Zechariah 14 is a remarkable piece of apocalyptic literature; both for its' centrality to eschatological revelation but also for the almost entirely non-apocalyptic nature of the prose. The theme of this chapter and the preceding two is undoubtedly 'in that day'. The phrase is repeated sixteen times against one hundred and six in the whole of scripture. What we therefore have is one of the most easily understood and precise descriptions of 'that day' afforded us in the whole of scripture. This has not, of course, prevented a good number of commentators from interpreting this chapter allegorically. However I do not really wish to lose the power of this marvelous chapter by using it to shoot at the amillenialists. Thus this essay will briefly discuss the reasons for taking this passage literally and will then attempt to move on and see what the chapter is actually telling us.
Reading the chapter from first to last verse reveals a complete dearth of any object demanding symbolic interpretation. There are no multi-headed animals, no statues, no collections of colors, no gemstones, no candlesticks, no angels and no flying scrolls. The only two genuine possibilities for allegoric interpretation are the living water flowing from Jerusalem and the horse bells. However a few moments thought reveals that those both yield to a good literal interpretation. Water is a scarce and vital resource in Palestine; one of the huge advantages Egypt had was a permanent water supply. Might not a benevolent God grant the Jews 'living waters' as an alternative to the 'dead sea'? The horse bells are I suspect deliberately mundane. In Exodus 'Holiness to the Lord' was engraved on a golden plate placed upon the high priests turban. In that day Holiness will be sufficiently pervasive that even the horse bells have the inscription.
Any attempt to read Zechariah as a fulfilled prophecy requires almost as full a decimation of the text as those that use allegory. Many attempt to equate the first five verses with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. However the text states that all nations will gather against Jerusalem; it only took the Romans in AD70. But an even stronger object is that Zec 14:3 states that the Lord Himself would then go and fight those nations. In AD70 the Lord was a no-show. Then if there is any historic doubt as to what happened in AD70 the fact that the Mount of Olives is still perfectly intact would suggest that Zec 14:4 is clearly still future. Adam Clark suggests that the splitting of the mountain and huge valley people could flee through was actually a reference to Roman redoubts. Obviously the redoubts were tiny and Jews couldn't flee through them; the argument is laughably weak.
What we have instead in reading this chapter is an accurate, detailed account of a period of time which will be awesome and would be incredible if anyone other than the Lord himself was involved. The narrative commences with a massive assault upon Jerusalem. I believe this is actually the battle that is usually misnamed 'Armageddon'. The narrative ends with the nations making an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem and suffering punishment if they fail to do so. This clearly describes millennial conditions. This tells us that 'that day' cannot possibly be a twenty four hour period. It is simply impossible to fit the seasons, annual pilgrimages and such a huge battle into that period of time. I therefore believe that the expression 'in that day' needs to be taken from some point in the tribulation, probably the start of Jacob's trouble; up to the end of the millennial kingdom.
The pivotal verses, both in respect of theme but also interpretation of this chapter, are Zec 14:6-7. Until these verses the narrative has been purely one of military might and geographic upheaval. Verse 8 until 11 narrates idyllic conditions that will exist subsequent to the battle. The two verses narrate the transition between these phases; in doing so I believe they also describe a climatic condition that is literal but which also reflects a deeper spiritual truth. First we are told that there will be no light and that the light will diminish. This could easily be a reference to the fourth trumpet of Rev 8:12 when the sun, moon and stars all loose a third of their light. There could even be a reference to the fifth bowl where blackness causes pain. Either way I think it is reasonable to assume that God is going to place the world into a perpetual twilight during this judgment period.
The reason for this twilight is a little harder to understand. Whilst God had encouraged Gideon to use light to obtain a victory and the sun stood still for Joshua there is nothing in the Zechariah narrative to suggest that the Lord needs the element of surprise or extra time to finish things off. Some such as Adam Clarke and John Wesley take the opportunity to allegorize; assuming this to suggest justice and mercy are mingled. Poole takes it to imply a mixture of good and bad news. Matthew Henry takes it to imply that members of the church are not fully transformed whilst on earth. I consider the use of allegory to be unnecessary.
However I do believe God may be showing a spiritual truth through physical means. Firstly, God can dim the lights. Man may be moving armies around but God can very visible show who controls the climate. But he is also showing that the world is now in darkness and that will change as the 'light of the world' is accepted. We therefore find that in verse seven; towards evening when we would expect things to be getting darker that light finally comes. This is essentially a declaration of victory and also a reassurance to those of the Jewish remnant that had been tried by the fire. In a sense I believe God is 'dimming the lights' to act as a visible thermometer for people to show where the spiritual state of the earth is at any given point in time during 'that day'.
Whilst I have primarily used the geographic portion of this chapter to show that the events are still future it is worth also noting the effect of the changes upon the world that exists during the light portion of that day. Jerusalem is raised up and is substantial. It is an enforced is the center of worship in the World. At least annually people will have to make pilgrimage here or face drought. The holiness of Jerusalem will be such that the entire nation will be able to act as priests and make offering even in their everyday cookware. We also know that the feast which is celebrated during the millennium is the feast of tabernacles which is the one feast which will not have been typically fulfilled.
Notwithstanding any of the above; the key feature of that day will not be the geography, the battle, the climate or even the spiritual state of the Jews. The key feature is that the Lord Himself makes His second advent. In Zec 14:3 He comes to fight against the nations and it is He that stands with His feet upon the Mount of Olives when it splits in two. In Zec 14:9 it is Him that is King over all the earth. In the conclusion of the battle it is the Lord that causes the enemy to literally disintegrate and it is Him that sends the great panic upon Jerusalem's attackers. To allegorize Zechariah 14 is to essentially obviate the glorious return of the Lord Jesus; which ought to be anathema to any believer.
In summary: we have seen that Zechariah does not in any fashion suggest it should be interpreted allegorically. The extremity of the descriptions should preclude any historic interpretation. It was suggested that God's control of the light is literal, displays His omnipotence but is also the manner in which He shows the spiritual 'temperature' of the earth. Finally it was noted that the key feature of that day would be the second advent of the Lord Himself.
Re 22:20 ¶ He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming quickly." Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
The other book that uses 'In That Day' heavily is Isaiah. An essay upon 'that day' based upon the book of Isaiah is available here.