The Fourth Vision: New, Clean Garments

1Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2The Lord said to Satan, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?"

3Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes."

Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you."

5Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

6The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: 7"This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.

8"‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 9See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

10"‘In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty."

Now we come to an especially precious vision, which prophesies the primary work of the Messiah: the atonement for our sins, when He would "remove the sin of this land in a single day" (vs. 9). The previous visions showed a "prediction of judgment upon the nations that have harassed the children of Israel; and the promise of unlimited enlargement with the presence of God in their midst, attended by their spiritual restoration and the conversion of the Gentiles. But before these blessings can be Israel’s, there must be a spiritual transformation in her" [Feinberg, 283]. The third vision of Zechariah touched upon the spiritual restoration of Israel (see Zech. 2:11); this one focuses specifically on it. In doing so, this vision answers a mystery: how can a defiled people have fellowship with a holy God? The answer to this mystery is that the Messiah will atone for the sins of the people, so that the righteousness of the Messiah may be imputed to the people of Israel. Paul summarizes this eloquently: "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21).

The setting of the vision seems to be some sort of courtroom in heaven, and on trial is Joshua, the high priest at the time Zechariah received these visions (see Haggai 1:1; Zech. 6:11): "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’" (vs. 1–2). Joshua, as the high priest, stood before the Lord in this vision representing the people of Israel. So "Satan", our adversary, by accusing Joshua, is symbolically accusing all of Israel, and in doing so, trying to turn the heart of God against His people. This is the nature of Satan. "It is especially in his role as the accuser that the fiendish nature of the ‘old serpent’ is brought out. It was he who brought sin into the world; it is he who deceives men and nations, and spurs them on to sin and rebellion against God; and yet, when the seduction is accomplished, he turns round and becomes their accuser" [Baron, 90].

The Lord would have nothing of Satan’s accusations: "The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!’" Note however that, though the Lord rebuked Satan, He did not deny Satan’s accusations. Note also that Joshua was silent through the whole vision. He had nothing to say in defense of the accusations. Satan’s accusations were probably true. The people of Israel acted abominably, and sinned greatly before the Lord throughout their history. Nevertheless, "the Lord", the blessed Lord, rebukes Satan and stands up for His people. On what basis does He stand up for them? On the basis of their righteousness? By no means. He stands up for them because He has "chosen" them. "Our heavenly Advocate cannot say anything good of us; for, indeed, ‘we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags’ (Isa. 64:6); but He can say what is all-prevailing as a plea for us—namely, that He has ‘chosen’ His believing people, and of His everlasting grace and love has ‘plucked’ them as ‘a brand out of the fire’" [JFB, 670]. This vision "is designated to show the people of God that their personal demerit is no ground for distrusting the mercy of God, for He receives them not because of their own righteousness, but that of another" [Moore, 63]. "Yes, if Israel’s position as the Lord’s peculiar people depended on their own faithfulness, then there would have been an end of them long ago; but Israel’s hope and safety rest on the immutable character and faithfulness of the Everlasting, Unchangeable God, and that makes all the difference… ‘Shall God cast away His people which He hath foreknown?’ (Rom. 11:2). And this is the best answer that can ever be given to accusations of man or devil, directed either against Israel, or the Church, or the individual Christian. It is the answer which Paul gives in that section of his Epistle to the Romans which was indicted for the express purpose of instructing Gentile believers in God’s mystery with Israel." [Baron, 92]. You see, it matters not, on that judgment day, what Satan says. It matters only what Jesus says. As Paul taught: "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Rom. 8:33–34). What a great blessing to have an advocate in heaven!

Symbolizing the defilement of Israel from sin, "Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel" (vs. 3). It is a magnificent sign of God’s grace and love that He chooses us, despite our sin: not that we should continue in it, but that we should be freed from it. "The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you’" (vs. 4). Note that Joshua did not remove his own filthy clothes, but the Lord ordered it, saying, "See, I have taken away your sin." This is justification. Christ died for our sins. He removes our sins as if they were filthy clothes. But He not only removes our sin. He also clothes us with righteousness. He says, "See, I have taken away your sin", then He says, "and I will put rich garments on you." We are given His righteousness.

This vision must have been a great blessing and encouragement to the people of Israel when Zechariah related it to them. They were serving the Lord by rebuilding His Temple, yet they must have felt unworthy for such service, both as individuals and as a nation. This vision let them know that they did not need to worry about their own worthiness to serve God: He had chosen them, not the other way around.

Zechariah himself made a request in the vision: "Then I said, ‘Put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by" (vs. 5). The "turban" was the head-dress of the high priest. So, with his request, Zechariah, in effect, was asking (praying) that the purity of the priesthood be restored. The Lord by His grace approved this request.

Having justified Joshua (and by extension, the people of Israel), the Lord next urged him (and them) to lead a life of obedience: "The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: "If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here"’" (vss. 6–7). We are first justified, then sanctified. Order is important. By God’s grace, He does not require sanctification before justification. God accepts and forgives sinners unconditionally, and then commands them to "Go and sin no more" (see John 8:11). And if we truly understand the magnificence of God’s grace, we will strive to lead a life of obedience, and not abuse His grace by living a life of sin.

Note here that the obedience of the people of Israel would bring rewards: "If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here." "Note the ‘ifs’ in this verse, my dear reader, and lay to heart the fact that, while pardon and justification are the free gifts of God to all that are of faith, having their source wholly in His infinite and sovereign grace, and quite apart from work or merit on the part of man, the honour and privilege of acceptable service and future reward are conditional on our obedience and faithfulness" [Baron, 105]. The rewards here promised to the people of Israel must have encouraged them in their work, for the rewards concern the management of God’s Temple, which they were building. If they obeyed, they would "govern [God’s] house and have charge of [His] court." They would also receive a heavenly reward, as God would "give [them] a place among these standing here." They would be given a place among the angels, and have communion with God, as the angels do.

The Lord points out the importance of what He will say next by commanding the attention of Joshua and his fellow priests, saying: "Listen…" The rest of the vision contains an important prophecy concerning the mission of the Messiah, as well as an explanation of a key part of God’s plan: "‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty" (vss. 8–10). Here in the Old Testament book of Zechariah, we have a concise explanation of New Testament theology. The Levitical priests were "symbolic of things to come". Their work was "symbolic" of the work that the Messiah would do. They would offer sacrifices to the Lord on behalf of the people to atone for their sins. The Messiah would offer the sacrifice of His body, and "remove the sin of this land in a single day." The sacrifices of the priests, being symbolic, were imperfect, unable to completely atone for sin past and future. But the sacrifice of the One to which their symbolic sacrifices pointed, the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, is able to atone for our sins "once for all" (see Heb. 10:4–14). May the Lord be praised!

 

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