The first part of Zephaniah’s prophecy is mostly a warning of judgement coming on Judah and the nations. This would reach its climax in the event described as the day of the LORD. Zephaniah1.14-16 describes that day:
‘The great day of the LORD is near; it is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers.’
The day was near in one sense for Zephaniah’s people as he was prophesying in the time of King Josiah, the last of the godly kings of Judah, before judgement fell on the nation. This came through the invasion of the Babylonians into Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the deportation of the people of Judah to Babylon. However the final fulfillment of that day would be the coming Day of the Lord. This heralds the end of this age which will be the Return of the Messiah Jesus. This is the day of the LORD’s anger against sin. In the light of this there is a call to
‘Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’s anger.’ Zephaniah 3.3.
In the preparation for this coming day what is needed is to seek the LORD, to seek righteousness and to seek humility. Those who find the LORD will find a safe place from His anger. The only one who combines righteousness and humility in perfection and who is the LORD, is Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, in whose name those who seek God today can find pardon and mercy and the place of ultimate safety in His presence.
He came the first time as the Suffering Servant Messiah of Isaiah 53 to pay the price of our sins and rise again from the dead and to give eternal life to all who seek Him. The event described in Zephaniah in some clear detail is in fact the Second Coming of the Messiah Yeshua / Jesus. At this time He will come as the reigning King with all power at His disposal. The fact of two comings of the same Messiah is implicit in the Hebrew prophets, but is spelled out in the New Testament.
The day will come when Yeshua will return in power and glory to judge the world in righteousness. He will bring in the Millennium or the Messianic Kingdom of peace and justice on earth which is described in the Hebrew Prophets. Zephaniah makes it very clear that this totally changed condition of the earth will take place when the LORD is in your midst: ‘Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save;’ Zephaniah 3.16-17.
The word used for the LORD here is the Hebrew name for God and points us to the fact that the one who the Jewish people expect to bring in the Messianic Age (in other words the Messiah) is a divine person, not, as the rabbis teach, a great man who succeeds in bringing world peace, regathering the Jews to Israel and rebuilding the Temple. There is a remarkable unity in the prophetic passages pointing to this fact that the Messiah is more than man, He is God! This of course is taught in the New Testament and in the Hebrew Prophets. Isaiah 9.6-7 tells us that He will be born as a Child but also be called ‘Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Yeshua has already fulfilled this prophecy but at His second coming he will establish an eternal reign: ‘Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.’
Jeremiah tells us of a King who will reign as a descendant of David who will execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. ‘In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’
If He is called by the name of the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (and the word used here is the name of the Lord / Yahweh) He must be the LORD, a divine person.
In the vision of Isaiah 2 of the coming Messianic kingdom in which there is peace and justice on earth, it is the LORD who judges between the nations and causes wars to cease.
In Zechariah 14 when the nations come to plunder Jerusalem at the end of the Great Tribulation it is the LORD who fights against them, standing on the Mount of Olives, the very place Jesus ascended from and promised to return to (Acts 1). He changes the geography of the region and comes with all the saints (those who have died and been resurrected from previous ages and those who have been taken in the rapture of the church – 1 Thessalonians 4). ‘Thus the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You. …. And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be ‘ The LORD is one,’ and His name one.’ Zechariah 14.5,9.
The LORD will be King over all the earth and only in that day will there be the promised golden age of peace and justice. There will be a marvellous clean up operation from the pollutions of this present evil age as the living waters flow out from Jerusalem’. Other prophetic passages, notably Isaiah 35, speak of the desert blossoming as the rose as ‘waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of jackals, where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.’
This is the glorious hope of the coming Millennium when Jesus returns. It can only come about through one who is more than a man – who is Emmanuel / God with us, who is eternal and the Creator, who will have all power to restore the earth and its people following the terrible time of the Great Tribulation which will precede this event.
Zephaniah 3.8-20 actually describes the way in which the LORD will bring this about. ‘Therefore wait for Me,’ says the LORD, ‘ Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations to My assembly of kingdoms, to pour on them My indignation, all My fierce anger; all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy.’
Firstly the LORD will gather the nations for judgement. According to Revelation this will take place at Armageddon. In Revelation 19 we read that the LORD comes as King of kings and Lord of lords with the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, following Him on white horses. The assembled armies of the wicked will gather for the final battle and be utterly routed by the triumphant Second Coming of Jesus with all the armies of heaven. In that day the wicked will be devoured and removed from the earth.
‘Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.’ And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword, which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.’ Revelation 19.17-21
Revelation goes on to reveal that at this time the Devil who is the source of all wickedness and pride and responsible for the corruption of humanity and the earth will be bound and cast into the pit for the 1000 year reign of the Messiah on the earth.
‘Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.’ Revelation 20.1-3.
Zephaniah describes this also: ‘For then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain.’ Zephaniah 3.11
This will bring about a separation between the lost and the saved, the redeemed and those who are not redeemed. Matthew 25 describes the separation of the sheep and the goats, the sheep who enter into the kingdom and the goats who are cast out. Ezekiel 20.33-44 shows how the LORD will also bring a separation among the Jewish people between those who enter into the land of Israel and those who do not enter into the Millennial Kingdom. Those who accept Jesus / Yeshua as Saviour will enter in. Those who reject Him will not. Zechariah 12.10 and a number of other passages in the Hebrew prophets indicate that in the last days there will be a great movement of the Holy Spirit among the Jewish people in which they will receive the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, who was ‘pierced’ for their transgressions and who is the one they must call on for salvation.
Zephaniah goes on to describe what will happen to those who enter into the Millennial Kingdom. The LORD will restore to them a pure language so they may all call on the name of the LORD and serve Him with one accord. This will be a reversal of the Tower of Babel as the Holy Spirit supernaturally gives the ability to speak in a new tongue which will be understood by all. Most likely the language will be Hebrew. He will gather the dispersion to Israel, as Isaiah has also promised a second restoration of the ‘outcasts of Israel’ and the ‘dispersed of Judah’ from the four corners of the earth.
Those who participate in this glorious time will no longer be made afraid of the threat of plunder and loss of their flocks. They will dwell in safety and no longer face disaster as was the case in the preceding age.
At this time the LORD will be in the midst, rejoicing over His people with a time of singing and praise never before heard on the earth. He will heal all the sick. He will reign gloriously over all the earth from Jerusalem.
Zephaniah does not have revelation on this, but those who believe now in the Messiah and have accepted Him as Saviour will return with the Messiah in resurrected bodies and have a part to play in the government of the earth during that time. We will see the earth full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Revelation 20 also supplies information missing in the Hebrew Prophets that the Millennial period will last for 1000 years. It will conclude when Satan is released from the prison he has been confined in. He will go out to tempt those who have been born during the Millennium and are still in natural bodies to rebel against the LORD. This last revolt will be doomed to a quick end and actually cause the end of the world, following which God will create a new heavens and a new earth in which the redeemed will live forever.
‘Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Revelation 21.1-4.