Zacharias And Elizabeth
INTRODUCTION: John the Baptist is an essential character in the fulfilled prophecy of the first coming of Messiah. This study of that man will focus on his parents, and the brief reference to his family relationship to the Son of man. Only Luke's gospel account gives us details about the parents of John the baptist. The other three gospels introduce him as an adult at the beginning of his public ministry: Matthew in chapter 3:1, Mark essentially in chapter 1:1, and John in chapter 1:6. Since both of John's parents were from the tribe of Levi, John the baptist could not have been the Messiah who was to come through the tribe of Judah. But there may have been some confusion about John's lineage as a Levite because: 1) he was born in the territory of Judah, 2) there was some family relationship between Mary (descended through Judah) and Elizabeth (descended through Aaron), 3) his parents were most likely deceased when he began his public ministry, and 4) his ministry was in the wilderness near the Jordan, not at the temple in priestly duties or even among other Levites.
NOTE: Bible text is taken from the 1999 American King James Version.
A - Zacharias, The Father Of John
"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 Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, 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. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell on him. 13 But the angel said to him, Fear not, Zacharias: for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elisabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you shall have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 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. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 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."
COMMENTS: Through Luke's writing as guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we have additional information from and about those who were direct participants in these events, that otherwise would have been lacking if not for Luke's report. In Luke 1:5 we are introduced to Zacharias as he is performing the duty assigned specifically to the descendents of Aaron among the sons of Levi. "The sons of Amram; Aaron and Moses: and Aaron was separated, that he should sanctify the most holy things, he and his sons for ever, to burn incense before the LORD, to minister to him, and to bless in his name for ever." (1 Chronicles 23:13 AKJV). Zacharias's wife is also identified as a descendent of Aaron, they are both "upright in the sight of God, walking without reproach in all the Lord’s commands and requirements." Thus the inspired text describes them as committed followers of the true and living God. Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years, but apparently they had prayed for a child because Gabriel tells Zacharias that his prayer has been answered. Gabriel further states that the child born of Elizabeth is to be named John, he must drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. John will go before the lord God of Israel in the spirit of Elijah (Elias in the KJV), to turn the hearts of many of the descendents of Israel back to the Lord. This does not designate John as being Elijah literally, though it does allows for predictive accuracy figuratively. The essence of some of Gabriel's words are parallel to those found with the close of the Old Testament at the very end of Malachi's prophecy. "5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (Malachi 4:5-6 AKJV). Chronologically Later from this point, Jesus will give validity to John's ministry as fulfillment of the coming of Elijah, at least in part. According to the text, the birth of John will also be the cause of joy and rejoicing among many people: and are we who believe during this era not among the many who rejoice?
B - Zacharias Poses A Question to the Angel
"18 And Zacharias said to the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said to him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak to you, and to show you these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, you shall be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because you believe not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And 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 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus has the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men."
COMMENTS: We know, without any derived assurance necessary from extended examination of the words or grammatical structure of what he said, that Zacharias posed his question out of unbelief because Gabriel said that Zacharias's unbelief brought about his inability to speak for a time. Even though Zacharias was upright before the Lord, he still had human weaknesses as do we all. Zacharias tried unsuccessfully to thoroughly communicate when he came out of the temple, but the text does say the people knew he had seen a vision. Elizabeth did in fact conceive, she was quite happy, and she kept herself in secret for about five months while the child grew within. There must have been many thoughts running through the minds of Zacharias and Elizabeth, as they waited to see the birth of the son they knew was a special gift of God. Over this more than nine month period before conception and during the pregnancy, each step that was realized made more certain the words of Gabriel. And all the while Zacharias remained unable to speak just as he had been told.
C - Mary Visited Her Relative After Receiving Her Own Message From Gabriel
"34 Then said Mary to the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Ghost shall come on you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, your cousin Elisabeth, she has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her. 39 ¶ And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 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: 42 And she spoke out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And what is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, see, as soon as the voice of your salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord."
COMMENTS: Since the text states that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, we have full reliance on the content of what she spoke at the first greeting of her relative Mary. That content is a further affirmation of the very thing Gabriel had spoken to Mary at his visit with her: "that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God." Elizabeth called Mary "the mother of my Lord" and then stated "blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord." These two elements stated by Elizabeth are fascinating to contemplate: "mother of my Lord" (designating Jesus), and "told her from the Lord" (designating God). For the scripture confirms in both Old and New Testaments that God is one Lord. "4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 AKJV). "29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment." (Mark 12:29-30 AKJV). What a beautiful harmony of action by the triune God, as the Holy Spirit also was participating by moving within two women and within and infant in the womb. The message of the Holy spirit through Elizabeth identifies Mary's baby as the Lord, while at the same time attributing Gabriel's message to Mary as being from the Lord God. Mary had not even had time to tell Elizabeth of Gabriel's visit, so Elizabeth's knowledge of that would be further confirmation to both of them of God's design as they discussed these events! These two women were very blessed of the Lord, and even the six month infant growing within his mother leapt for joy at the sound of Mary's voice, which is a very unique cognitive ability displayed while still in the womb. John is certainly no ordinary child since he has been called of God for a unique role among men. Gabriel had foretold Zacharias John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother's womb, and now the record bears proof of the accuracy of that statement! All of these events must have had a pronounced effect on those who were directly involved as they happened, and they should have no less profound impact on our faith as we read the inspired report, knowing the absolute trustworthy quality of scripture.
D - The Birth Of John The Baptist
"56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and returned to her own house. 57 ¶ Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed great mercy on her; and they rejoiced with her. 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. 60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61 And they said to her, There is none of your kindred that is called by this name. 62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marveled all. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, and praised God. 65 And fear came on all that dwelled round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 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."
COMMENTS: Zacharias has now been unable to speak for over nine months, but after he declares on a writing tablet the name of his son as given by the angel Gabriel, his speech returns and he continues to praise God. The choice of John as the name of this newborn son is surprising to those relatives, and to have Zacharias confirm on a writing tablet, and then immediately be able to speak, must have been quite astonishing to the observers. In fact, the text tells us that fear fell upon those around them and word spread throughout the hill country of Judaea. Those who heard these things "laid them up in their hearts," so we know contemplation of the child's future was more to them than just a passing interest. It seems from the given chronology, that Mary probably left Elizabeth just shortly after the birth of John. Mary has witnessed the events in the family of her relative, and this surely must have been a blessing to her, of further assurance of God's word as she had ahead of herself the incomparable birth of the very Son of God as promised of God through Gabriel. This passage then closes with the assurance that the hand of the Lord was with John.
E - Part One Of Zacharias's Prophecy By The Holy Spirit
"67 ¶ And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people, 69 And has raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; 70 As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73 The oath which he swore to our father Abraham, 74 That he would grant to us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life."
COMMENTS: Since the text tells us that Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit when he spoke, what he says is important and reliable. What an interesting declaration of blessing to the Lord that He has visited and redeemed His people: that He has raised up that promised horn of salvation from the line of king David. Mary at this point is still carrying her baby in the womb, but these words of Zacharias are a reference to her child not to John the baptist. Zacharias further asserts This to be fulfillment of prophecy spoken by holy prophets since the world began, which testifies to the consistency of Preparation for Messiah all throughout the Old Testament times. Zacharias especially points out the oath sworn to Abraham. "16 And said, By myself have I sworn, said the LORD, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son: 17 That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18 And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice." (Genesis 22:16-18 AKJV). We must continually remind ourselves of the many generations of believers who have preceded us in their faith walk, coming to the end of their physical lives while still waiting for fulfillment. But had they not been an earlier part of many generations producing children in the Lord's plan, members of our present generation, including numerous gentiles, could not have been born to join in the Lord's salvation to eternal life. As we wait for the completion of our salvation, we should not be discouraged by the continuation of evil around us in this fallen world. Jesus provided this answer to his disciples after is resurrection, and likewise to us through the recorded scripture. "6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said to them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power." (Acts 1:6-7 AKJV).
F - Part Two Of Zacharias's Prophecy By The Holy Spirit
"76 And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest: for you shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
COMMENTS: Now the words of Zacharias are directed to apply to his own son, designating him as a prophet of the highest, going before the face of the Lord to prepare his way in fulfillment of an earlier prophet's words. "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, he shall come, said the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:1 AKJV). And as the Lord speaks through the prophet, he declares that the messenger prepares the way for the Lord himself, who is sought by Israel, again confirming that Jesus is the Lord God. Later Jesus confirms the identity of John as the one who fulfills the role as the messenger to prepare the way. "27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you. 28 For I say to you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (Luke 7:27-28 AKJV).
King David knew about the tender mercy of our God that would bring remission for our sins. "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness: according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions." (Psalms 51:1 AKJV). The dayspring from on high as a person, not just a personification, will visit to bring light and life. That is the rising of a new light from heaven that reaches into the heart of man, much more efficacious than the rising sunlight from the east that can be designated by the word dayspring. And all who yet need salvation from sin are certainly still in the very shadow of death until that dawning light falls upon them. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, on them has the light shined." (Isaiah 9:2 AKJV). And the light of His Word will truly guide us into peace with God. "Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path." (Psalms 119:105 AKJV). The gospel message of peace continues to be carried by beautiful feet guided by His light. "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings, that publishes peace; that brings good tidings of good, that publishes salvation; that said to Zion, Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7 AKJV).
G - The Epilog To John's Infancy
80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing to Israel."
COMMENTS: The narrative for this portion of the life story of John the baptist closes with a simple but revealing statement. He grew physically and strong in spirit. Luke's gospel, as the only one to do so, also records A very similar statement regarding the Lord. "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was on him." (Luke 2:40 AKJV). We also know from this closing statement that John remained in the desolate and remote wilderness of Judah, until "his showing" to Israel; and he was apparently not involved in any priestly duties at Jerusalem. the Greek term translated here as showing appears only this one time in the New Testament, and it signifies 1) a pointing out, a public showing forth, 2) a proclaiming, announcing, inaugurating of such as are elected to office. This inauguration was brought to pass by the Lord as we again refer to the words of the prophet, Malachi 3:1 "Behold, I will send my messenger ..." All things are prepared and orchestrated by the LORD of hosts!
--- Reflections in prayer ---
Lord, as I consider the way you worked through this couple who probably felt their significance was on the decline because of their age and the routine nature of their service, I am reminded of your words to Paul that could apply to a range of physical circumstances: "And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." I praise you for answering a long awaited prayer, because it encourages me to continue in prayer in my own life. Through your answer, you demonstrated your power by using a little known couple near the end of their productive lives, to produce a child who developed into manhood in the remote regions of Judaea until you brought him to prominence. These humble beginnings for one who was to be of utmost significance serve to underscore that your actions are always above those of man's independent wisdom or strength. For as the apostle also said, "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence." I certainly consider my role in your kingdom to be from a position of weakness, so I ask that you would give me the desire and faith to be used of you in whatever manner you have planned for my life. The activity of the Holy Spirit is very evident in the lives of John's parents, but then they passed off the scene before John came into prominence. I pray that I will be yielded to your Spirit to work within me, even though my entire life may be obscure to the world's observations. To God be the Glory! Amen.
Other Studies in a brief Series on John the Baptist
Published 1 August 2007