Two Thirds of the Jews Killed … Past or Future?
When Israel reacted justifiably to the imminent threat of attack by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq with a preemptive military strike against those enemies on June 5th, 1967, I remember thinking that the Jews couldn’t possibly win another war against these formidable Islamic nations. That it would be a devastating defeat for the Jews absent any miracles that produced an Against All Odds victory in their 1948-1949 War of Independence.
I’m sure many others felt the same way, even though American military experts believed that Israel might accomplish their objectives in 7-10 days because the IDF seized the element of surprise by landing the first blow. It seemed that the whole world was watching what many thought would be a war that could conceivably spell the end of the only Jewish nation on earth, a country that hadn’t yet reached its 20th birthday.
As a 20-year old student working my way through college, I vividly recall the incessant news updates while trying to concentrate on my job in the downtown precinct of the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department (my employer at the time). What with my classes, homework, and sleeping, I had very little time off-duty to keep track of the media updates. There were no televisions in the police precincts, but there were radios. I worked the graveyard shift (11PM-7AM, which often included weekends).
Even during this shift the Precinct Captain and Desk Sergeant kept their radios tuned to the periodic reports of the astonishing rate and precision at which Israel was dismantling her foes. I suppose their interest in the outcome had much to do with observing a modern-day epic version of David and Goliath unfolding. Although my passion for end-times Biblical prophecy in general and Israel in particular wouldn’t deepen for another decade, I, too, was completely absorbed in the almost hourly media announcements pouring in from the Middle East.
One, two, three, four days went by. With each passing day, it was becoming more and more evident that the Israelis were routing the much larger Arab military force. It was phenomenal that Israel achieved air superiority after its first day assault on the Egyptian Air Force. It was Against All Odds all over again; but this time it became readily apparent that Israel’s very survival would not be in jeopardy. Within three or four days, the only question was just how soon and how soundly the Arabs would be defeated.
Then on June 10th the broadcast was heard all over the Police Station, indeed, the entire world: The Arabs had surrendered.
In just six days Israel had achieved a victory that would go down in the annals of warfare as one of the greatest (if not greatest) military feats of all time. She had defeated four Arab nations in a three-front battle … Syria to the north, Jordan and Iraq to the east, and Egypt to the south.
Absolutely amazing! Not just the unthinkable short duration of the war, but also the casualty count reflected the decisiveness of Israel’s victory. An estimated 20,000 Arab combatants were killed with less than 1,000 Israeli deaths.
Because of his contributions to the victory, IDF Chief of General Staff Yitzhak Rabin would be given the honor of naming the war. Such names as “War of Daring” and “War of Salvation” were suggested. But in deference to the six days of creation and the resounding rout of Israel’s enemies in the same number of days, he chose the less ostentatious designation of Six-Day War. Later Rabin would become Israel’s Prime Minister.
Famous photo of IDF soldiers at the Western Wall in 1967
Just six years later, on October 6th, 1973 the Arabs would strike first on none other than Israel’s holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. That war lasted only three weeks, but it was much tougher for Israel to emerge victorious. In fact, there were some tenuous times when Israel could have lost that war, and Israeli casualties were much higher than in the Six-Day War. However, since then, no multi-national Arab coalition has dared launch a military campaign against Israel. Instead, they have resorted to terrorism, mortar launchings, propaganda, and BDS tactics.
World-Wide Focus on Israel
Both of these wars stirred my burgeoning interest in Israel and how she fit into end-times Biblical prophecy. To some extent or another, the entire world began to pay attention to the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. Yet it wasn’t until a decade later that my awareness of Israel’s dynamic entrance and progression on the world-stage and my focus on Biblical prophecy accelerated with a great deal of intensity. Permit me to quote the second paragraph of the first page in my book, Out of the Abyss, published in 2011.
Let’s begin with a television documentary—some thirty-five hour-long episodes—first aired in the late 1970s. At the time, I was in my early thirties. Historian Stephen Ambrose and Actor Sir Laurence Olivier narrated these programs under the title: The World at War. The programs included a ton of World War II film footage never shown before. The programs were well written, skillfully narrated, and exceptionally revealing. But it was the last six segments that captivated me … six hour-long programs with gut wrenching film of the round-up, internment, torture, and death of Jews in sadistic Nazi concentration camps. These images were powerfully and indelibly imprinted on my mind and heart.
Then a couple of pages later, I wrote:
Both astonished and distressed at the sheer magnitude of the Holocaust, I wondered how something like this could happen … I had to know. From that time forward I decided to learn more about Israel, the Jews, and prophecy … Something occurred to me that I’m sure others had already recognized; as horrible as the Holocaust had been, would Israel otherwise have been restored as a nation?
Despite the horrendous loss of Jewish life in Nazi concentration camps and throughout Europe during World War II, it’s highly unlikely the Jewish people would have been revived as a nation without this colossal catastrophe. Most assuredly, not that quickly. In just three years after this incredibly devastating war, Israel was reborn as a sovereign nation on this earth.
Never again, said Jews all over the world. They must have their own sanctuary with definable defensible borders, with self-governing rights of citizenship and land ownership, with the inherent freedom and potential privileges of a democratic nation, and with the sovereign capacity to protect themselves. Though many peoples and nations still seek Israel’s destruction, never again will the Jews be indefensibly at the mercy of her enemies. And for once—through the United Nations—some of the world agreed with them. So much so that the UN Resolution in November, 1947 extended sovereign states’ rights to the Jews. Just seven months later, the world witnessed the rebirth of the State of Israel.
Then in the astonishing Six-Day War Israel reclaimed Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, West Bank of the Jordan River, Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula, all of which have totally or partially been given back to the Arabs, excepting the Golan Heights.
Dozens of Bible prophecies speak of the last day’s return of Jews to Israel from global exile, with the Divine guarantee that never again would Jews be stripped of or away from their Promised Land. Despite the perilous end-times turmoil that will engulf the entire earth during the Great Tribulation, including Israel—which is referred to as Jacob’s troubles—there is no indication in Scripture that the Jews will suffer the catastrophic casualties at the hands of Gentile nations that started with the Assyrian conquest of Israel in 722 BC and the Babylonian overthrow of Judah in 586 BC. Then the even more devastating defeat of Israel by the Romans in 70 AD and their ensuing global Diaspora, culminating in the unfathomable genocidal massacre of some six million Jews during the Holocaust.
Except that is, for one passage. It is a portion of Scripture that has perplexed and troubled me for some time.
Bible prophecy, particularly those involving last day’s warnings, can be either terrifying or touching, horrifying or heartening; depending mostly on whether you are an unbeliever or believer, respectively. Even the believer can be alarmed at the enormity of, for example, death and destruction by the forces of evil in the end times but also by the wrath of God poured out on a very wicked world. As Christians, we need not be afraid of a world spinning out of control before the soon-to-come Rapture, then tilting on an apocalyptic axis and falling into the Abyss during the Tribulation. But we certainly should be motivationally moved by the apocalyptic anxiety that those left behind will experience, particularly by the tribulation saints and Jews; some of whom will be one and the same and both of whom will be relentlessly persecuted.
The Troubling Prophecy of One of My Favorite Prophets, Zechariah
The first part of the passage is one of those mind-numbing, gut-wrenching things to even think about, let alone fully grasp. I have mentally, emotionally, and spiritually agonized over the massive loss of life that this prophecy foretold for God’s chosen people. Here it is:
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, the man who is my partner, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn against the lambs. Two-thirds of the people in the land will be cut off and die, says the Lord. But one-third will be left in the land. I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, These are my people, and they will say, The Lord is our God” (Zechariah 13:7-9).
Zechariah wrote Chapters 1-8 around 520 BC after a remnant of Jews had returned to Israel from Babylon and Persia, then Chapters 9-14 about 480 BC. With the first eight chapters written primarily about rebuilding the Temple, but still containing several prophetic visions; some of them futuristic and others applying to God’s sovereign interaction with Israel and Gentile nations throughout the course of history.
Chapters 9 through 14 pertain almost exclusively to the final restoration of Israel during the end-times … predictions still awaiting fulfillment. However, there are three exceptions which were prophetically future tense to Zechariah and the Jews of that time, but historically have already come to pass. Each of these exceptions pertain to Messiah, the Good Shepherd, who would be betrayed for the paltry sum of thirty pieces of silver—the cost of a slave—as portrayed in Zechariah 11:7-13. That is precisely what transpired when Judas betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders as recorded in the Gospels.
A second prophecy is the famous announcement that nearly every believer recognizes; the fulfillment of which occurred when thousands proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah upon his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem riding on a donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9).
The third prophecy in these final chapters of Zechariah that has already come to pass is found in the passage we just read, beginning with, Strike down the shepherd (Zechariah 13:7b). This is an obvious reference to Messiah’s (Jesus) death on the cross. The verse goes on to say, “…and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn against the lambs.”
Jesus referred to the scattering of the sheep as what his disciples would do when he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:31); but Zechariah’s prophecy was broader in scope than that. Why? Because Jesus also denoted the Jews as the (lost) sheep of Israel. Moreover, the next line in Zechariah 13:7 reads, “and I will turn against the lambs.” Although the Lord temporarily withdrew his protection from Israel, he never turned against his disciples or those who would become believers in Christ … Christians. Both sheep and lambs are frequently used as a metaphorical analogy to God’s chosen people, the Jews. This broader application of the sheep and lambs to Israel will be evident as we continue.
The scattering of the sheep also took place when the Romans conquered Israel and destroyed much of Jerusalem including complete demolition of the rebuilt Temple in 70 AD. The scattering and the turning against the lambs signified God’s withdrawal of his protection from his chosen people for rejecting their Messiah who established the New Covenant with the greatest price ever paid … his very blood, the life of the Son of God. The Great Diaspora ensued in which millions of Jews were exiled to many nations. With, however, the greater majority of the Jewish population settling in countries of today’s Europe over hundreds of years. Also, a sizeable number ended up in Russia. Not until the birth of the United States and later the horrendous Holocaust, would more Jews live in America than anywhere else in the world. Even that has now changed, with the greatest concentration of Jews in Israel, itself … 6.3 million.
Depicts Roman Destruction of Jerusalem
According to reliable census, the historical world-wide population of Jews reached its peak in 1939, with a total of 16,728,000. Of that figure, approximately 8,800,000 million resided in European countries, a little over 50 per cent. Today’s Jewish global population is about 13,900,000.
Whether positive or negative or neutral, Scripture is absolutely amazing in its detail, both historically and prophetically … including people, genealogies, times, events, nations, and numbers. See, for example, the Eye of Prophecy article entitled, The Shocking Statistics of the Great Tribulation, posted 6-6-15.
In the passage quoted earlier from Zechariah 13:7-13, it is a number (fraction) that distressed me for many years. In the context of the horrible tragedy of the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered, I simply couldn’t come to terms with Zechariah 13:8, which reads: “Two thirds of the people in the land will be cut off and die, says the Lord. But one-third will be left in the land.”
Each time I read this passage, the figures and the repercussions stunned me … during the last days Tribulation, two-thirds of Jews would be killed. On more than one occasion I recall shedding some tears. “Please, Lord,” I pleaded. “Is there any way that you would prevent this from happening?” And, yet, what God says will happen, happens. The Word that he gives to his prophets always comes to pass.
I had read volumes about the sickening Holocaust. I had seen countless hours of film footage depicting the shocking scenes of death by starving, shooting, hanging, and gassing European Jews. But I needed to know what had happened and why. As indicated earlier in this article, it was principally the Holocaust that expanded my interest in Biblical prophecy. And now, I simply couldn’t imagine that God’s chosen people must go through yet another catastrophic carnage that would kill two-thirds of them. Wasn’t the Holocaust enough?
“But Lord,” I said. “That’s too many. That would be four million dead in Israel alone. Please help me to understand why. Is there any other way to see this?” Yet I resigned to what Scripture was saying and accepted that one-third would surely survive.
And, then, recently it happened! The Lord took off the shades from my eye of prophecy (a self-directed pun), and made me see more clearly. There is another (accurate) explanation to these seven verses in Zechariah Chapter 13!
There are four basic mistakes that even the most ardent, well-meaning students of Scripture sometimes make, especially regarding prophecy. They fail to:
- Thoroughly scrutinize the context of the passage.
- Compare the passage to as many (if not all) other similar passages on that subject.
- Evaluate and relate the passage to history or to contemporary times, when obviously necessary.
- Fit the prophetic event into Scripture. Instead they squeeze a particular prophetic passage/subject of Scripture or a historical event into a presupposition or theory or premature conclusion.
The more difficult the passage, the more scrupulous we need to be in our examination and application of what the Bible is telling us. Sometimes that is equally, if not more, true when the verses seem to be so very evident to us.
Regarding this passage in question, I was guilty of some of these errors; as has been virtually every other Bible commentator I’ve read or heard. Which is especially ironic; because particularly for the past ten years or so, The Lord has impressed on me the need to meticulously study and apply Biblical prophecy by adhering to these Bible teaching principles. It goes with the gift of teaching graciously given to me by the Lord. The actual sharing with others verbally and/or in written form constitutes only about 50% of what a teacher does. Before that can successfully be done, there must be the capacity to make comparisons, contrasts, correlations, and connections that most people don’t make or don’t want to make, i.e. that’s what teachers are for! Really effective teachers (should) do more than just present facts. They should provide relevant and accurate commentary. In involves not just investigative reporting, but also editorial journalism.
Sometimes, however, it’s more than just an interpretational mistake. It is the Holy Spirit’s illumination by showing us something we had missed or overlooked even after many readings of a specific passage. Or, the Lord will graciously clarify or correct an incorrect or incomplete understanding of a particular passage.
So What Happened? … The Accurate Application
Immediately after Zechariah 13:7 where we read that the Shepherd (Messiah) is killed and the sheep (Jews) are scattered, we read in verse eight: “Two-thirds of the people in the land will be cut off and die…” In the Complete Jewish Bible, the wording is, “In time, throughout that land, two-thirds of those in it will be destroyed.” This translation is effectively saying the same thing, but gives us a more definitive grasp of precisely what land Zechariah is referencing.
For years I assumed or presumed that the “land” was Israel, which is a fairly reasonable application or conclusion. Why? Because (nearly) all of the final six chapters of Zechariah refer to the restoration of the Jews to and in Israel. For example: “On that day the Lord their God will rescue his people, just as a shepherd rescues the sheep. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown” (Zechariah 9:16, italics for emphasis).
The above referenced italicized phrase on that day, is used many times in these final chapters … sixteen times from Zechariah Chapter 12 through 14 alone. That phrase is synonymous with The Day of the Lord employed by other Old Testament prophets. On that day refers to the end-times final restoration of Israel, which began when Israel was miraculously reborn as a nation in 1948; but which will exponentially intensify at the outset of the Millennium. As explained throughout other Eye of Prophecy articles, the Day of the Lord begins with the Rapture of the Church, followed very soon by the Seven-Year treaty between Antichrist and Israel, the triumphant return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation, then the Millennial Reign of Messiah Jesus. In the specific passage we’re examining (Chapter 13), the phrase on that day is used twice in the opening verses one through six.
But at verse seven the scene abruptly shifts to another prophecy that, as we’ve already seen, applies to the death of Messiah and scattering exile of God’s chosen people to the land or throughout that land. Just like the interlude or parenthetical scene of Messiah being sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11) or majestic entrance into Jerusalem (Chapter 9), these prophecies have already been fulfilled. They are separate and distinct from the remaining passages that apply exclusively to the last days. Which is another feature that I missed until recently. Actually, I hadn’t missed the fact of the Shepherd being betrayed and that same Shepherd (Messiah Jesus) being killed and the sheep being scattered clearly had already taken place.
What I missed was the fact that the passage of Zechariah 13:7-9 is distinctly separate from verses one through six of Chapter 13 and all of the other (on that day) end-times content of Chapters 9-14, except for Messiah’s procession into Jerusalem and his subsequent betrayal. However, Verses 7, 8, & 9 of Chapter 13 cannot be separated, one from the other. They are all an integral part of a succession of three events: Messiah’s death, the sheep scattered, and two-thirds of them killed … all of which have already taken place!
Here’s how and why:
To where were the sheep scattered and from where would two-thirds of them be cut off and die? Answer: They were scattered to the land or that land. Historically what is that land? Answer: First and foremost and predominately to the European Continent.
Not to or in Israel? They were exiled from Israel in 70 AD not to Israel. And the two-thirds who would be killed would die in the lands to which they were exiled. Not in Israel.
Do you see where we’re heading with this? Yes? No? Either way, let’s continue with more proof, scripturally, historically, and deductively to demonstrate that ALL of the events of Zechariah 13:7-9 have already taken place. Or with regard to Verse 9, has begun and will peak during the Day of the Lord.
More Evidence and Evaluation
For sure, I had previously considered that the two-thirds of Jews killed in this passage were those who died during the Holocaust. In fact, as terrible as the Holocaust was, I had hoped that the passage was referring to that tragic event. Meaning that Israel wouldn’t have to go through another massive bloodbath during the Tribulation. But, in addition to the mistaken notion that the land is Israel instead of the (now) obvious correlation that the land is where the Jews were scattered, my calculations based on the Holocaust were also wrong.
In trying to somehow apply the passage to what had already taken place during World War II, I used the correct figure of six million Jews killed during the Holocaust; however, I inaccurately applied that figure to the total number of Jews in the world just before World War II began. When that’s done, we get the figure of 35% of Jews killed during the Holocaust. Which is mathematically correct, but it is not anywhere close to the two-thirds killed as predicted by Zechariah. Actually, it’s closer to the one-third remnant who would survive.
BUT, let’s see what happens when we apply the two-thirds killed to the existing Jewish population in Europe just before Hitler and the Third Reich began their Final Solution of the Jews.
When we divide the 6 million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany by the 8.8 million European Jews of that time, we get the astounding figure of 68%. Almost exactly TWO-THIRDS! Not only is that far beyond mere coincidence, it is a correlative confirmation of the two-thirds prophesied in Zechariah.
Now then, if someone wants to take issue with the fact that Jews were scattered to nations other than European, particularly Russia; thereby, concluding that the number killed would be logically less than the two-thirds foretold by Zechariah, my response would be, that’s fine.
However, I would also counter that the two-thirds could or should then be expanded to not just the European Holocaust (six million), but to all Jews killed through Russian pogroms, by the Spanish Inquisition, through the Crusades, and other less notable, but nonetheless Anti-Semitic campaigns against the Jews up to the time of Israel’s rebirth as a nation. Obviously it would take a lot of research, if it could actually be done, to establish and compare the approximate number killed to the total number of Jews born during that time frame. Yet, I would still propose a premise or make a prediction that the number killed would be two-thirds of the total Jewish population during those times. Either way, I now see that the accurate application of Zechariah’s two-thirds prophecy has already taken place.
The overwhelmingly clear evidence of the Bible is that once the Jews returned from exile, they would never again be driven from the land. Their time of physical and spiritual restoration would begin. Though they will undoubtedly suffer many more casualties during the Antichrist’s assault against Israel leading to Armageddon, it will not be anything like the appalling losses suffered during World War II or before.
Which is another reason why I was in denial over what I thought the Bible was clearly stating, i.e. two-thirds of Jews would be killed during the last days (on that day or the Day of the Lord) during the Great Tribulation. I couldn’t bring myself to the point of matching this kind of devastation and death to the fact that the time of Gentile domination over Israel ended in 1967 (Six-Day War), with the beginning of that end of domination taking place when Israel was declared a sovereign state by the United Nations in 1948. A two-thirds loss of life seemed to be an incomprehensible contradiction to the wonderful blessings God would begin to bestow on Israel beginning with the regathering of the Jews from world-wide exile and the rebirth of the Jewish nation.
For example: In the titanic assault of the Gog/Magog nations against Israel as found in Ezekiel 38 & 39 (of which I’ve written about in several Eye of Prophecy articles), God providentially and divinely defeats this Russian and Iranian led coalition with virtually no fighting on the part of Israel. With the obvious inference that Israel will suffer very few casualties during this massive campaign against them.
For sure there will be perilous times for the Jews (for everyone) during the last half of the Tribulation. In fact, the very next (last) chapter in Zechariah tells us what will take place. Note that the passage begins with, “the day of the Lord” which clearly brings the reader back to the last days (Tribulation) period of time.
“Watch, for the day of the Lord is coming when your possessions will be plundered right in front of you! I will gather all the nations to fight against Jerusalem. The city will be taken, the houses looted, and the woman raped. Half the population will be taken into captivity, and the rest will be left among the ruins of the city. Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past” (Zechariah 14:1-3).
Notice, however, that only Jerusalem is mentioned here, not all of Israel. No time/space in this article to elaborate on that, but when this passage is compared to Zechariah 12:4-9, we see that this is when Messiah will gloriously appear and immediately begin fighting with and for Israel, beginning with the rest of Israel first, then focusing on Jerusalem. Moreover, Zechariah 14 tells us that half of the people will be taken captive and the other half remain in Jerusalem. Certainly some will be killed, but the logical and reasonable conclusion is that most of Jerusalem’s population will survive.
In fact, Zechariah 14:4 continues to prophecy that when Christ returns, he will first set foot on the Mount of Olives (right next to Jerusalem), which will cause the mountain to split in half. Many Jews will escape through the valley caused by this amazing split of the mountain.
Photo shows Mount of Olives
All this combined with Revelation 12:13-14, which tells us that Israel (many Jews, but certainly not all) will be protected by the Lord during part of the Tribulation, puts the finishing touches on this correct application of Zechariah’s two-thirds loss of Jewish life prophecy.
Also, expanding on this by looking at it in still another way: The Holocaust was, in fact, predicted in the Bible.
Things to Ponder
I am so grateful to the Lord!
Would you come along side me with the following prayer of thanksgiving highlighted in italics.
Thank you, Lord!
Thank you that your people will never again suffer the loss of life so brutally inflicted on them by the evil Third Reich, or even by the ancient Romans. Thank you for correct understanding and application of the two-thirds in Zechariah Chapter 13. That nowhere near that number will perish again.
Of course, it was there all along. You are immutable, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Like you, your word does not change. Rather, it changes us. By the power and under the influence of the Holy Spirit, your Word counsels, clarifies, comforts, and corrects.
Thank you for concluding the two-thirds prophecy with the following promise that began to unfold soon after World War II and continues to this day, and will be complete upon your majestic return to the earth:
“I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9).
Thousands of Messianic Jews in today’s world will attest to the beginning of this wonderful promise; this good thing that you, O Lord, have brought out of the terrible slaughter of the sheep during World War II. Those left of this one-third remnant, their children and grandchildren are being refined by the turmoil of today’s world in chaos, and will be thoroughly purified during the final times of Jacob’s troubles during the Great Tribulation.
At that time your chosen people, your special possession will hear and listen, look and see, know and recognize their Messiah, none other than the one whom they pierced. And they will say, ‘Baruch haba, beshem Adonai.’ Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
And then, all of Israel will be saved!