The Branch

Zechariah 3

This prophetic vision is the fourth in a series of dreams in which God speaks to Zechariah. It concerns Joshua, the high priest of Israel at the time, and the ‘angel of the Lord’ (who is also referred to in this passage as ‘the Lord’ – a pre-incarnate vision of Jesus). The dream includes the promise that God will send a particular servant, who he calls the ‘Branch’. This is a prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus. In this vision we see Joshua as a representative of God’s people and we see through him what God will do for his people (v.1-5) and what the effect of this will be (v.6-10).

What God Will Do For His People:

Silence the Accuser (v.1-2)The vision starts with a heavenly scene where Joshua is before God and Satan is accusing him. Other passages show Satan acting in a similar way (e.g. Job 1-2, Rev 12:10). He brings charges before God regarding the sins of his people and demands that God act justly and condemn. Unforgiven sin is the weapon the accuser has to yield against us. The ‘angel’ calls on the Lord to rebuke the accusation. The brand pulled from the fire that he refers to speaks of one that looked as though it would be destroyed but was not, and that ultimately led to the accuser being silenced. This points to the cross. Because of the work of Christ no accusation can now stand against the people of God.

Trade Sin for Righteousness (v.3-5) – The ‘angel’ invited Joshua to remove his dirty robes and swapped them for clean robes that he himself could give. This is a classic picture of the substitutionary atonement that Christ gives through the cross. He takes our sin upon himself and in places gives us his righteousness in its place (see also Isaiah 61:10 and Revelation 19:7-8).

What the Effect Will Be:

A People of Witness (v.6-8) In these verses the angel calls Joshua and the people to walk faithfully before him, and as they do they will serve as a sign to others to point them to the servant/Branch. Notice that this comes after the silencing of the accuser and the substitutionary atonement. Living faithfully for God is fundamental to the Christian life, but if comes as a fruit of salvation, not as a condition for it.

A Place of Presence (v.9)This verse seems strange at first reading. It speaks of a stone and seven eyes. Skipping ahead to Zech 4:8-10 helps make a bit of sense of this – the stone is the foundation of the temple and the eyes represent God’s eyes. The historical context is that the people were soon to return from exile and their first priority would be to rebuild the temple – it was meant to be the place of God’s presence but it was in ruins. Through the work of Christ for us, we are not only given access to a temple but made into one (see Eph 2:22), and we become the very dwelling place of God.

A Thriving Community (v.10) – The vision ends with a picture of the city thriving. Everybody has a vine and a fig, and these are common Old Testament images of God’s blessing. What is of particular significance here is that the people are all sharing the blessings that they have by inviting their neighbours to enjoy it with them. Christ’s work builds a selfless community that puts the good of others before our own good.

Possible Applications

  • No Condemnation – Many Christians struggle to see themselves as completely forgiven and still hold onto a feeling of shame and condemnation for sin. Dwelling on the images of the accuser being silenced and the dirty clothing being exchanged for clean can help us understand the impact of the grace we have received.
  • Come to Christ – This is a great passage to explain the gospel from and it is good to offer the chance for people to put their trust in Jesus for the first time.
  • Covenant Loyalty – As Joshua and the people were called on to walk faithfully in God’s ways, so we should give careful thought to how we have responded to the salvation we have received and whether it matches the description given in these verses.