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1Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that
have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed down to
us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of
the word. 3Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated
everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write
an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that
you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Preface: An Invitation to Be Reassured (1:1-4)
Things are not always as they seem. Sometimes what most hinders
our perception of what God is doing is our own expectation of what
God should do or would do. For example, we might assume that God's
saving plan, sovereignly introduced into the world by an omnipotent
God, would be carried out quite straightforwardly, like a championship
team steaming through the playoffs to a triumphant Super Bowl or
World Cup victory. Surely God would vanquish all foes and would
be embraced by all people, especially when he reveals his messenger
with wondrous displays of power. Some groups within Judaism had
always hoped for such a day (Psalms of Solomon 17--18; Testament
of Levi 18; Testament of Judah 24). They expected that once God
came to deliver, he would do so by mightily overthrowing all opposition.
Then God would grant salvation to his people and rule in glorious
power. Surely this is how God would save a world desperate for
But the message of the gospel has never been popular. Despite
the wondrous works associated with Jesus' ministry, the world did
not embrace him with open arms. Jesus' honesty about the human
condition met with rejection and resistance. Many fled from the
mirror held up in his words. Others fought his teaching and sought
to crush his message. Those who did recognize the image Jesus described
and realized their deep need for God were going against the grain.
They became reminders that life is not defined by independence
but by dependence. The question became on whom or what did one
depend to define and find life.
The Gospel of Luke is about life and God's plan. It is a story
written to a man, Theophilus, who in all likelihood was a believer
who needed reassurance (1:4). A Gentile in the midst of what had
originally been a Jewish movement, he seems to have been asking
whether he really should be a Christian. Had God really called
all nations to enter into life with God? Was a crucified Messiah
the beacon of hope for both Jews and Gentiles? Would God really
save through a ministry that ended with crucifixion? What about
the endless obstacles the church was suffering in getting its message
out into the world? Might the obstacles not be a sign of God's
judgment on a message gone awry, rather than evidence of blessing?
Questions like these probably haunted Theophilus. They are not
unlike questions we might raise as we contemplate what God has
done and imagine how we might have done it differently.
This is why Luke wrote his Gospel: to explain how the God of design
and grace works out his will through Jesus, the ascended Messiah-Lord.
Luke wishes to make clear how Jesus is Lord of all, so the gospel
can go to all. He also wishes to explain the journey that is salvation.
To be saved involves coming to Jesus in faith, but the act of faith
is only a first step in a journey that many others do not understand.
How does the salvation-traveler face life in the midst of great
opposition? In sum, Luke's Gospel, as his preface makes clear,
is a reassurance that through Jesus one can know God and experience
life as God designed it.
Luke introduces his topic with a formal literary preface that
explains why he writes a Gospel though others have already presented
the life of Jesus (1:1-4). Luke seeks to build carefully on precedent.
By doing so he hopes to strengthen Theophilus's faith. As we read
Luke's account, we realize that Theophilus is not alone in his
need to be reassured. In each generation there are many like him.
The Precedents (1:1-2)
Luke's preface fits the ancient pattern in which a writer explains
the rationale for his work (2 Maccabees 2:19-31; Josephus Antiquities
1. proem. 1-4, and Against Apion 1.1 1-5; Epistle to Aristeas 1-8;
Lucian How to Write History 9, 39-40, 53-55). Luke consciously
introduces his work to show where it fits in ancient literary terms.
Some speak of Luke as "apologetic historiography" (Sterling
1991), but Luke is writing more for internal exhortation, so that
any apologetic has a pastoral purpose.
Luke describes his work as a narrative, an account (diegesis).
Such narratives came in both oral (8:39; 9:10) and written forms
(Heb 11:32). The ambiguity of the term means that Luke may be referring
to more than the sources biblical scholars mention today when they
discuss the Synoptic problem (Mark, Q, L, M or Matthew). However,
the remark that many have undertaken to draw up (literally, "many
have set their hand to"; epecheiresan) such an account suggests
mostly written sources. It is important to remember that the ancient
world did not have the printed page, and written texts were not
in wide circulation. The fact that many had undertaken to prepare
an account shows Jesus' importance.
What these accounts discussed were the things that have been fulfilled
among us. This detail raises an important Lukan theme right at
the start. The events surrounding Jesus fulfilled the plan of God.
Numerous passages make this point (1:20, 57; 2:6, 21-22; 4:21;
9:31; 21:22, 24; 24:44-47). The us in v. 2 includes all those who
experienced the effects of Jesus' presence up to the time of Luke's
writing. All those who shared in the realization of what God brought
in Jesus share in the experience of fulfillment.
Now these accounts had sources who handed down (paredosan) the
story of Jesus, eyewitnesses who became ministers of the Word.
Luke's stress here is the credibility of the sources, since they
saw firsthand what has been described in the tradition. Luke makes
a key point--the tradition about Jesus had roots in the experience
of those who preached about him. These witnesses were with Jesus
from the beginning. Thus these first two verses mention at least
two generations: those who preached Jesus and those who recorded
what was preached. There was precedent for what Luke was doing,
both in terms of larger ancient history and in terms of the story
Luke's Approach (1:3-4)
There is debate whether Luke's choice to write after his predecessors
was a critique of their effort. Some suggest that the writing must
mean he was unhappy with previous efforts (L. T. Johnson 1991:29-30).
But the words it seemed good also to me (edoxe kamoi) show Luke
joining himself with his predecessors. It is likely that he engages
in the effort because he knows he can add to the portrait of Jesus
currently in circulation, but Luke is not unappreciative of the
previous efforts. His predecessors blazed a difficult trail ahead
of him. Luke's contribution will add a unique sequel to the portrait,
Acts, and will bring in much new detail about Jesus, since virtually
half of the material in Luke's Gospel does not appear in the other
Gospels we possess. The other Synoptics help us to see what Luke's
alternatives were like; he includes much more teaching material,
especially parabolic material.
Four characteristics mark Luke's approach to his task. First,
he investigated (parekolouthekoti) the story. This appears to refer
to the fact he studied his topic. Luke was not himself an eyewitness
to the events of Jesus' life. So only his study could produce such
a work. But we should not think of Luke in a library here. He would
have traveled through the community gathering information, both
from recorded texts and from conversations with others who had
Second, Luke went back to the beginning (anothen). This is why
the story starts with John the Baptist. This Jewish prophet was
the starting point of the renewal of God's activity, as Luke 1--2
will make clear.
Third, his study was thorough: he says he studied everything (pasin).
Though what we have in Luke is surely a select collection of material,
the Gospel writer wants it known that he did his homework. Luke
was very concerned to get the story right, to be accurate in his
portrayal of Jesus.
Fourth, Luke did his work carefully (akribos). As the Gospel itself
reveals, Luke's work is thought out and precise in its development
of the story.
Luke calls his account an orderly one (kathexes). For some this
means he wrote in chronological sequence. But such a meaning is
unlikely here. He has done some rearranging of the order of events
for thematic or literary reasons (for example, 4:16-30; the order
of the temptations in 4:1-13; the placement of John's arrest in
There is a geographic flow to the order: Galilee through Samaria
to Jerusalem. But above all, the order seems to be redemptive-historical.
Luke is concerned to trace the progress of God's redeeming work
in Jesus, especially by highlighting his teaching and the rise
of opposition to him. The emphasis on promise-fulfillment also
suggests this sort of order. The Gospel is roughly chronological,
but not precisely so. More important to Luke is revealing how God
worked through Jesus. This is "sacred history" revealing
the order of God's plan.
All the care Luke gives to the task, as noted in his preface,
is designed to reassure Theophilus, who has been taught (katechethes)
on such matters previously. Whatever pressure this believer is
under, he should be confident that God has moved to fulfill his
plan through Jesus. Luke is carefully building on precedent to
tell anew the story of Jesus. Like a pastor comforting a believer
under siege by the world, so Luke wishes to encourage his readers.
Theophilus may well be asking, "Is Christianity what I believed
it to be, a religion sent from God?" Whether it is internal
doubt, persecution or racial tension with Jews that has caused
this question to be raised, Luke invites his reader to consider
the story of Jesus again and know that these indeed were events
that have been fulfilled among us.
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah,
who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth
was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were upright in the
sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations
blamelessly. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren;
and they were both well along in years.
8Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving
as priest before God, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom
of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
10And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled
worshipers were praying outside.
11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right
side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was
startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: "Do
not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife
Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name
John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice
because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the
Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he
will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of
the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.
17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of
Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and
the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a
people prepared for the Lord."
18Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I
am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
19The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence
of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this
good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until
the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which
will come true at their proper time."
21Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering
why he stayed so long in the temple. 22When he came out, he could
not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple,
for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
23When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24After
this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained
in seclusion. 25"The Lord has done this for me," she
said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away
my disgrace among the people."
Infancy Narrative (1:5-2:52)
How does one extract theology from a narrative? The infancy material
in Luke 1:5--2:52 is an example of a narrative text that is full
of theology. It (1) reviews and previews events, (2) uses scriptural
quotations and allusions to reveal God's purpose, (3) reveals that
purpose through dialogue from God's commissioned agents, and (4)
gives testimony through reliable characters within the account
(Tannehill 1986:21). In fact, these first two chapters serve as
an overture to the Gospel, revealing the major themes that Luke
will develop throughout his portrayal of Jesus. Even the style
in these chapters differs from the rest of the book, as it mimics
the style of the Greek Old Testament. This is a neat literary touch,
for it signals the recounting of sacred events. By explaining the
relationship of John the Baptist to Jesus, Luke notes how the torch
of God's plan is relit and moves ahead.
John is the major focus of Luke 1:5-25, 46-80, while Jesus is
the subject in Luke 1:26-38 and 2:1-40. Technically the infancy
material ends at 2:40, since the scene of 2:41-52 involves Jesus'
actions as a young adolescent. However, in literary terms the section
extends through this passage, since the note about Jesus' growth
in 2:52 parallels the note about John's growth in 1:80. As we shall
see, the section is rich in theology, but three points stand out:
(1) Jesus is superior to John, (2) God is bringing to pass what
he promised long ago, and (3) what God promises now through his
Word will come to pass. Even the amount of time spent on Jesus
versus John reveals the first point, while the second and third
points emerge in how the infancy story is told.
Announcing the Forerunner, John the Baptist (1:5-25)
The announcement of John the Baptist's birth signals God's renewed
activity on behalf of his people in light of promises made long
ago. Many of the details of this event and those that follow in
the infancy section recall events of the Old Testament. God is
again at work to bring his promise to pass.
A Tragic Situation (1:5-7)
When God acts to fulfill his promises, he meets a wide array of
needs. After a long period of silence, here God acts in the time
of Herod the Great to begin realizing key aspects of his plan.
Though he is concerned to fulfill his promises to Israel, God is
also meeting the personal needs of a righteous couple.
Luke introduces the parents of John as pious, law-abiding saints.
Thus from its very beginning the new movement of God is steeped
in righteousness. Yet despite their righteousness, they have suffered
the disappointment of barrenness, a condition Elizabeth will later
refer to as a disgrace (v. 25). Elizabeth's feelings are perfectly
understandable, but to be barren is not an indication of the presence
of sin or of condemnation; it may be an opportunity for blessing,
whether God grants a child late in life or allows a couple to pursue
other opportunities of service. In Scripture, when God allows a
woman to be barren, he often has something special in mind for
her (Sarah, Gen 18:11; Rebekah, Gen 25:21; Rachel, Gen 29:31; Samson's
mother, Judg 13:2, 5; Hannah, 1 Sam 1--2). Aware of this pattern,
the rabbis of Judaism argued that when Scripture says, "She
has not," God gave a child (Genesis Rabbah 38). So in the
case of Elizabeth and Zechariah, God's action parallels the way
he often worked among the fathers and mothers of Jewish faith.
His word and plan are coming to pass again.
The Announcement of John's Birth (1:8-23)
The announcement of John's birth comes at a high moment in Zechariah's
career. As one of about eighteen thousand priests, Zechariah serves
in the temple twice a year, but only once in his life does he get
to assist in the daily offering by going into the holy place. This
honor had fallen to him by lot (m. Tamid 5:2--6:3). His job was
to offer incense, a picture of intercession rising to God (Ps 141:2;
Rev 5:8; 8:3-4). Everything about the announcement's timing points
to a moment of high piety. Zechariah goes in while the people are
praying. A later prayer from the Targum of Canticles 4:6 may well
express their thoughts: "May the merciful God enter the Holy
Place and accept with favor the offering of his people."
As Zechariah offers up the incense and prayer, an angel appears.
Angelic visitations to announce births of major figures are common
in the Old Testament (Gen 16:10-11; 17:15-19; 18:10-15; 25:23;
Judg 13:3-21). This announcement is unusual, however, in that the
father rather than the mother receives the message. The angel's
arrival produces fear in the priest. He senses the presence of
God's agent (Lk 1:29-30; 1:65; 2:9; 5:8-10, 26; 7:16; 8:37; 9:34)
and is taken back by this surprising development.
The angelic announcement proceeds in stages: the child's name
(v. 13), the response to the child (v. 14), the position and character
of the child (v. 15) and the mission of the child (vv. 16-17).
Zechariah's prayer is being answered. Since he had given up believing
that God would give him a child (v. 18), his prayer has probably
been focused on the nation's hope, especially since much of the
angel's message focuses on this point. Nonetheless, the child will
also fulfill the personal desire of Zechariah and Elizabeth, being
a cause of joy and delight for them and for many in the nation.
So God is tackling two requests at once, one national and the other
personal, a prayer that had long since been abandoned and all but
forgotten. Sometimes God's answers to prayer come in surprising
ways after a long time.
The child will be named John. When God names a child, that child
is especially significant in God's plan (Gen 16:8, 11; 17:19; 1
Kings 13:2; Is 7:14; 49:1; Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31). This child will be
great before God. In Luke 7:28 Jesus says that no one greater had
been born of woman before John. His greatness emerges from his
prophetic role and from his function as a forerunner to Jesus,
as the rest of Luke 1 makes clear.
John is to live an ascetic life of discipline. This will stand
in contrast to Jesus (7:31-35). The refusal to drink shows a special
consecration, and the language recalls the description of the prophet
Samuel, Israel's first prophet (1 Sam 1:11). Since the angel does
not say that John should not cut his hair, however, he is probably
not being called on to take a Nazirite vow (Num 6:1-21; Judg 13:4-5).
More important, the child will be empowered by the Spirit even
from birth (that is, from his mother's womb). The Spirit is very
active in these opening chapters (see 1:35, 41, 67; 2:25-27). This
promise has an initial fulfillment in the events of Luke 1:39-45,
especially verse 44. But the Spirit's abiding with John is an intensification
of the Spirit's presence among Old Testament prophets (contrast
with 1 Sam 10:10; 2 Kings 2:9-16; see Is 61:1; Ezek 11:5; Joel
2:28). Everything about these events shows that they hark back
to the great era of old, but reveal an escalation of God's work
and thus the approach of a new era.
John will be a prophet. His call to the people to repent will
be detailed in 3:1-20. Here the angel describes his ministry as
preparing a remnant for God: Many of the people of Israel will
he bring back to the Lord. In other words, he will turn Israel
to the Lord their God. The expression "to turn" has Old
Testament roots (Deut 30:2; Hos 3:5; 7:10). John will redirect
those who respond to his message toward a walk with God. In fact,
he will be like Elijah in his ministry (1 Kings 17--18; Mal 4:5;
Sirach 48:10). In speaking of turning the hearts of parents to
their children, Luke is indicating that reconciliation with God
will produce reconciliation elsewhere. When God touches a life,
relationships with others on this earth are also touched. So John
will make ready a people prepared for the Lord. This language recalls
Isaiah 43:7 and 2 Samuel 7:24. This will be a nation of people
God has called to himself, a faithful remnant sharing in the realization
of God's promise because they have turned to him.
Zechariah's response, though coming from a pious man, is very
human. He does not take the miraculous as a matter of course. He
has a natural objection to the promise that they will receive a
child: their old age. Zechariah understands the basics of biology
and aging. He and his wife are "past their prime."
In response, the angel announces his name, Gabriel, and indicates
that God will bring his promise to pass. The angel's giving his
name and position communicates that his message is to be accepted
as coming from the throne room of heaven. Zechariah, righteous
as he is, needs to learn that God will fulfill his promises when
he sovereignly chooses to act. The God of heaven may even do things
out of the ordinary. The major lesson in this announcement for
the priest, as well as for Luke's readers, is that God will do
what he promises in his own way.
To drive the point home, Zechariah becomes temporarily deaf and
dumb. This short-term judgment from God allows the priest to reflect
on what he must learn. As Luke 1:56-79 shows, Zechariah will learn
from his time of silence. The angel is explicit that the reason
for the imposition of muteness is that Zechariah did not believe
the angel's words. Sometimes we experience trial so that we can
learn to trust God more.
The crowd becomes nervous because of Zechariah's delay in emerging
from the holy place; they deduce that something unusual is slowing
down the ceremony. According to Jewish tradition, the high priest
was to recite a short prayer when he was in the Holy of Holies
ministering on the day of Atonement, lest the people worry (m.
Yoma 5:1). It was assumed that God's holiness made it difficult
to stay in his presence for very long. Such an attitude seems to
fuel the people's concern here.
When Zechariah emerges, he is unable to give the benediction,
which probably consisted of the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:24-26
(m. Tamid 7:2). So he signs a message. The people conclude that
Zechariah has experienced a very direct encounter with heaven,
a vision. Zechariah heads home, reflecting in his silence on what
God is going to do.
The Beginning of Realization (1:24-25)
God's word will be realized. So Elizabeth becomes the next one
to encounter his work. The text simply notes this fulfillment by
mentioning that she became pregnant. There is no fanfare, just
a simple declaration that what the angel had promised in verses
13-17 comes to pass. For some time Elizabeth remained in seclusion.
Her withdrawal has no stated motive, though many have speculated
on her reasons. What we do know is that she praised God for what
he was doing through her. Her disgrace, the reproach of barrenness,
was gone. Such thankfulness for the arrival of a child was common
(as in Gen 21:6; 30:23). Joy and relief are mixed together in Elizabeth.
She appears to be preparing herself for what is ahead. God is powerfully
at work again for Israel and for this righteous couple, who are
learning anew what it is to trust God. When God speaks and acts,
people are supposed to listen. His word will come to pass.
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth,
a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man
named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
28The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are
highly favored! The Lord is with you."
29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind
of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, "Do
not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will
be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him
the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of
the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father
David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his
kingdom will never end."
34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since
I am a virgin?"
35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy
one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth
your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she
who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing
is impossible with God."
38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May
it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.
The Announcement of the Birth of Jesus to Mary (1:26-38)
It often is said that good things come in small packages. This
passage adds a twist to that theme. For the announcement of Jesus'
birth shows that wonderful things come in surprising packages.
God does not always do things the way we would do them.
The announcement to Mary sets up a parallel to John's birth and
mirrors a number of birth announcements in the Old Testament. But
this passage's mood is very different from the Zechariah account.
A simple calmness rules the exchange between Mary and Gabriel.
Where Zechariah was in the midst of activity before the whole nation
in its religious center, this announcement comes to the future
child bearer privately, in the country. Had we designed these events,
pomp and circumstance probably would have attended the announcement
and birth of Jesus, but God chose to use an average young woman
and to announce his intentions in quiet obscurity. The fulfillment
of God's promise came to earth in an unadorned package of human
innocence, without any pomp, far away from any palace. The promised
one entered human life as he still seeks to meet it: at the level
of everyday experience with everyday people.
Mary and the Angel's Arrival (1:26-28)
God again takes the initiative when he sends Gabriel to Galilee,
a region some forty-five to eighty-five miles north of Jerusalem.
God's announcement comes to a betrothed virgin, Mary. God will
bring an unexpected addition into her family. Betrothal in the
ancient world was part of a two-stage marriage process. The initial
phase, the betrothal, involved a formal, witnessed agreement to
marry and the giving of a bridal price (Mal 2:14; m. Ketubot 4:4-5).
At this point the bride legally became the groom's and could be
called his wife. About a year later the actual marriage followed,
and the husband took his wife home. In the first century betrothal
could take place starting at the age of twelve. Mary's age is unstated.
It is during this betrothal stage that Gabriel breaks the news.
Mary's chaste character is highlighted by the description of her
as a virgin. It is clear that the account attributes Jesus' origins
to the Holy Spirit (vv. 34-35). But the human Davidic connection,
the tie to the royal line, is also noted in verse 27. The point
is important, for it seems that this connection is attributed to
Joseph and comes to Jesus through him. Joseph need not be the biological
father in order to pass such lineage on to Jesus (Schweizer 1984:27-28).
The virgin birth is one mark of superiority for Jesus over John
the prophet. It makes Jesus totally unique. The only other person
to have had such a direct divine intervention in his birth was
Adam--a point Luke will note in 3:38.
The portrait Luke paints of Mary is significant. She is a model
believer, taking God at his word, in contrast to Zechariah (vv.
37-38). She is favored of God (v. 30), thoughtful (v. 29; 2:19,
51), obedient (v. 38), believing (v. 45), worshipful (v. 46) and
a faithful follower of God's law (2:22-51; Craddock 1990:27-28).
It must be emphasized, however, that despite all these qualities,
God's choice of Mary to bear this child springs from his grace,
not from any inherent merit that she possesses. She is the object
of God's unmerited, graciously provided goodness. Her description
as one who has found favor with God (kecharitomene, v. 30) makes
it clear that God has acted on her behalf and not because of her.
In fact, Mary is totally perplexed by the sudden announcement.
She did not ask for or seek this role in God's plans; God has simply
stepped into her life and brought her into his service. Her asset
is that she is faithful. She should be honored for her model of
faithfulness and openness to serve God, but that does not mean
she is to be worshiped. Luke wants us to identify with Mary's example,
not to unduly exalt her person.
The Announcement About Jesus (1:29-38)
The announcement of Jesus' birth, which is formulated like Old
Testament announcements (Gen 16:11; Is 7:14), stresses three things
about Jesus: his position (Son of God, Son of the Most High, ruler),
his authority (seated on Israel's throne forever; ruler of a kingdom
that will never end) and his divine ties (the Holy Spirit will
come . . . and . . . overshadow you). In short, Jesus is the promised
king of the Davidic line. Old Testament roots for this promise
come from 2 Samuel 7:8-17 and Psalm 89 and 132, along with Isaiah
9:5-6; 11:1-5, 10; and Jeremiah 23:5-6 (C. A. Evans 1990:25). The
kingdom in view here was the promised messianic kingdom, and Luke
will develop and expand the Old Testament understanding of that
kingdom through Jesus' teaching, the hymnic material of Luke 1--2,
the ministry of John the Baptist and the miracles of Jesus. The
expansion will not be at the expense of what the Old Testament
promised, but comes in to complement it. God will complete promises
made to Israel, the original recipients of his promise, even as
he expands that promise later in the New Testament period to involve
the Gentiles. In Christ both Jew and Gentile--that is, all humanity--have
access by faith to God (Gal 3; Eph 2:11-22; 3:1-7).
So Jesus is not only great, as John was, but Son of the Most High,
Son of God (vv. 32, 35). To Jewish ears this would be the same
as calling him king (2 Sam 7:8-17; Ps 2:7). The Jews did not expect
a "divine" Messiah, as the Gospels themselves make clear.
God had promised David that the king would be God's son, since
Yahweh would be the son's Father. This birth would be the first
step in bringing the promise to David to its permanent, ultimate
fulfillment. This long-held Father-son relationship was to reach
unique heights in Jesus. It is clear from Mary's reactions to Jesus
in his early years that she did not understand the angel's promise
to be a declaration of Jesus' ontological deity (2:41-52; see also
Mk 3:3133). Her hymn and those that follow it in the infancy section
stress Jesus' regal and delivering role. Jesus is the holy one;
he is begotten of God; but the full implications of these statements
will not be realized for some time. Luke chooses to present Jesus
from the "earth up"--that is, showing how, one step at
a time, people came to see who Jesus really was. He starts with
Jesus as the promised king and teacher who reveals himself as Lord
in the context of his ministry. Only slowly do people grasp all
of what is promised.
This approach matches how most people today come to see who Jesus
is. Drawing on two thousand years of theological reflection about
Jesus, the church often tells the story from heaven down, but there
is merit in Luke's path. It is the path of people's experience.
Luke's approach is different from that of the Gospel of John, which
presents Jesus as sent from heaven to earth. At the start of John's
story there is no doubt that Jesus was with God in the beginning.
Both approaches are true; they are just different ways to consider
the person of Christ. The church has tended to emphasize John's
approach, because it is the full story, but there also is value
in unfolding the story gradually as Luke does.
Mary has difficulty comprehending the announcement. She asks, "How
will this be?" She knows she cannot yet have conceived a child,
since she is a virgin. The answer comes in terms of God's creative
overshadowing power. Mary's faith is put on the line at the start.
Will she believe that God has the capacity to create life within
her? God does not leave her alone in the decision. The angel notes
the life that is stirring within the womb of an elderly woman,
Elizabeth, Mary's relative. Thus John serves as a pointer to Jesus
not only in his preaching but also in his birth.
The angel states the basic premise "Nothing is impossible
with God." Mary simply responds in humble acceptance, "I
am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."
We can only imagine what this announcement required of Mary, especially
as her condition became obvious. A hint of the issue is raised
in the story of Joseph's dilemma in Matthew 1:18-25. Is God's power
such that he can create life and exercise sovereignty over it?
This is a question Jesus' birth should raise. Would people believe
the claims surrounding Jesus? The questions are profound. Wonderful
things come in surprising packages, but they can come, because
God has the power to deliver them.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill
country of Judea, 40where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted
Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped
in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42In
a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the child you will bear! 43But why am I so favored,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the
sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped
for joy. 45Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has
said to her will be accomplished!"
46And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.
50His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."
56Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned
Mary's Meeting with Elizabeth (1:39-45)
In terms of Luke's plot, this meeting expands Luke's characterization
and serves as a crucial pivot in the infancy narrative. Though
the mothers of John and Jesus meet, the account is portrayed as
a meeting of the two children, since John reacts to the meeting
as Elizabeth makes clear. In fact, John's reaction anticipates
and mirrors the forerunner role that he will have in Luke 3. Much
in the passage parallels Genesis 25:22-26, though there are some
major differences. In Genesis there is internal tension as Jacob
and Esau struggle for supremacy in the womb. Here there is a total
absence of tension: John leaped for joy (vv. 41, 44) at the presence
of Jesus' mother, who bears Jesus in her womb.
John's ministry starts very early; he is a forerunner even as
he responds in Elizabeth's womb (vv. 14-15). This next note of
fulfillment of the angelic promise comes from one filled with the
Holy Spirit from the womb. The fact that Elizabeth is filled with
the Holy Spirit as she reports the response indicates how Luke
views her response: she expresses the mind of God. This sign sets
the mood for the passage. The basic response to the arrival of
Jesus onto the scene of history should be joy.
Elizabeth is exemplary in her response. She is the "amazed
saint." Her attitude is summarized in the question "Why
am I so favored?" Here is humble amazement at being able to
participate directly in God's plan and see him at work (2 Sam 6:9;
24:21). All who have a role in God's plan should share this wonder.
Elizabeth recognizes the unique blessedness of Mary (blessed are
you among women) because of the child she bears (blessed is the
child you will bear). The remark is rhetorical and should not be
read as if Mary is the most blessed of all women. It means she
is "very pleased" (compare Judg 5:24; Song 1:8). The
attitude of Elizabeth is representative of what Luke desires in
any believer. What a joy to share in the events associated with
Jesus. What a joy to share life with him.
Elizabeth also reveals a second exemplary attribute, one that
also is found in Mary. While reporting the leaping of John in her
womb, she expresses a beatitude for Mary's faith: "Blessed
is she who has believed." Here is the essence of response
to God, to trust his word to be true and live in light of that
belief. To be blessed is to be happy because God has touched one's
life. Such divine benefit rains down on those who trust him and
his promises. Blessing emerges from God's ability to bring his
promises to completion, but to share the benefits, we must be confident
that God does what he says. The first sign of such faith in Mary
was her willingness to let God use her (v. 38). The second was
her immediate (hurried) visit to Elizabeth, who herself served
as a sign that God keeps his word and can give life (vv. 36, 39).
Theophilus and readers like him should not doubt, but rejoice
and be assured that God keeps his promises. Trust and joy are two
vital aspects of a successful walk with God. Elizabeth's joy is
shared by Mary, who will utter a hymn of praise to God for his
gracious work on her behalf. Mary's psalm also comes from the heart
of a grateful believer.
Mary's Hymn of Praise: Magnificat (1:46-56)
Mary's hymn is one of three major hymnic pieces in the infancy
material (the others are known as the Benedictus, Lk 1:67-79, and
Nunc Dimittis, Lk 2:28-32). The Latin names come from the phrases
that begin the hymns. Mary's hymn expresses praise to God for his
treatment of her, but then extends her praise to how God has treated
the righteous throughout the ages and how he will vindicate them
fully in the future. Understanding what God is doing, Mary possesses
a mood of joy. She speaks for herself and for her community, the
people of God throughout time. God is worthy of praise for what
he will do in taking care of his own. Understanding God's blessing
moves the believer to joy and appreciation, since the Almighty
cares personally for us and acts on our behalf.
Mary is exemplary of the humble, faithful disciple. That a woman
provides such an example is significant, since first-century culture
often relegated women to a secondary status. Such examples exist
in the Old Testament as well (Miriam in Ex 15:21; Hannah in 1 Sam
2:1-10; Deborah in Judg 5). One of the beauties of Luke's infancy
material is that different sorts of people all experience joy at
the arrival of Jesus. This reveals Jesus' universal appeal.
Praise for God's Word to Mary (1:46-49)
Mary's poetic outburst echoes Old Testament language with a perspective
that sees the present in light of God's consistent activity throughout
time. Her praise is personal--her soul and spirit offer praise.
She glorifies the Lord, which means her words acknowledge his goodness
and bring attention to him like a huge neon light shining out from
a building (Ps 34:3; 69:30). She makes his name great. She approaches
him recognizing her humble state as his servant and thus acknowledging
him as sovereign Master (see also v. 38; 2 Kings 14:26; Ps 9:11-14;
25:16-18). Yet though she addresses God as the Mighty One (Deut
10:21; 34:11; Ps 44:4-8; 89:8-10; 111:2, 9; Zeph 3:17), she knows
that she has nothing to fear from his power, because he also is
her Savior (Ps 25:5-6; Is 12:2; Mic 7:7). All these titles serve
to show Mary's humble spirit. Her humble perspective forms the
basis of her gratitude. The exemplary character of Mary grows out
of her understanding of God's character. God owes her nothing;
she owes God everything. All the good things that come from his
hand are acts of grace.
Despite her humble position, she will be honored by all generations.
Here is the reason for both her honor and her praise--God the Almighty
has done great things on her behalf. Generations will see her as
an example of a simple human touched by divine power and presence.
But it is God who is unique, as her declaration of his holiness
makes clear. He is the one "set apart" who is worthy
of praise. For her, his name is wonderful because his character
Praise for God's Acts to All (1:50-53)
Mary generalizes her praise: God's mercy extends to those who
fear him. This description is important in setting the context
of the hymn's statements. It is the righteous, those who look and
turn to God, who are the objects of his blessing. Though the blessings
of verses 50-53 come to those in need, they are not a carte blanche
offer to all the poor and hungry, but only to those who look to
God for care. God's mercy shows his "loyal love" or hesed.
Such love is faithful as well as gracious (Ps 103:2-6, 8-11, 13,
17). Loyal love is the hymn's basic theme, and God's treatment
of Mary is but one example. His divine loyalty requires his action
on behalf of the beloved. Those who stand in opposition will face
God's power and authority to bring down.
So God will deal with the proud. His arm will be raised against
them (Deut 4:34; Ps 44:3; 89:13; 118:15). The promise of God's
judgment here recalls the exodus, when God exercised his power
in total judgment (Ex 6:1, 6; Deut 3:24; 7:19). Whatever earthly
authority exists, it is nothing before the mighty, decisive exercise
of divine authority. He has brought down rulers (Ps 68:1; 89:10)
but has lifted up the humble (1 Sam 2:7; Ps 147:6). He has filled
the hungry with good things (1 Sam 2:5; Ps 107:9; 146:7) but has
sent the rich away empty (1 Sam 2:5; Job 15:29; Jer 17:11). Here
is God working on behalf of the pious downtrodden, a group the
Old Testament called the 'anauim (Ps 9:11-12, 17-20; 10:1-4; 12:1-5;
These verses express the traditional Jewish hope of vindication
in the face of oppression at the hands of foreign, pagan rulers
(1:71-75 is similar; in Judaism, see Psalms of Solomon 17--18).
Mary's remarks are often misinterpreted in two directions. Some
see them solely as a reference to God's defense of all the poor,
all the hungry. A whole theology of liberation is built around
such a reading of these verses and others like them. This ignores
the spiritual dimension present throughout the hymn, not to mention
the national character of the hope expressed in verses 54-55. On
the other hand, some want to dilute the references to the poor
and hungry altogether and speak only of the poor and hungry in
spirit. This also undercuts the passage's force. The spirit of
this text is reflected in other New Testament texts (1 Cor 1:25-31;
Jas 2:5). Often it is those in need who are the most spiritually
sensitive to God and who are gifted with faith by him. God promises
them that despite their current deprivation, they will experience
great reward in the future.
Luke raises a theme here that he will return to again and again:
God's desire to minister to the poor. Luke will stress a ministry
of social concern for those in need and warn those who are wealthy
not to hoard what God has given to them (6:20-26; 7:22-23; 12:13-21;
14:12-14; 16:14-29). He warns about a reversal of roles in the
judgment for those who do not hear this admonition.
Praise for God's Acts for His People, Israel (1:54-56)
God is acting for his people, Israel. God's actions reflect his
mercy. He committed himself to such loyalty and compassion when
he made promises to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). One of the lessons of
the infancy section is that God keeps his word, including the promises
made to the nation of Israel. Mary knows that the promises of God
abide, and this is evident in her praise. God's loyal love is central
to the hope and assurance of those to whom God has made himself
Israel is called his servant. This reference recalls a major motif
from Isaiah (Is 41:8-9; 42:1, 2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3). Later
Luke will describe Jesus in terms that picture the Servant (Lk
22:37; Acts 8:32-33). Even later in Acts, Paul and Barnabas recall
this calling to serve as "light for the Gentiles" (Acts
13:47). The various points of connection to the Servant concept
mark this as a pattern prophecy: the role God had designed for
Israel is fulfilled in the regal representative of the nation and
in those who are identified with him.
Though Luke will develop the concept of God's constant care for
Israel according to covenant promise, his portrayal of Mary here
shows a woman confident that God will care for a remnant in his
nation. They, like she, will see the Lord's powerful hand move
on their behalf. God's loyal love and the truthfulness of his holy
character make such assurance and hope possible. Even more amazing
is what the progress of Luke's story reveals. Others who were not
originally included in the promise, namely Gentiles, will come
to share in this hope and will benefit from the vindication described
here. In fact, it is quite likely that Theophilus himself is one
of these additional beneficiaries, along with many others after
him who have come to fear the Lord.
In fact, the two points of assurance are linked. Since God remembers
the loyal love promised in covenant to Israel, Theophilus can rest
assured that God will remember his promises to this Gentile believer.
God's care for one promise reinforces the other. The basic teaching
implied here is very similar to Paul's argument for the hope of
Israel in Romans 9--11.
The Birth of John the Baptist
57When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth
to a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had
shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they
were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60but his mother
spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John."
61They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives
who has that name."
62Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would
like to name the child. 63He asked for a writing tablet, and to
everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." 64Immediately
his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to
speak, praising God. 65The neighbors were all filled with awe,
and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about
all these things. 66Everyone who heard this wondered about it,
asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the
Lord's hand was with him.
The Birth and Naming of John (1:57-66)
With the birth of John, God continues to fulfill what he promised
in Luke 1:5-25. As the promise of God moves ahead, God shows he
will bring his word to pass and teaches some personal lessons as
well. The most important lesson is that even the pious must learn
to wait on God's timing and ways.
As in Luke 1:39-56, where there was a meeting (1:39-45) and then
a hymn (1:46-56), John's birth is followed by a hymn. In each case
the hymn details the significance of the previous event. The difference
is that Mary's hymn focused on how God deals with his people, while
Zechariah's hymn will highlight the main players who bring such
blessing on humanity.
John's Birth (1:57-58)
When Elizabeth bears a son, all those around her hear that the
Lord had shown her great mercy. Though these events are cosmic
in their reach, they involve the divinity's personal touch. God
has shown his mercy and magnified it to Elizabeth (compare Gen
19:19; 24:12; 40:14; 47:29; Ruth 1:8; 4:13). Those who had shared
her pain now rejoice with her. God's mercy expresses itself in
concrete, loving action.
The Surprise in the Naming of John (1:59-66)
According to custom, the circumcision and naming of the child
follow. Though children were often named at birth in the Old Testament
(Gen 25:25-26; 29:32-35), it appears that sometimes such naming
was associated with circumcision. The presence of the parents at
circumcision shows them as pious, law-abiding Jews (Gen 21:4; Lev
Many features of the naming of John are surprising. The crowd
fully expects custom to be followed. They wish the child to be
named Zechariah. Children were often named after fathers or grandfathers
(1 Maccabees 1:1-2; Josephus Life 15; Antiquities 14.1.3 10; 20.9.1
197; Jubilees 11:15; Fitzmyer 1981:380). Elizabeth rejects the
crowd's desire and goes her own way. The name she chooses is the
one the angel gave Zechariah in verse 13. The text is silent on
how she knew this name, but that detail is unimportant. The choice
of the surprising name indicates that a major lesson of obedience
has been learned. And as noted above, when God names a child, that
child is significant in his plan.
The protest of the crowd shows that they are unaware of what God
is doing. Surely the father of the house will not sanction this
breaking of custom. So they motion to Zechariah to find out what
the name of the child should be. Their signing to Zechariah indicates
that he is both deaf and mute. The reply comes on a wooden tablet
covered with wax. By repeating the name his wife gave, Zechariah
echoes the instructions of the angel, not the crowd and custom.
He goes the way of God and amazes his neighbors.
His obedience yields additional reward: his tongue is loosed immediately
and judgment ends. Just as the angel promised in Luke 1:20, the
temporary situation of silence ends with the fulfillment of God's
word. The point of the linkage is not to be missed: believe and
know that God fulfills his promises.
The event has three unusual features: (1) the old have given birth,
(2) the child has a strange name, and (3) Zechariah's handicap
is taken away, whereupon he launches into praise about what God
is doing. Such remarkable events cause the crowd to fear and reflect.
Something different and surprising is happening, things worth remembering
and considering. So they wonder, "What then is this child
going to be?" Luke wants his readers to consider the same
question. The story's close indicates that the Lord's hand was
with him. Luke is saying, in effect, "Be assured, Theophilus
or any other reader of my account, that God was in these most unusual
events." When God's hand is mentioned, usually an opportunity
for deliverance is around the corner (Ex 13:3; 15:6; Is 5:12; 26:11;
66:14; Ps 28:5; 80:17; 1 Kings 18:46; 1 Chron 28:19; Ezek 1:3,
3:14, 22; Marshall 1978:90; Stein 1992:98). And Zechariah, in his
silence, has learned to believe God.
With John, God has prepared the way for his promise. God's ways
were not traditional or what had been culturally expected, but
they were his ways nonetheless. Sometimes going God's way means
going against the grain of our culture.
67His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
69He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us--
72to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."
80And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived
in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.
Zechariah's Hymn: Benedictus (1:67-80)
This hymn surveys God's plan through the forerunner and the anointed
Davidic heir. The Lord, the God of Israel, is blessed for how he
works through these two major agents. Where Mary's hymn was cosmic
and personal, Zechariah's is cosmic and universal. Zechariah rejoices
that God has raised up the Davidic horn to do his work of deliverance,
as well as sending a prophet to prepare the way for him. That deliverance
possesses both political and spiritual dimensions, as verses 71-75
and 78-79 show.
Luke describes the hymn as Spirit-inspired. In other Lukan accounts,
often the Spirit's presence leads to a prophetic declaration or
to praise (Acts 2:17-18; 11:27; 13:1; 19:6; 21:9). This hymn offers
a divine commentary on God's plan. John is the prophet of the Most
High pointing to Jesus, the bright Morning Star. So Zechariah highlights
Jesus just as his son John will.
Praise for Messianic Redemption (1:68-75)
John's birth means that God is once again working actively to
redeem his promise (vv. 72-73). Zechariah praises God, for he has
come and has redeemed his people. What the NIV refers to as God's
coming heralds an important Lukan concept, God's visitation (1:78;
7:16; 19:44; Acts 15:14). This introduction makes the hymn a praise
psalm. The theme of the praise occurs in verses 68-70, while the
explanation of the theme involves the rest of the hymn. God's visitation
comes in Messiah's visitation (Lk 2:26-32). God has raised up a
horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. God
often acted in history to "raise up" a prophet (Deut
18:15, 18), a judge (Judg 3:9, 15), a priest (1 Sam 2:35) or a
king (2 Sam 3:10). Luke likes the idea as well (Acts 3:22, 26;
13:22), showing how God directs the events of his plan.
This Messiah is a picture of strength, which is why Zechariah
mentions the horn. The horns of an ox are used for protection and
for defeating opponents (Deut 33:17). The same image is used for
a warrior (2 Sam 22:3; Ps 75:4-5, 10; 148:14) or a king who saves
(1 Sam 2:10; Ps 132:17). Luke's starting point for thinking about
Jesus is that he is a king.
God is doing what he promised. His word will come to pass. These
events are as he said through his holy prophets of long ago. The
promise involves rescue: God will save his people from their enemies
and from all who hate them. Such salvation reflects the mercy of
God and the recollection of the covenant made with Abraham. In
this way the hymn actually combines two sets of divine promises--those
about David's son and those made to Abraham. What God will do for
his people he does through Messiah. The fresh fulfillment of both
covenants begins with Jesus' arrival.
But what is the goal of this salvation? Here is perhaps the most
insightful part of the hymn. Zechariah is not retreating from life
or looking only to a future reward in heaven. His heart's desire
is to serve [God] without fear in holiness and righteousness before
him all our days. This is the expression of an exemplary soul.
The meaning of life comes in faithful service to a holy God. By
saying our days, Zechariah represents many who share this desire.
Salvation enables the child of God to serve God.
Who are the enemies referred to in the hymn? In the context it
seems clear that Zechariah anticipates freedom from the opposition
of enemies (v. 74). Possibly he hopes for rescue from Rome, much
as John the Baptist seemed to anticipate when he asked Jesus whether
he really was "the one who was to come" (7:18-23). Such
a political deliverance for the people of God is also anticipated
by John in Revelation 19.
But this is only a partial answer. Zechariah's hymn is an introduction
to Luke's entire book. To ask what the hymn means for Luke, we
need only to see how he develops the theme of enemies within his
Gospel (Bock 1993:443-48). Such an examination shows that the enemy
consists of supernatural opposition (11:14-23). Jesus is the "someone
stronger" who overruns the strong man Beelzebub. To provide
real victory Jesus will need to vanquish not only human opponents
but the spiritual ones that stand behind them as well (Eph 6:10-18).
Jesus' activity shows his goal to be the reversal of the effect
of demonic presence (Lk 13:10-17). As the Davidic Son, he heals
and shows his authority (18:35-42). The power of his horn extends
even into these dimensions of reality. The miracles are not only
events of deliverance but pictures of a deeper reality. To know
Jesus is to have access to authority that can overcome the presence
of evil. We are able, as a result, to serve God in holiness and
Prophecy About John and Jesus (1:76-80)
Two agents are responsible for this work. John the Baptist, as
prophet, will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.
In the context of the hymn, it is best to see the Lord as a reference
to God the Father, since he is the source of all the activity the
hymn describes (as also in 1:17). Luke 1:76-77 speaks of his way
and his people, a reference that looks back to 1:68, where the
people are God's. For Luke, God is the producer-planner and Jesus
is the plan's directing agent. John's preparation involves giving
knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Forgiveness
is a major Lukan theme (Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38;
Forgiveness is also a principal component of the expression of
God's tender mercy. He is the one who makes the dayspring dawn
upon us from on high, or in the NIV rendition, the rising sun .
. . come to us from heaven. This is a reference to the sun's dawning
in the morning. The Davidic horn (v. 69) is an image of light (Num
24:17; Is 11:1-10). The image of light will be important in Acts
(13:47; 26:17-20) as well as in Luke (2:32). The picture is of
a world cloaked in darkness and death, desperate for someone to
lead it into light and life. For Zechariah, this rescue is Messiah's
mission. The Christ is the bearer of forgiveness as his day dawns.
Once his day dawns, the light of the "Sun" never sets.
He is the one who guides our feet into the path of peace. Even
the righteous Zechariah recognizes the need to be totally dependent
on the one God will send. Those who are righteous know that the
only true journey in life is the one taken in the hands of God.
In Luke 1, Zechariah has grown from a figure of doubt to an example
So John and Jesus come by God's mercy to prepare and lead God's
people. John will proclaim salvation, but Jesus will take them
For this reason Luke notes John's growth briefly and ends the
chapter by placing John in the desert, where he will minister to
the nation. Then Luke turns the story's spotlight from John and
his birth and shines it on the star of his narrative, Jesus, the
Davidic horn and king who delivers his people into the light.