“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
Zechariah continues his prophecies about the Messiah and His church as chapter 13 ends. We know the shepherd points to Jesus himself because Christ cited it as being fulfilled when his disciples – “the sheep” – would desert him upon his arrest (Matt. 26:31; Mk. 14:27; cf. John 10:11ff). The sword being awakened against the shepherd and striking him is a clear reference to the crucifixion. It is noteworthy that it is “the Lord of hosts” who calls for the sword to “awake” and “strike the shepherd” (cf. John 19:11a). Since Jesus is the shepherd and “the Lord of hosts” is the One who speaks of “my shepherd” as “the man who stands next to me” (ESV), “My Associate” (NASB), or “My Companion” (NKJV), it is reasonable to conclude that this is God the Father speaking of God the Son since the Christ would, upon ascending to heaven, sit at the right hand of the Father (Mk. 16:19; Acts 7:55; Rom. 8:34; et al).W.J. Deane, in Volume 14 of The Pulpit Commentary, views the way the Lord of hosts speaks of his shepherd in this verse as implying “one united to another by the possession of common nature”; in The Minor Prophets commentary, Theo Laetsch viewed it as “One with Him in essence.” Thus, the prophet foresees the shepherd who is struck by the sword as equal to the Lord of hosts, a prophecy about the deity of the Messiah (cf. Phil. 2:5-8; John 1:1, 14; 10:30).
Even though Christ’s followers would be scattered upon his death, God still planned to care for them. “I will turn my hand against the little ones” (ESV, NASB, NKJV) could be translated “I will turn mine hand upon the little ones” (KJV) when one studies the various meanings of the Hebrew term ‘al, showing that God’s hand would work on behalf of his Son’s disciples. The prophet continues to prophesy about the Messiah’s followers, saying that “two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive.” However, God would put the surviving third “into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.” When I read this, I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3-8, 18-23). Of the three groups of people who did not initially reject the Word of God but instead heard it and received it (i.e., obeyed the gospel), two out of the three either fell away due to tribulation and persecution or were distracted by worldiness and thus bore no fruit. Only one out of the three bore fruit “with patience” (Lk. 8:15), implying that they stayed loyal even through trials. The New Testament writers spoke often of faithful Christians being required to persevere through fiery trials (1 Pet. 4:12ff; Heb. 12:2-13; James 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-4; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12; et al); Paul spoke of our work being “revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (1 Cor. 3:13b).
Zechariah, speaking for God, foresaw that these faithful saints will “call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, “The Lord is my God.’” Christians, let’s never forget that during our struggles we can approach God’s throne with confidence to find grace and help (Heb. 4:14-16; Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Pet. 5:6-7). Christ knows who his people are (2 Tim. 2:19). They are the ones who will loyally confess him as their Lord despite whatever the world does to them (Matt. 10:16-38; Rom. 10:8-13).