Zechariah's prophetic ministry took place in the postexilic period, the time of the Jewish restoration from Babylonian captivity. For historical details see Introduction to Haggai: Background.
Author and Unity
Like Jeremiah (1:1) and Ezekiel (1:3), Zechariah was not only a prophet (1:1) but also a priest. He was born in Babylonia and was among those who returned to Judah in 538 B.C. under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua (his grandfather Iddo is named among the returnees in Ne 12:4). At a later time, when Joiakim was high priest, Zechariah apparently succeeded Iddo (1:1, 7) as head of that priestly family (Ne 12:10-16). Since the grandson succeeded the grandfather, it has been suggested that the father (Berekiah, 1:1, 7) died at an early age.
Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai (Ezr 5:1; 6:14) but continued his ministry long after him (compare 1:1 and 7:1 with Hag 1:1; see also Ne 12:1-16). His young age (see 2:4) in the early period of his ministry makes it possible that he ministered even into the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424 B.C.).
Most likely Zechariah wrote the entire book that bears his name. Some have questioned his authorship of chs. 9-14--citing differences in style and other compositional features, and giving historical and chronological references that allegedly require a different date and author from those of chs. 1-8. All these objections, however, can be explained in other satisfactory ways, so there is no compelling reason to question the unity of the book.
The dates of Zechariah's recorded messages are best correlated with those of Haggai and with other historical events as follows:
1. Haggai's first message (Hag 1:1-11; Ezr 5:1) Aug. 29, 520 B.C.
2. Resumption of the building of the temple Sept. 21, 520
(Hag 1:12-15; Ezr 5:2) (The rebuilding seems
to have been hindered from 536 to c. 530
[Ezr 4:1-5], and the work ceased altogether
from c. 530 to 520 [Ezr 4:24].)
3. Haggai's second message (Hag 2:1-9) Oct. 17, 520
4. Beginning of Zechariah's preaching (1:1-6) Oct./Nov., 520
5. Haggai's third message (Hag 2:10-19) Dec. 18, 520
6. Haggai's fourth message (Hag 2:20-23) Dec. 18, 520
7. Tattenai's letter to Darius concerning the 519-518
rebuilding of the temple (Ezr 5:3-6:14)
(There must have been a lapse of time
between the resumption of the building
and Tattenai's appearance.)
8. Zechariah's eight night visions (1:7-6:8) Feb 15, 519
9. Joshua crowned (6:9-15) Feb 16 (?), 519
10. Repentance urged, blessings promised Dec. 7, 518
11. Dedication of the temple (Ezr 6:15-18) Mar. 12, 516
12. Zechariah's final prophecy (chs. 9-14) After 480 (?)
Occasion and Purpose
The occasion is the same as that of the book of Haggai (see Background; Dates). The chief purpose of Zechariah (and Haggai) was to rebuke the people of Judah and to encourage and motivate them to complete the rebuilding of the temple (zec 4:8-10; Hag 1-2), though both prophets were clearly interested in spiritual renewal as well. In addition, the purpose of the eight night visions (1:7-6:8) is explained in 1:3,5-6: The Lord said that if Judah would return to him, he would return to them. Furthermore, his word would continue to be fulfilled.
The theological teaching of the book is related to its Messianic as well as its apocalyptic and eschatological motifs. Regarding the Messianic emphasis, Zechariah foretold Christ's coming in lowliness (6:12), his humanity (6:12; 13:7), his rejection and betrayal for 30 pieces of silver (11:12-13), his crucifixion (struck by the "sword" of the Lord; 13:7), his priesthood (6:13), his kingship (6:13; 9:9; 14:9, 16), his coming in glory (14:4), his building of the Lord's temple (6:12-13), his reign (9:10; 14) and his establishment of enduring peace and prosperity (3:10; 9:9-10). These Messianic passages give added significance to Jesus' words in Lk 24:25-27, 44.
Concerning the apocalyptic and eschatological emphasis, Zechariah foretold the siege of Jerusalem (12:1-3; 14:1-2), the initial victory of Judah's enemies (14:2), the Lord's defense of Jerusalem (14:3-4), the judgment on the nations (12:9; 14:3), the topographical changes in Judah (14:4-5), the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Messianic kingdom age (14:16-19) and the ultimate holiness of Jerusalem and her people (14:20-21).
There is also theological significance in the prophet's name, which means "The LORD (Yahweh) remembers." "The LORD" is the personal, covenant name of God and is a perpetual testimony to his faithfulness to his promises (see note on Ex 3:14). He "remembers" his covenant promises and takes action to fulfill them. In the book of Zechariah God's promised deliverance from Babylonian exile, including a restored kingdom community and a functioning temple (the earthly throne of the divine King), leads into even grander pictures of the salvation and restoration to come through the Messiah.
Finally, the book as a whole teaches the sovereignty of God in history, over people and nations--past, present and future.
Literary Form and Themes
The book is primarily a mixture of exhortation (call to repentance, 1:2-6), prophetic visions (1:7-6:8) and judgment and salvation oracles (chs. 9-14). The prophetic visions of 1:7-6:8 are called apocalyptic (revelatory) literature, which is essentially a literature of encouragement to God's people. When the apocalyptic section is read along with the salvation (or deliverance) oracles in chs. 9-14, it becomes obvious that the dominant emphasis of the book is encouragement because of the glorious future that awaits the people of God.
In fact, encouragement is the book's central theme--primarily encouragement to complete the rebuilding of the temple. Various means are used to accomplish this end, and these function as sub themes. For example, great stress is laid on the coming of the Messiah and the overthrow of all anti-kingdom forces by him so that God's rule can be finally and fully established on earth. The then-current local scene thus becomes the basis for contemplating the universal, eschatological picture.
The Rulers and Prophets of Zechariah's Time