The Anti-Missionary’s Charge:
The King James Version and the Tanakh both say in Zechariah 12:10, “and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” When John is writing in John 19:37 and quotes Zechariah 12:10, he has changed it to say, “They shall look on him (instead of me) whom they pierced.”
John understands Zechariah 12:10 to be a Literal Prophecy plus Literal Fulfillment. See The Four Ways the Brit Chadashah(New Testament) Uses the Hebrew Scriptures. This is also a Second Coming prophecy. See The Four Types of Messianic Prophecy. John is convinced that Jesus is God Himself appearing and living among Israel as a man, as the Messianic person. John then communicates his understanding of the scene he witnessed when Jesus was pierced by the Roman spear. He knew that the Messianic person had to be pierced according the Zechariah 12:10. He believes that Jesus is the Messianic person. When he sees Jesus pierced by the Roman soldier, he understands that moment to be a literal fulfillment of what was predicted in Zechariah 12:10.
John makes a slight alteration of the Hebrew text to facilitate understanding. He does a Targum here. He renders the text in an explanatory manner. The alteration is slight but fully consistent with his First Century Jewish culture; John does not quote the Septuagint here. Apparently, John personally translates the verse. The Hebrew text literally reads, “They will look unto me whom they pierced.” John translates the verse into Greek in this manner, “They will look unto whom they pierced.” I will admit that the majority of the standard English translations do a disservice to John when they add the non-existent pronoun “him.” The majority of standard English translations render the phrase in question “… look onto Him whom …” Of the standard English translations the New International Version does the best job by rendering the phrase in this manner:
“They will look on the one they have pierced.”
Unfortunately, the standard English translations have provided some fuel for the objection of the anti-missionary. The objection evaporates when the original Greek is consulted. The standard English translations are actually doing a 21st century English Targum. They are rendering the verse in an explanatory manner. For a rabbi to object is simply more quibbling. However, rendered into the English, John’s translation does the job and communicates his understanding of the scene he witnessed. Jesus is the pierced one. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the one who Israel will look to. John’s personal Targum explains the verse.
This action by John is consistent with his first-century Jewish culture. John directs the reader to Zechariah so that the reader can study the scripture and decide for himself if he is correct or not. Now we have to ask the question, is John correct when he sees this verse as messianic?
John is not alone in his understanding that the Messianic person is being referred to here. Ancient Jewish sages carried the same understanding. Here are a few quotes found in rabbinic literature:
- Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52a:
- Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah 52A:
- Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52A:
- Rashi (and also RaDak):
- Rabbi Moses Alshech:
It’s well according to him who explains that the cause (of the mourning) is the slaying of the Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scripture verse: ‘And they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced; and shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son’.
And the land shall mourn, every family apart (Zech. 12:12). Two have interpreted this verse. One said: “This is the mourning over the Messiah,” and the other said: “This is the mourning over the Evil Inclination” (which will be killed by God in the Messianic days).
and the land shall mourn (Zech 12:12). What is the reason of this mourning? R. Dosa and the rabbis differ about it. R. Dosa says: “(They will mourn) over the Messiah who will be slain,” and the rabbis say: “(They will mourn) over the Evil Inclination which will be killed (in the days of the Messiah) ….”
Our Rabbis interpreted it as referring to Messiah ben Joseph.
‘They shall look unto Me, for they shall lift up their eyes unto Me in perfect repentance, when they see Him whom they have pierced, that is Messiah, the Son of Joseph; for our Rabbis, of blessed memory, have said that He will take upon Himself all the guilt of Israel, and shall then be slain in the war to make atonement in such manner that it shall be accounted as if Israel had pierced Him, for on account of their sin He has died; and, therefore, in order that it may be reckoned to them as perfect atonement, they will repent and look to the blessed One, saying that there is none beside Him to forgive those that mourn on account of Him who died for their sin; this is the meaning of ‘They shall look upon Me’.
It appears that John is in good company when he communicates his understanding of the event. He believes that the Messianic person is being referred to here and so do other respected Jewish commentators. John understands Jesus to be fulfilling the role of Messiah ben Joseph. Messiah ben Joseph is the rabbinic name for the “Suffering Messiah.”