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The second last book of the Old Testament is the book of Zechariah. It was written in the eighth month of the second year of the reign of Darius which was about October or November of 520 BC according to some scholars. Darius was the king of Persia and at this time Persia was a huge empire. Zechariah was given messages to deliver to the captives of the exiled people of Judah and was another work God was doing in reaching out to this last part of the now scattered twelve tribes of Israel. He had sent prophets in the past, but they were scorned. The prisoners taken at the fall of Jerusalem were made up of the tribe of Judah along with some from Benjamin and a mixture of Levites and others. What was significant about this period in history is that this portion of the sons of Jacob who were to be scattered were responsible for the city of Jerusalem and surroundings and the Temple and the Writings. As always God was very merciful to the people He loved. He did not relish having to punish Israel, but had done so after sending them many prophets (Zech. 1:1-4). 520 BC was a moment when God began restoring the people of Judah from exile. Prophecies showed that there would be a presence in Jerusalem for the time of the Messiah which was still over 500 years in the future. Zechariah was also a priest and he came back with some of the remnants of the exile when Zerubbabel and Joshua returned about 538 BC. (Neh 12:16). He wrote to encourage the returned people of Judah to complete the rebuilding of the temple and to stay close to God. In this amazing book of prophecy the coming of Christ, his lowliness, rejection, betrayal for 30 pieces of silver, and coming glory can be found. God reached out to these returning exiles because their commission was of great importance. God promised blessings for their repentance and those blessings were certain - if not for them, then for the future (Zech. 8:1-11). God said He would not deal with them as He had in the past. There was something special God had in mind for these people. However history shows the failure of the people to remain loyal, so shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (no doubt the one big reason God dealt differently with them) the temple was once again destroyed and never rebuilt to this day. There was a period of time in which no people of Israel were to be found in the Promised Land. God still deals differently with the Jews.
Paul related strongly with the people of Judea in the time shortly after Jesus' death. In his message to the church in Rome, Paul stated that the Jews had a number of advantages in their relationship with God. When Paul answered the questions about what value is there in circumcision, his reply was: "Much in every way! First of all they were entrusted with the very words of God" (Rom. 3:1). Paul knew the Jews had also failed to obey God and remain true and loyal to His word - and they suffered greatly for that failure. Once the prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled in the resurrection, there was no longer a need for God to support the presence of the Jews in Jerusalem and they were removed. History is filled with accounts of the persecution of Jewish people wherever they went, it seems. Christians blame them for the death of Jesus Christ, some resent the claim by the Jews that they are: "God's chosen people", and some dislike or hate them without knowing why. Jews were persecuted in the southern part of Poland and the Ukraine - and confined to an area called the "Pale" by permission of the governments of Russia and Germany. The play and then movie "Fiddler on the Roof" is a reflection of some of the persecution these people suffered. The holocaust and the continuing persecution that has driven many to flee to the present nation of Israel are all reflections of the ongoing troubles these people have known. And yet, Jewish people cannot deny who they are and cannot disappear. Descendants of Jacob will be in Jerusalem when Christ returns and that may be God's direct hand at work (Zech. 14:5). They have continued to exist since Judah was born and they have continued to have a unique relationship with God. One could wonder how the value which is "much in every way" became visible in them.
One verse in the writings of Zechariah carries a poignant message for the Jews of today as well as those of yesterday. Jews are known to be hopeful. They are waiting for their Messiah to come and restore them to favour with God and they are waiting for the day in which they will return to the Promised Land with God's blessing. Those two messages of hope do not seem to have diminished from their people through some terrible times of persecution. They cannot seem to shake their identity, their destiny and that which is so deeply embedded in them along with the responsibility of the Torah. Zechariah used an unusual couple of words to describe them as "prisoners of hope" (Zech. 9:12). He calls them that along with reciting some promises of God. So Jewish people seem driven with this unseen, unfulfilled hope that has characterized them for so long. To be a prisoner of hope is to be bound to some future event so strongly that loss of life, wealth, friends or family cannot change that hope. It is clear from the words of the Bible that God's people today are "prisoners of hope" and also recipients of the value of being thus in God's eyes as Paul noted in the book of Romans. That these words appear in a book of prophecy that has much to say about Jesus Christ is of great significance to all converted people. Paul noted that hope is not something that one can grasp and see. It remains unfulfilled and only to be seen in words and promises. He wrote that converted children of God are saved through hope, rejoicing in hope and bound by hope (Rom. 8:24,25,15:13). God will continue to help His people when they show diligence to the very end, thus making their hope sure (Heb. 6:10-19). He wrote about Abraham who waited patiently to see his hope fulfilled and hope was to be a secure anchor for us today.
Nobody enjoys the task of swimming against the mainstream of our world. The laws of God and the value of Christ's sacrifice (the "much in every way") is partly in the future. Our faith is to be so strong that it will surpass any suffering we may endure in order to obey God. Being a "prisoner of hope" carries with it something that is hard to grasp. In some ways it becomes part of us and defines who we are. There is something deeply spiritual about being a prisoner of hope. The effect makes us hope for the return of Jesus Christ and the blessing of His favour in the First Resurrection and to be forever with God (Rev. 20:6). In some ways there is a strong resemblance to the hope of the Jews of today. They look for their coming Messiah and we look for the returning Christ (Acts 1:11). Jews look forward to a return to Jerusalem and the Promised Land while God's people today look forward to meeting Christ in the air and going on to Jerusalem and the Promised Land (Zech. 14:3,9, I Thess. 4:13-17). We too are captivated by the hope of the Kingdom of God that is to be established on this troubled world (Dan. 7:26, Rev. 11:15).
We are prisoners of our hope just as strongly as the people of Judah are prisoners of their hope. Hope is an anchor and an unseen strength from God. He makes promises to the Jews as well as Christians. The greater the troubles of the world become the stronger the hope seems to grow. Hope that is strong and forward looking becomes part of the fabric of a person - it defines who they are and how they live. It is the driving force behind the determination and compulsion to serve and obey God. Converts and Jewish people are to be admired for their steadfast clinging to a yet to be fulfilled hope (I Pet. 3:13-17). Hope remains until it is completed at the return of Jesus Christ.