The Gospel of Luke Chapter 1:1-25 Introduction We infer from Paul's letters that Luke was a qualified physician (Col. 4:14) and we may assume that he was not a Jew, since Paul does not include him among "those of the circumcision" (Colossians 4:11). He joined Paul at Troas to journey into Macedonia as far as Philippi. He is not mentioned on the second missionary journey but is found to be with Paul on the third missionary journey. Luke is also the writer of the book of Acts. 1:1-2 Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. In commencing his gospel Luke says that many believer's had attempted to write about the life of Jesus Christ having received their information from those who had been eyewitnesses of all the events that had occurred and the teachings they had received from Lord Jesus Christ and who had faithfully passed it on. 1:3-4 So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know for certain the things you were taught. Having considered the need for a full orderly account Luke had closely investigated everything from the beginning (starting with John the Baptist's conception). It may well be that Luke was able to interview some of the surviving witnesses personally; and these might have included Mary and Peter (Luke seems to know more about their stories than Matthew does). Luke dedicates the result of his work to someone called Theophilus, about whom we know nothing; except to say that his name means ‘lover of God’. Luke wanted this person, and every ‘lover of God’ to know that their faith was based on certain corroborated facts; and he arranged these facts in such a way as to instruct his converts in the truths of the Christian faith..
The Conception of John the Baptist 1:5 During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron. Luke sets the time as being in the days of Herod Antipas, sometimes called Herod the Great, who had been installed as king of Judea by the Roman Emperor; and begins his story in the Temple of God in Jerusalem. At that time there was a priest serving in the Temple from the division of Abijah named Zechariah. The divisions of the priests were appointed by King David for serving in the temple (1 Chron. 24:10). Zechariah’s wife was Elizabeth a descendent of Aaron the first high priest. 1:6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. Luke draws our attention to the fact that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous in the eyes of God and lived blameless lives according to the law and commandments of the Lord. Luke accepts that the Jews were the chosen people of God, and that their laws, and Temple worship had been given to them by God. One of Luke’s purposes in showing that Jesus was born as part of a right-living community of Jews is to show how he was born as the fulfilment of all God’s promises to Israel, to redeem them from the law (Gal. 4:4-5) and become the centre of their worship (John 4:24) as well as the whole world’s worship (Mat. 2:2). Luke first shows Jesus to be the Saviour of Israel (the Messiah) and later reveals that he is not only Israel’s Saviour but the Saviour of the entire world (Isa. 49:6). 1:7 But they did not have a child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old. By describing Zechariah and Elizabeth’s situation Luke is deliberately reminding us of an earlier couple to whom God made many promises. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Abram and Sara had not child, for Sara like Elizabeth was barren. It was the same God who gave his promise to Abram, and fulfilled it in Isaac who would now give Elizabeth the power to conceive. This reminder is intended to show that the time had come for God to fulfil of his promise to Abram (Gal. 3:16; Luke 1:68-72). The child of Elizabeth and Zechariah would herald the arrival of the ‘descendent’ of Abraham whom the prophets had spoken of in various ways as God’s servant and son and Israel’s king. 1:8-9 Now while Zechariah was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the holy place of the Lord and burn incense. Whilst Zechariah was serving in the temple according to the order of his division, the lot fell to him to enter the holy place and burn incense (it was customary among the priests to draw lots to decide who which of them might have this privilege). 1:10 Now the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering. Recall that only the priests were allowed to enter the holy place to offer incense (Num. 3:10; 16:40), and so whilst Zechariah was inside the temple of God the crowds of people were praying outside. 1:11-12 An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him. And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear.
As Zechariah performed his priestly office, he was shaken by the appearance of an angel standing in the holy place; and overwhelmed with fear. 1:13-14 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John. Joy and gladness will come to you, and many will rejoice at his birth. The angel reassures him that there is no need to be afraid for he is a messenger from God to bring him good news. God had heard his and Elizabeth's persistent prayers for a child (Luke 11:9). In the first place, the angel had come to announce the birth of John as the answer to their prayers, who would give them a great deal of pride and joy. But the angel also wanted Zechariah to know that John’s birth was of a much wider significance in God’s plan, and that many people would one day be glad that he had been born. 1:15-16 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. The child to be born would become exceedingly great in the sight of the Lord, thus taking a place in God’s purposes which was equivalent to that of Moses or Elijah. Like Samson, he was to be placed under the vow of a Nazarite from birth, and so was never to drink wine or any alcoholic drink (Numbers 6:2-3). This kind of vow was meant to indicate complete dedication of the life to God. Most unusually, John would be filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in Elizabeth's womb and because of his preaching the Word of God many people in Israel will repent and return to the Lord their God. No wonder Jesus described him as the greatest prophet to be born of a woman (Luke 7:27-28). 1:17 And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him. Although John was to have a prominent place in the working out of God’s purposes, yet these purposes did not centre on John. His mission was to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 3:4). The allusion to his walking in the spirit and power of Elijah is not a reference to his ability to work miracles (for John never worked a miracle – John 10:41), but rather to confront iniquity as Elijah did on Carmel, bringing the nation back to God in repentance. John would exhibit the same lifestyle and zeal for truth as Elijah had; rebuking sin and exhorting to repentance. Through him many parents, children and those who were rebellious would accept the wisdom of the godly and turn back to God (Mal. 4:5-6). 1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, "How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well." Unfortunately, unlike Abraham who had believed God’s promise, Zechariah could not believe the angel's words, and asked for proof, since he believed he and Elizabeth were too old for this to happen.
1:19-20 The angel answered him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will be silent, unable to speak, until the day these things take place." In reply, the angel reveals his name--‘Gabriel’ meaning "the might of the strong God" (Clarke)—and his position ‘I stand in the presence of God’. As such he is the messenger of God sent directly from his presence to bring the good news to Zechariah. By implication, failing to believe Gabriel’s words was a failure to believe God, and so as a consequence of his unbelief, Zechariah was struck dumb and would not be able to speak again until John the Baptist was born. 1:21 Now the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they began to wonder why he was delayed in the holy place. Meanwhile the people outside had begun to wonder why Zechariah was taking so long inside the temple. 1:22 When he came out, he was not able to speak to them. They realized that he had seen a vision in the holy place, because he was making signs to them and remained unable to speak. When he finally came out and they discovered that he could not speak to them, they understood by the signs he made that he had seen some kind of vision in the temple. 1:23 When his time of service was over, he went to his home. When Zechariah reached the end of his service, he returned home. 1:24-25 After some time his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she kept herself in seclusion. She said, "This is what the Lord has done for me at the time when he has been gracious to me, to take away my disgrace among people." Soon after this Elizabeth became pregnant and didn't go out in public for five months. It may be that she was taking good care of herself, now that she was to be a mother. I remember my mother telling me an old wives tale that we shouldn’t by clothes for our baby until after the first 6 months of pregnancy because so many children were lost before then. On the other hand, some commentators have supposed that Elizabeth wanted to wait until her pregnancy was showing before letting others see her – a kind of evidence to them of what she knew, in case they refuse to believe her. Whatever the case, Elizabeth gladly acknowledged that it was the Lord who had healed her of barrenness and enabled her to conceive therefore taking away her disgrace among the people. In those days and in that culture, to have children was considered to be a blessing from God and a fulfilment of His promise of fruitfulness (Lev. 26:9); whilst to be barren was considered by some to be a sign of God's displeasure. © Derek Williams & Mathew Bartlett 2013 Bible Studies Online UK www.biblestudiesonline.org.uk You may copy, print or distribute our studies freely in any form, just so long as you make no charges. Sign up today for our FREE monthly Bible study magazine “Living Word” Scriptures taken from the NET Bible www.bible.org