Zechariah 3. The Salvation of Israel

The first three visions picture Israel’s external deliverance from captivity, their physical restoration to the land, as well as their material prosperity. The question which now arises is how a holy God can have such plans with a people who are still perverted by sin? This forth vision sets forth Israel’s internal cleansing from sin and reinstatement into their priestly office and functions.

The righteousness of God to which the law and the prophets testified, was fully revealed in the Messiah. He is the only Saviour of the world: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-24). Israel and the nations must all be saved through faith in the Messiah (Rom. 3:30; 10:12; Acts 15:8-9,11).

The cleansing and dedication of Joshua the high priest (3:1-10)

“Joshua” means “The Lord Saves” and that is the main theme of this chapter. The participants in this vision are (a) Joshua the high priest who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylon; (b) the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ already introduced in 1:11-12; (c) Satan, the accuser; (d) attending angels; and (e) the prophet Zechariah.

In this vision, Joshua represents the people of Israel as that was typical of the office of the high priest. He interceded for the nation, entered the Holy of holies on their behalf, and carried their sin. The condition ascribed to him in this vision, therefore, applies to Israel rather than to himself. The representative nature of Joshua is confirmed in verse 2, where the Lord rebukes Satan as Joshua’s (or Israel’s) accuser because He has chosen Jerusalem. The description of Joshua as a brand plucked from the fire also refers to Israel. After the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity, Israel was on the verge of extinction without a land, an own government or a temple; but God intervened, plucked them from the fire which threatened to consume them, and restored them to their land. In the end-time, during the reign of the Antichrist, Israel will again be threatened by complete annihilation when God will intervene and protect a remnant of them in the wilderness, after which they will meet the Messiah when He sets foot on the Mount of Olives. They will be saved (12:10), and as a spiritually revived nation be fully restored in the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.

Joshua standing before the Angel of the Lord is indicative of Israel standing before the Lord to receive His commands and to serve Him. Next to him stood Satan to oppose and accuse him (3:1; cf. Rev. 12:10). Satan first tempts people to sin. When they yield to his temptations by actively sinning, he accuses them before God as he hopes that God will judge and reject them because of their rebellion against Him. In the Old Testament, Satan’s attention was focused on Israel as the chosen people of God. He knew that God had clearly warned that in cases of prolonged sin and rebellion He would surrender Israel to their enemies (cf. Deut 28:15-68). The devil’s plans were fixed on the total extinction of Israel to prevent the promised Messiah from being born as a member of this nation.

Shortly after the Messiah’s birth, a very evil plan was set in motion to have Jesus killed (Matt. 2:13-18). Although Satan did not succeed with this plot, he continued with his relentless efforts to persecute and kill Jesus, to deceive and instigate the Jewish people to reject Jesus as Messiah and to have Him executed, also to deceive and accuse all the believers in the Lord Jesus among the nations. As we are approaching the end of the church age, Satan again strongly opposes the people of Israel who are returning to their land. If he can succeed in the annihilation of all Jews (an idea that he suggested to Hitler in World War II) he can prove the Bible wrong as there are many promises of the future glory of restored Israel under the rule of the Messiah.

Satan will give the Antichrist his power, his throne and great authority (Rev. 13:2), thereby empowering him to do his destructive work in an unprecedented way on earth. After deceiving the Jews to accept him as Messiah and to conclude a covenant with him (Dan. 9:27; John 5:43), the Antichrist will become their worst enemy when they abrogate their covenant with him on the day when he declares himself to be God in rebuilt temple (2 Thess. 2:4). Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet will also send out evil spirits to the kings of the earth to instigate them against Israel and their coming Messiah (Rev. 16:13-14). They will deploy their armies in Israel to kill the surviving Jews and also to fight against Christ and His heavenly army (Rev. 19:19).

Satan’s opposition against Israel (represented in Zechariah by Joshua) has continued unabated throughout the centuries. Although the majority in Israel have rejected the prophets and even the Messiah, and were consequently driven from their land into an international Diaspora lasting almost two millennia, God never rejected the entire nation (Lev. 26:44-45). There was always a believing remnant among them who did not bow the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). God severely punished Israel because of their sins but He would never reject and destroy all of them. In the vision of Zechariah, God proceeded to acquit Joshua, not because Satan’s accusations were false, but because of God’s gracious love for His people Israel. Satan was specifically rebuked because God had chosen Jerusalem and would save its inhabitants (3;2).

This does not mean that Israel had or has no sin. God dismissed the accusations of Satan because of His gracious provision for the remission of Israel’s sins: “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then he answered and spoke to those who stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And to him he said, See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes” (3:3-4). Israel only have to realise their sinful condition and repent. If they return to the Lord, He will return to them, cleanse them from all iniquity, restore Jerusalem and dwell in their midst (1:3).

King David was in a similar situation as Joshua, with spiritual garments soiled by iniquity. He was convicted of his sin and prayed the following prayer of repentance: “Have mercy upon me, o God, according to Your loving-kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me… Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow… Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You… O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it… The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – These, o God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem” (Ps. 51:1-13,15-18). Towards the end, he prayed for the spiritual cleansing and renewal of the Israeli people (Zion), that they may have broken and contrite hearts because of their sins. He also prayed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which was a prophetic reference to the time after the city’s future destruction because of the national sins of its leaders and their followers.

The acquittal of Joshua took the form of removing his filthy clothes, which were representative of his sins and that of the nation. Joshua was then clothed with festive garments, speaking of the purity associated with his forgiveness, and a clean turban, which refers to his reinstatement into the priesthood. This symbolised the forgiveness and restoration of Israel as a priestly nation, to which God has called them: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6; cf. Isa. 61:6; 62:11-12). Peter wrote to the Messianic Jews: “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation… that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

The cleansing and future perseverance of Joshua would have highly significant consequences: “If you will walk in My ways, and you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house, and likewise have charge of My courts; I will give you places to walk among these who stand here” (3:7). If Joshua faithfully performed his priestly duties he would have continued service in the temple, guard the temple from idolatry and other forms of religious defilement, and have free access to God’s throne, like the angels who were standing there.

The Lord next affirmed the long-term significance of the vision – that Joshua and his priestly companions were symbolic of things to come (3:8-10). In their priestly cleansing from sin they prefigured the future cleansing of the nation Israel. This future cleansing was linked to the coming of the Sin-remover who was given three messianic titles: the Servant of the Lord, the Branch and the Stone.

As the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah is the One who came to do the will of the Father in saving a lost world and judging those who refused to accept His mercy: “And now the Lord says, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel is gathered to Him… Indeed He says, It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You shall be My salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:5-6; cf. 42:1; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11).

As the Branch of David, the Messiah is the Davidic descendant who will be revealed in power and glory to end the humiliation into which the line of David had fallen: “In that day the Branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious; and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing for those of Israel who have escaped” (Isa. 4:2; cf. Isa. 11:1). “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgement and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely” (Jer. 23:5-6; cf. Jer. 33:15; Zech. 6:12-13).

As the Stone He would be the cornerstone of the house of God in Israel and among the nations, as every true believer’s life is built upon the foundation (or rock) Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11; cf. Matt. 7:24). Although the Messiah was rejected by Israel, He is the only true cornerstone of the house of Israel and therefore their only hope for the future: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame. Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, the stone which the builders rejected has become a chief cornerstone, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed” (1 Pet. 2:4-8). The Messiah is the cornerstone or Saviour of those who believe on Him, and a rock of stumbling, or Judge, to those who reject Him. At His Second Coming, He will also bring judgement on the unbelieving Gentiles (cf. Dan. 2:34-35,44-45; Joel 3:2; Zech. 14:12-13; Rev. 19:19-21). The seven eyes on the stone (3:9) picture the Messiah’s complete insight and infinite wisdom. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3).

A remnant in Israel will accept the One who will come as their precious cornerstone, and be saved on one day. God says: “I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day” (3:9). That will be on the day, at the end of the tribulation period, when the Messiah appears on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (12:10; 13:1; 14:4-5).

The expression “in that day” (3:10) refers to the whole millennium, when conditions of peace and prosperity will prevail in Israel and all over the world. “Everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid” (Mic. 4:4). Isaiah says: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the seas” (Isa. 11:9).

All these wonderful promises will only be inherited by those who have accepted the Messiah as their personal Saviour. They are the ones who will be invited to the illustrious marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). They will not wear filthy garments of sin and human righteousness, but as the bride of the Lamb they will be “arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.” The righteous acts of the saints are nothing else than the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have been redeemed by the Lord and washed in the blood of the Lamb. Blessed are those who have festive garments and will be called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!

Israel’s spiritual cleansing and their restoration as a priestly nation, as described in Zechariah 3, will make them a shining light in the world and a blessing to all nations.