Summary: The Old Testament expectation was inclining towards the coming of the warrior king. Instead, He appeared as the man on the donkey
ANOINTED RULER, DIVINE KING
In a series of visions, Zechariah reached beyond the needs of his own time to the coming of Jesus.
In Zechariah 9:1, the eyes of men, and all Israel, were looking towards the return of the LORD to His city and Temple. The departure was foretold by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 10:18; Ezekiel 11:23), and had been because of the people’s sins: and with the departure of the LORD from both the Temple and the land, their own exile from the land had become inevitable. However, Ezekiel also foretold a time when God’s glory would return to the Temple (Ezekiel 43:4-5) - a theme taken up also by Zechariah’s contemporary, Haggai (Haggai 2:7-9).
After the exile, the expectation of the people had been for something greater than had been before: perhaps on the scale of the magnificent Temple foretold in Ezekiel 40-43. Ezra tells us of the old men weeping when the foundations of the new Temple were laid (Ezra 3:12): perhaps at the smallness of the second Temple when compared with Solomon’s Temple, which they remembered. Zechariah had to warn the people against ‘despising the day of small things’ (Zechariah 4:10) - a warning we would all do well to heed.
Sometime before Zechariah, Zephaniah prophesied about the presence of the LORD amongst His people (Zephaniah 3:14-15). Zechariah, for his part, spoke of the King entering Jerusalem in humility, riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10). Later still, Malachi foretold how ‘the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple’ (Malachi 3:1).
It is evident, then, that we are looking at two Lords: as in Psalm 110:1. There is the LORD (YHWH), the divine king; and there is the anointed ruler, the Messiah. It is only in the Person of Jesus that these two come together.
The warrior king of the first half of the chapter is one and the same with the meek man on a donkey of Zechariah 9:9. Here He comes as Prince of Peace (Zechariah 9:10; cf. Isaiah 9:6-7). Yet His dominion - like that of the stone in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision (Daniel 2:34-35) which will supersede all other kingdoms and empires, and will fill the whole earth (Daniel 2:44-45) - is represented by Zechariah as “from sea to sea, and from the River (Euphrates in the east) to the ends of the earth (representing the west)” (Zechariah 9:10).
Zechariah speaks of God’s covenant of blood with His people (Zechariah 9:11). This ties in with the Christological application of our passage, and a developing strand in the later chapters of Zechariah. It is by His blood sacrifice that Jesus ‘bears salvation’ for His people (Zechariah 9:9).
The great Shepherd was to be smitten, and His sheep scattered (Zechariah 13:7). Thereby a fountain of forgiveness would be opened for the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Zechariah 13:1) - and for us. The LORD would pour out His Holy Spirit, and the people would look upon the crucified Saviour, and mourn for their sins (Zechariah 12:10).
In Zechariah’s day, the covenant of blood represented deliverance for the “prisoners of hope” still in exile. They were encouraged to “turn to the strong hold” (Zechariah 9:12). They would have “double” for what they had lost.
‘Yeah, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3:8).