Zechariah 3:1-5 - Clothed in the Righteousness of Christ (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Clothed in the Righteousness of Christ
We’ve come to chapter 3 in Zechariah, which is the fourth vision. We’ll be focusing on the first 5 verses, which you will find on page 944
Reading of Zechariah 3:1-5
Our minds are kind of like file folder of movie clips of our lives. Like social media reels inside our head, but of our own life. We each keep track of things that have happened to us. We remember experiences. Interactions we’ve had. Things we’ve done or said. It’s all in there.
And we go back to our file of video clips, we pull out these memories, and we play them back in our minds.
Am I right?
Sometimes it’s good memories. Enjoying something. An achievement. A time with a dear friend. But often times, it’s the painful things. Something you said that hurt someone else. Something that someone else said that hurt you. Something you did that you deeply regret. A painful time when you were sinned against. Someone who was supposed to be there for you but wasn’t. Or a failure. A time when you felt ashamed. Any of these could be a long time ago or they could be recent.
Even as I bring this up, you may have pulled out a video clip from your mental file (or two or three) and are re-playing it now. That probably comes with some emotions. Like the feeling of humiliation… a deep embarrassment or unworthiness. Feelings of guilt. Each of those are related to shame.
Here’s a helpful description of shame that I found: “the subjective experience of our objective guilt. Both the guilt of what we've done (and left undone), as well as the guilt of what others have done (or left undone) to us.” In other words, those feelings that arise out of painful or sinful things that we’ve done or that others have done to us.
This morning, I want you to add a new movie clip to your mental vault. A movie clip of Zechariah 3:1-5. But instead of Joshua the high priest, put yourself in the video. Your dirty clothes of shame and guilt being taken away and new brilliant clothes of righteousness given.
And every time you replay those painful movie clips in your mind, I want you to play this new movie clip in your mind. It’s a video of what Christ has done for you, if you are a believer by faith in him, OR, it’s a video of what Christ can do for you, if you are not yet a believer by faith in him.
That’s what these visions in Zechariah are. Visual encouragements for God’s people. Rather than just words, they are movie clips that you can play over and over throughout your life to remind yourself of God and his Gospel. If you remember from a couple of weeks ago, that was one of the purposes of these kind of visions - Gospel hope and comfort for God’s people. For Zechariah and his generation – the visions were given to deepen their understanding of God, his sovereignty, purposes, his people, and salvation. Each vision, so far, has deepened our understanding of those things. And this morning’s vision is key to all of it.
This fourth vision takes the entire chapter, by the way. We’ll be looking at it in 2 parts. This morning, the first 5 verses, then next week the rest of the chapter. This first part is a courtroom trial of sorts. We’ll get into that. And the second part is the assurances that the angel gives to Zechariah. Stay tuned for that.
In order to enter into the vision, let’s begin by first looking at the three characters. Joshua, the angel of the Lord, and Satan. And then second, we’ll look at this courtroom trial. The characters and then the trial.
Characters - Joshua
We’re introduced first, to Joshua. He’s called the high priest. This is the first time in the book that Joshua has been mentioned. This is a different Joshua, of course, than the Joshua who led God’s people into the promised land back in the book of Joshua. That was hundreds of year before this.
This Joshua was the high priest. The role of high priest was special in the Old Testament times. He was the one who represented God’s people before God himself. Once a year, on a day called the day of atonement, the high priest would enter the holy of holies. That was the very special inner room in the temple. It’s where God’s presence resided. And when the high priest was in the holy of holies, he would make a sacrificial offering on behalf of the people before God. This offering was to atone for the sins of the people – or better said, an offering for the forgiveness of sins. It represented the cleansing from the shame and guilt brought by sin.
So this was Joshua’s role. And as a high priest, he had special clothes he was to wear. The reason we read parts of Exodus 28 this morning, is it tells us about the high priestly garb. This is especially important to understand this vision. His clothes were to be white, pure, and spotless. He wore precious gems on his robe… a white turban on his head and had various other parts of his vestments – his clothes. Each part had meaning. The 12 precious gems, for example, represented God’s people, because the high priest represented them. He was going before the Lord on their behalf. That’s why we can insert ourselves in Joshua’s place in the vision. He, in part, represents us.
A quick side note… next week when we finish vision four, we’ll see how the high priest also points to Christ, but this morning we’re focusing on his representation of the people.
So, Joshua had this special role as high priest. He in a sense inherited it. He was part of the priestly line. Joshua was the spiritual leader of the exiles that returned to Jerusalem. And he served alongside, Zerubbabel, the civil leader of the people. In chapter 4, we’ll learn more about him.
But if you haven’t figured it out yet, there were a couple of big problems for the high priest! First, Jerusalem didn’t have a rebuilt temple! Joshua didn’t have a place to serve. There was no holy of holies. No altar for the sacrificial offerings. And God’s presence had left. Like the others who returned, Joshua carried the weight of the sins of his parent’s generation. And second, he also carried the burdens of sin of his own generation, especially as their spiritual leader. Although they had returned to Jerusalem, the Lord was calling them to return to him. And of course, Joshua knew his own sins as well. So he carried all of those burdens which weighted on him. It was a heavy load. And knowing this helps us understand what was going on in this vision.
Characters – the Angel of the Lord
Ok, next, we’re introduced to the Angel of the Lord. This is the third time that we’ve seen him in the visions. In vision 1, the Angel of the Lord was the one riding on the red horse. In vision 3, the Angel of the Lord was the one speaking the oracle to Zechariah. The angel of the Lord in all of the visions represents Christ. In other words, the Angel of the Lord was like a pre-incarnate Jesus speaking. That word “pre-incarnate” just means it was Christ before Jesus was born. Some theologians call the Angel of the Lord a Theophany or Christophony. Those are big words which just mean an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Since this is a vision, I prefer to just say that this Angel represents Christ – it’s his words, but he appears here in a vision rather than in flesh and blood.
The reason, I would argue, that this is Christ speaking, is that over and over, the Angel of the Lord uses first person language to speak of the Lord and the Lord’s ministry on earth. In the first vision, the angel prayed as the Lord on the people’s behalf – remember that intercession. In vision 3, he referred to himself as both the Lord and specifically as the sent one from the Lord. And here, look at verse 4… right in the middle there, he said “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” Do you see that first person language, “I?” And with a role that represents the work of Christ? Taking away their sin. The Angel of the Lord is Christ.
Characters – Satan
And the final character from verse 1 is Satan. Satan is the devil. He’s the great enemy of faith. His names in the Bible include the accuser, the evil one, the antichrist, the wicked one. In revelation, he’s the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the deceiver of the whole world – we read those things earlier. Throughout the Scriptures, Satan, the devil, is the great liar – he’s called the “father of lies.” And that takes us all the way back to Genesis, the first book in the Bible. Satan is the one who deceived Adam and Eve. He lied to them about God’s Words and his promises.
And what’s interesting about Zechariah 3 here, is that this is one of only three times in the Old Testament where Satan appeared. He appeared in Genesis 3. Satan also appeared in the book of Job. In Job, Satan was given permission to test God’s servant Job. And here in Zechariah 3 – he appeared in Zechariah’s vision. To be sure, the devil is mentioned in other places in the Old Testament, but it’s this selective list where he appears and dialogues.
And he’s doing exactly what he is known for. He’s accusing Joshua. In your Bibles, you may even have a footnote next to the name “Satan.” The name Satan means “accuser or adversary.”
Which brings us now to what was happening in this vision. And the first thing to note is that Joshua the high priest was “standing before” the Angel of the Lord. That is trial language. This is a courtroom scene. It’s a felony trial. Joshua is the one on trial. And if we want to label the characters, Joshua is the accused one. Satan is the plaintiff – the one bringing the charge. And the Angel of the Lord acts as both the defense attorney and the judge.
I’ve been reading some different commentaries to help me connect some of these strange visions to other parts of Scripture. And it’s interesting, almost all of them connect this scene to the holy of holies. Not the physical holy of holies in the temple, but a heavenly holy of holies. The Lord is present, Joshua has his high priestly clothing on – albeit dirty at first but he’s then given clean vestments. The turban is a big indication of that. Later in the chapter, there are more connections.
I think that’s helpful for us to understand.
Because here’s Satan. And, again, he’s doing what he does. He’s accusing Joshua. We’re not given Satan’s words, but we are given a description of Joshua’s clothing. “Filthy garments,” verse 3. That word filthy is the same root as the Hebrew word for excrement.
And Satan was lying to Joshua. “You are not worthy, high priest. Who do you think you are, anyway? You don’t deserve to be in God’s presence. Why do you think you are worthy to wear all those special clothes? Look at them! Worthless. You deserve nothing. You’re just like all of them. Eve in her jealousy. Adam, that wimp, looking on with no backbone.”
And those clothes that Joshua was wearing… it was his guilt and shame. Humiliation and disgrace for himself and his generation. Feeling of unworthiness. And the devil was trying to point all that out to him.
Satan is the enemy behind all enemies. He lies to you. If you are a believer in Christ, he wants to take away your hope, your assurance in Christ. The devil hates the Lord and his promises. He doesn’t want you to realize the grace and righteousness that Christ gives you. The healing that comes through the Gospel. The eternal hope that you have. No those are the last things he wants you to remember.
And if you are here but have not yet put your faith in Christ. Know that Satan doesn’t want you to believe. He’ll do everything he can to turn you away from Christ. He’ll lie to you about what God says in the Bible. He’ll say things like “God will never forgive you.” He’ll say, “there are many paths to God” or “there are no paths to God.”
And whether you are a believer in Christ or not, the devil wants you to replay those movie clips in your mind and torment you over them. He wants you to dwell on your sin and shame. He wants you to think that you could never be worthy in God’s presence.
Enough of that devilish nonsense. Don’t buy his lies. You are either worthy in Christ because as a believer in Christ, he has forgiven you … or you can be worthy in Christ when you come to him by faith, because he will forgive you.
That’s what these verses focus on - Christ and his righteousness given or offered to you.
Verse 2. The angel of the Lord spoke. Notice what it doesn’t say… it actually doesn’t say “the angel of” no, just “the Lord said.” That is yet another indication that this is Christ. “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!” Remember, Jerusalem indicates God’s people. They are his people. Joshua is his. The Lord was saying to Satan that his accusations were utterly false – Joshua and the people were God’s chosen.
And notice that next phrase. “Is not this a brand plucked from the fire.” It means the Lord pulled Joshua from the flames like a burning piece of wood pulled out of a fireplace. In other words, the Lord rescued him.
Do you see how the Lord here is both the defense attorney, defending Joshua, and the judge. As the judge, the Lord turns that accusation back on Satan. “Rebuke you! You are the guilty one. You are the liar. Here are the facts – One, I’ve chosen Joshua – he represents my people, Jerusalem, called by my name. And two, I’ve rescued him from the flames of death and guilt. And now here is my verdict: remove the filthy garments from him.”
And really, the second half of verses 4 makes crystal clear the point of this vision. “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” You see, Joshua actually was guilty. He didn’t deserve to be in the presence of God. in fact, none of the high priests in the Old Testament were worthy. But that does not make Satan’s accusations true. What the devil doesn’t want you to know or remember is that God takes away sin and shame. Satan just wants you to dwell on all the consequences of sin. He does not want you to believe in the Lord nor his forgiveness.
There are two parts in verse 4. First, the forgiveness. “I have taken away your iniquity” and the second, the Lord’s righteousness, “I will clothe you with pure vestments.” These are both parts of the redemption that we have in Christ. The forgiveness of sins and receiving the righteousness of Christ. The word that the Bible uses for that is being “justified.” Being “just” or “right” in God’s presence. That’s the image here. The judge, who is Christ, has given us his judgment. And that judgement is this: you are justified in Christ if you believe by faith in him. It’s not anything that you’ve done. No, notice who is doing the work and who is not doing the work.
Christ, as represented by the angel of the Lord, is the one who says, “remove his filthy garments.” Christ is the one who said, “I have taken away your iniquity.” Jesus is the one who did the work – the one who did the taking away of his iniquity. And Christ is the one who commands that Joshua be robed with clean garments. And what did Joshua do in all this? Nothing. He stood there. He couldn’t justify himself. He received these words about his forgiveness. He received the pure and white clothes. He was cleansed by Christ because he believed by faith.
This is the work of Jesus. He bore our iniquity because we couldn’t. He took our sin and the consequences of our sin to the cross. By his blood, we are healed and cleansed. Both. Forgiven and cleansed. It’s the great exchange. He took on our sin and he gave us his righteousness. 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For our sake [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
You see, sometimes we just think of that first part. The forgiveness part, Jesus taking on our sin… and we forget the second part, the righteousness part, Jesus giving us his righteousness. And because we forget that we’ve been given the righteous robes of Christ, we are easily weighed down by our sin and all the guilt and shame that goes with it.
If you know and trust in Christ, you are Joshua here. He represented the people as high priest, and he represents us here. Just like Joshua, you’ve been given Christ’s righteousness. He has made you worthy to be in the presence of God, not because of your righteousness, but because of his righteousness.
It’s like the prodigal son… remember that parable of Jesus? The son squandered his father’s money… he went out and lived a life of lavish extravagance, lived in sin, pursued any and all worldly and fleshly desires he had. But he came to the end. He realized the folly of it all, realized what he had done to his father… He carried that shame and guilt back home and confessed to his father. And do you remember what his father did in the parable? Did the father say, “shame on you?” No, rather, the father received him home. His father gave him his signet ring and gave him his robe. The father clothed his son, who was lost, but now found, with his robe as his son.
Both the prodigal son and Joshua repented. We learned of the people’s repentance back in chapter 1. And in both cases, the worn out tattered and filthy clothes, respectively, were removed. And in both cases, the robe and clothes of righteousness and right standing before God were given. So it’s not that the righteousness of Christ just covers over the iniquity of our sin, no, God removes the iniquity – the consequences and guilt of our sin. When you believe by faith in Jesus, that is taken away and his righteousness is given to you - the robes of his righteousness are yours to wear. When God sees you, he sees Christ in you.
And the righteousness of Christ is far beyond what you can imagine, but it’s yours in Christ. Again, next week, we’ll see Jesus as the perfect high priest and all that he has accomplished through that role. But for today, you are Joshua. He represents your unworthiness turned to worthiness in Christ, your guilt turned to innocence in Christ, your shame turned to honor in Christ, the filthy clothes of your past taken away and new clothes of Christ’s righteousness given to you. For the Christian here who knows and believes in Christ by faith, the vestiges of sin in your life cannot stain the robes of his righteousness on you. If you know and love Christ, one future day the presence of sin will be fully removed, but for now even in the ongoing struggle with sin, Jesus has removed its penalty – your guilt. When the angel of the Lord took Joshua’s iniquity away, he permanently removed the guilt and shame of it.
So take this vision. Put yourself in Joshua’s shoes. And engrave this new movie clip in your mental files. Sear it on your heart and mind. Believe it or be renewed in it in Christ. And when you hear the lies of Satan. See and hear Christ accusing him – know that you are forgiven in Christ and made righteous in him. See in this new video of your life, Jesus taking away your iniquity. All the shame and guilt, the feelings of unworthiness, and giving you new robes. Robes whiter than snow. Pure vestments of Christ’s perfect righteousness given to you. Play this new reel of your life over and over, for this is the truth offered or given too you in him.