Hebrew Jesus on trial
Human priest on trial in heaven’s court1Next, the angel showed me the high priest, Joshua, on trial in heaven’s court. The priest stood in front of the LORD’s angel, God’s personal representative. Standing at Joshua’s right side was the Accuser known as Satan.
2The LORD told Satan, “No, Satan. You’re wrong. Jerusalem is mine. You have no right to charge this man with anything. Didn’t I snatch him from a fire and save his life?”
3Joshua stood there in dirty clothes—not appropriate attire for someone meeting with God. 4So, the LORD’s angel told those standing near Joshua, “Get him out of those dirty clothes.” Then he told Joshua, “Can you see what I’ve done? I’ve thrown away your sin. I’ll dress you now in fine clothes fit for a priest.”
5Then the angel said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So, they did. Then they finished dressing him, while the LORD’s angel stood there waiting.
Obey God if you want peace6The LORD’s angel made a promise to Joshua:
7“The LORD of everyone in heaven and earth says this: If you follow the laws I’ve given you, I’ll put you in charge of my house, the Jerusalem Temple. You’ll be responsible for what happens in those courtyards. And I’ll let you walk among these angels who are with you here.
8Joshua, this is important. So, listen carefully. You as the high priest, along with your fellow priests, are symbols of something I’m going to do. I’m going to bring someone here—my special Servant. He’s the Branch. 9Joshua, I’m setting up a rock for you. This rock will break open to become seven fountains. I’ll write a message on the rock and in one day I’ll erase all the guilt that’s in this land.
10When that day comes, says the LORD of everyone, you’ll live in peace with your neighbors and invite them to sit with you in the shade of your vineyards and fig trees.
Some Christian Bible scholars say they see Jesus symbolized in this chapter for several reasons. One is that the name of the high priest on trial is the Hebrew name of Jesus. “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” like Esteban is the Spanish form of Stephen. Also, New Testament writers sometimes describe Jesus as the ultimate high priest of a new priesthood. “Jesus is just the kind of high priest we needed. He’s holy. He hasn’t done any wrong. He doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. He’s nothing like sinners. Plus, he got promoted to a place of honor above the skies” (Hebrews 7:26).
“In heaven’s court” isn’t in the original text but it’s implied in the context because of those who show up at the trial and what happens there. Many Bible scholars commenting on this passage say it takes place in the same kind of heavenly council meeting as the one we see in Job, chapters 1 and 2. The Accuser, also known as Satan, shows up in both meetings. So does God. And so does an assembly of angels. That doesn’t sound like a courthouse in the Bronx.
Literally, “angel of the LORD.” This isn’t just another angel. This is one who seems to report directly to God. This angel shows up throughout the Jewish Bible. Sometimes the angel sounds like God himself. In Genesis 22:15-16, “the LORD’s angel” said, “I am the LORD.” But in Zechariah 1:12, the LORD’s angel pleads with God.
The text in the original Hebrew language is pronounced “satan.” We’re speaking Hebrew when we say “satan.” It means: enemy, accuser, opponent. In a court setting, as here, this person is the prosecutor. In the Jewish Bible, he’s not just an accuser. He’s “ha-satan,” meaning “the accuser.” He sounds like the counterpoint to “the LORD’s angel.” The two face off against each other in court.
It sounds odd to dress a naked or nearly naked man in a turban first. But a turban for a priest was like a crown for a king. It was a symbol of dignity and power.
Jews probably knew exactly what Zechariah meant by the Branch. This mysterious Branch will be a heroic king from King David’s family—Israel’s only God-approved dynasty of kings. The prophet Isaiah talked about the Branch two centuries earlier. He described David’s dynasty as a stump of a tree that had been cut down. That’s what Babylonian invaders did when they defeated Judah and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. Isaiah said a branch would grow out of that stump, which is rooted into the family of David and his father Jesse. Jews later interpreted this Branch as a savior-king, a messiah. Many Christians interpreted the Branch as Jesus, a descendant of David. “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” The New Testament, which contains the story of Jesus, was written in Greek.
It’s unclear what accompanies the rock. More literally, the Hebrew text describes the rock as: “a single stone with seven ʽayin. That Hebrew word can mean one of many things: eyes, springs, fountains, facets, values. Some scholars link the “fountain” to the story of Moses tapping a rock, which broke open and released springs of water for the thirsty Hebrews during the Exodus out of Egypt (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11). Prophet Ezekiel talked about water bursting up from the Temple threshold and healing the land. That cleansing water even turned saltwater into freshwater (Ezekiel 47:9).
For Christians thinking of Jesus as they read this, the description here could sound like a foreshadowing of what Jesus did when he died. Isaiah, prophesying two centuries earlier about a mysterious Suffering Servant, put it this way: “the LORD chose to crush him as an offering to erase our guilt…we called him a sinner, though the sins were ours. Now he pleads with God to forgive us” (Isaiah 53:10, 12).
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