No Condemnation (Zechariah 3:1-10)


According to the Scriptures, all human beings have an upcoming courtroom date with God (Heb 9:27). As a young monk searching for salvation, Martin Luther was overwhelmed by the fear of standing before a righteous God as his judge. In his youth, Charles Wesley dreaded coming into the presence of a holy God. Only after they understood the doctrine of justification by faith through the righteousness of Christ alone were they permanently freed from that fear. Then they could declare with boldness, "No condemnation now I dread."
Unlike Luther and Wesley not many today fear God's condemnation. People's God today is far too much of a gentleman to condemn anyone to hell. They think, "Do your best. God will do the rest. What is there to fear?"
This was not the attitude of Zechariah's hearers. They knew they served a high and holy God, a God who is of purer eyes than to look upon sin/evil (Hab 1:13). They were clear about the nonnegotiable holiness of God. In 586 BC, the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, Jerusalem was burned, and their king was captured and taken to Babylon (2 Ki 25:1-21). Everything that was sacred was desecrated because of the sins of God's people. Now 70 years later, a small remnant returned to the Promised Land. Having experienced God's judgment for sin, would they ever hear the declaration of "no condemnation"? They knew that when you come before a holy God, the correct slogan is not "no fear," but "be afraid, be very afraid." How will they fare?
I. Filthy Clothes (Zech 3:1-3)
Unclean. The prophet Zechariah saw a vision concerning Joshua, the high priest, whose task is to stand in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement every year as an intermediary between the people and God: Joshua was dressed in filthy clothing that would automatically disqualify him for the task (Zech 3:3). The Hebrew word, which sounds far worse than the English translation, means that his clothes was soiled with excrement--not just dirty or even disgusting, but intrinsically defiling. Though ceremonially unclean, he stood before the angel of the Lord, the one who speaks for God. He is in the presence of God whose eyes are too pure to look upon sin (Hab 1:13). If he, the people's intermediary with God, is unfit to be in God's presence, then the whole sacrificial system is compromised, and all hope for the people being right with God is gone.
Satan. What is Satan's role? He is the Accuser active from earliest times in the Garden (Gen 3:1). His delight is seeking to bring charges against God's people. He is present to accuse (satan) Joshua (Zech 3:1), to present evidence before the heavenly court that should lead to his condemnation. Dressed as Joshua is, it's an open-and-shut case, a slam-dunk conviction of guilty and condemned.
God rules out any condemnation. However, before Satan is even allowed to present his evidence, his case is immediately ruled out of order, inadmissible  The presiding authority responds: The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” (Zech 3:2) God does not allow any charge to be brought against Joshua because the Lord has chosen Jerusalem. Joshua's position is as one rescued from the fire--brought safely from the holocaust of the exile. It means that he is free from any possible condemnation. He is judicially declared immune from prosecution. In spite of his filthy clothes, it is impossible for him to be condemned by God and cast off.
II. A New Status: No Longer Filthy but Clean (Zech 3:4-10)
God cleanses Joshua from his sins/iniquities (Zech 3:4). What the fire of God's wrath in the form of the exile could never accomplish, God achieves by his grace. God does 2 things; God commands his servants
  1. "Take off his filthy clothes" (Zech 3:4), which removes Joshua's sin and shame.
  2. I will put fine garments on you (Zech 3:4), suitable to stand in the presence of the King of kings.
Where filthy garments represent iniquity, festival clothes can only represent an altogether new righteousness that accompanies Joshua's new status. This righteousness is not something that is earned or produced within Joshua. It is freely given to him from the outside, imputed to him.

A clean turban placed on Joshua's head (Zech 3:5) is not distinctly priestly clothing; rather it has overtones of glory and even royalty (Isa 3:23; 62:3). This is literally the "crowning" moment of the whole ceremony. Joshua is completely reclothed in ceremonially pure, festival garments in the presence of the angel of the Lord as a sign of God's acceptance of him, and in him, of the people he represented.

Charged with a task (Zech 3:6-7). When Isaiah's lips were cleansed (Isa 6:6-7), he was given a message to declare with his newly cleansed lips (Isa 6:9-10). So too, Joshua is 1st cleansed and then immediately charged with a task (Zech 3:6) and granted a promise: "This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here'" (Zech 3:7).The 1st 2 requirements (walk in obedience, keep my requirements) describe faithful behavior in a covenant context, while the 2nd pair is what is required of a faithful priest. Joshua is to ensure that the worship in the temple is pure and undefiled by idolatry. Finally, the promise in the ESV says, "I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here" (Zech 3:7). This is akin to the staircase to heaven that Jacob saw at Bethel (Gen 28:12). The Lord will not be silent or distant toward his people any longer.

God promised to bring his servant, the Branch (Zech 3:8-10). Joshua and his associates were just a sign of things to come (Zech 3:8). His servant the Branch (Zech 6:12; Isa 11:1; Jer 23:5), the messianic king, would bring about the complete and instantaneous removal of the iniquity of the land (Zech 3:9b). This means that what happened for Joshua in the vision would one day happen for all of God's people. Then the complete blessing of the restored covenant relationship between God and man would be experienced, described as each man inviting his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree (Zech 3:10).

Meanwhile, Joshua's attention was directed to an engraved stone (Zech 3:9a), which was probably part of the high priest's clothing, a gemstone with 7 facets ("eyes," Zech 4:10; Rev 5:6), which was located on the turban and inscribed with an inscription. Aaron's turban was engraved with the words "Holy to the Lord," which enabled him to bear the sins of the people in the tabernacle before the Lord to be atoned (Ex 28:36).

III. What does this vision mean?

1. The bad news: We stand condemned before a holy God. How aware are you of your own sins before God? Without a sense of sin, why would anyone need a great Savior? Why would I need such a great Savior, if I weren't such a great sinner?

Sin never ever means that some people (such as "worldly" people) are bad or worse than others (Bible studying/believing Christians). Why? Read Rom 3:23; 10-12, which quotes Ps 4:1-3; Eph 2:1-3. We are all sinners by nature, filthy before God, not just with our worst deeds, but even for our best deeds. By nature we do good things for our glory, not God's--which is the essence of sin. We do good so that others will respect us, and we can respect ourselves rather than as an offering of praise to God. Even when teaching the Bible I have 1 eye thinking what people are thinking of me, rather than having my whole attention fixed on God. Truly we are as defiled by keeping the 10 Commandments as we are by breaking them all. Our very righteousness is as unclean as rags stained with menstrual blood in God's sight (Isa 64:6). If our true heart motives were to be revealed--as 1 day they will be--then every single action we have ever done would be utterly ruined by our mixed motivations. Like the high priest Joshua, we are all dressed in totally defiled clothes, soiled with excrement. This is the bad news.

2. The radical good news. Unless we KNOW the reality of this bad news we will never understand the goodness and beauty of the good news this text brings. The good news is that those whom God has chosen will be accepted and granted access into his presence (Zech 3:2,7). But this means little to nothing without a personal sense of our own total depravity.

The question is NEVER will I accept God into my life? but will God accept me into his life? This text is radically good news because it says that we can be received into the presence of a holy God, no matter how filthy we are. No matter what we have done, where we have been, what we have thought and said against God, there is still a way into his presence.

3. How can this be? How does God address Satan's (true) charges against us, and deal with the reality of our sinful state? How can God be both just and the justifier of the ungodly (Rom 3:26)? How can God be both the holy God, who is of purer eyes than to look upon sin (Hab 1:13), and also the gracious God who takes defiled sinners and brings them safely into his presence? Zech 3:1-10 gives us a breathtaking insight into the mechanism of our salvation.

Joshua and his generation were living proof that God would not abandon his plan to save his people simply because of their great sin. Israel's story could not and would not end with the exile.

God is able to declare Satan's correct charges against us because they have already been borne for you by Jesus the Branch. Thus, they cannot be brought against us any longer. There cannot be any condemnation for those for whom Christ chose and died (Rom 8:1).

4. Jesus rescues us from the fire of his judgment by entering the fire of judgment himself. Everything that Joshua the high priest received in the vision became a reality by Jesus making the OPPOSITE move:

  • Joshua was clothed in "fine garments" (Zech 3:4). Jesus was stripped naked exposed to the mocking crowds with his clothes divided among his crucifiers (Matt 27:35).
  • Joshua received a splendid turban placed on his head (Zech 3:5). Jesus had a crown of thorns pressed on his forehead until blood flowed (Matt 27:29).
  • Joshua was judged, declared clean, found not guilty of defilement that was really his (Zech 3:1-4). Jesus was judged by sinners, found guilty on false charges, and put to death for defilement that was not his (Matt 27:11-30). This was because of God's choice (Acts 4:28).
  • Joshua's sin was taken away: he was declared innocent, able to stand before God as high priest for his people, bearing their name before God in the Holy of Holies. Jesus, who had committed sin, was made sin by God (2 Cor 5:21), and was forsaken by God as he cried out in agony in the darkness (Matt 27:46).
The reality to whom Joshua pointed is Jesus on the cross, the one through whose death the sins of his people were truly removed in a single day (Zech 3:9). He is the one through whose death we are restored to fellowship with God, fellowship with our neighbors, and the blessings of a restored creation.

Now Jesus has ascended to the Father's right hand as our heavenly high priest (Heb 8:1, 10:12; Rom 8:34). Whenever Satan condemns/accuses you, Jesus responds, "Objection. This client's sin has been paid for on my back. God has chosen him/her." The Father responds, "Objection sustained!"

God also sanctifies those he justifies (Rom 8:30; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 Th 5:23; 2 Th 2:13). God who began his work in us will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). The filth that fills our heart and disfigures our churches' beauty is not the end of the story. We will become a pure, spotless radiant bride, able to stand in his presence forever.

The good news of the gospel truly comes to trembling sinners, who are stunned that a holy God did not instantly obliterate them/us/me! Instead, God welcomes us into his presence and calls us/challenges us to holiness in the gospel. Most of all the gospel urges us to come into God's presence with joy by worshiping God with a clear conscience, which is exactly what we were made to do in the first instance!

This was transcribed from Herads of the King, chap 7, "No Condemnation" by Iain M. Duguid, 131-145

The main genre of Zechariah is futuristic prophesy. The historical context is after the return to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile and conquest (536 B.C.), where the temple and the city was destroyed because of the sins of the people (2 Kings 25:1-21). Zechariah and his contemporary Haggai confronted the people with the task of completing the rebuilding of the temple.
  1. To understand this vision, we need to understand every man's destiny (Heb 9:27), and his human condition (Rom 3:23, 10-12; Ps 14:1-3; Eph 2:1-3; Isa 64:6).
  2. Who is Joshua (Zech 3:1)? What do his filthy garments suggest (Zech 3:3)? What was Satan doing (Zech 3:1)? How did the Lord respond (Zech 3:2)?
  3. Consider the meaning of what the Lord did for Joshua:
    1. take away his sin (Zech 3:4; 2 Cor 5:21; Matt 27:46; Isa 53:4-5)
    2. put fine garments on him (Zech 3:4; Matt 27:35)
    3. put a clean turban on his head (Zech 3:5; Matt 27:29)
    4. gave him a charge and a promise (Zech 3:6-7)
    5. send the Branch to remove sin and restore blessing (Zech 3:8-10)
  4. Explain how what Joshua received became a reality by Jesus making the opposite move.

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