Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25)

Dr. Andrew Jackson

During the rule of King Herod the Great there lived a common temple priest named Zechariah. He belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. Israel had 24 divisions of priests—about 18,000 priests—that served at the temple. A temple priest served in Jerusalem for about two weeks each year. Unlike the elite chief priests, these common priests of the people had other occupations the rest of the year. Zechariah was probably a farmer or a craftsman. His wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of the priestly lineage of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old. They lived simple and righteous lives before God—blamelessly obeying all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. But sadly, they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive.

Angel Gabriel Visits Zechariah in the Temple

(1) One day Zechariah’s division was on temple duty, and so he went to Jerusalem to serve as a priest before God. According to the priestly custom, Zechariah was chosen by the throwing of dice to go into the temple sanctuary and burn incense on the altar in the Most Holy Place.

The Most Holy Place was located in the center of the temple sanctuary and contained the altar of incense, the golden lamp stand, and the table of consecrated bread. Incense was offered in the Most Holy Place before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice. Incense—representing prayer—was kept burning continually before the Lord. Each day during the time of the burning of the incense, a large group of worshipers would gather together and pray outside the sanctuary.

While Zechariah was standing at the right side of the altar of incense in the Most Holy Place, the archangel Gabriel suddenly appeared to Zechariah. When Zechariah saw Gabriel, he was startled and gripped with fear. But Gabriel said to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, for your prayer request has been heard by God. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to a son, and you are to name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice because of his birth. He will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And John will go before the Lord and fulfill what is written in Malachi 4:5-6, ‘He will minister in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”

With a puzzled look on his face, Zechariah asked Gabriel, “How do I know this will come true? For my wife and I are very old.” Gabriel said to him, “I am the archangel Gabriel! I stand in God’s presence, and he sent me to tell you this wonderful news. But because you have not believed my message, you will not be able to speak until John’s birth. For my message will be fulfilled at the right time.” Meanwhile, the people praying outside the temple sanctuary were waiting anxiously for Zechariah to come out from the Most Holy Place. They were wondering why he stayed so long inside the temple. When Zechariah finally came out of the sanctuary, he looked confused and could not talk to the people praying for him. He was just making hand signs to them. Then all the people realized that Zechariah had seen a vision.

Elizabeth Becomes Pregnant

Startled by the appearance and promise of Gabriel, Zechariah returned to his home in the hill country of Judea, the southern region of Israel, after his temple service was finished.

Soon after Zechariah returned home, Elizabeth became pregnant, and so she stayed secluded in her house for five months. Overwhelmed with joy, she declared, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his grace to me and has taken away my shame from among the people.”