The phrase “holy to the Lord” in Zechariah 14:20 refers to a time in the future when even ordinary items will be considered sacred and set apart for God’s purposes. This verse comes at the end of a chapter describing God’s future victory and the establishment of His kingdom on earth.
Zechariah 14 provides a prophetic picture of the Day of the Lord, when God will defeat the nations who fight against Jerusalem and establish His reign on earth. The chapter begins by describing a time when the nations will gather to wage war against Jerusalem (v.2). But the Lord will go to war against these nations and deliver His people (v.3). When that day comes, the Mount of Olives will be split in two and living waters will flow out from Jerusalem (v.8). The Lord will be king over the whole earth and there will be no more curse (v.9-11).
The latter part of Zechariah 14 describes life in the Messianic kingdom established by God. All the nations will be required to worship the Lord in Jerusalem each year (v.16-19). Every aspect of life, even ordinary household items, will be considered sacred.
The Meaning of “Holy to the Lord”
In Zechariah 14:20, the phrase “HOLY TO THE LORD” will even be inscribed on the bells of the horses and common cooking pots in Jerusalem and Judah. The verse says:
In that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar.
The mention of horses and common pots being inscribed as “holy to the Lord” is meant to demonstrate that in God’s future kingdom even ordinary, everyday items and activities will be sanctified and set apart for God’s purposes.
The “bells of the horses” likely refers to ornaments worn by horses pulling carts or chariots around the city. But even mundane transportation and commercial activities will reflect God’s holiness in the Messianic kingdom. Horses at that time will literally bear a inscription marking them as holy and consecrated to the Lord.
The cooking “pots” refer to normal household utensils used for preparing meals. But these will be like “bowls before the altar” in the temple – items specially dedicated for use in God’s house and presence. Ordinary pots and pans will become like sacred temple vessels, marked as holy and set apart for God’s glory.
So this phrase “holy to the Lord” encompasses all areas of everyday life – work, transportation, home activities, etc. Every part of ordinary life in the Messianic kingdom will be sanctified and made special to the Lord.
Context in Zechariah
It’s important to understand this phrase in the context and message of Zechariah’s prophetic book. Zechariah ministered to exiles who had recently returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But the people were discouraged and tempted to focus only on their own prosperity.
Zechariah called them to finish rebuilding the temple where God’s presence dwelt. His visions focused on the need to be holy as God’s people and live in light of God’s purpose. The prophet highlighted that one day God would come and dwell in their midst (Zechariah 2:10-13).
So Zechariah 14 follows this theme – encouraging the people to look forward to the day when God will return to live among them and the whole earth will be His holy possession. Even ordinary activities like cooking and transportation will be made holy and set apart for His glory.
Parallels in Revelation
The New Testament book of Revelation picks up these same Messianic kingdom themes from Zechariah and other prophets. It provides a picture of God finally dwelling with His people in the New Jerusalem:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3)
Like Zechariah, Revelation highlights that in this city “nothing unclean will ever enter it” (Revelation 21:27). Everything there belongs to the Lord. Even the city gates are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (v.12) and the twelve apostles (v.14), showing that both the Old and New Testament people of God belong to the Lord.
Revelation also says the kings of the earth will bring their glory into this city (v.24), echoing how the nations will come there to worship in Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 14:16). So Revelation develops Zechariah’s themes of God’s future presence and holiness.
A Contrast with the World Today
The phrase “holy to the Lord” contrasts starkly with the world today, where God’s name is often dishonored and most things are not consecrated to Him. But Zechariah looked forward to the day when God would be actively present among His people and the whole earth would be filled with His glory.
Whereas now believers must choose to make aspects of their lives holy to God, in that coming kingdom God’s people will be fully empowered by His presence to live completely holy lives. Holiness will not be merely individual but will characterize everything in that society.
Application for Believers Today
While we do not yet see the comprehensive reign of God on earth described in Zechariah 14, this prophetic vision still challenges us as believers in the present age. It causes us to look at our lives and ask, “What have I set apart as holy to the Lord today?”
Though we may not be able to make our horses and cooking pots visibly holy like in Zechariah’s prophecy, we can still practically dedicate all aspects of our lives to God’s purposes – our jobs, cars, computers, finances, free time, and more.
Paul expressed this calling for New Testament believers when he said:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
In another place he said:
For God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
Though we live in a secular society, as believers we are still called to honor God in everything we do – setting all aspects of our lives apart for Him and His kingdom’s purposes. The comprehensive holiness described in Zechariah 14:20 points us to our responsibility to pursue holiness today.
Of course we cannot achieve this perfectly now. But we look forward to the day when Christ will return to empower His people to live fully holy lives. Zechariah’s vision encourages us to pray for Christ’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
It calls us to walk in holiness now in anticipation of the time when every part of life will be truly “holy to the Lord.”
Holy to the Lord as Total Stewardship
Another key way to understand “holy to the Lord” in Zechariah’s prophecy is in light of the biblical theme of stewardship. A steward is someone entrusted to manage possessions that actually belong to someone else. As believers, we understand that God owns everything and we are just stewards of the time, resources, and opportunities He gives us (Psalm 24:1, Haggai 2:8).
This means everything we have is really God’s possession and should be managed for His purposes. In the coming Messianic kingdom, this will be perfectly realized – even ordinary items like horses and pots will be viewed as the Lord’s holy possessions, not just personal property.
Appling this to our lives as believers means asking – do I view the items in my home, the money in my bank account, the job where I work, the time I have each day, as ultimately belonging to me or belonging to God? Does my stewardship reflect that?
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 captures this responsibility of stewardship:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
This mentality of total stewardship is what Zechariah 14:20 is calling God’s people to embrace – recognizing that everything we have is God’s possession and is to be used for His purposes. That’s how we glorify Him now as we await the day when Christ will return to make all things fully “holy to the Lord.”
The Inclusion of Gentiles as Holy to the Lord
We also should note the universal nature of holiness in Zechariah’s prophecy. Verse 16 says “everyone who survives of all the nations” will worship the Lord in Jerusalem. The book of Zechariah looks forward to a day when both Jews and Gentiles alike will worship God and live as consecrated people.
Old Testament Israel had a unique calling as God’s chosen people, with standards of ritual purity and holiness symbolized in temple worship. But Zechariah 14:20 speaks of a day when Jews and Gentiles together will comprise a people “holy to the Lord.”
The New Testament makes clear that Christ has broken down the barrier between Jew and Gentile and welcomes all peoples into God’s covenant community (Ephesians 2:11-18). Through faith we become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
So New Testament believers, both Jew and Gentile, now inherit the calling to live as God’s consecrated people, set apart for His service. We await the day when people from every nation will live and serve in a kingdom of total holiness, with everything set apart for God’s glory.
Holiness as Separation from Sin’s Corruption
We should also understand “holy to the Lord” as describing separation from the corruption of sin. The calling to holiness includes separating ourselves from anything displeasing to a holy God.
In the Old Testament things were consecrated as holy by being set apart from profane or common use. The temple vessels used exclusively for worship were holy (1 Kings 8:4). Even the Sabbath day was holy through being set apart from normal work and routines (Exodus 20:8).
Likewise, God’s people were to be holy by separating themselves from sin and moral corruption:
For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44)
Without this holiness no one can stand approved before God, as Hebrews 12:14 states:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
In Zechariah’s prophecy, the horses and pots bear no mark of sin or corruption but are wholly consecrated to the Lord and His righteous purposes. They perfectly demonstrate separation unto holiness.
For believers today, “holy to the Lord” remains a call to moral purity and separation from sin. We must reject anything contrary to God’s character and continually devote ourselves to righteousness and obedience to Christ. The vision of Zechariah 14 motivates us to earnestly pursue personal holiness until the day we dwell in a kingdom of perfect holiness.
Holiness Expressed in Worship and Service
“Holy to the Lord” in Zechariah’s prophecy ties to the theme of worship. Earlier in Zechariah 14 the prophet foresees all nations coming to worship at the annual Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (v.16). Their worship will exemplify their consecration to the Lord.
The horses and pots bearing the inscription “Holy to the Lord” similarly depict devotion to worship and service within the routines of daily life. Work and ordinary activities become opportunities to honor God.
Even under the Old Covenant worship was meant to connect with everyday living. The command not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19) showed Israel’s meals, like their worship, should reflect the Lord’s compassionate character.
For believers today, our worship on Sundays must carry over into our vocations throughout the week. We dedicate all we do to God’s glory, whether at church or in the workplace and home. Colossians 3:17 captures this integration of worship with daily living:
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The Christian’s calling is to make all of life “holy to the Lord” through worshipful obedience and service each day. Our horses and pots bear witness that we belong wholly to God.
Promoting Social Justice as Holy to the Lord
The messianic kingdom described in Zechariah highlights social justice and care for the vulnerable as dimensions of holiness. Earlier in Zechariah 7 the prophet rebukes those who neglect the poor while fasting for religious reasons. He declares:
Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor…But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. (Zechariah 7:9-11)
Proper fasting involves loosening the bonds of wickedness, undoing heavy burdens, letting the oppressed go free, and breaking every yoke (Isaiah 58:6-7). So in Zechariah’s prophecy, holiness has social implications – it cares for the marginalized and vulnerable.
In the New Testament James echoes Zechariah’s emphasis that true religion requires caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27). Just as the messianic kingdom will be wholly just and compassionate, so God’s people must pursue justice and mercy today.
We live “holy to the Lord” by honoring Him through righteous, loving service to others – fighting oppression, poverty, discrimination, and exploitation. The bells on our horses and pots signal our consecration to justice.
Holiness as Living in God’s Presence
Finally, an important component of “holy to the Lord” in Zechariah’s prophecy is living in God’s presence. Earlier in Zechariah 2:10-11 God promises to one day dwell in the midst of His people Israel:
“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people.”
This promise of God’s presence finds ultimate fulfillment in the New Testament indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers. As Paul says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit’s presence makes individual believers and the corporate church holy.
The messianic kingdom described in Zechariah 14 will exemplify life lived in perfect communion with God. His presence will sanctify all things totally. This is seen in the city name “The LORD is there” (Ezekiel 48:35).
For Christians today this means pursuing holiness requires living in constant awareness of God’s presence. We welcome the Spirit’s work in us. We fix our thoughts on Christ and the unseen kingdom realities He has brought us into. We walk with God moment by moment in this world while belonging to the age to come.
The phrase “Holy to the Lord” sums up Zechariah’s awe-inspiring vision of the future day when God will fully dwell with His redeemed people to make all things new. Until that day we pursue holiness by consecrating ourselves to the Lord whom we serve and before whom we live.