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Today's Study

Zechariah 12:10: They Will Look on Me, the One They Have Pierced?

Does this text teach, or even imply, that there will be two comings of Messiah to earth? Few texts have been cited in Jewish-evangelical discussions more than this one. And if one were to search the Old Testament for evidence that Christ would come twice, this is probably the only text that could be used.

At the heart of debate over this verse are the following questions. Is the subject of the verb look the same as the subject of pierced? Is me to be equated with him in Zechariah 12:10? Are those who participated in the piercing the same ones who in the eschatological day will look on him and grieve bitterly? One final problem is this: is it possible to pierce God, who is spirit?

That God is spirit and not corporeal flesh is taught not only in John 4:24 but also in Isaiah 31:3. The mystery of this Zechariah passage is that the speaker is Yahweh himself. He is the One who will pour out grace and supplication on the house of Israel and David. Moreover, the first person occurs over and over again in this chapter (Zech 12:2, 3, 4, 6, 9 and 10), but in every case it refers to the Messiah, the one who is pictured as one with God himself. In fact, Zechariah 11 says that Yahweh's representative, the Good Shepherd, will be rejected. Thus, one can only conclude that it is the Messiah who is divine and who will be rejected and pierced. However, he will be deeply mourned at some time in the future and then finally appreciated by all those who had previously rejected him.

"On that day" (Zech 12:11), when Messiah is restored to rightful recognition by all those who formerly rejected his person and work, he will return to restore paradisiacal conditions. Most Jewish interpreters will concede that there will indeed be such a coming of Messiah--when there will be peace. They insist, however, that he could not have come previously.

That is precisely where this text comes into play. If it is agreed that the context has to do with Messiah's coming when there is peace, then it must be recognized that he has at some previous time been pierced. When did this happen? And by whom? And for what? Only the Christian claims for Jesus of Nazareth can fit the details of this passage.

Others have seen the irresistible force of this argument and therefore have sought to show a switch in pronoun antecedents in the middle of the verse. This interpretation makes the people of Israel the ones looking, but the nations are the ones piercing. Since the two occurrences of they are separated in the text solely by the prepositional phrase on me and the pronominal expression whom (the one in NIV), it would be most unnatural to assume that the antecedent has changed. The only reason for doing so would be to avoid the obvious force of the statement.

The New Jewish Publication Society's translation Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (1988) has rendered this verse a bit more smoothly: "But I will fill the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem with a spirit of pity and compassion; and they shall lament to Me about those who are slain, wailing over them as over a favorite son and showing bitter grief as over a first-born" (emphasis mine--to point out the section where the problem occurs).

The problem with this translation is that it breaks the rules of Hebrew grammar to avoid the obvious implications of this Hebrew verse. It turns the active form of pierce into passive, and the subjects into objects; and this the Hebrew will not allow! It is a heroic effort to bypass the logical implication that the one who speaks is the one who was pierced by those who now stare in amazement in the eschatological, or future, day.

Other Jewish interpreters have given up and have instead found here a case for two Messiahs: Messiah son of Joseph, who did in fact suffer, and Messiah son of David, who did not suffer, but who is to come in glory and power to rule at a time when peace comes on earth. This is a late invention, created in response to the claims of the Christian movement.

Messiah has already come once. He suffered on the cross for our sin. He will come again in power and with glory.