And this shall be the plague with which 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.
And on that day a great panic from the LORD shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other. Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance. And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps.
This forms part of a larger section that goes up to v. 19. In this chapter, Zechariah describes how the Lord secures final dominion of the nations.
This section is a flashback and bigger picture of the scene described earlier, where the Lord came to fight against Jerusalem’s enemies. His wrath was swift and gruesome as he destroyed man and beast where they stood. A plague eliminated large chunks of the armies while the surviving warriors turned their weapons on each other in terrified confusion, obviously echoing previous Old Testament battles where God had done a similar thing in defence of his people.
God promised a rotting disease-type of curse in the covenant curses made to Israel in the situation should they become disobedient (Leviticus 26:16–17, 25, 39; Deuteronomy 28:21–22, 25, 27–28, 59–61). This may be the allusion made to how Judah would have victory over her enemies. Now, however, those curses turned to Israel’s enemies.
There is so much military imagery in apocalyptic texts, and many anticipate a military conflict in the Middle East before the second coming of Christ. That, however, overlooks the deeper significance of related prophecies.
As I have already demonstrated, Jerusalem is a symbol for the church at the end of this age known as the tribulation. It is the church on earth, surrounded by enemies. Thus, the armies sent against her need not be the same forces as used in military campaigns, even though physical force may doubtlessly be involved.
There is additionally no need for them all to be gathered in one locale. Wherever the church is, the nations will assault her. John saw a vision of these nations as they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city (Revelation 20:9a). The camp of the saints are God’s people preserved in the wilderness of this world (Revelation 12:6, 14), which is also called the “beloved city.” To oppose her, these deceived nations marched up over the broad plain of the earth. This warfare is recapitulated for us in Revelation 11:7; 13:7; 17:14.
The vision Zechariah receives and gives is one of total decimation and terror among those opposing God and his people. All their military materials are brought to naught as the sword issues from Christ’s mouth (Revelation 19:15, 21). In their great confusion, they destroy each other. Verse 14 brings in the thought: “Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance.” At the end, the church faces her final battle. But as it is about to be overrun, the glorified church in heaven returns with the Lord in this final battle as the victorious armies of heaven (Revelation 19:8, 14). As was promised, as the spoils of the victory, they indeed inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).