They will look to me whom they have pierced | Zechariah 12

Should Christians expect a mass conversion of Jews before the “second coming”?

Many Christians believe in such a scenario partly on the basis of Zechariah’s famous prophecy:

‘I will pour on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they will look to Me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and will grieve bitterly for him, as one grieves for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadad-Rimmon in the valley of Megiddo. And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.’ (Zechariah 12:10-14)

ושׁפכתי על־בית דויד ועל יושׁב ירושׁלם רוח חן ותחנונים והביטו אלי את אשׁר־דקרו וספדו עליו כמספד
על־היחיד והמר עליו כהמר על־הבכור׃ יום ההוא יגדל המספד בירושׁלם כמספד הדד־רמון בבקעת מגדון׃
וספדה הארץ משׁפחות משׁפחות לבד משׁפחת בית־דויד לבד ונשׁיהם לבד משׁפחת בית־נתן לבד ונשׁיהם לבד׃
משׁפחת בית־לוי לבד ונשׁיהם לבד משׁפחת השׁמעי לבד ונשׁיהם לבד׃
כל המשׁפחות הנשׁארות משׁפחת משׁפחת לבד ונשׁיהם לבד׃
( 10-14  זכריה  י”ב )

But what is “the mourning of Hadad-Rimmon in the valley of Megiddo” ? And why will Zechariah’s mourning take place among those “that remain … every family apart”? Unless we understand the prophetic allegory and the historic event alluded to, we can’t be sure of the prophecy’s fulfilment.

What did the prophet see?

YHVH speaks in the first person of a time in which ‘they’ (the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem) would look to ‘Me’ (God, the speaker) whom they have pierced (the Hebrew דקר more commonly translated as thrust through or wounded).

The Jews do violence to their God, but even so He permits a remnant to repent. A great mourning results in response to this grace. The ‘families that remain’ are moved by the‘spirit of grace and of supplication’ to ‘look to Me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him’.

Earlier in Zechariah’s prophecy, YHVH foretold the event that would constitute Israel’s betrayal of Him:

“If you think good, give Me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for My price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prized at of them”  (Zechariah 11:12-13).

ואמר אליהם אם־טוב בעיניכם הבו שׂכרי ואם־לא חדלו וישׁקלו 
את־שׂכרי שׁלשׁים כסף׃ ויאמר יהוה
אלי השׁליכהו אל־היוצר אדר היקר 
אשׁר יקרתי מעליהם…

( 12-13 זכריה י”י )

In an attempt to obfuscate the clear and alarming implications of Zechariah 12:10, both the Artscroll and Jerusalem translations of the T’nach make a thorough perversion of the Hebrew text – respectively rendering the passage commencing with “והביטו אלי את אשׁר־דקרו” as –

“They will look toward Me, because of those whom they have stabbed. They will mourn over him as one mourns over an only child…”  (introducing a second object and making the one pierced into the plural);


“They shall look towards me, regarding those whom the nations have thrust through”  (inserting “the nations” which does not appear in the Hebrew text).

The Talmud at Sukkot 52a states, on the contrary, that “it is well according to him who explains that the cause [of the mourning] is the slaying of the Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scripture verse: ‘And they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced: and shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son.’” [1]

According to Rabbi Moses Alshech, “‘They shall look unto Me’, for they shall lift up their eyes unto Me in perfect repentance, when they see Him whom they have pierced, that is Messiah, the Son of Joseph: for our Rabbis, of blessed memory, have said that He will take upon Himself all the guilt of Israel, and shall then be slain in the war to make atonement in such manner that it shall be accounted as if Israel had pierced Him, for on account of their sin He has died;  and, therefore, in order that it may be reckoned to them as a perfect atonement, they will repent and look to the blessed One, saying that there is none beside Him to forgive those that mourn on account of Him who died for their sin. This is the meaning of ‘They shall look upon Me’”.[2]

What is the great mourning likened to?

The pouring out of the spirit of grace and supplication would result in a great lamentation among all the families that remain (כל המשׁפחות הנשׁארות), every family apart, and their wives apart (verse 14). The Hebrew word for remain – taken from שׁאר – is commonly used to describe those who survive destruction or judgment.[3] Although the context from the preceding verses of Zechariah 12  suggests a time of victory for the House of David and the people of Jerusalem, this is clearly preceded by the judgment on Judah and Jerusalem spoken of in chapter 11, and it is clear that the onslaught against Jerusalem succeeds, for the nations divide the spoil among them (Zech 14:1) and a way is opened up for the remnant of Judah to flee from the city (Zech 14:4-5).The remnant spoken of by the prophet is consequently those who escape judgment, and it is this remnant that is comprised of those who ‘look upon Me whom they have pierced’.

That this mourning takes place every family apart, is a clear allusion to the Passover. The Passover is unique among the festivals of Israel in that each family was required to commemorate the Redemption for itself. As was the LORD’s instruction to Moses: “‘Speak unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house’… Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, ‘Draw out and take a lamb according to your families, and kill the Passover’” (Exodus 12:3,21).

A lamb was substituted for the firstborn son of every family descended of Jacob, the price God paid for their salvation. Redemption is necessary in view of God’s justice, since the consequence of sin is death, and all have sinned. Those who are saved are saved at the expense of God, and He saved the firstborn sons of Israel – and thereby also  their progeny –  for His own divine purposes and glory. Subsequent generations were thus required to celebrate the Passover as if they themselves had been redeemed.[4]

The Passover was prefigured in Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (the akedah) which took place –  according to certain rabbinical sources[5] – on the same calendar day as the Passover. The wording of Zechariah’s prophecy, to mourn for the one they had pierced as one mourns for his only son (על־היחיד), alludes to Abraham’s grief over his only son (יחידך) in his three day journey to Moriah. The Law of Moses requires a corresponding three day interval between the selection of the paschal lamb and its slaughter.[6]

In Abraham’s case also a ram was substituted for Isaac, and the prophetic promise given: “God will provide a lamb”. According to B. Jacob, commenting on Genesis 22:12, “every sacrifice [in the Bible] is a substitute for a man”.[7]

The mourning that would result from looking to the Pierced One, would be like the mourning of Hadad-Rimmon in the valley of Megiddo – the place where Pharaoh Neco slew Josiah, Judah’s faithful and righteous king. “The death of this most pious of all the kings of Judah was bewailed by the people, especially the righteous members of the nation, so bitterly, that not only did the prophet Jeremiah compose an elegy on his death, but other singers, both male and female, bewailed him in dirges, which were placed in a collection of elegiac songs (2 Chronicles 35:25), and preserved in Israel till long after the captivity”.[8]

Josiah was remembered above all for preparing the greatest Passover of the First Temple era. According to the book of Chronicles, “there was no Passover like it kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did any of the kings of Israel keep such a Passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 35:18).

The events leading to this Passover are remarkable.

Josiah’s birth was prophesied about 250 years earlier, in the days of Jeroboam: “Behold, a son will be born to the house of David, Josiah by name” (1 Kings 13:2).

From his youth,  Josiah worked to restore his people to a true worship of God:  “In the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, Josiah began to seek after the God of David his father; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the Asherim, and the engraved images, and the molten images” (2 Chronicles 34:3).

Despite Josiah’s righteousness, God would not relent of the punishment He had determined on Judah for the sins committed during the reigns of his predecessors, Amon and Manasseh (2 Kings 21), but promised that Josiah would not witness it.

“Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and on the inhabitants of it, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore is my wrath poured out on this place, and it shall not be quenched. But … as touching the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender, and you did humble yourself before God, when you heard his words against this place, and against the inhabitants of it, and have humbled yourself before me … Behold, I will gather you to your fathers … neither shall your eyes see all the evil that I will bring on this place, and on the inhabitants of it” (2 Chronicles 34:20-28).

In an attempt to avert this judgment and entreat God’s mercy, Josiah worked tirelessly to prepare a Passover, fully compliant with the terms of the Law, which the whole nation would commemorate.[9]

In preparation for this celebration, the priests were freed from the burden of carrying the Ark of the Covenant, so as better to serve God and their compatriots in the administration of the sacrifice (see 2 Chronicles 35:3). The rest of Israel was divided into its various families: “prepare by the houses of your fathers, according to your divisions” (2 Chronicles 35:4).

To ensure that even the poorest among the people would observe the feast, Josiah provided them lambs from his own flocks: “And Josiah gave to the people, of the flock, lambs and kids, all for the Passover offerings, for all that were present, to the number of thirty three thousand … these were from the king’s substance” (2 Chronicles 35:7).

Thus, in the 18th year of Josiah’s reign,  “… the service was prepared, and the priests stood in their place, and the Levites in their courses, according to the king’s commandment. And they killed the Passover, and the priests sprinkled the blood from their hands, and the Levites flayed them. And they removed the burnt offerings, that they might give according to the divisions of the families of the people, to offer unto the LORD, as it is written in the book of Moses” (2 Chronicles 35:10-16).

The punishment could not be averted, but according to God’s promise, Josiah did not live to see the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

“After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight against Carchemish by the Euphrates: and Josiah went out against him. But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, What have I to do with you, you king of Judah? I come not against you this day, but against the house with which I have war; and God has commanded me to make haste: forbear you from meddling with God, who is with me, that he not destroy you. Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and didn’t listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo. The archers shot at king Josiah; and the king said to his servants, Have me away; for I am sore wounded. So his servants took him out of the chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had, and brought him to Jerusalem; and he died, and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and singing women spoke of Josiah in their lamentations to this day; and they made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations” (2 Chronicles 35:20-27).

Josiah and Jesus compared

The mourning of Hadad-Rimmon in the valley of Megiddo was like the mourning of those who would later see “Messiah cut off, but not for himself” – יכרת משׁיח ואין לו – (Daniel 9:26).[10]

Josiah prefigures Jesus of Nazareth, who fulfils Zechariah’s prophetic allusion to the events of Hadad-Rimmon.

(a) As with Josiah, the birth of Messiah was foretold by the prophets (Micah 5:2), and he would live to fulfil what was written about him in the Law and the Prophets (Luke 25:24-27). He worked to restore a true worship of the true God, so that many would repent of their sins and turn to God.

(b) The New Testament speaks of Jesus as the substance of God’s word (John 1:1) and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3). He did nothing but the Father’s will (“I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” – John 6:63). To look upon him is to look upon the Father (“anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” – John 14:9), so that the piercing of Jesus is tantamount to the piercing of YHVH. The thirty pieces of silver at which the chief priests esteemed the life of Jesus (Matthew 26:15) is thus also the price at which they valued God.

(c) We have in Messiah “the only begotten (היחיד ) of the Father, full of grace and truth” and the “firstborn (הבכור ) over all creation”.[11] The one of whom the Father said, “This is my son and in him I am well pleased.” “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

The mourning is for him who is described as “the root and the offspring of David” (Revelations 22:16), but revealed to us as “the Son of Man” (Daniel 7:13).

(d) As the righteous King Josiah relieved the Levites from the burden of the Ark, so Jesus freed the remnant of Israel from the burden of the Sinai Covenant in order that they might serve as “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), by the new way of the Spirit (Romans 7:6, Colossians 2:14, Galatians 5:18).

(e) According to Abraham’s prophetic assurance to Isaac, “the LORD will provide Himself the lamb for the sacrifice” (Genesis 22:8), and according to the example of Josiah who provided 33 000 lambs from his own supply, Messiah is the Passover sacrifice that God provided for us from His own substance (מרכושׁו).

(f) According to the Sages, Isaac knew that he was to be sacrificed and went willingly to his death.[12] The Bereshit Rabba states at 56:3 that Isaac carries the wood like a man who is sentenced to be crucified “carries his own cross”.[13]  Josiah went willingly into battle, and Jesus gave the assurance, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:13).

(g) Josiah disguised himself before going into battle, lest he be recognised as the king of Israel – in which case Pharaoh Neco might have disengaged. Of Jesus it is said that he made himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant.[14] “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). With the same reluctance as Pharaoh Neco, Pontius Pilate tried to avoid a contest with Jesus, and became an unwilling participant in his death.[15]

(h) As the people lamented for generations over the death of Josiah, so Jesus’ death has been mourned since the time of the crucifixion, by everyone who comes to understand that “he was wounded for our transgressions” and that the “suffering that brought us peace was upon him” (Isiaiah 53:5).

When would the mourning take place?

The Passover foretold by Zechariah was to be the greatest Passover in Israel’s history – the one which brought about the ultimate redemption, not from the bondage of slavery, but from the bondage to sin – the day on which God would redeem Israel “with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

The piercing of YHVH – as identified in His “only begotten son” – was the occasion on which the only blood that could obtain eternal redemption, was shed for Israel. It was the full appreciation of its guilt in this violent act of defiance, that became the cause of Israel’s great mourning.

The mourning described by Zechariah as every family apart did not come to the inhabitants of Jerusalem collectively. Those who already believed in Jesus and were present at his crucifixion looked upon him and mourned for him there: “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled … ‘They will look on the one they have pierced’” (John 19:36-37).

The more universal mourning came only after the ‘spirit of grace and supplication’ was poured out at Pentecost. Simon Peter urged the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

“ When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’ … Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:36-41).

Those who were cut to the heart, saw him and mourned for him then, and received YHVH’s forgiveness through faith, unto salvation. The same also escaped the judgment on Jerusalem forty years later, when they fled the city across the Mount of Olives. When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, .. mountains” (Luke 21:20-12. Cf. on Matthew 24).

The spirit of grace and supplication which God would pour out upon the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem is thus none other than the Holy Spirit (called ‘the spirit of grace’ in Hebrews 10:29), which would “convict the world of guilt with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

The House of David is not a synonym for Judah (the tribe from which the kings descended)[16] or Israel (the covenant nation) – as some have taught – but always refers in Scripture to the ruling king of David’s line and the members of his royal household.[17]

Since Jesus was himself King Messiah, born of David’s line (Luke 1: 26-33), it is altogether in keeping with Zechariah’s prophecy that the Holy Spirit was poured out first upon those described as his heirs, brothers[18] and offspring[19] – those who shared in his suffering, that they might also share in his glory,[20] who are said to “reign with him”[21]and whom Jesus himself claimed as members of his own household.[22]

This is the very House of David, the royal court of King Messiah, who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and through whom that spirit of grace and supplication then spread out to “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” – as recorded in Acts 2 – and after that to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth, to all who believe, “to all whom the LORD shall call”.[23]

It is thus no slight insult to the completed work of redemption, the eternal grace which God poured out upon Israel and all humanity, and the faith which has been once for all entrusted to the saints, that many should disregard and overlook these events and look to the future for a fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy.

But is there yet a continuing application of this prophecy?

As with the first Passover, redemption is personal and the blood must be individually applied to the doorposts of each house by each family, to effect deliverance. For this reason, the Law of Moses made provision for those who were defiled or absent at the time of Passover to celebrate the Feast later:

“And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the Passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day: And those men said unto him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the LORD in his appointed season among the children of Israel? And Moses said unto them, Stand still, and I will hear what the LORD will command concerning you. And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the Passover unto the LORD. The fourteenth day of the second month in the evening they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Numbers 9:6-11).

There has been a continuing fulfilment of Zechariah’s mourning as individual Jews, and Jewish families, each one apart, and their wives apart, have come to see in Jesus, the ‘bichor’, the firstborn of Israel – King Messiah who died for their sins.

Many Jews who still think of the death of Jesus as a defilement have abstained from celebrating his Passover. But the opportunity yet remains for these to look to the one whom they have grievously wounded – the Lamb of their salvation – and to cry bitterly as they recognise in him Israel’s most precious and beloved Son.

Even today, every Jew must deal with the claims of Jesus Messiah individually, “all the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart” (Zecheriah 12:14). Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of the church, testifies to his own conversion: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”  (1 Timothy 1:13-14).

There is a second type of mourning – not unto salvation – which is typified in the bereavement of the Egyptian families over their firstborn sons (Exodus 12:29-30). This will likewise be the fate of those who “trample the Son of God under foot, treat as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified [them], and insult the Spirit of grace”(Hebrews 10:29). These will see Messiah on the day of wrath and judgment, and forever lament their rejection of Him.

The clear warning that the Lord will be revealed from heaven[24] – “in blazing fire with his powerful angels [and]  will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel”– seems to preclude the last minute conversion of those who rejected the gospel prior to his coming.

But for those who have already looked to Him in mourning and repentance, that day will be the culmination of their faith and hope. And He will “wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4).


God always judged the nations that were used as His sword against rebellious Israel. In this sense Zechariah 12 is consistent in its predictions with the precedents established in Israel’s earlier history with God’s judgments on Egypt and Babylon. The true judgment is not however in the temporal realm by military campaigns and the overthrow of dynasties – as many carnal minded Christians still expect with reference to Zechariah 12 and other prophecies – but by the gospel, which brings eternal judgment on all those who fail to submit to Israel’s King. That God’s judgment on Jerusalem would spill over on all the nations that were used against her is thus the correct interpretation of Zechariah 12, and is further depicted in the Book of Revelation as the bowls of God’s wrath poured out. But that judgment culminates at the end of the mortal age when the saints inherit the new heavens and the new earth, and those who have resisted God’s grace are forever removed from His presence. All this flows as a natural consequence from the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. No further and yet future onslaught against the earthly city is necessary in order for Zechariah’s prophecies to be fulfilled.

[1]  As Rashi and other of the later Rabbis also confirmed, i.e. that the Sages of old interpreted this verse as referring to Messiah son of Joseph. Consider the inextricable unity implied by the transition from the first person to a third person delineation of the same object (i.e. the pierced one), between YHVH and Messiah – His arm of salvation.

[2]  Former Chief Rabbi of Tsfad, Commentaries on the books of the Holy Scriptures.

[3]  See Genesis 7:23, 14:10, 32:8, 42:38, etc.

[4]  Exodus 13:5-8.

[5]  Most notably Exodus Rabba 15:11 and The Book of the Jubilees 18:18-19. See also Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, pp. 51-59. Translated from the Hebrew by Judah Goldin. Pantheon Books (New York) 1967.

[6]  Exodus 12:3-6.

[7]  B. Jacob, Genesis, the first book of the Bible, posthumously translated by E. I. Jacob and W. Jacob, p. 144, KTAV (New York), 1974. See also the Midrash Akedat Yizhak and Artscroll Tanach Series, Bereshit vol. 2, p. 614, et seq., Mesorah (New York), 1978.

[8]  Keil and Delitzsch, Commentaries, The twelve minor prophets, vol. 2, p. 390. Eerdmans (Michigan) 1954.

[9] Compare to the attitude of King Hezekiah who was indifferent to the fate of the nation, caring only for his own well-being (see 2 Kings 20:19).

 [10]  Daniel’s prophecy continues, “And the people of a prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary …”.

[11]  John 1:14 & 18, etc. and Colossians 1:15.

[12]  Isaac Unterman, The five books of Moses, p.147. Bloch Publishing House (New York), 1973.

[13]  B. Jacov, op. cit. at p.144; Pesikta Rabbati ch. 31, 143b.

[14]  Philippians 2:6.

[15]  See Matthew 27.

[16]  This is already clear from Zecheriah 12:7 where the House of David is distinguished from Judah.

[17]  See e.g. 1 Kings 13:2 were the term refers to offspring and 2 Samuel 3:1 where it refers to those joined to the king by allegiance and faithful service. Cf. Isaiah 22:22.

[18]  Romans 8:17, 29.

[19]  Isaiah 53:10.

[20]  Romans 8:17.

[21]  2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6.

[22]  Matthew 10:25, 12:50, See also Ephesians 2:19 & Hebrews 2:11.

[23]  Acts 1:8, 2:39.

[24]  2 Thess. 1:8