By Donald Whitchard
Luke 1:5-25; 2 Chronicles 36:15-23; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Malachi 4:5-6; Psalm 2:1-12
Summary: The announcement of the birth of John (the Baptist) to the aged servants of God, Zacharias, and Elizabeth, would be the event that put His preordained plan of redemption into action.
“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias of the division of Abijah. His wife was one of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the LORD blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the LORD. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the LORD appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.”
“But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the LORD and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the LORD their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children’, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the LORD.”
“And Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.’ And the angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad things. But behold, 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.’ The people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.“
“So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed that he departed to his own house. Now after these days, his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she hid herself five months, saying, ‘Thus the LORD has dealt with me in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:5-25, NKJV)
This incident took place during the “Intertestamental” Period of Jewish history where there had been no new word from the LORD for four hundred years since the days of the last Old Testament prophet Malachi in 430 BC. The Jews had been under the rule of the Babylonian Empire from 586-539 BC as punishment from God for their idolatry and numerous sins against Him over the years. The royal line of kings had come to an end and the Temple built by Solomon had been destroyed by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar II, ruler of Babylon, who carried the people into exile, where they remained for seventy years as foretold by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other spokesmen of God (2 Chronicles 36:15-23). Darius the Mede conquered the Babylonians in 538 BC, and the Persian Empire ruled the region until 331 BC. The Persians were known for treating their subjects well, and this included the Jews. Under the edict of the Emperor Cyrus the Great, they were given the freedom to return to their ancestral homeland, rebuild their cities including Jerusalem, and erected a new temple for worship. Many of the Jews, however, chose to remain in the Persian capital Susa while others settled throughout the realm. A growing problem for the Persians was the rise of the Greek city states to the west, with their emphasis on the principles of democracy, philosophical inquiry, and the rise of scientific thinking and practices, none of which sat well with the autocratic Persian rulers. A series of wars broke out between Greece and Persia, each dealing serious damage to the stability of the Persian Empire.
When the Macedonian king and general Alexander the Great rose to power, his armies marched into Persia with a victory in 331 BC over the armies of Darius III, bringing the Persian Empire to an end and the beginning of what would be the empire of Alexander and the Greeks, spreading from Greece in the west to the borders of what is now the nation of India in the East. The Greek empire would last until 63 BC and with it came Greek art, culture, language, religions, and philosophy, all of which influenced Jewish life and culture as well. Some decided to adapt to the culture, while other Jews remained devoted to the Laws of Moses and the customs of Israel. Death came to Alexander in 323 BC at the age of thirty-three, and with his death also came the unraveling of a united empire. Alexander’s generals carved the empire into four regions, with each one setting up individual kingdoms. The kingdoms of the generals Ptolemy and Selucius ruled the regions of Egypt and Syria respectively, as did their heirs. The area of Judea fluctuated between the kingdoms of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires for the next hundred years with little effect on the Jews until the reign of Antiochus IV, who demanded that all Jewish subjects adhere to Greek culture upon pain of death. He destroyed all known copies of the Scriptures, put to death anyone who circumcised their children, forbade the worship of God, and desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar as tribute to Zeus. The revolt against Antiochus, led by Judas Maccabee in 163 BC brought a temporary end to all foreign rule in Judea, and from 163-63 BC, the land was independently ruled by the Hasmoneans.
Judea would come under foreign domination once again when, in 63 BC, the army of the Roman Republic, led by Pompey, marched into Jerusalem, claiming the land for Rome. The Republic soon gave way to rule by an emperor, Augustus Caesar, the nephew of the late general and leader Julius Caesar. Augustus’ reign, which lasted from 27 BC-14 AD is one of the highlights of Imperial Roman history and the expansion of the empire across Europe, the region of the Middle East and coastal Africa, which would last until it fell to the hands of the Barbarians in AD 476. Each of these empires left its mark on the people of Israel. This constant tide of foreign rule intensified within the hearts of many of the Jews to be free and govern themselves under the leadership of the Promised “Messiah,” a deliverer from God who would free the nation from Roman oppression and make the nation of Israel the centerpiece of civilization and God’s dwelling place on earth. However, the religious and political forces controlling Judea at that time had other ideas and were not about to let anything or anybody change that scene, including any would-be “Messiah.” But, like any attempt of ours to thwart the plans of God, He sits in the heavens and laughs, as if our petty power grabs in this world are any match for Him (Psalm 2:1-12). He has the final word in carrying out His plan of redemption. It has not changed, as we will see in the next installment of this series.
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Donald was born and reared in southern Louisiana in the heart of what is known as “Cajun country.” He is a graduate of Louisiana College, Pineville, LA (B.A. in History and Biblical Studies, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div. In Christian Education, 1994), and Andersonville Theological Seminary, Camilla, GA (Doctorate in Biblical Exposition, 2000). He has served in the Gospel ministry since 1986 as an evangelist, pastor, teacher, and healthcare chaplain. In 2018, he began devoting his time to Internet and social media evangelism as a writer for online ministries such as Rapture Ready, Sermon Central, Inspirational Christian Blogs, and other venues. He is the author of the book, “The Scope of Biblical Prophecy: A General Introduction,” available at Parsons Porch Publishers (www.parsonsporch.com). He is the host of the YouTube broadcast, The Reality City Review (https://www.youtube.com/@realitycityreview), a program dedicated to teaching books of the Bible, Bible prophecy, and related issues. It can be seen on his website (https://www.realitycityreverend.com/) and on Facebook, GETTR, Truth Social, and Savior Connect. He can be contacted at: email@example.com for speaking/preaching engagements or other inquiries.