The Birth of John the Baptist is Announced Part 1 of 4 (series: Harmony of the Gospels)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

-7 BC-

(1) The Birth of John the Baptist is Announced at the Temple in Jerusalem
Scriptures (Num. 6:3) Luke 1:5-25

Luke 1:5-25 (NKJV)

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division,
9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.
20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple.
22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.
23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.
24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying,
25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

This was a dark period for the nation of Israel. The people had not heard a prophetic word from God in over 400 years, not since Malachi had announced the coming of Elijah (1Mal. 4:5-6). The spiritual leaders were shackled by tradition, and in some instances by corruption, and their king, Herod the Great, was a tyrant. He had nine (some say ten) wives, one of whom he had executed for no apparent reason. But, no matter how dark the day, God always has His obedient and devoted people. I believe that the story of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist shows that God has a since of humor. First, God has been silent for over 400 years and when He finally speaks, the man He speaks to doesn’t believe Him. The angel Gabriel then strikes the man so that he can’t speak. Can you imagine all the motions that he went through as he tried to explain that he had seen an angel and what had happened to him? Now let’s look at what Luke says about this event

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

The events describing the announcements and births of John the Baptist and Jesus are very similar. The same angel, Gabriel, appeared to Zacharias and to Mary. Both were told of a future birth; both births were to be unusual; both sons would be a fulfillment of God’s plan and of OT prophecies.

Luke begins his narrative by introducing us to two people, the parents of John the Baptist. They lived at a time when the wicked Herod the Great was king of Judea. He was an Idumean, that is, a descendant of Esau.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea. Luke is very exact in giving precise historical and chronological information. This is seen in these words, as well as other references to major historical persons, events, and dates. This Herod, known as Herod the Great (See page 58) was a descendant of Esau (2Gen 27:39–40). Born in 73 B.C., he was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C. He ruled until his death in March or April, 4 B.C. He was an able ruler, but he was also ruthless and corrupt. He did not become the actual ruler of all of Palestine overnight. Rather, he had been nominated King of 3Judea by the Roman senate in the year 40 B.C. An army was given to him. With this army, he was to carve out a kingdom for himself. He gradually succeeded in this. Archelaus (4Mt 2:22), Philip (5Lk 3:1), and Herod Antipas (6Lk 23:7–12, 15) were his sons. Herod Agrippa I of 7Acts 12:1–6, 19–23 was his grandson, and Herod Agrippa II of Acts 25–26 was his great-grandson.

A certain priest named Zacharias (from the tribe of Levi), of the division of Abijah. 8Zacharias was a priest who belonged to the division of Abijah, one of the 9twenty-four shifts into which the Jewish priesthood had been divided by David (101 Chr. 24:10). Each shift was called on to serve at the temple in Jerusalem twice a year from Sabbath to Sabbath. There were so many priests at this time (about 20,000 according to some estimates) that the privilege of burning incense in the Holy Place came only once in a lifetime, if at all.

His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth (who is called a “cousin of Mary,” the mother of Jesus in verse 36) was also descended from the priestly family of Aaron. The priests could marry into any tribe, but it was most commendable of all to marry one who was from the priestly line. She and her husband were devout Jews, scrupulously careful in observing the OT Scriptures, both moral and ceremonial. Of course, they were not sinless, but when they did sin, they made sure to offer a sacrifice or otherwise to obey the ritualistic requirement.

Zacharias means “God remembers” and Elizabeth means “His Oath.” Together their names mean, “God remembers His oath.” When did God take an oath? His oath is recorded in Psalms 89:34-37. “I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness-and I will not lie to David-that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky. Selah.” God swore this oath by the greatest of all His attributes, His holiness. He swore to David that one of his descendants would rein throughout eternity and the one He is talking about is Jesus Christ.

Now notice that the next verse tells us that both Zacharias and Elizabeth were righteous. They were righteous because they understood that they were sinners and they brought the necessary sacrifices.

6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

What is meant by “…were righteous”? Apart from the sovereign grace of God revealed in the atoning death (the “blood”) of Christ, no one can ever be truly “righteous” (11Rom 3:21-24). It is through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness that a sinner’s guilt is laid upon the Savior, and the Savior’s righteousness upon the sinner. The best commentary on “righteousness in the sight of God” is the text itself: “walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.” These two lead a life that brought the approval of God. They were obedient to God as far as they were able to understand His commands. When they made a mistake or sinned, they expressed genuine sorrow; they repented and brought the proper sacrifices. But they did not have a child and that caused them to be dissatisfied and to continually ask God for a child.

7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

This couple had no children, a reproachful condition for any Jew. Doctor Luke notes that the cause of this was Elizabeth’s barrenness. The problem was aggravated by the fact that they were both well advanced in years. That was a theme repeated throughout the Old Testament, as with Sarah, Rebekah, Manoah’s wife, and Hannah. Zacharias was a priest, and he was serving for about a two-week period in the Temple.

This Temple was built by Zerubbabel and others in 516 B.C., but since 20 B.C. was in the process of being enlarged and redone by Herod the Great (12see Jn 2:20). Zacharias had the unique opportunity of offering incense before the Holy of Holies. The people outside prayed and awaited his blessing.

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