The Historical and Literary Context
This prophecy is an oracle about Judah, who at that time was in despair. Zechariah explains that Judah will triumph one day as they did in the time of David when the angel of the Lord went before them (12:1-9).1 However, the oracle shifts in verse 10 where Zechariah states that the inhabitants will look on Yahweh whom they have pierced.
"And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn," (Zechariah 12:10).
There are several things we need to note in this passage. First, the term “piercing” usually indicates death.2 Interestingly, the piercing likely refers to the death of Christ, though the word does not specifically mean crucifixion.3 Second, it is essentially God who is pierced. However, there is a distinction between the person pierced and Jehovah. Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch note, “. . . the transition from the first person (alay) to the third (alayv) points to the fact that the person slain, although essentially one with Jehovah, is personally distinct from the Supreme God.”4 Third, the manuscript evidence clearly points to the change from “me” to “him” as accurate.5
Fourth, this text is another confirmation that the Messiah would be rejected by the Jewish leaders (cf. Isaiah 53). Fifth, this text serves to provide the specific type of death the Messiah endured compared with the more general one in Isaiah 53. Sixth, the ancient Jews accepted this passage as Messianic.6 Interestingly, a fascinating quote from the Talmud in Succah 52a indicates that this is a Messianic text:
“Why is this mourning in Messianic times? There is a difference in interpretation between Rabbi Dosa and the Rabanan. One opinion is that they mourn for Messiah Ben Joseph who is killed, and another explanation is that they mourn for the slaying of the evil inclination. It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of the Messiah since that well agrees with this verse. If it refers to the slaying of the evil inclination, it must be asked, is this an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep?”7
Carson summarizes the text quite well, “Perhaps the best way to understand this is that the people have killed a historical figure, who was the Lord’s representative, and in doing so they have pierced the Lord himself.”8
Evaluation as an Apologetic Argument
This passage overall presents a good case for Jesus as Messiah, since he claimed to be divine (John 10:30) and the historical evidence shows that he was pierced (John 19:34-47). Also, the text does indicate a piercing and implied death. Further, the text was accepted as Messianic from ancient Jewish sources.
Despite the positive evidence, however, when one uses this as an apologetic argument for Jesus one must note that the Jews have not mourned for Jesus yet. This is something that will take place in the second coming. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to use this text when arguing for Jesus as Messiah.
- 1. H. L. Willmington, Willmington's Bible Handbook, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997., p. 510.
- 2. F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983., p. 1567.
- 3. ibid
- 4. Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002, p. 610.
- 5. D.A. Carson, The New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, fourth edition, Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, n.p.
- 6. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
- 7. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah, Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998, p. 72.
- 8. Carson, n.p.