Verses 3 & 4:”Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him,” Take of his filthy clothes. “ Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you”.


 1.God cleanses his elect people

Congregation of our Lord Jesus – Christ, if you ever wondered whether the Gospel is already present in the Old Testament, you get in out text a definite  “yes “ answer. The glorious Gospel of God’s Grace is expressed in its most beautiful form in Zechariah’s fourth vision: there is forgiveness for God’s people in the person of Joshua, the high priest, purely on the ground of God’s almighty and sovereign decision, whatever the sins which have been committed. Here we get a striking insight in what the New Testament presents to us in a clearer way: God cleanses his elect people, and nothing or nobody can oppose this process. It is all the more striking as the Law of God indicates exactly the opposite trend: under the dispensation of the Law, if you would have come in contact with something or somebody whom God had declared impure, you too would have become impure, and would have to go through a prescribed process of purification. Read for instance chapter 15 of the Book  of Leviticus. Under the Law the trend was thus that uncleanness spread very fast, just like sin after the fall, which touched and contaminated everything. The accent was placed upon the fact that we are unclean creatures before the Holy God, always seeking purification. In our text, we see that God Himself reverses this trend. Not of course because God’s people have become pure by themselves, but only because God has declared them pure. In the New Testament we see this reversed trend in a much clearer way: the accent does not lie anymore on the fact that what is unclean quickly contaminates the rest. Rather, in Jesus Christ’s atoning death, that which is unclean becomes clean through that which is clean. Think for instance of Acts chapter 10, where Peter also has a vision whereby he is commanded to eat all kinds of animals, which the Law declared unclean: Get up, Peter. Kill and eat”. But Peter answers: Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impureor unclean. The voice spoke to him a second time: Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Or think of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7 about married couples of which one member is an unbeliever: “ The unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”

The Gospel lies precisely in such a reversal: a purification, which looked totally impossible from a human viewpoint, becomes now real.  Something that was unthinkable, outside the scope of human understanding, has become true and tangible. In our text we get a particular insight into this process. It comes to us under the form of a revelation to the prophet Zechariah, a vision which he receives. Such a revelation is definitely not something which we could have derived and grasped merely with the help of our human faculties. Like in the beginning of the book of Job, we are made spectators of a drama, which takes place in the heavenly spheres, in the presence of God and all the angels around Him. One of them, which plays a major role, is Satan.  How could we sum up the message of this revelation? May be in one sentence: We are dealing here with a court case, a trial, which turns out differently than what one could ever have imagined.

2.A court case, which turns out differently than what one could ever have imagined.

Like often in the Bible, in Zechariah’s fourth vision we have to do with a court case, a trial. Satan – in Hebrew literally “the Accuser” – stands at the right side of the accused, as it was the custom in an Israelite court of justice.  The high priest Joshua represents mainly the corrupt priesthood of Israel , but also the whole people and its history of sins through the centuries. Do you think one moment that Satan, which stands before God, needs to bear false testimony against the accused, in order to prove his case? God knows very well the reality of the sins of His people is, and in particular the unfaithfulness of Israel ’s priests. In order to prove his case Satan can just quote the words which God entrusted to His prophets. Listen for instance to the words of God in Ezekiel chapter 22, listen to this terrible act of accusation, in the light of God’s holy Law: “ This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols, you have become guilty because of the blood you have shed and have become defiled by the idols you have made [6th and 2d commandments]. You have brought your days to a close, and the end of your years has come. Therefore I will make you an object of scorn to the nations and a laughingstock to all the countries. Those who are near and those who are far away will mock you, O infamous city, full of  turmoil. See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt [5th commandment].  In you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow. You have despised my holy things and desecrated my Sabbaths [4th commandment]. In you are slanderous men bent on shedding blood [9th and 6th commandment].   In you are those who eat at the mountain shrines and commit lewd acts. In you are those who dishonor their father’s bed; in you are those who violate women during their period, when they are ceremonially unclean. In you one man commits a detestable offence with his neighbor’s wife, another shamefully defiles his daughter in-law, and another violates his sister, his own father’s daughter [7th commandment].  And you have forgotten me declares the Sovereign Lord. I will surely strike my hand together at the unjust gain you have made and at the blood you have shed in your midst. Will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day I deal with you? I the Lord have spoken and I will do it. I will disperse you among the nations and scatter you through the countries; and I will put an end to your uncleanness. When you have been defiled in the eyes of the nations, you will know that I am the Lord.”


Thus could have sounded the act of accusation which Satan loudly declares before God, brothers and sisters. In the mean time, Joshua - the accused - stands in the presence of God, powerless, miserable and in despair. His clothes bear all the filth of Judas' history of disobedience, of uncleanness and wickedness. The Hebrew word translated by filthy actually means "covered and defiled by excrements". So Satan did not lie, his facts about the case are right! He knows the law of the Lord by heart, and he carefully counts every and each sin which you and I commit against it. He is excellent at making the total sum of them and writing them down; none of then are missing on his long list... but by doing so he does not only want to make of you and I a loser; he also wants to make of God a loser. He wants to turn Gods just judgement against God Himself and against His angel: after all, didn't God's plan for his creation clearly fail? Why is He going on with it? The only solution is to destroy it, Satan means. Didn't God himself say: " I will put an end to your uncleanness"? Let God destroy his people first, and then the rest of the creation; for what is the goal of keeping His Creation after the fall, if there is no people left to fulfil a holy function in it? Oh brothers and sisters, it is not so much Joshua who stands at the centre of Satan's accusation. Joshua and Israel are of little value for Satan. They only count in so far as he can use them against God. His target is not less than the eternal and Almighty God! What he wants, is to have God acknowledge that he was not in control of his creation and will not be able to accomplish his plan. God must abdicate from his divine throne, so that Satan can become God in his place...but Satan dares not force God into such abdication. Therefore he uses Joshua, who symbolises the whole people, and he shows God in detail how filthy the clothes of the high priest are. By having God looking at Joshua and his filthy clothes, Satan actually wants to send back to God an image of himself, as if he was looking in a mirror. To achieve his goal, the sly serpent can easily hide behind the true testimonies which God's prophets have continually gathered against Israel and Judah .


Bu suddenly, a miracle takes place. Suddenly the accuser becomes the accused and is even threatened.

" The Lord rebukes you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" What happened? Satan, how learned in the law he may be, easily forgot the following words in God's law: "I punish the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but I show love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” The Lord let his just judgement take place: in the year 586 before Christ, he had Jerusalem and his temple destroyed by the Babylonian troops. That is neither a myth, nor a legend, nor a cleverly invented story, that is the historical manifestation of God's judgement upon his unfaithful people, a judgement announced by his prophets, and recorded for us in the Bible. After this destruction, three of four generations of Jews were brought to exile. Now, the time for the restoration has come, merely on the following ground: "I have chosen Jerusalem” This choice of Jerusalem as God's city is a sovereign decision, and the Lord will show Satan that he remains in control of history and circumstances.  In chapter one and two of the book Zechariah, the restoration of Jerusalem as a city is already mentioned. Of course it goes hand in hand with rebuilding the Temple, where a faithful priesthood must from now on serve God and enhance communion with him. In order to fulfil His plan, God indeed puts and end to the uncleanness of his people. But he does not do it in the way Satan wants it. He will now show Satan that he has the power to put an end to the uncleanness of his people in a different way, a divine way: after having brought punishment upon them, He snatches a burning stick out of the fire. As only an Almighty and gracious King can do He declares Joshua clean, and that become reality... He forgives, according to His gracious nature, and He purifies His people. Yes, He is just, but He is also merciful, without the two clashing against each other or cancelling one another. And so Satan, who does not know what forgiveness means, becomes the loser in this trial. This is the glorious Gospel of our Lord, for the comfort of all of us brothers and sisters...

3. The consequences of the purification: the restoration of an eternal priesthood before God.

And now, while Satan the Accuser recedes into the background, the Angel of the Lord comes to the fore. Who is he? In the Old Testament, he is sometimes distinguished from the Lord, and sometimes identified with him. It is him who now has Joshua put on clean clothse. It is him who proclaims to the high priest that his sins have been forgiven. Who can forgive sins, except God himself, teachers of the Law once thought in themselves, after Jesus had said to a paralysed man, " Friend you sins are forgiven”.  Of course, those are words which only the Lord or His angel can utter.


In the same gracious trend, he also cansay on behalf of the Lord " I will remove the sin of this land in a single day"  (verse 9). He can even promise a communion with God unheard-of before: "I will give you a place amongst these angels standing here”. The restoration of the priesthood before the Lord is now assured; access to God has again been secured. The symbol of this restoration is the clean turban, which is put on the head of Joshua, upon the insistence of the enthusiastic prophet Zechariah, who attends the trial as an active spectator. According to Exodus 28, this turban had to be the most special sign of the high priest’s garments. There had to be a flower made of pure gold attached to the turban, with the following words engraved on it: “Holy to the Lord”. What is striking here, brothers and sisters, is that the cleansing of the high priest is not effected by way of a ceremonial ritual as prescribed by the Law. Remember the stipulations of the Law for the cleansing of the people, as we read them in Leviticus16: the high priest bore upon him all the sins of the people as well as his own ones when he entered the Most Holy place. There he served as mediator between God and the people by accomplishing all the prescribed rites. Therefore at the same time he bore the sins of Israel upon him before God, and he conveyed God’s cleansing to them on behalf of Him. This double function made of him a mediator between God and Israel. But here, something else takes place: somebody greater than the high priest does the cleansing by having him putting on clean garments. Joshua does not accomplish any ritual; he passively receives the clean garments and the turban. He is directly declared clean in the presence of the holy God. The whole ritual of his office as high priest is replaced by a direct process of purification which the Angel of the Lord accomplishes. Thus, above the priesthood of Joshua there is in heaven a totally different type of priesthood which both replaces and restores Joshua’s priesthood! And here we get another insight into God’s wonderful plan: the restoration of the priesthood, after the purification has taken place, goes further into the future than the generation of these Jews who came back to Judah seventy years after the destruction of the city and its temple. The past has been dealt with and the present is marked by the joyful reconciliation with God. But our text goes further and points towards a unique future. Joshua and his friends are described by the Angel of the Lord as a sign of somebody else who will come one day, a servant whom the Angel calls “ the Branch” (v.8).  Why “the Branch”? Because from this burning stick snatched from the fire, God is going to let something arise which will be incorruptible. We find this name- “the Branch”- already used in the book of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Here it is linked to another name: “My servant”, which is also used by Isaiah and Jeremiah to indicate a royal offspring. Thus Joshua and his friends become a prefiguration of a messianic figure who will be both priest and king. We find again this Branch mentioned in Zechariah 6: “Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will rule his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.” Both king and priest, like Melchisedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High, in the book Genesis. We understand even better why Satan was continually accusing Joshua. Through Joshua, who would serve as a sign of the Branch, Satan wanted to prevent the coming of the kingship and priesthood of the Branch.


But his efforts are in vain. The Branch will come one day, as the Angel of the Lord announced it. God’s plan will be carried out. The author of the letter to the Hebrews, in the New Testament, testifies about it in chapter 7: “Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” An eternal priest intercedes for us and builds a temple that cannot be destroyed because He himself is the temple. As for us, we have access to his temple and we become a new priesthood for God insofar we too receive new clothes, washed from all uncleanness. This priesthood is filled with the Holy Spirit, since as cleansed people, we now have been sanctified, we have been made holy: Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city” Do we read in Revelation 22 verse 14. “You are sons of god through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ” Paul writes in Galatians 3:27. In Romans 13:14. This motive becomes an invitation, even a pressing exhortation: “ Clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ”. This is the glorious Gospel of our Lord, for the comfort of all of us, brothers and sisters…

4. An insight into eternal peace

Zechariah’s vision ends with a future look into the future: “ I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that each day of you will invite his neighbour to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty”(v. 9and 10). This typical expression indicates peace, security and prosperity for the people of God. The prophecy of Amos ends with a similar image: “I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never to be uprooted from the land I have given them”, says the Lord your God.” God’s promise of a future of peace, security and prosperity is not just addressed to Joshua and the people of Judah after the exile. This promise certainly applies to us too, who have clothed ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, our eternal priest. But just as for Joshua and his friends, the covenantal condition expressed in verse 7 also applies to us: “If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these angels standing here.” We remain a new, Spirit filled priesthood for God inasmuch as we remain a covenantal people, congregation of our Lord Jesus-Christ. Let us never forget it, we who too were at one stage a burning stick snatched from the fire. For in order to make of us a royal priesthood, God had to send His son on earth like a Lamb who was crucified on the altar of Golgotha.

That was the price to pay to give us our new identity: a covenantal price, paid with the blood of the New Covenant. Our new identity, as God’s new priesthood, is best described by these words of 1 Peter chapter2:”You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” As royal priesthood, we are therefore called to proclaim in words and deeds the praises of our Holy God. This is our Covenantal task, which we best carry out when we walk in God’s ways and keep His requirements. Zechariah’s vision of peace, security and prosperity is addressed to such covenantal people saved from Satan ‘s accusations and from God’s holy judgement; a people wearing cleansed garments, clothed with Jesus Christ. Of this people John says, in Revelation chapter 5 “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”