For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

1:1.  “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,”

Others had begun to prepare an orderly account of the Lord’s life from His birth in Bethlehem till His resurrection and return to the glory from which He had first come, but in the sovereignty of God it was Luke’s account that was chosen to be part of the inspired writings which constitute the canon of Scripture - the account that would become the Gospel of the perfect Man.

The purpose of compiling the record was to confirm the faith of those who would become believers after the eyewitnesses had gone home to heaven.

1:2.  “Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;”

Here Luke acknowledges his indebtedness to the ministry of those faithful men who orally and in writing had furnished the material which constitutes this Gospel, their integrity being attested by the fact that they had been witnesses of the events recorded, and had been faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This does not detract from the Divine inspiration of Luke’s gospel, for his being Divinely inspired did not exempt him  from having to do the work of sorting, checking, verifying, condensing, etc., the material, the Holy Spirit obviously guiding him in the selection of what now constitutes the gospel bearing his name.

“...from the beginning” seems to have been from the moment of God’s dealing with Zacharias as recorded in verse five.

1:3.  “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,”

This may not be taken to imply that Luke just arbitrarily decided to write this book, the very fact of its unquestionable divine inspiration ruling out such a thought.  Clearly it was the Holy Spirit Who had revealed to him that he was to compile this record.  His “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first,” however, remind us that his being divinely inspired did not preclude the need for him to do the necessary work of gathering up, sorting, and editing the material which furnished the basis of what he was inspired to write.  It is a great mistake to conclude that possession of spiritual gift such as that of evangelism, shepherding, or teaching, relieves the man of the need to devote a great deal of time and effort to prayer and the study of Scripture.  Spiritual gift, like natural gift,  must be developed, otherwise it will lie dormant and useless, see for example Paul’s injunction to Timothy not to neglect, but rather to stir up the gift that had been given him, 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6.

Since “from the very first” is used occasionally to mean “from above,” some feel that that is the sense here, but since that implies that he received all the details by direct revelation from God, it is discounted by his having obtained those details from eyewitness accounts of the events.

1:4.  “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.”

Obviously what Luke has written wasn’t just to confirm the faith of Theophilus, but of everyone who since that day has, and will yet, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, what the repentant sinner was first willing to believe by faith, is confirmed by his new ability as a believer to understand what is written in Scripture, something the natural man cannot do, as it is written, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” 1 Co 2:14.

1:5.  “There was in the days of Herod, the King of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”

Herod (the Great) was an Idumean, of Jewish religion, and a descendant of Esau, which marks him immediately as an enemy of God, the low state of Israel being declared in their having such a man as king.  It is a strange anomaly indeed that such a man should have been “the King of Judaea (land of Judah, i.e., praise).”  That Israel’s history foreshadows that of the professing church, however, is declared in that the professing church is found in the same position today.  He who rules the great apostate travesty which masquerades as Christ’s Church, is no less evil, and no less the enemy of God and of those who are His.

But as there is today a small faithful remnant in the midst of the apostate mass, so was it then, Zachari­as and Elisabeth being representative of that faithful minority who looked for the Messiah.  Zacharias means remembered of Jehovah, and Elisabeth, God of the oath (or seven).  How appropriate are these two names! God had remembered His people, and in spite of their apostasy, would fulfill His Word.  The long-promised Deliverer was about to be given; and the child to be given this faithful couple was to be His forerunner.

With reference to Zacharias’ being “of the course of Abia” which means my Father is God, this was the name of one of the groups or courses into which David had divided the priests, 1 Chr 24:10.  According to F.W. Grant it was the eighth, and that is significant, for eight is the biblical number of a new beginning. For Israel and the world it was to be a new beginning, for through the death and resurrection of the Man, Christ Jesus, a new beginning has been made available to every son of fallen Adam.  It is believed that each course served for two periods of a week each, during the year, and according to the Wycliffe Bible Commentary “The opportunity to minister at the altar was determined by drawing lots, and usually came only once in a lifetime.”

1:6.  “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”

Both of them were descendants of Aaron light-bringer, their obedience marking them as being also the spiritual children of light.  Obedience should mark the lives of all who profess faith in Christ.  “Commandments” relates to what is moral: “ordinances” to what was ceremonial.  It is to be noted, however, that there were many in Israel who were also punctilious in their keeping of the ceremonial law, but only those whose obedience was impelled by faith were righteous in God’s sight.  Paul, for example, in his unconverted days was a strict observer of the law, but he was far from being righteous in God’s eyes, see Php 3:4-6.  It is the same today: there are many whose moral standards are above reproach, but their great lack is that they do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

Their being blameless doesn’t mean that they were sinless, but that their obedient faith secured remission of their sins just as does the faith of believers today.

1:7.  “And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.”

A barren state marked many notable women in scripture, for example, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, the Shunammite of 2 Ki 4, and Hannah, all of whom eventually became mothers of sons who are types of Christ, Manoah’s wife being no exception, for her son Samson is as clear a type of Christ as are the other sons, and we miss a valuable lesson if we dismiss the early barren state of these women as being a mere quirk of nature.  Its being impossible for them to bear a child apart from the miraculous intervention of God, is so that we might see in each a type of Mary (barren because she was a virgin), and in each of the sons, a type of the Lord Jesus Christ Whose birth was also miraculous.

The miraculous nature of John’s birth lies also in the fact that Zacharias was “well stricken in years,” which implies that he was incapable of begetting children.

1:8.  “And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course,”

1:9.  “According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.”  

1:10.  “And the whole multitude of the people was praying without at the time of incense.”

The incense was burnt on the Golden (Incense) altar in the Holy place (not to be confused with the Most Holy Place), and the hour described as “the time ­of incense” may have been at the time of the offering of the evening or the morning sacrifice, Ex 29:38-42, and the trimming of the lamps, see Ex 30:7-8. The place where the people were praying was in the court of the temple within sight of the Brazen altar.

1:11.  “And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.”

The angel was Gabriel, meaning man of God, see verse 19; and the right side of the altar was the north side.  This was God’s first recorded communication to Israel since the days of Malachi about four hundred years earlier, and generally known as the four hundred silent years because as far as the Scriptural record is concerned, in all that time God’s voice had not been heard.  But now the silence was broken.  God was preparing to take up His ancient people again, sending John the Baptist to prepare them to receive their Messiah, and with Him, the millennial kingdom.

It is significant that the angelic messenger should have stood on the north side of the altar, for the north is the biblical direction which speaks of intelligence.  His communications were for those men and women of faith who had the spiritual intelligence to trust God’s Word, and look for the long-promised Deliverer.

1:12.  “And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled (startled), and fear fell upon him.”

Zacharias’ fear in the presence of an angel rebukes the lack of reverence displayed in the speech and behavior of many professing Christians today when they are in the presence of God.  He is addressed in familiar terms as though He were simply a man, and some don’t trouble even to stand when praying in the meetings of the church.  Reverential fear becomes us in the presence of the Creator.  And if this godly man was afraid in the presence of an angel, what terror will seize the unconverted when they are ushered into the presence of God!

1:13.  “But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.”

After four centuries of silence the first word from God was, “Fear not,” and in this is revealed the heart of God.  He loves men, and desires above all else to see them saved, judgment being “His strange work,” Isa 28:21.  Nor does He stop at one “Fear not.”  The same words were addressed to Joseph, the husband of Mary, Mt 1:20; and to Mary, Lk 1:30; and to the shepherds, Lk 2:10.  We must note, however, that these were men and women of faith, for it is only to such that God can say “Fear not.”  No such assurance is given unbelievers.  They should quake at the very thought of meeting God in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, at the great white throne, for His command to them will be “Depart,” and they will drop into the lake of fire to suffer eternal torment.

The clear implication is that Zacharias, and undoubtedly Elisabeth also, had been praying for many years for a son, and now when fulfill­ment, humanly speaking, seemed impossible, he heard the unbelievable good news that God had answered their prayers: they were to have a son whom they were to call John, meaning God is gracious giver!  

In this there is encouragement to every believer relative to prayer.  It may be a long time before it is God’s time to answer, but He will answer, one reason for His seeming delay being that through it He would strengthen our faith, and test the sincerity of our petitions.  It is instructive also to note that they appear to have continued praying for a son when everything seemed to say that it was a waste of time, for Elisabeth was barren, and they were both old.  Is it possible that they were encouraged to keep praying by remembering Abraham and Sarah? 

As to why they should have so earnestly desired a son, there are at least two reasons: (1) the hope of every Jewish woman was that she might be the mother of the Messiah; and (2) without a son, the line of Zacharias would have ended, and in this the literal is transcended by the spiritual.  The birth of a son is the typological portrayal of conversion, for the birth of a son represents the coming of Christ into a man’s life at the moment of conversion, and the guarantee of the continuance of the man’s line literally portrays the eternal continuance of the believer’s life spiritually.

1:14.  “And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.”

We aren’t told how many times Elisabeth may have wept over her barren state, nor how many times Zacharias may have known discouragement as his prayers went unanswered, but as always with those who trust God, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” Ps 30:5.  Tears were about to give place to laughter; disappointment to joy and gladness.  Nor was the joy to be theirs only: many would rejoice at the birth of their son.  God’s giving transcends our greatest expectations; and even if His answers are delayed until we reach heaven, the joy will be all the greater there.

1:15.  “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”

In spite of the fact that this is the only greatness that matters, it is a sad comment on present day Christianity that so few professing Christians seem to desire this kind of greatness for their children.  It should be the prayer of every Christian parent that his child will be great in God’s sight.

Wine speaks of joy, either the spiritual joy of the obedient believer, or the fleeting joy of this evil world; and strong drink (liquor) seems to have the same spiritual meaning.  In the present context both obviously speak of this world’s sinful pleasures.  John was to keep himself separate from all such defilement, as should everyone professing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, for he who dallies with the world’s pleasures will know nothing of the joy of the Lord, nor will he be able to render any acceptable worship or service.

John’s was a special endowment: he was to be filled with the Holy Spirit “even from his mother’s womb,” and it is scarcely necessary to comment that it is impossible to be occupied with the world’s pleasures, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time.  The two things are diametrically opposed.  His being filled with the Spirit even from his mother’s womb may not be taken to imply that he was a believer from the moment of his birth, for Scripture makes it clear that conversion requires the convert to have attained such a stage of development as to be able to understand the Gospel, and to make a free-willed choice to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  Conversion in the OT era required faith to anticipate the atoning death of Christ, just as in the NT age it requires faith to look back believingly to that death.  John obviously became a believer at an unrecorded time subsequent to his birth, his being filled with the Spirit from birth meaning simply that the Holy Spirit was in him because God in His sovereignty had chosen him to be the Lord’s forerunner.

1:16.  “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.”

1:17.  “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias 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.”

The gospel preached by John called upon Israel to repent so that they might enter the millennial kingdom to be set up by the Messiah, Whose forerunner he was, and Whose coming he announced.  As for his going before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elias (Elijah),” John would be imbued with the same spirit and the same power as had been manifest in the life of Elijah, but as the Lord Himself made clear to His disciples in Mt 17:10-13, John was not Elijah resurrected.

It is to be noted incidentally that these two verses confirm that Jesus Christ is God, for the “him” of verse 17 relates to “the Lord their God” of verse 16.

“... to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” is generally understood to mean that John’s ministry would impel many fathers to seek the salvation of their children so that the children too might enter the millennial kingdom. 

Turning the hearts of “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just” simply means that his gospel was designed to lead unbelievers to see their need of trusting in Christ, and thus become possessed of the same wisdom as those already justified through faith. 

“To make ready a people prepared for the Lord” refers to the need of Israel to prepare themselves to enter the millennial kingdom when Messiah - seven years after being crucified to make atonement for sin - would appear in resurrection glory, to end the Tribulation, and inaugurate His millennial kingdom.  That preparation would consist of trusting Him as Savior in the period between His birth and His post-tribulation return as mentioned above, the dreadful alternative being that to refuse to exercise that faith would be to be banished into hell instead of entering the kingdom. 

It may be well at this point to note in connection with the offer of the kingdom made by John, and by the Lord and His disciples, that it was a bona fide offer which did not eliminate the need of the Lord’s death.  The Messiah must first die to make atonement for sin, as foretold by the prophets; rise again, and return to heaven, the ensuing seven years bringing the Tribulation judgments, which would be brought to an end by His return in power and glory to judge the nations, banish unbelievers into hell, and then inaugurate His millennial kingdom.  Had Israel believed, they could have had the kingdom within seven years of the Lord’s death, but their unbelief forfeited that blessing, with the result that the offer was withdrawn, and will not be renewed until after the rapture of the Church.  It is to be noted also, incidentally, that the Church is not the subject of prophecy.  Had Israel believed at the Lord’s first advent, the kingdom would have come, run its course, and ended a thousand years ago, without changing the Scriptures.  The Church age has come in as a parenthesis interrupting the continuity of God’s program for the blessing of Israel, and when the Church age ends the program will resume with the world stage set exactly as it was two thousand years ago.  Israel will be back in Palestine, under the dominion of the Roman beast; the Tribulation era will run its course, and end with the Lord’s return in power and glory to set up the kingdom which will last for a thousand years, and be followed by the eternal state in which there will be a new heavens and a new earth.

1:18.  “And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.”

As the next verse declares, his question was the expression of unbelief.  It seems that prior to the angel’s visit he had had the faith to keep praying for a son, but then when his prayer was answered he was too surprised to believe that God had granted his petition.  For a moment he took his eyes off God, and looked at nature - he himself and his wife both too old, humanly speaking, to have a child.  How often we are guilty of the same error!  We look at circumstances instead of at God, and immediately we are filled with doubts and fears, and thus dishonor God.  As with Abraham and Sarah, the God of resurrection was not dependent on nature for the accomplishment of His plans relative to Zacharias and Elisabeth.  In the display of His power to bring physical life out of two bodies - dead as far as having children was concerned - God not only manifested His creatorial power, but also His power to raise the dead both physically and spiritually.  Believers, once spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, but now spiritually alive as new creatures in Christ, are the living testimony to that mighty power

1:19.  “And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.”

1:20.  “And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.”

Gabriel, incidentally means man of God.

God is offended when we doubt His word, as it is written, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Ro 14:23).  Grace would give Zacharias the sign he asked for, but Divine holiness must invest it also with the character of judgment for the offense given God through unbelief.  Zacharias would be dumb, and verse 62 indicates that he would also be deaf, until the promise was fulfilled; and in regard to this judgment upon Zacharias, Grant has made an interesting and very pertinent comment, “Thus also the priestly office has failed in Israel, her oracle is silent, her witness is that of judgment upon herself.  The multitudes gaze upon her, only to behold her dumb: till by and by her season is fulfilled, and ‘God’s oath’ is no longer barren.”  In this same connection the deafness of Zacharias indicated in verse 62, would correspond to the four hundred years when Israel received no communication from God; but as his deafness and dumbness ended with the birth of the promised Son, so was it with Israel: at the birth of Christ God’s voice was heard again, and the mouths of believing Israelites were opened in worship and testimony.

A further incidental lesson to be learnt from the dumbness and deafness of Zacharias is that unbelief cuts off further revelation from God, and silences our testimony until there is confession, and restoration of our communion with God.

The immutability of God’s promises is declared in the words, “... which shall be fulfilled in their season.”

1:21.  “And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple.”

1:22.  “And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.”

The judgment of God had rendered him incapable of communicating the good news to the waiting people, and few will have difficulty seeing in this a foreshadowing of the “dumbness” that was inflicted on Israel two thousand years ago for their failure to believe the good news that the Messiah had come.  The continuation of the dumbness until the birth of the child, reminds us that Israel’s witness to the nations won’t resume until “the Child” the Lord Jesus Christ comes through faith into the hearts of the hundred and forty-four thousand who will be miraculously converted following the rapture of the Church, Re 7:4, and whose testimony will lead multitudes of other Jews, and Gentiles to saving faith in Christ during the Tribulation era.

Of practical import is the truth that a man cannot be a witness for God until Christ has come into his life through faith.  

1:23.  “And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.”

Beyond the literal end of his period of service in the temple, and his departure to his own house, may lie a deeper significance.  It may be, in fact, as Grant suggests, that it is the symbolic intimation that the day was not far off when the whole temple ritual would be brought to an end because of Israel’s rejection of Christ.

1:24.  “And after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,”

1:25.  “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.”

Since Zacharias and Elizabeth represent the believing remnant within the apostate mass of the nation, her conceiving and hiding herself five months may be the symbolic foreshadowing of what followed the Lord’s death and resurrection: that believing remnant was the nucleus of what could have been the new believing nation which would have inherited millennial blessings following the Lord’s death and the ensuing seven years of the Tribulation. The end of Zacharias’ term of service in the temple, and Elisabeth’s being hidden for five months, point to the fact that the believing remnant were unrecognized by the unbelieving bulk of the nation as the true Israel; and John’s brief life in the desert (picture of the remnant in the spiritual desert of Jewish unbelief), followed by his premature death, portray the experience of that early remnant.  It died prematurely due to the failure of the nation to believe in Christ, its place being taken by the Church, the history of which comes as a parenthesis interrupting the continuity of God’s dealings with Israel.  Following the rapture of the Church, however, God will resume His dealings with His ancient people, and again there will be a repentant believing remnant: the hundred and forty-four thousand Jews who will be converted in the interval between the rapture of the Church and the beginning of the Tribulation.  But unlike the remnant of Christ’s day, that future remnant will go on to become the new Israel that will enter the Millennium.

Since five is the Biblical number of responsibility, the significance of Elisabeth’s remaining in seclusion for five months may be the symbolic announcement of the fact that those days preceding the Lord’s death were days of responsibility for Israel.  She was responsible to believe the gospel of the (millennial) kingdom, and trust in Christ as her Messiah Savior so that she might enter the Millennium.  Sadly, she failed to fulfil her responsibility.

1:26.  “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,”

Again Gabriel was sent as God’s messenger, and it is significant that it wasn’t to Jerusalem or to the temple, but to Galilee meaning a circuit (as enclosed, or rolled around), sometimes called Galilee of the Gentiles, the place always associated with faith; and to Nazareth meaning a branch: preservation.  The meaning of Galilee suggests God’s watchful care over those who are His; and the connection of Christ with Nazareth is declared in that in the OT He is referred to six times under the figure of a branch, see Isa 4:2; 11:1; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zech 3:8 and 6:12.

The fact that his visit was in the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy has also a spiritual message.  Since six is the biblical number of man, sin, weakness, incompleteness, failure, falling short of God’s perfect number seven, it isn’t difficult to see in this the further confirmation that the announcement to Mary came at a time when Israel’s spiritual state answered to the evil symbolically inherent in the number six.  Because of her sin, and failure to repent and trust in Christ, the Israel of that day would not inherit the millennial kingdom; but believing Gentiles would be taken up to inherit, not an earthly, but a heavenly kingdom whose blessings are eternal.

1:27.  “To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”

Her virgin state points to her spiritual condition: she was one of the few who had remained faithful to God when the mass of the nation had apostatized. 

Her espousal to Joseph meaning let him add, points symbolically to the fact that she was spiritually espoused to the true Joseph, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Her espoused husband’s being of the house of David beloved, adds the further detail that Joseph also belonged to the true David, and was therefore himself beloved of God, as is every believer.  The meaning of Mary is their rebellion, the evil meaning of her name simply emphasizing the grace that would look on Adam’s ruined rebel race, and provide redemption at incalculable cost: the death of God’s own Son.

Joseph and Mary were both of the royal line of David, thus establishing Christ’s claim to the throne of Israel.

1:28.  “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”

It is to be recognized that God’s selection of Mary to be the human mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, was a sovereign choice unrelated to any special virtue in her.  No woman, however godly, merited this honor.  Mary was as much in need of redemption as was every other, her own acknowledgment of that truth being found in verses 46 and 47, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”  The Lord was no less her Savior than He was that of every other sinner, for it is written, “There is none righteous, no, not one.... For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” Ro 3:10-23.

“Highly favored” may be translated full of grace, but it refers to one who is the recipient, not the source of grace. Rome’s adulation of Mary is pure and simple idolatry; while her being presented to the dupes of the system as the mediator between God and men, is a flat contradiction of Scripture which declares that, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,” 1 Tim 2:5.

1:29.  “And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.”

She was as startled and mystified as had been Zacharias, and the impact of the angel’s appearance is indicated in that “troubled” is literally disturbed wholly: greatly agitated: alarmed, as well she might be, for it was one thing to be confronted with an angel in the temple as Zacharias had been, but a very different matter to suddenly find yourself being addressed by one in your own home.

1:30.  “And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.”

Her fears were allayed by the assurance that her life had merited God’s approval, not because she was sinless, but because obviously she was a woman of faith, and every person of faith is approved of God, the Lord’s precious blood having cleansed believers from all sin.

1:31.  “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS”

His being conceived in her womb, and His entering the world by human birth, as does every man, declares the Lord’s perfect humanity, but the fact that the conception was by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not by human generation, declares His perfect deity. 

Jesus is the Greek form of Jehoshua, and means Jehovah is salvation.  It is the name uniquely associated with Him as Man and as Savior.  Every Scriptural mention of it directs attention to the salvation He has won for men through His death and resurrection, and to the condescending grace that brought Him down to earth as Man to associate Himself with the human race, and to be man’s Savior.

Verse 34 indicates that she was aware that she was to bear this child before being married to Joseph, so that she was also fully aware of the shame that would be hers as an unwed mother, and her willingness to live with that stigma declares the extent of her submission to God’s will.  It is a submission all of us would do well to emulate.

The Lord Himself suffered the stigma of illegitimacy, see for example Jn 8:41.

1:32.  “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:”

His condescending to become Man does not diminish His greatness or exclude His deity; nor does His willingness to be born into a humble Jewish home preclude the fact that He is the King, not only of Israel, but of the world.  His being, humanly speaking, descended from David marks Him as the One in Whom is fulfilled God’s promise to David, “And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever,” 2 Sa 7:16.  He is the One foretold by Isaiah, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” Isa 9:6-7.

1:33.  “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Since the name Jacob is associated with the flesh, and Israel with the spirit, the use of the name Jacob rather than Israel emphasizes the fact that His still future coming will be to establish a literal earthly kingdom which will last for a thousand years (the last thousand of this earth’s history), but that after the Millennium that kingdom will continue for ever on the new earth.  

1:34.  “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”

Unlike Zecharias in verse 18, Mary didn’t question that the words of Gabriel would be fulfilled: she simply wished to know how.  Zecharias’ question expressed doubt that the foretold event would occur; Mary’s expressed the belief that it would.

1:35.  “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing (one) which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

There was no rebuke in the angel’s reply, as there had been in his response to Zacharias’ doubting question.  He gladly supplied the knowledge she sought.  All would be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“... overshadow” here is defined in Strong’s Concordance as  “to cast a shade upon, i.e., (by analogy) to envelop in a haze of brilliancy; figuratively to invest with preternatural influence.”

An alternative rendering of the latter part of this verse is, “The child to be born will be called holy, The Son of God.”  Jesus Christ was God manifest in flesh (1 Tim 3:16), as He Himself declared to Philip, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” Jn 14:9, and as He declared on another occasion, “I and my Father are one,” Jn 10:30.  Nor did He become the Son of God at His birth: He was always God the Son, coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

1:36.  “And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.”

1:37.  “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”

Not only did Gabriel tell Mary how his words would be accomplished: he graciously added the information that would confirm her faith: her cousin Elisabeth, who was old, and who had always been barren, was now six months pregnant!  This is an abiding principle with God.  When there is first faith to believe His Word, He then confirms that faith, e.g., as sinners we must first believe without proof, but as soon as that faith is exercised, the indwelling Holy Spirit then gradually gives enlightenment relative to the hidden meaning of Scripture, that understanding confirming the original faith. 

1:38.  “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.  And the angel departed from her.”

It may perhaps be inferred that it was not just in this, but in everything, that Mary was perfectly compliant with God’s will, her habitual acquiescence commending her to Him as the human instrument through which His Son should come into the world.  God sets a high value on such a submissive spirit.

1:39.  “And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;”

1:40.  “And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted (greeted) Elisabeth.”

The reason for Mary’s visit to Elisabeth isn’t given, but presumably it was to hear from her and Zacharias the details of the angel’s visit to them; and her hurrying there is easily understood.  Had we been in her position we too would have hurried to talk with another who had a similar experience: a visit from the archangel; the announced birth of a son, when humanly speaking such a thing was impossible; the foretold unique character of both sons, the one to be the “seed of the woman” as promised in Ge 3:15, God the Son incarnate; and the other His forerunner whose ministry had been foretold in Scripture, Mal 4:5. (With reference to Mal 4:5 the Lord Himself explained in Mt 17:10-13 that His forerunner was not to be Elijah resurrected, but rather one ministering in the spirit and power of Elijah).

1:41.  “And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:”

Even though the Lord was still in Mary’s womb, His presence caused John, still in Elisabeth’s womb, to leap for joy, and caused also Elisabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  What momentous days those were!  After four hundred years during which earth had no communi­cation from God, His power was beginning to be displayed again in the midst of His earthly people Israel, as the long-promised Messiah was about to appear on earth as Man. 

If the Lord in the womb of Mary caused John to leap in the womb of Elisabeth, should not His presence in us through the Holy Spirit cause our hearts to leap for joy occasionally as we ponder that miracle of grace that brought Him down to earth to die so that we might live and dwell with Him eternally in heaven?

1:42.  “And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

The repetition of the identical blessing pronounced by Gabriel, “Blessed art thou among women,” verse 28, must have been reassuring to Mary, for what is often forgotten is that the majority of those who learned of her pregnancy probably attributed it to fornication, rather than to the miraculous power of God, see Jn 8:41 where the clear implication is that the unbelieving Jews considered the Lord to have been born of fornication.  It must have been difficult in the extreme for that godly young woman to have to live under such an unjust stigma.

The error of Rome is refuted by the fact that Mary is said merely to have been blessed by God, not that she herself was the source of blessing to anyone.  It is the Lord alone Who is the source of blessing.  Nor, contrary to the teaching of Rome, is she ever called the mother of God.  She was privileged to be the mother of the Man Christ Jesus, but obviously the eternal God does not have either a father or mother.

We should note also that here it is not said the Lord is the Source of blessing (though we know, of course, that as God, He is), but rather that He as Man is also blessed by God the Father.

1:43.  “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

1:44.  “For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”

By the revelation of the Holy spirit, Elisabeth knew that Mary was to be the mother of the Messiah, and her words must have brought comfort and encouragement at a time when Mary sorely needed them.  Elisabeth’s words also indicate that she recognized that the Lord was present that day in the form of the fetus in Mary’s womb, and it is to be further noted that the fetus in her own womb responded to that divine Presence by leaping for joy.  Surely this ought to teach that a fetus is the beginning of a human life, it being as much murder to destroy a fetus as to take the life of a baby already born.  

1:45.  “And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

1:46.  “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,”

Elisabeth declared that Mary would be blessed (happy) because of her faith to believe God; and what was true of her is true of everyone who believes Him.  Elizabeth’s further expressed confidence that God would do all He had promised relative to Mary, applies also to everyone who has the faith to believe His word.  Not only will all His promises to us be fulfilled, but that fulfillment will be in a measure beyond the ability of finite minds to grasp, as it is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” 1 Co 2:9.

Mary’s response was to declare the greatness of God, for “magnify” means to declare that someone is great.  (The similarity of Mary’s song of praise to that of Hannah in 1 Sam 2,  scarcely needs mention).

1:47.  “And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

It is interesting to note that her soul was the active agent in ascribing greatness to God in verse 46, but relative to her salvation the active agent was her spirit.  With our bodies we have world consciousness through our five senses; with our souls we have self consciousness; but it is by our spirits that we have God consciousness, and until conversion we are spiritually dead. Her acknowledgment of having been saved refutes the further error  of Rome that Mary was sinless.  Like everyone else born into this world she was a sinner who needed to be saved from hell and fitted for heaven, and like every other saved person she was willing to confess her need of salvation.  The proof that she was a saved person is presented in that she acknowledged God as her Savior, for it is axiomatic that only those who have been saved can be said to have a Savior.

1:48.  “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

This goes beyond thanksgiving for God’s having chosen her to be the Lord’s mother in spite of her humble circumstances.  The “low estate” includes also her fallen state as a daughter of Adam, and her need to be saved out of that state.  Likewise the acknowledgment of her being called blessed by future generations, goes beyond her having been privileged to be the human instrument through whom the Lord would come into the world: it embraces also her blessedness as one who has been saved through faith in the atoning death of that Son.

1:49.  “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.”

This reference to God’s power directs our thoughts beyond His having performed the miracle of making her a mother apart from natural process: it reminds us that He Who was about to bring His Son out of a virgin’s womb, would also bring that same Son out of the tomb in resurrection glory following His sin-atoning death.  It reminds us too that it is by His mighty power that men and women, dead in trespasses and sins, are raised up out of that state as new creatures now possessed of His life, His nature, and as holy in His sight as is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  His holiness requires that those who would have fellowship with Him, and who would dwell in His heaven, must also be holy.  The power spoken of here goes far beyond any other: it is omnipotence, the power inherent in God.

1:50.  “And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.”

Here her praise focuses on His mercy which is as great as His power.  It is mercy beyond human comprehe­nsion that would redeem rebel sinners, and at such cost: the death of His Own Son.  He Who called the universe into existence by a word, could just as easily have banished the whole sinful race into hell, and created a new one, but instead He has chosen to offer the rebels His priceless redemption as a gift, making those willing to accept it new creatures having His own life and nature, and therefore fitted to enjoy communion with Him, and to dwell with Him in His holy heaven for ever.

The fear referred to here is not that slavish apprehension compelled by dread of hurt or punishment, but rather that reverence which is concomitant with love and adoration, though it doesn’t exclude the fear of punishment for disobedience.

1:51.  “He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”

1:52.  “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.” 

This points forward, first to Calvary, and then to that soon-coming day when every unrepentant rebel will be cast into hell, and there will be nothing to mar His fair creation.

1:53.  “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent away empty.”

The reference here is not to literal, but spiritual hunger and riches.  Those who hunger after righteousness will be abundantly and eternally satisfied; but the self-righteous, portrayed by the rich, will go out into eternity with nothing. 

It is the certainty that all of these things will be done, which enables God, through Mary, to speak of them as accomplished facts.

1:54.  “He hath holpen (helped) his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.”

1:55.  “As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham. and to his seed for ever.”

1:56.  “And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.”

Undoubtedly she is referring, not only to the help God has given Israel in the past, but to this His greatest help: His sending the long-promised Seed, the Deliverer, the Messiah, His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver them and all who would believe, from spiritual bondage far more terrible than anything they had ever known even in Egypt or Babylon.

The final clause, “in remembrance of his mercy” is ambiguous, it being unclear whether the one who remembers is God or Israel, though it seems that it is God Himself Who remembers to extend mercy in fulfillment of His promises to Abraham and the patriarchs, and David.  If the application is to Israel, then it is the reminder that Israel should not forget God’s multiplied mercies, nor should we.

1:57.  “Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.”  

1:58.  “And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.”

Since Elisabeth represents the believing remnant of Israel, the birth of this son points to a still future day, when out of the travail of the Tribulation, another remnant of Israel will bring forth another “John,” the two witnesses of Revelation 11, whose appearance will signify the imminence of the Lord’s return in power and glory to end the Tribulation and establish His millennial kingdom.

1:59.  “And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.”

1:60.  “And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.”

Eight is the Biblical number of a new beginning, and for Israel, and the world, the birth of John heralded the beginning of a glorious new day.  The literal cutting off of the flesh in circumcision represents the spiritual cutting off of the flesh which occurs at the moment of conversion.  There was also a change of name.  He should have been called Zacharias, but God had changed that: he was to be called John Jehovah is gracious giver.  A change of name, however, is indicative of a changed state, note for example Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel.  This too occurs at conversion, for the believer has the name of God upon him.  We see therefore in the circumcision and naming of this child on the eighth day, the foreshadowing of what will be in the Tribulation when there will be born a new nation, having the deeds of the flesh “cut off,” and having the name of God upon them.

1:61.  “And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.”

And so will it be in the Tribulation.  Only the believing remnant will have the name of God upon them.  The rest of the nation will remain apostate, and will worship Satan and the beast.

1:62.  “And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.”

1:63.  “And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John.  And they marveled all.”

1:64.  “And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.”

Their having to speak to Zecharias by signs, indicates that he was deaf as well as dumb, the two conditions corresponding to the spiritual state of the nation which he represents.  Out of the Tribulation judgments will come a new Israel whose ears will have been unstopped, and whose tongues will have been loosed, so that they will speak, that is, be His witnesses to the nations; and they will praise, that is, worship Him out of grateful redeemed hearts.

1:65.  “And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.”

God’s dealings with Israel in the Tribulation will likewise induce fear that will lead some to repent, and others to blaspheme, see Revelation 16:9.

1:66.  “And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be!  And the hand of the Lord was with him.”

The wonder evoked by the miraculous birth of John is but a foreshadowing of the greater wonder that should have accompanied the still more miraculous birth of the Lord Jesus Christ; yet apart from the worship of the few such as the shepherds at His birth and later Simeon, Anna, and the wise men, His birth went virtually unnoticed, as it is written, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Jn 1:11).

1:67.  “And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,”

1:68.  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,”

If the birth of the forerunner called forth such praise and worship, who can estimate what is due to the Savior Himself!  The worship of Zecharias in response to the birth of this son, however, was very clearly for the Messiah Whose birth was soon to follow.  It was in the giving of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, that God had visited Israel, and provided for her redemption, and though her redemption price hadn’t yet been paid, Zecharias could speak of it as though it were already accomplished, knowing that not a word of what God has spoken will go unfulfilled.

1:69.  “And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;”

1:70.  “As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:”

1:71.  “That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;”

1:72.  “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;”

1:73.  “The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,”

Here the praise focuses on the fact that the Redeemer would be the fulfillment of God’s promise to David, see comments on verse 32.  His reigning over Israel will be synchronous with her becoming again what she had been in the days of Solomon: the head, and not the tail among the nations.

It is necessary to note here incidentally, that in the Millennium the rule of Christ will be theocratic, as in the days of David and Solomon.  The Lord will be ruling Israel and the world from the heavenly Jerusalem poised in the heavens over the millennial earth, but it will be a literal descendant of David who will sit on the throne in the earthly Jerusalem.

1:74.  “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,”

1:75.  “In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”

The theme dwelt on here deals with the service and worship which Israel will render to God in the Millennium.  It will be as described in Zec 14:20, “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS TO THE LORD; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.”  The Canaanite, meaning trafficker, represents all those who traffick in spiritual things simply for gain.  As Israel was full of such evil traffickers in the days of Christ, so does Christendom today abound with the same evil breed.

1:76.  “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;”

1:77.  “To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,”

Here the prophecy is addressed directly to Zacharias’ own son John.  He would be the last of the OT prophets, the contemporary of the Lord, going before Him “to prepare his ways” by pointing Him out, and calling on the people to repent and be converted by believing on Him as their Savior, so that they might enter into the blessings of the millennial kingdom.

1:78.  “Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,”

1:79.  “To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide out feet into the way of peace.”

Zacharias’ praise concludes with the declaration that all these blessings are due entirely to “the tender mercy of our God,” and not to any virtue in Israel.  This same grateful acknowledgment is given by every redeemed man and woman.

The reference to the dayspring from on high points to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Light of the world; while verse 79 assures us that the purpose of His coming was to bring us out of nature’s darkness into the light of the knowledge of God; to translate us out of the kingdom of death into that of life, so that we might enjoy eternally His peace which passeth all understanding.

1:80.  “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.”

As with the Lord, so also with His forerunner: of both it is written that “the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit” (2:40).  The years of both between birth and the beginning of their ministry are not recorded, except for the brief mention of the incident concerning the Lord when He was twelve years old, and the statement here concerning John that he was in the deserts till the day of his shewing to Israel.

It is instructive to note that this is the pattern in connection with all who have been much used of God.  There are the years of obscurity in preparation for a sometimes relatively short public ministry.

[Luke 2]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough