The book of Zechariah bears the prophet’s name, which means “Jehovah will remember” or “Jehovah remembers.” The book is difficult to date as a whole, because only three of the prophecies are dated. These exceptions are in Zechariah 1:1 (“the eighth month of Darius’ second year,” 520 B.C.), Zechariah 1:7 (“the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month Shebat, in Darius’ second year”), and Zechariah 7:1 (“In King Darius’ fourth year, on the fourth day of Kislev, the ninth month,” 518 B.C.).
However, the book can be easily divided into two major sections, chapters 1-8 and 9-14, based on the content of the prophecies. The first section deals primarily with God’s messages to Judah as they worked to rebuild the Temple (similar to Haggai’s prophecies of the same time). The second section deals more with eschatological events, particularly the future Messianic kingdom. The reference to “that day” is found 17 times in chapters 9-14 but only once in the first section (Zechariah 3:10).
Because of this distinction, and due to the fact that Greece is mentioned by name as a considerable force (which it was not in the early sixth century), some scholars contend that the second section was written much later and appended to Zechariah. However, Archer points out that by 480 B.C. (only 40 years later), Greece was already pushing back against Persian expansion, which would have given the entire region pause. A span of 40-50 years would not have been too long for Zechariah to minister in Judah, especially since he was considered to be a “young man” at the beginning (Zechariah 2:4), so it is a strong possibility that the sections were written at different times, albeit by the same man and for different purposes.
Much like the Revelation, Zechariah is full of odd visions and illustrations – horsemen, olive trees, a flying scroll – so it is notoriously difficult to interpret without a basic understanding of Israel’s past, present, and future from Zechariah’s standpoint. However, since most of the symbols are explained to some extent, a grasp of the historical context does resolve some of the confusion.
Chapter three records Zechariah’s fourth vision in one night. He “saw Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zechariah 3:1). There is significance to the fact that “the angel of the LORD” in Zechariah 3:1 is called “the LORD” in Zechariah 3:2, who yet refers to “the LORD” as a distinct person. This is an obvious reference to the deity of the pre-incarnate Christ (the Eternal Son of God), who is wholly God yet a distinct person from the Father.
Like Michael in Jude 9, the angel of the LORD did not rebuke Satan at this time, but left that in the hands of Jehovah (Zechariah 3:2), who considered Joshua as one saved from fire. In Zechariah’s vision Joshua was wearing dirty clothes, a symbol of the uncleanness of Israel and her priesthood (Zechariah 3:3-5; compare to Haggai 2:10-14). The clean clothes represent God’s forgiveness of sin, including the high priest’s turban, which Joshua received at Zechariah’s prompting (cf. Exodus 28:36-39).
Finally, the angel of the LORD commissioned Joshua, promising that he would stand and serve in the Temple, if he would continue to be faithful in his life and service to God (Zechariah 3:6-7). Joshua and his fellow priests would serve as pictures of the coming Servant-Branch (both references to the Messiah; Isaiah 11:1; 42:1). Zechariah 3:10 includes the first use of the eschatological phrase “in [or on] that day” in Zechariah, a common phrase to reference Messiah’s coming and kingdom. When that day comes, “the iniquity of this land” will be removed, peaceful fellowship will be restored, and Jehovah will act with omniscience over the world (symbolized by the “seven eyes,” explained in Zechariah 4:10). Even the stone itself probably refers to Messiah, “the cornerstone and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over” (1 Peter 2:7-8).