“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #7)
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan: “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! May the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Isn’t this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:1-2, H.C.S.B.)
Zechariah was a prophet/priest who was born in Babylon during Israel’s seventy years of exile there. He joined the group of approximately 50,000 Jews (Ezra 2:64-67) who returned to Jerusalem around 538 B.C. in the wake of the decree for Israel’s release issued by the Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4). That group of returning exiles was led by Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:1-2), who was the grandson of Israel’s former king, Jehoiachan. The group’s daunting task was to build a new temple in Jerusalem, the temple of Solomon having been destroyed by the Babylonians decades earlier.
The group got off to a good start by building a new altar. Then they finished laying the foundation for the new temple in 536 B.C. However, problems arose (some external, some internal) and the great work stalled for more than fifteen years (Ezra 4:1-24). Only when Zechariah and his fellow prophet Haggai were inspired by God to motivate the people to finish the temple did it get completed (Ezra 5:1-2).
The priesthood for the new temple was led by a High Priest named Joshua, the Joshua mentioned in our text verse. (No, this isn’t the famous Joshua who led Israel in its conquest of Canaan.) Whereas Zerubbabel was in charge of the civil leadership of the reconstituted Israel, Joshua the High Priest was in charge of the spiritual leadership. This is seen in the fact that the prophet Haggai described himself as “the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest” (Haggai 1:1).
The point of Zechariah’s vision is that Satan is bringing a formal accusation against Joshua. Joshua, in his role as High Priest, is serving as the representative of the entire group of Jews who have returned to Jerusalem, built a new temple, and established a new priesthood. Satan’s accusation is undoubtedly that this group isn’t spiritually qualified to be doing such things.
It’s as if Satan is saying, “Now c’mon God, how could this ragtag bunch of exiles from Babylon be the ones you’ve chosen to build a new temple and establish a new priesthood? After all, this is the same defiled gene pool that rebelled against you decades ago and caused you to allow the Babylonians to come in and carry them off as prisoners of war. Do you mean to tell me that you are going to bring this corrupted, morally impure group back under your protection and blessing?” And Joshua, standing there clothed in filthy garments, certainly looks “guilty as charged” concerning the accusation (Zechariah 3:3). The priestly garments of Israel’s High Priest were supposed to be holy and undefiled (Exodus 28:1-4).
The whole vision plays off the Mosaic law. According to that law, if one man brought an accusation of wrongdoing against another man, both men were to stand before the priests and judges and let the case be heard (Deuteronomy 19:16-21). By standing before the priests and judges the two men were in essence “standing before the Lord.” In such a hearing it was customary for the accuser to stand on the right side (Psalm 109:6).
You’ll notice that our text verse capitalizes the “A” in the word “Angel.” That indicates that the “Angel” in question is actually none other than Jesus making an Old Testament appearance. This explains how Satan and Joshua can be standing before the Angel of the Lord in verse 1 and have the Lord speak to Satan in verse 2 and render the verdict.
And what was that verdict? The Lord decided in favor of Joshua (and by implication Joshua’s fellow Jews). The Lord described Joshua (and by implication the 50,000 as a whole) as “a burning stick snatched from the fire.” The fire refers to the judgment manifested by the Babylonian captivity.
But the Lord didn’t stop there. He went on to instruct that Joshua’s filthy garments be removed and that he be reclothed with beautiful robes and a clean turban (Zechariah 3:4-5). Joshua’s new clothing was symbolic of the fact that the Lord had not only removed his iniquity and cleansed him personally but that the Lord had done the same thing for Israel (Zechariah 3:4). Then the Lord made wonderful promises to Joshua and Israel, promises that included the coming of the Messiah and extended into the glorious kingdom age when the Messiah will rule over all the earth (Zechariah 3:6-10).
Okay, so now let’s get back to the theme of our series and ask, “What does Zechariah’s vision teach us about the methods and strategies that Satan uses against us?” It teaches us that Satan is the master accuser who is quick to remind God of our spiritual faults and failures. It’s no wonder that in Revelation 12:10 he is called “the accuser of the brethren.”
Like Joshua, we Christians have stood before the Lord in the symbolically filthy garments of our sins and listened as Satan has accused us of being unworthy of the Lord’s blessings. But because of our saving belief in Jesus, the Lord has sided with us and replaced our filthy garments with “the garments of salvation” and “the robe of righteousness” described in Isaiah 61:10. Of course this righteousness we wear is not our own; it is the righteousness of Jesus imputed to us. Romans 5:19 says that by Christ’s obedience “many will be made righteous,” and 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Jesus was made to “…be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Along the same lines, Romans 3:21-22, Romans 4:13, and Philippians 3:7-11 teach that each Christian has the righteousness which is “from God through faith in Jesus.”
Christian, it is because of this imputed righteousness you have received from Jesus that you can successfully withstand any accusation that Satan hurls at you. Get it through your head that you no longer stand before God in the filthy garments of your sinful flesh. All of your sins, whatever they may be, have been forgiven by way of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the one who died on a Roman cross to pay your sin debt (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:12-15; Acts 20:28; and Revelation 5:9-10).
Therefore, any time Satan hauls you into God’s court and accuses you of being a sinner who is undeserving of God’s blessings, you can rest in the knowledge that the fix is in because the Judge is on your side. He won’t render His verdict based upon the righteousness produced by your actions. Instead, He will render it based upon the righteousness produced by the sinless life and substitutionary death of Jesus. This makes any heavenly court date you have with Satan a slam dunk win for you. So don’t let the accuser of the brethren rob you of the deep-settled inner peace that salvation should provide.