Zechariah understood well the darkness that lay over Israel. The nation that once boasted twelve flourishing tribes plus the Levites had long been scattered. Ten of those tribes had mostly disappeared or were heavily intermixed with Gentiles. Only Judah and Benjamin remained. Even the Levites had diminished in importance, for the new priestly class was now more political than anything else, appointed by the Roman rulers and skeptical of many (if not most) traditional Jewish beliefs.
What's more, sin lay heavily upon Israel, just as it always had. Heaven was still closed. Death still appeared much more like a frightening void than a door to new life. God's people had broken covenant after covenant, and redemption had not yet arrived.
While God remained with His people, while He continued to prepare them for the coming of a new covenant, while He never stopped guiding them and loving them, He may have seemed rather distant sometimes as the Jews struggled under the rule of foreigners and wondered when (if?) the Messiah would ever come. Would the darkness ever lift? Would light ever descend upon Israel?
But Zechariah caught a glimpse of that light. His own son was a forerunner to it, the one who would prepare the people's hearts for the dawn from on high that was coming. This dawn, this new light, would break over Israel and illuminate those sitting in the darkness and the shadow of death. And this light would open the way to peace, the peace Israel had been seeking for so long, peace with God, peace in and among themselves, wholeness, safety, happiness. Zechariah saw it, saw Him, coming and bringing the mercy of God, the forgiveness of sins, the salvation of God's people. Light in Person would soon shine upon the people of Israel and the whole world.