Is Zechariah 14:4 Conditional?

Zechariah 14:4 says the following:

“On that day [God’s] feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward” (NRSV).

For a lot of Christians, Zechariah 14:4 is discussing the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

But ex-Seventh Day Adventist pastor Sydney Cleveland offers a different interpretation. He states in his commentary regarding the verse:

“ON THAT DAY = The book of Zechariah was written 520 years before Christ’s first coming. Thus logic indicates the Lord would not skip over the importance of Christ’s first coming — the central point of all history — to communicate information about Christ’s Second Coming. Thus we understand Zechariah to be speaking here about events associated with Christ’s first coming. What follows in this prophecy is what would have occurred at His first coming had the Jews accepted Jesus as their Messiah. Instead, when the nations gathered around Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as prophesied in Zechariah 14:2-3, Jerusalem was destroyed because God’s saving presence had left the nation of Israel (see notes on Matthew 23:38-39).”

Zechariah 14 mentions all these good things that will happen to Israel, along with all these bad things that will happen to her enemies. According to the passage, God will break the power of Israel’s enemies when they attempt to attack her. He will destroy many of them, and the rest he will forcefully convert to the worship of YHWH. All of the surviving Gentile nations will have to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, or they will receive no rain. For Egypt, which doesn’t depend on rain because of the Nile, the punishment will be different. For Pastor Cleveland, this is what would have occurred had Israel received Jesus Christ at his first coming.

According to Pastor Cleveland, because of her rejection of Christ, Israel got instead the scenario predicted in Zechariah 13:8: “In the whole land, says the LORD, two-thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one-third shall be left alive.” Cleveland states the following about this verse:

“TWO-THIRDS = Fulfillment began in the Jewish war under Vespasian and Titus to suppress the Bar Chochba rebellion, and continued through the following centuries.”

Actually, the Bar Chochba rebellion occurred after Vespasian and Titus, but I understand Pastor Cleveland’s overall point: He views Zechariah 13:8 and 14:4 as alternatives. If Israel accepts Christ at his first coming, she gets Zechariah 14 (the defeat and conversion of her enemies). If she rejects Christ, she gets Zechariah 13:8 (the Gentile slaughter of two-thirds of Jerusalem). Historically, much of Israel rejected Christ, and so the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Pastor Cleveland treats Jerusalem’s horrible experience in 70 C.E. and thereafter as the fulfillment of Zechariah 13:8.

My problem is that I do not see Zechariah 13:8 and 14:4 as alternatives, but rather as two parts of the same story. God will allow the Gentiles to kill two-thirds of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, while he will preserve one-third. That one-third will be a faithful remnant that will cry out to God amidst much refinement and testing. Then, God will fight Israel’s enemies and set into motion the paradisaical conditions of Zechariah 14.

Let’s take a look at Zechariah 14:2-3:

“For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.”

God lets the Gentiles have his way with Jerusalem, then God fights the Gentiles. The oppression and deliverance of Jerusalem are two parts of the same story, not alternatives to one another.

But Pastor Cleveland is not getting his interpretation from nowhere. If Israel had accepted Christ at his first coming, would God have set up the paradisaical conditions described by the prophets? There are New Testament passages that seem to indicate this. Jesus says in Luke 13:34-35:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”

That passage seems to say the Jerusalem did not have to be destroyed. She could have embraced her shepherd, and then the house wouldn’t have been desolate. Does the gathering of the children refer to the ingathering of the Jewish exiles and the deliverance of Jerusalem out of Gentile hands, themes that are prominent in the Hebrew prophets? Possibly so.

Another telling passage is Acts 3:19-21. There, Peter tells several Jews:

“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.”

If Israel had accepted Jesus in the first century, would the Second Coming of Christ have occurred then and there? It appears so.

So Pastor Cleveland’s overall scenario appears to be biblical, but I disagree with his application of it to Zechariah 13-14.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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