Zechariah 1:7-17. 7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, 8 “I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. 9 Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ 10 So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’ 11 And they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’ 12 Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’ 13 And the Lord answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. 14 So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. 15 And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. 16 Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. 17 Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’”
OK, since you probably haven’t read Zechariah in a while let’s start with a little background. Zechariah is both a priest and a prophet for the nation of Israel at the end of the Babylonian Exile. The Jews have returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, but in the midst of all kinds of discouragement and opposition. So God sends an angel to Zechariah, an angelic advent to guide him through eight visions all in one night. Visions that will reveal the coming advent of the Lord.
Waiting is really hard. Especially when life doesn’t seem fair. The angelic horsemen have patrolled the earth and found it to be at peace. But for Zechariah and the Jews there is no peace. They are struggling both emotionally and physically as they seek to restore the city and temple of God. All the earth remains at rest while Jerusalem suffers. Even the angel of the Lord questions God – “O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?”
But advents are a time for faith. For trusting God’s ways above all else. What appears to be peace for the enemies of God must be trusted as God’s anger at the nations who are at ease. And what appears to be anger AT God’s people must be trusted to be his righteous jealousy FOR his people.
This is such an important lesson for us in our waiting too. Things aren’t always as they appear. In our advent we are seeing the greatest persecution of the church in all of its 2000 year history. Is this persecution God’s anger at his people? Is God letting the church’s enemies get away with it? Are God’s angels still patrolling the earth? Is God still exceedingly jealous for his people? Is he going to return with mercy for us?
And of course our hope says YES to these questions. How? Because ours is a living hope.
The ultimate answer to Zechariah’s questions, and ours is found in God’s return to Jerusalem – I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts. God is promising an advent. His own return to his city to live with his people.
The vision of Zechariah (c.1300), unknown (Getty Museum).
But what is the fulfillment of this promise? Did God’s glory return to the new temple that the Jews would finish four years after Zechariah’s prophecy (hint: nope)? Or does God’s word to Zechariah point to an even greater advent? Yes, eventually the temple will be rebuilt and so will the city, but when will God return with mercy and when will the cities overflow with prosperity?
Just like in Zechariah’s day, 500 year later, at a time when the Roman world was at ease, God would be jealous for his people and return to them. How? As a baby born in a manger. This baby will build the house of God. This baby will BE the house of God. God incarnate. Jesus, the living temple of the Lord. And just like in Zechariah’s day, this temple will be destroyed and rebuilt. Jesus will be crucified (the temple destroyed), but then gloriously raised to life (the temple restored).
Now, through our union with Christ, we are the temple of God. His rebuilt house. The Church. The city on a hill with a light of overflowing prosperity that cannot be hidden. The light of Christ’s own life in us. Flowing out of us to the world.
Yes, waiting is hard. Especially when it appears that God’s enemies are winning and God’s people are losing. But what the life of the crucified Christ in us tells us is that we have to lose to win. We have to die to live. God’s exceeding jealousy and mercy are at work in us. To build us into his glorious house while we wait for his final return to rescue his people.
Do not lose heart. In Christ, God has returned with mercy to his people. In Christ, God has made his home with his people. And in Christ, God has promised to return again with prosperity for his people, and disaster for all who would remain his enemies.
Do you find yourself losing hope while you wait for Christ’s return? How can the indwelling Spirit of Christ encourage you in your waiting? Do you see yourself as part of the house of God that is being built? The church? How can you participate in your church this season?