Zechariah's 4th Vision: From Accusation to Ultimate Atonement

Updated on June 25, 2019

In the midst of post-exilic Israel's efforts to rebuild Jerusalem, the prophet Zechariah's 4th vision is detailed in the third chapter of his book in the Old Testament.

He sees a courtroom. Two people are standing... The accuser, none other than Satan, and the accused, a man named Joshua, No, his is not the more famous Joshua who is chronicled in a book bearing his own name, but another Joshua. He was a high priest in the days of the return from exile. Seated and presiding at the bench is none other than the Angel of the LORD. To speak to him and to have him speak to you is the same as talking to God and hearing from God. We learn that right from the outset, the judge (The Angel of the LORD) is not at all happy with the prosecuting accuser - Satan.

"The LORD rebuke you, Satan!" exclaims the Angel of the LORD. "The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?"

The judge holds the accuser in contempt. He is an accuser who works day and night to bring the brothers and sisters of Christ before God to accuse them (see Revelation 12:10). In this case, it sounds as though the accuser has clearly breached a distinct line of protocol. He has accused a chosen one, and the judge will have no part in this accusation. Joshua is described as a burning stick, one who was consumed in the judgement of the fire of captivity in Babylon, who has been snatched and rescued from that fire.

When I think about Joshua standing there, I think about the hope that was. The 50,000 or so Jewish exiles who had returned per a decree from Cyrus King of Persia, returned full of hope to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (see Ezra Chapter 1). They found a city so destroyed that later Nehemiah would proclaim that he couldn't even get his horse through the city due to the piles of rubble - and this was years after the exiles had first arrived (see Nehemiah 2:14).

Joshua and those early returning exiles had gotten off to such a good start, they had cleared the place for the new temple and built an altar and the foundation (see Ezra Chapter 3). Things were going well. Then opposition came from surrounding people dead set against what they were doing. They wrote a letter to then King Artaxerxes. They accused (there's that word again) the Jewish people of being a kingdom of revolt, rebellion, and wickedness. They asked the king to check his archives, and he did. What Artaxerxes discovered was most likely all the tales and exploits of Chronicles, 1st and 2nd Kings, stories of David and Solomon, where Israel was full of might and power and silver was as common as pebbles along the side of the road. So, Artaxerxes, fearing the worst, wrote a letter to stop the building in Jerusalem, and it was delivered forcefully (see Ezra Chapter 4). All work stopped. All progress was halted. All hope had been dashed.

And, here Joshua stands in court accused of being unworthy. His clothes are filthy and tattered, and he isn't fit to be a high priest, who was to be clothed in dignity and honor as God had ordained (Exodus 28:2-5). Can you imagine his shame? The judge isn't saying that he is innocent, nope, he is actually guilty as charged. He is a lawbreaker and a sinner. He is not fit to be high priest.

With Satan rebuked for contempt of court, what will the Angel of the LORD do? What will be the verdict for this chosen albeit guilty unworthy high priest?

For all those who say there is no grace in the Old Testament, here you are let down. Here in the 4th vision of Zechariah detailed in chapter three of his book - grace abounds. The judge orders that Joshua's filthy clothes be removed and replaced with fine new garments. A new turban is ordered and placed upon his head. After this was completed, Joshua receives his marching orders.

He was to walk with the LORD in full obedience and execute his responsibilities and requirements. In so doing, God would grant him standing among Judah - a reputation based on God's grace in making the unworthy worthy, and Joshua's commitment to surrender completely to God's will for him. At one time, we were all like Joshua - unfit, unworthy, sinners, unclean, and standing accused. Isaiah said, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags, we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:8)." Just like Joshua we are guilty as charged, but praise God, we are given new clothes, "For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness (Isaiah 60:10). Our filthy rags are replaced with garments of salvation and a robe of His righteousness!

The Angel of the LORD concludes Zechariah Chapter three by detailing that the verdict that was just rendered would be symbolic of a great day to come. In the courtroom there is a very strange stone covered with seven eyes. Christ would be the "cornerstone rejected by the builders (Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:8-12)", and the seven eyes are symbolic of God's complete and perfect sovereignty. And, in a single day, the Servant Branch of the LORD will silence any future accusations from the accuser. On Good Friday, as Christ bled out for our sins, this was accomplished, then the Defense Attorney showed up later after Jesus ascended - the Advocate, the Paraclete, we know Him as the Holy Spirit. Through what happened on that cross and our faith in Christ, the Advocate takes up residence in the heart of every believer. Instead of accusing us, He convicts us. Instead of discouraging, despairing, and deflating us, through our confession and repentance, He restores, redeems, and guides us.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Malcolm Woody


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