Luke, who also wrote the Book Acts, addressed this book specifically to Theophilus, who was likely a government official (note the way that he refers to him in verse 3). As it opens, it has been 400 years since Malachi prophesied. John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, was a priest. In those days, the priests were separated in divisions, each of which served for a week – except during times of major feasts, such as Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles. Zechariah was chosen by lot to serve in the Temple (verses 8-9). Zechariah (as he and his wife Elizabeth were childless and advanced in years) had no doubt prayed often for a child. An angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him they would have a son, and that his name would be John. He was not to drink wine or strong drink, and would be filled with the Holy Spirit “even from his mother’s womb” (indicating he would then already be a human person), and would “make ready for the Lord” (verses 11-17). Also, jumping ahead to (verses 41-44), upon Mary’s visit, Elizabeth’s baby leaped for joy in her womb.
Both as a rebuke for his unbelief, as well as the sign he asked for, the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that he would be unable speak until his son was born (verses 18-23), and Elizabeth did conceive. The “sixth month” in verse 26 refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. At this time, the Angel Gabriel appeared to a virgin (Mary), who was pledged to be married to Joseph, who was of the house of David (verses 26-27). The reference to Nazareth being a city of Galilee is confirmation that Luke’s intended audience was unfamiliar with the territory. Mary is told that she would have a son and name him Jesus, that God would give him the throne of his father, David, and that “he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (verses 28-33). He also tells her of her relative, Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Verses 46-55 are Mary’s praise to the Lord, and are known as Mary’s song.
When Elizabeth bore her child, the neighbors expected them to name him Zechariah after his father, but she insisted that he would be called John. Not satisfied, they tried to get Zechariah to give them a sign (since he still could not speak). He wrote on a tablet that “his name is John,” and immediately he could speak again – because then all that the angel of the Lord had said to him previously had come to pass. Verses 65-66 indicate that the word of this miraculous birth and Zechariah’s change became famous very quickly. Zechariah’s prophecy in verses 67-79 verify that the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people through Abraham – and the Messianic age – had indeed begun!
Side note: Excavations at Nazareth by archaeologists have located tombs, olive presses and other indications that it was a small agricultural community. The most interesting discovery of the past few years is that of a first-century house there. A very good article on this discovery can be found at this article at BiblePlaces.com.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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