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. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” – Zechariah 3:1-2 (NASB)
Q: Why Is Satan in … heaven? (3: 1 – 2)
Zechariah 3: 1 – 10 describes the 4th vision God (or his angel) reveals to the prophet Zechariah. Unlike his three previous visions this one is unique; instead of symbols which the interpreting angel has to explain, the prophet sees an actual person, the high priest Joshua, while the function of the angel is not to explain but to be an active protagonist in the dispute. (Rogerson, p. 722) This isn’t the first time Satan is seen in a similar role to bring accusations against God’s servants. In Scriptural passages such as Genesis’ confrontation between Eve and the serpent and also his appearances in the book of Job, Satan takes on the role of a legal adversary. It is as though humanity is on trial and he accuses them before God, who is in the role as a judge. Satan appears as a tool of God’s justice, himself also subject to the rule of God. (www.theopedia.com/satan)
This incident is visionary, in the sense that the scene is enacted in the heavenly court in a way strongly reminiscent of Job 1 – 2. A plausible context for this fourth vision is the dedication of the rebuilt temple in 515 B.C. (Ezra 6: 15). One commentator, John Rogerson, in regards to Satan’s presence in the heavenly court scene, interprets that the heavenly scene authenticates the priesthood led by Joshua, with Satan (who is not yet the leader of an angelic order opposed to God, as in later Judiasm and Christianity) voicing the opposition. (Rogerson, p. 723) Other scholars, however, do not take satan as a proper noun; they translate: “and the accuser … to accuse him.” One cannot be dogmatic, as it is sometimes difficult to determine when (or if) a common noun also began to function as a personal name. With such nouns the presence or absence of the definite article does not finally settle the question. There is a similar problem with the Hebrew word for “man” and “Adam” in the early chapters of Genesis. (Barker, Commentary on Zechariah) Also, Rogerson’s interpretation of Satan seems suspect because 1 John 3: 8 states that “the devil has sinned from the beginning” and Jesus states that Satan was a “murderer from the beginning” in John 8: 44. In both these texts, the phrase “from the beginning” imply the beginning parts of the history of the world. Also, it is highly suspect that the prophet is given a vision of something that happened before Satan was cast out of heaven because the nation of Israel (who is represented by the priest Joshua in the Zechariah text) was not established until well after the events of the creation.
When we study a similar scene in the book of Job 1: 6 – 12, Satan is mentioned in the heavenly courts before God. He is not the personal devil but one of the servants of God. Also, the book of Job identifies him as “the satan” or “the accuser.” This satan is certainly Job’s adversary, but in this scene he is not an enemy of God; for everything he does is approved of by God, and he cannot act without God’s authorization. His normal task is to act as God’s eyes and ears on earth. (Clines, p. 462) This seems to be the case here in the Zechariah passage in regards to “satan.”
However, one must ask, is it possible for Satan, as the New Testament personifies him as “Be-elzebul” (Matt. 10: 25) or “the prince and power of the air” (Ephesians 2: 2) or “the evil one” (Matt. 13: 19), to really have access to heaven when it seems clear in New Testament doctrine that Satan and the angels have been removed from the presence of God (a possible rebellion in the angelic world with many angels turning against God which probably happened sometime b/w the events of Genesis 1: 31 and Genesis 3: 1) and are kept under some kind of restraining influence until the final judgment? The supporting verses in the New Testament are 2 Peter 2: 4, “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment” and Jude 6, “the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day.” (Grudem, p. 174)
Also, there is a passage in Isaiah 14: 12 – 15 which is a possible reference to the fall of Satan (the personified prince of demons as interpreted in the New Testament). As Isaiah is describing the judgment of God on the king of Babylon (an earthly, human king), he then comes to a section where he begins to use language that seems too strong to refer to any merely human king: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit.” (Ibid, p. 175)
In conclusion, it seems evident, based on the evidence in Scripture (both testaments) that the “satan” mentioned in Zechariah is an angelic or heavenly adversary of Joshua (who represents the nation of Israel) present in the heavenly court of God and not Satan, the prince of demons or the one who is commonly referred to as “the Devil” in the New Testament and in the world culture today, b/c it seems that God has barred Satan from his presence forever. Although, we Christians today must be aware of the fact that Satan and his demons do exert and influence in our lives here on earth, and one of their methods is to accuse us and make us feel unworthy or undeserving of God’s grace and lead us into bouts of depression or oppression.
- Kenneth L. Barker, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD- ROM:Zechariah /Exposition of Zechariah/II.
- Mike Butterworth, “Zechariah” in G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, R.T. France, Eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition
- David J. A. Clines, “Job” in G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, R.T. France, Eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition
- John W. Rogerson, “Zechariah” in James D.G. Dunn, John W. Rogerson, Eds, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible
- Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith