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Zechariah 3: 1-5 > The great exchange

We have already learned so much over the past four weeks about the way OT prophesy works, how one should read the OT prophets, what apocalyptic literature is, and so forth.

We saw that – although Zechariah is mainly addressing the Jews of his time within their specific context and is encouraging them to continue with the rebuilding of the temple, he is ALSO looking further into the future and seeing both the first and second comings of Jesus. Further more, he sees literal places like Babylon and Jerusalem as symbols of spiritual realities. For example: Babylon = the symbol of the sinner’s rebellion and revolt against God. All people who are living without the salvation of God, are inhabitants of Babylon. In the same way, Jerusalem = the city of God consisting of all the saved people. The entire humanity is made up of these two great entities. Without anything in between.

In addition, Zechariah hears someone speaking who is YAHWEH (The Lord) and yet is separate from YAHWEH SHABAOTH (The Lord Almighty). They are not two Yahwehs, but this YAHWEH is the Lord Jesus Christ before His birth at Bethlehem. HE is the one – sent by YAHWEH SHABAOTH – who will live among His people. Many people from many nations will be bound to Him. And we already know how that was fulfilled in the NT.

And then we hear the evangelical summons from the mouth of Zechariah: FLEE OUT OF BABYLON AND COME TO ZION, TO JERUSALEM! Escape from Babylon and come to Jerusalem. Meaning the spiritual Babylon and the spiritual Jerusalem! That is the call for repentance.

The question is: HOW do you stop being a citizen of Babylon, and HOW do you become a citizen of Jerusalem?

Zechariah’s fourth vision supplies the answer to that question: It is the passage that we read: 3:1-5!

Read it again: “Then he showed me Joshua the high Priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 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.” 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.”

What is this fourth vision that the prophet sees? Who is this Joshua and who is “the Angel of the Lord”? And what exactly is it that is happening here? How should we understand it?

To understand it correctly, we must keep in mind the historical context wherein Zechariah was acting as prophet at that time.

The Lord’s covenant people had been in exile in Babylon for 70 years as a result of their faithlessness towards the Lord. After the 70 years approximately 50000 Jews returned to Jerusalem led by Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the High Priest). The city was however still in a chaotic state – the city wall was flattened, the temple was in ruins etc. There was also so much resistance and hostility and indifference on the side of the people living there that work to rebuild the city and the temple soon came to a stop. And for a further 18 years the temple remained in ruins. No progress was made.

Then the Lord sent Zechariah and Haggai to motivate the Jews to commence with the rebuilding of the temple, and also to restore their spiritual priorities. It was now the year 520 BC. The result of this was that the temple was completed 4 years later (Ezra 6:15).

At this point we should just keep in mind that the rebuilding of the temple was not a purpose in itself, because the temple represented God’s dwelling. His manifested presence was in the midst of His people – inside the Holy of Holies of the temple – behind the veil where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

The rebuilding of the temple meant in a literal sense the return of the physical presence of God in the midst of His people. It was not about the literal building. It was also not only about the manifestation of God’s presence. It was that thát city, and thát temple was to be the place where the feet of Jesus Christ would eventually walk 500 years later.

What is happening in this fourth vision, is that the Lord is showing Zechariah the way in which He will bring the nation in a right relationship with Himself. Remember that the nation was taken into exile because they were so unfit to be the Lord’s people. Their sin and faithlessness cried to the heavens. And the accuser, Satan, was there to accuse and blame them. HOW was it possible that the temple could be restored if the Jews were in such a pathetic state? God is holy. God’s people must be restored before God as a priestly nation. Restoration is needed. But it was impossible for them to bring themselves to that. And everything that satan was accusing them of was the plain truth. Every word. They were without any defence. If God does not make a plan, then the Jews can say goodbye because they will no longer be the covenant-nation of the Lord out of whom the Messiah would be born.

When Zechariah therefore saw Joshua – the High Priest – dressed in filthy clothes standing before God, it was really the nation represented by Joshua. In any case, the High Priest (as office) represented the nation before God once per year when he entered the Holy of Holies to do atonement for the sins of the nation, to intercede for them before God, and so forth.

Joshua, the High Priest, therefore did not LITERALLY stand before God dressed in filthy clothes. What Zechariah sees, is a vision that communicates a clear message about how the nation is unworthy before God, accused by satan, and then by an almighty work by the grace of God, is acquitted and put right with God! This is nothing more and nothing less than the essence of the Gospel-message that is being portrayed here in this vision! It is so simple to understand.

Let us delve deeper into verses 1-5 step-by-step!

What exactly does the prophet see?

He sees 3 people: 1 > Joshua the High Priest – but he is not looking very good. 2 > Joshua is standing guilty before the Angel (or messenger) of the Lord. It is the Lord Jesus Christ in His OT-figure BEFORE His birth at Bethlehem. He often appeared in the OT under this Name: THE ANGEL OF THE LORD. In Zechariah 1 He is also the man on the red horse. 3 > Joshua’s accuser. Satan (meaning accuser) is there himself to accuse Joshua before God. Significant: Everything he is accusing Joshua of, is perfectly true!

But then something remarkable happens:

Instead of the Angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Christ) agreeing with Satan about Joshua’s guilt, He does an astonishing thing: Verse 2 > He tells the accuser: “The LORD rebukes you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you! Is this man (Joshua) not a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

The Angel of the Lord does not accept satan’s accusations and charges. But He rebukes Satan! And He informs the devil that He has chosen Jerusalem. Joshua has been chosen by the Lord and he was part of Jerusalem. And then the Lord rebukes satan a second time. In that way the devil could clearly understand HOW serious the Lord was in rejecting his accusations.

This is such a clear picture of satan’s working method. By means of lies and deception he promises great pleasure and joy by living with sin – sins of desires, avarice, hate, egoism, slander, liquor, pornography, unfaithfulness, extramarital cohabitation, etc. And then, when one is trapped in this web, he becomes your accuser. And his eventual aim is your death. He not only wants to shorten your life on earth, but he wants to see God condemning you to eternal death. Death in hell.

Satan’s work is to accuse and blame. “You are so bad, God can and will never accept you.” Or: “ Give up following the Lord – you will never succeed.” Or: “You will never enjoy a holy life, so why not rather enjoy sin?” Or: “It is too late for you to be saved.” Or: “If God does not want you, enjoy the pleasures of sin while you can.”

The Angel of the Lord acknowledges however that Joshua is like a burning stick snatched from the fire (see also Amos 4:11). As all Christians still are.

Have you ever seen a burning stick that can remove itself from the fire? It is impossible. If someone does not take it out of the fire with a pair of tongs, it will continue burning until it is reduced to ashes.

That is how all sinners are – under the wrath of God – where every one is by nature in any case. Only the Lord Jesus can snatch you out of there, otherwise it is farewell. By yourself you cannot get out of it. So it was with Joshua too (the nation Israel).

Satan grins, because Joshua’s (the nation’s) sinful condition is under the wrath of God and nothing that they can do will get them snatched out of it.

But then (for satan) the shock: The Angel of the Lord can and shall snatch the burning stick out of the fire!

The Lord not only rebukes the accuser. Something else also takes place. And it is wonderful.

The Angel of the Lord gives the order that Joshua’s clothes must be changed. His dirty, filthy clothes (which is a symbol of his sin and guilt before God) must be removed and he must be clothed in new garments (his being put right before God = righteousness). In addition, a clean turban was placed on his head. The turban was a symbol of holiness – that means belonging to the Lord, to be set aside for the Lord. We know that, because according to the instruction in Exodus 28:36-37, “Holy to the Lord” had to be engraved on the turban of the High Priest.

In other words: Joshua is standing before God clothed in the dirt and filth of sin and guilt and ungodliness (separated from God). Satan is rightly accusing him before God. The Angel of the Lord (pre-incarnated Christ) rebukes satan and gives instruction that Joshua’s sin and guilt be removed and that he receive in the place of that, complete righteousness (a right standing with) with God and holiness (separation destroyed). Without any merit from his side – only as a free gift of God’s grace.

Significant that God regards sin as filth. Contamination. Sin is often glossed over – as if it is not so serious and certainly does not result in eternal death. Sometimes we forget that human opinion is not applicable here, but only the Word of God. How HE regards matters, that is all that counts. Our opinions and ideas and thoughts and feelings will be irrelevant on the Great Day. In John 12:48 Jesus declares: “There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; that very WORD which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.“ Well, according to those Words, sin is filth and contamination. And if it is not removed by an act of God, no one will have a chance.

But the Good News of the Gospel is that it has indeed been removed by an act of God. And of that this vision Zechariah that received testifies for all to hear. It happened in principle at Calvary’s cross. THERE this Angel of the Lord died and became the sacrifice that in principle removed the debt of sin and blame of every person who would ever come to faith.

That was 2000 years ago.

And since then – throughout the ages – when those people come to repentance and faith, the miracle takes place in their own subjective experience. The wonder that their sin and blame are removed and that they receive being-right-with-God (righteousness) in the place thereof. It is ascribed/imputed to them. Imputed righteousness – which is the righteousness of Christ. Plus holiness – belonging to the Lord. Just think about it: You thus stand before God in a position of having been put in a right relationship with Him. Because you are standing before Him with the perfect garment of Jesus’s righteousness wrapped around your shoulders. And His holiness.

Zechariah’s vision is therefore a picture-image, a video-clip, of this joyful exchange that takes place: FIRST objectively on the cross, and SECONDLY subjectively in a person’s own experience with repentance and faith in Christ.

Yes, of course the vision first points to Israel and at how God will restore them spiritually to suit a restored Jerusalem where the walls are rebuilt and the temple is restored, and the temple functions again.

But the prophetic Word must be read in the different levels of fulfilment. Almost like a double (or triple) decker bus.

WHILE Zechariah sees the restoration of Israel, he is also looking into the future and sees the entire Gospel-message illustrated. He sees the atoning work of Christ.

What astonishes me in this vision is the absolutely sovereign grace of God that does not take anything into account of what man (the accused sinner) does. HE merely speaks a Word and the exchange of garments takes place. And satan cannot say a word against it.

The blood of Christ silences the accuser. The death and resurrection of Christ speak the last and final word.

In Isaiah 61 we read the joyful exclamation: “My soul rejoices in my God. For HE has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness“.

And in Isaiah 43:24 the Lord says: “You have burdened Me with your sins and wearied Me with your offences”.

And then one expects the next verse to say something like: “And therefore I am going to destroy you…”

But no, it says: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My sake, and remembers your sin no more”.

It is this heartbeat that we hear in this vision.

I think the verse in the NT that best summarises Zechariah’s fourth vision is 2 Cor 5:21 > “God (the Father) made Him (it is Christ) who had no sin to be sin for us – so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”.

Translated by Marthie Wilson

Category Zechariah

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