ZECHARIAH: A Sin-Darkened Nation Becomes God’s Shining Light Part Three
Zechariah 3:1 – 4:14
The first three visions of Zechariah the prophet relate to external blessings. God told the prophet of a day when the Jewish people would be restored to their land. He also promised that the enemies of Israel would be destroyed, and that their precious city of Jerusalem would be rebuilt with a glory which, by contrast, would dim her past glory. Finally, the Lord proclaimed that He would be the protection of Jerusalem as well as of the ones who would dwell within her gates.
But still there remains a very serious dilemma. The Scriptures clearly teach that Israel will one day be judged for her sins. And although she suffered terribly through the seventy years of Babylonian captivity, there is no evidence that she has ever repented or received God’s pardon for those sins. How, then, can a holy and righteous God restore such a sinful people to fellowship and yet be consistent with His holy character? The answer is found in the fourth vision of Zechariah.
VISION FOUR: THE DAY GOD FORGIVES ISRAEL’S SIN (3:1-10)
In verses one to three, Joshua the high priest is ministering and carrying on his function of intercession before the angel of the Lord. But Satan, the great adversary and opposer, is seen standing at his right hand to resist him. The accusation of Satan was that Joshua was standing as a priest before God clothed with “filthy” garments. The Hebrew word translated filthy is eban, and it is a stronger word than the English. It actually means dirty, smelly, filthy, excrement-covered garments. It is pitiful to view the high priest of Israel in such a tragic condition as he stands condemned by Satan.
However sad the situation appeared to be, God intervened. “And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan (v. 2). Satan was rebuked and put in his place by the Lord!
There is a marvelous lesson here. The Lord (Jehovah) tells the (Jehovah) to rebuke Satan. The Lord is speaking to the Lord. This is a beautiful picture of the fact that there is more than one person in the Godhead who is called Lord. However, this is not unusual in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is found many times. Two passages will suffice to illustrate this truth: Psalm 110:1 and Genesis 19:24. The Word of God clearly teaches that there is a plurality in the Godhead.
Joshua the High Priest is CIeansed
The high priest always represented Israel before God. He was the only one who could enter into the presence of the Lord. He was allowed to go into the holy of holies only one day a year the Day of Atonement. He could enter only after the shedding of blood, first to cover his own sins and then to cover those of the people. The Jewish people themselves had no direct access to God.
The most important part of Zechariah three is not who Joshua was, but the position he held. He was the high priest. As such, he was the representative of Israel before God. In verse two, Joshua, the man, is equated with Jerusalem, the city. The picture being presented is not so much that Joshua was so sinful. Rather, it was of Jerusalem (the whole household of Israel) who were, in reality, the sinners and in need of cleansing.
He continues. “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (v. 2). This same figure is used in Amos 4:11, where God plucked some out of Sodom and Gomorrah and saved them. The picture is one of some being delivered from judgment, exactly as Lot was. Historically, Israel was in the midst of the fire during the Babylonian captivity. Yet the Lord spared them and brought them back to their own land. Did He do this only to destroy them? No! With the figure of the cleansing of the high priest, the Lord is allowing us to see, through the high priest, a yet-future cleansing of Israel. And so, although the Lord had previously promised physical deliverance to Israel in Zechariah, chapters one and two, He now shows us that there is a yet-future spiritual cleansing and physical deliverance of that nation to be accomplished. It will be shown that God has a High Priest for Israel who will far surpass Joshua and every other high priest Israel has known. This One will be her Messiah, and He will give that future, cleansed people permanent, direct and perfect access to God.
Joshua the High Priest is Commissioned
A cleansed high priest now needs a renewed commission. This is what occurs in verses six and seven. The angel of the Lord, or the preexistent Christ, “protested unto Joshua.” The word for protested is better translated declared or charged. Joshua was to walk in the ways of the Lord. Before he could be properly directed regarding his duties, his life had to be holy before the Lord, and so it is with the believer today.
Before we can truly serve the Lord, our lives must be holy. Too often, a Christian rushes into service before his walk with the Lord is proper or before he is spiritually mature. He often falls flat on his face and becomes totally useless to the Lord.
In verse seven, Joshua is given two promises predicated on his behavior. First, he would “judge [the Lord’s] house, and . . . keep [His] courts.” Faithful living would give him the privilege of serving in the Temple soon to be completed by Zerubbabel. Second, he would be given “places [prestige] to walk among those who stand by.” These are the angels, and this promise deals with the future reign of Christ when, for an obedient life, Joshua will walk among the angelic host. What great promises these are in reward for faithful living!
Messiah the High Priest is Coming
Beginning at verse eight, we leap from the high priest of Zechariah’s day to the day of that eternal High Priest, Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. The phrase, “men wondered at,” means they are men of wonder, or a sign or symbol of a future event. These men are about to receive a great messianic prophecy.
The coming Messiah is called “my servant, the BRANCH” (v. 8). The servant-branch is clearly depicted in several passages of Scripture, In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the prophet presents the first advent of this Messiah, a Servant-High Priest who would come as a shoot out.of the earth. Lowly would be His birth. He would know the greatest of all humiliation, even the suffering and death of the cross.
The coming Messiah is also called “the stone” (v. 9), a figure of His second advent. This same stone is spoken of by David in Psalm 118:22-24. He was refused by the builders (Israel), yet the Word promises that He will one day become the “head of the corner” (Ps. 118:22). This will take place when, at His second advent, the nation of Israel recognizes Him as their Messiah. At that time they will turn to Him, receive Him as Savior and accord to Him the honor and reverence they have denied Him through the centuries. He has promised that when the nation receives Him, He will remove the iniquity of that land in one day (v. 9b). The sin problem will be solved, and Jesus Christ will establish His rule and reign over the earth. The world will finally know peace, as depicted in verse 10: “In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbor under the vine and under the fig tree.” Peace will only come when the Prince of Peace becomes Israel’s High Priest and King. What comfort God gave to Israel through these promises in a day of great trouble.
VISION FIVE: THE DAY ISRAEL BECOMES GOD’S SHINING LIGHT (4:1-14)
Since the day the Lord created Israel, His desire was that she would be the depository of His Word and the light to take the message of that Word to all men. Because of her sin, she failed miserably in this task. Can God still accomplish His ultimate purpose in and through Israel? Can she still become that shining light? In chapter four, God answers these questions through Zechariah’s fifth vision.
Zechariah saw a golden candlestick, or lamp-stand, with seven oil lamps on it — what we know today as a menorah. Above the lampstand, and probably a little behind it, was a large bowl. From that bowl there were seven tubes or conduits running to each lamp to convey the oil. To assure the adequacy of the oil, the Lord placed two olive trees, one on either side of the lampstand, to provide an inexhaustible supply.
The prophet did not understand the significance of the vision, and the communicating angel had to come to his aid once again.
The Power in the Vision
“Not by might, nor by power,” we are told in verse six. Might, in the original language, has the connotation of the strength of many. Power, on the other hand, gives the idea of the strength of one mighty person or leader. This phrase conveys the thought that the restoration of Israel, both in the day of Zechariah and in that future glorious day of the Messiah, will not be accomplished by a great host of armies or by one great leader. Instead, it will be accomplished by the power of the Spirit of God.
The Accomplishment of the Present Task
To prepare the hearts of Zechariah, his people, and later readers of his prophecy for the tremendous future events God has in store for Israel, the Lord showed him how obstacles would be overcome in the near future.
First, the imagery is given in verse seven of a great mountain before Zerubbabel. It would become a plain. The mountain speaks of difficulty. No matter how great the difficulty Zerubbabel encountered, it would be removed. The power of the Spirit of God is far greater than any problem.
Second, verse seven states, “he shall bring forth the headstone.” This stone is the final one used in the construction of a building. When it is in place, the work is completed. We then read in verse nine that the Temple in Zechariah’s day would be completed, and Zerubbabel would be the man to finish that task. Although it would be smaller than Solomon’s Temple, and although the people would complain that it lacked the splendor of the previous one, God promised that He would be glorified through the completion of this Temple; therefore, it was not to be despised in the eyes of men. The Lord made a very succinct point: if He rejoiced in the completion of this Temple, the people of Israel should do so a well.
Historically, God was saying that the Temple would be rebuilt in the days of Zechariah. Prophetically, he was telling Israel that He will one day establish His Kingdom to be ruled over by His King, the Lord Jesus Christ. The work will be accomplished in the power of the Spirit — nothing or no one can stop Him. As Zerubbabel would build the Temple in his day, so the Messiah Jesus will complete the Millennial Temple when He returns to the earth at His Second Coming.
The Completion of the Future Work
Zechariah still had some unanswered questions about this vision: “What are these two olive trees” (v. 11), and “What are these two olive branches which, through the two golden pipes, empty the golden oil out of themselves?” (v. 12). As in the previous visions, he wanted an answer.
And it came! “These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (v. 14). A reading of some of the commentaries will show that there are almost as many different views on this passage of Scripture as there are writers.
The two golden pipes empty golden oil, which is pure, into the golden lampstand. The first clue is the word gold, which speaks of deity. Further, the Hebrew word for anointed ones is the sons of oil, or those characterized by oil. While not every prophet was anointed with oil, both the high priest and the king of Israel were.
This is absolutely amazing! Israel’s high priest and king are declared to be anointed by God “with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Ps. 45:7). They are also said to “stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zech. 4:14). This is exactly what is taught in the Book of Hebrews (9:24). Jesus Christ, as our High Priest, is at this very moment interceding in the presence of God for the believers. This same High Priest is also Israel’s coming King and Messiah. The two are one and the same.
Additionally, we read in Revelation 11:4 of the two witnesses who are said to be “the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.” Their responsibility is to bear witness of this Messiah who will come first to destroy the wicked nations, He will then become both the worldwide Sovereign and the High Priest of the redeemed nation of Israel.
So, then, in visions four and five several truths have been presented. First, God can only bless Israel spiritually when, in the future, her sins are forgiven and she walks with the Lord. Second, Israel can only be the light God intended her to be after she is forgiven and the power of the Holy Spirit flows through her. When the Messiah Jesus returns, He will be the means of that blessing to Israel. She will then radiate His glorious beauty and will finally be the light to the world which God meant her to be.
What an encouragement to the people of Zechariah’s day. Yes, the Temple would be rebuilt, and the city of Jerusalem as well! But, far more important, Israel as a nation will eventually know the forgiveness of her sins and will fulfill the purpose for which she was created. One day. God himself will say to the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, “Israel, my glory” (Isa. 46:13).