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The first Greek word, epeideper (lit. because), occurs only here in the New Testament, though other major Greek writers such as Thucydides, Philo, and Josephus used it. [Note: Henry J. Cadbury, "Commentary on the Preface of Luke," in The Beginnings of Christianity, ed. F. J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (London: Macmillan and Co, 1920-33), 2:489-510.] Luke tells us that when he wrote his Gospel there were already several written accounts of Jesus’ ministry, perhaps including the Gospels of Matthew (A.D. 40-70) and Mark (A.D. 63-70). I think it is most probable that Matthew wrote in the late 40s, Mark in the late 60s, and Luke in the late 50s. There were probably other uninspired accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry circulating when Luke wrote his Gospel. Luke’s statement here does not imply that the existing accounts were necessarily deficient. He simply wanted to write one that was orderly and based on reliable research (Luke 1:3). The things accomplished or fulfilled refer to God’s purposes for Jesus’ life and ministry.
I. INTRODUCTION 1:1-4
Luke introduced his Gospel in a classical literary fashion.
"It was customary among the great Greek and Hellenistic historians, including the first-century Jewish writer Josephus, to explain and justify their work in a preface. Their object was to assure the reader of their capability, thorough research, and reliability." [Note: Liefeld, p. 821.]
Luke’s introduction contrasts with Matthew’s genealogy, Mark’s title statement, and John’s theological prologue. It would have been what a cultured Greek would have expected to find at the beginning of a reputable historical work. It is all one sentence in Greek.
The writer wanted to assure Theophilus (Luke 1:3) that the information that he and other writers had included in their accounts was valid. It had come from eyewitness testimony of people who accompanied Jesus from the beginning of His public ministry and who were servants of the word, namely, the gospel message. These people were the apostles and other eyewitnesses, such as Jesus’ mother (cf. Acts 10:39-42). Luke used the Greek word logos, "word," often in his Gospel, especially in the sections that are unique to it. [Note: See Lloyd Gaston, Horae Synopticae Electonicae; Word Statistics of the Synoptic Gospels, pp. 64, 76; and John C. Hawkins, Horae Synopticae; Contributions to the Study of the Synoptic Problem, pp. 20, 43.] Paul also claimed to communicate faithfully what others had "handed down" to him (1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3). [Note: See Oscar Cullmann, The Early Church: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, pp. 59-75.] This verse is a claim to careful research using reliable sources of information.
Until now Luke had described the work of previous writers. Now he referred to his own Gospel. He, too, had done careful research and proceeded to write an orderly account. Significantly Luke did not describe himself as an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry but as a researcher of it.
"In consecutive order" (NASB, Gr. kathexes, "orderly" NIV) does not necessarily imply chronological order. It probably means that Luke wrote according to a plan that God led him to adopt. All the Gospel writers seem to have departed from a strictly chronological arrangement of events occasionally for thematic purposes.
This is one of the clearest proofs in the Bible that God did not always dictate the words of Scripture to the writers who simply copied them down. That view is the dictation theory of inspiration. He did this with some passages (e.g., Exodus 20:1-17; et al.) but not most.
Theophilus’ name means "lover of God." This fact has led to some speculation about whether "Theophilus" was really a substitute for the real name of Luke’s addressee, or perhaps Luke wrote generally to all lovers of God. The use of "most excellent" (Gr. kratiste) suggests that Theophilus was a real person of some distinction (cf. Acts 23:26; Acts 24:3; Acts 26:25). The name was common in the Greek world. He may have been Luke’s patron or publisher. [Note: See E. J. Goodspeed, "Some Greek Notes: I. Was Theophilus Luke’s Publisher?" Journal of Biblical Literature 73 (1954):84. See also Bock, Luke, pp. 23, 42-43, for further speculation about Theophilus’ identity.]
Luke did not address Theophilus in a way that enables us to know if he was a believer in Jesus when Luke penned these words. He had received some information about Christianity, specifically reports of the words and works of Jesus Christ. We do not know either if Theophilus was in danger of abandoning the faith or if he just needed a strong foundation for immature faith. Luke’s introduction promised a factual foundation. [Note: See Earle E. Cairns, "Luke As a Historian," Bibliotheca Sacra 122:487 (July-September 1965):220-26; F. Duane Lindsey, "Lucan Theology in Contemporary Perspective," Bibliotheca Sacra 125:500 (October-December 1968):346-51; Merrill C. Tenney, "Historical Verities in the Gospel of Luke," Bibliotheca Sacra 135:538 (April-June 1978):126-38; and Nicholas M. van Ommeren, "Was Luke an Accurate Historian?" Bibliotheca Sacra 148:589 (January-March 1991):57-71.]
The Christian faith does not require believing things that are contrary to the facts but believing things that are true. Luke wrote his introduction to assure his readers that there was a factual basis for their faith. The gospel tradition was and is reliable. Luke was the only Gospel writer who stated his purpose at the beginning of his book (cf. John 20:31).
Herod the Great ruled over Judea, the large Roman province that included all of Israel, from 37 B.C. to A.D. 4.
Luke pointed out that both of John’s parents had a priestly heritage. The priests in Israel had the great privilege of intimate association with God through their worship and service in the sanctuary. Zechariah’s name means "Yahweh remembers" and is significant here because the birth of John was a fulfillment of a prophecy that God would send a forerunner before Israel’s Messiah. The etymological derivation of Elizabeth’s name is unclear, but possibly it means "God’s covenant." [Note: Bailey, p. 107.] Normally John would have become a priest and served in the temple as his father did.
David had divided the priesthood into 24 divisions and had placed the leader of one priestly family at the head of each group (1 Chronicles 23-24).
"Actually only four divisions returned from the Exile (Ezra 2:36-39), but the four were subdivided to make up twenty-four again with the old names." [Note: Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke, p. 68.]
Abijah was the leader of the division to which Zechariah belonged (1 Chronicles 24:10). The Exile had interrupted these divisions, but Israel’s leaders established them again following the restoration as best they could. In Zechariah’s day, each division served for one week twice a year plus during the major festivals. [Note: J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, pp. 198-207.]
1. The introduction of John’s parents 1:5-7
A. The announcement of John the Baptist’s birth 1:5-25
There are striking parallels to this account in the Old Testament. Zechariah and Elizabeth were similar to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and Rachel, to Elkanah and Hannah, and to Samson’s parents. In each case there was a divine announcement of the birth of an unusual child.
II. THE BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD OF JESUS 1:5-2:52
This section contains material unique in Luke. The only repeated statement occurs in Luke 2:39 and Matthew 2:23. Other unique features are the way Luke alternated the reader’s attention between John and Jesus, and the joy that several individuals expressed (Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 2:14; Luke 2:29-32). [Note: For studies of the structure of this passage, see Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts , 1:15-20; R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke, pp. 248-53, 292-98, 408-10; J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke I-IX, pp. 313-15; and David E. Malick, "A Literary Approach to the Birth Narratives in Luke 1-2," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, pp. 93-107.]
This section has a decidedly Semitic style that suits the connections that it has with the Old Testament. Matthew used fulfillment formulas to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but Luke was less direct. He showed that Old Testament predictions lay behind these events by describing them in the style and vocabulary of the Old Testament. He also featured Jerusalem and the temple, which provide added connections to the Old Testament.
The alternation between John and Jesus compares and contrasts them (cf. 1 Samuel 1-3). [Note: See G. N. Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching, pp. 55-56.] Luke presented them both as prophets in the Old Testament mold, but Jesus was infinitely superior to John. Note the uses of the title "Most High" (Luke 1:32; Luke 1:35; Luke 1:76). [Note: See H. H. Oliver, "The Lucan Birth Stories and the Purpose of Luke-Acts," New Testaments Studies 10 (1963-64):215-26.] First, Luke recorded the announcements of John’s and then Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:5-38). This is a section of comparison primarily. Then he told of Elizabeth blessing Mary and Mary blessing God, a section of predominant contrast (Luke 1:39-56). Finally we have the births of John and Jesus, a section of both comparison and contrast (Luke 1:57 to Luke 2:52).
Luke recorded the appearance of angels in this section. Apparently he did so to strengthen the point that Jesus was God’s provision for humankind’s need. Angels bridge the gap between God and man, and here they rejoiced in God’s provision of a Savior for humankind. Frequent references to the Holy Spirit validating and empowering Jesus’ ministry increase this emphasis (Luke 1:15; Luke 1:35; Luke 1:41; Luke 1:67; Luke 1:80; Luke 2:25-27).
The theme of joy is present explicitly in the songs and words of praise and thanksgiving as well as implicitly in the mood of the whole section. Yet there is a warning of coming pain as well as deliverance (Luke 2:35).
Note the similarity of structure that facilitates comparison of John and Jesus.
|Introduction of the parents||Luke 1:5-7||Luke 1:26-27|
|Appearance of an angel||Luke 1:8-23||Luke 1:28-30|
|Giving of a sign||Luke 1:18-20||Luke 1:34-38|
|Pregnancy of a childless woman||Luke 1:24-25||Luke 1:42|
This section (Luke 1:5-56) deals with promise while the rest of the birth and childhood narrative concerns fulfillment (Luke 1:57 to Luke 2:52).
This verse shows that Elizabeth’s childless condition was not the result of her sin. In the Old Testament, God normally blessed the godly with children (cf. Genesis 1:28; Psalms 127; Psalms 128). She and her husband were right with God and followed Him faithfully. "Blameless" (Gr. amemptos) means that they dealt with sin in their lives quickly and as God required, not that they were sinless (cf. Philippians 2:15; Philippians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; Hebrews 8:7). This Greek word is the equivalent of the Hebrew tam that describes Noah (Genesis 6:9) and Job (Job 1:8). The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was typically superficial and hypocritical, but Zechariah and Elizabeth were truly godly.
"Sometimes we are deprived of something because God has better things awaiting us down the road. When we wait patiently on the Lord, he often gives us more than we imagined possible. Zechariah and Elizabeth wanted a child; what they got was a prophet." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 55.]
Elizabeth’s condition was identical to Sarah’s (Genesis 17:16-17; cf. 1 Samuel 1:5-11). Her childless state embarrassed her (cf. Luke 1:25), and her advanced age removed the hope of bearing children from her. Whenever the Old Testament said a woman had no child it also recorded that God gave her one later. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 53.] Therefore this statement prepares the reader for a miracle.
Priests were not disqualified from serving in the temple by age, but only by infirmity. [Note: Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:135.]
Zechariah was serving God faithfully by discharging some temple function as a member of his priestly division. There were so many priests then that the great privilege of offering incense on the golden incense altar in the temple fell to a priest only once in his lifetime. [Note: Mishnah, Tamid 5:2; Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 2:284-97.] The priests decided who would offer incense at the daily sacrifice, morning and evening, by casting lots. Zechariah’s selection was undoubtedly a high point in his life and the greatest honor of his priestly career. Obviously God providentially arranged for his selection (cf. Esther 3:7; Proverbs 16:33).
2. The angel’s announcement to Zechariah 1:8-23
"It seems indeed most fitting that the Evangelic story should have taken its beginning within the Sanctuary, and at the time of sacrifice." [Note: Ibid., 1:144.]
Many godly people (Gr. laos, an important word in this Gospel) assembled in the temple courtyards for this daily offering, as was customary. Laos occurs 36 times in Luke, but only 14 times in Matthew and two times in Mark. Luke used this word as a virtual synonym for ochlos, "crowd" or "multitude." This was probably the evening incense offering (3:00 p.m., cf. Daniel 9:21; Acts 3:1). This verse heightens the suspense and prepares the reader for Luke 1:21-22. Incense symbolized the ascending prayers of God’s people that are as a sweet fragrance to Him (cf. Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4). Luke stressed prayer more than any of the Gospel writers, and this is his first reference to it. [Note: See Kyu Sam Han, "Theology of Prayer in the Gospel of Luke," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:4 (December 2000):675-93.]
This is also Luke’s first reference to an angel appearing. He evidently "materialized" beside the altar as Zechariah performed his duty of presenting incense on the altar and then prostrating himself in prayer. [Note: Mishnah Tamid 6:3.] Obviously God took the initiative at the time He chose to reveal what He was about to do. This was an angel from the Lord rather than the Angel of the Lord (cf. Luke 1:19). The right side of the altar may indicate the side of favor and honor, implying that the angel was bringing good news. Angelic appearances always indicated important events in the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 16:10-11; Judges 13:3-21).
Zechariah’s reaction was violent because for the first time, presumably, he met a supernatural person face to face. This was the typical reaction of people in such situations (cf. Luke 1:29; Luke 5:8-10; et al.).
The angel appeared to announce God’s answer to Zechariah’s prayer. He told Zechariah not to fear, a fairly common statement in Luke’s Gospel (cf. Luke 1:30; Luke 2:10; Luke 5:10; Luke 8:50; Luke 12:7; Luke 12:32). Zechariah’s prayer may have been a petition (Gr. deesis) for a son that the priest and his barren wife probably offered many times in previous years. However it was probably the petition that Zechariah had just offered as he presented the incense, presumably as he prayed for Israel’s salvation (cf. Daniel 9:20). In either case God’s provision of John was the answer. God named John (Jehochanan, or Jochanan) indicating His sovereign authority (cf. Luke 1:31). John’s name means, "Yahweh is [or has been] gracious."
Joy would replace fear in Zechariah’s heart and spread to his wife and then to all Israel. The coming of Israel’s predicted Messiah would be a joyous event according to the Old Testament. The theme of joy is prominent in Luke’s Gospel.
The cause of joy would be John’s spiritual greatness. The same angel also announced that Jesus would be great without qualification (Luke 1:32). Thus there was a connection between the roles of John and Jesus. The phrase "in the sight of" the Lord indicates God’s choice and approval. It translates a Greek word, enopion, which only Luke among the synoptic writers used. It appears 35 times in Luke and Acts. [Note: Martin, p. 204.] John used this word once, in John 20:30.
"Filling [with the Holy Spirit] is a general Lucan term for presence and enablement." [Note: Bock, "A Theology . . .," p. 98.]
The connection between control by drink and control by the Holy Spirit occurs elsewhere in Scripture (Ephesians 5:18). It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine if John was to be a Nazirite (Numbers 6:1-12) or simply devoted to God. The priests were to refrain from strong drink before serving in the sanctuary (Leviticus 10:1-4; Leviticus 10:9-11). There are no other specific indications that John was a Nazirite, though he may have been. His ascetic lifestyle was similar to that of many prophets, particularly Elijah (Luke 1:17; 2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4).
"John’s greatness is not found in his choice of lifestyle, but in the fact that in understanding his calling, he pursues it fully and carries out God’s will faithfully. John’s style will be different from that of Jesus. God does not make all people to minister in the same way. That diversity allows different types of ministry to impact different kinds of people." [Note: Idem, Luke, pp. 53-54.]
The Holy Spirit’s influence in his life was unusual for someone living in Old Testament times. Normally the Holy Spirit empowered people selectively and temporarily then. Luke had a special interest in the Holy Spirit’s enabling ministry that surfaces frequently in his writings (cf. Luke 1:35; Luke 1:41; Luke 1:67; Luke 2:25-27; Luke 3:16; Luke 3:22; Luke 4:1; Luke 4:14; Luke 4:18; Luke 10:21; Luke 11:13; Luke 12:10; Luke 12:12; and many times in Acts).
John would turn the hearts of many Israelites back to God, as the prophets had done in Old Testament times. None of them was more successful or important than Elijah had been. He led the people back to Yahweh after Ahab and Jezebel had pushed Israel’s apostasy farther than it had ever gone by instituting Baal worship as Israel’s official religion. John would possess the same spirit and power that Elijah had. Moreover John would be the predicted predecessor of Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6; cf. Malachi 3:1). Jesus later explained that John fulfilled the prophecy of Messiah’s forerunner (Malachi 3:1). He would have completely fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah’s return if the Jews had accepted Jesus (Malachi 4:5-6; Matthew 11:10; Matthew 11:14).
". . . according to Jewish notions, he [Elijah] was to appear personally, and not merely ’in spirit and power.’" [Note: Edersheim, 1:142.]
The term "turn back" (Gr. epistrepho) became a technical term for Christian conversion (cf. Acts 9:35; 2 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Peter 2:25). Essentially it means turning from idols to the true God. Turning people to God was the responsibility of every true priest (Malachi 2:6). The meaning of the Malachi quotation is probably that when restoration comes there will be human reconciliation and love rather than estrangement and selfishness. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 60.] People would clean up their interpersonal relationships in preparation for Messiah’s appearing.
Luke spoke often of the people (Gr. laos) that God was preparing for Himself. These people prepared for the Lord included Jewish hearers but also those who formerly were not "a people" (1 Peter 2:10), namely, the Gentiles. They are the elect who would compose the church. With this word Luke constantly reminded his original Greek readers that God’s plan included Gentiles who responded to the gospel as well as Jews.
When Abraham received the angelic announcement that God would give him the Promised Land, he, too, requested a confirming sign (Genesis 15:8), which God provided. However, Zechariah should have simply believed the angel’s announcement and given God thanks for it, as Abraham later did (Genesis 17:17-18), and as Manoah and his wife did (Judges 13:2-21). Instead he asked for some verification of the promise, probably a sign (cf. Luke 11:29). The angel gave him a sign, but it cost Zechariah inconvenience and embarrassment for nine months (cf. Luke 1:34; Luke 1:45). Perhaps Zechariah’s request for a sign received a rebuke and Abraham’s did not because Zechariah had the advantage of the Old Testament record, whereas Abraham did not. The angel helped Zechariah understand the seriousness of his mistake by explaining who he was.
". . . Gabriel was regarded in tradition as inferior to Michael; and, though both were connected with Israel, Gabriel was represented as chiefly the minister of justice, and Michael of mercy; while, thirdly, Gabriel was supposed to stand on the left, and not (as in the Evangelic narrative) on the right, side of the throne of glory." [Note: Edersheim, 1:142.]
Gabriel (lit. man of God) had appeared twice to Daniel to give him information and understanding (Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21). He did the same for Zechariah here (cf. Luke 1:67-79). Gabriel could have been harder on Zechariah than he was, but he was not probably because Zechariah believed and only wanted confirmation (cf. Judges 6:36-40; Judges 13:2-21). He was not asking for a sign so he could believe.
The sign that God gave, Zechariah’s dumbness, served to heighten the wonder of what God would reveal and to conceal Gabriel’s revelation from the people until the proper time.
Zechariah’s delay in the temple and then his inability to speak impressed the worshippers that something supernatural had occurred. Normally he would have pronounced the Aaronic blessing over them (Numbers 6:24-26). [Note: Mishnah Yoma 5:1; ibid. Tamid 7:2.] The people assumed incorrectly that he had seen a vision. Zechariah was unable to communicate to them what had really happened. Luke recorded their reaction to impress his readers with the importance of this event.
Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in a town in the hill country of Judah where Zechariah probably pursued another occupation when not involved in priestly duties (Luke 1:39).
3. The pregnancy of Elizabeth 1:24-25
The angel’s announcement of John’s birth occurred even before Elizabeth conceived him (cf. Matthew 1:18-25). This is further evidence of his being a special provision from the Lord. Elizabeth’s self-imposed five-month period of seclusion may have been to safeguard the arrival of her child and her own health as an older woman. Elizabeth gratefully acknowledged God’s grace in removing the disgrace of her childless condition (cf. Genesis 30:23; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Psalms 113:9).
". . . Zechariah and Elizabeth represent two different kinds of righteous people. Zechariah raises doubts about the angel’s message, for the prospective parents are now beyond normal childbearing age (Luke 1:18). Sometimes even good people have doubts about God’s promise. . . .
"Elizabeth pictures the righteous saint who takes her burden to God and rejoices when that burden is lifted." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 50.]
1. The introduction of Mary and Joseph 1:26-27
The time reference and the same angel connect this incident directly with what precedes (Luke 1:24). Luke presented God as taking direct action not only here but throughout his Gospel and Acts. He may have generously called Nazareth a city (Gr. polis) to give it status in the eyes of his readers. The Greek language had no word for "town," and the alternative would have been to call it a "village." It would have been unknown to almost everyone outside Palestine, so Luke described it as being in Galilee. [Note: See the map "Places Mentioned in Luke’s Gospel" at the end of these notes.] Gabriel now visited a small town in Galilee, on the northern border of Zebulun, contrasted with the big city of Jerusalem in Judea, where he had met Zechariah. [Note: See P. Winter, "’Nazareth’ and ’Jerusalem’ in Luke chs. 1 and 2," New Testament Studies 3 (1956-57):136-42.] Because of Gentile influence the Galilean Jews were not as strict in their observance of the law and Pharisaic tradition as their southern brethren. [Note: For information on religious conditions in Galilee, see Sean Freyne, Galilee from Alexander the Great to Hadrian 323 B.C.E. to 135 C.E., pp. 259-97.]
Young Mary also contrasts with old Zechariah and Elizabeth. Her name, the equivalent of Miriam in the Old Testament, apparently meant "exalted one." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 65.] The Greek word parthenos ("virgin") refers to a young, unmarried girl and implies virginity. [Note: J. Massingbyrde Ford, "The Meaning of ’Virgin,’" New Testament Studies 12:3 (1966):293-99.] It clearly means virgin here (cf. Luke 1:34). [Note: See J. Greshem Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ; James Orr, The Virgin Birth of Christ; Thomas Boslooper, The Virgin Birth; R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurection of Jesus; and Robert Gromacki, The Virgin Birth: Doctrine of Deity.] Betrothal often took place shortly after puberty. [Note: Liefeld, p. 830.] Consequently Mary may have been a young teenager at this time. During betrothal a man and a woman were considered husband and wife even though they lived apart and did not have sexual relations. [Note: Jeremias, pp. 364-67.] Only divorce or death could terminate the betrothal, and from then on society considered them widow and or widower.
Luke identified Joseph as a descendant of David. He evidently considered Jesus a legitimate heir to David’s throne since Joseph was Jesus’ guardian (cf. Luke 3:23). In Semitic society it was not necessary to be a blood descendant to possess family inheritance privileges (Genesis 15:3; Genesis 17:12-13; cf. Genesis 48:5; Exodus 2:10; 1 Kings 11:20; Esther 2:7). Since Joseph was Jesus’ legal guardian, Jesus thereby qualified to inherit as a legitimate son of Joseph. This fact has important bearing on the promise in Luke 1:32 b.
B. The announcement of Jesus’ birth 1:26-56
This section parallels the one immediately preceding (Luke 1:5-25). Their forms are so similar that Luke must have arranged them to bring out the similarities between them. Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus as he had John’s birth. Again the fact of a divinely initiated birth announcement shows the unique significance of the individual to be born. In the preceding section the father was the main figure, but in this one the mother is.
"Luke presents the theology of the Incarnation in a way so holy and congruent with OT sacred history that any comparisons with pagan mythology [that the original readers may have made] seem utterly incongruous. Instead of the carnal union of a pagan god with a woman, producing some kind of semidivine offspring, Luke speaks of a spiritual overshadowing by God himself that will produce the ’holy one’ within Mary." [Note: Liefeld, p. 829.]
Luke may have obtained some of the intimate information in this section directly from Mary. In this section Luke stressed Jesus’ divine sonship (Luke 1:32; Luke 1:35) and His messianic role as ruler over God’s kingdom on earth (Luke 1:32-33). He also stressed God as the "Most High" (Luke 1:32; Luke 1:35; cf. Luke 1:76), the Holy Spirit’s power (Luke 1:35), and God’s grace (Luke 1:29-30; Luke 1:34-35; Luke 1:38).
The fact that Gabriel greeted Mary as he did and did not greet Zechariah the same way shows Mary’s favored position. Gabriel’s greeting was customary: Hail! or Greetings! (Gr. chaire). Mary was highly "favored" (Gr. kecharitomene) because God chose to bestow special grace ("favor," Gr. charis) on her (cf. Ephesians 1:6, the only other New Testament occurrence of kecharitomene). She would be the mother of the Messiah, which was an honor most Jewish mothers prayed would be hers. God did this without any special merit of her own (cf. Luke 1:47). Roman Catholic commentators dispute this point, but competent scholars have refuted their arguments. [Note: See Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 65, for further discussion.] The Lord’s presence with Mary guaranteed His help in the assignment she would have to fulfill (cf. Judges 6:12; Ruth 2:14-16).
2. The angel’s announcement to Mary 1:28-38
The angel’s unexpected appearance in the temple sanctuary had unnerved Zechariah (Luke 1:12), but it was his greeting that troubled Mary. Perhaps he appeared at her door and she mistook him for an ordinary visitor. Gabriel calmed the fears he had aroused with an announcement of a special divine blessing (cf. Luke 1:13) by assuring Mary that God was happy with her (cf. Genesis 6:8; 1 John 4:17-18). Gabriel had come to announce a blessing, not punishment.
"It is necessary here to recall our general impression of Rabbinism: its conception of God, and of the highest good and ultimate object of all things, as concentrated in learned study, pursued in Academies; and then to think of the unmitigated contempt with which they were wont to speak of Galilee, and of the Galileans, whose very patois [dialect] was an offence; of the utter abhorrence with which they regarded the unlettered country-people, in order to realize, how such an household as that of Joseph and Mary would be regarded by the leaders of Israel." [Note: Edersheim, 1:144-45.]
These words would have come as good news indeed to Mary. Not only would she bear a son, but her son would obviously be someone special in view of the angelic announcement of His birth. Only five other children had been named before their births in Old Testament times: Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Solomon, and Josiah. The words Gabriel used are very similar to the wording of Isaiah 7:14 in the Septuagint (cf. Genesis 16:11-12). "Jesus" was a common name that came from "Joshua" (lit. Yahweh saves [or is salvation]; cf. Matthew 1:21). As with John the Baptist, God exercised His sovereign prerogative by naming Jesus. Both names were significant in the light of salvation history.
Like John, Jesus would be great (Luke 1:15). However, He would be the Son of God, a clear statement of His deity (Psalms 2:7-9; Psalms 89:26-29; cf. Luke 1:35). The "Most High" is a common designation of God in the Old Testament (Heb. El Elyon, Genesis 14:18; et al.). It carried over into the New Testament (Luke 1:35; Luke 1:76; Luke 6:35; Luke 8:28; Acts 7:48; Acts 16:17; Hebrews 7:1-3). The Greeks also used the title "Most High" to describe their gods. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 67.]
"In Semitic thought a son was a ’carbon copy’ of his father, and the phrase ’son of’ was often used to refer to one who possessed his ’father’s’ qualities (e.g., the Heb. trans. ’son of wickedness’ in Psalms 89:22 [AV] means a wicked person)." [Note: Martin, p. 205.]
Jesus would also be the long expected Messiah (2 Samuel 7:12-14; Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 89:28-29). His divine sonship qualified Him for His messianic role. The messianic rule of the Son would continue forever after it began (Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 7:14; Micah 4:7; et al.). [Note: See J. Dwight Pentecost, "The Biblical Covenants and the Birth Narratives," in Walvoord: A Tribute, pp. 263-67.]
"Today, Jesus is enthroned in heaven (Acts 2:29-36), but it is not on David’s throne." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 1:172.]
Mary, unlike Zechariah, did not ask for a sign that what the angel had predicted would happen. The idea that the Messiah would appear soon did not surprise her either. Instead she asked how it would happen. This was not an expression of weak faith but of confusion. Consequently Gabriel did not rebuke her as he had Zechariah. She was unmarried and a virgin. She had not had sexual relations with any man. [Note: Brown, The Birth . . ., p. 289.] Evidently Mary assumed that Gabriel meant she would conceive before she and Joseph consummated their marriage. [Note: Ellis, p. 71; G. H. P. Thompson, St. Luke, pp. 53-54; et al. Marshall, The Gospel . . ., pp. 69-70, listed several other explanations all of which I regard as inferior.] The euphemism of "knowing" someone sexually comes from the Old Testament (Genesis 4:1; Genesis 19:8; et al.).
Gabriel explained that the Holy Spirit would be God’s enabling agent who would make Mary’s supernatural act of service possible (cf. Luke 1:41; Luke 1:67; Luke 1:80; Luke 2:25-27). He would overshadow Mary with His personal presence. Beyond this Gabriel was not specific.
"This delicate expression rules out crude ideas of a ’mating’ of the Holy Spirit with Mary." [Note: Morris, p. 73. For information about ideas of divine beings fertilizing human women that existed in the ancient world, see Marshall, The Gospel . . ., pp. 72-77.]
God settled upon the tabernacle in the wilderness similarly, filling it with His presence (Exodus 40:35; cf. Psalms 91:4). It is interesting that the same Greek word, episkiazo, translated "overshadow" here, occurs in all three accounts of the Transfiguration where the cloud overshadowed those present (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34). Then the voice came out of heaven identifying God’s Son, but here an angel identified Him as such. The Holy Spirit would produce a holy offspring through Mary. The deity and preexistence of the Son of God required a miraculous conception. His virgin birth resulted in His assuming a human nature without giving up His divine nature.
Even though Mary had not requested a sign, God gave her one, namely, the pregnancy of Elizabeth. The exact relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is unknown, but they obviously knew they were relatives.
Gabriel also reassured Mary with one of the greatest statements of God’s power that God recorded in the Bible (Luke 1:37). This verse undoubtedly comforted Mary in the following months as it has comforted countless believers faced with difficult ministries ever since. God can do the impossible (cf. Jeremiah 32:17; Jeremiah 32:27). Gabriel was alluding to the angel’s words to Sarah when he announced that she would bear a son in spite of apparently impossible obstacles (cf. Genesis 18:14). Luke 1:37 should also encourage readers of this story who doubt the possibility of a virgin birth to believe that God can do even this.
Mary responded submissively to God’s will, as Hannah had (1 Samuel 1:11, where the same Greek word, doule, "servant," or "slave-girl," occurs in the Septuagint). Even though Gabriel’s announcement was good news, it was also bad news. Mary would bear the Messiah, but her premarital pregnancy would bring misunderstanding and shame on her for the rest of her life (cf. Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Therefore her humble attitude is especially admirable (cf. Genesis 21:1; Genesis 21:7; Genesis 21:12; Genesis 30:34). Unfortunately she did not always maintain it (cf. John 2:5). In this she was only human.
"This passage suggests four other important lessons: (1) the certainty that God will perform his promise, since nothing is impossible with him, (2) Mary’s example as one chosen to serve God, an example that extends even beyond the willingness to be used to trust God to take us beyond our limitations, (3) the significance of the Virgin Birth of our Savior, and (4) the importance of sexual faithfulness throughout our lives." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 60.]
Apparently Mary left Nazareth shortly after Gabriel’s announcement to her. Her trip south to Elizabeth’s home somewhere in the hill country of Judah would probably have covered 50 to 70 miles and taken three or four days.
3. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth 1:39-56
This section brings the parallel stories of John’s birth and Jesus’ birth together. The two sons had their own identities and individual greatness, but Jesus was superior. John began his ministry of exalting Jesus in his mother’s womb.
Elizabeth was then at least six months pregnant (Luke 1:36). She regarded the fact that John "leaped" in her womb as an indication of his joy that Mary, who would bear the Messiah, had come for a visit. The Holy Spirit also came upon Elizabeth then enabling her to greet Mary as the mother of Messiah. The Spirit evidently gave her intuitive or revelatory understanding of Mary’s role. She uttered her benedictions loudly in joyful praise to God and because of the Spirit’s impelling. "Blessed" means specially privileged because of God’s favor. She evidently meant that Mary was the most blessed among women. She was most blessed because her Son would be most blessed among all people. "Fruit of the womb" is an old figure of speech for a child (cf. Genesis 30:2; Deuteronomy 28:4).
By "Lord" Elizabeth meant Jesus, not the entire Godhead. Consequently the Bible never ascribes the title "Mother of God" to Mary. She was the mother of Jesus, who was Elizabeth’s Lord, since He was God.
Luke used the title "Lord" 95 times out of its 166 occurrences in the Synoptics. [Note: Gaston, p. 76.]
"The use of kurios in narrative to refer to Jesus is distinctive of Luke." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 81.]
This title has a double meaning. It is the word the Septuagint used to translate the Hebrew "Yahweh," and the New Testament writers used it the same way. As such, it implies deity. It also means "master" in the sense of a superior person, specifically the Messiah. This usage does not necessarily imply that the person using it believed that Jesus was God. Elizabeth apparently meant that Jesus was the Messiah at least. Luke evidently used the term "Lord" frequently because for Greek readers "Christ" or "Messiah" had little meaning. The pagan Gentiles referred to Caesar as "Lord" Caesar, meaning that he was their divine sovereign. "Lord" had the same connotation for Luke’s original readers. Jesus is the divine sovereign for Christians.
Elizabeth considered herself unworthy that the mother of Messiah should visit her (2 Samuel 24:21; cf. 2 Samuel 6:2-11). John the Baptist did not understand that Jesus was the Messiah until Jesus’ baptism (John 1:32-33). She had done nothing to deserve this honor. Her inspired words reflect the superiority of Mary’s child over her own son.
Elizabeth related to Mary what Luke had already told the reader about John leaping in her womb (Luke 1:41). She then announced Mary’s privileged condition. It was not just that she would bear the Messiah, but that she believed that she would bear Him when God announced that to her through Gabriel (cf. Acts 27:25).
The structure of Luke 1:41-45 focuses attention on the fact that Mary would be the mother of the Messiah.
A John’s leaping in Elizabeth’s womb Luke 1:41
B Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary Luke 1:42
C Elizabeth’s acknowledgment that Mary’s child was Messiah Luke 1:43
A’ John’s leaping in Elizabeth’s womb Luke 1:44
B’ Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary Luke 1:45
Mary’s reply to Elizabeth was also an inspired utterance. This "Magnificat" has strong connections with Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. However it also alludes to at least 12 other Old Testament passages. [Note: Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke, pp. 30-31.] Mary’s familiarity with the Old Testament shows her love for God and His Word. A striking feature of this poem is the fact that Mary viewed God as overthrowing established authorities (Luke 1:52). This would have been of special interest to Luke’s original readers. She viewed herself as occupying an important role in the history of salvation (Luke 1:48).
Structurally the song divides into four strophes: Luke 1:46-55. Mary did not necessarily compose this song on the spot. She was a reflective person (Luke 2:51) who may have given it much thought before the Holy Spirit enabled her to share it with Elizabeth. Some students of this passage have concluded that Luke really composed it, but this is unlikely since he gave Mary the credit for it (Luke 1:46).
In the first strophe (Luke 1:46-48), Mary praised God for what He had done for her.
Luke 1:46-47 are synonymous parallelism in which the second line restates the idea of the first line. The term "Magnificat" comes from the first word in the Latin translation of this song that in English is "exalts" or "glorifies." Mary focused on God in whom she rejoiced because He had saved her (Habakkuk 3:18; cf. 1 Samuel 2:1; Psalms 35:9). The phrase "God my Savior" is the equivalent of "God of my salvation" (Psalms 24:5; Psalms 25:5; Micah 7:7; Habakkuk 3:18).
"Note that in beginning the Magnificat by praising ’God my Savior,’ Mary answered the Roman Catholic dogma of the immaculate conception, which holds that from the moment of her conception Mary was by God’s grace ’kept free from all taint of Original Sin.’ Only sinners need a Savior." [Note: Liefeld, p. 836.]
As an Old Testament believer, Mary’s hope of salvation rested in God and His promises. Her hope was not in her own ability to make herself acceptable to God.
Mary probably considered her lowly social and personal position her humble estate. Again she referred to herself as the Lord’s servant (Luke 1:38). All generations of people would regard her as specially favored by God because He chose her to give birth to His Son. This verse gives the reasons Mary exalted and rejoiced in God (Luke 1:46-47). With Mary, God had begun to exalt the lowly (cf. Genesis 30:13; 1 Samuel 1:11). This exaltation would find full expression in Jesus’ messianic reign.
The second strophe (Luke 1:49-50) glorifies God for His power, holiness, and mercy. Here are more reasons future generations would call Mary blessed. The Mighty One had done great things for her (cf. Psalms 24:8; Zephaniah 3:17). Furthermore His name (i.e., His person) is holy. God is holy or different from humans in that He is high above all others, especially in His moral and ethical perfection (cf. Psalms 99:3; Psalms 103:1; Psalms 111:9; Isaiah 57:15).
God’s mercy (Gr. eleos) balances His power and holiness (Psalms 103:17; cf. Matthew 23:23). The Greek word eleos translates the Hebrew hesed, meaning "loyal love," in the Septuagint. His mercy refers to His compassion, specifically on those with whom He has entered into covenant relationship. Those who fear God reverence and trust Him.
The third strophe (Luke 1:51-53) reflects on God’s power in reversing certain social conditions. His favor to Israel is especially in view. God had dealt with Mary as He had dealt with His people (Psalms 89:13; Psalms 118:16). God had reversed their conditions politically (Luke 1:52) and socially (Luke 1:53). Jesus’ appearance and messianic reign would continue these divine works on a universal scale.
"Luke wrote more on the topic of wealth than any other New Testament writer." [Note: Bock, "A Theology . . .," p. 159. See his summary on pp. 159-60.]
"In the ancient world it was accepted that the rich would be well cared for. Poor people must expect to be hungry. But Mary sings of a God who is not bound by what men do. He turns human attitudes and orders of society upside down." [Note: Morris, p. 77.]
The last strophe (Luke 1:54-55) recalls God’s mercy to Israel and to Mary (cf. Isaiah 41:8-9; Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 44:21). He had been consistently faithful to His covenant promises with His people having tempered judgment with mercy (cf. Micah 7:20). God’s past faithfulness gives hope for the future.
"One of the important functions of the Magnificat is to provide an initial characterization of the God whose purpose shapes the following story." [Note: Tannehill, 1:29.]
This verse resumes the narrative interrupted in Luke 1:46. Mary remained with Elizabeth for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Then she returned to her home, not Joseph’s. They were not yet married as we regard people married.
Luke passed over the birth of John quickly (cf. Genesis 25:24). It occasioned great joy for his parents and for all who knew them. Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives shared in the joy of John’s birth as the shepherds did later when they announced Jesus’ birth.
1. The naming of John 1:57-66
C. The birth and early life of John the Baptist 1:57-80
As in the first part of this major section of the Gospel (Luke 1:5-56), Luke arranged his material in this one to compare and contrast John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 1:57 to Luke 2:52). In that section there was prediction, but in this one there is fulfillment. Luke’s emphasis in his record of John’s birth was his naming and his father’s prediction of his future ministry.
As godly Israelites, Zechariah and Elizabeth were careful to circumcise John eight days after his birth (Genesis 17:9-14; cf. Luke 2:21). Normally the head of the household performed this operation. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 88.] Both parents also faithfully followed Gabriel’s instructions and named their son as God had directed despite opposition from well-meaning friends who attended the special occasion (cf. Ruth 4:17). The Jews usually named their children at birth, but the Hellenists did so a few days later. [Note: Ibid.] Perhaps this custom influenced Zechariah and Elizabeth to name John at his circumcision.
Apparently Zechariah could not hear or speak. The visitors had to communicate with him in sign language. The Greek word used to describe his condition, kophos, can mean deaf as well as dumb (cf. Luke 7:22). Zechariah authoritatively settled the argument about his son’s name by writing, "John is his name." God had named John before his conception. Apparently the neighbors expressed astonishment because no other family member had that name.
"One of the major lessons is that even if all his neighbors do not understand why Zechariah does not do things the way they have been done, he will walk where God tells him to walk. . . .
". . . How do we define life? Is it in power and in the ability to ’take control,’ or is it in following the one who is in control?" [Note: Bock, Luke, pp. 78, 81.]
God rewarded Zechariah’s obedience by removing his temporary disability. His first words were praise of God (cf. Acts 2:4; Acts 2:11).
"The first evidence of his dumbness had been, that his tongue refused to speak the benediction to the people; and the first evidence of his restored power was, that he spoke the benediction of God in a rapturous burst of praise and thanksgiving." [Note: Edersheim, 1:159.]
Luke stressed the widespread effect this incident had in the whole area. Everyone concluded that John would be an unusual child because God’s hand was with him. It was also Luke’s purpose in emphasizing the naming of John to elicit the same reaction in his readers. When John began his public ministry, there must have been some Jews who submitted to his baptism because they had noted God’s hand on him from this event onward (cf. Luke 2:19; Luke 2:51).
The Holy Spirit now filled (i.e., controlled) Zechariah, as He had Elizabeth (Luke 1:41) and John (Luke 1:15). He enabled the priest to prophesy. Zechariah proceeded to utter a psalm of praise in which he gave God’s explanation of the significance of the events that had begun to happen in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
"Observe that Zechariah’s previous doubt and his discipline through loss of speech did not mean the end of his spiritual ministry. So when a believer today has submitted to God’s discipline, he may go on in Christ’s service." [Note: Liefeld, p. 839.]
Zechariah’s failure had been relatively minor, so major discipline was unnecessary.
2. Zechariah’s song of praise 1:67-79
This is the second major song of praise in Luke: the "Benedictus." This title also comes from the first word in the Latin version, translated "blessed" (Gr. eulogetos). The first part of the song praises God for messianic deliverance (Luke 1:68-75), and the second part rejoices in John’s significant role in this deliverance (Luke 1:76-79). The chiastic structure of the song emphasizes the words "covenant" and "oath" (Luke 1:72-73). God’s faithfulness to His covenant is a dominant theme in the Benedictus. There are at least 16 Old Testament allusions or quotations in this song. [Note: Plummer, p. 39.] Its style and content are similar to Mary’s Magnificat.
Earlier Mary rejoiced that she was blessed (Luke 1:48). Now Zechariah blessed Yahweh, the God of Israel. When God is the person blessed (Gr. eulogetos), this word has the virtual meaning of "praise." Zechariah first praised God for visiting His people Israel (Genesis 21:1; Exodus 4:31; Zechariah 10:3; cf. Acts 15:14). He had done this most recently by sending Messiah’s forerunner. Second, Zechariah praised God for redeeming His people. The great historical demonstration of this had been the Exodus, but now God was moving again to provide ultimate redemption nationally and personally through Messiah.
Zechariah alluded to God’s promise to raise up a horn, symbolic of strength, of salvation from David’s descendants (i.e., a mighty Savior, Psalms 132:17; cf. Psalms 18:2). He was not speaking of John but Jesus. Zechariah knew of Jesus’ coming birth because of Mary’s three-month visit (Luke 1:56). The other prophets in view are all those who spoke of the coming Messiah.
God’s redeeming work would involve salvation, mercy, and covenant fulfillment. Messiah’s salvation would be political and spiritual (cf. Psalms 106:10). God would be merciful to the fathers by fulfilling His promises to them (cf. Malachi 4:6). The oath God swore to Abraham refers to Genesis 22:16-18 that included promises of victory over enemies and universal blessing (cf. Genesis 26:3; Psalms 106:45). The words "covenant" and "oath" are central in the chiasm, as mentioned earlier. Note the repetition of the other key words or phrases in the chiasm in the surrounding verses. These are "come" or "visit," "his people," "salvation," "hand of our enemies," and "fathers."
God’s deliverance through Messiah did not mean that Israel could become passive but active in another form of His service. They could do so without fear of enemy persecution negatively and in holiness toward God and righteousness toward man positively forever.
These verses focus on John and his ministry. This description of John clearly links him with Elijah (cf. Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5). Even though Luke omitted the conversation about Elijah that followed the Transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13), he undoubtedly recognized John’s role as the fulfillment of the Elijah prophecies. [Note: See Walter Wink, John the Baptist in the Gospel Tradition, pp. 42-45.] It is difficult to say if Zechariah used "Lord" here only in the sense of Messiah or also in the sense of God. John would prepare the way (path) for the Lord by giving His people the knowledge (experience) of salvation (cf. Luke 3:3; Acts 4:10-12; Acts 5:31-32; Acts 13:38).
"We might have expected that Zechariah’s song would be all about his little boy. He surprised us by beginning with the Messiah whom God was about to send. But he was very pleased about John, and in this part of his song he prophesies the child’s future." [Note: Morris, p. 80.]
God’s loving compassion motivated Him to give salvation. The Greek word anatole, translated "visit" (NASB) and "come" (NIV), can describe the rising of a heavenly body or the growing of a plant shoot. " Dayspring" (Luke 1:78, AV) means "sunrise." This is perhaps a double reference to messianic prophecies about the star arising out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17) and the shoot growing out of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-2). [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., pp. 94-95.] Luke 1:79 continues the first allusion (cf. Isaiah 9:1-2; Isaiah 59:9).
"The story is shaped to attract our sympathy to devoted men and women who have waited long for the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and who now are told that the time of fulfillment has come." [Note: Tannehill, 1:19.]
3. The preparation of John 1:80
Luke’s comment on John’s personal development shows his interest in human beings, which characterizes this Gospel (cf. Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52). John’s spirit here corresponds roughly to his character and personality (cf. 1 Samuel 2:21).
There has been considerable speculation about whether John became a member of the ascetic Essene community at Qumran because he lived in the deserts. [Note: See A. S. Geyser, "The Youth of John the Baptist," Novum Testamentum 1 (1956):70-75; and J. A. T. Robinson, Twelve New Testament Studies, pp. 11-27.] There is no way to prove or to disprove this theory presently. The factors in its favor are their common eschatological expectations, their use of Isaiah 40:3, and their use of ritual washings. Against it is John’s connection with the Jerusalem temple through his father, which the Essenes repudiated. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 96.] Probably John was not an Essene but simply a prophet who went into the deserts to commune with God to be free of the distractions of ordinary life. [Note: John C. Hutchinson, "Was John the Baptist an Essene from Qumran?" Bibliotheca Sacra 159:634 (April-June 2002):187-200.]
Thus John gives way to Jesus in the text.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26