Would you please explain the "Vision of the High Priest," as recorded in Zechariah 3:1-10?


As is the case with all the visions given to Zechariah, the vision of the high priest relates foremost to our days–even though it might also refer to an initial and preliminary fulfillment at the time of Zechariah.

Zechariah 3:1-10 reads as follows:

“(1) Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the [angel] of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. (2) And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’ (3) Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the [angel]. (4) Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’ (5) And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put clothes on him. And the [angel] of the LORD stood by.

“(6) Then the [angel] of the LORD admonished Joshua, saying, (7) ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “If you will walk in My ways, And if you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house, And likewise have charge of My courts; I will give you places to walk Among those who stand here. (8) Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, You and your companions who sit before you, For they are a wondrous sign; For behold I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. (9) For behold, the stone That I have laid before Joshua: Upon the stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave its inscription,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. (10) In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘Everyone will invite his neighbor Under the vine and under his fig tree.'”‘”

1) A Glimpse of the Millennium

As we explained in recent Updates, the visions of Zechariah are clearly pointing at the last days and the Millennium. Regarding the vision at issue, we find obvious millennial descriptions. First, we read in Zechariah 3:2 that the LORD has chosen Jerusalem–which will occur when Christ returns (compare Zechariah 2:12). Verse 10 uses the phrase, “in that day”–an expression describing the time just prior to and subsequent to Christ’s return. That verse says that “in that day,” everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and fig tree. This is a clear reference to the Millennium.

Describing the “latter days” and the beginning of the Millennium, Micah says in Micah 4:4: “But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree…” This expression also points at a time of peace and security; the latter half of verse 4 continues: “And no one shall make them afraid.” As a temporary forerunner of certain millennial conditions, 1 Kings 4:25 describes peace and security under King Solomon in this way: “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree… all the days of Solomon.”

The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown adds: “‘under … vine …[and] fig tree’ — [an] emblem of tranquil prosperity… Type of spiritual peace with God through Christ… and of millennial blessedness.”

2) “In One Day”

Verse 9 quotes the LORD as saying that He will remove the iniquity of the land “in one day.” Again, this is a reference to the time of Jesus Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4). He is the “BRANCH,” mentioned in Zechariah 3:8 (compare also Zechariah 6:12, as well as Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; and Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15).

We read, in Zechariah 14:4, that “in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” We are also told, in Zechariah 14:6-7, that “It shall come to pass in that day That there will be no light; The lights will diminish. It shall be ONE DAY Which is known to the LORD [God the Father]–neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen That it will be light.”

During this one day of 24 hours in length, Christ will “fight against those nations” which battled against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2-3), and the plague inflicted on them will be terrible (compare Zechariah 14:12-15). Christ will remove the iniquity of the land in one day (Zechariah 3:9) by destroying those who act wickedly.

We are also told, in Isaiah 66:7-9, that the Church of God will “deliver” her children in “one day.” Spirit begotten Christians will then be born again–they will be immortal Spirit beings. At the moment of their resurrection or change to immortality, they will be totally sinless–incapable of sinning. Whatever iniquity they still had will be forgiven, washed away and extinguished.

3) The end-time “Joshua”

Since the context of Zechariah’s vision of the “high priest” Joshua deals with the time of Christ’s return and the Millennium, God’s dealings with Joshua himself must also have prophetic and future application. Even though Joshua was a literal high priest at the time of Zechariah, the vision addresses foremost an end-time religious figure who obtains forgiveness of sins and who is given clean clothes–representing godly righteousness. “Filthy clothes,” on the other hand, describe sinful conduct, compare Isaiah 64:6 and Proverbs 30:12.

a) Clean Clothes

We read in Revelation 19:7-8:

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

We read in the book of Revelation about a great multitude “of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9). These are those “who come out of the great tribulation, and WASHED THEIR ROBES AND MADE THEM WHITE IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB” (verse 14). In other words, they repented of their sins, accepted the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, obtained forgiveness and were clothed with clean garments, symbolizing God’s righteousness.

Christ also tells the angel or leader of the endtime church of the Laodiceans to buy from Him “white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Revelation 3:14, 18). As the leader of the church of Laodicea reflects the attitude of the entire church of Laodicea, so Joshua’s unclean clothes reflect not just his own unrighteousness, but also the attitude and condition of the people whom he, as “high priest,” represents before God.

We can therefore conclude that the end-time “Joshua”–a spiritual leader in the Church of God–as well as many members of the end-time Church of God, will be spiritually cleansed. This might perhaps occur during the time of the Great Tribulation.

“Joshua” is described as “a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2); that is, he will be saved from Gehenna fire which will burn up the incorrigible wicked. Satan, the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), will try to “object” to the role and function which God will bestow on “Joshua.” Satan will try to remind God of Joshua’s former sinful conduct. But God will respond by telling the devil that Joshua has received forgiveness, and that his former sins will be remembered “no more.”

b) Inscription on the Stone

At the same time, Joshua is reminded (compare Zechariah 3:7), to continue walking in the commandments of God–indicating that he might not have been that diligent before in doing so. If he proves faithful, God will engrave an inscription on the stone that He has laid before Joshua (compare Zechariah 3:9). This reminds us of Christ’s promise to His faithful disciples, as recorded in Revelation 2:17: “To him who overcomes I will give… a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”

c) The Seven Eyes

In addition, we read in Zechariah 3:9 that there are “seven eyes” on the stone. These seven eyes are identified as seven angels or powerful spirit beings. We read in Zechariah 4:10: “… for these seven rejoice to see The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.” That God refers in the vision of the high priest to these seven angels shows their role in guiding and protecting Joshua, since they are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).

d) A Wondrous Sign

Zechariah 3:8 identifies Joshua and his companions as a wondrous sign. The Nelson Study Bible writes: “Joshua and his companions were a sign because the reinstitution of the priesthood made public God’s continuing intention to fulfill His promises to His people”–including the promise of the First Coming of the “Branch”–the Messiah.

But since Zechariah’s prophecy deals foremost with end-time events, the activities of a future Joshua and his companions, will be a public sign–a witness or proof–for the return of Jesus Christ.

e) Judge God’s House

We are also told that Joshua is destined to judge God’s house and to have charge of His courts; and God will give him places to walk among his companions (Zechariah 3:6). This seems to imply a high position in God’s Kingdom, mainly in a priestly function. We are all promised to become kings and priests in the Kingdom (Revelation 5:10), ruling in the Millennium under the King of kings and the High Priest–Jesus Christ. But some may have a more predominant role as kings (compare Christ’s statements to the early apostles in Matthew 20:28), while others may fulfill primarily responsibilities as priests (which is apparently a task set aside for the end-time Joshua).
< br />Joshua might be given an important role during the Millennium to judge “God’s house”–which could refer to the physical descendants of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah. The Bible identifies the people of Israel and Judah as God’s people; therefore, the house of Israel could likewise be designated, in that sense, as “God’s house,” which is in need of God’s judgment (compare Amos 9:8-10; notice also Micah 4:1-2).

That Joshua will also have charge of “God’s courts” might refer to an important priestly position in the millennial temple–perhaps in a supervising capacity of physical Levites who will administer the temple service.

It is more likely, however, that God’s invitation to the end-time Joshua to judge God’s house and to have charge of His courts refers to a leadership position within the end-time Church of God, just prior to Christ’s return. We read that “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God”–the Church (1 Peter 4:17). Also, Paul wrote that the Church should judge those who are inside (1 Corinthians 5:12; compare 1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

Further, the Church is called the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). The physical temple included courts (Psalm 65:4; 84:2, 10). Psalm 116:18-19 states: “I will pay my vows to the LORD Now in the presence of all His people, In the courts of the LORD’s house, In the midst of you, O Jerusalem…”

4) Joshua Points Towards Jesus

In an ultimate fulfillment, the events surrounding an end-time “Joshua” point at, and are symbolic for, the role of THE High Priest, Jesus Christ.

As the commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown points out: “The restoration of the glory of the priesthood is implied: first, partially, at the completion of the second temple; fully realized in the great High Priest Jesus, whose name is identical with Joshua [Hebrews 4:8], the Representative of Israel, the ‘kingdom of priests’ [Exodus 19:6]; once clad in the filthy garments of our vileness, but being the chosen of the Father… He hath by death ceased from sin, and in garments of glory entered the heavenly holy place as our High Priest [Hebrews 8:1; 9:24].”

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible adds: “‘Clothed him with garments’… [is] Referring to the vestments of the high priest. The true high priest, who is over the house of God, will establish his office among them [the people of Israel and Judah], when they shall acknowledge him as their Messiah, and seek redemption in the blood of the sacrifice which he has offered for their sins; and not for theirs only, but for the sins of the whole world.”

The stone, mentioned in Zechariah 3:9, which is placed before Joshua, also points towards Jesus Christ. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible writes:

“Alluding no doubt to the foundation stone of the temple: but this represented Christ Jesus: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a Stone, a tried stone, a precious Corner Stone, a Sure Foundation,’ [Isaiah] 28:16. This means Christ, and none other; on him his whole Church rests, as a building does on its foundation.” Compare also Ephesians 2:20-21.

On the other hand, Zechariah’s prophecy cannot be understood as speaking exclusively of Jesus Christ. Certain statements just do not apply to Christ at all (compare Zechariah 3:6-7). In addition, Joshua is pictured as a SIGN for the coming BRANCH (the Messiah), showing that foremost, a human being is addressed who will arise in the end time.

In conclusion, Zechariah’s vision of the high priest has great prophetic significance for us today and our future, since it addresses the time of Christ’s return and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth, when the Millennium begins. May God speed those days.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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