Haggai and Zechariah were sent by God to encourage his people to return to him. Specifically, they needed to return to him by completing the temple, which they had started to build, and then to continue rebuilding Jerusalem.

In the opening two chapters, comprising three visions, God encouraged his people that, if they returned to him, he would return to them in comfort, vindication, and restoration. But the people were deeply discouraged by the opposition they had experienced, which led them to question whether they could really do what God was calling them to do. In chapters 3–4, God gave Zechariah two more visions. These visions, which were concerned immediately with Israel’s spiritual (chapter 3) and civil (chapter 4) leadership, Yahweh encouraged his people that he would give them what they needed to obey him fully. He would prepare them by cleansing them for service (chapter 3) and by empowering them for service (chapter 4).

Once again, we will consider these two visions with broad brush strokes as we seek to understand their primary theological and principled thrust.

In chapter 3, Zechariah saw Israel’s high priest, Joshua, standing before the angel of the LORD clothed in filthy garments. Satan stood close by to accuse him. Satan was eager to point out Joshua’s sinfulness and, therefore, his unsuitability to lead God’s people. In the vision, Joshua stood not only for himself but as representative of God’s people. As God was calling his people to work for his glory, Satan was standing close by to accuse them of insufficiency to work for God’s glory. But as God cleansed Joshua, preparing him for service, so he would cleanse his people from their sins, preparing them to serve him.

God required his priests to maintain purity at all times (Exodus 28:39–43; 30:17–21). Satan was not entirely wrong, therefore, to point out that Zechariah could not serve faithfully in his deep sinfulness. Joshua’s defilement, which represented Judah’s defilement, rendered him incapable of serving the God of all purity. It was an airtight accusation—except for grace.

God himself stepped in to remove Joshua’s defilement and to prepare him for service. So, in Christ, God stepped into history to remove his people’s defilement and prepare them for service. When we feel that we are too deeply defiled to serve God in gospel work, we must remember that, in Christ, our defilement is removed and we are cleansed and thereby prepared for service.

In chapter 4, Zechariah saw an elaborate golden lampstand. An olive tree stood on either side of the lampstand to fuel it. When he expressed confusion about the vision, an angel replied, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” The message of this vision was for Zerubbabel, Judah’s civil governor. The promise was that the Lord would give what was necessary for him to complete the work he had begun. While some of the people considered the new temple a “small thing” in comparison to Solomon’s more impressive temple, they needed to understand that God was providing what was necessary to complete the work and they must not despise what God was doing.

Some Christians have visions of grandeur. They want to accomplish great things for God. They want to be used powerfully in his kingdom to reach a great number of people for his glory. They wish to be remembered as people of great impact. Others believe that they will never accomplish anything significant for God. They will never write books or lead churches or evangelise multitudes. Their contribution to the kingdom will be largely insignificant. God’s message through this vision is that, no matter how big or small, he empowers people for his work.

We cannot accomplish anything of lasting value for God’s kingdom apart from his enabling. The visions of chapters 4–5 promise that God gives us what we need to work for him to cleansing us and equipping us for his glory.

As you meditate on these chapters today, thank God for the cleansing he offers in Christ and ask him for the power you need to work for his glory today.