The Lord gave eight night visions to the prophet Zechariah in the year 519 BC, and one of the more remarkable visions was the fourth night vision as recorded in Zechariah 3:
1Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Re-move the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” 5And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by. 6And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, 7“Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. 8Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. 9For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. 10In 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.” (Zechariah 3.1-10 ESV)
While the vision concerns Joshua, the high priest during the rebuilding of the Temple era in which Zechariah ministers, Joshua is also a symbol of things to come (3.8). A deeper look into the vision discovers that the vision is about the historic Joshua, and the salvation of each believer, and about the messianic rule of the Messiah.
The vision opens with Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord (which is the pre-incarnate Christ) with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The image is one of a court of law, where the right hand of the accused is where the accuser stands (see Psalm 109.6-7). Satan is often pictured in Scriptures as the accuser:
7Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12.7-10)
See also Luke 22.31, 1 Peter 5.8, and Job 1-2
Satan is rebuked by the Lord because He has chosen to rescue Jerusalem like a stick from the fire. It is God’s choice and favor that transforms Jerusalem and Joshua from a stick worthy of being burnt into a possession worthy of redemption.
But Joshua is covered in filthy garments. The word for filth is used in Scripture to speak of human waste (Deuteronomy 23.13) and vomit (Isaiah 28.8). The Lord takes away both his filth and his iniquity, and in their place, he clothes Joshua with pure vestments (ESV), festal apparel (NRSV) or festal robes (NASB). This word is not the word used in Exodus 28 to describe the priestly garments, but instead points to an image of festivity. However, the turban on his head is one of the four garments mentioned of the high priest in Exodus 28. The turban was inscribed with the words, “holy to the Lord.”
The angel of the Lord then charges Joshua to walk in the ways of the Lord and to keep his charge. The first is a call to personal holiness and the second is a call to faithfully execute the divinely given duties of a high priest. If Joshua is obedient to these, he will be able to continue to govern God’s house as high priest and have access to the Most Holy place, the Holy of Holies.
But the vision concerns more than just Joshua the high priest of 519 BC. Joshua and his friends were a sign (ESV), symbolic (NIV), and an omen of things to come (NRSV). Here is a very clear clue that while the vision pertains to Joshua, it speaks to much more.
The Lord will bring His servant “Branch” (the definite article is not present in the original text). While the words “servant” and “branch” are sometimes used to refer to historical figures like Zerubbabel, the most common reference is to the Messiah. Consider,
5“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ (Jeremiah 23.5-6 ESV)
Branch seems to refer most often to the messianic kingdom where the Messiah will rule an earthly kingdom.
The stone set before Joshua draws upon multiple images, which we might expect since Joshua is symbolic of things to come. The priestly vestments had engraved stones as part of the high priest’s clothing:
9You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, 10six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. 11As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. 12And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance. (Exodus 28.9-12)
The seven eyes represent the Spirit of the Lord in other prophetic passages (see Revelation 5.6). The eyes of the Lord roam throughout the world, and He is ever present.
But the words of the stone also draw upon the image of the messianic kingdom. It is hard not to hear the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream by Daniel where the stone was the kingdom of God (see Daniel 2.44-45). The apostles definitely understood the Christ to be the stone the builder’s rejected (see Acts 4.11 and Romans 9.33). Consider the words of the apostle Peter,
4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2.4-8)
Here, Peter relates almost all of the elements of Zechariah’s vision. The stone is Christ, rejected by the builders. This stone, though a rock of offense, became the cornerstone of the kingdom of God. And believers are not part of the chosen race, a royal priesthood, called out of darkness and into marvelous light.
In Zechariah’s vision, the iniquity of the land is removed in a single day. Since Joshua is symbolic, this single day may refer to the day of restoration of Jerusalem in Joshua’s time, or the day of the crucifixion, or the day of the return of the Messiah to begin His earthly reign, or even the day of our own salvation. However, the result of this single day is that peaceful relations between neighbors is restored. Consider the prophet Micah,
1It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, 2and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 3He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; 4but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. 5For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. (Micah 4.1-5 ESV)
So, it is most probably that the iniquity removed in a single day is referring to the day that the Messianic earthly kingdom begins.
As verse 8 states, the fourth night vision has multiple layers of meaning. On one hand, it spoke to Joshua. Joshua was called by God to be the high priest in the days of the rebuilt Temple. His sin and iniquity was forgiven by God, and the Lord chose to restore him with clean vestments. While Satan was right, that Joshua was unworthy to be chosen by God, the Lord rebuked Satan and chose to give grace and mercy. If Joshua would continue to live in personal holiness and be faithful to carry out his priestly duties, the Lord would allow him to serve as High Priest and to have full access to the Most Holy Place. His vestments were more noble and holy than the vestments of earlier high priests. While they had stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes, Joshua had a single stone engraved with the very presence of God. When the Lord’s favor had fully fallen on Jerusalem, the city would be at peace.
But the vision also speaks of the messianic kingdom to come. One day, the Messiah will establish the kingdom of God on earth. The Messiah will reign from Jerusalem, and Satan will be cast down from his position as the accuser. Israel will serve as a kingdom of priests, ruling the courts of God as the nations came to worship the Lord. During the days of the Messianic kingdom, there will be such peace on the earth that neighbor will never fear neighbor.
But the vision also speaks to each and every believer. Through the rejected stone of God, we have been forgiven and made pure by God’s gracious choice. We have been clothed as a kingdom of priests, each given full access to the Most Holy Place by the living way of Christ. The Lord removed the inequity of us all in the one day of His atoning death and in the one day of our faith response to His grace. And while the accuser still stands to heap condemnation upon us, we can rest in the Lord’s choice and favor to rescue us from the fire. While we wait for the returning Messiah, we declare the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into the glorious light.
The vision declares the gospel of Christ in such beautify and simplicity. Stuck in the fire of God’s wrath, and deservedly so, the Lord was gracious and rescued us. Covered in filth, the Lord removed our iniquity and gave us festal robes and free access into His presence. And while we wait for the return of the Messiah, we declare the beauty and greatness of who He is.
The vision also has a word for those who live under the condemnation of the Enemy, the accuser of the brethren. Satan is quick to heap accusations upon us as to how we are not worthy to be used by God or to even be a part of God’s kingdom. And on one hand, the accuser is right. But, the accuser is powerless against the divine favor of God and His divine choice to rescue and restore us. In response to the accuser of the brethren, we point to the gracious favor of the Lord. We stand against the accuser, not by standing firm on our own worth, but by standing firm on the gracious choice of the Lord to rescue us from the fire.
The Lord rebuke you, Satan, for I am a firebrand plucked from the fire by the grace of God!Follow @tpylant