Home > Bible Study, John MacArthur, minor prophets, S. Lewis Johnson, Zechariah > Was Zechariah the Prophet Martyred?

Was Zechariah the Prophet Martyred?


I’ve started S. Lewis Johnson’s Zechariah series, and for additional study recently read MacArthur’s notes (MacArthur Bible Commentary) introduction.  One rather surprising item was MacArthur’s note that this Zechariah was martyred, since Jesus mentions Zechariah the son of Berechiah in Matthew 23.  I also remember from S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series, a brief mention of that passage and reference to the Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24.  In considering the overall history pre- and post-exile, MacArthur’s note just seemed odd, in that it basically says that there were two men with the same name Zechariah, and both were martyred in the very same manner.

I also consider the overall time periods: the idolatrous pre-exile period of King Joash, as contrasted with the attitude of the remnant in the days of the chapters in Ezra’s book along with parallel material in Haggai.  Haggai’s prophecies in 520 B.C., a few months before the prophecy of Zechariah, were received favorably and achieved the desired result: the people resumed and completed building the second temple.  Zechariah’s prophecy followed up a few months later, in 519 B.C., a favorable prophecy to encourage the remnant concerning the future, that God is still concerned about Israel and still has a great future for them.  Nothing in Zechariah’s prophecy, or in any of the other post-exilic writings, indicates that the post-exile people were still idolatrous and murderous in the manner of the earlier time.  Instead, only a relatively small number of them had returned (about 50,000 at the time of Haggai and Zechariah), and they were very conscious of their past sins, and more prone to discouragement, to build their own homes first.  All of the people faced persecution and opposition during this time, from the surrounding non-Jewish people: not exactly the time when Jews would be turning on their own prophets who were giving them a favorable message — and besides, the temple was only then being rebuilt, so how could Zechariah the prophet be killed in such a structure?  Yes, Stephen in Acts 7 declares to his generation “which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” and yet the post-exile period seems to be one of the rare exceptions, of prophets who gave messages that the people did respond to.  Before and after this period, the people were more secure in their location, not a small remnant oppressed by outsiders, and thus more inclined and able to persecute and kill the prophets.

But what of Jesus’ remark in Matthew 23:35, concerning “the blood of Abel.. to Zechariah the son of Berechiah”?  Some debate exists as to the actual names in the original manuscripts, and it is common enough to find Old Testament characters given more than one name, or even for generations to be skipped, such that the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles could easily have been a grandson of Jehoida.  Nothing in Jesus’ statement itself proves that this had to be Zechariah the prophet.

The reference to the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles makes much more sense when we also realize that the Jewish scriptures are  arranged differently than our Old Testament (see this link for the actual sequence), and 2 Chronicles (the full book of Chronicles actually) is the last book in the Jewish collection.  Thus, a reference to “Abel … to Zechariah” covers everything from the first book to the last book of the Jewish Bible: from Genesis to Chronicles, NOT Genesis to Malachi.

S. Lewis Johnson explained it thus, in his Matthew series:

Now let me say just a word about verse 35.  You’ll notice that our Lord looks back over the whole of the Old Testament, and beginning with Abel, the first of those murdered in the Bible, then on to Zacharias son of Barachias, slain between the temple and the altar (the account of which is given us in 2nd Chronicles).  And do you remember perhaps that in the Hebrew Old Testament the last book of the Bible is 2nd Chronicles?   For them the order of books is different from the order in our English text, so that what our Lord has done is to begin in the first of the murders in the book of Genesis and has ranged through the whole of the Scriptures, as he knew them, to the last of those that were murdered unrighteously, Zacharias son of Barachias, and has in a sense characterized the whole of the divine revelation up to that point as being a situation in which the righteous men were crucified by the religious men.  It’s a remarkable statement, a remarkable summary of the attitude of religious men, hypocritical men to the reality of the truth of the word of God.  We can then understand very easily how he should say, “Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”

By contrast, MacArthur’s sermon explanation (also in a Matthew series) doesn’t even mention these points, and just assumes it must be Zechariah the prophet, and that Jesus’s statement affirms that the people were always killing their prophets down to the more recent time period.

From a sampling of other commentaries I checked, John Gill’s is the most thorough on this overall question, and he notes several things including the problem of the historical time period, and agrees with S. Lewis Johnson’s view above.  An excerpt from John Gill here:

Others have been of opinion, that Zechariah the prophet is designed; and indeed, he is said to be the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, Zec 1:1 and the Jewish Targumist speaks of a Zechariah, the son of Iddo, as slain by the Jews in the temple. His words are these {a};

“as ye slew Zechariah, the son of Iddo, the high priest, and faithful prophet, in the house of the sanctuary of the Lord, on the day of atonement; because he reproved you, that ye might not do that evil which is before the Lord.”

And him the Jews make to be the same with Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, in Isa 8:2 and read Berechiah {b}: but the Targumist seems to confound Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, with him; for the prophet Zechariah was not an high priest, Joshua was high priest in his time; nor does it appear from any writings, that he was killed by the Jews; nor is it probable that they would be guilty of such a crime, just upon their return from captivity; and besides, he could not be slain in such a place, because the temple, and altar, were not yet built: it remains, that it must be Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, who was slain in the court of the house of the Lord,  2Ch 24:20 who, as Abel was the first, he is the last of the righteous men whose death is related in the Scriptures, and for whose blood vengeance was required, as for Abel’s. He was slain in the court of the house of the Lord; and so the Ethiopic version here renders it, in the midst of the holy house.
. . .
The chief objections to its being this Zechariah are, that the names do agree; the one being the son of Jehoiada, the other the son of Barachias; and the killing of him was eight hundred years before this time; when it might have been thought our Lord would have instanced in a later action: and this he speaks of, he ascribes to the men of that generation: to which may be replied, that as to the difference of names, the father of this Zechariah might have two names, which is no unusual thing; besides, these two names signify much the same thing; Jehoiada signifies praise the Lord, and Barachias bless the Lord; just as Eliakim and Jehoiakim, are names of the same person, and signify the same thing,  2Ch 36:4. Moreover, Jerom tells us, that in the Hebrew copy of this Gospel used by the Nazarenes, he found the name Jehoiada instead of Barachias: and as to the action being done so long ago, what has been suggested already may be an answer to it, that it was the last on record in the writings of the Old Testament; and that his blood, as Abel’s, is said to require vengeance: and Christ might the rather pitch upon this action, because it was committed on a very great and worthy man, and in the holy place, and by the body of the people, at the command of their king, and with their full approbation, and consent: and therefore, though this was not done by the individual persons in being in Christ’s time, yet by the same people; and so they are said to slay him, and his blood is required of them: and their horrible destruction was a punishment for that load of national guilt, which had been for many hundreds of years contracting, and heaping upon them.

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  1. August 7, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Wow, some serious food for thought. I love reading Zechariah…I’ve used Charles Feinberg’s commentary for my own personal devotion but I want to revisit it again with some other commentaries and mp3s. Thanks again for sharing this.

  2. August 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Thanks for stopping by. I’ve just started S. Lewis Johnson’s Zechariah series (up to chapter 3), and finding it a great study–and a great OT prophet with so much about the Second Coming, and so many references to it in Revelation.

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