Skins, Rags and Robes

Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skin, and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21.

Consider, for a moment, the clothing of Adam and Eve as they stood outside the Garden gate. Many artists have painted Adam and Eve walking around with what appears to be nothing but a big chunk of hide thrown over one shoulder. However, I do not think it was like that. With the Lord as their tailor, I do not believe it was at all crude and ugly, but nevertheless I am sure Adam did not look at Eve and say, “My, you look so nice this morning. I have never seen you look so nice!” He had seen her look much more beautiful when they were arrayed in the white robe of innocence before sin brought its blight into their experience.

In Christ’s Object Lessons, 311, there is an interesting description of these robes. “The white robe of innocence was worn by our first parents when they were placed by God in holy Eden. They lived in perfect conformity to the will of God. All the strength of their affections was given to their heavenly Father. A beautiful soft light, the light of God, enshrouded the holy pair. This robe of light was a symbol of their spiritual garments of heavenly innocence. Had they remained true to God it would ever have continued to enshroud them. But when sin entered, they severed their connection with God, and the light that had encircled them departed. Naked and ashamed, they tried to supply the place of the heavenly garments by sewing together fig leaves for a covering.”

I have often wondered, when I think about this robe of light, what exactly it might have been like. Remember when you were a young person, in grade school, and you were given a three cornered piece of glass and taught that if you looked into it in a certain way you could see all the colors of the rainbow in white light?

Could it be that the robe of light was like a prism? I like to think that Eve might have been able to awaken in the morning, when she was wearing that robe of light, and say, “I think I will emphasize red today. Or maybe there should be a little more violet.” It is entirely possible that this lovely garment was not limited to just one color, but had everything in it that the human heart could desire. Everything that a woman who craves beauty, as all women do, could really take pleasure in. But this is gone! This lovely garment is gone. This light that illuminated everything they came close to is gone.

Regaining the Robe

When Adam and Eve realized it was gone, they tried to replace it with fig leaves. The fig-leaf covering is symbolic of all of the ways, down through the ages, that men have invented to try to bring back the wonderful time when man wore the white robe of innocence. But nothing has worked. Nothing, devised by the hand of man, can do the job whether it is false gods or false religions or false philosophies or even human sacrifices, for some have gone that far. All this and more, men have done to try to find the peace, serenity and security that once were theirs when they wore the white robe of innocence. But there is only one way to bring back the white robe, and that process is described in a beautiful passage from Zechariah 3.

“And He showed me Joshua the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist Him. [By comparing Scripture with Scripture we find that this angel of the Lord was Jesus Christ, Himself.] And the Lord said unto Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’ Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel [Jesus]. And He answered and spake unto those that stood before Him saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And unto him He said, ‘Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.’ And I said, ‘Let them set a fair mitre upon his head.’ So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord stood by. And the angel of the Lord [Jesus Christ] 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.’” Zechariah 3:1–7.

Here, Joshua, the high priest, is pictured with his garments filthy and stained with the sins which the people have confessed. Then the Lord declares that the filthy garments are to be taken away and then the white robe is placed upon him, the garment of Christ’s righteousness. He is then told to keep it white by walking in the way of the Lord and keeping His commandments. Notice that Joshua does not have eternal security at this time. There are still some years of life to be lived and victories to be won.

A Triple Application

In the inspired commentary on this passage, which we find in Testimonies, vol. 5, 467, and onward, our mind is directed to three separate and distinct applications of this symbolic picture that is placed before us in Zechariah 3. The first, which I have just mentioned, is simply the time for which it was originally written, the experience of the nation of Israel and Joshua their high priest.

On page 470, a different application is made. “As Satan accused Joshua and his people, so in all ages he accuses those who are seeking the mercy and favor of God. In the Revelation he is declared to be the ‘accuser of our brethren,’ ‘which accused them before our God day and night.’ The controversy is repeated over every soul that is rescued from the power of evil and whose name is registered in the Lamb’s book of life. Never is one received from the family of Satan into the family of God without exciting the determined resistance of the wicked one.” [All emphasis supplied unless otherwise noted.]

Every one of us is a brand plucked from the fire, and the same process of redemption as shown in the account of Joshua and the angel, is necessary in our lives. First there must be repentance. Then the filthy garment is taken away and a white robe put on, and then we are admonished to keep the garment clean and white. Notice what it says on page 472 of this same passage. “We cannot answer the charges of Satan against us. Christ alone can make an effectual plea in our behalf. He is able to silence the accuser with arguments founded not upon our merits, but on His own. Yet we should never be content with a sinful life. It is a thought that should arouse Christians to greater zeal and earnestness in overcoming evil, that every defect in character, every point in which they have failed to meet the divine standard, is an open door by which Satan can enter to tempt and destroy them; and, furthermore, that every failure and defect on their part gives occasion to the tempter and his agents to reproach Christ. We are to exert every energy of the soul in the work of overcoming, and to look to Jesus for strength to do what we cannot do of ourselves. No sin can be tolerated in those who shall walk with Christ in white. The filthy garments are to be removed, and Christ’s robe of righteousness is to be placed upon us. By repentance and faith we are enabled to render obedience to all the commandments of God, and are found without blame before Him.”

A Special Application for the Last Days

The final application Sister White makes of these beautiful symbols are to those who are living in the last days of time. “Zechariah’s vision of Joshua and the angel applies with peculiar force to the experience of God’s people in the closing up of the great Day of Atonement.” Ibid., 472.

“The remnant church will be brought into great trial and distress. Those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus will feel the ire of the dragon and his hosts.…Their only hope is the mercy of God, their only defense will be prayer. As Joshua was pleading before the Angel, so the remnant church, with brokeness of heart and earnest faith, will plead for pardon and deliverance through Jesus their Advocate.…Satan has an accurate knowledge of the sins which he has tempted them to commit, and he presents these in the most exaggerated light, declaring: ‘Will God banish me and my angels from His presence, and yet reward those who have been guilty of the same sins? Thou canst not do this, O Lord, in justice. Thy throne will not stand in righteousness and judgment. Justice demands that sentence be pronounced against them.’” Ibid., 472–474. It is an awfully sobering charge, is it not?

“But while the followers of Christ have sinned, they have not given themselves to the control of evil. They have put away their sins, and have sought the Lord.” All of the sin is in the past. They are not standing before the Lord still in a sinful condition. Joshua, the high priest, could never have stood before the Lord sinning. He would have been stricken dead in a flash of a second. Before the high priest came to the most holy place he prayed, repented and offered a sacrifice for his own sins and the sins of the people. And so, we should never dream that this picture is given to show us people who are sinning as they stand before God. It says they have sinned and they have repented.

For this group, the sequence of events in their experience is different than the last two we have examined. They have also sinned and repented and had the filthy garments removed and the white garment placed upon them, but they are not told to keep it white, because now they are eternally secure. They are beyond the reach of temptation. Probation has closed. The decree has gone forth, “He that is filthy, let him be filthy still and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Revelation 22:11.

So we read, “The despised remnant are clothed in glorious apparel, nevermore to be defiled by the corruptions of the world. Their names are retained in the Lamb’s Book of Life, enrolled among the faithful to all ages. They have resisted the wiles of the deceiver; they have not been turned from their loyalty by the dragon’s roar. Now they are eternally secure from the tempter’s devices.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 475. This white robe will never be defiled again. What a wonderful thing to look forward to when we will wear the beautiful white robe again and know that it can never be lost again.

The Filthy Garments Are Removed

Let’s look back just briefly at this beautiful scene that we have surveyed to insure that we grasped a very important point. Did you notice that in every case the filthy garments are removed. They are not covered up; they are completely taken away.

Missionaries tell us that in certain parts of the world if you give a lady a nice new dress, she will put it right on top of the one she is already wearing. And if you give her another one, she will put it on top of that. She would just keep piling one on top of another, covering the filthy with the beautiful. But that is not the way with the white robe of righteousness. Consider these interesting passages about what happens to the filthy garments, representing our sins.

“He removes the filthy garments.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 169, 170.

“The miserable, filthy garments of self must be destroyed.” Testimonies to Ministers, 186.

“He is waiting to strip them of their garments stained and polluted with sin.” Steps to Christ, 53.

“Christ will command that their filthy garments be removed.” In Heavenly Places, 344.

“It is the garment woven in the loom of heaven, not to cover over our sins, for Jesus takes away the sin of the world, but to clothe us in the righteousness of Christ.” Signs of the Times, April 23, 1894.

“Sin must be taken away, the garment of Christ’s righteousness must cover the transgressor of God’s law.” Review and Herald, November 15, 1898.

“Christ’s white robe of righteousness will never cover any soul that is found in sin unrepented of and unforsaken.” Ibid., August 28, 1894.

“No repentance is genuine that does not work reformation. The righteousness of Christ is not a cloak to cover unconfessed and unforsaken sin. It is a principle of life that transforms the character and controls the conduct.” Desire of Ages, 555, 556.

Beloved, a change must take place in our lives in order for us to regain the white robe of purity and peace. We cannot do it with fig leaves. Nothing ever invented by the mind or the hands of man has ever resulted in bringing back the peace which the white robe gave. But we can have it. We can have it now, if we will ask, and when we receive it we must then labor to keep it as white as when it is given to us. Then we can look forward to that day when all possibility of it ever being defiled will be gone and it will be ours forever. Ours to keep and ours to rejoice in and ours to enjoy when all of those problems of skins and fig leaves and rags are laid aside.

Remember, the beautiful garment will never be placed on top of the filthy garment. Never! The filthy garment must be taken away and then the righteousness of Christ, the pure white robe will be ours. I would like to have my robe. Would you? I hope, dear reader, that you have on that robe and are striving to keep it white through the grace of Christ. However, if you have never come to Christ, forsaking your sins and asking for the robe of His righteousness, or if you once wore it, but you realize that you have lost it and you would like to come back, I present to you the beautiful gospel invitation of Jesus, “Come unto Me and I will give you rest.” His arms of love are open to you today.

Ralph Larson has retired from forty years of service as a pastor, evangelist, college teacher and seminary professor. He writes from his home in Cherry Valley, California.