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Zechariah 14 opens with the promise that “a day is coming for the LORD when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you” (Zech. 14:1). No time is specified for when this event will take place. Should we look to our future for fulfillment or are there more proximate events that best fit the historical and theological context of Zechariah’s day? We know that four kingdoms would subjugate Israel during and after her exile (Dan. 2–3): Babylon, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. In Zechariah 14:2, we learn that God will gather “all the nations against Jerusalem to battle” (see Part 2), with the result that the city would be “captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished, and half the city exiled” (Zech. 14:2). While dispensationalists apply this verse to a post-rapture great tribulation, and amillennialists apply it to the persecution of the church down through the ages, I contend that the passage refers to the domination of Israel by the Romans and Herodians in the period leading up to the Incarnation and ministry of Jesus. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes the period this way:
The miserable story of the vicissitudes of the Jewish people in the century succeeding the great persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt [is] a story made up of faction, intrigue, wars, murders, massacres, of growing degeneracy of rulers and nation, of repeated sackings of Jerusalem and terrible slaughters.
The Roman general Pompey gained control of Judea in 63 B.C. The result was a siege of Jerusalem which lasted three months. Pompey’s subjugation of Jerusalem ended the period of Judea’s regained independence under the Maccabeans. Like the Qumran community, the author of the Psalms of Solomon, “deplores the savagery of the Romans”: “The lawless one laid waste our land so that none inhabited it, they destroyed young and old and their children together. In the heat of his anger he sent them away to the west, and exposed the rulers of the land unsparingly to derision. Being an alien, the enemy behaved arrogantly and his heart was alien to God.”
Judea became a province of the Roman empire which set off a chain of events that led to the high priest being deprived of any royal status and the shutting down of the judiciary and civil authority in Jerusalem (John 18:31). The local governing power was exercised by Antipater who was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47 B.C. Antipater appointed Herod (his own son by marriage) as governor of Galilee, when Herod was only fifteen years old. In about 40 B.C., after appealing to Rome, Herod was appointed king of the Jews. The ruthless history of the Herods is evident on the pages of Scripture (Matt. 2:16; 14:3–6; Acts 12:1–21). It was because of these social and political conditions that many Jews had hoped Jesus was their long awaited political savior.