Summary: Zephaniah speaks of how God came to be with us in the person of Christ, so He might be within us through the Holy Spirit.
Zephaniah served in the reign of Josiah. He became king at age 8 after his dad's assassination. Babylon was rising as an empire and Judah was worshiping idols. He began repairs on the temple, during which, they found the Book of the Law, probably Deuteronomy, or the first five books of our Old Testament. In light of this, Josiah initiated reforms.
"Josiah also got rid of the mediums and psychics, the household gods, the idols, and every other kind of detestable practice, both in Jerusalem and throughout the land of Judah. He did this in obedience to the laws written in the scroll that Hilkiah the priest had found in the LORD’s Temple. Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since. Even so, the LORD was very angry with Judah because of all the wicked things Manasseh had done to provoke him. For the LORD said, 'I will also banish Judah from my presence just as I have banished Israel. And I will reject my chosen city of
Jerusalem and the Temple where my name was to be honored.'" - 2 Kings 23:24-27 (NLT)
Josiah's grand-father, Manasseh, introduced idol worship to Judah. Ironically, the Book of the Law found during Josiah's reign explained why God would judge the nation, despite Josiah's reforms.
"You must not bow down to them or worship them (idols), because I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands." - Deuteronomy 5:9-10 (HCSB)
During the reign of Jehoiakim, four generations from Manasseh, Judah was conquered by Babylon. I'm glad for the devotion of our founding fathers. I believe that's the reason American still stands, despite our sin.
So Zephaniah tells the people that God will allow them to be conquered because of their sin. Scholars identify nine different messages in this book. Eight speak of God’s judgment. But in the ninth, we discover that the God of judgment is also a God of forgiveness and hope. We learn of a day when God's people would be restored by His presence.
Scholars call prophesies like this "prophetic foreshortening." There's an immediate, later, and ultimate fulfillment. As we mentioned, when one stands far from a mountain range, it seems each peak follows one after the other, with no gap in between. Yet as one goes through the range, they realize there are large gaps between each mountain.
Such is the case here. Zephaniah tells of Judah's return from captivity; the 1st coming of the Messiah; and the ultimate fulfillment in the 2nd coming of Christ. God's presence with His people would be recognized as what brought restoration to Judah when they returned to Jerusalem after captivity; and His presence with His people will be the cause of the ultimate restoration of the universe when Christ returns.