†he Burros of Berea

Zechariah 14, Part 1: The Precursor to the War (Zechariah 14:1)

Zechariah 14, Part 1:  The Precursor to the War (Zechariah 14:1)[1]

Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr (August 19, 2023)

All Rights Reserved

Karen Ogea (Editor)

Credits: Featured images by https://godawa.com/  (used by permission)


“Behold a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst” (Zechariah 14:1, ESV).


If one were to ask Doctor Google what Zechariah 14 was about, the results would yield a major misdiagnosis. In a typical internet search on the passage, the answers given are characteristic of the modern penchant to interpret fulfilled prophecy as unfulfilled. The inclination to approach such texts in this manner is the disease that plagues the Church today.


A tell-tale symptom of this disease is the tendency of modern “prophecy experts” to take the reader on a wild goose chase throughout the Bible. In so doing, they seldom actually deal with the specific passage that they claim to be addressing. Ideas and concepts, imported from other portions of Scripture, are strung together in a haphazard manner, leaving the reader in a dizzy state of confusion. Modern treatments of Zechariah 14 are a prime example of this interpretive approach.


The Popular Approach to Zechariah 14


When perusing prophecy websites, one will typically encounter the claim that Zechariah 14 is about the “Antichrist’s assault on Jerusalem at the end of the Tribulation period.”[2] Supposedly, Zechariah is explaining “what will happen when Jesus returns to set up His millennial rule on earth.”[3]  Another writer informs us that the passage “has something to do with Gog and Magog, Leviathan, the Antichrist, and the End of Days.”[4]


If one were to list every item in these statements that is not mentioned in Zechariah 14, the list would look like this: the antichrist, the tribulation period, the millennial reign, Gog and Magog, Leviathan, and the end of days. In other words, the list would include every item mentioned in the above statements – none of which are included in Zechariah 14. As stated above, those items must be imported from elsewhere in Scripture.


Seeing Past the Dispensational Filter


Compounding this problem is the fact that today’s average believer will find it difficult to “unsee” what isn’t in the text to begin with; like a judge instructing a jury to disregard a particular statement, you can’t “unhear” the statement. Acting like a neurological blocker, preventing the brain from receiving the signals that the eyes are sending, the dispensationalist paradigm clouds our vision as the passage is read. It functions like a filter through which everything in the Bible is viewed and interpreted.


This being the case, taking an unfiltered look at the passage is not always easy. Stripping away man-made traditions and doctrines can not only be difficult, but uncomfortable—perhaps even painful! Nonetheless, this is what we as students of the Word must  do. The road to healing and recovery is often uncomfortable and painful. Like all true healing and recovery, however, the reward is worth it in the end.


This series of articles invites readers to embark on such a journey through a verse-by-verse survey of Zechariah’s 14th chapter. In this first installment, the focus will be Zechariah 14:1.


Spoils Divided in their Midst


Regardless of how one views the timing of fulfillment, the picture Zechariah paints in verse 1 is hard to miss. God’s people are being assaulted and plundered in plain sight, and the atrocities against them are being committed in full view.  Unlike robbers who ransack homes at night and return to their hideaway to divvy up their sordid gain in private, the Jews’ assailants would openly flaunt the rewards of their conquest in the Jews’ very “midst.” Past or future, this is a public plundering of the Jewish people, and most commentators understand this.[5]


With that said, Sook-Young Kim serves as a good example of those who see the passage as still ahead in our future, as well as the problems that go along with that approach. True to the course of this line of interpretation, Kim stretches the passage far beyond its contextual limits.  Rather than seeing this plundering as exclusive to the Jewish people, she takes it a step further and includes the entire world. From there, she claims this is somehow beneficial for those who are being plundered. She writes:


Zechariah brings great encouragement to us who are living in this time of the end. The first two verses seem to describe the situation shortly before the door of mercy closes. The final issue will be an economic one. Those faithful to God’s commandments will have their possessions taken, no matter where in the world they live. Because of an economic crisis buying and selling will be restricted to those who receive the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16-18).[6]


It’s hard to ascertain how having our “possessions taken, no matter where in the world we live,” is somehow a “great encouragement to us.” Rather than finding this encouraging, rational people should find it problematic – at the very least. Even more problematic is the fact that Kim imposes Revelation 13:16-18 upon the text of Zechariah 14. Zechariah mentions neither the beast nor his mark. Again, the propensity to jump all over the Bible and string unrelated passages together runs rampant in the Futurist view. The most problematic part of Kim’s treatment of Zechariah 14, however, is the operating assumption that the prophecy remains unfulfilled and is all about us.


It’s Not About Us


The truth is, there really couldn’t be a more apt summary of the events of the first-century Roman-Jewish War than what is succinctly contained in Zechariah 14:1-2. As Brent Kercheville writes, Zechariah 14:1-2 is a “graphic description” of “what would take place in the Roman assault upon the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.”[7]


As the fourth-century Christian historian Eusebius wrote, “Zechariah writes this prophecy after the return from Babylon, foretelling the final siege of the people by the Romans, through which the whole Jewish race was to become subject to their enemies: he says that only the remnant of the people shall be saved, exactly describing the apostles of our Savior.”[8]  Specifically, Zechariah 14:1 foretells the particular actions of the 7th Roman procurator of Judea, Gessius Florus  – actions which, among other circumstances, helped to prompt the war, according to Josephus.


The Actions of Gessius Florus


No single conflict in history has ever had one, single, root cause. Just Google “the causes of World War II,” for instance.[9]  Throughout his writings, Josephus identifies at least 10 different factors as contributing causes of the Roman-Jewish conflict.[10]   These were all triggers which would eventually converge, resulting in all-out war. Among the earliest of these triggers were the criminal acts and abuses of power by Gessius Florus[11] in the 12th year of Nero’s reign. What Josephus recounts in this regard is virtually a commentary on Zechariah 14:1.


Whereas the former procurator did his cheating and fraud “in private,” writes Josephus, “Gessius did his unjust actions to the harm of the nation after a most pompous manner.”[12]  Rather than getting “money out of single persons,” Gessius “spoiled whole cities” and did “publicly proclaim it all the country over.”  He had given great liberty to the Roman soldiers to “turn robbers” in order that he might “share with them in the spoils they got.”


Josephus speaks of Gessius’s “greediness of gain,” from which he “became a partner with the robbers themselves.”  Gessius was bent on the purpose “to show his crimes to everybody” and make a “pompous ostentation of them to our nation,” writes Josephus.  “It was Florus who necessitated us,” he continues, “to take up arms against the Romans.”  Whereas robbers normally sneak into homes in the dead of night and divide up their acquisitions in private, the spoil of Gessius’s unjust acts were “divided” in the Jews’ very “midst!”


This very public plundering of the Jews coincides perfectly with what Zechariah describes in verse 1, and it pulls us to the far distant past rather than the near future to find the prophecy’s fulfillment. Zechariah 14:1 also sets the stage for all that follows in the remainder of the chapter.  Accordingly, we should continue to look to ancient history for the passage’s fulfillment, rather than to tomorrow’s headlines.  In part two of our survey of Zechariah 14, we will continue our journey into the past to reap the rewards of understanding fulfilled prophecy in the here and now. And these rewards will yield a two-fold benefit.


Why This is Important


First, if today’s prophecy experts and cyber-land Bible scholars are correct about Zechariah 14, the immediate future is not only bleak for modern day Jews in the land of Israel, but also terrifying and horrific.  Yet, these same teachers claim to be “friends of Israel” as they encourage Jews to return to their homeland, rebuild the temple, and kick start prophecies such as this into motion.


The unbelieving Jews of today should hear a much better message coming from us, and they should not have to suffer at the hands of the Antichrist for their distant ancestors’ sins. Misunderstanding the timing of passages like Zechariah 14 sends the wrong message on both counts.


Second, if Zechariah 14 was indeed fulfilled in the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, this has tremendous apologetic value for Christian believers.  The fact that Zechariah predicted these events nearly 600 years before they transpired is de facto evidence for divine inspiration. It demonstrates that the Bible is exactly what it claims to be, and people need to take its claims seriously.  Sadly, this great apologetic tool sits unused, collecting dust, as God’s People continue to misinterpret fulfilled prophecy as unfulfilled.


In simple terms, the popular approach to Bible prophecy is like a virus which has infected nearly 90% of the American Christian world. Perhaps this partially explains why the Church in America has become so impotent and ineffective?  The net effect of the dispensational method has manifested almost 200 years of failed predictions and false hopes. This cuts to the very heart of the meaning and message of the Bible itself and taints its reliability.  Additionally, it greatly impacts our own perceived meaning and purpose in the world, as well as our message to the world. The same world that we’re trying to reach is relying on us to get this right.


We can’t heal the nations until we take off our own filters and see Bible prophecy again – for the first time This series of articles invites the reader to do just that as we make our journey through Zechariah’s 14th chapter.

[1] Special thanks to Brian Martin, of Fulfilled Magazine, for this early editing, review, and suggestions regarding the original draft of the introduction in this article.

[2] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/destruction-of-antichrist-armies-richard-tow-sermon-on-judgment-269768

[3] https://dailyverse.knowing-jesus.com/zechariah-14-4

[4] https://www.bethimmanuel.org/scripture-references/zechariah-14

[5] Ron Daniels is a rare exception. He writes, “Israel is given some good news: After thousands of square miles have been stolen from them, after countless priceless treasures have been plundered throughout the years, after millions of Jews have been robbed of their fortunes, heirlooms, and personal possessions, everything will be given back. The land will be theirs again, the treasures will be restored, and the wealth stolen from the Jews will be returned.” https://rondaniel.com/library/38-Zechariah/Zechariah1401.php


This is, however, a clear misunderstanding of the context of the verse. For example, Anthony R. Petterson comments: “While Webb (2003: 178) understands this verse to anticipate the final victory when God’s people who survive the battle will divide up the plunder they have taken (cf. v. 14), the immediate context suggests that it is the inhabitants of Jerusalem who will be plundered” (Schaefer 1993a: 171)” (Anthony R. Petterson, Apollos Old Testament Commentary 25: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2025], p. 289.).

[6] https://www.revivalandreformation.org/bhp/en/bible/zec/14

[7] https://westpalmbeachchurchofchrist.com/old-testament/zechariah/zechariah_14.html

[8] Proof of the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1981), 1:98.

[9] https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/world-war-ii-history

[10] https://www.josephus.org/causesOfWar.htm

[11] https://www.josephus.org/causesOfWar.htm

[12] Antiquities of the Jews, XX: 11: 1; The Wars of the Jews, ii: xiv: 2; all that follows in this and the next paragraph is taken from these two sources in Josephus’s writing.