The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two. The crown will be given to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the LORD. Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the LORD, and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. This will happen if you diligently obey the LORD your God.”
Now you notice that at this precise juncture in the prophecy there is a change of tone and structure in this prophecy. The visions cease, and then we come across an old phrase that is so familiar to us that we hardly notice it. Actually it is here for the first time in this prophecy: the phrase is, “The word of the Lord came to me” (v.9). Until now Zechariah has been saying, “I lifted my eyes and saw.” No longer! Now God changes his way of revealing his truth to the prophet. From this time on we see that Jehovah worked by inspiring the prophet’s mind. The way that God did this is never analysed or described to us anywhere in the Bible except to say that it happened “at many times and in various ways” – that is how God spoke in times past to our fathers by the prophets. Peter wants to assure the gentiles to whom he was writing the supreme importance of not neglecting the reading and obeying of the Old Testament; “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21&22). Zechariah spoke from God; Zechariah was carried along by the Holy Spirit in all he wrote in the words before us, and so if the Holy Spirit is important to you then you will listen intently to what is said in the seven verses before us.
So this is the background of these words. We assume that one day the watchman on duty cried out to the people of Jerusalem telling them that there was a party of people on the road from Babylon approaching the city. Great excitement in every home greeted the announcement. Who could this be? Did they know them? Were they from their tribe or even their family? People poured out of their homes and went to the city gates to greet them after their long journey. What news would they be bringing with them of friends and relatives back in Persia? They soon learned that this contingent was being led by three prominent men named Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah. The arrival of a party like this was not very unusual. Throughout the year there would be a constant trickle of captive immigrants returning back to live in Jerusalem.
It appears that one purpose of the arrival of these men was to bring with them to Jerusalem an offering of silver and gold to help in the rebuilding of the Temple. So God spoke to Zechariah about these new arrivals, telling him first what he had to do, and then what he had to say.
1. ZECHARIAH WAS TOLD TO MAKE A CROWN AND SET IT ON THE HEAD OF JOSHUA THE HIGH PRIEST.
i] Zechariah was told to do this immediately. That very day he was to begin it. The contingent arrived from Persia and at once the prophet had to get cracking, making the crown (or supervising having it made) and before that day ended to take it and hold a coronation service and crown Joshua the high priest in his home. Some higher critics (who think they know far more about the Scriptures than anyone) speculate saying that there must be a mistake here, and that Zechariah should have set it on the head of the governor, Zerubbabel, not on the head of the priest. Now there is no evidence supporting this fanciful theory within the text of any Scripture at all. And you consider the repercussions of the governor Zerubbabel being crowned king by the prophet in Jerusalem. It would have been the end of the great Jerusalem experiment. Remember that the city and its inhabitants were still within the Babylonian empire, and once the announcement that a man had been crowned king in Jerusalem had been taken by a swift horseman messenger to the Emperor, then Babylon would have acted and taken all the Jews back to Persia once again, but this time there would have been no end to their slavery. Joshua the high priest, on the other hand, had no claims to political power. Putting a crown on his head was a prophetic act and a religious action reminding the people where their true power and protection lay, in the God of Joshua and Zechariah.
Think of all the reasons why this could not be a political action; Joshua could never be king of the nation because he was not of the line of David. Again, this crown was not given to Joshua to keep. It was placed on his head for a brief ceremony and then it was returned to the men from Persia who’d brought to Jerusalem the gold out of which it was made. They proceeded to take the crown to the Temple as a memorial. So there is a lot of symbolism going on here, isn’t there?
Zechariah was performing a highly unusual visible prophecy. Think of a coronation of a new British monarch in Westminster Abbey; the climax of the service is the monarch sitting on the throne and the Archbishop of Canterbury placing the Royal Crown on his head. Wouldn’t it be totally revolutionary if the royal crown were rather placed on the head of the Archbishop of Canterbury? It would be shocking! So don’t take this action of Zechariah crowning Joshua in your stride. Consider what we have here! God’s prophet is crowning God’s priest at the commandment of God himself. What is all this about? Why is God orchestrating all this? There must be an explanation of the action.
ii] Zechariah was told to say these words to the people. “Here is the man!” (v.12). “Everyone pay attention . . . because here is the man.” What man is this? What is so significant about Joshua? Ah, it is not as a gifted, charismatic personality bearing the name of the old patriarch Joshua that God tells the people to focus on him, “He is the man of the hour.” In fact we know little about what sort of gifts and personality Joshua had. It is exclusively as the man who held the great symbolic office of high priest that we are to consider him. One day Joshua would hand over this office to his successor, and he in turn to his successor, and so on, until one day all these types and shadows would come to an end and then the final, promised, great High Priest would have come, after which the office would disappear because it wouldn’t be needed any longer. Here in Joshua was the man who symbolised to the people of Jerusalem the Promised One, the Coming One, the Messiah, the Son of God. Look at Joshua, the High Priest. Now see him as you have never seen him before, wearing a crown on his head. The priest he is pointing forward to is going to be a future, sovereign, reigning, powerful priest. Think of the very first promise made about him, that he would come and tread on the head of the serpent and destroy him. He would be a priestly conqueror. “Say this,” says God to Zerubbabel, and then we read in verses 12 and 13 the prophecy concerning the coming Lord Jesus Christ: “Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two” (vv.12&13). So let us move on from the action to those words of Zechariah.
2. THE MESSIAH, THE BRANCH AND ROYAL HIGH PRIEST.
What does God say about the coming Anointed One in this messianic prophecy?
i] Christ’s Name is the Branch. This is just a four word phrase in the original. It says, “Lo, man, Branch, by name,” or maybe “Shoot by name.” This name ‘Branch’ is given to our Lord by others of the Old Testament prophets. It is found particularly in the messianic prophecies of Isaiah and also of Jeremiah. Jesus is the Branch of David. His family tree is Davidic. God told David that one of his descendants would reign from his throne for ever. This is Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, son of David, son of Abraham and son of Adam. That is his family tree. He is not like Melchizedek of whom no lineage, no father or grandfather’s names are mentioned. He comes out of the blue. He has no family tree and so he is not a branch. Christ though is the predicted one and he will be a priest in the line of David. Then again see . . .
ii] Christ will branch out and build the temple. There is a play on words here, but the important thing is not that Christ is going to become a stonemason and a bricklayer. The temple that ‘Branch’ will build will not be some glorious marble and gold edifice erected in one location on this planet to which all the world will make pilgrimage, flights from places like Australia and Alaska flying in every hour of the day and night. The stones of the temple of this royal Priest will be far more valuable than the finest diamonds India or South Africa can produce; this temple will be organic; it will be made of living stones; it will be formed of people, millions and millions of them, the body of each one will be the temple of the Lord. The church, when the people come together on the Lord’s Day, is a holy house, the temple of the king. But it is more; it is also a vast tree with many branches. It is like one of those children’s toys that seem to be a truck, but you can open it up and it changes becoming a monstrous space warrior. So this temple can open up and it becomes a huge tree but whether building or tree it is alive; each stone and branch in it is made of people. Christ is the builder of the temple, and he is also the temple itself, and he is also the tree. We are living branches in him and living stones in him. So when Zechariah crowns Joshua the Priest that prophetic act is pointing to the future vital leadership of King Jesus who will build a living temple and will also join many people to himself like the branches that are joined to a great tree that branches out. See his branches stretching out and out; out they go – they reach Europe; out and out they go – they reach the Americas; see, they are reaching Asia; they’ve reached Africa from the north to the south and from east to west. What a glorious temple and tree this Branch is going to build. Its branches stretch all round the world. The earth is full of its branches even as the waters cover the sea. The Branch has reached even us here and we live two and a half thousand years after this prophecy was written by Zechariah. We also are one of the twigs in this great royal Tree that is also a great royal Temple.
iii] Christ will be priest and king. This is what this crowning of Joshua has achieved. God says, “He will be a priest on his throne” (v.13). Jesus our great high priest isn’t clothed in richly embroidered silken and velvet royal robes of majesty. He doesn’t sit on a gold or cedar throne in the city of Jerusalem. No, in a far more exalted place, at the right hand of God with all authority in heaven and on earth Christ reigns clothed in robes of eternal righteousness. Let us think of our great High Priest;
A] Consider his position. Think where this royal priest is. He is not in Jerusalem. Our Lord is now ascended, back where he’d always been, where the prophet Isaiah once saw him as the walls of the Temple parted and there he was in glory “high and lifted up.” Now his train once again fills the heavenly temple. He is again surrounded by seraphim who cover their faces, and cover their feet and who fly around him while crying to each other their appraisal of his glorious perfection, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” That is his position today, and how eloquently it speaks of his sovereignty and exaltation and his intimate equality with God the Father, as his eternal and only begotten Son. His position speaks of his power, as the omnipotent Creator and Sustainer of the universe. His position speaks of his glorious might, this One who is terrible in majesty. This is the one who is our Intercessor! This is our Advocate. This one who has a name above every name is there representing our case and our needs before the tribunal of God. He is the one who does not slumber or sleep who persistently and ceaselessly defends us against the accusations and assaults of Satan. Again . . .
B] Consider the permanence of his reign. Paul has great words concerning this fact. The apostle says of Jesus, “he ever lives to make intercession for them.” The letter to the Hebrews says of him “he continues ever, in an unchangeable priesthood.” Aaron died, and Levy died, and Joshua died, and every Old Testament priest died but Jesus Christ never dies. He continues forever as the eternal Son of the living God, he’ll never lay aside his priestly office. He will never renege on his vocation. He’ll never grow weary. He won’t become fed up of interceding for you with your continued falls into the same foolish familiar sins. He’ll never be so preoccupied with huge exciting events, revivals and reformations, somewhere else, 5,000 miles away from you, that he’ll be too busy to notice you. He will do more than notice you, he will continue to pray for you without interruption as though you were the only person in the whole world. When you have grown weary, he won’t tire. When you have failed, he will not fail. When you are inconsistent, he is the same, yesterday, today and for ever, the one who prayed for Peter. When you’re distracted, he is attentive. When you’re weak, he remains strong. When you’ll waver, he remains resolute.
There is no-one like him and you’ve never met any person you can compare to Jesus. Though there are times he’s mystified you by what he’s allowed happen in your lives, he’s never betrayed you and won’t abandon you. You’ve had friends, loved ones, family members who at times have dashed your hopes by their inattention and their lack of commitment. Your husband has let you down; your parents have let you down. They haven’t come up to your expectations. Such is never the case with the Lord Jesus Christ. He keeps his promises. He tells us to be faithful and he sets the example for what he demands from us by being ever faithful, ever sure. What he says, that will he do. “I have prayed for you . . .that your faith may not fail.” This is his permanence.
C] Consider the reasons he has to receive an answer for his intercession. Why should he be sure that our faith will not fail, that God will grant him what he asks for? It is because the Lord Jesus is the full and comprehensive answer to our guilt, weakness and shame. He has propitiated all the wrath of a sin-hating God, so that, as Toplady says, the terrors of law and of God with us can have nothing to do. “My Saviour’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.” The storm of God’s anger towards all that’s been cruel and mean in me has been appeased on Golgotha’s hill, and there is now great peace and affection between God and myself. My heavenly Father is eternally satisfied to look on the risen exalted Christ at his right hand and daily pardon me for warming my hands at a fire in the night and cursing Christ and swearing that I never knew him. My eternal divine propitiation is there before God. The sacrifice of the Lamb of God on my behalf is my comprehensive atonement. Nothing has been overlooked; nothing has been omitted; there is no sin too foul to be washed and cleansed by the death of Christ. The cross is totally acceptable to God. King Jesus has suffered the just punishment for my sins in my place. Let my conscience be satisfied with the work of Christ. If God is satisfied with it then let your conscience be satisfied. Another atonement for those same sins God will not demand again. It is all forgiven. It is all pardoned. The slate is absolutely clean. The debt has been comprehensively discharged. There is not a penny left to pay. So when Satan came and tossed Simon Peter all about, and raised the issue of his swearing and cursing and denying his Saviour, then let Peter remember at that time, when he didn’t know whether he was on his head or his feet, that he had a great friend and powerful intercessor at God’s right hand who would still save him to the uttermost. Do not despair! One lives in the presence of God who loves you very dearly and is determined to take you, a sinner, where he is.
If a man has given you a million pounds, would he begrudge you a further 50p. for the parking meter? Of course not. In like manner, if God has gave his Son up for you, what good thing will he withhold from you? Ask him for the 50p, in other words pray about the little trials we individually experience, the courage to go to the dentist, wisdom in planning the party, a parking place, patience with influenza . . . Of course, God will never withhold any good thing from those who trust his Son. It is the constant pledge of the Interceder, Jesus the High Priest, sitting there at his right hand on our behalf that makes God our loving attentive Father. Jesus not only shed his blood for the remission of our sins, but the effectiveness of that shed blood continues to this day, and it will continue for evermore. What he did on the cross two thousand years ago he continually keeps before his Father in heaven on our behalf. Are there many times when you can do little more than hang your head in silence, dumb and sad before God? I tell you that you have a Friend in the throne room of the royal palace of heaven. He has been enthroned there by God at his right hand. He could not be any nearer God, and he is there for us, to pray for us, to obtain mercy for us, that we may also find grace to help in time of need.
D] Consider what Jesus prayed for. He didn’t ask for many of the things that we might have asked for. He didn’t pray that Satan would leave Peter alone; Satan was permitted to make this attack. Jesus didn’t pray that Peter would never sin. Permitting the temptation was God’s way of showing Peter he could only survive in life by the Lord. His wits and personality alone would be the end of Peter. Jesus didn’t pray that Peter would have a rich and easy life, with one spiritual success after another. Jesus only prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. If Jesus Christ is the all-wise God, and this is what he prayed for Peter, then we can deduce that saving trust in God must be the most important thing for us to have. Saving faith is the very thing Satan was trying to destroy in Peter. If Peter were to stop believing, then he’d no longer belong to Jesus. This is what Satan always wants to take away from us, the faith in Christ that makes a believer a believer. The point of Satan’s attack on a believer is to pull out the plug of faith, to disconnect us from God. Our faith joins us to the Lord. Saving faith is a connecting grace, the point of contact between the believing soul and the living Christ. If, therefore, Satan could manage to pull the plug on just one of us and disconnect us from Christ then we would all tremble. Satan would be more powerful than the Son of God.
This is the prayer that Jesus loves to pray for all his disciples – the Saviour’s prayer for a sinner’s faith not to fail. Jesus is busy praying this way for us right now. The Bible says that Jesus Christ “is at the right hand of God . . . interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34). It says that he “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus Christ is the infinite intercessor; he lives to pray for us.
E] Consider the encouragement of an interceding Saviour. If only we could personally hear Jesus whispering our worthless names into the ears of his Father, and I could listen in awe to what he was saying to God so tenderly about me and my struggles and needs, then what courage I’d take to live for him through every trouble in life. Jesus is praying for us, that our faith will not fail. He is praying maybe about our chronic pain, that in our physical weakness we won’t stop trusting in the goodness of God. He is praying about the way we miss so much the one to whom we were married for so many years, or he prays about our troubled marriage, that in our alienation we won’t stop trusting in his love. He’s praying about our financial situation, that in our urgent concern about paying the bills we won’t stop trusting in God to provide. He is praying about our secret discouragement, that in our night of dark despair we won’t stop trusting him to lead us into the light. He is praying about our wandering into sin, that we’ll never stop trusting in his forgiveness. Jesus is praying for everything we need.
Surely these prayers will be answered, just the way God answered the prayer that Jesus prayed for Peter. The apostle’s faith didn’t fail. Although he turned away, he also returned, trusting that his sins had become forgiven sins, and Peter went on with God. The same thing will happen in our lives. The Son of God is interceding for us with the Father. How can his petition fail? Jesus prays more wisely, more frequently, and more efficaciously than anyone. He prays more for us than we ever pray for ourselves.
Therefore, although we may go through many difficult trials and even fall into wicked sin, as Peter did, we will not be lost. King David did a reprehensible act, but because the Messiah would pray for him then his faith did not fail. Psalm 51 is the fruit of Christ’s intercession. Whatever desparate situation you bring to him, with all of your complaints and objections, the Saviour of sinners says, “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”
F) Consider that Christ the king and Christ the priest will be in a harmony of offices for ever. “There will be harmony between the two” (v.13). The prophet and priest and king who is one God-man will always be in perfect harmony. There will never be a clash between the sympathy of our great high priest and the power of our king. In other words he has omnipotent sovereignty and he can do whatsoever he wills; but he is also a great compassionate high priest touched by the feeling of our infirmities, and there is absolutely no tension whatsoever between his omnipotent power and his empathy. He is not in the least schizophrenic. His compassion never addresses his authority and challenges it, “What are you doing that for? You are being too hard and too cold!” And Christ’s sovereign kingship doesn’t say to his tender mercy, “Not that man! You can’t forgive that man! He has gone too far. He deserves eternal condemnation. I won’t let you show your kindness to that backsliding Christian.” No. There is no disagreement, and no schizophrenia in Christ the King and Christ the Priest. He is totally self-integrated; there is total harmony between the two. He has omnipotent power to save us and omnipotent love to forgive us.
3. THE FINAL INSTRUCTIONS ARE GIVEN TO ZECHARIAH.
i] The crown of gold was to be kept in the temple (v.14). It was holy because it spoke of the holiest of things, and so where the other memorials were kept, the ten commandments written on stone were kept there and so this crown was also kept there, and where Aaron’s rod that budded was kept then also there this golden crown was kept. And so the three men from Persia immediately and reverently took the crown to the Temple, and there in that uncompleted building in Jerusalem it stayed for centuries as a great symbol and memorial of the nature of the Messiah, our Sovereign King and Merciful High Priest. The prophet Zechariah at that time would have searched diligently and with the greatest care trying to find out all that his crowning of Joshua meant when it somehow pointed to the glories coming upon the Messiah. Even the angels longed to look into these things, but none of them knew what the youngest of us has learned today. They never guessed that a crown of glory would be worn by the divine incarnate Son of God who was also the man Jesus of Nazareth crucified on the cross, and that the true God and the real man would be united in one indivisible person for ever, that he would learn compassion through the things he himself suffered, and that that compassion would be exalted and raised to the throne of heaven where he also manifested all power in heaven and earth.
ii] Help would come to the people of God to complete the work God gave them to do. “Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the LORD, and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you” (v.15). God gives grace in times of need. God sends help in times of need. All over the land there are small congregations in which pastors are praying for fresh blood, and new voice, for young couples to come and do whatever they are asked to do in these churches, and shoulder some of the burden and help the work to grow. It happens. Prayer is answered by our great royal High Priest. Those who are far away do come and help to build the temple of the Lord. The one we serve answers our prayers and we know that it is he who has sent men and women to strengthen our congregations.
iii] The essential nature of the obedience of faith has to be displayed. That is how the last verse ends. The chapter starts with divine sovereignty, telling us of the chariots of the Lord, the four almighty spirits from heaven, going out into every part of the world destroying the gates of hell, and the beast, and the false prophet. But then it ends with a word on human responsibility in that perfect biblical balance. It is a solemn word. It is telling us not to take the coming of the spirits from heaven and the mighty chariots of God for granted. Zechariah says, “This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God” (v.15). Trust his power to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you can ask or thing, yes, but also obey him. Fight the good fight of faith! Stand in an evil day and having done all, stand! Do this diligently, looking ever to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
2nd February 2014 GEOFF THOMAS