18. 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.”
Zecharias wants a sign that this will really come to pass. This is the most positive evidence to us that just because one keeps the law meticulously does not mean that one has great faith. Surely Zacharias must have known the story of Abraham and how God had given him a son in his old age. This story must have been known to every Israelite from childhood. How then could Zacharias have doubted God, being such a godly and righteous man? The answer is that adherence to the law is no substitute for faith. Faith is what God really seeks from us, and faith is something that Zacharias was severely lacking in here.
19. And the angel answered and 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 tidings.
The angel reveals his name here as Gabriel, which means “the mighty man of God.” We do not know the names of very many of the angels, though they no doubt all have names. In fact, Gabriel and Michael are the only angels whose names are given in Scripture. This angel Gabriel is mentioned in only two books of Scripture, here in Luke 1:19 and 26, and in Daniel 8:16 and 9:21. Thus, Luke gives testimony to the accuracy of the book of Daniel, and all that is written there.
Gabriel speaks and says he was sent to Zacharias. Yet the word he uses is not the word for a simple sending, but rather the word apostello. This word will be extremely important as we study through both the gospel of Luke and Luke’s second book, the book of Acts. Let us examine this word a little more closely. This word is actually apestalen in Greek, although its simplest form is apostello. Notice how this word is related to the word “apostle.” This word does mean “sent,” yet if we stop there, I believe we will be missing some of the truth. There is another word for sending, which is pempo. This word means a simple sending. The word apostello is more than just a simple sending. There is more to it. An apostello sending is a sending with power or authority.
Now if I were to give you the money to go on a trip to Germany on a vacation, I would be sending you there. The Greeks would represent this by the word pempo. Yet if the President of the United States should send you to Germany as the U.S. ambassador to that country, that too would be a sending, but a far different sending than when I sent you. The President would be sending you with authority, and his office and power would be behind it. This kind of sending the Greeks would represent by apostello.
This word more precisely means to commission, or to send with authority. One who was sent with authority became an apostle, as we will read about later on. So it was that Gabriel here had been sent with authority from God. Notice what this authority involved. Gabriel was to speak with Zacharias, and to bring him glad tidings. This is the word we often have translated as “gospel,” but it means a true or right message. This is what Zacharias had heard from the angel. Yet Zacharias did not have faith in the message from God, and doubted that what the angel told him could come to pass.
20. “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.”
Because of his lack of faith, Zacharias would be unable to speak until the fulfillment of the angel’s words when John was born. Thus there was a punishment for unbelief, even for such a faithful follower of the law as Zacharias.
21. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple.
The ministry that was to take place in the holy place was a set ritual, done daily. Thus, it probably took a very similar amount of time each time it was done, no matter who was performing it. These people had often waited outside during the ritual, and so they well knew how long it should take. Therefore, they are well aware of the fact that Zacharias is taking too long in the holy place, and they are marveling that he has not come out yet. No doubt they quickly would have realized that something unusual must have taken place.
22. 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.
Zacharias was supposed to speak a blessing upon coming out of the holy place, which he obviously could not do now. The people were no doubt excited to see Zacharias come out, and immediately would have questioned him as to what had happened in the holy place that made him take such an unusually long time. Yet their curiosity would not be satisfied, for Zacharias could no longer speak. What a wonder to the people this must have been! From Zacharias’ exciting motions, they deduced that he had seen a vision in the temple. Yet they could not hear a word of it or figure out what its significance was since Zacharias could not tell them. Thus, the word was held back by Zacharias’ lack of faith, though certainly these people must have paid close attention to these things, and would have well remembered them, since we all tend to remember curiosity unfulfilled. Therefore, though the angel’s message did not spread, those who saw this must have taken it to heart, and remembered that God was going to do something related to this man Zacharias.
23. And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.
Zacharias silently finishes out his days of service, and returns to his home, which we learn in verses 39-40 was in the hill country of Judea. Remember, the Levites and the priests had no territory of their own, but were scattered throughout the inheritances given to the other tribes. This was so that they could teach the people among whom they lived, although many of them did not carry out this duty, as they should have done.
24. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying,
The promise of God was carried out quickly, as Elizabeth almost immediately became pregnant. Imagine the joy Elizabeth must have had to be bearing a child at long last! Yet again she hid herself from everyone. Perhaps she wanted to make sure that this was indeed what was happening, and that this pregnancy would result in a birth. At any rate, she sequestered herself, no doubt staying at home and around the house, so that the sign was not yet known to the common people, both through Zacharias’ silence, and her modesty.
25. “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
As was stated earlier, to be childless was a great shame for a woman of those days, and particularly in the land of Israel, where one had a great duty to pass on the inheritance God had given you to the next generation. Thus, Elizabeth praises the Lord, and credits Him with taking away her reproach. Indeed, that was just what the Lord had done. He specializes in taking away the reproach of His people.
26. Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
This takes place in the sixth month, which I believe means the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, six months after the events previously recorded. Thus, if we correctly identified the month of Zacharias’ service as June, we can pinpoint Christ’s conception month as December. We also know that John the Baptist was born six months before his greater Cousin.
Gabriel the angel is again sent to bring news of a coming baby. Again, the word “sent” is derived from the Greek word apostello, and means that Gabriel was again commissioned with God’s authority to go to this place.
Gabriel is commissioned to a city in Galilee. Israel at this time was divided into three main parts. Judea in the south was the leading part of Israel. The capital of Jerusalem was there, and all the well-educated and “important” people were in Judea. In the middle was Samaria, the land of the half-Jews. These were descended half from Israelites who had lived there, and half from the people the Assyrians had moved into the land after they conquered it six hundred years before. Thus, those who lived there were only half Israelites, and were considered bastardized by those “full-blooded” Israelites who lived in the north and the south. The Jews therefore hated the Samaritans, and studiously avoided them. In the north was Galilee, and though full Israelites lived there, they were considered as being from a backwater place, rather like country hicks, to those living in Judea. Yet they would come down to the temple for the feasts, and many there were as loyal to God as those in Judea were.
It is therefore to Galilee in the north, to the city of Nazareth in Galilee, that Gabriel is sent. It is likely that Nazareth is one of those cities mentioned in I Kings 9. Solomon, we read there, gave his friend Hiram King of Tyre twenty cities in Galilee. But we read in verses 12-13, “Then Hiram went from Tyre to see the cities which Solomon had given him, but they did not please him. 13 So he said, “What kind of cities are these which you have given me, my brother?” And he called them the land of Cabul, as they are to this day.” “Cabul” means “good for nothing.” Thus, Hiram did not think very highly of these cities in Galilee. Yet it is to one of these despised cities that the angel now comes.
27. To a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
This time Gabriel is sent not to an old woman, but to a young virgin named Mary. The word “virgin” here, parthenon, means a virgin, or a woman who had not had sexual relations with a man. Some modern scholars have tried to argue otherwise, yet that is the meaning of this word. Mary herself reveals her virginity in verse 34.
Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Yet we must not think of this like one of our modern betrothals today. Our betrothals are more or less just a declaration of an intention to get married. In Israel, however, the betrothal was considered binding. In fact, the more significant ceremony was often the betrothal, and not the wedding afterwards. Once a couple was betrothed, they were considered legally bound, and a divorce would have been necessary to separate them. Yet those thus bound were expected to live separately regarding sex. Often, the betrothal would take place before the girl had reached puberty, anyway. But they were expected to prepare for married life between the betrothal and the marriage, the girl by learning how to tend a household from her mother, and the man by setting up a trade and preparing a place for the young couple to live. Then, when it was mutually agreed upon that all was ready, the couple would come together and be considered married. It was during this betrothal period that Mary and Joseph were now.
The idea that this girl’s name was Mary is an error derived from the Latin Vulgate, which is the translation of the Scriptures into Latin. It is this version of the Bible that the Catholics use, and so its names were familiar to the people when the King James Version was translated. The original Greek Bible has the name “Miriam,” not Mary. This girl had the same name as Moses’ sister, but not as Mary Magdalene or most of the other New Testament “Mary”s. Those who pray to “Holy Mary, Mother of God” do not even know the real name of the woman they are thus deifying!
Throughout the remainder of this study, the names “Mary” and “Miriam” will be used interchangeably.
28. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
The angel greets Miriam in a very unusual way. He tells her to rejoice, which was a common Greek greeting. However, he does not use this hyperbolically, but has a real reason for her to rejoice. He calls her “highly favored.” This word in Greek is charitoo, and is related to the Greek word charis or “grace.” The word for grace does not appear in Matthew or Mark, but Luke quickly brings it in here. Mary was a graced one, highly honored by the surpassing grace God was showing her. This word charitoo appears only one other time in Scripture, and that is Ephesians 1:6. There, the Holy Spirit uses this word of the believer of today, telling us that “He made us accepted in the Beloved.” The “Beloved” here is the Lord Jesus Christ, and this verse tells us that God “highly favored” or charitoo-ed us in the Lord Jesus. What a marvelous grace is ours! We too, like Miriam, have been highly favored.
Finally, the angel tells her that the Lord is with her, a wonderful thing indeed for anyone to know in truth. Moreover, she is blessed, that is, greatly to be praised, among women. Imagine this young, Galilean girl from the despised city of Nazareth being told such things by an angel of God!
29. But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.
Unlike Zacharias, Mary was not afraid of the angel. It seems she was more a woman of faith than the elderly, law-keeping priest. Often the young will be more receptive to the words of God, and less prone to doubt or fear. Yet his words puzzled her. Suppose you received this sort of greeting from an angel. What would you think? Mary was pondering this, trying to reason out what this angel could mean.
30. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Perhaps the angel perceived that her lack of understanding was beginning to produce fear in her, for he quickly assures her. She has found grace, he tells her, with God. What a thing to be said of you! Yet all of us who know Christ have also found grace in His sight, though not in the same way as this most privileged young woman.
31. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.
Now the angel reveals the purpose for his coming, the point of his message, and the reason for all the great things he has said about her. She is to conceive and bring forth a Son. The future tense here indicates that this has not yet happened, yet is about to come to pass. And Gabriel again names this One, telling her He is to be named Jesus. We do not use this name in our culture, yet this was a common name of the day, no more unusual than the name “John.” In Greek, it is Iesous, which we make English as “Jesus.” Yet in Hebrew, this same name was “Joshua,” a common name in Israel, as it is among us today. It meant “Yahweh the Savior.” In the case of most who were given this name, it was just a testimony to the fact that Yahweh is the Savior. Yet in the Lord’s case, this name meant far more. For He was Yahweh the Savior, and thus His name testified to this great fact. Thus, His name was to be called “Jesus.”
32. “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.
The angel lets Miriam know some of the future of this Son she is to bear. He will be great, he tells her, and will be called the Son of the Highest. “The Highest” here is simply a name for God, for He is the highest One there is, and there can be no higher. Thus, the Lord would be called the Son of God, and rightfully so. Moreover, the angel reveals to her that her Son will be given the throne of His father David.
Now a throne is not merely an ornate chair in which a king sits. This is a childish idea, and should be struck from our thinking. The chair in which a king sat was symbolically called a throne, yet this really stood for the position and the authority the king had. God is not going to give the Lord a fancy chair. Rather, He gave the Lord Jesus the authority over the throne of David. However, just because we know that the Lord has that throne does not mean that we automatically know what He is going to do with it. He could sit on it Himself, it is true. But He could also give it to whomever He wishes. And in many places like Ezekiel 34:24, God has promised that He will give this throne back to David.
24. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
So the Lord Jesus Christ has the throne of His father David as His possession. Yet His plan for that throne in the future back the throne He gave him once before. Then, what God said in II Samuel 7:16 will be true in its fullest extent.
16. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.
33. “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
To reign is to govern. But “forever” here is the word “aion” in Greek, and means that He reigns over the house of Jacob for the eons. That is, over all the outflowings of that government the Lord Jesus Christ will reign supreme. Even in the most dictatorial and oppressive of governments, the supreme ruler cannot be personally in charge of every action of that government. Unless his nation is exceedingly small, he must rely on others to carry out his will for him. He cannot personally guarantee that his government will act in total conformity to his will every single time. Yet when Jesus Christ reigns over the earth, every single facet of His government will conform to Him. Never will it fail to act as it should because some lesser ruler acted on his own without the knowledge or consent of the One Who sat supreme over him. No, everything in that government to the smallest detail will be personally overseen by the One Who will rule all things after the council of His Own will. Then, at last, all will be made to conform to God.
Many suppose that this phrase, “of his kingdom there will be no end,” means that the kingdom must be the eternal state. Thus, they erroneously claim that there is no earlier stage, but that all that the kingdom is and all it entails is summed up in the new heavens and new earth. Those who teach this are amillennialists, and do not believe in the parousia of Jesus Christ, nor in the kingdom of God that will rule over this earth long before that final condition of things described at the end of the book of Revelation.
This phrase regarding the kingdom does not refer to its duration. Rather, it refers to the fact that it rules over all. Not just the house of Jacob, but everywhere men dwell will be under the rule of God’s government. Thus, His kingdom will truly have no end. In our world, we are certainly familiar with the idea that governments have their end. Anyone who has passed from the jurisdiction of one country to another knows that the governments of these countries have an end. I have seen places where the United States government ends and another government begins. This is true of every government in this world we live in now. Yet God’s government will have no end. It will have no boundary or limitation. It will reign over all, and rule all.
What great promises these are concerning Christ! Yet many of these have not yet been fulfilled, for Christ does not yet reign. How great will be the day when these prophecies are at last fulfilled!
34. Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
Miriam knew her own integrity, and thus questioned the angel. Bullinger notes in his Companion Bible that to Mary, this promise seems too early, whereas to Zecharias, it seemed too late. Yet notice that she does not disbelieve as Zacharias had done, but only questions to better know what he means. Unlike the elderly priest, this was a woman of faith!
What a glorious thing for a young woman of God to be able to say, that she has maintained her integrity, and knows not a man! How few in our day value virtue, and yet what a precious thing it is in the sight of God! There is nothing to substitute for it, and nothing can replace it. Praise God that there are still some daughters of His who value this precious gift.
Notice that this proves that Mary was a virgin, no matter what the definition of parthenon may be. She had not had sexual relations with a man. She was a virgin indeed.
Notice too how the Bible couches such claims as Miriam’s here in delicate terms that are nevertheless simple to understand. They are sensitive enough for closed cultures, where anything sexual is not talked about, to not be shocked or scandalized; and yet are explicit enough for open cultures like ours, where it seems that there does not exist a sexual topic that we are not willing to talk about, to understand exactly what is meant. This is brilliance indeed, and demonstrates how God has written this book for all time.
35. And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
The words “holy spirit” should not be capitalized here. The phrase pneuma hagion here does not contain the article “the,” and so speaks of the power of the Spirit, not His person. This means that we should not think of the Holy Spirit having what we would think of as “normal relations” with Mary, but rather of Him using creative power to make this baby in her womb, using, no doubt, her own egg as material yet fertilizing it not with natural material but rather with God’s power. This is why He could be called the Son of God. He was created by God within her. Yet even then, the term “Son of God” does not mean that He was “God’s little boy.” The Lord Jesus Christ WAS God Himself. The term “Son” here means “Representative.” The Lord represented the invisible God in human form.
36. “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.
The angel points her to anther miracle that God had recently done: the pregnancy of Miriam’s relative Elizabeth. This woman had conceived a son in her old age. If God could do this, could He not create a son within Miriam without the agency of a human male whatsoever? Through this reference to Elizabeth, the angel clues Mary in that she has one to comfort her in her time of trial: her dear relative. God would watch over her every step of the way, as any good father would the woman who was mothering his child.
How exactly Miriam was related to Elizabeth, it is hard to say, since she was of the tribe of Judah and the family of David, and Elizabeth of the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. Probably there was a connection by marriage somewhere in the past. Perhaps this would have been through Miriam’s mother, or Elizabeth’s mother.
37. “For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Ultimately, this is the final answer to how a virgin birth could take place. With God, nothing is impossible. In Greek this literally says that “no word is impossible.” Anything He has said, He can do. He can accomplish whatever He so desires. If He wished to make Himself a man, He could do so. If He wished that Man Who was God Himself to die on a cross, He could do that as well. If He wanted that Man to come back to life the third day, that too was not too hard for Him. God can indeed do whatever He wishes. Praise Him, then, that His thoughts towards us are full of love and grace.
38. Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Miriam does not call herself a “maidservant” here, although that sounds nice. The word she uses is doule, which means “slave.” She considers herself the slave of the Lord. Whatever He asks her, she will do.
This took great faith on Mary’s part, particularly in a culture where she could have been killed as an adulteress for having a baby when she was betrothed to a man who was not the father. This was submission indeed. Whatever the Lord asked of her, whatever the consequences might be, she was willing to do it. What an amazing young woman this was!
39. Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah,
Mary may have been submissive, but she didn’t just sit back and wait to see what happened. Having received this message from the Lord, she quickly devises a plan, and carries it out with haste.
40. And entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.
Now Mary’s plan starts to become clear to us. The angel had given her no instructions as to what to do next, or how to guard herself against the charge of immorality that would doubtless come when she was found to be pregnant. Such an action would have been punishable by death under the law of the Lord. Yet she does have a word from the Lord, and it regards her Godly relative Elizabeth. The angel said nothing more about Elizabeth than that she too has received a blessed pregnancy from the Lord, and yet that must have suggested to her that here could be a possible ally. So she has determined that she will begin the pregnancy promised her by the Lord in the house of her impeccably Godly relatives, Zecharias and Elizabeth. This will make it much more difficult for anyone to accuse her of having become pregnant by playing the whore when they knew she had been living with this Godly, elderly couple. Their reputations were no doubt beyond questioning, and would help protect Mary from such charges. Apart from this one step, there is really nothing else that she can do, other than to trust God for the outcome.
Notice that Miriam seems to be and to act on her own. As I will discuss later, it is likely that she was a young orphan at this point. Though still a young teenager, she had no father, at least, to look after her, or to command her what to do and where to go. An orphan without father or brother to care for her was in serious trouble, and would not be considered very marriageable. Mary was no doubt relieved and thankful that she had found a man like Joseph who was willing to take her as his wife. Now, it would appear that that would all be messed up by the calling that the Lord had given her. When we realize this, her subservient attitude and what it cost her becomes even clearer to us. This was a woman of faith indeed.
41. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The response of John in Elizabeth’s womb was brought about by the revealing power of the Holy Spirit, for nothing else could have brought such a revelation to such a young and ignorant babe. This shows us that God is capable of revealing truth even to one who has not yet left the womb! What a great and powerful God He is, and how matchless are His works!
As we might imagine, the words “holy spirit” here again have no articles in front of them in the Greek, and so indicate the power of the Holy Spirit filling Elizabeth. This power would result in her speaking a word of prophecy about both Miriam and the baby which she was about to bear.
42. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
Elizabeth cries out prophetically of Miriam, and of the child she will soon be carrying. She declares her relative blessed. This is a word that is used in English in such a way that it ends up meaning very little. In Greek, this word is eulogemene, and is related to our English word “eulogize,” which means to speak well of someone. This speaks not just of the reputation that Mary would have among men, although that is high indeed, but even more of the high honor and favor given to her by God. Yes, very well indeed did God speak of this poor young woman from Nazareth!
43. “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Elizabeth counts it as a privilege and an honor that the mother of her Lord should come to her. This is rightful praise of Miriam, for it was made by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth was honored in truth by this visit. Not righteous and not correct, however, is the unwarranted praise that many in our day are wont to heap upon Mary. She was a woman greatly eulogized by God, but she was still a woman nevertheless, and a sinner, as are we all.
44. “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
Now Elizabeth bears witness to what had happened in her womb when Miriam spoke in greeting. Notice that it was the sound of Mary’s voice that caused this. It was not that the Lord Jesus was already in her womb, and John somehow sensed this. Mary’s plan, as I said, was to become pregnant while with her priestly relatives.
Notice that already, even before birth, John has begun his testimony regarding the Lord Jesus.
45. “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
This time, the word for “blessed” is makaria, and means that she is a “how happy” person, as we discussed in examining the book of Psalms. And this verse also tells us the reason that Miriam is so happy. It is not because she was immaculately conceived, or had no sin. Rather, her claim to fame is her belief. Indeed, our faith is the best that can be said of any of us. And for those of us who believe without seeing in this dispensation of grace, as Christ says in John 20:29, we too are makarioi, we too are “how happy” people.
Nathan C. Johnson