If ever you wanted to read about Jesus in the Old Testament, this is it. Zechariah 3 gives us a picture of the good news – more than 500 years before Jesus walked the earth.
Zechariah was given another vision. This is the fourth vision he has received so far in this book. In the vision, he sees the high priest Joshua in a heavenly courtroom. The prosecuting attorney is Satan. Apparently, Satan was accusing Joshua (and the people) of sin. After all, Joshua was standing there in “filthy garments.” Satan must have been saying, “This man isn’t worthy to be your high priest, and these people aren’t worthy to be your chosen people. See their sins! Look at those filthy garments!”
The high priest, of course, was responsible for representing the people before God. There’s no question the people of Israel had broken God’s Law. The filthy garments represented those sins.
But God would have none of it. “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”
Ah, do you see the love and the grace of God here – defending his chosen people against Satan, whose name literally means “Adversary”? God has chosen Israel. And so the filthy garments were removed. “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” This is called grace.
Joshua the high priest was told to walk in God’s ways, to keep the Law. If he did, he would be granted access to the heavenly courts. Joshua could be the high priest for God’s people. And Joshua and his friends (his priestly colleagues?) would be a “sign.” They would represent God’s “servant the Branch.” The Branch was a reference to the Messiah (Isaiah 11:1).
And God said, “and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.” For Zechariah and Joshua and the others in Jerusalem, this was a reference to the Day of Atonement, when the people’s sins were wiped away. The old customs of the Law could be reinstated now that Joshua had been “ordained” into his position as high priest.
“In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”
Like so many Old Testament prophecies, this one has a couple levels of fulfillment. First, the people of Israel really were returning to their position as God’s chosen people. He was bringing them back and reinstating the temple worship. The time of punishment for their sins was over, and the blessings were returning to the people and the land.
But there greater fulfillment of this prophecy was coming.
Jesus is our high priest. He picked up our “filthy garments” and put them on himself. The adversary, of course, could rightly say, “These people have sinned! Throw them out!” That’s not the end of the story.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
The apostle Paul said we were “dead in our trespasses.” God said of his people, “Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”
The removal of our iniquity did happen on a “single day.” It was the day Jesus Christ hung on the cross. And every one of us can now invite our neighbors to gather with us under the vine and fig tree of “the Branch.” And the call is no longer one of following the Law (which is impossible for us). The call now is simply to put our faith in Christ. (And I could not help but think about Jesus cursing the fig tree, ending a long season of fruitlessness for God’s people – Mark 11:12-25. Does Jesus represent a new “fig tree” – Micah 4:4?)
There is a lot going on in Zechariah 3, but all of it points to Jesus Christ and the way in which he atoned for our sins. Our filthy garments are removed. We are like brands, or burning sticks, plucked from the fire.
It is the good news of Jesus Christ, tucked away in the Old Testament – in a book (Zechariah) we rarely ever read!
In reading this, my mind latched onto that image of a brand plucked from the fire. That’s what we are as Christians. Really, we ought to be left in that fire. Because of our sins and the rebelliousness in our hearts, we have no business being in God’s presence. We ought to have been reduced to ash.
But we weren’t. We were plucked from the fire by Christ. He saved us. It was nothing we did on our own. It was nothing we deserved.
What’s the image that stands out to you in Zechariah 3? Is the burning stick plucked from the fire? Maybe it’s the filthy garments that were stripped away and replaced with “pure vestments.” Maybe it is the voice of God, rebuking Satan, for the sake of the Son (and you!). Maybe the image that stands out to you is that “single stone with seven eyes (facets)” that likely has something to do with the priestly authority given to Joshua – and later to Christ (Zechariah 4:2; Revelation 1:4).
The imagery is rich in Zechariah 3. Read it again. Put yourself into the text. Let God guide your prayers.