Satan, for the Prosecution
"Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?”
Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And to him he said, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with the apparel; and the angel of the LORD was standing by. Then the angel of the LORD assured Joshua, saying ”Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.
Now listen, Joshua, high priest, you and your colleagues who sit before you! For they are an omen of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch. For on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day." --Zechariah 3:1-9
This reading is one of the many examples of Christ in the Old Testament. In it, the prophet Zechariah sees into God’s throne room. What he witnesses is, essentially, a court scene. The high priest of God, named Joshua, is on trial. The prosecuting attorney is Satan. The defense attorney and the judge seem to be the same person: the Angel of the Lord. Satan accuses Joshua, but the Lord (or the Angel of the Lord, as they are interchangeable) rebukes Satan.
There is a lot going on in this passage. For instance, the name Joshua and the name Jesus are essentially the same (yehoshuah and yeshuah in Hebrew, respectively). Joshua has his rags removed and is given rule over God’s house, much like Christ goes through the brutality of the crucifixion before his glorious resurrection and triumphant reign. There is a prophesy of God’s “servant the Branch.” Christ is also called a branch from the stump of Jesse, and is the suffering servant (both from the Book of Isaiah). The Lord says he will remove the guilt of the land in a single day, as the work of Redemption is accomplished in a single day on the cross.
But the thing I most want to point out is the idea of Satan as the prosecutor. In the Book of Revelation 12:9-11, Satan is called the Accuser who “accuses (our brothers and sisters) before God day and night.” Essentially, the devil’s “job” (for lack of a better term) is to point at God’s people and say “look how bad they are, you must punish them!”
Consider that for a moment. It is the devil who accuses us of our wrong doing. Just as he did with Job (Job 1 and 2), he seeks to incite God to punish us for our sins. The Holy Spirit brings conviction to God’s people. That means that the Spirit shows us our sins so that we can repent and be forgiven. On the other hand, Satan brings condemnation to God’s people. He points out our sins so we can be tormented by guilt and shame and self-loathing. Satan does not want us to repent and be healed. He wants us to stay focused on our sins and our sinfulness. In this way, the Bible says that he leads us astray (Rev. 12:9)
Advent is not a time to beat ourselves up about what we’ve done wrong. It is not a time to wallow in our self-hatred. It is a time to allow the Spirit to convict us so that we can repent. But if you are tormented by guilt and shame and self-hate, then you are not getting that from God. You are experiencing condemnation from your own mind or from the devil, or both.
In Revelation 12, the Accuser is hurled from heaven. Those who are in Christ are said to have overcome him “through the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” (Rev. 12:11) In other words, the Cross and the Gospel have separated us from the condemning voice of Satan. We don’t need to listen to him anymore.
As we continue to journey through Advent, let’s spend time in repentance. But let’s also keep focused on the Good News of the Cross. Christ came and died to set us free, not to imprison us in condemnation.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)