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In Matthew 26:31, Jesus says this:

“Then Jesus said to them, “This night you will all fall away because of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭26‬:‭31‬ ‭NET‬‬

Zechariah 13 is a chapter that discusses false prophets within the land. The prophecy specifically focuses on one certain false prophet who bears the pagan marks of idolatry in his chest and leads people astray with his teachings.

Verse 7 onwards describes God punishing this idolatry and wiping it from the land, leaving only the righteous remnant left.

Verse 7 says this:

““Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate,” says the Lord who rules over all. Strike the shepherd that the flock may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the insignificant ones.” ‭‭Zechariah‬ ‭13‬:‭7‬ ‭NET‬‬

The NET footnote says that “the immediate context of Zechariah suggests that the unfaithful shepherds (kings) will be punished by the Lord”

So, given the context of the verse that speaks of false prophets and God scattering the disobedient flock, Why does Jesus quote it and what was His meaning? How can this be understood with respect to the original meaning of Zechariah 13? I am having trouble understanding why Jesus would quote a passage that clearly speaks of false prophets condemned by God.

[I am aware that some may wish to interpret Zach 13 as a messianic prophecy, but given its clear condemnation of false prophets, I am not taking this stance, and am only seeking answers that answer from the perspective of the one presented above]

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You are correct, the Zechariah passage talks about the killing of false leaders, the shepherd, and the scattering of the followers, the sheep.

Jesus is using the principle of sheep scattering when the shepherd is killed (followers scattering when the leader is killed) to illustrate the situation that is about to happen with him and his disciples. It is a figure of speech taken from Scripture that Jesus' listeners would have been familiar with. Jesus is not identifying himself with the false leaders of Zechariah's day.

Something like when Jesus says:

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Matthew 12:40

Jesus using the story of Jonah - who was a rebellions hard hearted prophet - and the fact that Jonah was in a dark place for three days and three nights, just like Jesus would be in a dark place for three days and three nights. Jesus is not identifying himself with Jonah.

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    To be entirely 100% pedantic.... Technically Jesus is indeed identifying himself with the false leaders of Zechariah's day, just not the "false leader" part. Only the part where they have followers who are scattered. If the analogy is "just as that then, now this", Jesus indeed fills that role. But that doesn't mean that he is taking on every attribute of his counterpart.
    – Nacht
    Dec 15, 2022 at 22:52
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"Scattered"

The simple answer is that Jesus quoted Zech 13:7 because that is exactly what happened to Jesus and His disciples when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. The disciples were scattered.

Prophets vs Messiah

While I agree that Zech 13:4, 5 is about false prophets, Zech 13:7-9 is definitely a Messianic prophecy. This can be seen from several of its elements such as:

  • "My Shepherd" (V7) is a phrase (actually a Hebrew word רֹעִי֙ the same as Ps 23:1) from Ps 23:1 and links to 34:11ff, Isa 40:11 and especially John 10:11-16, Heb 13:20, 1 Peter 2:25, 5:4, Rev 7:17; all of which allude to the Messiah as the "Shepherd" of God's people. Jesus appears to confirm this in Matt 26:31 and Mark 14:27.
  • "through the fire" (V9)is a theme picked up in 1 Cor 3:15 (and may also be a metaphor from pagan practices as recorded in 2 Kings 16:3, 17:17, 21:6, 23:10, 2 Chron 33:6, Eze 20:31, etc)
  • "Refine like silver/gold" (V9) is a figure of speech used in places like Mal 3:3, Ps 12:6, 66:10, Isa 48:10, Jer 9:7, Eze 22:18, etc, and is a consistent metaphor for God's purifying of His people (Mal 3:3).

Thus, Jesus quoted (Matt 26:31 and Mark 14:27, see also John 16:32) a very apt OT verse as a prophecy of what would happen to the disciples when He was arrested.

Ellicott comments on Zech 13:7 -

I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.—The citation of this prophecy, from Zechariah 13:7. is every way suggestive, as showing that our Lord’s thoughts had dwelt, and that He led the disciples to dwell, on that chapter as applicable to Himself. To one who dealt with prophecy as St. Matthew dealt with it, much in that chapter that is perplexing to the historical critic would be full of divinest meaning. It told of a “fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness;” of One with “wounds” in His hands, who was “wounded in the house of His friends;” of the Shepherd to whom Jehovah spake as to His “fellow.”

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OP's question,

"Why does Jesus quote it and what was His meaning? How can this be understood with respect to the original meaning of Zechariah 13? I am having trouble understanding why Jesus would quote a passage that clearly speaks of false prophets condemned by God."

Then Jesus says to them, “You all will fall away because of Me during this night. For it has been written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ Mathew 26:31

Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the man who is My Companion, declares the LORD of Hosts. Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn My hand against the little ones. Zechariah 13:7

The scripture affirms that it is God Himself that strikes down this Shepherd of His very own. No one else has done this but God Himself. It's His sovereignty over everything and He has a purpose in all this as we see in the next sentence.

But I, after being raised, will go before you into Galilee.” 32

Jesus being raised shows that what he prophesied came true. He certainly was not a false prophet as was shown by His resurrection. So God struck him down and who raised him back from the dead if not God? God put his stamp of approval on Him.

Many thought he was a false prophet and that God was striking him down because he was a false prophet.


Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted… Isaiah 53:4

They had no idea why God was striking this shepherd down… The shepherd was caring their transgressions, taking on their sin and guilt.

He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, Isaiah 53:4-5

each one has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

Notice why Gid struck Him down.

He was stricken for the transgression of My people. Isaiah 53:8

Yet it pleased Yahweh to bruise him. He has caused him to suffer. When you make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed. Isaiah 53:10

God's ways certainly are not ours, a seed had been planted through his death.

Again this person looks guilty before God.

and He was numbered with the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12

So God will strike down the false prophets but he also struck down the true prophet and by raising Him from the dead proved to all that He was speaking God's words in truth. Again that's why he said in the next verse.

But I, after being raised, will go before you into Galilee. Matthew 26:32

The resurrection was proof that the sins of the sheep had been dealt with, taken care of and new life was to grow through the seed that was planted in his death, because he was struck down by God.

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In Zec13:7, I doubt that God was talking about the false prophets and the bad shepherds because God said "the man who is my fellow". Did God ever consider a bad shepherd or a false prophets as his fellow? Remember, a fellow is someone you have fellowship with.

I think that, a problem in hermeneutics is the assumption that the words of a prophet always follow a continuous logic and that what they are saying in one verse must necessarily be linked to what they were saying three verses earlier, yet prophets frequently changed topics abruptly or without warning (it is more obvious in the original text as we didn't add chapters and numerotations yet). Anyway, when you do away with that assumption, then you realize why Jesus' interpretation of some OT texts differ from what a common hermeneutical approach would have suggested. Maybe Jn3:8 also carries implications for the writing style of the Scriptures...

Here's my take: the Spirit led Zechariah to prophesy about what would happen during the next 4 centuries, how both idolatry and prophecy would disappear from the land to make empty room for the Anointed himself. And then fast forward, the Spirit took Zechariah to the scene of the arrest of the Anointed.

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In the context of Jesus' ministry, the quotation from Zechariah refers to the treason of Jesus by Judas Iscariot and the desertion of the other disciples when Jesus is arrested and crucified. Jesus' use of this quotation serves as a memorial that the events of his passion were foretold by the prophets and fulfill God's plan for the salvation of humanity.

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Can someone help me understand the last part of the verse I’m zechariah 13:7 “ and I will turn against the little ones.” What does this mean? I’m lost. No one has an answer. Did God turn against the disciples?

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