Please take the time to personally read Luke 1:57-80.
We have looked at three literary units in this gospel so far:
- Verses 1-25 contained God’s announcement to Zacharias that his barren and aged wife, would give birth to a son (John the Baptist) who would be used by God to prepare Israel for God’s Messiah (Jesus Christ).
- Verses 26-38 contained God’s announcement to Mary that she had been selected to be the vessel through whom His Messiah would come via a miraculous virgin birth.
- Verses 39-56 described Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Both women testified of God’s grace to Israel in sending the Messiah to the nation. Mary’s praise of God was prompted by her belief that her son, the Messiah (Jesus Christ) was sent by God to overcome Israel’s enemies.
In this post we are going to focus upon the birth of John the Baptist and the response of Zacharias, his father. The theme in this passage is that God’s redemption has been provided through the Jesus, the son of David, the Messiah. In this passage salvation is presented in a comprehensive sense. Many people characterize salvation as living in heaven with God for all eternity. But the Bible describes salvation comprehensively, which includes the earthly realm as well as physical and political aspects.
The narrative begins with:
The Birth of John (vv. 57-67)
This section can be further divided into three sections dealing with the birth of the child, the naming of the child, and the restored speech of the father.
Birth and Rejoicing (vv. 57-58).
According to verse 57, Elizabeth “delivered” a son and the neighbours and relatives “rejoiced” with her. Again, the reader is reminded about the fact that the birth of John was a result of the “great mercy” which the Lord had shown to Elizabeth, to Israel, and ultimately, the world. This is so because the arrival of John the Baptist was a key moment in God’s larger plan in providing salvation for all mankind through Jesus Christ.
Naming the Child (vv. 59-63).
Verse 59 tells us that Zacharias and Elizabeth circumcised the child, in accordance to the Mosaic Law. During this time it was customary for the child to be named and many relatives were determined to name the child after “the name of his father, Zacharias.” However, Elizabeth objected in verse 60 by stating that his name would be “John,” which shocked the relatives in verse 61, because “John” was not used within the family line.
In verse 62 they called Zacharias and asked him; and using a “writing tablet” (v. 63) he communicated that the child should be named John, as per Gabriel’s instructions.
The decision of Zacharias immediately resulted in his…
Restored Speech (vv. 64-66)
Zacharias’ “mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.” This resulted in “fear” coming upon the inhabitants of the region (v. 65) because an obvious miracle had taken place in the sealing and then loosing of Zacharias’ tongue. The miracle prompted people to question: “What kind of child will this be?” 30 years later, this question would again resurface when many assumed that John the Baptist was the Messiah.
With his speech restored, Zacharias did the most important thing…
Zacharias’ Praise to God (vv. 67-75)
Humanly speaking, we would assume that the reason Zacharias praised God was for the birth of his son. However, though he would have been thankful for the child, his praise to God was due to the broader scope of God’s saving plan. This can easily be determined by examining the context which shows that Zacharias understood the significance of John’s birth – that John would prepare Israel for the Messiah. Therefore, Zacharias’ praise focused upon God’s grace in providing salvation through His Messiah.
Verses 67-75 can be divided into five sections: Israel’s redemption through the Messiah (vv. 67-69), Israel’s redemption as prophesied in the Old Testament (v. 70), Israel’s redemption will bring deliverance (v. 71), Israel’s redemption because of God’s mercy and faithfulness (vv. 72-73), Israel’s redemption to gather His people (vv. 74-75).
Israel’s Redemption through the Messiah (vv. 67-69).
Verse 67 identifies Zacharias’ message as the Spirit’s message (v. 67). “Zacharias” being “filled with the Holy Spirit…prophesied.” This description helps the reader to understand the reliability and importance of Zacharias’ message. This was the Spirit’s message about the significance of Jesus’ arrival for Israel.
Verses 68-69 emphasize the theme of Messianic redemption (vv. 68-69). The past tenses used are “future pasts” – they describe future deliverance which in God’s mind is sure, and therefore expressed as if they have already taken place. First, Zacharias’ praised “the Lord God of Israel” in verse 68 and said that God “He has visited and redeemed His people.” The word “visited” does not mean that God made a social call. Sometimes, God visits people for the purpose of judgment and sometimes for salvation. In this context, God’s visit is for the purpose of salvation. That is confirmed by the phrase, “redeemed His people.” The phrase “his people” is clearly a reference to the nation of Israel. Jesus’s arrival demonstrated to Israel that He was the One whom God planned to save the nation. We will see from this text that Israel’s redemption has a spiritual dimension which we normally associate with salvation. But the word “redeemed” also has a political connotation – it describes God’s deliverance of Israel, which has been oppressed by other nations. Because of the soon arrival of the Messiah, Zacharias envisioned the complete redemption of Israel – political as well as spiritual.
Zacharias then announced through whom this redemption would come.
In verse 69, he said that God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” A “horn” in the Bible often was symbolic of strength, and in this particular context the “horn of salvation” refers to God’s saving strength. God’s saving strength is in the Person of Jesus Christ, who was from the “house of His servant David.”
In verses 70-73 Luke records the reason why God sent Jesus as Israel’s Messiah.
Israel’s Redemption as Promised in the OT (v. 70).
First, Zacharias said, “As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began.” The redemption of Israel through God’s Messiah corresponded with the message God had given the nation of Israel through the “holy prophets.” The phrase “since the world began” simply means from early times, and refers to the early days of the nation which was started with Abraham. Jesus was sent to be Israel’s Messiah in fulfillment to God’s promise to the nation.
Israel’s Redemption will Bring Deliverance (v. 71).
In verse 71 Zacharias identified the purpose in sending the Messiah: “That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us.” The word “saved” in this context begins with physical or political salvation. The nation of Israel would be “saved from” its “enemies…all who hate” them. Beginning with the division of the nation after Solomon, and the ensuing captivities of the nation, Israel suffered harassment and enslavement from foreign powers. However, according to God’s promises in the Abrahamic covenant, God will establish the nation in the Palestine. This has not taken place yet, because it involves eradicating the danger from surrounding nations. Jesus was sent to be Israel’s Messiah in order to bring deliverance to the nation.
Why will God do that?
Israel’s Redemption will come because of God’s Faithfulness (vv. 72-73).
In verse 72 we have another reference to a recurring theme in Luke – that of God’s grace. God will not redeem Israel because of the nation’s faithfulness, rather, God will redeem Israel because God is gracious. In verse 72 Zacharias said, “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers.” This does not mean that God sent Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel as an act of mercy – it was, but that is not what we have described here. Mercy refers to God’s loyal, faithful, gracious love. God’s gracious and steadfast love to Israel will be displayed to the nation when Christ returns to establish His kingdom and ushers many Israelites into it. This mercy was promised to the “fathers” – a reference to the earlier generations, which implies that though they had died they were conscious and would personally witness the fulfillment of God’s mercy.
According to verses 72-73, God will establish His Kingdom through Christ.
Zacharias said, “to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham.” God’s loyal love to Israel would be shown in accordance with God’s holy covenant. We talked about this previously – God promised Abraham that he and his descendants would inherit the land. God also said that inheriting and living in the land would result in Israel being His people and God being their God. The Abrahamic covenant involved physical, political, and spiritual blessings all wrapped up in one. The establishment of God’s kingdom on the earth through Jesus will come to pass because God made a covenant with Abraham.
While human beings can be susceptible to empty promises, God cannot. God highly values what He says. What God says is true. What God promises He will fulfill. If He does not fulfill His promise, or if He changes the substance of His promise, His reputation would be damaged.
The establishment of Christ’s earthly Kingdom will result in Israel becoming God’s true people. Verse 74 demonstrates this grand goal.
Israel’s Redemption to Gather His People (vv. 74-75).
Zacharias said, “To grant us that we…” The word “grant” means to give – God will give Israel something after He establishes His Kingdom through Jesus Christ. This is a two-fold description of salvation by Messiah:
First, we have the political element. Zacharias said, “Being delivered from the hand of our enemies.” Salvation in its comprehensive sense must include deliverance from physical and political enemies. Israel will no longer be harassed by the Gentile nations. This obviously has not taken place yet – in the Millennial Kingdom Israel will experience full and complete deliverance from her enemies.
The political deliverance will ensure the realization of the spiritual aspects of salvation.
The spiritual aspects of salvation can be seen in the phrase, “we…might serve Him without fear.” This refers to the spiritual aspects of the Abrahamic covenant. God promised, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7–8). The Abrahamic covenant included spiritual salvation of Israel so that Israel would be truly devoted to God. Not all Israel will be saved simply because of Jesus’ coming, but a significant part of Israel will be saved. In the tribulation period 144,000 Jews will be saved and sealed by God. These men will preach the gospel and many Jews will be saved as a result. The Jews, saved during the Tribulation, will enter into God’s kingdom (Millennial Kingdom). They will no longer have enemies and will serve God with wholehearted devotion. Revelation 21:1–3 says
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
Loving and serving God are only possible through regeneration. When a person is born again he is given the ability through the Spirit to learn to love and serve God. Love and service for God prior to one’s salvation is an abhorrence to God (Isaiah 64:6). Zacharias referred to regenerated love in worship in verse 75 where he said, “In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” Sinners can’t enter God’s presence. They must be saved from their sins which includes forgiveness and cleansing. God makes people holy and righteous so that they can spend eternity with God. So these regenerated Jews will be “before Him” in “holiness and righteousness.”
Having praised God for sending the Messiah through whom He would establish His kingdom, Zacharias prophesied regarding John and Jesus.
Zacharias’ Prophecy (vv. 76-79)
First, Zacharias reflected upon John’s role with respect to the Messiah.
Knowledge from the Messiah’s Forerunner (vv. 76-77).
Zacharias described John’s role. First…
John the Baptist will be a prophet (verse 76).
In verse 76 we read, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest.” The infant John is called God’s “prophet” – which means that God had selected him to declare information to the people. He is the prophet of the “highest” – which describes God as the most glorious and transcendental of beings.
According to verse 76, John’s prophetic role had an objective. Zacharias said, “For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” John will “go before the face of the Lord.” This clause tells us that John the Baptist went before God the Father (not Jesus) as a messenger. Already in 1:17-17 we saw that John was to go before the Father. The immediate context shows that John is the prophet of the “highest,” referring to God, therefore, “Lord” also refers to God the Father.
John’s task in going before God was to “prepare His ways.” God intended to redeem His people through the person of the Messiah. Therefore, John would go before the God of Israel as His representative in order to prepare His way.
Preparing God’s way involved preparing the people of Israel. This second aspect of his prophetic ministry is described in verse 77, which says that …
John the Baptist will give knowledge of salvation (v. 77).
Zacharias said that John would “give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.” John will prepare the people by giving “knowledge of salvation.” This was not a declaration that salvation had come in a universal sense (to all). This was a declaration informing the people how they might have salvation.
This knowledge will be given to “His people.” This is another reference to Israel, which is clearly demonstrated in the entire chapter 1. That doesn’t mean that God’s salvation is only for Israel, but the coming of the Messiah is specifically linked to God’s literal promises to a literal people who descended from Abraham.
The salvation offered the people would result in “the remission of their sins.” John would proclaim the sins of the nation. He would declare that such sins needed to be cleansed and removed. He would call upon them to repent of their sins. Their repentance would result in their forgiveness.
John’s offer of salvation through the forgiveness of sins is linked to the One who provides this salvation, that is, Jesus the Messiah. Verses 78-79 turn our attention to God’s mercy which was made available to the nation through Jesus Christ.
Light from the Messiah (vv. 78-79).
Zacharias said the remission of their sins would come “Through the tender mercy of our God.” Mercy is the basis whereby God could offer salvation. God does not offer salvation to people because they are good and try to keep His commandments. God gives salvation because He is a merciful God, period. God’s continued loyal love for Israel prompted Him to supply salvation to Israel. That is why verse 78 begins with the phrase, “through the tender mercy of our God.” Salvation by the forgiveness of sins comes through the tender mercy of our God.
But the “tender mercy of God” is in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ described in verses 78b-79.
First, Zacharias said that God’s mercy is in the person of Jesus Christ. He said, “With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us.” The “Dayspring” is a reference to Jesus Christ. Literally the phrase is dawning from on high, or springing up from on high. It is imagery of light flooding the earth as a result of the rising of the sun. Here, it pictures that in the arrival of the Messiah light which leads to salvation is provided for the people (this is confirmed in verse 79). God’s tender mercy arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, who is their guiding light, leading them into God’s way of peace.
Having announced the coming Messiah as the light rising up on the horizon, Zacharias explains why Jesus the Messiah came to Israel.
Verse 79 says that Christ will “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” Obviously, the reference to light is not literal (natural light) but metaphorical (suggesting spirit illumination). In the OT God is described as the One who shines on His people and enlightens them (Deuteronomy 33:2). Here, Jesus the Messiah is described as having the ability to enlighten people. This is necessary because they were sitting in spiritual darkness and death – they were locked in spiritual ignorance and on the edge of death.
Since Christ will enlighten some for salvation, He will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” The people of the nation needed God’s salvation. Salvation was not merely political deliverance but also spiritual deliverance since they were all sinners. Forgiveness of sins is only given to those who repent. Those who repent are those who have been illuminated by God. Those illumined receive salvation and will receive “peace” in its most comprehensive sense – not only peace from harassing nations, but peace with God (no more animosity toward God, but a harmonious relationship so that they could love and serve God completely and fully). Both aspects of peace will be accomplished when Jesus establishes His future kingdom on this earth.
These verses demonstrate and contrast the respective roles of John and Jesus. John will prepare God’s way by preparing the people with a message of salvation. Jesus the Messiah will offer and provide salvation.
Following Zacharias’ praise and prophecy, Luke ended his narrative be summarizing John the Baptist’s subsequent years of growth and maturity.
John the Baptist’s Seclusion (v. 80).
Luke said, “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” We don’t know his exact age, but when he was in his early years he went into the “deserts,” which was the barren area of the Judean wilderness west of the Dead Sea. He lived in seclusion, which is understandable considering this prophecy. It would have been difficult for John to be surrounded by people who were forever watching him. John the Baptist did not make a public appearance until “the day of his manifestation.” Specifically, John the Baptist would declare his message to the nation of “Israel,” which is the nation in focus in the first chapter.
There are various aspects of this narrative which are instructive to the reader.
God is a faithful God.
- His love for Israel did not wane even though Israel failed to live up to its responsibilities laid out in the Mosaic Law. In fact, it was because of Israel’s failure that God kept His promises – Israel was incapable and needed to be redeemed by a faithful God.
- God keeps His promises. What He has revealed in His word can be relied upon.
God will save Israel as He promised.
- Jesus came the first time to die on the cross to provide payment for the sins of the world.
- Even though the majority in Israel rejected Him, there will be many who turn to Him in faith, especially at the end during the Tribulation period. God, according to Romans 9-11, has not abandoned His nation.
- Jesus will come the second time to establish His kingdom and allow those who have been born again to enter with Him.
God’s promise of salvation extends to Gentiles (non-Jews).
- Just as Jesus will regenerate many Jews, so Jesus will regenerate many Gentiles.
- He will also lead those regenerated Gentiles into His earthly and eternal Kingdom.
Have you received Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord?
- You must acknowledge your sin.
- You must repent (turn) from your sin.
- You must rely upon Jesus alone to save you from your sin.