God's Kingdom Prevails through Judgment: Four Chariots
Passage: Zechariah 6:1–8
The word of God came to Zechariah in one night through a series of visions (Zech 1:7), and today we look at the eighth and final vision in that series. It’s a vision of four chariots. And while you might not think a vision of four chariots is all that relevant—my hope is that God would change your mind about that in the next half hour or so. Remember, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). So, let’s read it together and see what God is saying to us…
1Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze. 2The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, 3the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong. 4Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth. 6The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go toward the south country.” 7When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he said, “Go, patrol the earth.” So they patrolled the earth. 8Then he cried to me, “Behold, those who go toward the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country.”
Vision Eight: Closing the Story
Before we focus on the message of vision eight alone, I want to remind you of its place in the bigger story of Zechariah’s night visions. And perhaps it’d be helpful to illustrate this for you on the screen.[i]
What you’re looking at is a diagram of how Zechariah’s eight visions fit together as one piece. All these visions hang together and portray a single story of how God intends to save his people. You can see this by glancing at the first and last visions.
Both the first and last visions mention some patrolling horses doing God’s work (Zech 1:10; 6:7). In the first vision, the horses go out as scouts. In the second vision they go out pulling war-chariots. In the first vision, the horses patrol the earth only to find the nations resting in their rebellion. In the second vision, the horses patrol the earth to put an end to the nations’ rebellion. We might say that in the first vision, God’s work to build his kingdom begins, and in the last vision, God’s work finishes—both the beginning and the finishing being marked by the activity of these horses.
So, visions one and eight form bookends of sorts to this story of God saving his people and establishing his kingdom of peace on earth. The rest of the visions simply fill in the details of how his kingdom comes about through the work of his anointed priest and king, both of whom anticipate Jesus Christ.
And in general we might summarize these other visions like so—God returns and rescues his people; and God sends out and judges evil. You can see this with the arrows on the screen. God returns and rescues his people. That’s the first movement. And then, as a second movement outward, God sends out and judges evil. Our focus the last couple of weeks has been on the second arrow, and vision eight will draw this second movement to a close. The main point goes something like this: God’s kingdom prevails through judgment. When his kingdom goes up, all other kingdoms must crumble to the ground through his coming judgment.
God’s Kingdom Prevails through Judgment
Let’s now look at some of the details of vision eight. And I want to lay this out in three parts before applying its theology: God’s warriors seen; God’s warriors sent; God’s Spirit settled.
1. God’s Warriors Seen
First, God’s warriors seen. In verse 1, Zechariah sees four chariots; and each one has horses of a different color pulling the chariot—red horses pulling one chariot, black horses another, white horses and so forth.
Now, our passage doesn’t make very much of these colored horses. But Revelation 6:1-8 borrows the same imagery, and links each color to a specific role in God’s judgment. I’m not saying these horses play the same role as the horses in Revelation—Zechariah doesn’t specify that. But it does help us associate these horses with judgment, and that Zechariah makes very plain.
One way we see this I already mentioned: whereas the horses in chapter one do not have chariots, these horses do. They’re not coming to make a report; they’re coming to make war. Chariots were the premier war machine of Zechariah’s day (cf. Hag 2:22). They were symbols of power and devastation to the enemy; and just because there are only four of them shouldn’t make us think any less of their threatening presence.
Rather, the number four is being used here as it was in visions two and three. In vision two we get the four horns, which stood for the encircling nations that scattered Israel (1:18, 20). In vision three we get the four winds of the heaven to which God scattered Israel (2:6). In each case, the number four seems to represent the four directions of the compass—north, south, east, and west—and thus four chariots would symbolize an army working throughout the earth (cf. Isa 11:12; Jer 49:36; Dan 8:8, 22).
We’ll see more of that in a minute. But notice one other significant detail. These war-chariots come out from between two mountains of bronze. Nowhere else in Scripture do we find two mountains of bronze. There are many indications that bronze was viewed as a strong metal (Isa 45:2; Jer 1:18; Dan 7:19). Daniel 2:39 uses bronze to symbolize a mighty kingdom, and perhaps strength is somehow involved here as well.
But I think verse 5 gives us a clue to what the bronze mountains symbolize. The angel says that the war-chariots go out after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth. The bronze mountains have some kind of association with God’s heavenly abode, his heavenly dwelling place. And several other clues point us in the same direction. Zechariah 2:13, for example—it says, “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.” What we’re getting here are the results of God rousing himself as a warrior from his holy dwelling—his war-chariots go out.
Also, a couple places in Scripture associate the glory of heaven with sparkling bronze. Ezekiel 1:7 has these four living creatures before God’s throne-chariot, and they sparkle like burnished bronze. And then the feet of the glorified Jesus in Revelation 1:15 also sparkle like burnished bronze.
But maybe the most convincing clue for me comes in 1 Kings 7:15-22. This is Solomon’s temple—God’s earthly dwelling place at one point. And Solomon’s temple had two massive bronze pillars at the front of the Holy Place—about 27 feet tall, about 18 feet around, and 2 Kings 25:16 says they were beyond weight. Now, if we accept what the writer of Hebrews tells us—that the earthly temple is only a copy of the heavenly temple (Heb 8:5; 9:23-24)—then these two earthly bronze pillars may very well serve as copies of two heavenly bronze mountains. The bronze mountains, in other words, serve as a kind of entryway into God’s heavenly dwelling.
In any case, the picture is clear: God’s warriors are on the move; they come from his presence; and they come as agents of judgment. That’s God’s warriors seen.
2. God’s Warriors Sent
Second, God’s warriors sent. We’ve seen that these chariots come for war and judgment. But what is their mission exactly? The angel tells us in verses 5-7; and in my judgment, the New American Standard Version has a better translation of verse 5. Instead of “these are going out to the four winds of heaven,” it has “these are the four spirits of heaven going out.” The focus isn’t yet on where they’re going, but on the identity of the war-chariots as spirits—superhuman, angelic hosts (cf. Ps 104:4).
Verse 6 tells us where they’re going: “The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go toward the south country.” Think with me a minute. Why single out the north country and the south country? Because Israel’s enemies normally attacked from the north and the south. The Mediterranean Sea stood on the west side of Israel, desert land was to the immediate east. If you wanted to attack Israel, you had to come from the north or the south.
And that was the story of Israel’s two greatest enemies—Egypt attacked from the south country and Babylon attacked from the north. In fact, by the time you get to Jeremiah, the north country simply becomes another code-word for Babylon. Zechariah used it this way as well back in 2:6-7. He tells them to flee the land of the north, and then he identifies the land of the north as Babylon (cf. 5:9-11). So the north country and the south country become types for all the nations who oppose God and oppress God’s people.
The mission of these war-chariots is to judge the nations who oppose God and oppress his people. The horses go out with great aggression. Verse 7 pictures them chomping at the bits to destroy God’s enemies—“they were impatient to go and patrol the earth.” That’s what you feel when you see God for who he is and then see the nations despising him. Heaven is appalled at those who oppose God. God’s angel armies are ready to whet their sword against the nations. And one day they will. They’re being restrained right now. But one day God will unleash his holy ones on all his enemies.
Notice also that it’s by his own sovereign, wise timing, that he finally releases them to wreak havoc on his enemies. They’re impatient to go, but no one moves an inch without God’s command. “Go patrol the earth,” he says. And they do. He sends them out for war, and the scope of their mission covers the earth. Nobody escapes the judgment. Everybody who opposes God will perish, wherever they’re hiding. That’s God’s warriors sent.
3. God’s Spirit Settled
Third, God’s Spirit settled. This comes in verse 8. But before I read verse 8, I just want you to note that nothing was said of where the red horses go. The black and white horses went to the north, the dappled to the south, but what becomes of the red horses? You’ll have to test this, but perhaps nothing is said because the red horses carry the Captain of the Lord of hosts, otherwise known as the Angel of the Lord.
If you go back to 1:8, there’s a man riding on a red horse, and that man is then identified in 1:11 as the Angel of the Lord. And there in chapter one, the Angel of the Lord receives the reports from the other horsemen, and then he cries out with grief, “How long!” But here it seems that he gives the command, and then cries out, not with grief but with relief. You see, on many occasions in the Old Testament amounts to a theophany. God manifests his presence in this Angel, and for the Angel to speak is for God to speak (e.g., Exod 3:2; Josh 5:14-15; Ps 34:7). And what does he say here? “Behold, those who go toward the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country.”
There’s a play on words here. If you glance back to 5:11, the ESV says, “And when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base.” Or, another way to translate the Hebrew is, “the basket will be rested there on her base”—same word for “rest” that’s used in 6:8. The idea is that Wickedness may rest in the north country, but God’s Spirit will not rest until she is destroyed in the north country.
He’s speaking about the satisfaction of God’s wrath on his enemies (cf. Ezek 5:13; 16:42; 21:17). You see, the nations were at rest in their rebellion in 1:11—just like the nations are at rest in their rebellion right now. And when the nations are at rest in their rebellion, it provokes God’s anger (1:15). His jealously burns hot against rebels.
That’s not to suggest that God’s Spirit is capricious and unpredictable—like many pagan notions of god. It’s just to say that God’s Spirit doesn’t tolerate sin against his holy character, and his Spirit is only at rest when his wrath is finally spent on his enemies and his kingdom alone is left standing.
Remember too from our discussion last week that the north country, Babylon, stands as the capitol of organized rebellion against God. For God’s Spirit to be at rest in the north country means for his Spirit to be at rest everywhere. If the capitol of rebellion has been overthrown, then so have all the others associated with it—is the idea. His Spirit is at rest because all his enemies lie defeated.
The Day of the Lord Foreshadowed
God’s warriors seen; God’s warriors sent; God’s Spirit settled—and each of these details come together to show that God’s kingdom will prevail through judgment. That’s vision eight in a nutshell. But I would be wrong to leave you guessing where this vision is ultimately pointing. Within the larger counsel of God’s word, we see that it’s not pointing merely to the judgment of God’s enemies in Zechariah’s day. Every one of these visions has provided a type, a foreshadowing, somehow pressing us forward to the consummation of God’s kingdom.
The rebuilt city pressing us forward to the New Jerusalem; the rebuilt temple pressing us forward to Christ and his dwelling in the church; Joshua the priest pressing us forward to Jesus our great High Priest; the curse pressing us forward both to the cross and the Lake of Fire—all these connections we’ve made along the way.
I’d argue the same for the picture of these war-chariots—they’re pressing us forward to the coming Day of God, when God will judge all his enemies with finality. Isaiah 66:15-16 helps us make this connection as he pieces together God’s final coming with his war-chariots: “Behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the Lord shall be many.” Chariots come from God’s abode, because God is a warrior.
Zechariah himself continues with similar imagery in 14:4-5 of this book. “On that day [Jesus’] feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley…Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.” What holy ones? These holy ones, the chariot warriors.
And the judgments that follow are horrific. God’s people will dwell securely with him, but the Lord will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths (Zech 14:12). That will be true for everybody who does not know God and who does not trust in Jesus Christ his only Son.
Christ Is Our Propitiation before the Day of the Lord
But for those who do trust in Jesus Christ—and everybody in this room should trust in him today—the New Testament teaches us that for them, God’s wrath that would have been spent on you at the end of history was already spent at the cross. In the church, we call this the doctrine of propitiation. Propitiation describes God’s act to satisfy his wrath against sinners in the death of Jesus.
Just like the nations pictured here, we can’t do anything on our own to satisfy God’s wrath. Our sin only provokes God’s wrath. God is holy and he can’t overlook sin. He is angry with our rebellion against him. Yet God also chooses to love sinners, to bring sinners into relationship with him. But if he loves sinners, he must love sinners in a way that’s consistent with his holiness—that’s consistent with his love for what is holy and his hatred for what is evil. And that means he must satisfy his holy anger. He can’t sweep sin under the rug; he must deal out the judgment against our sin.
How does he do this? He provides a sacrifice to satisfy his wrath, and that sacrifice is his own Son, Jesus Christ. 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Or Romans 3:25, “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” When Jesus died on the cross, he drank the cup of God’s wrath for those who believe. He became their propitiation, satisfying God’s wrath.
Everybody who does not believe will have to suffer under God’s wrath at the end of history, but they will never be able to satisfy it—“the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Rev 14:13). But everybody who does believe, Christ already satisfied it all—there’s none left for you, believer! God’s Spirit is already at rest with your soul. Even better, his Spirit now lives in you.
Because God satisfied his wrath against you at the cross, he is now one-hundred percent for you forever. That means you don’t have to exhaust yourself with a thousand little rituals to try and appease God. Not only is your sin too great for you to appease God’s wrath; you’ll never have the perfection or the ability to do it. But there is one man who didn’t have any sin in him to provoke God’s wrath, and who also does have the ability to serve as your wrath-bearing substitute, and his name is Jesus. Jesus bore God’s wrath in your place when he died on the cross. And God then raised him from the dead to prove it was the case.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved
So one of the first points in applying the theology of vision eight is this: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. I don’t assume that everybody in this room is saved. I don’t know the true state of your soul, and whether every person in here knows what it means to be totally and forever free from God’s condemnation. Only God knows if your lips are moving while your heart is far from him.
But I do know that the Spirit gave us words to speak to those who don’t know God. And this is one of them—Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Jesus is your only hope to escape judgment. God’s kingdom will eventually prevail through judgment. The Son of Man will come with power and great glory, and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call to gather his elect and to punish those who do not obey the gospel. Today is the day of salvation. Believe on Jesus, and you will no longer be a child doomed for wrath but a child destined for glory.
And if you do believe in Jesus, celebrate the freedom that comes with a statement like this: “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10), and that’s reason to sing and rejoice and pray and give thanks.
We cannot be complacent in a world coming to judgment
But there’s even more for us to consider as believers when it comes to thinking on God’s final judgment. You see, this vision becomes quite relevant for our own daily walks with Christ too. For instance, it teaches us that we cannot be complacent in a world coming to judgment. Yes, our condemnation is over in Christ, but the world’s isn’t. Vision eight reminds us that the Lord is sovereign over the rebellious nations, and his kingdom will finally prevail through judgment. And judgment changes everything.
If judgment isn’t coming, then why not be like those in 2 Peter 3:4, who say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they are from the beginning of creation.” It’s the same complacency that we find elsewhere in Scripture, “Let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die”—who cares how you live now, is the idea.
But Zechariah’s vision guarantees that judgment is coming. And Revelation 6:1-8 takes the imagery even further. Jesus has already broken the first four seals, and with each seal has unleashed the four horses to conquer and spread war, famine, and death. The world is already experiencing the tremors of Jesus’ return in judgment. And that means the world that sits in rebellion against God is on its way down, and God’s kingdom is on its way up. Live for his kingdom, not for this world.
The New Testament writers apply God’s judgment like this to believers all over the place. God’s judgment motivates a life that pleases God. 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
God’s judgment should motivate holy living. 2 Peter 3:10-12, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness.”
God’s judgment compels us to persuade others to believe in Christ. Complacency in evangelism is one way to test how much you really believe in the judgment. 2 Corinthians 5:11, “For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ…therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”
God’s judgment teaches us not to neglect meeting together. Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”—a Day he goes on to say is the judgment.
God’s judgment inspires us to offer God acceptable worship with reverence and awe. Hebrews 12:28-29, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
These are just a few examples, but again and again the New Testament uses God’s judgment to move Christians out of complacency into passion for God’s kingdom. Our theology of judgment is incomplete if it does not move us to live for Christ, and give everything up for him and his kingdom. Part of the gospel is that God’s will prevail through judgment, and this too should motivate us on a daily basis to passionate living for God’s kingdom alone.
Our hope for justice can’t rest in human means or institutions
Another way the theology of vision eight should hit us: our hope for justice can’t rest in human means or institutions. This vision came to Israel 19 years after Persia sacked one of Israel’s greatest enemies, Babylon. And King Cyrus and later on, King Darius, showed Israel a whole lot of favor. They got to come back to Jerusalem. Both Cyrus and Darius provided lots of material support for rebuilding the temple.
But I want us to see that God did not give them a vision of Persian government or Persian armies or Persian kings. God gave them a vision of himself and his armies and his kingdom. Persia couldn’t bring ultimate justice on God’s enemies. Persia was just as broken and corrupt and unjust and fickle as Babylon—as was Greece and Rome centuries later, and as is America today.
Could it be that God is using the current state of America to expose where your trust ultimately lies? Could it be that God has designed some of the uncertainties before us, so that our trust does not rest in our political conservatism but in Christ alone? The current uncertainties surrounding our national security, surrounding our economy, surrounding whether our justice system will uphold the Constitution, surrounding our future leadership—could these uncertainties, in some strange providence, be gifts to teach us that human progress is still broken progress, and that human systems won’t last forever, and that human institutions cannot bring the justice and peace the world needs?
We don’t need Rush; we need righteousness. We don’t need political conservatism; we need the powerful Christ—and while there may be some overlap in terms of morality, the two are not the same. Let this vision keep your trust in the right place, in Christ alone.
Our hope must rest in the God who fights for his oppressed people
Which leads me to one last way we might apply the theology of this vision. More positively, our hope must rest in the God who fights for his oppressed people. God was asking Israel to do the work of his kingdom in the midst of hostility. At this stage in his kingdom, the temple had to be rebuilt. But even though Persia had given them some relief for a time, they still experienced threats from other foreign leaders. This vision comes to encourage them in the midst of their oppression.
The vision tells them that while their enemies may seem large and powerful, God is bigger and better. He will judge and he will win. He will not forsake them or overlook the wrongs done to them. And the same is true for his people now. God has saved you and given you a mission to carry out among oppressive people.
Jesus said, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matt 24:9). Or Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”—there’s this expectation that Jesus’ disciples will be oppressed; they will suffer unjustly just as he suffered unjustly.
Perhaps there are ways you have suffered unjustly. Perhaps you’ve experienced persecution for your faith. You feel the loss when you read of your brothers and sisters suffering loss. You feel the pain when enemies of the cross threaten and capture and torture other Christians. Your cry goes up again and again, “How long, O Lord, before you judge and avenge our blood?” (Rev 6:10). This vision of God’s judgment says to the Christian that God will fight for his oppressed people.
Or maybe you haven’t necessarily suffered injustice for your Christian faith, but you’ve suffered other forms of injustice simply as the result of living in a fallen and corrupt world. Maybe you’ve suffered injustice because of your economic status. Maybe you or your neighbors suffer oppression because of the color of your skin. Maybe there have been things done to you physically or emotionally or sexually that should not have been done to you. Again, none of these things are necessarily unique to Christians, but God still sees all kinds of injustice and, for the Christian, he will make it right.
He will see to it that all wrongdoings are accounted for and judged with perfection. In the same way he knew the oppression of his people in Zechariah’s day, he knows our oppression too. And we can take every confidence that he will bring it to an end. As Romans 12 would encourage us, we don’t have to respond to our oppression with vitriolic attitudes and violence in the street, or even sharp jabs on Facebook. We don’t return evil for evil; rather, we leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance in mine, I will repay says the Lord.”
[i] While I came to my conclusions on the structure of Zechariah's visions separately, I was very happy to find a helpful diagram of the visions in Barry Webb, The Message of Zechariah: Your Kingdom Come, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 106. Webb's diagram then served as the basis for my own, and then I modified it to better represent what I've covered in the previous night visions.