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Bible Commentaries
Luke 1

Godbey's Commentary on the New TestamentGodbey's NT Commentary

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Verses 1-4


Luke 1:1-4 . “Since indeed many have undertaken to set forth a narrative concerning the things which have been fulfilled among us, as those being eye-witnesses from the beginning and ministers of the Word, have handed down to us; it seemed good to me also, following all things accurately from the beginning, consecutively to write unto thee, O most noble Theophilus, in order that you may well understand the certainty of the histories concerning which you have been catechetically instructed.” We see from this statement that Luke was not one of the old disciples of our Lord, neither was he an eye-witness of His mighty works; as we never hear of him till the second evangelistic tour of Paul, in which he becomes one of his helpers, about A.D. 42. Doubtless he was a practicing physician in Antioch during the entire period of our Lord’s ministry. We have three reasons for accepting the Gospel of Luke without the slightest discount:

1. He received all of his information from the veritable disciples of our Savior, who were eye-witnesses to His mighty works;

2. Paul was his constant companion, and, as we all believe, the dictator of his writings;

3. The plenary inspiration of the Holy Ghost settles forever all controversy in reference to Biblical authenticity.

2 Timothy 3:16:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Theophilus literally means “God breathed,” involving the clear and unequivocal revealed truth that all Scripture was breathed into the different authors by the Almighty. Hence the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Bible is positively and unequivocally revealed. The rapid spread of infidelity is one of the omens of the last days and the near coming of the Lord. Semi-infidelity, admitting a kind of substantial inspiration, is rapidly filling the pulpits. The true teaching of the Bible is, that “all Scripture” i.e., every word is breathed into the writer by the Holy Spirit. Hence the great importance of understanding the original, because there the plenary verbal inspiration alone is to be found, translations only carrying with them this inspiration in a general, substantial sense, as they literalize the original.

Theophilus was a name so common in the gospel ages that we can have no idea who is personally alluded to, but doubtless some noble Christian friend of the writer. Bear in mind that Luke dedicates this Gospel to this noble Christian, Theophilus. As the word means “Lover of God,” it follows, as the legitimate sequence, that this Gospel is dedicated to all the lovers of God. I hope, reader, that includes you.

Verses 5-17


5. John the Baptist was a bonafide Aaronic priest in a pre-eminent sense, both his father and his mother belonging to the family of Aaron.

6. “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” While the rank and file of the priesthood, as well as the membership, had degenerated into dead formality and hollow hypocrisy, yet there were a few paragon saints, scattered here and there, in the Jewish Church at the time of our Lord’s advent. They enjoyed the glorious honor of receiving the Christ of prophecy, and introducing Him to the world a peculiar honor, which God conferred upon all Israel; but, through blind unbelief, pride, and disobedience, they all forfeited it except Zacharias and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna, and a few others, dispersed hither and thither in the kingdom of Israel. The phraseology in reference to Zacharias and Elizabeth is such that we must conclude they enjoyed the sanctified experience. It seems, however, that Elizabeth enjoyed a deeper spirituality and a brighter type of faith than her husband, who certainly was not free from vacillation.

7. Sterility among the Hebrews was deprecated, not only as a calamity, but an opprobrium, as, in that case, there must follow a forfeiture of their inheritance in Israel as well as the hope of the honored progenitorship of Christ.

8. Since the priests had become so numerous, the institution of the sacerdotal divisions and courses by Abia had obtained, pursuant to which every priest must await his time to officiate in the temple.

9,10. Only the priests were admitted into the temple proper, the multitudes remaining out, having access to the great brazen altar, on which they offered their sacrifices, while the priests within the temple burnt incense to the Lord. On the present occasion, Zacharias was burning the holy incense to the Lord in the temple, and all the people were praying without, at the hour of incense; i.e., nine o’clock in the morning.

11. “The angel of the Lord appeared, standing on the right hand of the altar of incense: Zacharias seeing him, was excited, and fear fell on him.” The position occupied by the advocate in court is always on the righthand side of the judge. Gabriel and Michael are the two great archangels prominent throughout the Bible; the latter always appearing in the interest of the Divine government, and the former in behalf of humanity.

12,13. We see here that Zacharias and Elizabeth had prayed much that God might remove the sterility and give them posterity. As they are now quite old, the faith of Zacharias had much waned, while that of Elizabeth was stalwart and vigorous. “Thou shalt call his name John.” John does not occur in the Old Testament, being here given for the first time by the archangel. It means the grace of God, because John the Baptist was the harbinger of that wonderful grace which came to redeem the whole world from endless death.

14. The birth of John the Baptist was the occasion of general rejoicing among all the consanguinity of Zacharias and Elizabeth, as well as the more spiritual people enjoying a degree of insight into the things of God, who entertained hopeful apprehension that a mighty prophet was thus born into Israel.

15. “For he shall be great before the Lord.” John the Baptist, the last of all the Old Testament prophets, was truly the greatest, being more than a prophet; i.e., the forerunner and introducer of Christ. “And he shall not drink wine and strong drink.” John was a Nazarite unto the Lord, living exceedingly abstemious, and a total abstainant from everything calculated to intoxicate. The Nazarite of the Old Dispensation was identical with the sanctified man of the gospel age. Samson was a Nazarite, this being the secret of his wonderful strength. “He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from the womb of his mother.” Here we have an actual case of sanctified infancy, illustrating the gracious possibility of having our infants filled with the Holy Ghost. Doubtless this will become the normal state during the glorious Millennial Theocracy.

16. “And he shall turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” John the Baptist was a wonderful preacher, his stentorian voice pealing into the popular ear after a prophetical interregnum of four hundred years, thus arousing Israel from her long sleep, emptying the cities and populating the desert, with the spellbound multitudes, listening with burning hearts and penitent spirits to the mighty and irresistible appeals of this wonderful prophet of the wilderness.

17. “He shall go before His face in the spirit and dynamite of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The great and sweeping revival which broke out under the preaching of John the Baptist, stirring the whole nation from center to circumference, was the very thing to bring the people down into the dust of humiliation, and thus prepare them for the grandest opportunity the world had seen in four thousand years.

Verses 18-25


18-20. Here we see that Zacharias evinced his doubt of Gabriel’s communication by asking a sign. O how many people now doubt God and wait for signs, instead of taking Him at His word and rejoicing in His promises! The result in the case of Zacharias was, that he became dumb, and so remained till the birth of John the Baptist. If you ever doubt God, you will forfeit your testimony, and become a poor dummy in the meetings. You can recognize it definitely in all cases. So fast as the people give way to doubt, they forfeit their testimony, becoming dumb. Real faith always tells its own story. How common to find whole Churches dumb, thus evidencing the lamentable fact that, if they ever had faith, they have permitted the enemy to steal it away from them! Without faith there is no salvation. Hence you see that all dumb Churches are proper missionary ground. You must get their tongues loose, or they forfeit the hope of salvation.

21-23. Here we see that the words of Gabriel were signally verified when Zacharias, sure enough, was dumb, because he had disbelieved the word of the Lord spoken by the archangel. Be sure you believe all of God’s Word, and keep your testimony ever ringing clear, as otherwise you forfeit your salvation.

24,25. Here we find that when Elizabeth realized pregnancy, she went into retirement five months. Why was this? Evidently that she might enjoy uninterrupted communion with God, fasting, praying, and meditating, thus sinking away into His will, adoring His majesty, and contemplating His glory; meanwhile seeking that extraordinary enduement of grace requisite to qualify her for the immeasurable responsibilities of motherhood, and especially the maternity, training, and education of such a man as she knew, by the revelation of Gabriel, that her son would be. In that age of the world, and the ensuing fifteen hundred years, monastic seclusion for spiritual blessings was very common. We seriously feel the need of it now, in this age of superficiality. Nothing is really so much needed on the part of God’s people, and especially the ministry of God’s people, at the present day, as uninterrupted communion with God. Certainly the reproach of her sterility was gloriously removed in the birth of such a man as John the Baptist, the prince of prophets, and even more the precursor of the world’s Redeemer. We have in the birth of John the Baptist a repetition of that supernatural intervention of the Holy Ghost which characterized the birth of Isaac. In that case, however, the faith of Abraham was robust and triumphant, that of Sarah somewhat staggering through unbelief; whereas, in the case of John the Baptist, Zacharias’s faith flickered seriously, while that of Elizabeth is unimpeached, and, as we have good reason to believe, was athletic throughout.

Verses 26-31


26-30. When I visited Nazareth, I spent some time in the Church of the Annunciation, quite magnificent and capacious, said to stand on the identical spot where the angel Gabriel delivered the wonderful tidings to Mary. Here we have it stated positively that Joseph, the husband of Mary, was a descendant of David. While the genealogy of our Savior recognizes the necessity of Mary’s personal identity with David’s family, and it is so taken for granted, yet it is not directly revealed, except in her wifehood to Joseph; as you must remember the institution of matrimony actually identifies husband and wife, “They two shall be one flesh.” In the recognition of this absolute unification through the institution of matrimony, we must concede Mary’s identity with the family of David.

31. “And thou shalt call His name Jesus.” This name is eminently significant of His office and mission to save the whole world, as it is a Greek word, and means Savior,

Verses 32-34


32-34. “He shall be called Great and the Son of the Highest; the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” I see no possibility of satisfying these plain and unequivocal affirmations of inspired truth by a simple reference to His spiritual kingdom, which was a glorious verity before David was born, and will be forever. One line of Biblical exegetes spiritualize all the literal Scriptures, while their opponents literalize all, the tendency being to materialistic infidelity, and that of the fornier into a dreamy Utopianism, doing away with the material, universe, and running into the vagaries of idealism. While David’s throne was a temporal reality, visible, tangible, and actual, it was not his own, as he was merely the executive of the theocracy a man after God’s own heart, because he did God’s will. (Acts 13:22.) Therefore we are bound to conclude that David’s great Son and Successor will restore the theocracy of which David was the executive, extended over, not only this world, but, as it already prevails, over all other worlds, and reign forever. The magnitude of the Divine attributes, administration, grace, and glory is so incomprehensible by human intellect as to superinduce a constant liability on our part to run into the heresy of minification. Good Lord deliver us! Let us take the Word as we find it, if it decapitates all of our idols!

Verses 34-56


34-38. “And Mary said, Behold the handmaiden of the Lord: may it he unto me according to thy word.” Good Lord, give us the faith of Mary, that we may perfectly submit to Thy Word and will, regardless of consequences! Perfect submission is the indefeasible fulcrum on which rests the Archimedean lever by which we tilt the world all out of the heart. In this case, you see, Mary must take the risk of the deepest disgrace in worldly estimation and really the liability of martyrdom as the law specified the penalty of death for prostitution in Israel. Mary’s faith here leaps above every intimidation, and soars to the very pinnacle of victory.

39-45. It is about a hundred miles, through a rough, mountainous country, from Nazareth to Jutta, the home of Elizabeth, in the tribe of Judah. Upon the annunciation of Gabriel, and the information in reference to Elizabeth, her relative, Mary immediately set out on that long journey, walking, riding a donkey, or perhaps a camel, in order to visit her at her home. It here says that she came into the hill-country with haste, into a city of Judah. On arrival at the house of Elizabeth, wonderful manifestations of the Divine presence transpire. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Ghost i.e., the spirit of prophecy comes on her, and she speaks fluently with a loud voice: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord may come unto me? For, behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into my ears, the infant in my womb leaped with joy. And blessed is she that believeth, because there shall be a perfection unto those things having been spoken unto her by the Lord.” These inspired utterances of Elizabeth, enunciated in the fullness of the Spirit, should raise the faith of every Christian to the acme of full assurance; as we see, positively and unequivocally, that our faith is the measuring line of our experience. There is no reason why the Elizabethan blessing pronounced on Mary may not be appropriated by every disciple of our Lord. O how appropriate the prayer, “Lord, increase our faith!”

46-56. And Mary said: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit doth rejoice in God my Savior: because He hath looked upon the humility of His servant; for, behold, from now, all generations shall call me blessed.” While, of course, we are all to diligently steer clear of the Mariolatry so prominent among the Romanists, yet we must admit that the mother of the Lord, in a most extraordinary sense, is blessed among women, honored far above all others. Well did she predict the encomium pronounced upon her by all generations. This had been the grand aspiration, inspiring millions of Jewish maidens; now she very appropriately realizes this pearl of all blessings within the reach of womanhood: “The Mighty One hath wrought great things; His name is holy; His mercy is to generations of generations of them that fear Him. He hath humiliated the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the humble. He hath filled the poor with good things, and sent away the rich empty. He hath looked upon Israel, His son, to remember mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever.” This brilliant and beautiful prophetical thanksgiving of Mary, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, vividly contrasts the temporal aggrandizement of the worldly with the spiritual blessings and achievements of the saints, its culminating fulfillment realizable at the second coming of our Lord, when all temporal thrones will fall (Daniel 7:9); every monarch doff his crown, forfeit his scepter, preparatory to the coronation of Jesus as “King of kings and Lord of lords;” and the promotion of His bridehood to the thrones, dominions, and principalities of all nations.

Verses 57-66


57-66. As Mary abode with Elizabeth at Jutta three months, the time of parturition was at hand. A wonderful time of rejoicing took place at the humble home of Zacharias and Elizabeth when this heir of promise was horn. Pursuant to the Jewish custom of circumcising on the eighth day (a striking symbolism of regeneration i.e., the spiritual birth followed by sanctification, which is spiritual circumcision, in a few days, giving no time for backsliding), they came to administer the rite to the infant. “And they continued to call him Zacharias, by the name of his father.” This was very natural, as both the father and the mother had passed the age of fertility, and this child was supernaturally born, and consequently they could never expect another. We do not wonder that they mutually called him by the name of his father, thus seeking to perpetuate the family cognomen. His mother responding, said: “No; but he shall be called John;” i.e., the grace of God. We see in all this narrative no discount on the faith of Elizabeth. She has the victory throughout, while her clerical husband has been dumb by reason of doubt. “And they said to her, “There is no one in thy family who is called by this name; and they were beckoning to his father what he might wish to call him. And asking for a writing tablet, he wrote, saying, His name is John; and they were all astonished.” As they had neither ink nor paper, this tablet was a smooth board, covered with oil, on which they wrote with a stile. “And immediately his mouth and tongue were opened, and he continued praising God. And fear came upon all those dwelling around: and all these words were spoken throughout the hill- country of Judea. And all those hearing, placed them in their hearts, saying, What then shall this child be? And the hand of the Lord was with him.”

This whole affair had produced a wonderful sensation, arousing the people on tiptoe of astonishment, as the miraculous and the supernatural are so conspicuous in the whole affair i.e., the announcement of the archangel, the heroic faith of Elizabeth, her hermitage in order to communion with God, her wonderful blessing under the ministry of Mary, her mighty preaching and stirring prophecy, the visit of Mary, the wonderful power and spirit with which she witnessed and preached the living Word, the dumbness of Zacharias these nine months, and the flood of sanctifying power poured on him when he confesses the grace of God, had all conspired to interpenetrate the whole community with electric shocks, and thrill all the people with a burning enthusiasm, holding them spellbound with thrilling anticipation of God’s wonderful visitation to Israel through the instrumentality of this child.

67. “And Zacharias, his father, was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying.” You see here that Zacharias became dumb when he doubted the angel who spoke the word of God. So you the moment your faith fails, spiritual dumbness will strike you, and your testimony will be minus. You can recognize the spiritual status of the people all around you by their testimonies. All dummies should rally at once to an altar of prayer, and seek the reclaiming grace of God. You see here how faith is made perfect by testimony. The moment Zacharias testifies to the grace of God, his mouth is opened, his tongue loosened, and he is filled with the Holy Ghost, shouting, prophesying, and praising the Lord. So you see that faith and testimony are the two oars by which you row out of doubt and dumbness into the joyous triumphs of entire sanctification. We also here see the superlative importance of speaking as the Oracles of God; i.e., calling everything by its right name. Zacharias never got the blessing till he called the child John; i.e., the grace of God. If you want to be filled with the Holy Ghost, and have the victory in your soul and life, call your blessing “sanctification.” So long as your faith flickers, you will never get the victory. Swing clear on the line of consecration, faith, and testimony, and assuredly the victory will not tarry.

Verses 68-80


68-75. “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, because he hath interposed and wrought redemption for His people, and raised up a horn of salvation to His people in the house of David His son, as He spoke through the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning, and from the hand of all who hate us, to extend mercy with our father, and remember His holy covenant, which He swore unto Abraham our father: to grant unto us, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, in His presence, all the days of our life.” The Abrahamic covenant is primary in the movement of God’s mercy in behalf of fallen humanity, and fundamental in the redemptive scheme. This follows a logical sequence, from its identity with the covenant which God made with Christ to redeem the world by His expiatory death. (Galatians 3:16.) Hence the covenant with Abraham was no de novo transaction, but a simple reiteration of the covenant of redemption entered into, in the councils of the Uncreated Three, before sin ever entered into this world; as God, forseeing the catastrophe, provided the remedy. It was pertinent, in order to its recognition and appropriation by the human race, that this covenant should be reiterated with Abraham, or some other suitable representative of the human race. In this peculiar representative sense, Abraham is the father of all the faithful, from the simple fact that there is no salvation outside the redemption covenant, of which he is the representative, participant, human defender, and exponent; i.e., Abraham is honored by the Almighty as the recipient of the great covenant of human redemption by His Son, and also the paternal representative of this covenant to the whole human race. Therefore, all who have true faith, in all ages and nations, are honored with a place in the Abrahamic paternity. (Galatians 3:7.) Now if we can ascertain the condition of membership in this covenant, we certainly have found out the sure way of salvation. Those conditions and promises are clearly and unmistakably specified in the above Scriptures. Pursuant to this covenant, God promises that, “being delivered out of the hands of our enemies [i.e., all spiritual foes, men and devils without, and evil tempers, unholy passions, vicious appetites, and all the debris of the carnal mind within i.e., being truly sanctified wholly] we shall serve Him in righteousness and holiness all our days.” Whereas sanctification is the work of the Spirit, by which we are made holy, holiness is the state which supervenes in the heart and life as the result of sanctification. Hence, you see that the only stipulation of the Abrahamic covenant, by which the world is to be saved, is, that we get sanctified wholly, and abide in the same throughout probationary life. The prerequisite of admission into heaven is a state of holiness, resulting from the utter eradication of all sin, actual and original, God positively assuring us that we shall never see His face without this gracious attainment. (Hebrews 12:14.) Hence, we find perfect harmony throughout the Bible, setting forth holiness as the one condition indispensable to admission into heaven. Life in this world is probationary, giving us all time and opportunity to become sanctified, by the blessed and direct office of the Holy Spirit, applying the redeeming blood and washing away all unrighteousness from our spiritual natures, thus rendering our hearts pure and holy. We see here that this is clearly and unequivocally promised in the Abrahamic covenant. Not only the grace of perfect deliverances i.e., entire sanctification but grace to “serve Him, in holiness and righteousness, in His presence, all our days;” i.e., His wonderful keeping power, by His Word, Spirit, and providence, enabling us to keep this holy covenant amid the temptations of this wicked world, thus illustrating to men, angels, and devils our adaptation to the heavenly state, and congeniality to angels unfallen and spirits redeemed. This we are to do here, “in His presence;” i.e., God Himself is our Judge, His omniscient eye seeing all of our thoughts, inclinations, and intentions, His infallible ear hearing all the inaudible utterances of our spirit. What a wonderful responsibility is involved in probationary life! Yet the illimitable resources of Omnipotent Grace are abundantly sufficient to qualify all true hearts for these momentous ordeals; and thus fortified by His precious and infallible Word, illuminated and guided by His blessed Holy Spirit, and environed by His merciful providence, like a wall of fire around us by day and by night, there is a blessed possibility that we may live on earth as safe as in heaven. Glory to God for His unspeakable mercies and superabounding grace!

76-79. “And thou shalt be called the prophet of the Highest.” Things in the Divine order are called what they are. John is not only a prophet, but the greatest of all the prophets, and even the honored harbinger of Jesus: “Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” The burden of John’s preaching was repentance, which is fundamental in the plan of salvation. The reason why people are not saved is because they do not receive Jesus; the reason they can not receive Jesus is because they do not repent. John cried constantly, with stentorian Voice, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The King had the kingdom, into which none could enter unless he came by the only door i.e., repentance; in order to give a knowledge of salvation to His people through the remission of their sins, through the bowels of the mercy of our God. The Jews were the people of God His by election to the progenitorship of Christ. To them, first, experimental salvation was offered. Many of the Gentiles are the elect of grace, foreknown of God. To them, in the second place, salvation was offered. God knows His own, whether Jews or Gentiles, and reveals to them a knowledge of their own salvation through the remission of sins, in which the “day-spring from on high” has looked down upon us. The wonderful mercy of God in Christ is a day-spring from heaven: “To appear unto those sitting down in darkness and the shadow of death.” The whole world down, easy, careless, and unconcerned, in spiritual darkness, and in the shadow of that dismal night of hopeless, eternal doom, while hell-hounds, bloodthirsty, are on their track, roaring for their prey. “In order to direct our feet in the way of peace:” Instead of sitting down in a careless attitude, we should be up and running for life. The glorious grace of God is here contrasted with the terrible bloody wars raging in the unregenerate heart, and destined to dump us amid the merciless devastations of infuriated devils through all eternity, unless, amid the fleeting opportunities of probationary grace, we may happily exchange the horrific fears of sin and devils for the peace of God in Christ, which is heaven begun in the soul.

80. “The child grew and waxed strong in spirit, and is in the wilderness unto the day of his showing unto Israel.” As a rule, children grow in sin as they increase in physical power. As John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Ghost from his infancy, his spiritual growth and development kept pace with the physical. Jutta, the place of his birth, is not far from the wilderness of Judea. During the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem, Zacharias and Elizabeth migrated into this wilderness, in order to protect their son from the cruelties of Herod. They return no more to Jutta, but abode in the wilderness the thirty years of John’s minority, and doubtless to the end of their lives; consequently, John enjoyed the signal blessing of an humble, retired home with the poor people of the wilderness. If you have an intimation from the Lord that there is a child of peculiar promise in your home, you should, by all means, get away from the hon tons of society, find a sequested retreat among the poor, where you can bring up your children uncontaminated with the popular and fashionable vices and follies. The Essenes i.e., the holiness people of the Jewish Church who are generally poor, abode in the desert; hence, John was fortunate to enjoy their influence during the thirty years of his childhood and youth. Thus he studied in God’s theological college i.e., the sandy desert where Moses spent forty years preparatory for the leadership of Israel, winding up with the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, as revealed in the burning bush. Brush College sends out brighter and better graduates than all of the metropolitan universities.

Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Luke 1". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ges/luke-1.html.
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