“People who are far off will come and build the Lord’s temple, and you will know that the Lord of Armies has sent me to you. This will happen when you fully obey the Lord your God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Every contract has terms and conditions. These are the things written in fine print at the bottom of the page that most people don’t bother to read very closely. I remember being somewhere that I actually took time to read it and the person waiting for me to sign was not happy that I was being that guy. But if there’s a catch, that is where it will be. Well, what Israel had with God wasn’t a contract, but what Zechariah says here is a bit like some fine print.
The people were eager to rebuild. We can understand that these days. We’ve been cooped up now for three months. No one in the world imagined this whole shut down thing was going to be like this when it started. The damage to our economy has been incredible. Long cherished traditions have been lost and some, though perhaps recoverable in some form, may never again be the same. People are so ready to get back to life as they remembered it that many are throwing wise caution to the wind in pursuit of this end. And it’s been three months.
Israel had endured 70 years of captivity and everything they knew had been reduced to rubble. Their desire to rebuild was potent beyond belief. And Zechariah had been promising and encouraging them with the assurances of God’s intention to see them rebuilt. He was going beyond just rebuilding as they expected, though. Our God isn’t one to limit Himself to merely our expectations. He’s the God who does immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. God pointed ahead to the future coming of the Messiah.
Now things were on a whole other level. God was not just doing something in and for Israel. His plans were bigger than that. They included the whole world. Here He sees not just the temple being rebuilt (which in their minds meant the reconnecting of the people with God), but people from all around the world coming to take part in the rebuilding. This worldwide work of rebuilding would be a sign of the genuineness of Zechariah’s prophecy.
All of this naturally begged a question in the minds and hearts of the people: When was this going to happen? Zechariah tells them: “This will happen when you fully obey the Lord your God.”
So, they just needed to keep the Law and the Messiah would come? No, but can you see how easily the people could have started thinking something like that? The “this” here most contextually was the world coming to build the temple and the messianic rule of Joshua. That’s what the people would likely have understood first and best. And that was a potential fulfillment of Zechariah’s words, but God was thinking bigger than that.
But still, the belief developed that their obedience would be the thing that triggered the Messiah’s arrival and rule. This, of course, developed into a stifling legalism. It led to the rise of the Pharisees and a generally sincere effort on the part of the people to follow the Law so the Messiah would arrive. But they failed. Because, of course they did. We always do when we try and be good.
So, would this keep the Messiah from coming? Obviously it didn’t, but then what did this mean? I think God was accomplishing a couple of things here. First, He was looking further down the road than the people were. I don’t mean that in terms of the prophecy being for them or for us. This was something for everyone.
The second thing helps explain the first. I don’t know about you, but perfect obedience seems like an impossible dream for me. I try, but I fail again and again. And yet, the Messiah came anyway. This is because the Messiah’s coming was never connected to our obedience. His coming was instead going to be the spark that made our obedience possible.
We can’t hit the mark of righteousness on our own. We’ve never been able to do it in the past, and we’ll never be able to do it in the future. We can’t do it on our own because of sin in us. When, by the grace of God, we receive the Messiah into our lives, though, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts and empowers us to obey. Our faith is the ticket. Obedience comes, not by effort, but by faith.
And when we hit that mark, God’s kingdom expands. His temple built not by hands, but by hearts and lives, grows, built up by the lives of people around the world. What we see here is something we will see again and again as we get further into this second section of Zechariah’s prophecy. God was preparing the people for the work He would accomplish in and through Jesus, work that was intended for the whole world. It’s a work that you can take part in too if you will receive it. I hope you will.