Biblegems # 280
Question: Zechariah 14:4 says that “the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west”. Is this to be understood literally, or is there a more symbolic meaning intended?
Using Zechariah 14:4, here are four basic principles for interpreting prophecy correctly:
The immediate context, Zechariah 14:1-10, places the mountain-splitting event amidst other “Day of the Lord” events (v.1), including: Jerusalem overrun by “all the nations,” (vv. 1-2); half of Jerusalem’s survivors taken into exile (v. 3); the LORD appearing and “all the holy ones with him” to attack the nations formed against Israel (vv. 1, 3, 5); the LORD descending on the Mount of Olives, causing the mountain to “split in two from east to west” (v.4). Jewish survivors left in Jerusalem escape the city through the valley created by the earthquake (v.5). A bright, warm light accompanies the LORD’s appearing, continuing day and night (v. 6). A new river will flow east and west from Jerusalem’s greatly elevated mountain, the surrounding region leveled like the Arabah wilderness (vv.8, 10). The Lord will reign from Jerusalem as king over the entire earth (v.9).
The context describes very specific future events in a very specific timeline intended be understood at face value, not symbolically.
The fundamental rule of interpretation, prophetic or not, is to take Scripture literally (at face value, straightforward) unless the text itself dictates otherwise. Key words, such as “like”, or “as” can indicate comparison or metaphor. To interpret Zechariah 14:4 symbolically it needs to be worded something like this:
“…the Mount of Olives will shake [as if it were about to] be split in two from east to west…”
Instead, the language is precise and definitive, indicating these events are to be understood at face value, not symbolically.
Consistency in interpretation means we do not have the liberty to pick and choose which details we think should be symbolic, exaggeration, or literal. No matter how extreme or how scientifically unlikely the mountain-splitting earthquake might seem to us, either we take the entire passage as literal, or not at all. Consistency demands one or the other.
Scripture Interprets Scripture
In the book of Acts, Jesus gathered His disciples one last time on the Mount of Olives to give them final instructions (Acts 1:12). But He did more than that.
Acts 1:9-11 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Jesus ascended to heaven visibly and physically from the Mount of Olives; and He will descend to earth in power and great glory, visibly and physically (Matt. 24:30), with all His holy ones (1Thess. 3:13), upon the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12), as the Scripture foretold in Zechariah 14:4. Jesus’ ascension verifies the literal interpretation of Zechariah 14:4 and its entire context.