Zechariah 3:6-10 - Behold, the Branch (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Behold, the Branch
The Restored PriesthoodZechariahThe Fulfilled Priesthood
● Ceremonial cleansing3:1-5● The robes of Christ’s righteousness given
● Commissioned and charged3:6-7● Jesus’ obedience and our access to God
● The branch –the temple builder3:8-9a● The Branch – the great High Priest and King
● The Day of Atonement resumes3:9b● Salvation accomplished on the cross
● Peace and prosperity returns3:10● Our Gospel commission and its blessing
Last week we looked at the beginning of Zechariah chapter 3… which was the beginning of the fourth vision that God gave Zechariah. The short summary of those verses is that Satan (the devil) was accusing Joshua the high priest. Joshua had on filthy garments instead of the clean garments that a priest was supposed to wear. But good news - The Angel of the Lord was also there – he defended Joshua, rebuked Satan, and commanded Joshua’s dirty clothes to be removed and new pure priestly garments to be given him.
That part of the vision is a picture of the forgiveness that Christ offers us – and the robes of Christ’s righteousness given to the believer in him. It’s a beautiful picture of the Gospel and how we are justified by God. It’s not our work, it’s Jesus’ work for us.
And that brings us to the second half of Zechariah 3. It’s a continuation of the vision. Just like a couple of the earlier visions, it helps to further explain what was happening. Some people call this part “the oracle.” Most of these visions begin with some sort of action, followed by an oracle which elaborates on what happened.
Let’s now come to God’s word. In the church Bibles, page 944. Zechariah 3:6-10
Reading of Zechariah 3:6-10
A couple times on family vacations, we’re driven across the western plains and have reached the Rocky Mountains. As you are driving, at first you can see this small dark thin line across the horizon. It kind of looks like rain clouds in the distance. But as you drive farther across the flat plains, you realize those are mountains. And they get bigger and bigger. It’s like a long line of mountains as far north and south as your eye can see. So the land goes from being flat to then this huge mountain range. But it looks like it’s just 1 line of mountains – 2 dimensional like. That’s because you can’t see past the mountains in front of you. It appears to be a single long mountain with multiple peaks.
However, if you have ever flown from Atlanta to the west coast on a clear day, it’s quite a different perspective. If you’re in a window seat, you can see the Rocky Mountains pop up, and you can see their 3 dimensional nature – peak after mountain peak continuing not just north and south, but west, too. And they go on and on.
The visions of Zechariah are similar to those two experiences. There’s the initial perspective from Zechariah’s generation… who have returned from exile. For them, there’s an immediate hope for a near-term restoration of Jerusalem and the temple – It’s kind of like seeing the single line of mountains as you drive towards them. But the visions also come with a long-term perspective - hope beyond the immediate restoration of Jerusalem. We’ve talked about that perspective as the Gospel hope that these visions provide. It’s like getting in an airplane and seeing the layers of the mountain range – in all its amazing splendor.
Each vision has given Zechariah and his generation hope, both in their lifetime, and beyond their lifetime for generations to come.
That’s why the book of Zechariah is such a Gospel blessing to us. Through Zechariah, God gives us that heavenly perspective of what he has done and is doing on earth. It’s like he takes us up in a plane and we can see “the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” That’s Ephesians 3:18-19.
So last week, we saw the Gospel in video form. Joshua’s sins taken away, and new robes of righteousness given. And this morning, as we get to the second half of the vision, God answers the question, “how?” How did God accomplish Joshua’s salvation? How did God make Joshua righteous in his sight?
And the answer comes in a near-term promise which points to a long-term promise. That’s what these 5 verses do. They promise a near-term restoration and they promise a long-term fulfillment.
And all of it revolves around the priesthood. Last week we talked a little bit about the priests in the Old Testament. God established the special roles of priest and high priest to represent the people. They performed sacrifices which pointed to forgiveness and cleansing. The priests were the ones who went before the Lord on behalf of the people. They were like the middle-man between God and the people – they interceded to God for the people. And the role of High Priest was even more special. He was the one who went into the holy of holies once a year on the Day of Atonement.
Kids, let’s say you got in trouble for smashing your sister’s doll house… and as a result, your parents grounded you for a week – no games, no devices. But what if your older brother went to your parents on your behalf and asked them to be merciful. That’s a nice older brother. That’s kind of what a priest would do – instead of your parents they would go to God on your behalf.
This chapter is about the priesthood. Joshua was the high priest. And the promises in this fourth vision focus in on the priesthood with both a near-term and long-term fulfillment.
I tried to capture this in the outline on the back of the bulletin. You’ll see two columns there. First, the restored priesthood and second, the fulfilled priesthood.
The first is the view of Zechariah and his generation in Jerusalem. As they were looking ahead, it’s like they were traveling west toward the Rocky Mountains. They first saw the mountains in 2-dimensional form. A near-term restored priesthood. And the second view is the longer-term view of God’s promised salvation – like seeing the whole mountain range from above - the fulfilled priesthood.
The Restored Priesthood
So that’s where we’re headed. As we’ve considered each vision, we’ve entered into the situation in Jerusalem 500 years before Christ. Zechariah tells us exactly when he was given these visions. It was “the 24th day of the 11th month in the second year of Darius” – who was king of Persia. That translates to February of 519 BC. That’s 68 years after the Babylonians destroyed the city and temple and exiled the people. That’s when God gave Zechariah the visions. But he had already been in Jerusalem for about 18 years. And besides Zechariah, Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the governor also returned 18 years earlier. Over those 18 years leading up to these visions, Jerusalem’s walls were still rubble; the land wasn’t producing crops; and the temple was half-built.
In fact, the people had started to build the temple, but when opposition came, they stopped. Instead of focusing on the temple, they built their own paneled houses. Remember from Zechariah chapter 1 and Haggai chapter 1, that’s one reason God called them to repent. He wanted their faith and trust in him restored. And the people repented.
The reason I’m telling you this is that even though the people turned back to God, their situation still had not changed. And a big part of that was not having a temple. That meant that a lot of the ceremonial law involving the priests and sacrifices could not happen. That included the responsibilities of the high priest Joshua. It would be as if someone hired you to clean and paint their house. And you agreed and then you asked, “ok, where is your house?” And the person said, “actually, I don’t have a house.” It would be like having a job but without the means to do your job. Imagine what Joshua felt – insecurity and failure – after all it had been under his spiritual leadership that the people had turned to building their own houses instead of the temple. He was part of that.
So it’s the year 519. Zechariah, the prophet, is given these visions. Part of his audience included Joshua and Zerubbabel the governor. So Joshua would have been hearing this vision about himself. He was carrying the weight of his sin and the people’s sin. Satan had, in actuality, been accusing him. And then Zechariah told Joshua this vision from the Lord. That the Lord took away his sin, rebuked Satan, and gave him new clothes. Pure vestments and a clean turban.
The message from the Lord to Joshua was crystal clear – “I will restore your high priestly role.”
Verses 6 and 7 make this point. In the vision, the angel of the Lord “solemnly assured Joshua.” And look at the words in verse 7. “If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts” That is language of the high priest and the temple. The Lord was saying to Joshua – “I have cleansed you – now, if you are faithful to walk in my ways, then you will be high priest over my house – the temple.” God would restore the priesthood.
Go back to the outline. Look at the first two points on the left side. The high priest had to go through a very thorough cleansing ceremony before he entered into the holy of holies. That’s part of what verses 1-5 pointed to - cleansing. Second, verses 6-7 are a recommissioning of Joshua – you see that word charge in the verses. God was charging Joshua to take charge. Part of that is the end of verse 7. God said to Joshua “I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.” Because Joshua was the high priest, he was the only one who was allowed to have access to the holy of holies. God was promising a return to that special access to him.
This is the near-term promise of chapter 3. God was giving Joshua and the people a picture of what he was going to do in their lifetime.
Let’s briefly look at the other ways in which these verses point to the near-term fulfillment.
Starting with verse 8… Joshua and the other priests. Those who were there were with Joshua. The Lord said to them, “You are a sign.” In other words, “I’ve gathered you here. You will be priests again!” And then the Lord said, “behold, I will bring my servant the Branch.” Ok, “Branch” is capitalized in your Bibles because this is a prophecy about Jesus. We’re going to hold off on that until we get to the fulfilled priesthood part.
But there is a near-term fulfillment here. A branch symbolized a new king, a new leader, who would spring forth. Many have seen the near-term fulfillment in Zerubbabel. He’s the one who would oversee the temple being rebuilt. In fact, it would only be 3-4 years later that the temple was finished. So there was a very near near-term restoration of the temple and priesthood. We’ll spend more time in chapter 4 on Zerubbabel.
But part of that restoration meant that the Day of Atonement could resume. It had been almost 70 years since that special once-a-year ceremony. That’s the near-term fulfillment of verse 9. There are two parts of verse 9. First, a stone with seven eyes is mentioned and, second, that God will remove the iniquity of the land in “single day.” The single-day part had a near-term fulfillment in the day of atonement. After 70 plus years, Joshua would again participate in the Day of Atonement. Regarding the stone – some people think it represents the foundation stone of the temple. The eyes representing the Lord’s presence. I think, however, it's more likely the stone represented the stone that was to be put on Joshua’s turban - a small stone with the phrase “Holy to the Lord” written on it. That stone represented the holiness of God as the high priest entered the holy of holies. And that view goes along with the rest of the chapter about the priesthood. Either way, the priesthood and temple would be restored.
Ok, the last thing I want to point out is the last verse. Verse 10. It talks about the people inviting their neighbors to come under their vines and fig trees. The near-term promise here is about a restored land. There will be prosperity again from the ground. Grape vines and fig trees will again produce and be a blessing to all in the land. Part of the restoration that God promised was a restored land.
These near-term promises in the vision gave much hope to Joshua and the rest of his generation.
The Fulfilled Priesthood
Now, I know, I probably just lost half of you in the weeds. It’s a lot to take in. And you may be asking, “how does this matter to me?”
Others of you may be thinking, “you know, I’m not satisfied with this near-term restoration. It’s kind of weak. Some of it makes sense, but other parts seem like a stretch.”
Both of those responses are related. Because this near-term restoration of the priesthood is just the runway for the long-term fulfillment. It’s meant to be unsatisfactory.
Yes, for Joshua, Zechariah, Zerubbabel, and their generation, the near-term was very encouraging. But even for them, as for us, parts were unsatisfactory - unanswered questions about the vision’s ultimate relevance and meaning.
But where this becomes real for you and me is the long-term significance. These verses, in fact, take us high into the sky. We can look down and see the full picture of the promise.
The times that I have flown over the Rocky Mountains – I am mesmerized by them. White capped peaks, hidden lakes, valleys, and mountain tops reaching to the sky. I even tried to take a picture out of my airplane window, but it just never works.
Even for Zechariah and his generation, these verses are meant to draw their attention to God’s ultimate purpose in them – how he will fulfill his promised salvation. Showing them how the Messiah will be the great high priest.
That is what the Old Testament priesthood points to - Jesus, the perfect high priest. And these verses teach just that. How God will bring a greater priest… and how God will bring salvation in him. The relevance for us comes in the form of assurance - amazement at what God has done. And how we can now come directly into the presence of God through Jesus.
Ok, go back to your outline. On the right side is the fulfilled priesthood. Each part of Zechariah chapter 3 point to a greater priesthood. We saw a glimpse of that last week. Clean robes were given to Joshua by the angel of the Lord. The angel, who represents Christ, was greater than Joshua. He condemned the devil, and he judged Joshua clean because Joshua was chosen and saved.
Look again at verse 7. If Joshua would walk in the Lord’s ways, then he would be restored as high priest with special access to God. The problem is that Joshua would never be able to truly fulfill this condition. He was insufficient. The sacrifices the priests offered for the people included sacrifices for themselves, too. No earthly priest in the Old Testament could ultimately fulfill his role. They were sinful and therefore couldn’t perfectly obey verse 7. Joshua was sinful and therefore insufficient. No, rather, Jesus was the only one who in full obedience could fulfill this requirement. Jesus is the perfect and great high priest.
And it’s through him, through Jesus, that we have access to God. We can come to God in faith through Christ. We don’t need an earthly priest. In fact, we don’t use the word priest in our church – in the protestant church - because Jesus has fulfilled once-and-for-all the role of high priest. There’s no more need for an earthly priest. That’s part of what these verses teach us.
And this is where verses 8 and 9 make a lot more sense in light of the fulfilled priesthood. Really these two verses are the key verses that point to Christ. Yes, Joshua and the priests are a sign. But ultimately not of a near-term restored priesthood. No, they are a sign of a fulfilled priesthood. And the key word there is “Behold.” Anytime you see that word, it’s a great announcement. How are Joshua and the priests a sign? “Behold! I will bring my servant, the Branch” that’s how. The prophesied “branch” of Isaiah 11 – that’s one of the well-known Advent prophecies. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him”
Or our reading from Jeremiah 23 earlier in the service. “Behold,” there’s that word behold again, “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.”
The promise of verse 8 is a priestly king who will rule and intercede. These are two themes that we’ll continue to see throughout the book of Zechariah. And Jesus is that High Priest who is also a king. He is the sign. And in verse 9, the stone that the high priest wore with the words “Holy to the Lord.” That is Christ – perfectly holy and righteous – the holy one of the Lord. Or as Jeremiah 23 says, he will be called, “the Lord is our righteousness.” Jesus is the Branch, the holy one of the Lord. He has gone and goes before God on our behalf as the perfect holy high priest.
Even the limitation of the Day of Atonement is captured at the end of verse 9. “On that single day, I will remove the iniquity of the land.” The Day of Atonement happened every year. And even when it started back up, it still wasn’t a single day. It had to be repeated every year. But in Christ, that day, is the day of salvation. A single day. The day when the greater high priest went before God the Father once and for all. He was the sacrifice - the perfect sacrifice on the cross. On that single day the temple curtain was torn in two. No more earthly priest needed; No more temple needed; No more sacrifices needed; No more altar needed… Jesus perfectly fulfilled the promises of the priesthood once-and-for-all.
And our last verse – verse 10 – now falls into place. The call to invite our neighbor to the promises of the fulfilled priesthood: Faith in Christ; Salvation in him; Full access to God who takes away sin through the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice – Christ our Savior.
As we come to a close, besides the understanding of Christ’s fulfilled priesthood – and how God accomplished salvation through him - I think there’s one other takeaway from these verses: Amazement. Wonder and awe at how it all comes together in Christ. Each of these visions has taught us more and more about God, more and more about Jesus, more and more about salvation. And God has orchestrated it all. It’s amazing to see… Like how the covenant promises are fulfilled in Jesus. How the earthly kings such as King David find their fulfillment in Christ. How the historical events like the Passover find their fulfillment in Christ. How the other prophecies of a savior find their fulfillment in Christ. And here, how the priesthood and temple find their fulfillment in Christ.
God’s Word is so rich and deep. And the amazement and awe and wonder of how it all fits together and is all fulfilled in Christ gives us deep assurance. Verse 6 assurance. “The angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua.” And that assurance is for you, believer in Jesus. God has done it all through Jesus – the great high priest.