A shepherd theme runs throughout Zechariah’s prophetic ministry (Zechariah 10:2; 11:4–14, 15–17). An instance of that theme is found in Zechariah 11:4–14, where the prophet announces Israel’s future rejection of the Messiah and the Messiah’s death. Because God’s people reject their Messiah, the Lord gives this staggering command: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones” (Zechariah 13:7).
As envisioned in Ezekiel 34, the sheep in Zechariah’s prophecy are the people of God. In Ezekiel’s day, the people of Judah were stripped of their godless leaders and scattered. During that time of exile, the Lord’s hand was against “the little ones” in judgment as they were dispersed and punished. God’s hand was also against the false shepherds of Israel. But the Shepherd in Zechariah 13:7 is distinct from the wayward leaders of Israel. He is none other than the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The verb translated as “strike” in Zechariah 13:7 means “to smite, kill.” The violence against Israel’s Messiah-Shepherd is foreseen as early as Genesis 3:15 when God foretells that Satan will “strike his heel.” A parallel passage to Zechariah 13:7 appears in Isaiah 53:10, also predicting Messiah’s suffering and death: “It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (see also Isaiah 53:4).
In the New Testament, Jesus Himself cites Zechariah 13:7 in reference to His arrest, Peter’s denial, and the falling away and scattering of His disciples (Matthew 26:31, 56; Mark 14:27). In John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
God’s command to “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” is multi-purposed. First, it reveals that Christ’s death was not an accident; it was part of God’s divinely arranged plan (Acts 2:23). Even still, God does not let the slaughter of His Son and Savior of the world go unpunished. Instead, He uses it as an instrument of judgment on sinful people (see John 3:19; 16:32; 12:30–32).
Zechariah 13 continues to reveal God’s purpose as the prophet describes the opening of a fountain of cleansing from sin that purges the people from their idolatry (verses 1–6). After their Shepherd is struck, the people go through a fiery refinement to become purified like gold and restored to covenant relationship with the Lord their God (verse 9). These passages predict the restoration of the remnant of Israel (see Hosea 2:23) as well as a future reinstatement spoken of by the apostle Paul (see Romans 11:11–32). They also look down through history to the refining periods of persecution of God’s people in the church age and the tribulation period (Matthew 24:15–22).
In God’s economy, justice must be served. Sin warrants a penalty of death and cannot go unpunished, so Jesus takes the punishment for us all (Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22). The apostle Peter explains, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, NLT). From the moment of the fall, God’s ultimate plan to strike the Shepherd and scatter the sheep was the restoration and redemption of His people. Through the death of Jesus Christ, God’s chosen Savior and Israel’s Messiah, sinful people can be reconciled to God (Colossians 1:19–22). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross washes away our sins and opens the way for the reinstatement of our relationship with the Father (Hebrews 2:17; 10:19–22). Zechariah 14 closes with the final victory and defeat of every enemy as the Lord Jesus Christ reigns as King over all the earth.