The Third and Fourth Visions
John Riddle, Cheshunt, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
IF THE FIRST AND SECOND VISIONS teach us that God is amongst His people and that He can destroy the enemies of His people, then the third and fourth visions teach us that God can protect His people and that He can cleanse them.
1) GOD CAN PROTECT HIS PEOPLE, chapter 2
The third vision expands some of the ‘good words and comfortable words’ given in connection with the first vision. In particular, the following: ‘I am returned to Jerusalern with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem … my cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem’, 1. 16-17. But now we have additional information: ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls … for I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about’, vv. 4-5.
The vision refers, firstly, to the immediate circumstanccs of God’s people: the city would be rebuilt, and the Jews remaining in Babylon were to flee. The vision refers, secondly, to the distant future of God’s people: the city will enjoy divine protection and divine presence, and the Jews will be the centre of divine blessing which will extend to ‘many nations’.
We must remember that the work of the Old Testament prophet was to address the present in the light of the future. Future events are to influence us. They are never taught in a vacuum. They are intended to encourage and warn us during the interval before their fulfilment.
Chapter 2 divides into two sections:
- vv. 1-5: The city of Jerusalem - Now and Then
- vv. 6-13: The people of Jerusalem - Now and Then.
(A) The city of Jerusalem, vv. 1-5
- NOW, i.e., at the time of the vision. Once again, Zechariah is asking questions: ‘Then said I (addressing the man with the measuring line), Whither goest thou’? The answer follows: ‘To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof’. This wasn’t the first time that Jerusalem had been measured: ‘I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upsidedown …’ 2 Kgs. 21. 13. In that passage, Jerusalem is being measured for destruction, see also Lam. 2. 8 and Isa. 34. 11. But here it is being measured for reconstruction. This is very clear from the verses that follow: ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited’. This must have been most encouraging to the Jews of Zechariah’s day. Jerusalem was a ruin - but it would be rebuilt. We have only to read the book of Nehemiah, and whilst his principal work was rebuilding the city wall, it is quite obvious from such passages as chapter 8. 16 and chapter 11 that the city was rebuilt too.
- THEN. From the immediate circumstances of God’s people, we are taken forward to their future blessing. Nehemiah rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem, but verse 4 looks beyond that: ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein’. This certainly wasn’t true of Nehemiah’s day, for lots had to be cast, and people compelled to move into the city, ch. 11. 1-2. Read through the description in Ezekiel chapters 4-48 of millennial Jerusalem with its temple and environs, and see if you can find any reference to city walls. In fact, one of the things that will attract the northern invader in Ezekiel chapters 38-39, immediately prior to the erection of the millennial temple, is the absence of protecting walls. Notice chapter 38. 11 - ‘unwalled villages … dwelling without walls’, chapter Isa. 60. 18.
We must remember that if we are building for God, He will give every encouragement. The work proceeded under Nehemiah, not, admittedly, without a great deal of discouragement and difficulty, but it was finally accomplished. This is a good time to ask ourselves what, if anything, we are building, and where we are building. Jerusalem was ‘the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name in’, Deut. 16. 6, and there could not be a better place in which to be busy for Him. Where does He place His name today? Read Matthew 18. 20: it is in the place where we ‘gather unto His name’.
But the absence of walls does not mean that there is no protection: ‘I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her’. In the millennial age, Jerusalem will enjoy GOD’S PROTECTION WITHOUT, and GOD’S PRESENCE WITHIN. But this is not limited to the future. We can enjoy God’s prolection and presence today, see 2 Thess. 3. 3 - ‘But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil’. This passage, and similar passages, do not teach that we are immune from persecution and trial. But they do teach that God can preserve us from the spiritual harm that Satan intends through persecution and trial. No wonder then that one angel told the other, ‘Run speak to this young man …’ That was, of course, Zechariah, although, believe it or not, the Mormons believe that it was Joseph Smith! The news was good, and it was to be carried rapidly. God’s good news should speed us too, see Rom. 10.15.
(B) The people of Jerusalem, v. 6-13
- NOW, i.e, at the time of vision. A message for Jews in Babylonia: ‘Ho, ho … flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of heaven, saith the Lord. Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon’, v. 7. The book of Ezra tells us about people ‘that went up … from Babylon’, 8. 1. But a lot of people stayed there. ‘A mere remnant returned to Jerusalem. The mass of the nation preferred the easy and lucrative life under the Persian rule’, Schofield Bible. Where do WE prefer to be. With the people of God, or with the world?
- THEN. With verse 8, the passage turns, again, from the immediate circumstances of God’s people, to their future blessing. Notice the repeated phrase in verses 8, 9 and 11: ‘For thus saith the Lord of hosts, after the glory hath He sent Me … ye shall know that the Lord of hosts hath sent Me … and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent Me unto thee’. The language recalls Isaiah 48.16, ‘And now the Lord God and His Spirit, hath sent Me’, see also Isa. 61. 1. Remember that ‘the Spirit of Christ … was in them (the prophets)’, 1 Pet. 1. 11. This section of the chapter evidently refers to the second advent of Christ- not, obviously, for His church, but in glory to establish His kingdom. Hence the words, ‘After the glory hath He sent Me unto the nations .. .’, cp. this with John 1. 11. Verses 8-13 summarize events when the Lord Jesus returns to deliver and bless His people. He will come in glory, v. 8 and will judge those nations which have oppressed His people, v. 8-9. Notice the words: ‘he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye’, see also Deut. 32.10, Psa. 17. 8, and Prov. 7. 2. The precise meaning of ‘the Hebrew differs from passage to passage: here it means a cavity or aperture - hence ‘the gate of the eye’. The reference is not to the nicest apple in the orchard, but to the pupil of the eye, that is, to the most sensitive part of the body. This just emphasises how sensitive God is about His people. It explains Acts 9. 4: ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME? .. .’ To complete the summary: He will dwell in the midst of His people, v. 10; He will bring blessing to the whole earth, v. 11; He will reign as King, with Jerusalem as His capital city, v. 12. What is more, nothing can prevent the fulfilment of His purposes: ‘Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord; for He is raised up out of His holy habitation’, v. 13.
The Jews who returned to Jerusalem didn’t have it easy: it meant a difficult journey for a start, and reproach, privation and hard work. They certainly hadn’t joined a social club! The Jews who remained in Babylonia were evidently at ease, and had little interest in what was happening at Jerusalem.
Notice the words used in 2 Corinthians 6. 14-18: ‘Fellowship … communion . .. concord … part … agreement’. It was not a case of ‘no contact’ but of ‘no sharing in cornmon’. We have to live and work amongst unsaved people, but we do not find our fellowship there - or do we? But there is another side to this: the phrase in verse 7, ‘deliver thyself’, is rendered ‘escape’ by the R.V. and JND’s Translation. ‘The land of the north’ - Babylonia - would be judged. It was therefore folly to build hopes, aspirations and relationships in a society soon to be judged by God. The lesson for us now is quite obvious.
2) GOD CAN CLEANSE HIS PEOPLE, chapter 3
The fourth and fifth visions bring us to the temple courts. The first three were evidently set outside the city of Jerusalem: perhaps all three were seen by Zechariah in the valley of chapter 1. 8 (‘in the bottom’). If you compare the fourth vision with the other seven, you will discover that it is the only occasion on which Zechariah didn’t ask questions! The identity of Joshua is known from the start, and no explanation from the interpreting angel is needed. The significance of the vision is explained as it unfolds.
What is the general significance of the fourth vision? The preceding visions have told us about God’s judgement on the Gentile nations that have oppressed Israel, and about Israel’s national restoration. But how could Israel possibly enjoy God’s presence and blessing? The sad position in which God’s people were found in Zechariah’s day, let along their previous captivity, was the direct result of their own sinfulness and waywardness. The beauty of this chapter is that God can cleanse His people. He alone can make them fit for His presence, and restore them to divine favour. This vision is therefore most important: the fulfilment of the promises already made in this prophecy is dependent on the cleansing and restoration of His people. The vision is very clearly in two parts:
- The cleansing of the high priest, vv. 1-7. Note verse 4: ‘Behold, l have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee’.
- The cleansing of the land, vv. 8-10. Note verse 9: ‘I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day’.
A) The cleansing of the high priest, vv. 1-7
Notice the parties involved: Joshua, Satan, and the Lord:
- JOSHUA. ‘Joshua the high priest’, v.I. We know about him from Ezra 3. 8-9,4. 3,5. 2, Haggai 1. I, etc. But why does he figure personally in the vision? Why not Zerubbabel, the civil leader at the time? The answer is, of course, that as high priest, Joshua represented the people. Hence Exodus 28.12 and 29, ‘Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord upon his two shoulders for a memorial … Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgement upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually’, see also Lev. 10. 27,16.19-21. Bearing this in mind, ‘we must not therefore, refer the issues and implications of this chapter to Joshua as an individual, not merely to Joshua, the high priest. We must conclude that his condition is Israel’s condition, his acquittal a typical way of expressing theirs; the words of comfort and assurance given him apply with equal validity to them’, LEUPOLD. In the vision therefore, the whole nation stood before God in Joshua ‘clothed with filthy garments’, v. 3.
- SATAN. Joshua, representing, as we have seen, the people generally, has no right to stand before God: and Satan makes the point as clearly as he possibly can. So we read, ‘and Satan standing at his right hand (compare Psalm. 16. 8) to resist him’ or, literally, ‘to be his adversary.’ Very significantly, the word ‘Satan’ is preceded by the article - so ‘the Satan’ (also in verse 2). He is well called ‘the accuser of our brethren’ in Revelation 12.10. Notice that it is Jewish brethren too - a strong link with Zechariah 3! We noticed in chapter 2.12 that ‘the Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again’, and therefore, ‘Be silent all flesh, before the Lord’. But here is someone who will not be silent. Satan’s objective is to thwart God’s purposes by underlining the fact that God’s people just weren’t fit for His presence and blessing. He appears to have a strong case against Joshua and the nation of Israel. But does the case succeed? Before we find out, just let us make sure that we don’t do Satan’s - or the Devil’s - work for him: see 1 Tim. 3. 11; 2 Tim. 3. 3. Titus 2. 3, where ‘false accusers’ translates diabolos.
- THE LORD. Evidently ‘the angel of the Lord’, vv. 1, 5-6 and ‘the Lord’, v. 2 are identical: see our comments in connection with chapter 1. 7-11. Notice now three things: What the Lord says, v. 2. ‘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?’ Joshua says nothing - not a single word. The Lord answers Satan Himslef. His ultimate answer to Satan is given in verses 4-5, but He first makes clear why no accusation can stand against His people:
- ’ … even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem’, see 2. 12. His purposes were settled and could not be defeated. Notice the words, ‘that hath chosen Jerusalem’ - not, ‘that hath chosen Joshua.’ This serves to emphasize that Joshua appears in this vision as a representative of Israel. Satan may accuse, but God, ‘that cannot lie’, Tit. 1.2, remains faithful. He has chosen Jerusalem: He has already described its coming glory, 1. 16-17 and 2. 10-12; and nothing that Satan can say - or do - can prevent the fulfilment of God’s promise.
- ‘is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’, see also Amos 4. 11. God had brought His people back from captivity: He had snatched them out of the furnace of Babylon. Would He have done that if He had finished with them, and cancelled His promises? There was no point at all in taking any further interest in them, if they were ultimately destined to destruction. The fact that they were ‘a brand plucked out of the fire’ emphasizes His love for them, and His purpose to bless them. Let us just remember that we too are like ‘a brand plucked out of the fire’. We deserved eternity in ‘the lake of fire’. God in His great Iove has delivered us from such a fearful prospect.
What the Lord does, vv. 3-5. ‘Take away the filthy garments from him … I will clothe thee with change of raiment’. Notice again, Joshua says nothing and does nothing. The Lord does it all- and says it all! He cleanses Joshua: He fits Joshua for His presence; He makes the declaration - ‘I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee’. What can Satan say now? God fits His people for His own presence. We are immediately reminded of Romans 8: ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth (or, better, ‘shall God that justifieth?’). Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died … (or, better, ‘shall Christ that died … ?) yea rather, that is risen again’, vv. 33-34. In the context of Zechariah 3, God is dealing with His earthly people: but we must not forget that He has dealt with us in the same way, as Romans 3 has proved. Once ‘all our righteousnesses’ were ‘as filthy rags’, Isa. 64. 6. But now we are ‘the righteousness of God in Him’, 2 Cor. 5. 21, see also Phil. 3. 19, etc. Isaiah 60. 21 and chapters 61 and 62, amongst other passages, describe Israel when God accomplishes her ultimate cleansing and restoration. The words, ‘ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God’, 61.6 amplify the Zechariah passage, where the reference to the ‘fair mitre’ and to the ‘garments’ is to the attire of the high priest. Read Exodus 28 and note particularly verses 36-38. The mitre supported ‘a plate of pure gold’ on which was inscribed ‘HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD’. What a change in the picture! Once ‘clothed with filthy garments’; now clothed in garments ‘for glory and for beauty’, Exod. 28.2. What the Lord requires, vv. 6-7. How should people behave who have been cleansed and suited for the presence of God? First of all, they are people who ‘walk in my ways’. Secondly, they are people who ‘keep my charge’. So it is a question of how we walk and how we work. Faithfulness will bring authority on earth - ‘then thou shalt also judge (probably in the sense of ‘administer’) my house, and shalt also keep my courts’ - and direct access to God Himself - ‘and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by’. The words, ‘these that stand by’, evidently refer to angelic beings, see vv. 4-5. This brings us to the second part of the vision.
B) THE CLEANSING OF THE LAND, v. 8-10
Whilst the first section of the chapter undoubtedly anticipates the ultimate cleansing and restoration of Israel, it was, equally, very relevant to the immediate circumstances. There can be no doubt however, that the remaining verses concern the future alone, This is reflected in the interesting name given to Joshua and his colleagues in verse 8: ‘men wondered at’ or, ‘men of portent. The R,V. translates’ for they are men which are a sign’. The word means, ‘a token of a future event’. That is, these men who had been delivered as ‘a brand plucked out of the fire’ and restored to priestly service, were a picture of coming deliverance, cleansing and restoration.
How would this be accomplished?
‘Behold, I will bring forth My servant the Branch’. This is a most interesting and wonderful title of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word ‘Branch’ means ‘shoot’ or ‘sprout’. It is significant that He is not described as a stately tree, but as a shoot from the roots. This indicates the simple but important fact that God will bring new life to the nation of Israel when, humanly speaking, all seems lost. That new life will be in my servant the Branch’. There are several references to the Lord Jesus under this title in the Old Testament: Isaiah 4. 2; 11. 1; Jer. 23. 5; 33.15, Zech. 3. 8 and 6: 12. This is a study in itself. But He is not only ‘the Branch’. The passage continues: ‘Behold the Stone … ‘. If by ‘the Branch’, God teaches us that when Israel seems dead and finished, new life will be given in Christ, then by ‘Stone’, He teaches us that Christ will complete the work of restoration Himself. The Stone appears to have the meaning of ‘headstone’ as in chapter 4,7, i.e. the final stone in completing the temple, see Matt. 21. 42. We are told in Revelation 5 that the Lord Jesus, as the Lamb, has ‘seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth’, v. 6. There are not, of course, seven Holy Spirits! The words mean, bearing in mind that ‘seven’ in Scripture indicates perfection and completeness, the perfect knowledge - the omniscience - of the Holy Spirit of God. The statements therefore in verses 9-10 may be understood to mean that when the Lord Jesus reigns as ‘the head of the corner’, His reign will be one of perfect knowledge and understanding: it will be over a cleansed and purified people: it will be marked by perfect peace.
There is a parallel passage in Isaiah chapter 11. It begins with reference to the ‘Branch’, v. I; it speaks of His reign in the sevenfold power of the Holy Spirit, v. 2; and describes planet earth free from the baneful influences of sin - even in the animal kingdom - and presents peace among men.
No wonder Zechariah 2. 12 says, ‘And the Lord shall inherit Judah His portion in the holy land’. He will ‘remove the iniquity of that land in one day’. v. 9, see also Isa. 66. 8. The nation will be born again by divine power through the word of God, see Ezek. 36. 25-27. The final verse of this chapter must be read in conjunction with Micah 4. 1-4. ‘That day’ will be wonderful!
AUTHOR PROFILE: John Riddle is an elder in the assembly meeting at Mill Lane Chapel, Cheshunt, and serves the Lord in written and oral ministry throughout the UK where his gifts are much appreciated. He took early retirement from business as a pensions executive.