Please take time to read Luke 1:1-25 on your own, to familiarize yourself with the text before you read this post.
Luke’s Gospel is an extended account about the arrival and ministry of Jesus Christ, and therefore, it is an important document which reveals who Jesus is and why He came.
This particular passage is divided into two units. First, in verses 1-4 Luke provided his introduction, addressed specifically, though not exclusively, to a man named Theophilus. We can assume from this that Theophilus was a Christian, and that he would have invariably shared this writing with other Christians in his immediate area (his local church) as well as Christians outside his immediate area. Secondly, In verses 5-25 Luke described the first important preliminary event leading up to the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Being guided by the Holy Spirit, Luke emphasized that we can:
Be Assured of His Message (vv. 1-4)
In verse 1 Luke mentioned early recordings of Jesus’ acts and teachings.
He said that “many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative …” Many people had taken the time to record events surrounding our Lord Jesus Christ. These people wrote about “those things which have been fulfilled.” The word “fulfilled” emphasizes one of Luke’s main themes – he wrote to show that God does bring His plans to pass. Therefore, this particular phrase refers to events which had been fulfilled according to OT prophecies regarding Jesus Christ during His first advent. Jesus’ first appearance was in fulfillment of some of God’s promises in the OT. These events were not obscure, but well known: Luke says that they were fulfilled “among us.”
In verse 2 Luke identified the source of their information.
Luke said, “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us.” Some of the people who wrote about Jesus Christ wrote “from the beginning” of Jesus’ life and ministry because they were “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” This is probably a reference to the Apostles who were personal witnesses of Jesus from the beginning. These Apostles “delivered them to us.” That is, they passed the narratives of Jesus Christ to others first in oral form and later in written form. This description indicates that the information we have of Jesus Christ is reliable because the source of the information was equally trustworthy
In verses 3-4 Luke broadly described his own writings.
In verse 3 Luke described his method of compiling information.
From this description we find that Luke did diligent research in order to write his gospel account. Luke said, “it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first.” The phrase “having had perfect understanding” means that Luke had diligently investigated that which he recorded – he was Paul’s associate, he would have made contact with the various Apostles, and interviewed as many people as he could, so that he could provide dependable research to his readers.
Since Luke was not an eyewitness, he needed to rely upon reports from others. He carefully recorded his information. Luke said in verse 3 by saying, “to write to you an orderly account” after his diligent investigation had concluded. This does not mean that Luke wrote chronologically – his gospel was only broadly chronological, not strictly chronological. The phrase “orderly account” emphasizes that Luke was concerned with arranging his material in order to show the progress of God’s salvation.
In verse 3 Luke addressed his writing to a particular man.
This primary recipient/reader is identified as “most excellent Theophilus.” We can conclude that Theophilus was a believer because Luke’s purpose in writing was not primarily evangelistic but primarily for the purpose of edification. This can be determined by the information in verse 4.
In verse 4 Luke explained his purpose in writing
Luke assured Theophilus, “That you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” Theophilus had been “instructed” in Christian truth. Therefore, Luke wrote to establish the “certainty” of the facts of Christ’s life, ministry, and teachings, so that Theophilus could be assured of them. Since Luke and Acts go together, and since Acts was written to address the Jew-Gentile relations and to defend the Gentile mission, we can assume that Theophilus had been a Gentile God-fearer before conversion, and that he was questioning his association with this new movement which we call Christianity. Theophilus was probably wrestling with various questions regarding Christianity versus Judaism. Theophilus was probably questioning whether his decision to leave his adherence to OT Mosaic observances for the teachings of Jesus Christ promoted by the Apostles was a good one.
In the OT God had promised the nation of Israel a Messiah – a Saviour. This Saviour was to be from King David’s descendants and He was to reign over Israel from Jerusalem – and even Gentiles would be attracted to him.
However, the nation of Israel had fallen away from God, and God chastened it for many years. The oldest OT book (Malachi) demonstrates that the nation never did recover. Between Malachi and the coming of Christ were 400 “silent” years – called that because God ceased to communicate to the nation of Israel.
Even in the Gospels Israel is described as an externally religious nation with no internal reality to match. Furthermore, the Gospels reveal that God’s long silence had ended and that God was continuing His work of bringing salvation, which was offered to the nation through Jesus Christ. Luke wanted to assure Theophilus that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise for salvation, which is now available to all nations.
APPLICATION: Luke’s message is God’s message about Jesus Christ and we can trust its message.
Jesus is God’s fulfillment of His salvation promises. But the fulfillment needed a forerunner – one who goes before to announce Jesus’ coming. The first 2 chapters of Luke compare and contrast the forerunner (John the Baptist) with the Fulfillment (Jesus Christ).
God’s Forerunner Announced (vv. 5-21)
In these verses, Luke introduces the reader to a man whose fame had spread beyond the borders of Israel – John the Baptist. This information is given in order that the reader might understand John the Baptist’s role in God’s plan of salvation.
The Forerunner’s Parentage (vv. 5-7)
The events which Luke will describe in this passage took place “in the days of Herod, the king of Judea.” When compared with OT and secular data, this establishes a date of 4 B.C.
Two main characters (vv. 5b-6):
in verses 5b-6 Luke introduces his reader to the parents of John the Baptist. The description informs us that both were from priestly lineage. “Zacharias” was from the tribe of Levi (“priest”) of the order of “Abijah.” “Elizabeth” was also from the tribe of Levi, specifically “of Aaron.” Both are described in verse 6 as being, “righteous before God,” which means that they lived in moral righteousness. Their righteousness was displayed through active obedience to “all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.”
This verse merely says that they lived righteously before God. This verse does not mean that they had (or that anyone can) earned eternal merit with God by relying upon their righteous lifestyles – it is impossible to earn salvation through a good lifestyle. We are all sinners (Romans 3:10, 21) and we cannot earn salvation from God by our good deeds (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Rather, this phrase emphasizes a biblical truth that those who have received saving favour from God, will live in moral uprightness as a demonstration of their salvation.
Though Zacharias and Elizabeth were righteous before God, they had an unsolvable problem.
The problem (v. 7)
Verse 7 tells us that they had “no child,” because Elizabeth was “barren.” And the situation was hopeless because “they were both well advanced in years.”
Childlessness was seen as a reproach in Judaism and in the OT. That is why Luke indicated that this couple was righteous – he wanted to show that their childless condition was not their fault. This couple joins other OT couples who faced the same problem:
Abraham and Sarah
Isaac and Rebekah
Elkannah and Hannah
This description is a good reminder that sometimes godly people suffer hardships – that theme would have resonated with Luke’s reader (Theophilus) and will resurface from time to time in this Gospel.
The Occasion for the Announcement (vv. 8-10)
Verse 8 explains that Zacharias was fulfilling his priestly duty in the Temple according to the “order of his division.” Verse 9 tells us that it was his turn to “burn incense” in the “temple of the Lord.” Meanwhile, in verse 10, the “whole multitude of the people was praying outside.”
While Zacharias was fulfilling his priestly duties, a heavenly messenger appeared to him.
The Angelic Announcement (vv 11-17)
The calming of Zacharias (vv. 11-13)
Verse 11 says an “angel of the Lord appeared to him.” Contrary to popular belief, encountering an angel was a terrifying ordeal, as can be seen from this description where Zacharias was “troubled, and fear fell upon him” (v. 12).
Verse 13 describes how the angel of the Lord calmed Zacharias. The angel assured Zacharias, “your prayer is heard.” It is easy (though incorrect) to assume that Zacharias and Elizabeth had been praying for a son, and that God had answered their prayers. However, 1:18 shows this assumption wrong (Zacharias did not believe he would have a child). It is best to understand that Zacharias was praying for the nation of Israel which had fallen away from God. The evening offerings focused upon prayers for the nation. In fact, in verse 67-68, we see Zacharias’ response to this encounter when he proclaimed: “he has visited and redeemed His people…”
The angel promised: “your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” The angel commanded: “you shall call his name John.” Usually the father named the child after his ancestors. But God named a child when He wanted to use the child in His work. “John” means “Yahweh has been gracious.” John’s role was to show that God was being gracious to Israel.
Zacharias understood that the promise of a son had bigger implications. Somehow his son would have a role in God’s redemptive plan. Therefore, while Zacharias prayed for the nation, God tackled two problems at once. God dealt with Israel’s need for a Messiah, and He also dea dealt with the lack in Zacharias’ personal life – a child.
The announcement of joy (v. 14).
The angel announced the parents’ joy: “And you will have joy and gladness.” This joy was not merely over having a child, but it was over what God would accomplish through their son.
The angel announced corporate joy: “and many will rejoice at his birth.” John’s ministry was to prepare the people of Israel for the Messiah; and those who responded correctly would experience joy.
The character of the child (v. 15).
Verse 15 predicted that John the Baptist would be great: “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” In fact, Jesus said in Luke 7:28, “I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” Aside from the Lord Jesus Christ, John the Baptist was the greatest man that lived within the Mosaic age (under the Law of Moses). John was not great in the sense that he by his own power achieved greatness. His greatness was determined by God because God determined that John would have a unique role in Israel.
Because John the Baptist ministered for God, he needed to be disciplined. That is why verse 15 says, that he would “drink neither wine nor strong drink.” Strong drink refers to intoxicating drinks made from grapes or barley. OT Priests had similar temporary restrictions. OT Nazarites had similar restrictions. Samuel was one who had such a permanent restriction (1 Sm 1:11). John would have a life marked by personal discipline which was particularly important since he would be used by God in a prophetic role.
Lastly, John the Baptist would be empowered by God for service: “He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Like great men of the OT, John would be empowered by the Spirit of God. He is the only one who was saved and indwelt by the Spirit from infancy.
The child’s mission (vv. 16-17).
John’s prophetic ministry is announced in verse 16, which says, “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” His prophetic role involved turning people back to God. This would be accomplished through the proclamation of God’s truth to the people. The gospels tell us that John the Baptist’s message revolved around the fact that the Kingdom of God was being offered to the nation of Israel and that the nation needed to repent of their sins in order to enter the kingdom.
It was through the proclamation of truth by which he would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” They would be turned “to the Lord” – not a reference to Jesus, but a reference to God the Father. To turn suggests a change in attitude and disposition resulting in a change in direction of life.
This was not a Christian message of repentance. This was a pre-Christian message. It was a message for the covenant nation to return to the way of living that God expects of his people. The nation had fallen away from God and had broken the Mosaic covenant – John’s task was to call people back to the covenant. God would use John the Baptist to turn many people back to Him, as John presented the Father’s Messiah to them.
John’s prophetic ministry is described in verse 17, which says, “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah.” John the Baptist will go before God (the Father). The Father’s salvation plan is in view. John’s message prepares the people for God’s work through Jesus. He will perform his ministry in the “spirit and power of Elijah.” The character and power of his ministry is compared to Elijah’s. Though Elijah performed miracles and proclaimed a powerful message, the comparison points to John’s powerful message since he did not perform any miracles. Just as Elijah was used by God to call the nation back to God, so John would be used by God to call the nation of Israel back to the covenant.
John’s task was “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,” and “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” The first phrase is a direct quote from Malachi 3:24 – a passage from the last book of the Bible, which promised the return of the nation to God which would result in the reconciliation within the families. The second phrase emphasizes the returning of disobedient to the way of the Lord, which in the book of Proverbs is called wisdom. Both phrases emphasize that, as Israel was called back to God, the evidence of this return would be in the restoration of the horizontal relationships (family) and the restoration of the vertical relationships (to God and obedience to Him).
Lastly, John was sent to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” John would make “people” ready for the “Lord” (i.e. God the Father). 2 Samuel 7:24, which stresses God’s promise to David for a Messiah to reign in his stead, refers to Israel as God’s prepared people. Luke is using that as a backdrop to show that God was working through John the Baptist to draw His people back to Him for His own purposes.
Even though Zachariah had a dramatic encounter with an angel, he struggled to believe the angel’s message.
Prevailing Doubt (v. 18)
Having heard the promise of a child, “Zacharias” replied with doubt, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” He did not believe the message and wanted a sign: “How shall I know this?”
Because Zachariah did not believe the Lord, he experienced …
Temporary Chastisement (vv. 19-21)
The sign which John requested came in the form of a mild rebuke and chastisement. In verse 19 “Gabriel” reinforced his authority as a true messenger of God. In verse 20 Gabriel announced chastisement because of Zacharias’ unbelief: “You will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
Luke emphasized the fulfillment motif – Gabriel announced a child and it would be fulfilled as predicted. This fulfillment motif strongly emphasizes the theme of the book of God’s plan of salvation being brought to fulfillment.
Luke ended this section with a description of the events taking place outside of the Temple.
The Responses of the People (vv. 22-25)
in verses 21-22 we find the responses of the Jerusalemites. The “people waited for Zacharias.” His delay indicated a problem. When John appeared, “he could not speak,” and they knew he had “seen a vision.”
In verses 23-25 we have a description of Elizabeth’s joy. In verse 23, when “his service were completed” Zachariah “departed to his own house.” In verse 24, “Elizabeth [miraculously] conceived” In verse 25 Elizabeth declared that God had taken away her shame of barrenness.
Through the words of Elizabeth we are assured that these circumstances were orchestrated by “the Lord.” And as God continued with His salvation plan, He also provided for their needs.
Luke wrote this gospel for Theophilus to assure him that the things which he heard about Jesus Christ were correct.
Luke wanted to show Theophilus that Jesus Christ’s coming was a renewed work of God in bringing salvation to Israel, as well as the Gentiles.
Jesus’ ministry required a forerunner: John the Baptist. John would be a prophet who in the spirit of Elijah calls for Israel to reform. John would prepare a remnant people for the coming of the Lord – their return to the Lord would result in being reconciled to God and one another as they turn to righteous living.
God’s plan of salvation through Christ answers the biggest need we as people have – we are all sinners and we need a Savioiur to save us from the eternal penalty which sin brings (hell).
However, God does not overlook the smaller issues in life and He is attentive to the needs of His people.
That which Luke emphasized in this passage is that God’s promises come to pass. Though the nation had fallen away from God, and though God had been a long time silent, He intended to fulfill His promise to the nation. Through John’s birth, God’s promises were revealed and His saving plan was continued.
The reader must believe that God’s salvation promises will be fulfilled. So the reader must trust the promises of God.
As we progress through the Gospel of Luke we will see how God brought salvation to mankind through His Son Jesus Christ.