Luke 1:57–80 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos
John's Birth, Zechariah's Song
Luke's gospel began with an introductory preface (vv. 1–4), explaining his reasons for writing this account. He then begins to give accounts of the births of John and Jesus. The birth of John — Christ's forerunner — is announced by Gabriel, collectively to John's elderly parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. Both are descendants of Aaron and are righteous in the Old Testament sense, living in accordance with the Law of Moses. Together, they've had no children.
While Zechariah was carrying out the privileged priestly task of offering incense in the holy place, Gabriel appeared to him, announcing the pending birth of a child to him and his wife, a child who was to be named John, and who'd be the promised forerunner of the Messiah, even as prophesied by Malachi.
Out of doubt, Zechariah asked for a confirming sign, perhaps because he wanted some proof to offer those to whom he'd have to make this announcement. As a result, he was rebuked by Gabriel and struck dumb. Even by his silence, Zechariah became a sign to the people, as he attempted to communicate with them by making signs with his hands and face. The people grasped the fact that he'd had a vision; no doubt there was a sense of wonder and expectation as a result.
Zechariah went back home after completing his priestly duties. His wife became pregnant, just as Gabriel had said. Elizabeth remained in seclusion for five months; in her sixth month, she was visited by Mary, who'd just received her own announcement from Gabriel that she was to bear the Messiah who'd be miraculously conceived in the womb of this virgin. In their praises, the two expressed a marvelous grasp of God's Word and work. They kept close for three months, after which time Mary returned home, pregnant by the Spirit.
Our text begins at this point. Elizabeth bears the promised "miracle child." Her neighbors rejoice with her in this blessing. At the boy's circumcision he'll be named. Under normal circumstances, his name would unquestionably be Zechariah, but Elizabeth insisted that it must be John. The resolution of this standoff comes with the pronouncement of Zechariah, to appear on a writing tablet.
Family Feud: “Little Zech” or “John” (vv. 57–66)
The "family feud" occurred at the time of John's circumcision, which took place on the child's eighth day (v. 59, shown below). Normally, the father took the leading role in the ceremony; but since Zechariah was dumb, and perhaps deaf, he seems to have been much less involved in the ceremony. Somewhere in the ceremony, when the name "Zechariah" was being given, Elizabeth interrupted, insisting that the child's name was to be "John." Since this was not the name of the father, there was a strong reaction to Elizabeth's demand. Zechariah was made aware of the problem and given the opportunity to decide upon the child's name. If he hadn't heard any of the "discussion," it would have been an even greater marvel to the assembled witnesses that he, too, chose the name "John."
Here we sense Elizabeth's prominence and determination for her son's naming. Her actions may well have been considered inappropriate by those who observed her. Thus, for Elizabeth to be outspoken and insistent may have shocked them. Nevertheless, she did so, and Luke strongly implies that she was both godly and right in so doing (v. 66b).
The role of Zechariah is certainly more passive and silent than normal. When he's made aware of the dispute and asked to "cast the deciding vote," he writes down "John." This likely shocked those present. Why was the naming of the child so important, so emotional, such a bone of contention? Naming a son after his father implied that the child would "walk in the father's steps," carrying on the father's name and his work. Had John been named "Little Zech," he'd have been expected to grow up, like Dad, as a priest, going about with his father while carrying out his priestly duties and learning the duties, just like Daddy did them. To be named by any other name would have implied just the opposite.
When Zechariah wrote the words "His name is John" on that tablet, he regained the ability to speak; his tongue was loosed and he began to praise God. The statement, "For the Lord's hand was with him" (v. 66), may indicate that there were a number of other unusual or miraculous incidents associated with John in his childhood, which testified to his unusual origin and mission in life, perhaps causing people to have thought that John was the Messiah, a thought which John persisted to deny (cf. 3:15–17).
Zechariah's Song or Psalm of Praise (vv. 67–79)
Zechariah's psalm has two major sections. The first section (vv. 67–75) is praise directed toward the Messiah and his ministry. Zechariah directs his praise toward God in the light of the benefits of the Messiah's ministry for the nation Israel. If Mary's "Magnificat" majored on the social implications of the Messiah's appearance, Zechariah's praise highlights the political blessings that Israel will experience. The second section (vv. 76–79) focuses on the messenger, John, and the impact of his ministry. As Zechariah was informed by Gabriel, John's task will be to prepare men and women for Christ's coming by preaching about sin, forgiveness, and repentance. In the praises of Mary and Zechariah, more emphasis is made on the results of the Christ's second coming rather than his first.
Concluding Considerations (v. 80)
Verse 80 serves as the conclusion to Luke's account of the birth and childhood of John the Baptist. Because he says, "And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel," Luke gives us his reason for including the account of John's childhood, even though his public ministry was to begin many years later. Luke's closing verse also informs us as to his reason for including the account of the "family feud" in conjunction with the naming of John.
Four elements of this brief concluding passage are worth considering: (1) This verse's twenty words summarize the entire period of John's life prior to his public ministry; (2) it speaks of John's physical, but especially his spiritual growth during his growing-up years as he "became strong in spirit"; (3) his statement speaks of John's preparation for public ministry — that is, his spiritual growth was essential for his spiritual ministry; and (4) finally, and most importantly, Luke informs us that John was being prepared for his public ministry in solitude. Although John's living in the desert was incidental to his spiritual growth and development, it was likely a fundamental part of his growth.
John was a holy man, set apart: by his calling before his birth; by his unusual birth; by his life as a Nazarite; by his name; and by his childhood spent in the desert where he lived apart from the world, wore distinct clothing, and ate very different food. It was his separation from the world that facilitated his ability to see its sins, to stand firmly against them, and to speak out boldly by condemning them. Separation is also essential for Christians today, in order to serve God as we should and live up to our "calling." Let's become a separate people, allowing us to represent a holy God to an unholy world.
It Makes You Wonder . . . .
- Q. 1 How did John's birth fulfill Gabriel's announcement in vv. 13–17?
- Q. 2 How did the neighbors and relatives respond to the events surrounding his birth?
- Q. 3 Of the promises listed in Zechariah's song, which one means the most to you? Why?
- Q. 4 What's the biggest "take-away" that you have from this section of Luke?
- Q. 5 What does this section say to us about obedience? What does God expect from us?
- Q. 6 In the person of Gabriel, Zechariah was given direct revelation and intervention from God with clear instruction. How do we know what we're to do in situations facing us, since Gabriel isn't available to us? What steps should we take to validate the direction we're "receiving"?
This Week's Passage
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 set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65All the neighbors were 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.
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 to his people and redeemed them.
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 ancestors 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 wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.