Zechariah the Prophet, by Michelangelo (1511)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
~ Zechariah 9:9
[Suggested background music for this column: "Rejoice Greatly," from G.F. Handel's "Messiah"]
This column celebrates the Third Sunday of Advent as we approach the most blessed day of the Christian Liturgical Year – the arrival of Messiah. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a God of creation, engineering, intelligent design and numerology. Regarding how God uses the mathematical perfection of numbers to divine the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end, now comes Zechariah, the prophet of Israel who prophesied more about Messiah than any other prophet except Isaiah whose astonishing prophecies include both the first and second coming of Messiah.
Charles Ryrie, the great theologian, wrote in his study Bible notes that Zechariah’s father, Berechiah, probably died when his son was young, making Zechariah the immediate successor of his grandfather Iddo (Nehemiah 12:4). Iddo was a priest who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Joshua to rebuild the Temple and was, according to tradition, a member of the Great Synagogue (the governing body of the Jews before the Sanhedrin). The foundation of the Second Temple was laid in 536 B.C. and completed in 516 B.C. The name Zechariah means “Yahweh remembers.” The prophet Zechariah was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai (Ezra 5:1, 6:14).
There are four interesting divisions of 500 years regarding the prophecy of Zechariah, art, history and the coming of the Messiah:
- Zechariah’s prophecy was written approximately 500 years before Messiah’s first Advent; to be precise, his prophecies cover literally thousands of years of history – even history that has yet to happen. Remarkably, this book of the Bible was written during a very brief two year period of time (520-518 B.C.);
- It has been 2,500 years from the time of Zechariah’s prophecies to this day (500 x 5);
- Michelangelo, a colossus of the High Renaissance, completed his rendering of Zechariah the prophet in 1511, exactly 500 years ago (or approximately 500 x 3 after the birth of Christ). Three is the number of the Holy Trinity – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Five is the number of grace. Using biblical numerology, Zechariah’s name literally combines the two numbers, meaning “Yahweh remembers.”
- The Second Temple was rebuilt under Zechariah’s direction and finished in 516 B.C. which minus the four years historians used to reconcile the Gregorian to the Julian calendar, brings us to the year 512 B.C., literally 500 years to the day!
There are many other prophecies by Zechariah regarding the coming of Jesus Christ: In 3:8 – “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH.” Ryrie’s notes on this verse indicates “the other priests, men who were a sign or symbol (wondered at), pointing to another, namely, Messiah, who is here designated as my servant the BRANCH (humble and human).”
And in chapter 13, verse 6 – “And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” Remember in the New Testament after the crucifixion of Jesus when the disciples were huddled together in fear in the upper room and Christ appeared to them the first time? Thomas was not there. Skeptical of the resurrected Christ, Thomas famously decreed to all the other disciples in John 20:25: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and trust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Jesus took up Thomas’ challenge in John 20:29: “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” What Messianic prophecy was the Gospel of John alluding to here? Zechariah 13:6 (cited above). It is amazing to me that Christ fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy to the letter, and even captured the mayhem scene and foreboding emotionalism when in John 20:27 Christ commanded doubting Thomas to “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”
Please witness the entire Sistine Chapel Ceiling restored to its original magnificence. Carefully examine Michelangelo’s painting above of the old prophet. Look at Zechariah’s eyes as he with loving care and the exactitude of a skilled surgeon proofreads the holy scriptures God has just dictated to him so that “every jot and tittle” meets with God’s standards of perfection as two cherubs look over the prophet’s shoulder in child-like wonder.
Marvel and learn from this artistic genius; witness the Christian love of Michelangelo rendered in pictures for the Ages. Here is no mere artist and his painting of Zechariah no mere portrait. Exactly 500 years after the great Renaissance master completed this revolutionary messianic prophet of Israel who oversaw the reconstruction of the Great Temple (516 B.C.), it was literally 500 years before the Living Temple, Jesus Christ the Messiah, would come to us to save all humanity from our sins and to redeem whosoever will come from our transgressions against God.
Let us not be like doubting Thomas, skeptical, crass, unbelieving, progressive and liberal-minded, but let us come to Messiah with humility, with child-like faith, believing every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
As we approach the Third Sunday of Advent of the Christian Liturgical Year, carefully read the book of Zechariah as scriptures of consolation and hope where Zechariah, this revolutionary prophet begins his opus with a call to repentance and reaches a triumphant crescendo 14 chapters later with a litany of transcendent prophecies concerning the return and reign of Christ.