Although it has been mentioned a few times already, it is helpful to remember that Satan is not a personal name but refers to Satan’s role as an accuser, particularly of the faithful. And though it is a relatively obscure passage, Zechariah 3:1-5 shows Satan doing what Satan does in accusing others. Let us look at this passage and examine what it says about Satan’s accusations and, perhaps even more importantly, what is the response that God and Jesus Christ have towards it and what its relevance is to contemporary believers: “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. 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?” Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. 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.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by.””
Here we see a familiar court scene, where God the Father is judge and Jesus Christ is standing before Him as the advocate and defender of the brethren while Satan stands up to accuse as the prosecutor. When we looked at Job earlier we found a similar scene where God was able to point to Job as a blameless and upright man, about whom even Satan could not make an accusation except that Job’s faith was based on an implicit quid pro quo with God that obedience was because of the blessings that he had received rather than from a genuine commitment to God’s way. Here in Zechariah 3 we see that Joshua, the high priest of Judah at the time, was not a blameless and upright man. Indeed, he stands before the heavenly court in filthy garments, and even God has to say that Joshua is a brand plucked from the fire rather than being a righteous person.
This is the sort of situation that many of us can relate to. We may not stand before God in heaven as righteous people, but rather as imperfect believers about whom just accusations can be made. For some people, their sins are obvious and evident and cannot be hidden. For others their sin is a private matter that is no less filthy but is certainly less public. For example, just today as I write this I read about a “Christian” comedian who admitted to a pattern of sexual sin and felt it necessary to retire. And there is an entire false ragamuffin gospel that is based on people wallowing in sin, admitting that their lives are broken and seeking to be affirmed and loved anyway. And on its face that is certainly at least part of what this particular passage is about.
But it is about more than that. The response of God to the correct accusations about Joshua was something that rebuked both Satan and those who would posit a ragamuffin gospel where people wallow in sin and show no spiritual growth after a supposed conversion. First, Satan is rebuked as God speaks about his choice of Jerusalem. Even in the case of true accusations Satan is to be rebuked for accusing the brethren, something that should give us some pause if we are inclined to do Satan’s job as accusers on our own. But second, the filthy garments, symbolic of Joshua’s unrighteous acts, are replaced with clean garments that are befitting a servant of God and high priest, with the clear implication that his unrighteous deeds are to be replaced with repentance and obedience. God does not allow the believer, even the imperfect believer, to be condemned, but repentance and obedience are a clear part of being a believer. We must take our forgiveness and our pardon and escape being enslaved and imprisoned and broken by sin to live righteous and godly lives with the help that God provides us through the examples of other believers and through His spirit. Even when his case is just, Satan’s efforts as an accuser are ultimately in vain, but it is better when we do not give him a case to begin with.