Were “All Nations” Gathered Against Jerusalem?
Was Zechariah 12:3 Fulfilled in AD 70?
Don K. Preston
Zechariah 12:3 – “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. 3 And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.”
Objection: Zechariah says “all the nations” would (will) be gathered against Jerusalem in the last days. However, only Rome came against Jerusalem in AD 70, therefore, AD 70 cannot be the fulfillment of Zechariah 12.
We truly appreciate the question, and will give some scriptural evidence in response.
First of all, underlying the objection, is the woodenly literalistic hermeneutic of dispensationalism. I mean no disrespect in this description. However, the dispensational hermeneutic is fatally flawed.
The cliche, “The Bible says what it means and means what it says” is, in my opinion, overly simplistic. It assumes that the reader is “plugged into” the thought world of the original writer. Yet, in America for instance, the modern reader is thoroughly Grecian in their way of thinking, and is, lamentably, almost totally unaware of Hebraic thought. This has negative implications for Bible interpretation.
Hayes has noted that: “The Christian tradition early on lost its vital connection with the Jewish interpretative matrix in which Paul had lived and moved; consequently, later, Christian interpreters missed some of Paul’s basic concerns” (Richard Hays, Conversion of the Imagination,: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2005)43. Finally, Holland says that, “While the vocabulary of the NT could be found throughout the Hellenistic world, it did not have the same meaning when it was used in the religious sense within the Jewish community.” (252). Holland notes that when a NT writer wrote in Greek it was, “Hebrew in its mind-set and essential meaning.” (Tom Holland, Contours of Pauline Theology, Christian Focus Publications, Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-Shire IV20 1TW, Scotland, UK, 2004)52).
What all of this means is that the modern reader of scripture must strive to understand what a text meant to its original audience in its original context. That brings us to consider a critical issue.
Added to all of this is the indisputable fact that the NT writers affirmed that the OT prophecies were being fulfilled in their day (Acts 3:23-24) and that they, through the Spirit, are the final and authoritative interpreters of the OT prophecies (1 Peter 1:10-12).
HOW THE BIBLE USES THE TERM “ALL THE NATIONS”
When we read the scriptures, we must allow the original authors latitude to use language as the Spirit guided them, not as we wish to interpret it. This often demands that we change our way of thinking! Notice the following: In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar was given his famous vision, and Daniel gave the interpretation. Notice how Daniel described that Chaldean empire and then, the third empire (The Grecian empire) to follow: “The God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all––you are this head of gold. But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth” (Daniel 2:37-39, my emphasis).
Now, if we take a literalistic approach, we must conclude that Nebuchadnezzar ruled the globe, for after all, God gave him dominion over the land wherever animals and birds lived! Birds and animals live in South America, don’t they? Well, since God gave Nebuchadnezzar the dominion over the entire earth where animals and birds live, we must conclude that the Babylonian empire extended to North and South America! Facetious? Yes, and that is the point.
Notice that Daniel also said that the Grecian empire “shall rule over all the earth.” Did the Greeks rule the Americas? Did they rule Russia? No. Does this mean Daniel’s prophecy failed? No. It means that the imposition of a modern cosmology onto the ancient text is wrong. Could this be what is at work in Zechariah? I think, clearly, that it is. And we have the context of Zechariah– and the NT interpretation– to confirm that fulfillment of his prophecy, no matter what our preconceived ideas might be, was fulfilled in the first century.
THE “IN THAT DAY” REFERENCES OF ZECHARIAH
Our understanding of Zechariah is aided by the prophet’s references to “in that day.” These temporal parameters place fulfillment within the borders of a single generation, the first century generation. There are, if my count is correct, some 19 references to “in that day” in Zechariah.
Space forbids an extensive examination of the “in that day” references. However, notice that the “in that day” references of chapter 12 take us directly back to chapter 11. In chapter 11 we find the betrayal of Jesus at the hands of Judas, who was paid the thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13). This in turn would be when YHVH would abandon His covenant “with both houses of Israel” (Zechariah 11:6-10), when they would eat their own flesh in the siege that was coming.
This is confirmed by Jesus’ application of Zechariah 12:10 to the fall of Jerusalem in Matthew 24:30, 34, and by John’s application of the same verse to the time when “those who pierced him” would look on him and mourn, in the destruction of the city “where the Lord was slain” (Revelation 1:7; 11:8). See my Who Is This Babylon book for a detailed discussion of Zechariah.
Now, per dispensationalism, God never abandons His covenant with Israel. Instead, He delivers them. Thus, dispensationalism is at odds with the “in that day” references in Zechariah.
Please note: This judgment that is described, when the citizens of Jerusalem would eat the flesh of their own children, was to be part of the Mosaic Covenant provisions of Wrath for violation of the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:54-57). Here is what is so critical about this fact: All dispensationalists agree that the Mosaic Covenant has been abrogated!
Thomas Ice affirms that the Torah was “forever fulfilled and discontinued in Christ” (Prophecy Watch, Eugene, Or. 1998, 258)! He acknowledges of the AD 70 catastrophe: “Those first century days are called the ‘days of vengeance’ for Jerusalem is under the divine judgment of covenantal sanctions recorded in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Luke notes that God’s vengeance on His elect nation ‘is in order that all things that are written may be fulfilled.’ Jesus is telling the nation that God will fulfill all the curses of the Mosaic Covenant because of Israel’s disobedience. He will not relent and merely bring to pass a partial fulfillment of His vengeance” (Thomas Ice/ Kenneth Gentry, The Great Tribulation , Past or Future? Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1999)98.
Furthermore, Pentecost claimed: “Eschatological studies are not concerned with…the Mosaic Covenant made by God with man, inasmuch as all these are temporary and non-determinative in respect to future things, but only with the four eternal covenants given by God, by which He has obligated Himself in relation to the prophetic program” (Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1966)67.
Here is the issue: All millennialists say the Law of Moses has been abrogated. Yet, Zechariah’s prediction of the assault o Jerusalem would be the fulfillment
of the Mosaic Covenant. Pentecost is patently wrong. Zechariah had to be fulfilled at a time when Torah was still in effect.
Take note again of Ice’s (fatal) admission: “Those first century days are called the ‘days of vengeance’ for Jerusalem is under the divine judgment of covenantal sanctions recorded in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.” Ice is admitting that the Mosaic Covenant was in effect in AD 70, and that all of the provisions of Wrath on Israel for violation of that covenant were fulfilled at that time!” Ice’s admission demands that fulfillment of Zechariah 12-14 was in AD 70. (It is little wonder that Thomas Ice refuses to debate me again. His own admissions are his downfall, DKP).
ROME WAS NOT ALONE!
When our millennial friends take note that Zechariah 12 mentions “all the nations of the earth” it is perfectly justified to ask if they mean “all”? Do they mean that America will fight against Jerusalem? If not, why not? Do they mean that the 17 smallest countries in the world, most of which have no armies, will join the battle? (http://geography.about.com/cs/countries/a/smallcountries.htm). If, after all, one is going to insist that “all the nations” means literally, every nation on earth, then to be consistent, one must argue that every South American country, the USA and every other country on the globe will join in. Personally, I know of no dispensationalist that actually makes this argument.
In fact, Josephus records that Titus had ten cohorts of auxiliary troops from kings of different countries, such as Arabia, Syria and other countries (Wars, Bk. 4, chapter 4, Whiston, p. 642). In other words, it was the kings of the earth that gathered against literal Jerusalem!
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
It is critical to honor the fact that in Zechariah (and other OT prophetic books), there is what I call the doctrine of Two Jerusalems. (See my in-depth analysis of this in my Who Is This Babylon book). What this means is that in some texts there is a seeming conundrum. On the one hand Jerusalem is destroyed, and yet in the same texts, Jerusalem is delivered! This apparent difficulty is resolved by understanding that Old Covenant Jerusalem was to perish, while the heavenly Jerusalem would be delivered. Galatians 4:22f; Philippians 3; Hebrews 12, and Revelation are some of the NT texts that teach this. This suggestion well explains the situation in Zechariah. The Old Jerusalem would indeed be desolated, in the final outpouring of Mosaic Covenant wrath. Yet, the Jerusalem that is above, the True Jerusalem, would be delivered, and it would be in her that deliverance, the fountain for sin would be opened for salvation (Zechariah 13:1f). I think Cyril of Alexandria (late 4th century), commenting on Isaiah 51 and the “Comfort of Zion” captured the thought somewhat: “The Holy prophets always use the language of the visual and sensory images to signify spiritual things beyond the senses. Sure then, if Isaiah says Zion (51:3), he is not thinking of the earthly city. Rather one should understand Zion to mean the spiritual city, the Church of the living God. For how else can one understand the prophet’s words actually to have been fulfilled? God promised to comfort her, but this did not happen to the earthly city. On the contrary, we see that the city has been stripped bare and destroyed. Therefore the prophet’s words have come to pass among the great number of believers, that is, the church of the living God.” (Cited in The Church’s Bible, Isaiah, Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2007)393.
Zechariah’s prophecy demands that it was fulfilled in the first century, “in that day” when Judas betrayed the Lord. The context demands that the prophecy was fulfilled at a time when the Mosaic Law was still in effect. The judgment described is Mosaic Covenant Wrath. The “kings of the earth” did in fact support Rome’s assault. Finally, the doctrine of the Two Jerusalems demands the passing of the Old Jerusalem, but the deliverance of the New Covenant Jerusalem. This happened in AD 70.