Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle (14:3).
After using Rome as His rod to smite Jerusalem, God later turns on Rome in judgment. Once again, Assyria is the model: “I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets . . . . So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness’” (Isa. 10:5–6, 12–13). The fall of Assyria did not immediately follow its plunder of Israel. The same is true of God’s use of Rome to judge Israel. “It is significant that the decline of the Roman Empire dates from the fall of Jerusalem.” Thomas Scott concurs: “It is also observable, that the Romans after having been thus made the executioners of divine vengeance on the Jewish nation, never prospered as they had done before; but the Lord evidently fought against them, and all the nations which composed their overgrown empire; till at last it was subverted, and their fairest cities and provinces were ravaged by barbarous invaders.”
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south (Zech. 14:3–5).
This is the passage that futurists use to support their claim that Jesus will return from heaven with his raptured saints and touch down on the Mount of Olives and set up His millennial kingdom. Of course, one of the problems in making Zechariah 14:4 refer to Christ’s second coming is the absence of any reference to Him coming down to stand on the Mount of Olives or describing a previously raptured church following Him. The verse states simply “in that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” We’re not told by Zechariah how He got to the Mount of Olives. Since we know that Jesus came to earth (John 1:14), and these events are described in the Old Testament, and Jesus did stand on the Mount of Olives, it’s logical to conclude that the reference to the Mount of Olives refers to Jesus’ first coming.
When did Jesus stand on the Mount of Olives during His ministry? The Olivet Discourse, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, is the fulfillment of Zechariah 14:4. The earliest Christian writers applied Zechariah 14:4 to the work of Christ in His day. Consider the comments of fourth-century historian Eusebius:
But who would not be surprised at the fulfillment of a prophecy which revealed that the Jewish people would undergo these sufferings in the days of the Lord? For as soon as Jesus our Lord and Saviour had come and the Jews had outraged Him, everything that had been predicted was fulfilled against them without exception 500 years after the prediction: from the time of Pontius Pilate to the sieges under Nero, Titus and Vespasian they were never free from all kinds of successive calamities, as you may gather from the history of Flavius Josephus. . . . For after the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ, their city, Jerusalem itself, and the whole system and institutions of the Mosaic worship were destroyed; and at once they underwent captivity in mind as well as body, in refusing to accept the Saviour and Ransomer of the souls of men, Him Who came to preach release to those enslaved by evil dæmons, and giving of sight to those blind in mind.
Eusebius is emphatic that “everything that had been predicted was fulfilled against them without exception 500 years after the prediction.”
Even Zechariah 14:4 is interpreted by Eusebius as having a first-century fulfillment: “And the words, ‘And his feet shall stand in that day on the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem to the eastward,’ what else can they mean than that the Lord God, that is to say the Word of God Himself, will stand, and stand firm, upon His Church, which is here metaphorically called the Mount of Olives?” Eusebius sees the literal fulfillment of this prophecy in Acts 1:9–11 where Jesus is taken up into heaven “from the mount called Olivet” in the presence of His disciples (1:12). Soon after Jesus’ ascension, the gospel was preached to “Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (2:5) and later to the Gentiles who before Christ were considered “unholy or unclean” (10:28). It was in Christ that “the barrier of the dividing wall” between these two groups had been broken down (Eph. 2:14), explained metaphorically by Zechariah as “the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west” (Zech. 14:4). His further comments are helpful in understanding his preterist perspective:
“That the Mount of Olives shall be divided, half of it to the east and towards the sea, a very great chasm and half of it shall lean towards the north, and half of it towards the south,” it possibly shews the expression of the Church throughout the whole inhabited world, for it has filled the east, and the western and eastern nations; it stretches to the western sea, and the isles therein; yea, it has reached to west and south, and to north and north-east. On all sides and everywhere the Church figuratively called the Olive of the Lord is planted.
Eusebius sees the rest of Zechariah 14 as being fulfilled during the ministry of Christ and the apostles, including the keeping of the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). There is even some indication that Eusebius believed that the destruction of Jerusalem was the coming of Christ:
When, then, we see what was of old foretold for the nations fulfilled in our day, and when the lamentation and wailing that was predicted for the Jews, and the burning of the Temple and its utter desolation, can also be seen even now to have occurred according to the prediction, surely we must also agree that the King who was prophesied, the Christ of God, has come, since the signs of His coming have been shewn in each instance I have treated to have been clearly fulfilled.
Later in his Proof of the Gospel, Eusebius sees the fulfillment of Zechariah 14:5–9 in the first century: “This was fulfilled by the coming of our Saviour, accompanied either by His holy apostles and disciples, or by His angels and ministers, of whom the holy gospel says, ‘Angels came and ministered unto Him.’” While I do not always agree with the interpretation Eusebius gives a passage, the issue in this debate is whether passages are interpreted from a preterist perspective.
While Eusebius does not quote all of Matthew 24, the passages he does quote are applied to events leading up to and including the judgment of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.
Early Christian writers applied Zechariah 14:4 to the work of Christ in His day. Tertullian (A.D. 145–220) wrote: “‘But at night He went out to the Mount of Olives.’ For thus had Zechariah pointed out: ‘And His feet shall stand in that day on the Mount of Olives’ [Zech. xiv. 4].” Tertullian was alluding to the fact that the Olivet prophecy set the stage for the judgment coming of Christ that came with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 which would once for all break down the Jewish/Gentile division inherent in the Old Covenant.
Matthew Henry, while alluding to its symbolic meaning, interprets it in a preterist fashion in events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70:
The partition-wall between Jew and Gentiles shall be taken away. The mountains about Jerusalem, and particularly this, signified it to be an enclosure, and that it stood in the way of those who would approach to it. Between the Gentiles and Jerusalem this mountain of Bether, of division, stood, Cant. ii. 17. But by the destruction of Jerusalem this mountain shall be made to cleave in the midst, and so the Jewish pale shall be taken down, and the church laid in common with the Gentiles, who were made one with the Jews by the breaking down of this middle wall of partition, Eph. ii. 14.
You will notice that there is no mention of a thousand year reign following the presence of “the LORD” on the Mount of Olives. A New Testament millennial theology is being read into Zechariah 14.
. G. N. M. Collins, “Zechariah,” The New Bible Commentary, F. Davidson, ed., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954), 761.
. Quoted in Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, According to the Authorized Version; with Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations, and Copious Marginal References, 3 vols. (New York: Collins and Hannay, 1832), 2:956.
. Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, trans. W. J. Ferrar, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1981), 2:26–27, (285–286). Emphasis added.
. Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, 2:28 (287c).
. Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, 2:31 (289d).
. Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, 2:146 (412b–d).
. Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, 2:147 (413).
. Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, 2:214 (487d).
. “Tertullian Against Marcion,” Book 4, chapter XL, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 3:417.
. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’ Commentary on the Whole Bible, 6 vols. (New York: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 4:1468.