“The accuser of our brethren”
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This is an extract from chapter 10 of The Coming of Zion's Redeemer, The The Prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, by Ronald Hanko, pages 158-160, published by the RFPA.
[Zechariah] 3:1. And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
That chapter 3 is also a vision we learn from the words “he shewed me.” Similar words introduce each of the visions. In this vision Zechariah is not only awake and able to see things that otherwise could not be seen, but also he actually participates in the visionary events.
He sees Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. Of Joshua we know very little. Since the line of the priesthood was lost in obscurity during the years of the captivity, we learn of him only when the returned captives emerge once again from the dark years of the captivity under his leadership and that of Zerubbabel. The lack of information does serve, however, to remind us that his office, not his person, is the important thing.
As high priest he is the representative of all the people. What happens to him happens to all, and here, the judgment passed on Joshua is God’s judgment of all the people. That Joshua is justified therefore reflects God’s justifying sentence on the church of both the Old and New Testaments. In this capacity Joshua pictures our Savior, who is the priestly representative of all those the Father gave him, the representative who is justified on their behalf and they through him.
He is called Jeshua, a minor difference of spelling, in Ezra and Nehemiah. Both of those books as well as Haggai and Zechariah identify him as the son of Jozadak (Ezra and Nehemiah) or Josedech (Haggai and Zechariah), but of his father we know nothing. When Joshua became high priest we do not know, but other accounts tell us that he died the year after the temple was finished, in 515 BC, about twenty-two years after the return, at which time his son Joiakim became high priest (Neh. 12:10, 12, 26). He lived to see the temple rebuilt, therefore, but not the city walls.
He is the only one besides the son of Nun to have the name Joshua, the Hebrew Old Testament form of the name Jesus (see Heb. 4:8, where Joshua the son of Nun is called “Jesus”). He is, in name and office and in what happens to him in Zechariah’s visions, a very special type of our Savior, and he proves symbolically and typically the meaning of his name and that of our Savior, “Jehovah saves.”
He is described as standing before the angel of Jehovah, not merely as a matter of location, but in order to be judged by God through that angel. He is on trial before him to whom the Father has committed all judgment (John 5:22). In the trial the angel of Jehovah acts as spokesman for the Judge (Zech. 3:4–7) and as the defense (vv. 1–2). He appears therefore as the mediator, representing both the accuser and the accused. So it is always in God’s courtroom, the courtroom in which we are justified. The one who takes up our defense and is our advocate is also the representative of the Judge, his own Son, and that in spite of the fact that we offended against him. He is both God the Judge and the accused, the best of all mediators.
The Judge in this trial is not impartial, therefore, but determined to find Joshua and all whom he represents innocent, though without denying his own justice and righteousness. Thus the angel of his presence appears for the defense and successfully defends Joshua against the prosecution of Satan, rebuking Satan in the process.
That Satan appears as Joshua’s accuser is no surprise. His name, Satan, means “accuser” or “adversary,” and he is called in Revelation 12:10 “the accuser of our brethren...which accused them before our God day and night.” He comes in that role in Job 1, accusing Job before God of serving God for his own advantage (vv. 8–11). In scripture we have only the examples of Job and Joshua, but there can be little doubt in light of Revelation 12:10 that this despicable activity of Satan never ceased until Christ entered heaven. There is even a play on words in Zechariah 3:1 in that the Hebrew word translated as “resist” is the word “satan.” Literally, Satan stands at Joshua’s right hand to “satan” him.
Satan’s accusations, especially in the Old Testament, appeared to have validity, since the blood of atonement had not yet been shed and payment made for sins. He could argue that those whom God took to heaven had no right to be there, that they belonged to him. Jude 9 informs us that he fought with the archangel Michael over the body of Moses. That must have been when God, who buried Moses, raised him again from the dead in order that he might appear to Jesus on the mount of transfiguration with Elijah as the representative of the law, Elijah then representing the prophets.
Satan’s struggle for the body of Moses could only have been on the grounds that Moses had no right to resurrection life and heavenly glory, but because of his sins was worthy of eternal damnation with both body and soul. “Moses’s body belongs to me,” must have been Satan’s argument. “In that body he struck the rock, so that God himself forbad him to enter the earthly Canaan. How then can he enter the heavenly Canaan?” Nor did Michael dare bring against him a railing accusation, but he could only say, “The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9).
Standing at Joshua’s right hand, he is the prosecutor here (Ps. 109:6). His position also indicates the power of his case against Joshua and against us. With the Lord at our right hand, we cannot be moved (Ps. 16:8), but here Satan is at Joshua’s right hand. In what an unenviable position, then, Joshua stands! Yet that is the position in which we all stand apart from the justifying sentence of God: with Satan, not God, at our right hand, ready both as prosecutor and as executioner. What is more, Joshua’s silence in the face of these accusations shows the truth of them.
This accusing activity of Satan was brought to an end first by the cross and then by the ascension of Christ to heaven. Before he died on the cross, Jesus, looking ahead, said, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18). And in Revelation 12:5–11, when the man child is caught up to God and to his throne, there is no place for Satan in heaven anymore as accuser, and he and his angels are cast out. He is overcome “by the blood of the Lamb” (v. 11) now shed as an atonement for sin and brought into God’s presence in heaven (Heb. 9:12), and the glorified church celebrates.
Here his presence is itself an accusation, but he is rebuked before he ever has a chance to speak, not because he was then yet silenced as the accuser but in hope of that day. Now he is silenced forever and Romans 8:33–34 is true: “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”