jesus through the gospel." So by faith in Christ we gentile believers are no longer
"alienated from the commonwealth of Israel" but are full partners in the "covenants of
promise" (Eph. 2:12).

Fourth, (these first three principles imply that) the prophecies of the Old Testament made
to Israel are not less than literal (as though ethnic Israel were not intended) but more than
literal, because they embrace not only the ethnic Israel but also the gentile children of
Abraham by faith (Rom. 4:11), who will not be second-class citizens in the final kingdom.

Fifth, and finally, many of the benefits promised to the people of Israel are fulfilled in
stages. This is especially true since the expected coming of the Messiah has occurred in
stages. Christ came the first time (as Hebrews 9:26 says) "to put away sin by the
sacrifice of himself." And he will "appear a second time not to deal with sin but to save
those who are eagerly waiting for him." For the most part, Old Testament prophecy does
not distinguish these two comings. Therefore, very often some aspects of Old Testament
promises are fulfilled already in Christ, but the final consummation awaits the last day.

So these are my guiding principles as I seek to apply Zechariah to our lives today: 1) it is
aimed primarily at ethnic Israel; 2) there is yet a glorious future for ethnic Israel when she
repents; 3) by faith in Christ we gentile believers become full fellow-heirs of the promises
made to Israel; 4) therefore, the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel are not less
than literal but more than literal: they embrace not only ethnic Israel but also us gentile
believers; 5) many of the benefits promised to the people of Israel are fulfilled in stages,
especially since the promised Messiah himself comes in two stages (Christmas and the
Second Coming).

The practical implication of all this is that whenever you read a "Fear not!" in the Old
Testament you can take it for yourself as a fellow heir if you are a Christian. The reasons
given in the Old Testament why you need not fear will almost always relate to Israel first
but then indirectly also to you as a spiritual Jew (Rom. 2:29) and a child of Abraham (Gal.

We began by suggesting that the main point of Zechariah's prophecy is, "Fear not, for God
purposes to do you good." A very profitable way to read this book is to mark every verse
where God says he is going to do something good for Jerusalem. I marked well over 50
verses. But since we can't look at all these, let's focus in on the most important of all:
13:1. I call it most important because all the other benefits promised to Israel (and to us)
depend on this one.

"On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of
Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness." Zechariah promises the people
that at some future time a fountain would be opened which would take away their sin and
guilt. I say this is the foundation for all the other blessings promised because the only way
sinners can hope to inherit the riches of God is if their sins are forgiven. The fountain of
cleansing is the first checkpoint on the road to heaven.

To understand this advent promise in the context of Zechariah I want to try to answer three
questions about it: first, why did a fountain still have to be opened? Second, how does this
fountain bring about forgiveness? Third, for whom does this fountain provide cleansing?

First, then, why did a fountain still have to be opened? Do you see what a promise like this
must have meant to a discerning Jew? It must have meant that all the provision for
cleansing in the old sacrificial system was inadequate to deal with sin. Hebrews 10:2-4
makes this very point:

If the worshipers (in the Old Testament) had once been cleansed, they would no longer
have any consciousness of sin. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after
year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Why were the animal sacrifices inadequate? Because the loss suffered by an animal does
not compare to the injury which our sin brings upon the glory of God. The essential evil of
sin is not the ruin that it brings on human life, but the scorn that it brings on the glory of
God. If we could but grasp what a horrendous evil it is that human beings distrust and
disobey their all-glorious Maker, we would not stumble over the justice of Hell nor would
we be surprised that the only one sacrifice could atone for our wickedness: namely, the
sacrifice of the only Son of God. Our disobedience of an infinitely worthy God is an
infinitely blameworthy disobedience, deserving of endless torment (Matt. 25:46). Therefore,
no finite animal or even human sacrifice could make amends for our sin. Only an infinite
humiliation out of respect to God could restore the injury with which we have assailed the
glory of the Almighty through our distrust and disobedience. The fountain that had to be
opened was not the neck of an animal, but the pierced side of the Son of God. Zechariah
couldn't see the whole story, but God showed him at least this much: if anybody is going
to be saved from sin a new fountain must be opened.

Second, how does this fountain bring about cleansing? In 3:8,9 Zechariah shows that
forgiveness of sin is connected to the coming Messiah, whom he calls the Branch (cf. Jer.
25:3; 35:15; Is. 11:1). At the end of verse 8 God says, "Behold, I will bring my servant the
Branch." Then at the end of verse 9: "and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single
day." Two things are important here: first, there is a close connection between the coming
of the Branch (Messiah) and the removal of guilt; and second, guilt is removed in a single
day. This fits the death of Christ perfectly. He was the Messiah prophesied by Zechariah
(cf. 9:9 with Matt. 21:5) and his sacrifice does not have to be repeated -- he dealt with all
sin in a single act of atonement once for all (Heb. 9:24-26).

But in order for the fountain of Christ's blood to take away sin, sinners must be penitent
and call upon him for mercy. Humans are not naturally sorry for the way they bring scorn
upon God by distrusting and disobeying him. In order for a spirit of sorrow for sin to come
into a sinner God has to act. The Holy Spirit must convict of sin. Zechariah 12:10,11
prophesies that this is going to happen in Israel: "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." The only reason one
mourns for an only child and weeps bitterly for a first-born is if they have died. Therefore,
Zechariah must mean that the people have pierced and killed someone and now are
deeply grieved and sorry for their sin. Three things are predicted in this mysterious
passage. First, the inhabitants of Jerusalem are going to pierce and kill someone
tremendously important. This they did in the crucifixion of Jesus, whose hands and feet
and side were pierced (opening a fountain of cleansing!). Second, God is going to convict
the house of David and dwellers in Jerusalem of their sin. Third, they will be filled with
sorrow for their sin and cry out to God in supplications for mercy. (Which began to be
fulfilled in the Jews' response to Peter's Pentecost sermon.)

When this happens the fountain of God's forgiveness flows freely and takes away the guilt
of Jerusalem. So Zechariah can say in 14:11, "Jerusalem shall be inhabited, for there shall
be no more curse; Jerusalem shall dwell in security." And in 2:5, "For I will be to her a wall
of fire round about, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within her." And 2:10, "Sing and
rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the
Lord." And 8:8, "I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem and they shall be my
people and I will be their God in faithfulness and in righteousness." All the promises made
to Israel in the book of Zechariah (indeed, in the whole Bible) depend on the opened
fountain of Christ's blood, and the repentance of God's people. So in answer to our second
question, How does the opened fountain bring about cleansing?, we've seen three things.

1) The Messiah (called the Branch) comes, and in being killed by his own people
removes guilt in a single act of atonement.
2) God will cause Israel to be convicted of their sin.
3) Israel will weep and call upon God for forgiveness. The result of these three things
will be that her curse is removed and God dwells as the glory in her midst.

Finally we ask, for whom does this opened fountain provide cleansing? Who can read
Zechariah and find personal hope in it? The most obvious answer is the Jewish people.
Even though they have displeased God (1 Thess 2:15) by rejecting his Son, their Messiah,
to this day, God still promises mercy. He will one day lift the veil off their minds (2 Cor.
3:14), take away the hardening of their hearts (Rom. 11:25) and pour out a spirit of grace
and supplication upon them, and they will turn to Jesus and confess him as Lord and
Christ. We may even be seeing the beginnings of that final outpouring in the contemporary
messianic Jewish movement. And we should pray for all our Jewish friends and associates
and speak to them with boldness about Christ.

But the message of Zechariah is a word of hope to us gentile Christians we well. If we
understand what Christ has done for us in opening the fountain of his blood, then we will
know that we are included in the promises of Zechariah.

When we hear God say in Zechariah 2:10, "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for lo, I
come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the Lord," we can't help but also hear the
words of Hebrews 12:22 addressed to us, "You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the
living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." And so we remember that in Christ we are no longer
"alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise"
(Eph. 2:12). The hope and joy and glory of Zechariah is our hope and our joy and our glory
as children of Abraham and citizens of the new Jerusalem.

And God has been good enough to verify that to us even from the book of Zechariah itself.
For example, right after that great promise in 2:10 he says, "And many nations shall join
themselves to the Lord in that day and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of
you and you shall know the Lord of hosts has sent me to you" (see also 9:7; 8:13,20-23;
14:16). "Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord!" That's you and me. The fountain
of forgiveness has been opened for you. And if you cleanse yourself through faith in that
fountain, all the subsequent promises to God's people are yours. "I have purposed in these
days (says the Lord) to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not, but let
your hands be strong!" (8:15,13b).