Zechariah prophesied in the time after the Babylonian Captivity. His messages were an encouragement to Joshua and Zerubbabel, who were at that time rebuilding the community of Israel.
When the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them, then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them supporting them Ezra 5:1,2 (NAS)
Zechariah and Haggai encourage the work by pointing out the future glory of the temple being built. Zechariah gives a view from heaven of the events going on at that time and place. In this way, Zechariah is much like the book of Revelation, where John, in the midst of the early church’s persecution, is given visions of the future glory of God’s kingdom, the temple and God’s judgment on evil. Revelation and Zechariah can only be understood when read together and along with the other prophets’ writings. Let’s look at one of Zechariah’s amazing visions.
Then I lifted up my eyes again and looked, and behold, there was a flying scroll.
And he said to me, "What do you see?" And I answered, "I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits." Then he said to me, "This is the curse that is going forth over the face of the whole land; surely everyone who steals will be purged away according to the writing on one side, and everyone who swears will be purged away according to the writing on the other side. I will make it go forth," declares the LORD of hosts, "and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of the one who swears falsely by My name; and it will spend the night within that house and consume it with its timber and stones" - Zechariah 5: 1- 4.
By breaking it down and comparing its parts with other similar passages, we can fit this intriguing vision into the greater jigsaw puzzle of prophecy and revelation. Let’s list the main ideas.
There is a scroll.It is flying in the air.It is twenty cubits by ten cubits in dimensions.It is written on both sides.One side deals with theft, the other with perjury (swearing falsely).It is described as a curseIt spends the night in the house of the thief and perjurer.
A Heavenly Message
A scroll contains a message, and this one happens to be flying. It is a message in mid-air, or rather a message from heaven. There are many occasions in scripture where a message, usually audible, comes from heaven. I understand this message, emphasizing God’s law, to be the message of the two witnesses in the last days.
The Olive Trees
It is significant that this flying scroll vision follows immediately after the ‘two witnesses’ chapters in Zechariah. In Chapters 3 and 4, Joshua and Zerubbabel are likened to two olive trees, which appear again as the two witnesses in Revelation Ch. 11.
He said to me, "What do you see?" And I said, "I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side"- Zechariah 4: 2 – 3.
Then I said to him, "What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?" And I answered the second time and said to him, "What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” - Zechariah 4: 11 – 12.
Then he said, "These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth" - Zechariah 4:14.
Understanding the two witnesses is a puzzle in itself. There are many pairs of witnesses in both testaments that typify them and highlight their character and ministry. Zechariah’s prophecy focuses on the ‘olive branch’ aspect. A lampstand appears with olive trees and olive branches on each side. From the olive trees comes the precious oil, which is drained into the lampstand. From the lampstand, of course, comes light. This illustrates how God always gives, and the two witnesses will ultimately give light (understanding) to God’s people in the last days. The lampstand is a type of the church in Revelation chapters 1 and 2.
Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path - Psalm 119:105.
As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches - Revelation 1:20.
To the Ephesian church, Jesus said…
Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent - Revelation 2:5.
Witnesses give light. The witnesses will somehow give the light of God’s Word to the church and the world. The disciples were called to be His witnesses in Acts 1:8. The Israelites were called to be God’s witnesses in Isaiah 43:10 & 12, and 44:8. We should all be God’s witnesses if we are believers. However, in the last days, the job will eventually come down to two anointed ones, and given the timeframe in which they minister, the Great Tribulation, it is natural that their message is proclaiming God’s judgment upon the world.
Following on the heels of the ‘witness’ chapters - Zechariah chapters 3 and 4 - comes the flying scroll prophecy. The scroll is the message of the witnesses; the message given from heaven.
We can see the same pattern in Revelation chapters 10 and 11.
Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, and saying, "Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, "Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” I took the little book out of the angel's hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. And they said to me, "You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” - Revelation 10:8-11.
This too is a message, a book or scroll; given from heaven to be preached on Earth. Immediately following this, the two witnesses themselves appear.
“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth - Revelation 11:3 – 4.
Zechariah and Revelation are talking about the same things—the witnesses and their message. The ‘scroll’ appears again in Revelation chapter 14 highlighting the message to be preached.
And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters”- Revelation 14:6 – 7.
Notice that the ‘eternal gospel’ proclaimed in Revelation chapter 14 focuses upon God as creator and God as judge. Man’s part is to fear Him and give Him glory. Compare this with the gospel declared by so many Christians today. They refuse to acknowledge God as creator; and consider ‘judgment’ to be a negative message! Nevertheless, the ‘eternal gospel’, which is truly the only power of God to salvation, includes an emphasis on creation and judgment. People who know God as their true creator and judge are well prepared to fear Him. Personally, when I was sure that God was creator, I was sure of my need of forgiveness and happy to receive it. Until then I had no fear of God at all.
Putting these together shows us what the flying scroll really is. It is the gospel message, but one tailored to the last days. An eternal message to everyone, urging us to fear the God of creation and give Him glory, for He is also a God of judgment; and His judgment is coming! The flying scroll emphasizes the curse of the law and the judgment to come. The unique aspect of the two witnesses is that they prophesy up to and through the day of the Lord, when grace, as we understand it now, comes to an end. Therefore all that will be left in that time will be the law. There is a fearful declaring of the righteousness of God’s imminent judgments against a sinful world. Hence after the rapture, the witnesses call down judgments from heaven; each one answering a certain aspect of this world’s wickedness. As God spoke the law from Mt Sinai, so the flying scroll will cause the Earth to tremble once again.
The true gospel includes both law and grace; law to point out sin, and grace to be saved from it.
As we are not yet in the Day of the Lord, let’s understand how the flying scroll message works today, presenting the law, in order to lead us to Christ.
A Scroll Written on Both Sides – The Thief
There are numerous references to scrolls being written upon both sides. But we first find this pattern in the Ten Commandments.
Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other - Exodus 32:15.
The fact that the law tablets were written upon both sides is emphasized. The Ten Commandments can be split into two main categories: 1) Laws regarding sins against God, and 2) sins against man. Notice how Jesus also summed it up in a similar way.
And He said to him, "‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" - Matthew 22:37-40.
Zechariah’s flying scroll does the same thing. Half of the scroll is a curse to the thief (who sins against man), and the other half is a curse to the one who swears falsely (who sins against God). Let me explain; beginning with the thief, and starting with the sixth commandment. If you murder, you steal someone’s life. If you commit adultery, you steal someone’s wife (or husband, daughter etc). If you steal, you steal someone’s property. The ninth commandment is, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” This is also a terrible form of theft. The false witness against your neighbour is to slander; to make false accusations, whether in court or in the lunch room. What do you steal when you slander?
A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favour is better than silver and gold - Proverbs 22:1.
Someone’s name is of far greater value than money. It is their reputation. I often read of schoolteachers who fall into sin with their students and it is scary, being a teacher myself. Their names and faces are displayed publicly on the news, especially the Internet news. Imagining being in their position! Where could you go? There would be nowhere to escape. Your reputation would precede you everywhere. Now imagine if you were FALSELY accused of immorality. Steal my wallet or car, but don’t slander me and take away my ‘good’ name! That is a horrible kind of theft.
I was falsely accused of cheating in a final year high school physics exam. Someone got their facts mixed up and falsely accused me to the science department. Having to repeat the exam was a small matter. What grieved me most was that after six years of trying to be a responsible student, I would be seen as a cheat in the eyes of the teachers.
Finally, the tenth commandment; “You shall not covet…” Jesus explains what the spirit of the law is. To lust, or desire adultery, is actually a violation of the law against adultery. To hate, or desire someone’s demise, is actually a violation of ‘You shall not murder’. So too, to covet someone’s belongings violates the prohibition of theft.
You can take any one of these laws and apply it to the one you are sharing with. We will all be shown to be a ‘thief’ in one aspect or another.
The fifth commandment requires us to honour our parents. This includes seeing that their needs are provided in old age. Jesus showed how the religious hypocrites, while falsely swearing of their piety, were actually stealing what rightly belonged to their parents.
And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONOURS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN. Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER'; and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH'; but you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),' you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother” - Mark 7:6-12.
The Pharisees were convicted of swearing falsely and theft; both sides of the scroll. That one is a double bunger (For Australians who remember Cracker night).
A Scroll Written on Both Sides – The One who Swears Falsely.
The last six commandments forbid various kinds of stealing. Alternatively, the first four commandments, deal primarily with our relationship with God. Breaking one of these laws is, in essence, swearing falsely about your relationship with God.
If we claim to serve God, yet place things above Him in our hearts, then we are swearing falsely of our faith. The second commandment forbids idolatry. Greed and ‘the love of money’ are called idolatry in the New Testament. Those who are greedy break the second commandment. The third commandment forbids taking God’s Name in vain. People take God’s Name in vain when they call themselves ‘Christians’ and wilfully continue to live in sin. They associate God’s Name, (His good character), with their sinful ways. One who calls himself a Christian ought to live as Christ lived, and act as Christacted. Paul reminded Timothy
…Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness - 2 Timothy 2:19
To do otherwise is to ‘swear falsely’, and take God’s Name in vain.
One of the things that helped open my eyes to the truth of the Gospel was seeing a scripture teacher compare the worldviews of Christianity, humanism and communism on the blackboard. When my classmates and I saw where these three worldviews really stood on issues like abortion, drugs, casual sex, etc, then we all realized that we were Christians in name but not in reality. We were essentially humanists. In calling ourselves, ‘Christians’ we were, in fact ‘swearing falsely’ and using the Name of Christ in vain. I am glad someone explained it to me in simple, straightforward terms. The fourth commandment is not deleted from the New Testament either. Keeping God’s true Sabbath, in a New Testament sense, is truly entering His rest. Hebrews tells us that by believing, we enter that rest. Disobedience however, keeps us from it.
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience - Hebrews 4:9-11.
So the flying scroll, God’s message from heaven in the last days, reveals to a rebellious world the curse of the law. There is a curse for breaking the law. Christ paid the penalty on our behalf, but for those who will not receive His grace, the curse and penalty remain. The Eternal Gospel always begins with the law, and leads to grace for those who accept it. The law must be preached to prepare the heart of a sinner to receive God’s grace.
The modern message of ‘grace’ being taught by Joseph Prince and others becomes effectively a message of lawlessness. They try to remove the law from the Gospel completely, asserting that ‘because we are saved by grace we have no need of the law.’ This is completely wrong. Even if Christ is the fulfilment of the law regarding righteousness, the law has other functions too, and still plays a major role in evangelism.
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul... Psalm 19:7.
‘Restoring the soul’ here is literally, ‘causing the soul to turn back’ (to God). God’s message from heaven emphasizes the law, His right as creator to hold us to it, and the punishment for disobedience.
As with our scripture class in school, when we saw our own beliefs in the light of the Christian worldview (God’s law), then we knew we were sinners. Some of my classmates were content to know they were humanists. For myself, that was the time I began to desire grace.
In part two we will look at the dimensions of the scroll and the characteristics of ‘flying scroll evangelism.’
About the Author
Geoff Toole, originally from Sydney, has been a missionary in Kansai, Japan, since 2000. Geoff is also the co-ordinator of Moriel Ministries in Japan. As well as evangelism in his local area, he teaches regularly in the Philippines. Geoff and Fumie have four children whom they home school.
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