Chapter 1 – The Birth of Jesus
Act 1 – Prophecy About John
Scene 1 – The Birth of John Is Foretold To Zacharias
Mark 1:1 / Luke 1:5-23
This commentary begins a new Chapter – Chapter 1 – entitled, The Birth of Jesus. You can probably guess what this Chapter is about…
This first Scene of the Chapter is taken entirely from the Gospel of Luke, with the exception of one verse from the Gospel of Mark, which is its opening line (Mark 1:1). There are no parallel verses shared between the Gospels in this scene. The contents of this Scene, along with the next few Scenes which are also taken entirely from the Gospel of Luke, have been called, The Birth Narrative.
Although the author, Luke, was not an apostle or disciple of Jesus Christ, and had never met Him in the flesh, he wanted to write an account which he compiled from the testimonies of “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word”, as he stated in the second verse of his Gospel. This group included some of the apostles of Jesus, and people who had been with Him, which likely included His family.
Luke’s Gospel is the longest of the four Gospels (at 1,151 verses), and it contains many details and stories that are not found in the other Gospel accounts. The Gospel of Luke is often recited around Christmastime for the details that it provides about the birth story of Jesus. For more information on Luke, see the very first post of this series.
Verse 2 to 4
This Act begins with an older childless Levite priest named Zacharias, from the tribe of Abijah, who is serving in the Jerusalem Temple during the rotation of his order.
Verse 5 and 6
While inside The Temple, burning incense to God, an angel named “Gabriel” (verse 13) appears to Zacharias, and speaks with him. Whatever type of spiritual being an angel is, the word “angel” means “messenger” in Greek. The name “Gabriel” means, “able-bodied (strong) one of God”, or “God is my hero”.
As a further side-note on Gabriel, Gabriel is one of only two angels mentioned by name in the standard Protestant Bible, the other one being, “Michael” (Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7). For this reason, many assume that Gabriel is likely also an “arch-angel”, a chief or principal angel – one who has authority over other angels. It is interesting to note that the “el” at the end of both of their names means “of God” (like Daniel and Nathaniel, etc.)
Gabriel is, or represents, the same angelic messenger who first gave the prophecy of revelation about the coming Messiah to Daniel, when he had been a captive in Babylon some 600 years before (Daniel 8:16).
Zacharias, serving alone by candle-light in the darkened inner room of The Temple, was afraid when he saw the angel. Although Zacharias was fearful of the angel, the appearance of the Gabriel to Zacharias was likely that of Gabriel to Daniel, and that is “like a man” (Daniel 8:15). Daniel was also afraid, when he encountered Gabriel (Daniel 8:17).
Verse 8 – 9
Gabriel tells Zacharias that (despite their advanced age) he and his wife will conceive a son, whom they are to name “John”.
Part of the mission of the forerunner to the Messiah will be to, “… turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.” (Luke 1:16) Why does Gabriel mention the power and spirit of Elijah? Jesus, the Messiah, would later confirm that “… if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:14)
But why Elijah? Of all of the great prophets that are mentioned in the Old Testament, why is it the prophet Elijah? This is truly a very important and profound mystery – one for which I have never yet heard the right explanation – either from a Christian, who seems not to be overly bothered by the statement and its implications, or from a Jewish person, especially a “Messianic” Jew – who still, after some 2,500 years, sets a cup for Elijah (Kos shel Eliyahu ha-Navi) every year at the table of their annual Seder (Passover) meal. At this point many also open the front door to symbolically, or literally, invite Elijah in. The topic of “why Elijah?” will be mentioned in another post on this blog, after the Scene when John has baptized Jesus as the Messiah – the Christ.
The angel Gabriel then goes on to quote some of the closing lines from the Book of Malachi about the Messiah, which states, “…to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
By this statement Gabriel means that John will prepare some of the Israelite people to meet their long-promised Messiah, for whom all of the Jewish people had long been patiently waiting. Gabriel says that Zacharias’ son “will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while still in his mother’s womb.” Truly this will be a remarkable child, and a man with a mission!
Well, for whatever reason, this priest Zacharias, who was serving and burning incense at that very moment in The Temple, did not believe what the angel Gabriel was telling him, and Zacharias doubted, and in essence he almost even asked for proof of the miracle that was being told to him. He asked, “How will I know this for certain? …” (Luke 1:18).
For this act of unbelief the angel Gabriel seals the mouth of Zacharias so that he is unable to speak, until the time that the promised son, whom the angel tells Zacharias to name “John”, is born. Note that Zacharias is told to name his son John, which means, “Graced by God”, or “God is Grace” or “Gracious”.
Since Zacharias’ wife was not yet even pregnant, this would mean at least nine months of silence, before Zacharias would be able to speak again… It is best not to doubt the words of God, or what is spoken to you by His angels!
At the end of his rotation of service in the Jerusalem Temple with his Abijan brethren, Zacharias returned home to his wife, Elizabeth, still unable to speak. It is without doubt that so that he would be able to speak, Zacharias had relations with his wife Elizabeth, as soon as he returned home.
This is the first scene of The Synoptic Gospel to include a date and a location, which are noted in the header of the Scene. As Zacharias is in The Temple, the location for the action is the city of Jerusalem, which is within the province or territory of Judea.
As for the date, which is a crucial first step in establishing the timing for the birth and life of Jesus, without getting into too much detail, there was an annual schedule where the priests from the divisions of priests that were established by King David (1 Chronicles 24:1-18) during each year would do two two-week long periods of service in The Temple. It is from this fact, along with the details provided in this part of Luke’s Gospel that a guess can be made about what time of year this meeting between Zacharias, the father of John, and the angel Gabriel, might have taken place in The Temple. This detailed information will be available in the companion book, The Timeline of the Life of Jesus, which will be published in 2018.