In Christianity it's widely believed that Joshua the high priest signified Messiah, especially due to the peculiarity in the phrase ''behold the man whose name is the branch'' alongside ''he shall build the temple of the LORD.''

Zec 6:12
And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD:

Messiah's nature is also written about as being sinless, because He had to be ''the pure lamb of sacrifice.''
Now most characterisations of Messiah often highlight an aspect or more concerning His circumstances, be it His duties, His tribe, etc for example, Bezaleel for duties and tribe, Joshua for military leadership, a lamb of sacrifice for His sinless nature, etc.

Come to Joshua the highpriest and we collide with tradition or the norm, if you like, because Joshua's nature is indicated as a depiction of the circumstances of the fellow upon whose head a 'mitre' or crown is to be placed.

Zechariah 3
3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.
4 He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, "Remove the filthy garments from him." Again he said to him, "See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes."

It's well known that filthy garments allude to unrighteous deeds which imply a sinful nature, even as verse 4 indicates, and to buttress which notion we have;

Isaiah 64
5 You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, Who remembers You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in them a long time; And shall we be saved?
6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."

On the back of this, how could ''Joshua'' depicted here as having a sinful nature, be the same Messiah who is the lamb of God, and said to have been 'tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin?''

  • Hi Paul, I have made a minor change to the question title in order to more clearly identify the passage that is the focus of your question. I trust this was your intention, but otherwise please feel free to revert my change. Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 1:57
  • Thanks for the change, it probably is more to the point now.
    – Paul
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 2:07

3 Answers 3


It is true that the accused man's name, Joshua, can be translated into Greek and then English as Jesus. However, there seems little else that would equate this high priest with the Christian Jesus.

Joshua the high priest is accused before God of some unidentified sin, with Satan taking on the pre-Christian role of accuser. In verse 2, God rebukes Satan for his error in accusing Joshua. It may be that Joshua was entirely innocent of the charges against him, although it actually seems from verse 4 that God has pardoned him - "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee".

Although Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the high priest in heaven (see Hebrews chapter 5), it seems unlikely that Jesus would have been required to face trial in the manner portrayed in Zechariah, nor would the angel of the Lord have instructed Jesus on righteous behaviour as in Zechariah 3:6-7:

Zechariah 3:6-7: And the angel of the LORD protested unto Joshua, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by.

The original meaning of this passage is somewhat obscure, but it may have been inspired by political rivalry in post-Exilic Jerusalem, when the Book of Zechariah was written. On one such scenario, the historical high priest known as Joshua is accused of some misdemeanor but his allies, including the prophet Zechariah, win the day and, in the Book of Zechariah, proceed to demonstrate by allegory that Joshua has divine support. There is no reason to associate this passage with the sinless Messiah.

  • Thanks for your reply, to me I see Messianic allusions written allover this characterisation. Yes the depiction is obscure that's why I brought it forth, you never know what someone might have on it. If it were men imputing unrighteousness to him, that would be a different matter, but its God and His angelic audience, even charging him afterwards with 'Messianic duties'' in the verses you quoted. That complicates things!
    – Paul
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 2:12
  • To lexiconize {שטן} as {accuser} would be awkward. I mean, if we applied this lexiconization to 1Kings 5:4 Solomon writes to king Hiram "there is no accuser/accusation and no evil around me" ??? 1Kings 11 "Hashem places an accuser to Solomon, Hadad .... and another accuser Rzon ben Elada. " ??? To blindly follow "established" opinions without bothering to perform a syntactical analysis of the Hebrew? Which is more important to you - syntactical integrity or conformist to "established" opinions?
    – Cynthia
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 17:11

In Zech chapter 3 how could Joshua the high priest with regard to the symbolism of his filthy garments be a depiction of a sinless Messiah?

Because he receives a change of garments from filth to the rich robes of the High Priest.

Jesus took the curse of our filth when he was crucified. He was clothed with the rich robes and the golden crown of the Great High Priest at his resurrection.

The filthy garments speak of the mortal body we received from Adam's sin. There is a change of garment from mortality to immortality. The filth of Satan's false accusations is also rebuked.

Brown-Driver-Briggs - H2148 - זכריה - Zekaryâh - Zechariah = “Jehovah remembers”

God remembers those who are constantly accused by the adversary. God has an appointed time of retribution upon the enemies of his beloved.

i. The Hebrew word translated filthy is “the strongest expression in the Hebrew language for filth of the most vile and loathsome character.” (Feinberg, cited in Barker)

b. And I will clothe you with rich robes: Joshua not only enjoys having his iniquity removed, he also is given a positive righteousness - clothed with rich robes. The thought of being clothed by God in righteousness runs from Genesis (Gen 3:7 and Gen 3:21) to Revelation (Rev 7:13-14).

c. Let them put a clean turban on his head: The turban was part of the High Priest’s garments and on the front, it had a gold plate inscribed with the phrase HOLINESS TO THE LORD (Exo 28:36-38).

Source: David Guzik

Zechariah 3:1-5 (NKJV) Vision of the High Priest

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”

Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and was standing before the Angel.

Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him, He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”

And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.”

So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by.


The question is complicated by the fact that there are two "anointed ones" in the Book of Zechariah: Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel, the appointed governor who was also the grandson of one of the Jewish kings descended from King David. But to answer the OP question directly: Zechariah knew Joshua as a historical human person, not the a symbol of the Christian messiah. As the high priest of the restored Temple, he had to "wash his clothes" and repent to qualify himself. The BRANCH actually refers to his partner in this effort, [Zerubbabel], who stood in the line of the Davidic kings (https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Zerubbabel).

Here is the text showing two "anointed ones"

Then I said to him [the angel], “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” And a second time I said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the oil[a] is poured out?” He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” (Zech. 4:11-130)

Joshua, as the high priest of the restored Temple, needed to purify himself to qualify for this exalted position. It is unclear whether his sin was personal or representative of his people, whose sins had resulted in the Temple's destruction. The name Joshua was a very common one so we need not attribute particular significance to it.

Another complication is that the OP presumes that the messiah must be sinless, since he is to offer himself as an unblemished sacrifice. But this is a Jewish text, and in Judaism, offering oneself as a sacrifice for sin is not the messiah's job. For Zechariah, the messiah did not need to be sinless. He would be a great man, inspired by God to accomplish the messianic task, namely to restore Israel (actually Judah here), which had recently been friend from exile. Indeed, Zechariah seems to have believed that this would be Zerubbabel himself, who, together with Joshua, would finish rebuilding the temple and usher in a new Davidic dynasty. So the prophet declares:

What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerub′babel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” (Zechariah 4:7)

The BRANCH refers to the prophecy concerning the "branch of Jesse," David's father. (Isaiah 11:1) Since it was Zerubbabel that was a descendant of David, the branch in question is Zerubbabel, not Joshua. (This does not rule out the Christian interpretation that it refers to Jesus, but it clarifies its meaning for the human prophet who wrote these words.) The prophet's messianic hope for Zerubbabel becomes even more clear in light of Haggai 2:22-23:

I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his fellow. On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerub′babel my servant, the son of She-al′ti-el, says the Lord, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts.”

Summary: the text of Zechariah says that the high priest needed to cleanse himself to qualify as high priest. This is problematic if he is symbolic of the Christian messiah, but not as the text was originally understood by its human author. Also, the BRANCH was not Joshua; it was Zerubbabel.

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