Nowhere in the Bible but the Gospel of Luke are we told about the events leading to the birth of John the Baptist. Though certainly not predicted for as long of a time as the birth of the Lord Jesus Himself, it had been anticipated for hundreds of years – at the very least, since the time of Malachi (Malachi 4:5), which most scholars place at about the middle of the 5th century B.C.
Verse 5 opens with “in the days of Herod, king of Judea…” There tends to be some confusion as to which Herod the Bible refers to between the gospels and the Book of Acts. This one is the one known as “Herod the Great.” He was the vassal king of Judea by virtue of his relationship with the Roman government and the favor he found with Octavius. He was born in Edom (Greek “Idumaea”) and thus a descendant of Esau. His family converted to Judaism, and he referred to himself as a Jew. The main portion of his reign was from 37 B.C. to his death in 4 B.C.
John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, is said in the same verse to be “of the division of Abijah.” The number of priests was extremely large, and they were organized into 24 divisions. Each division would have one of their priests serve in the temple twice per year – the question of who served being decided by casting lots. But none was allowed to burn incense more than once in their lifetime – some never at all. This was Zechariah’s once in a lifetime event – in more ways than one.
Imagine Zechariah’s excitement as he contained himself with the expected dignity and reverence when he entered the temple and approached the altar of incense to perform the task that he had likely been anticipating for a great length of time. But as he did so, there appeared an angel of the Lord, and his excited happiness was immediately changed to overwhelming fright! But the angel uttered words to put him at ease that would change not only his mood (once more), but his life – forever! Though he knew his wife, Elizabeth, to be barren, he was told that they would have a child, and that his name would be John.
John, the angel told Zechariah, would not drink wine or strong drink, and would be great before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” turning many people back to God and make them ready for “the Lord.” Significant also in verse 15, the angel said that “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” For us as Christians, this is just one of a few passages that should forever put to rest any question of whether an unborn baby is a person!
Zechariah’s doubt, when he asked how he could know this would really happen, knowing that Elizabeth was beyond child-bearing years, was met with a rebuke that would cause him to be mute until the child was born. The angel, who we learn here was named Gabriel, informed him that he stands in the presence of the Lord, and was sent by God to give Zechariah this good news. This is only the second of the angels we read about in scripture that is mentioned by name (the other being Michael, in Daniel 10:21 and Jude 1:1-9. Revelation 8:2 tells of seven such archangels that stand before God.
Zechariah finishes his service in silence, making signs to those who were inquisitive at his delay inside the temple for so long, and then went home. Elizabeth, we are told in verse 24, did conceive in the following days, and kept herself hidden from public view for 5 months.
(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Luke here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 1 Chronicles here
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility. When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.