Although a jigsaw puzzle analogy may seem a little trite, it's a fairly accurate description of how this series will proceed. To help build a picture of the last days we will note the key events in a passage, additional information about events we've already seen, and most importantly, anything that connects events together in sequence.
Putting these pieces together will form a picture for us to review. It may be remarkably clear, surprisingly disjointed, or somewhere in between; but we will have a model with which to evaluate different theories of the last days. We can decide whether they contain reasonable conclusions, circumstantial ideas, or unmitigated prepostery (which really should be a word).
What are we reading?
Zechariah lived during the time that the Temple was being rebuilt after the exile, and the first half of the book is a series of visions of the priesthood and various elements of the Law. The latter half introduces the coming Messiah as saviour of his people, and although we could look at prophetic elements in a number of chapters, we're going to concentrate on chapter 14 because of the obvious reference to Christ's return in verse 4.
Battle in Jerusalem - The inhabitants of Jerusalem are plundered by an aggressor. Only half the city falls.
The aggressor plunders - v1 and v3 refer to "spoil" and "plunder" respectively.
Hateful aggressor - A reference to women being raped (v4) belies the attitude of the aggressor toward the inhabitants of the land.
Earthquake - An earthquake is caused when the feet of the Lord touch the Mt Olives (c.f. Acts 1v11). This earthquake opens a great valley that the inhabitants of Jerusalem are able to flee through. As it happens, there's a fault line in just this spot.
Mt Olives, looking east from Jerusalem
Topographical changes - Parts of the land are reshaped. We may already surmise that these changes take place as a result of the earthquake described above, but we'll be looking for other evidence to support or refute this. At this point it's equally possible that topographical changes could be the result of a different earthquake.
New river system - Continuing the theme of geographic change, we have a new river system described. Oddly this appears to flow into two seas, the Dead Sea and Mediterranean. This is a prime candidate for further explanation elsewhere in scripture.
Holy ones of the Lord - Along with Christ we find that "all the saints (holy ones)" also come with Christ. Who are these? Angels? Believers?
Plague - The plague described in verse 12 has invoked a lot of speculation based on modern methods of warfare: does it describe an atomic bomb? Chemical weapon? Lasers?!
Aside from this conjecture, we may observe that the flesh, eyes and tongue are singled out. These are often associated with lusts (1 John 2v16, the boastful tongue aligning with "pride" in this view). However, an entirely symbolic reading is untenable given that the plague afflicts animals, but the underlying message describes a punishment against lust. This would seem fitting based on our existing observations of the aggressor's motivations.
Weird light - Verse 6 describes a unique day in which it is neither light nor dark. Again, watching out for references to light in other last days passages might help us to understand this phenomenon.
Judah fights - Having been rescued by Christ, the inhabitants of the land fight against the aggressor. It's not immediately obvious if this takes place while the inhabitants of Jerusalem are fleeing, or if it relates to a later time. Shortly thereafter, the spoil of surrounding nations is collected, perhaps as a result of this ongoing campaign.
God fights - The Lord causes the aggressor to wage war against himself, perhaps in a confused state due to the plague. This is reminicent of Gideon's 300 men, who vanquished invaders without even entering the fight.
Kingdom established - Under the rule of Christ the Kingdom of God is established over the whole earth. Jerusalem is secured.
Keeping the Law - It would appear that elements of the old Jewish Law are reinstated as mandatory services for the nations of the earth (punishable by the witholding of rain), particularly the feast of Tabernacles. Sacrifices are described, as are an altar and potentially a "house of the Lord". Strictly speaking, this last verse could be interpreted without the need for a physical building; we'll be looking to rule that in or out based on what we can find elsewhere.
We've established a number of key events, themes and ideas in Zechariah. The series will continue to build up our puzzle pieces by stepping into another well-known prophetic passage: Ezekiel 38.