Third, Zech. 14:16-19: According to the premillennial view, after the decisive end-time victory of God narrated in vv. 1-3 and supposedly recapitulated in vv. 12-15, the nations will go up from year to year to worship God at Jerusalem during the millennium, but those nations who do not go up will be punished with a plague of judgment (described in vv. 16-19), much like the majority of the nations who were defeated by God directly before the beginning of the millennium.
Yet there are problems with such a proposal. For instance, Zech 14:11 says that after the decisive triumph of God which introduces the purported millennial period, “there will be no more curse.” This statement is directly alluded to in Rev. 22:3. Both Zech. 14:11 and Rev. 22:3 clearly allude to the fact that the curse of Gen. 3:14-19 will be forever done away with, and Rev. 22:3 places this statement clearly during the time of the new eternal creation. This means that Zech. 14:11 refers to the eternal consummated kingdom and not to a preceding purported millennial kingdom, as premillennialists contend. Yet according to the premillennial view, more nations will be cursed during this same period, since (on this view) Zech. 14:12-15 recapitulates the battle of Zech. 14:1-3, and Zech. 14:16-19 portrays the nations being “cursed” and “punished” for their millennial disobedience.
This is a seemingly unsolvable problem for the premillennialist. How can there be a “curse” during this millennial period when Zech.14:11 says that this curse will be done away with during the same period? The premillennialist could try to say that Zech 14:11 is about the eternal new creation after the millennium, but v.11 is a continuation of a narrative of the period directly following God’s defeat of the unbelieving nations in vv. 1-3, which then introduces the purported millennial period (vv. 4-10), of which v.11 is clearly a further description. Thus, it is difficult to see how a premillennialist could place v.11 as part of the eternal new creation when vv. 4-10 are about the purported millennial period.
A viable amillennial proposal understands Zech. 14:1-3 to refer to the decisive victory of Christ described in Rev. 16:17-21; 19:19-21; and 20:7-8 following the millennium, which we have argued is the church age (see further on those verses for justification of this position). After the millennium or church age comes the final defeat of the enemy, followed by the eternal new creation, in which there is no longer any curse (Zech. 14:4-11).
In this case, Zech. 14:12-15, which apparently introduces a new thought or visionary segment, would not be a recapitulation of vv.1-3, but would rather focus on the defeat of the nations at Christ’s first coming. As was the case with John, Zechariah’s visions are not necessarily to be understood in strict chronological order. The punishment of the unbelieving nations described in Zech. 14:16-19 occurs during the church age, directly following Christ’s inaugurated defeat of the nations, and is thus recognizably synchronous to Rev. 11:4-6, where the two witnesses execute “plagues” on unbelievers.
The basis of such an interpretation would initially derive from a number of OT texts cited in the NT that describe Christ’s defeat of the nations as occurring at His first coming and culminating at His return. For example, see Gen. 49:8-12 and Isa. 11:1, 10 and its inaugurated fulfillment in Rev. 5:5, as well as Rom. 1:5 and 16:26, where the positive “obedience of the nations” is stated, but Christ’s victory over even the unbelieving nations is implied in the light of the Genesis 49 prophecy, which is alluded to in the Romans passage. Also note that the prophecy of the victory of the nations in Num. 24:14-19 begins to see fulfillment in Christ’s first coming (see Rev. 2:28: 22:16, where the prophecy of Isa. 11:1 is inaugurated).
In addition, the prophecy of the nations gathering to defeat “the Lord and…His Messiah” from Ps. 2:1-2 begins to be fulfilled at the cross (Acts 4:25-26), and the Messiah’s victory over the nations in Ps. 2:8-9 commences in Christ’s first coming (especially His resurrection) in Rev 2:26-27 and then is consummated at His return in Rev. 19:15. Thus understood, Zech 14:16-19 could well be referring to unbelievers feigning to profess faith in Christ during the church age but who do not worship in the true Holy Spirit or in the truth during that age (cf. John 4:21-24), and who will consequently be judged. Those among the nations who profess to trust in Christ yet do not worship him in truth and sincerity will fall under His condemnation. Other OT texts referenced in the NT could easily be adduced to support this view to one degree or another.
Some premillennialists might well fault this view in that they would doubt that there was a significant victory over the nations at Christ’s first coming, yet in so doing they would fail to notice the ironic nature of His victory through the cross, which is then replicated in the obedient church. In fact, one of the repeated NT affirmations is that the great victory over Satan, who rules over the sons of disobedience among the nations (see, e.g., Eph. 2:1-3), began at the cross (like “D-Day”) and will be consummated at Christ’s final coming (like “V-Day”).
Premillennialists might also attempt to fault this view because the battle of Zech. 14:1-3 and the battle of vv.12-15 appear to be the same. We do not radically disagree that the two battles are very similar and indeed are organically related. But this does not mean they are completely identical in their timing. In fact, note again from above that the prophecy of Ps. 2:8-9, which seems there to be a final consummative battle, commences in Christ’s first coming (and especially His resurrection) in Rev. 2:26-27 and then is consummated at His return in Rev.19:15 (the same thing happens with the Isa. 49:2 description of the messianic Servant’s mouth being like a sword, which is inaugurated at Christ’s first coming [Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16] and consummated at His last coming [Rev. 19:15]).
The very same wording about the eschatological defeat of the nations from the Psalm describes the initial defeat and the consummation of the defeat. We believe that something like this is going on in the relation of the similar batttle descriptions of Zech. 14:1-3 and Zech. 14:12-15, the former portraying the consummative battle, which was commenced in the church age in the latter.
-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 448-451.