Good News in the Minor Prophets
Without doubt, the Minor Prophets are the books in the Bible that frighten us the most. So many visions, so many details, so many things seem so unclear. Many Christians never brave these books. This, however, is a great tragedy. The Minor Prophets--though in many places hard to understand--provide us with some of the richest glimpses of the Gospel in the Old Testament.
Consider. for example, the book of Zechariah. Zechariah was written after Israel’s return from exile in Babylon. Israel's enemies had plundered and desecrated the Temple. This was indeed a striking blow, as God Himself met with His people in the Temple. God raised up Zechariah and gave him a number of visions to strengthen him as he encouraged God's people to rebuild. Perhaps the most amazing vision in Zechariah's message is that which is found in chapter 3. As Zechariah sees Joshua the High Priest standing before the angel of the Lord, core elements of the Gospel message are present: the holiness of God, the sinfulness of sin and the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We read about justification, a right declaration in the sight of God in familiar passages such as Romans 3:21-26. But here we see a picture of justification. We are given an illustration in order to demonstrate to us exactly what it means to be declared righteous in God’s sight. And so as we study Zechariah 3:1-5, we can break it up in this way: 1. Sin is serious (vv.1-3) and 2. Righteousness is freely given (vv.4-5), with the primary theme being that if you go to Jesus you will be clean. A cursory consideration of this passage should help give us a renewed zeal for understanding the Good News set forth in the Minor Prophets.
One of the first things we discover from this passage is that sin is serious. Zechariah writes, “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.” (v. 1) He also writes, “Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments.” Who is this angel of the LORD? On the basis of the rest of the Old Testament’s teaching, we can conclude that this angel is none other than the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God Himself. This the eternal God. This the One of whom the angels cried in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy.” This is the true Messenger, the true Angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ Himself.
Who then was Joshua? Joshua was the high priest of the people of Israel. He was the one designated to intercede with God on the behalf of the people. He was the one appointed by God to make sacrifices on the behalf of the people. He would have been considered, by virtue of his position, to be the holiest man in all Israel. And yet here, as he stands before the angel of the Lord, he is wearing filthy garments. He is clothed not only in the sins of the people he represents--he is clothed in his own sin. This one who was looked upon as a leader of the people had no where to stand before the blazing, spotless holiness of Christ. And on the basis of his sin, Satan accuses him. Sin is serious. If you ever have doubts about that, look no further than this passage. We must never toy with sin, because it is deadly.
In verse 2, we suddenly hear the Lord rebuking Satan. He the referred to Joshua "a brand plucked from the fire." How can the Lord speak this way of Joshua? Satan’s accusations are not without basis, and Joshua really does stand condemned by sin. We must never forget that if we have trusted in Jesus, we are clean. Joshua was trusting in the coming Redeemer, to whom he pointed as the High Priest of God's people. Righteousness was freely given.
Zechariah continued the description of his vision with the following words: “And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’” (v.4) Here is a glimpse of the good news of the Gospel. This illustrates what some have called "the negative side" of our justification (or to put it more simply, our sin and transgression being removed). If the angel of the LORD, is as we said, the Son of God Himself, then He is pointing Joshua to His own work in which He will bear the sins of His people. And because this is what He will do, the words of David describe Joshua in this passage: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2) Joshua’s sins are not counted against him because they were counted against Christ. And because of this, Joshua’s filthy garments are removed.
Amazingly, this scene does not end with impure garments being removed. The Lord has also clothed Joshua with “pure vestments.” This demonstrates the positive aspect of justification, being clothed now with the righteousness of Christ. Justification is a right legal standing before God in which our sins are forgiven, and we are accepted on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. As Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) The good news of the gospel is not only that our sin is taken away, but that we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith. Zechariah begins to see this for himself, and cannot even stop himself from crying out, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” (v.5) And a clean turban is placed on the head of Joshua. We see in the words of this minor prophet a picture of the Gospel itself. The hope of Joshua is the hope that belongs to any who will turn to Christ. If we will come to Jesus, we too will be clean before God.
This small taste of the Gospel in Zechariah should encourage us not to shy away from the Minor Prophets. Though hard to understand at times, the Gospel of Christ in them is clear. If we neglect these books, we miss out on a central aspect of God’s Word about Christ to us. It is in this word that we find hope eternal.