Please take the time to read Luke 1:26-38 on your own in order to familiarize yourself with the passage. (Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version)
This section contains a familiar narrative – the time when God announced the upcoming birth of Israel’s Saviour – the Lord Jesus Christ. However, being familiar with a passage may be a handicap, if what we have heard in the past was incorrect or skewed.
Therefore, we want to allow the passage, rather than someone’s recounting of the passage, to influence our understanding and interpretation.
Luke begins this narrative by showing that…
God’s Promise to David was Fulfilled in Jesus Christ (vv. 26-27).
Verses 26-27 introduce us to the setting of the narrative.
The timing of the event is mentioned in verse 26a.
Luke said, “Now in the sixth month…” The time reference was measured from the previous incident – it was six months after Elizabeth had conceived her son, John.
The location of the event is noted in v. 26b.
Luke says, “the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” The word “city” refers to a mere town (from our standards) which was called “Nazareth.” This was the home town of Mary and Joseph as the following description will reveal.
The recipient of God’s message is described in verse 27.
First, we are tod that the angel went “to a virgin” whose name was “Mary” (v. 27). The description makes it clear that Mary was sexually pure (virgin). She had not been married and had not become sexually involved with any man. This description is repeated at the end of the verse and corroborated by Mary herself in verse 34. Matthew 1:23 also attests to the fact that Mary was a virgin.
Secondly, we are told that Mary was “betrothed to a man.” The word “betrothed” describes a relationship similar (but not identical) to our modern engagement. The betrothal period, mentioned in Deuteronomy 22:23, was the first stage of the Jewish marriage process. Those who were betrothed were promised to one another and were considered married – thus the relationship was considered binding, unlike engagements. After about a year’s time, the couple would have a public ceremony, then the husband and wife would consummate the marriage through sexual intercourse, resulting in a one-flesh relationship being established (Genesis 2:24).
Thirdly, Mary was betrothed to a man “whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” The important point here is that Joseph was a descendant “of the house of David.” In the last post I mentioned that in 2 Samuel 7 God promised King David that one of his descendants would ascend his throne and rule over Israel from Jerusalem. That promise began the uniquely Jewish expectation of a Messiah. Luke connects his narrative with that Jewish background in order to alert his readers to the fact that Mary’s child would be the legal heir to David’s throne.
SIGNIFICANCE: Luke recorded two key ideas for his readers.
First, the child, Jesus, would be conceived and born while his mother was a virgin – after his birth, his mother (Mary) would have normal conjugal relations with Joseph. The Bible makes it clear that Mary and Joseph were sexually active following Jesus birth (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 7:3, 5, 10; therefore, no perpetual virginity).
Second, the child of Mary would be a descendant of David. Jesus was a physical descendant of David and therefore, He had the legal rights to the Davidic throne.
Having introduced the reader to the parents of Jesus, Luke showed that Mary was…
God’s Chosen Vessel (vv. 28-29).
Mary had received God’s grace in verse 28.
Verse 28 tells us that Gabriel entered the house and greeted Mary. He called her “highly favored one.” There is the humanistic tendency to think that God was complimenting Mary and rewarding her for being so good and worthy a person. However, that is not what this text means. When Luke said that Mary was “highly favored” by God, he meant that it was God’s decision to favour Mary out of His own will, not because she deserved the honour. This text shows us that Mary was the recipient of God’s favour or grace. The very word “grace” means undeserved favour. If someone does something to “earn” God’s grace, it is no longer grace but a just payment for services rendered (Romans 4:4). Grace is undeserved favour – God showed favour to Mary even though she did not deserve the favour, just like God favoured John the Baptist. Mary did not deserve God’s favour, because she, like all other human beings with the exception of Jesus Christ, was a sinner (Romans 3:10, 23).
The idea that God favoured Mary though she did not deserve it is supported by the next phrase “the Lord is with you.” Think about what that phrase means. The Bible tells us that God is everywhere present. If that is so (and it is) then what did Gabriel mean when he said that the Lord was with Mary? That phrase simply means that God was especially blessing her.
To add emphasis to the fact that God was gracing Mary and blessing her, the angel also said “blessed are you among women.” This doesn’t mean that Mary earned God’s blessing because she was such a good woman. This means that God singled her out, based upon His sovereign will, and chose to bless her in a way of which she was undeserving.
After the angel’s announcement, Mary did not respond by saying, “Well I am not surprised God is going to bless me because I am such a good girl.” Rather, we find that Mary supported the interpretation above.
Mary was fearfully perplexed in verse 29.
According to verse 29, Mary “was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.” It was the angel’s announcement which caused fear and confusion. She did not know why or how the angel referred to her as one whom the Lord had selected to favour.
Then the angel Gabriel announced the coming of God’s Saviour…
God’s Saviour is Announced (vv. 30-33).
Gabriel delivered a message of comfort in verse 30.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’” Gabriel calmed Mary with his assurance. The phrase “you have found favor with God,” is a familiar one in the Bible. Noah “found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” (Genesis 6:8). And in Exodus 33:12 God said to Moses, “I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.”
When a person finds grace in the sight of God, it means that God showed favour to them through they did not deserve it. This becomes a key phrase in Luke’s companion book (Acts) where God freely does something for His people out of his good pleasure. The emphasis is upon God’s goodness and it does not suggest that the person receiving the favour earned the favour through being good. God bestowed favour upon Mary, though she did not deserve it, so that God could accomplish His saving purposes through her by providing His Saviour.
Gabriel announced the Messiah’s conception in verse 31.
Gabriel said, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.” Mary would conceive a son in her womb, and give birth to him.
Furthermore, she would “call His name Jesus.” As mentioned in the previous post, when God selected the name of a child, it was to demonstrate that He would do something unusual through that person. The name “Jesus” is from the GK form Yāzoos, the Heb form is Yehoshua (Joshua) – the name means “The Lord is Salvation.” By naming the child “the Lord is Salvation” God was reminding Israelites that He was sending salvation to the nation through His Messiah.
Gabriel described the Messiah’s career in verses 32-33.
Verse 23 describes Jesus’ greatness.
Gabriel predicted that, “He will be great.” This is similar to the prediction of John the Baptist’s greatness in verse 15: “he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” However, John the Baptist would be great because God made him great. This is a general, more comprehensive prediction, relating to the greatness of Jesus Christ because of who He is in His very person.
His greatness is further described in verse 32 where the angel said that Jesus “will be called the Son of the Highest.” The term “highest” is obviously a reference to God. However, we should ask and think about the description of Jesus being the Son of the Highest/Son of God. Many Christians would be quick to suggest that the phrase refers to Jesus’ divinity (He is God like His Father is God). While the phrase would allow for such an idea, we have to consider to whom Gabriel was speaking. Gabriel was speaking to a devout Jew. Jews were, correctly so, monotheistic. They believed in one God. They did not have a concept of the Trinity. Therefore, Mary would not have understood the phrase “Son of the Highest” as a reference to Jesus’ deity.
In the Bible, we have similar phrases employed. The Old Testament uses the phrase “sons of the most high” to refer to special men of God, such as judges (Ps 82:6). The NT uses the phrase “sons of the most high” as a reference to believers (Lk 6:35; Mt 5:9). Therefore, “son of the highest” does not refer to Jesus’ divine nature, rather to one who has an intimate relationship with God.
Furthermore, the term “son” is used with regal/kingly significance. David, as God’s king over Israel, was called God’s son (1 Chr 22:9-10; Ps 2:7; 89:26). Solomon, as God’s king over Israel, was called God’s son (2 Sm 7:14). As the nation of Israel received revelation from God, they began to use the term Son of God as a reference to the Messiah himself, because He would have a special relationship with God and would oversee God’s kingdom on the earth.
Considering the OT prophesies, and the way in which the Jewish nation understood the term, Luke was merely conveying the messianic nature of Jesus Christ. Luke would have known about the deeper significance of the phrase – that Jesus is the Son of God in a divine sense. Obviously, as his Gospel unfolds, Luke will delve deeper into why Jesus Christ is the “Son of God” in a divine sense.
The notion that the phrase “Son of the Highest” should be taken as a messianic reference is supported by Gabriel’s description of Jesus’ messianic role in verses 32b-33.
Verses 32b-33 describe Jesus’ government.
Unfortunately, passages like this have suffered badly at the hands of Christians – whether theologian or not.
In order to come to a proper understanding of this prophecy, we have to keep in mind that prophecy demands a literal interpretation and fulfillment. The only way we can know God’s promises is by taking them literally. The only way to measure a fulfillment is according to a literal understanding. For example, Malachi 5:2 predicted, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel.” A literal understanding of the prophecy demands a ruler to arise from the literal city of Bethlehem. How was that prediction fulfilled? It was fulfilled literally – Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem.
Unfortunately, many Christians fail to interpret prophecies in a literal manner. Typically, Christians spiritualize passages such as this. A common misunderstanding is that through His resurrection and ascension Jesus ascended to a heavenly throne of David from where He is now ruling over the church. Another common misunderstanding is that Christ is ruling in heaven now, but He will eventually come back to earth and rule from Jerusalem. Both of those views do injustice to the predictive nature of God’s Word.
In order to understand this passage, we must interpret it based upon: what God promised, and what David, Solomon understood – literal fulfillment (2 Samuel 7:18, 19), and what the OT prophets understood – literal fulfillment (Jeremiah 23:5, 6; Hosea 3:4, 5; etc.), and what Israel as a whole understood – literal fulfillment (Luke 1:71; 24:21 John 6:15).
Therefore, this prediction had to do with the fact that Jesus will establish a literal kingdom on the earth, centered in Jerusalem, with a spiritual dimension – a primary benefit to a regenerated nation of Israel. Jesus will be the physical and visible ruler of this kingdom. There will be a particular realm over which Jesus will rule – a regenerated nation of Israel according to OT prophecy. Lastly, there will be a definite rulership – Jesus will be visibly and unquestionably in charge. If God promised the nation of Israel a Messiah who would rule from a literal throne in Jerusalem, then the fulfillment must match the original promise.
From this passage we learn that the angel said, “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” In 2 Samuel 7 God promised a literal child of David’s would assume a literal throne and reign in David’s place. Israel understood God’s promise in a literal fashion – they waited for a man to literally assume the throne. Even in the Gospels this expectation is evident and was never corrected by Christ.
I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:29)
He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. (Luke 19:11)
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. (Acts 1:6–7)
The point of the passage is clear. God promised a Messiah who would rule on the throne of David from Jerusalem. The Gospels introduce Jesus as the one to fulfill the Messianic prophecies. But Christ will fulfill the promises when He returns visibly to this earth and establishes His kingdom in Jerusalem.
Furthermore, Gabriel said in verse 33, “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.” Jesus will reign over Israel – the “house of Jacob.” There is no biblical justification for seeing the church in this reference. Only overactive imaginations connect the church with the house of Jacob. Luke is simply saying that Christ is the fulfillment to the promise but said nothing about when Christ would fulfill the promises. He will establish His rule over regenerated Israel – and the church will participate in the Kingdom, but the church and Israel are distinct entities.
Then Gabriel concluded by saying, “of His kingdom there will be no end.” God promised to David in 2 Samuel 7:16 “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” When Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom, the first stage will be 1000 years in duration (Revelation 20:1-6). However, after ruling for 1000 years, He will usher in the eternal state – new heavens and a new earth (1 Cor 15:24-28; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21). Christ will have put down all rebellion and He will be over His redeemed people ruling in loving sovereignty forever – which is not up there in heaven, but down here on earth.
The announcement of Jesus’ birth caused Mary some concerns. She knew herself to be a virgin and could not figure out how she could conceive a son if she had not had sexual relations with a man. Therefore, we find…
God’s Solution to a Great Dilemma (vv. 34-37).
A damsel’s confusion expressed in verse 34.
Clearly Mary’s confusion emphasizes the doctrine of the virgin birth. Mary was confused and so she enquired in verse 34 “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” The phrase: “I do not know a man” is an idiom referring to the fact that Mary did not know a man in a sexual sense – she was a virgin. The angel announced an imminent pregnancy and she was confused because she had not had sexual relations with any man.
A divine conception explained in verse 35.
Gabriel replied to her concern by saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” There is no suggestion that God would inseminate the woman. God is the Creator and Jesus’ birth would be the work of God’s creative power.
Furthermore, Gabriel declared the result in verse 35, “therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” There are two possible interpretational options for the phrase “that Holy One.” Some commentators take this designation as referring to Jesus as God. A more likely, but more difficult, view is that the word refers to ethical holiness – a state of being. As such, it would refer to Jesus’ unfallen state. All people are sinners and therefore are not holy. However, Jesus did not inherit the sin nature. He parallels Adam. Adam was created directly in a state of holiness before his fall. In 3:38, Jesus lineage links Him back to Adam. Jesus therefore, is the True Man, the Second Adam.
Additionally, Gabriel said that Jesus would be “called the Son of God.” This phrase was used in 1:32 (son of the highest) as a Messianic designation – Jesus as God’s special representative will oversee the Kingdom of God. That same messianic tone continues in this phrase – as throughout the chapter. In 1:69 it is used to promote a Davidic emphasis. In 1:76 John the Baptist was merely the “prophet of the highest.” Jesus functioned as a Son to the Most High. In Luke 2:26, 29-31 Simeon’s prophecy depicts Jesus’ role as God’s Messiah/Christ. None of the early participants in the narrative understood the divinity of Christ, they understood him to be the Davidic Deliverer.
Luke presents the title “Son of God” consistently as the Davidic deliverer – the regal nature of Jesus, not His divine nature. That does not mean that Luke denied the divinity of Christ. He simply is not asserting it here – he will deal with this concept later. Unfortunately, for many years Christians have been conditioned to read divinity in his titles “son of God,” or “Christ.”
Verse 35 clearly portrays Jesus as the Holy Messiah which Israel expected; He is the true man, the Second Adam unaffected by sin.
The concept of a virgin birth was hard to accept. Therefore, the angel encouraged Mary to believe by using a contemporary example of the power of God to bring about His plans.
A divine confirmation found in verses 36-37.
Gabriel said, “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” God opened the womb of Elizabeth, Mary’s relative. This miraculous act would encourage Mary to believe.
The angel said, “with God nothing will be impossible.” God can do what is impossible as long as it conforms to His nature and will. Sometimes people repeat this phrase as a mantra in order to deceive themselves in believing that God will solve their impossible situations – a wrong application. God can do that which is impossible. However, God won’t always do that which is impossible. God only does that which is impossible when it furthers His will and plans.
Upon hearing about the miracle in Elizabeth’s life, Mary believed God’s promise…
God’s Willing Servant (v. 38).
Mary said, in verse 38, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” She believed that God could do the impossible – give her as son outside normal human procreative processes. Therefore, she humbly submitted.
She did not say “I am going to be the mother of God!” She did say, “I am the servant of God.”
Jesus is the One who will fulfill God’s promise.
Jesus is the Deliverer promised to the nation of Israel. He will return to this earth to establish God’s heavenly kingdom on earth. The church obviously will participate in that earthly kingdom.
Jesus said, if you want to be part of His future and eternal kingdom, you must be born again (John 3:3, 6). Only those who have been born again will be allowed into His future kingdom.
What God promises He fulfills – literally.
Know what God said. Know to whom God spoke. Know what they understood. Base your interpretation and careful applications on a literal interpretation.