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Zechariah 14, Part 3: The Day of Battle (Zechariah 14:3)

Zechariah 14, Part 3: The Day of Battle (Zechariah 14:3)

Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr (September 1, 2023)

All Rights Reserved


“Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle” (Zechariah 14:3).


For most futurists, this verse is the key as to why (in their view) Zechariah 14 can’t be about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The passage speaks of the city’s deliverance and not its decimation, they argue. In Zechariah 14:3, God fights against those nations that mount an assault upon Jerusalem. As the reasoning goes: the Romans were successful in AD 70; therefore, the passage must be speaking of sometime in the future – a time when the nations of the world attempt an attack upon Israel, but God intervenes and defeats them. Obviously, God did not “fight against those nations” that stormed the city in AD 70.[1]  Consequently, this verse serves as the basis for rejecting the idea of past fulfillment in Zechariah 14.

From there it is argued that anything in the Gospels that might possibly speak of the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is, consequently, incompatible with Zechariah 14. Since Zechariah predicts Israel’s rescue rather than its ruination, Zechariah cannot be telling of the same events as Jesus in such instances.  Weeding through the reasoning of this claim is somewhat cumbersome but necessary to ascertain if there is any merit to it.  If such merit exists, and Zechariah 14 is about modern Israel’s future rather than first-century Israel’s future, this is important on at least two levels.


The Significance of Getting Zechariah’s Prophecy Right

As mentioned in previous posts, the timing Zechariah 14 is significant for both Jews and Christians living today.  If Zechariah 14 remains unfulfilled, the Jewish people have some horrific events before them in the inevitable future – rape, destruction, and captivity (Zech. 14:2), to name but a few.  This certainly isn’t good news. On the other hand, if Zechariah 14 was fulfilled in the distant past, none of these atrocities await today’s Jew in God’s predetermined prophetic plan.

For today’s Christian believer (both Jew and Gentile alike), past fulfillment of the passage has tremendous apologetic value. It would mean that Zechariah, along with Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, foresaw and foretold of AD 70 with incredible accuracy. This being the case, divine inspiration alone accounts for the precision of both of their predictions. Prior to the rise of Dispensationalism in the mid to late 1800s, Jesus’s Olivet Discourse was seen as “absolute and irresistible proof of the divine origin of Christianity,” as George Peter Holford put it in 1805.[2] Since Zechariah’s topic was the same as Jesus’s topic (i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70), Zachariah 14 carries the same apologetic value for the believer as does Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

The interweaving of Zechariah’s prophecy with Jesus’s prophecy, however, is precisely where Futurists think they’ve found an “out” which allows them to sever the two prophecies from one another. Specifically, they believe Luke’s version of the Olivet discourse contains an escape clause of sorts.  With this supposed loophole in Luke, Zechariah 14 is then catapulted into the future, disconnected from AD 70, and robbed of its worth in defending the faith.


Zechariah 14 and the Olivet Discourse

In an earlier installment, the point was made that Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, is basically His version of Zechariah 14. Whatever the Olivet Discourse is about, Zechariah 14 is about, and vice versa.  As Don K. Preston notes, “The parallel between the passages can hardly be doubted.”[3]

Even most Futurists would agree with this, but they see neither Jesus nor Zechariah describing the events of the Roman-Jewish War of the first century.  For them, Jesus and Zechariah are both describing the events leading up to and including the end of the world, rather than the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

This creates a problem for them, however. If such is indeed the case, this leaves Jesus saying virtually nothing about one of the most significant happenings in the near future of His original audience. It seems inconceivable that He wouldn’t have mentioned the upcoming calamity at some point during His earthly ministry.

This being so, some Futurists will actually concede that Luke 21 is about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but to exclusion of Matthew 24 and Mark 13. To put it another way, Luke 21 is in fact in the past from our perspective while Matthew 24 and Mark 13 still lie in our future – according to them.  From there, it is argued that what Luke describes in Luke 21 (i.e., AD 70) is drastically different from what Zechariah describes in Zechariah 14; therefore, Zechariah cannot be speaking of the events of AD 70.  This in turn gives the Futurist a workaround to detach Jesus’s words from Zechariah’s words whenever Jesus is prophesying about the city’s first-century destruction.


Luke 21 vs. Zechariah 14

Tommy Ice is a good example of those who try to break the connection between Zechariah 14 and Luke 21. While Ice agrees that that “Luke 21:20-24 prophesied the A.D. 70 Roman destruction of Jerusalem,” he contends that there is a significant contrast between Luke and Zechariah which renders the two passages incompatible.[4]

Ice reasons that “Jerusalem” is “destroyed” in Luke, but Jerusalem is “redeemed” in Zechariah.[5] Consequently, the argument is that Zechariah and Luke must be speaking of two different events entirely.  The city cannot be destroyed and redeemed at the same time, or so the reasoning goes.

This juxtaposition between destruction (Luke) and redemption (Zechariah) may appear compelling on the surface, but Luke 21 also speaks of redemption.  In Luke, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk. 21:28).  Thus, Luke speaks of both destruction (Lk. 21:20) and redemption (Lk. 21:28) at the same time. In other words, the same contrast which Ice claims sets Luke and Zechariah apart, exists within Luke’s very passage itself. If positing destruction against redemption necessitates two distinct contexts, this distinction does more than merely set Luke at odds with Zechariah, it sets Luke at odds with himself.


Is Luke Contradicting Himself?

The question now becomes: is Luke contradicting himself within the space of eight verses? How can a city be ruined and rescued at the same time? What sense can be made of this? The key to answering these questions is, of course, Luke 21:21 and the flight to the mountains.

When the time came, the people inside the city had a choice to make between the Zealots’ message and Jesus’s message. In their insane delusion that they could somehow overcome the Roman onslaught, the Zealots were marshalling the Jews to stay inside the city and fight.  Jesus’s followers, on the other hand, would have heeded His advice and “got the heck out of Dodge,” so to speak.  So, desolation and redemption coexist within the same context. While some met an awful fate trapped inside the city’s walls, others fled to freedom and escaped that same fate. Retribution and relief were simultaneous, and Luke’s words are not conflicting.

Those who clung to old earthly Jerusalem, in hopes of successfully defending her, were destroyed and defeated. Those who clung to Jesus’s words, and were becoming part of the new heavenly Jerusalem, were rescued and rewarded. Both elements coexist in Luke 21, and they are side by side in Zechariah 14 as well. Zechariah informs us that some would go down with the city and/or be captured (Zech. 14:2), while others would flee to the safety of God’s mountains (Zech. 14:5).  This dovetails with the events of AD 70, precisely. Those who followed Jesus’s advice didn’t die within the city’s walls, nor were they captured or exiled. Old Jerusalem was destroyed while the members of the New Jerusalem were rescued.

The apparent contradictions and conflicting outcomes raised by Ice are a non-issue in either passage.  In Luke 21 and Zechariah 14, there is both destruction and deliverance, slaughter and salvation, retribution and redemption. It all depended upon which message the people in question chose to listen and obey –the message of the Zealots or the message of Jesus. There is no internal contradiction in Luke, and there is certainly no external contradiction between Luke and Zechariah.


Against Those Nations or With Those Nations?

These issues aside, the question still remains as to how it could be said that God fought “against those nations” that came against Jerusalem in battle in 70 AD. The Romans were in fact successful in their campaign rather than vice versa. This much is true. If God was fighting “against” them, one would think the outcome would have been the other way around.

As is often the case, the English rendering of a single word can make all the difference regarding what a particular verse is or isn’t saying. There’s a well-known translational problem here that would alter the connotation of the verse significantly. Rendered literally, the text simply reads, “the Lord will fight in nations.”[6] This sounds awkward to us. To smooth things out in English, translators drop the preposition “in” and add the word “against.” In so doing, the sense of the verse drastically changes. In fact, this translational choice turns the passage on its head.

As George L. Klein points out, in his commentary on Zechariah: “The statement that ‘the LORD will … fight against those nations’ contains a significant ambiguity that has the potential to alter the meaning of the verse dramatically…The question turns on the meaning of the preposition . This preposition commonly means ‘in’ or ‘among’ (Zech. 6:5). If this is the intended meaning of the preposition, it would mean that the Lord continues to fight with the nations against Jerusalem.”[7]


John Nelson Darby Got It Right on Zechariah 14:3

In a bit of historical irony, John Nelson Darby, who is responsible for bringing Dispensationalism to the world, translated the verse as follows: “And Jehovah will go forth and fight with those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle.”[8] He gets God’s name wrong, it’s Yahweh and not Jehovah, but “fight with those nations” is a much better English rendering of the original Hebrew than “fight against those nations.” So, Darby deserves credit there.

Darby’s translational choice of wording is supported by the Septuagint. The Septuagint is the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and it was written by Jewish scribes who understood their language. That said, they rendered the verse: “And the Lord shall go forth, and fight with those Gentiles as when he fought in the day of war.”[9]

Taken in this light, the meaning is that “the Lord fought with those nations as his tools to punish Jerusalem or that he sided with those nations against Israel to punish Israel as when he brought Babylon against Israel to punish her for her transgressions.”[10]  This comports well with other Scriptural examples of God using pagan nations to execute judgment upon His People.


 God Uses the Nations to Judge His People  

In Ezekiel 21, the prophet is told to set his “face toward Jerusalem” and “prophecy against the land of Israel” (Ez. 21:1). God tells the people of Israel that He is “against” them and says, “I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off from you the righteous and the wicked” (Ez. 21:3). The theme of God drawing His sword against His own people is repeated several times in the verses that follow (Ez. 21:4-5, 9-14). Then, in verse 19, it is revealed that this would be accomplished through “the sword of the king of Babylon” (Ez. 21:19). In other words, the punishment of God’s people came through the hands of the armies of Babylon.

In the same way, God calls Assyria “the rod of My anger. And the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation. And commission it against the people of My fury. To capture spoils and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets” (Isa. 10:5-6).

Just like God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians against His People in the Old Testament, He would do the same with the Romans and their allies in AD 70. The Lord fought “with” those nations in AD 70 just as He had fought “with” the nations, against His own disobedient people, in the Old Testament.


God Judges Those He Uses to Judge His People

Having said this, God nevertheless judged the Assyrians and the Babylonians, whom He used against His people, and He would judge the Romans as well.

“With regard to Assyria, the Lord says, “I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets…. So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness’” (Isa. 10:5-6, 12-13).

Likewise, once the Lord has used the Babylonians to accomplish His purposes, judgment would come upon them as well:

“Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold. And their bows will mow down the young men, They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb, Nor will their eye pity children. And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isa. 13:17-19).



The Romans Didn’t Avoid Eventual Judgment

Thus, the Lord punishes those whom He uses as instruments to judge His disobedient people. What is important to point out, at this juncture, is that these punishments were not meted out instantly.  If past precedent is any indication, God’s retribution upon the Romans would not have been instantaneous either. As Gary DeMar writes, “The fall of Assyria did not immediately follow its plunder of Israel,” and “it took time for Babylon’s judgment by the Medes and Persians to occur (5:1-31). Jerusalem fell in 586 BC and Babylon fell in 539 BC, nearly 45 years later. The same is true of God’s use of Rome to judge Israel.”[11] DeMar continues:

“It is significant that the decline of the Roman Empire dates from the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Thomas Scott concurs: ‘It is also observable, that the Romans after having been thus made the executioners of divine vengeance on the Jewish nation, never prospered as they had done before; but the Lord evidently fought against them, and all the nations which composed their overgrown empire; till at last it was subverted, and their fairest cities and provinces were ravaged by barbarous invaders.’”

“There may have been an early indication of what was going to happen to Rome with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in AD 79 where an estimated 16,000 people perished. Earlier earthquakes had occurred in AD 62 and 64. They were mostly ignored since they were a common occurrence. Pliny the Younger wrote to the historian Tacitus that the ‘earth tremors’ leading up to the disaster at Pompeii ‘were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania.’ Josephus writes that earthquakes were common calamities. He describes one earthquake in Judea of such magnitude “’that the constitution of the universe was confounded for the destruction of men.’”

“In AD 80, the capital city encountered another disaster, another great fire in Rome following the one that ravaged Rome under Nero’s reign that burned for six days in AD 64.”[12]



Zechariah’s Day of Battle is Behind Us


In the end, not even the Romans walked away unscathed. As in the case of Assyria and Babylon, however, divine retribution came over time. Nonetheless, the point of Zechariah 14:3 is that God would fight “with” the nations that came against rebellious first-century Israel, rather than fight “against” them. Either way, the passage finds its fulfillment in history’s past and not in our future.

The attempt to discredit this approach by positing Zechariah 14:3 over and against Luke 21:20 fails in that both Biblical writers equally portray a desolation and redemption taking place simultaneously within each of their respective contexts.  Like verses 1 and 2 before it, Zechariah 14:3 concerns itself with events that are now almost 2000 years behind us on the historical landscape.  This means modern-day Israel is not destined for the doom Zechariah describes. For modern-day Christians, this means we have a powerful tool to use in defending the faith, as Zechairah’s prophecy finds detailed fulfillment in AD 70 and the events surrounding it.  The Lord fought “with those nations” that came against Jerusalem in “the day of battle” – in AD 70.


[1] https://www.pre-trib.org/other-articles-by-dr-thomas-ice/message/preterism-and-zechariah-12-14/read

[2] George Peter Holford, The Destruction of Jerusalem: An Absolute and Irresistible Proof of the Divine Origin of Christianity (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2001 [1805]).

[3] https://donkpreston.com/the-eschatology-of-zechariah-14-1/

[4] https://www.pre-trib.org/other-articles-by-dr-thomas-ice/message/preterism-and-zechariah-12-14/read

[5] Ibid.

[6] DeMar, “Making Prophetic Sense of Zechariah 14,” p. 20.

[7] George L. Klein, Zechariah: The New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), p. 402; Q: DeMar, Ibid.

[8] https://www.christianity.com/bible/drb/zechariah/14

[9]https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Zechariah%2014&version=DARBY  http://qbible.com/brenton-septuagint/zechariah/14.html#:~:text=Brenton%27s%20Septuagint%20%28LXX%29%20-%20Holy%20Name%20KJV%20LXX,Yahweh%2C%2020%20and%20their%20spoils%20shall%20be%20holy.

[10] https://modelsofeschatology.com/zechariah-14/

[11] Gary DeMar, “Making Prophetic Sense of Zechariah 14” (Unpublished Work in Progress, October 1, 2020), p. 25.

[12] Ibid., p. 26.