On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples…
Chapter 12 opens with the prophet speaking again of “the burden of the word of the Lord” (12:1a). The Old Testament prophets used the term “burden” – literally, a heavy load to be carried or lifted – to symbolically refer a severe verdict from God upon the sins of the people to whom the “burden” was “against” (cf. Nah. 1:1; Is. 19:1; Jer. 22:33-34). Previously, Zechariah had spoken of “the burden of the word of the Lord against the land of Hadrach” (9:1). Now, it was “concerning Israel” (12:1a).
After describing the Lord in verse 1 as the One “who stretched out the heavens” (Ps. 104:2-4; 40:22) “and founded the earth” (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:1-4; Job 38:4; Ps. 102:25; Is. 48:13; 51:13, 16) “and formed the spirit of man within him” (Heb. 12:9; Eccl. 12:7; cf. 2 Cor. 4:16; Rom. 7:22; Job 32:8), the prophet gave the Lord’s declaration: “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah” (12:2). Concerning the “cup of staggering,” think of a large container filled with wine that an overconfident drinker at a drinking party looks at and thinks, “I can drink that right down and not be affected at all, no problem!”… only to find himself staggering around the room after guzzling it down, drunk and unable to see or walk straight. The message here is that God was going to make Jerusalem, and Judah alongside her, seem “to all the surrounding peoples” (i.e., the nations) that she would be an easy conquest…but they would soon find themselves defeated by the wrath of her God. He elaborates further by describing how the Lord “on that day…will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples” (12:3a). Any who tried to lift this heavy stone would only end up hurting themselves (12:3b). Still, “all the nations of the earth will gather against it” (12:3c).
Historically, from the time of their Babylonian captivity onward Jerusalem and Judah were never something that, from a literal military standpoint, would make the rest of the nations “stagger.” At the time of Zechariah, the Jews were under Persian rule and would, in varying degrees, continue to be under the thumb of subsequent empires; first the Greeks, then the Romans, who would destroy Jerusalem and her temple in A.D. 70, causing the Jews to scatter and be a people without a homeland for hundreds of years. It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that this prophecy about Jerusalem and Judah should be taken figuratively rather than literally. More specifically, a biblical case could be made that Jerusalem and Judah symbolize the New Testament church in this prophecy. The New Testament writers spoke of Christians in terms that would have fit the Jews of the Old Testament (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3:29; 6:16; James 1:1; Lk. 22:30), thus showing that under the Christian era it is Christians, not ethnic Jews, who are God’s chosen people. In like manner, the writer of Hebrews described “the church of the firstborn” as “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22-23; cf. Rev. 21:2; 19:7; Rom. 7:4).
With this in mind, Zechariah’s prophecy that the Lord would make Jerusalem “a heavy stone” (12:3) fits with Daniel’s prophetic interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about “a stone…cut out by no human hand” being symbolic of the church, “a kingdom that shall never be destroyed” and which would “stand forever” (Dan. 2:34, 44; cf. Col. 1:13). If this prophecy is indeed about the New Testament church, then it makes sense that Zechariah would foresee that the church would be “a cup of staggering” and “a heavy stone” for “all the surrounding peoples” and that “all the nations of the earth will gather against it.” Starting with the literal Jewish nation itself, and then continuing on to the Roman empire and, in varying degrees, all subsequent empires and nations since up to and including a noticeable portion of our own society, the world has always fought against New Testament Christianity (cf. Matt. 5:10-12; 7:13-14; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:12ff). Yet in the end, we who stand with Christ will be victorious!