Setting: Heaven as seen in a vision by the Old Testament prophet Zechariah (see chapter 3). Joshua is a high priest. As a high priest, he represents particular people. But the high priest has filthy garments: “Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments” (Zechariah 3:3).
Author: Zechariah, prophet and priest in the 520s B.C.
- Joshua: the high priest who needs forgiveness for his own sin as well as forgiveness for all those he represents
- Satan: the accuser
- The angel of the LORD
Joshua is filthy. His “robes” are rags of unrighteousness. He is helpless before God. He cannot atone for his own sins, much less the sins of others. Sullied. Unable. Disqualified. Satan is pictured in the vision as the accuser: “Then he [God] showed me [Zechariah] Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zechariah 3:1).
The Heart of the Problem:
How can a sinner, even a human high priest like Joshua, who is himself a sinner, obtain forgiveness for his sin? How can those he represents obtain forgiveness? How can we in filthy rags obtain robes of righteousness? How can the dirty become clean? How can the diseased be healed? How can guilt be atoned for?
“And 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?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove 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.” And 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.” (Zechariah 3:1-5)
And then in verse 8, God promises–once again–His gospel: “behold, I will bring my servant the Branch.” The Branch of David is Jesus, the Christ. He is the only sufficient faithful high priest. God does through Himself in the gospel what human intercessors could never do–atone for sin.
To Whom All the Promises Point:
When Jesus was delivered up to be crucified, even wicked Pilate acknowledged Jesus’s sinlessness: “Take him [Jesus] yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him” (John 19:6).
Paul makes crystal clear in Colossians 2 that it is Jesus’s work alone that is able to redeem sinners. Only Christ’s robes of righteousness are clean and those He clothes:
“And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:13-15).
And then the crescendo of Christ’s perfect work from the letter of Hebrews:
“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” (Hebrews 7:26-28)
Encouragement for Christians & a Call to the Lost:
For those clothed in the robes of Christ, you are (by definition) in Christ. That means Satan’s accusations are vanquished. Why? Because you have been clothed with the righteousness of Jesus. Jesus is your faithful high priest.
But for those who remain in their own garments, you remain rightly accused and justly condemned. No efforts you make to be your own high priest, or any other effort/idol, will do anything but ensure your condemnation.
The gospel in Christianity is unique among all worldviews, dear reader: It demonstrates that God has done what we neither would nor could do–namely, atone for our sin: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3).