Fifty thousand men, women and children assembled for the journey. This great sea of humanity was about to embark on the long trek of some four hundred miles from Babylon to Jerusalem. Cyrus the Persian king, had made a decree that those Jews who wished to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple were allowed to make that journey.
Zerubbabel was the civil leader and Joshua the spiritual leader raised up by God to guide the people back to their homeland. It was the completion of 70 years of abylonian captivity and God was visiting His people. The people had repented of their rebellion and idolatry and were looking forward to a prosperous journey back to Jerusalem. However, Satan was not happy to see this progress toward the reestablishment of the worship of the true God. Whenever God is by His providence working on behalf of His people, Satan is right there to hinder the work. Satan stirred up the enemies of Judah to harass and discourage the people of God from building. It worked. The building stopped as they nation became discouraged.
It was then that God gave a series of visions through His prophets to encourage the people to begin building again. They needed to understand the real spiritual battle that was occurring behind the scenes of physical life.
“And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.” Zechariah 3:1
Joshua is the high priest who represents the spiritual leadership of the nation. Satan is pictured in a court room scene as resisting, like an accusing prosecutor, the efforts of God to bless His people. As Joshua stands before God with Satan accusing of violating God’s commands, we see that Joshua is indeed guilty.
“Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.” Zechariah 3:3
The High Priest’s garments were holy, yet here we see Joshua’s garments covered in filth. The word for filthy means human excrement. Joshua’s garments are more than dirty. It’s not just a few grass stains or dust from the long journey. His garments are truly filthy. And they stink. Satan points to this representation of the sins of Joshua and the collective sins of the nation. How can you bless these people? Look what they have done! Satan enumerates the sins that he has caused Joshua and his people to commit. You can’t in good conscience bless these people. Look at the long list of the sins, their faults, their failures, their ingratitude. You can’t in justice excuse these sins and allow your blessing to fall on this people.
Joshua must be hanging his head in shame for he knows all too well the list of sins Satan is pointing out. The same is true for us. Satan holds up before us the sins of our life and accuses us hoping to discourage us into giving up. How can God pass over such a filthy life? All of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
God takes in the whole scene. He does not enter into a negotiation process with Joshua’s accuser. No debate. No seeking to reason things out. He does not turn to Joshua and ask him what he has to say regarding the accusations.
“And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” Zechariah 3:2
Yes, Joshua has sinned. Yes, the people who are called by My name have sinned, and that grievously. But I have suffered for these sins Myself. I have paid the price required by My broken law. So Joshua is a brand plucked out of the fire. Rather than he suffering in the flames of the last day, I bore his guilt upon the cross of calvary and “felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race.”
This conversation is not between the Angel and Joshua but the Angel and Satan. It is an appeal from which Satan has no comeback argument. The cross of Calvary silences his every accusation. He is rebuked. The Angel now turns to the other angels standing by and as a result of the atonement of Christ, orders the filthy garments of Joshua to be removed.
“And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.” Zech 3:4
Jesus does not turn away from the filthy, foul smelling garments. He does not in abhorrence banish Joshua from His sight but takes away the filthy garments. He has the authority and the legal right to remove the garments without in any way compromising His own standards of right and wrong. The removal of the garments is explained as the taking away of Joshua’s iniquity. It is similar to the vision of Isaiah in Isaiah chapter six where after seeing a vision of the pure and holy God, Isaiah exclaims himself to be a man of unclean lips dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips. He cries out that he is a lost man. Isaiah 6:5. But an angel is instructed to take a coal from off the altar and touch his unclean lips. Isaiah is informed that his “iniquity is taken away” and his “sin purged.” Isaiah 6:7
How can God do this? Can He just gloss over the record of sins of Joshua and Isaiah? Can he play favorites with some while others must suffer for their sins? Can Joshua go free but Satan and his angels must pay the penalty? What is the cause of the iniquity passing from Joshua and Isaiah?
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him after he had baptized Jesus, he pointed out to his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29 It was no whimsical decree that gave Joshua and Isaiah their freedom. It was not an arbitrary act on the part of God for some special case but it was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that allowed God to take away their iniquity. And it is the blood of Jesus shed upon Calvary’s cross that allows for our sins to be washed away as well. It is based on solid legal grounds. There is no hint of any impropriety. There is no money passed under the table. It is because our sins were laid upon Jesus, that we have the hope of forgiveness and cleansing. Just as the filthy garments were removed from Joshua, when we confess our sins and plead for forgiveness, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin
1 John 1:9,7
But God doesn’t just take away our filthy garments, He clothes us with new garments, with a change of raiment. The death of Jesus atones for our sins but the Law of God also requires a flawless life. This we have not to give. But the pure and perfect life of Jesus which He lived out upon this earth, a life in which there is no taint of sin, is place on those who have had their filthy garments removed. Joshua had his garments taken away and new ones place upon him. When we accept the forgiveness of God for our past sins, He clothes us with the pure and perfect life of Jesus. We stand before God, just as Joshua did, just as if we had lived out the life of Jesus; just as if we had never sinned, ever.
The Angel now addresses Joshua directly.
“And the angel of the LORD protested unto Joshua, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by.” Zechariah 3:6,7
Now that Joshua has been forgiven; his sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb of God; his filthy garments exchanged for clean, pure, holy and fresh smelling raiment, the Angel says, if you will walk with Me, and be faithful with the work I give you, you shall judge My house, keep My courts and I will give you a place among the angels standing with Me here. God had given him a new, fresh start. He received new clothes and new power to walk with God. If Joshua would remain submitted to God’s will, he was assured of a place among the angels.
The same is true for us. As Zerubbabel and Joshua were living in a time of fulfilling prophecy, so are we. Though our garments have been as filthy as Joshua’s, they can be exchanged for the pure garments of Christ’s perfect life. We, too, can stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Satan knows he has but a short time and is in full accusation mode. He wants to so discourage us with our sins that we will despair of being saved. But peace does not come by looking at our own garments. Peace comes by accepting the provision that God has made through Jesus.
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:” Romans 5:1
Once we have confessed our sins and accepted the atonement made for us by the death of Jesus; once we have accepted His perfect life in exchange for our filthy garments, Jesus says to us as He did to Joshua, if you will walk with Me and be faithful with the work I have given you, I will give you a place to stand among the angels. Just as Jesus provided us with all that is necessary for us to stand before God complete in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:10), He has provided everything necessary to follow in His footsteps.
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:” Colossians 2:6
By faith you accepted Christ and His atonement, now, by faith accept His power to “keep you from falling” (Jude 24) “and lo,” He will be “with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” Matthew 28:20.