In my last installment I considered the ways in which I think the book of Daniel confounds the idea that Biblical ‘prophecy’ describes what were already accomplished events with no actual insight into the future. For me, dating considerations for Daniel confirm the fact of futurist prophecy. I want to look next at the book of Zechariah as a means of understanding something about the nature of futurist prophecy.
In Matthew 27:9-10 the matter of Judas returning the 30 pieces of silver for which he betrayed Jesus and the priest’s use of the funds – purchasing the potters field as a burial ground for the poor, indigent, and misplaced because ‘blood money’ cannot be put into the temple treasury – is regarded as a fulfillment of prophecy. Thus regarded, Zechariah made the prophecy about 520 BC and it was fulfilled about 550 years later. The Apostle Matthew definitely had a futurist understanding of prophecy.
One cautionary/explanatory note. Matthew cites the prophet Jeremiah when he is clearly quoting the prophet Zechariah. Many find this extremely problematic. For myself, even if I thought Matthew mis-credited the passage, it would not destroy the authority of Scripture. But – for what it’s worth – almost no one in the First Century had copies of any portion of Scripture – absolutely no one had what you and I would call a complete Old Testament. Many Jews regarded all the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi, as one source and referred to it as the book of Jeremiah. This would not suit us but it suited them. At any rate – the passage in question is Zechariah 11:12-13.
The point I’d like to make is that the least of the matter is the amount of money mentioned in both passages or the use of the word ‘potter’ in both passages. If that were the extent of the similarities – it could be regarded as simply coincidental and, certainly, if we limit ourselves to the two verses Matthew cited, in verses 12-13 – Zechariah does not say anything that could be read as having the Messiah directly in mind. But – when you read the whole 11th chapter of Zechariah and understand the situation the prophet was dealing with and then add another element to come a bit later in the chapter, the whole thing seems SUPER prophetic. The more so if you place chapter 11 in the larger context of Zechariah’s ministry. For instance, take a moment to read Zechariah 3:8-10 to understand that people and events in the ministry of Zechariah – while involved in problems of their own, current to their time – also represented more important figures to come at a time when God would deal with iniquity in a final way.
So, let me describe a scenario – a time at which God’s people were under the care of bad shepherds who sell out the flock for money, power, - the usual kinds of things people sell out for. The context helps us understand these bad shepherds to be the elders, scribes, and priests – the very ones who should be good shepherds for Israel – but aren’t. Into this sad situation, God sends a prophet. The prophetic message of God’s servant lays bare the bad shepherding of the elders, scribes, and priests and shows the prophet willing to exercise better shepherding. But the people reject the servant/prophet’s message, plea and offer. The prophet then says – ‘Well, pay me what you think my ministry is worth.’ Said pay amounts to 30 pieces of silver (a month’s wage for a working man). But rather than lining the prophet’s (or anyone else’s) pockets, the money is tossed to the potter. A warning is given to the flock – now doubly doomed to slaughter – that God will raise up a REALLY bad shepherd for them. That shepherd turns out to be Rome. The REALLY bad shepherd arrives on cue.
OK – you tell me – did I just describe the ministry of Zechariah or of Jesus? In fact, the same description fits both perfectly. Rome gobbled up Israel while it was gobbling up the rest of that part of the world and the prophecy of Zechariah was vindicated.
But wait! There’s more. Rome came and afflicted Jerusalem after the rejection of Zechariah. But Rome came and made an extra affliction of Jerusalem after the rejection of Jesus – AD 70.
And still there’s more! Chapter 11 is not the end of the prophecy of Zechariah. Skipping over chapter 12 for a moment, but continuing to describe the events flowing out of the prophecy, we come to this in 13:1 – In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.
And there’s – you guessed it - MORE! In considering the bad shepherding done by the elders, scribes, and priests (read also Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees), the rejection of the REALLY GOOD SHEPHERD and the ministrations of the REALLY BAD SHEPHERD consequently raised up by God, after all the boiling, burning, smiting and bewilderment, we find this in 12:10, I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on ME whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for HIM (note the opposition of personal pronouns!) as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
You see, it isn’t just that Zechariah mentioned 30 pieces of silver and a potter. For the real prophetic word of the prophet Zechariah to be fulfilled requires so much more than a questionable real estate deal conducted by priests with money returned by a remorseful Judas.
For what it’s worth – the prophecy of Zechariah DID have to do with people and events of the time. Zechariah had a ministry and he meant to conduct it and there were consequences for the people to whom the prophet was sent should they reject his ministry. Yes, it was about rebuilding the temple and yes, it was about the faults of those who should have been the shepherds of Israel at the time. But it was about the future doings of many nations as well as the present failings of one nation – Israel. And those present failings of Israel in 520 BC were only a smoky mirror image of their future failings in AD 30. Zechariah himself was a hazy image of Christ – as was the high priest, Joshua, in chapter 3, the bad shepherds of the people learned nothing in half a millennium and Rome served God’s disciplinary purposes both times.
And still, there was a bigger game afoot: redemption, a fountain for the cleansing of sins and the ultimate vindication of the REALLY GOOD SHEPHERD. This is what I mean when I say the Bible is a uniquely layered book and that prophecy is more than we realize. Or, we could settle for what could be argued to be a simple coincidental mention of a certain amount of money and a potter. But that would be a shame.