The prophet Zechariah is just one of over thirty men named Zechariah in the Old Testament. His name means “Yahweh has remembered,” which might also be a good summary of the prophetic work that bears his name. We know little about Zechariah personally except that he was a priest as well as a prophet and was a contemporary of Zerubbabel and the prophet Haggai.
Zechariah lived during the time of Judah’s restoration, when the exiles had returned from Babylon and were rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, around 520 to 470 BC. Zechariah 1:1 introduces him as the son of Berekiah, the grandson of Iddo. However, Ezra 5:1 and 6:14 identify him as the son of Iddo. This is not a contradiction, as son can simply mean “descendant.”
According to Nehemiah 12:4, Zechariah’s grandfather Iddo returned with Zerubbabel from exile in Babylon. Nehemiah 12:16 lists Zechariah as the head of the priestly family of Iddo. His ministry was among those who returned from the exile and their descendants as they resettled the land. Zechariah calls them to repentance and spiritual renewal in a time when they seemed to be despairing, spiritually apathetic, and tempted to continue some of the sins of their forefathers before the exile. The prophecies in the book of Zechariah cover about two years’ time, but it appears that Zechariah continued to have a ministry among the people until the temple was rebuilt, even though no prophecies are recorded from that time period (Ezra 5:1-2).
The Old Testament gives no indication about how Zechariah might have died. However, in Matthew 23:34-36, Jesus mentions Zechariah in His condemnation of the first-century Jewish leaders: “I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.” If this is a reference to the prophet Zechariah, then we know how Zechariah died—he was murdered in the temple courtyard.
There were a couple of prominent men in the Bible named Zechariah (alternate spelling Zacharias or Zachariah). One was an Old Testament prophet who prophesied in the days of Haggai and who wrote the book of Zechariah (Ezra 5:1; Zechariah 1:1). This prophet is also mentioned by Jesus as having been murdered by the rebellious and disobedient Jews of his day (Matthew 23:35). The other prominent Zechariah was a priest, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5).
Zechariah is actually the first person mentioned in connection with the Christmas story. The book of Luke records that Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were righteous, God-honoring people who had no children and were well past childbearing years (Luke 1:6-7). Zechariah, as part of his priestly duties in the temple, was chosen to enter the Holy Place to burn incense before the Lord (verse 8). While he was ministering in the temple to the Lord, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that he and Elizabeth had been chosen by God to have a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah (verse 17). They were to consecrate their son as a servant of God and were to name him John.