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Bible Commentaries
Luke 1

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 The preface of Luke to his whole gospel.

5 The conception of John the Baptist,

26 and of Christ.

39 The prophecy of Elisabeth, and of Mary, concerning Christ.

57 The nativity and circumcision of John.

67 The prophecy of Zacharias, both of Christ,

76 and of John.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Have taken in hand. — The verb επεχειρησαν signifies to undertake successfully or otherwise. It does not here necessarily denote that the attempts alluded to failed; but yet other expressions in this introduction indicate that a better account was necessary, and that justice had not been done to the great subject. As St. Luke speaks of many having written such accounts, he could not refer to Matthew’s gospel, which was one, nor to Mark’s, which, if previously written, would make but two. It is natural to suppose that events so wonderful as those which had been witnessed by many, and narrated to still greater numbers in so many places by those who had witnessed them, events too which formed the evidences of the truth of the new religion, and which so deeply interested the very consciences and religious hopes of men, should be frequently committed to writing. This would be done often for private use; often for the information of distant friends; and those who might have collected most largely from the viva voce statements of those apostles and disciples “who went everywhere preaching the word,” would no doubt be happy to read their collections in meetings of Christian friends. This would indeed continue after the earliest gospels had been published, because, before the art of printing, books were multiplied slowly, and were of course expensive. Such private collections, no doubt, are those to which St. Luke here refers; but we are not to confound them with the apocryphal gospels afterward published, chiefly by teachers and heads of fanatic sects, full of distorted facts and absurd relations, dreams and forgeries.

The age of St. Luke was not the age of pious frauds and religious imposture of this kind, though these evils speedily came in. It was not before the second century that spurious gospels began to circulate, and in the third they greatly increased. Many have perished: a few have been collected by Fabricius: but none of these are so old as the age of St. Luke, and could not therefore be referred to by him. In fact, the manner in which he tacitly contrasts his own account with those to which he alludes shows in what they were defective. He admits that they contained the things believed among Christians, and recorded what had been delivered by eye witnesses and ministers of the word; but when St. Luke speaks emphatically of his accurate information in all things, from the very first, he intimates that there were parts of our Lord’s history which these accounts did not state; when he proposes to write in order, he hints at the confused manner in which the events they had recorded had been thrown together; and, finally, when the end which he proposes was to make Theophilus know the certainty of the things in which he had been instructed that is, to see them in their strongest evidences, so as to have his faith confirmed by reading the narrative, although he does not certainly imply that any fabulous accounts had been introduced into these early writings, yet it does follow that the truth they contained was not placed in its most convincing and persuasive light, either for want of more copious information, or a faulty as well as a defective disposition.

To set forth in order. — The word does not appear to signify more than to compose.

A declaration. — Διηγησυς is a narrative or history.

Most surely believed. — Πληροφορειν is to certify or assure a person, “plenam fidem facere,” Scapula; but when transferred to things, it signifies that which is fully believed, as in 2 Timothy 4:17. Our translation, most surely believed, in this place, has been without reason objected to, and is certainly to be preferred to Hammond’s “performed,” and Campbell’s “accomplished,” neither of which conveys any clear meaning.

Verse 2

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Even as they delivered. — Παραδιδοναι properly signifies to deliver something over to another; hence, to communicate verbally, or instruct.

From the beginning. — Απ αρχης here must signify the commencement of Christ’s ministry, when he began to collect disciples. From that time they were eye witnesses of his works and the events of his life; but of what preceded they were not witnesses.

Ministers of the word. — These eye witnesses, especially the twelve apostles and the seventy, had a ministry of the word assigned them during Christ’s life, but of an imperfect character. In this title St. Luke, therefore, more directly refers to their subsequent ministry. They were first eye witnesses of the facts, and then ministers of the word or doctrine which, by their evidence, was demonstrated to be from God. Some take the term; λογος here for the personal WORD; but the Gospel is often so called, as, “The sower soweth THE WORD;” “confirming THE WORD with signs following.” And St. Luke himself, in Acts 6:4, speaks of “THE MINISTRY of the word,” διακονιαν του λογου . Against those who argue that υπηρετης denotes a personal attendant, it is sufficient to quote 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers υπηρετας , of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Here it cannot mean a personal attendant; and this shows that it is a word of the same extent of meaning as minister, and is fitly rendered by it.

Verse 3

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

It seemed good to me also. — I also determined. He was moved by the Holy Spirit to this work, but as a reasonable being, as one observes, not a machine. He had felt the greatest interest in the subject, made the most diligent inquiries, laid up in his heart what he himself had observed; and God chose a man thus qualified for the task to perform it; and that he might do it infallibly, and in a manner more perfect than his natural or acquired qualities would enable him, he granted him his own inspiration.

Perfect understanding of all things from the very first. — Παρακολουθειν is to trace or investigate any matter so as to obtain a thorough knowledge of it. Here the word is strengthened by the addition of ακριβως , accurately.

From the very first. — Ανωθεν is taken, by Lightfoot, in its primary sense, from above, to denote inspiration. But this explicit and direct profession of inspiration is not in the manner of the sacred writers; and the sense of from the top or commencement is to be preferred, and refers not only to his knowledge of things from the commencement of our Lord’s public ministry, but from his conception and birth.

In order. — Καθεξης has been understood to signify an exact successive series of events, so that St. Luke’s narrative has been, by some harmonists of the gospels, taken as the rule by which to adjust the others. A careful consideration will, however, show that the order of which he speaks cannot be the order of succession of time. St. Luke indeed furnishes some important dates, but in a great number of instances the order of time has been disregarded; of which the evidence is furnished in his own gospel itself, as in several of his accounts or the miracles, discourses, and journeys of Christ. St. Luke’s order must therefore be understood of his referring events to certain classes, adopted for the sake of illustration. Rosenmuller has marked these classes as follows: The first contains the narrative of the birth of Christ, with all its circumstances; the second, the particulars of our Saviour’s infancy and youth; the third includes the preaching of John and the baptism of Christ; the fourth comprehends his discourses, miracles, and actions, during the three whole years of his ministry; the fifth contains our Saviour’s last journey to Jerusalem, including the circumstances relative to his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. Campbell observes, “From the word καθεξης , we cannot conclude, as some have done, that the order of time is better observed by this than by any other evangelist. It does not necessarily relate to time. See Acts 18:23. The proper import of it is distinctly, particularly, as opposed to confusedly, generally.”

Most excellent Theophilus. — The epithet κρατιστε indicates that Theophilus was a real not a feigned person; for this title was given exclusively to persons of eminence, as to Festus and Felix, the Roman governors, Acts 23:26; Acts 26:25. It is equivalent to the Latin optimus. Such a title St. Luke was not likely to attach to an imaginary person. Besides, we have no instances in the other parts of Scripture history of the use of feigned names.

Verse 4

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Know the certainty. — By a particular and full statement of things whereby their evidence would be set forth in a more convincing manner.

Wherein thou hast been instructed. — Every Christian in those early ages who had heard the preaching of the apostles and others, and had placed himself under due course of instruction, would be taught the leading facts of Christ’s history, and the leading doctrines of his discourses. On this sure basis faith might be built, and it would be confirmed by the various miracles wrought by the apostles and those to whom supernatural gifts had been communicated. Still, all the knowledge acquired in this manner would be general; and it is easy for us, who have so often felt the edification arising from reading the gospels, to conceive of the immense benefit which was conferred upon a sincere but young and partially informed believer, by putting into his hands even one of those Divine and all-important narratives of the history and discourses of our Lord. Through Theophilus the gift was, however, designed for the whole Church.

Verse 5

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

A certain priest named Zacharias. — Several reasons appear for the insertion of the account of the birth of John the Baptist, at least in one of the gospels.

1. That John might be pointed out as a special messenger of God, by the supernatural circumstances accompanying his birth; for whatever accredited John gave weight to his testimony respecting the Messiahship of Jesus.

2. That we might be made acquainted with some interesting particulars respecting the mother of our Lord after her conception.

3. That several prophetic songs, uttered under special inspiration, and which showed that the long suspended gift of prophecy had been restored, might be recorded.

Of the course of Abia. — The Jewish priests were divided into twenty-four courses, each of which attended, in rotation, to perform the service of the temple. At the three great feasts they all attended. That Zacharias was a priest of one of these courses, proves that he was not the high priest, as some have thought; for the high priest was of no course. As each course so each priest in the course, was in attendance for one week, twice in each year, the great festivals excepted.

Of the daughters of Aaron. — Yet she was cousin to Mary, who was of the tribe of Judah, which indicates the marriage of some predecessor into the other tribe. The priests might marry into any of the tribes of Israel; and the law restraining heiresses to marry into their own tribes did not extend to other daughters, nor at all to the tribe of Levi, who had no share in the land.

Righteous before God. — Not as the Pharisees, before men, but in the sight of God; and therefore sincerely so, because God trieth the reins and the heart.

Commandments and ordinances. — These comprehend both moral and ceremonial injunctions; but that εντολαι signifies the former, δικαιωματα , the other, is assumed without sufficient proof. They are words of nearly similar import, and each includes whatever God has expressly commanded, whether positive or moral; which, as resting upon the same authority, is felt to be binding upon his conscience by every good man. The righteousness of this venerable pair is the same, substantially, as the righteousness of true Christians. We have our moral rules and our ritual observances, although the latter are of a simpler character, as suited to a more perfect and spiritual dispensation; and in walking in them, a phrase which expresses the habit of obedience, our practical righteousness consists.

Blameless. — Neither as to the moral law, nor the ritual obligations of Judaism, were they open to the slightest human blame or censure.

Verse 7

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Well stricken in years. — The ages are not given; so that whether the event of Elisabeth’s conception was strictly miraculous or merely preternatural, cannot be determined. It supposed, in either case, a special interposition of God; so that John was born out of the usual course of things.

Verse 8

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Before God. — That is, in the temple, and in his turn, according to the course of Abia.

Verse 9

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

His lot was to burn incense, &c. — The priests in each class distributed the service each was to perform by lot; and in this way it was determined who should cleanse the altar, who slay the sacrifice, who should sprinkle the blood, who should remove the ashes from the innermost altar, who should cleanse the lamps, who should burn the incense, &c. The last was esteemed a highly honourable service.

Verse 10

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The whole multitude of the people. — From this it has been probably concluded that the time was a Sabbath or a festival; for on ordinary days the attendance was not numerous. Hence, there were always twenty-four men engaged to attend, who represented the whole people of Israel, laid their hands upon the head of the sacrifices, prayed, and received the benediction. On this curious representative institution Maimonides remarks, “It is not possible that a man’s offering should be offered up, and he not stand by it. But the offerings of the congregation are the offerings of all Israel; and it is not possible that all Israel should stand in the court at the time of sacrifice. — Wherefore the former prophets ordered that they should choose out of Israel men that were fit, and feared to sin, that they might be the messengers of all Israel, to stand by the offerings; and these are called the men of the station; a nd they divided them into twenty-four stations, according to the number of the courses of the priests and Levites.” Thus on all occasions the whole body of the Israelites everywhere was represented by these stationary men, and through them, as their representatives, all were supposed to be present.

At the time of incense. — The golden altar, or altar of incense, was within the ναος , or sanctuary, or temple itself. Here when the priest burned the “sweet incense,” in the morning and in the evening, the people without, in the court of the Israelites, prayed, each by himself, for the pardon of his sins, till the priest returned and pronounced the benediction. This is vigorously described in the book of Sir_50:19-21 : “And the people besought the Lord, the Most High, by prayer before him that is merciful, till the solemnity of the Lord was ended, and they had finished his service. Then he (the priest) went down, and lifted up his hands over the whole congregation of the children of Israel, to give the blessing of the Lord with his lips, and to rejoice in his name. And they bowed themselves down to worship the second time, that they might receive a blessing from the Most High.” The whole was typical of the intercession of our great High Priest, the presentation of our prayers through Him whose merit alone can render them a “sweet-smelling savour to God,” and of that effectual BLESSING in the daily forgiveness of sin which he bestows upon all those who “draw near to God through him.”

Verse 11

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

On the right side of the altar of incense. — The right was esteemed a good omen, says Grotius. This is true as to the heathen; but a pious Jew would not be under the influence of that kind of superstition, nor would an angel from God plant himself on the right side of the altar to sanction so silly a notion.

Verse 12

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He was troubled, and fear fell upon him. — Such has been the uniform effect of supernatural appearances, even when gracious to good men. They assign a feeble and indeed an absurd reason, who speak of an INSTINCTIVE dread of supernatural beings in human nature. The whole is to be resolved into our strong sense of sinfulness and guilt. These appearances bring the agency of God very nigh to us; and the appropriate language which a sense of his holiness and our own impurity or defects suggests is that of Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” The most righteous man feels that he cannot stand before God on the ground of his merits.

Verse 13

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Thy prayer is heard. — His prayer for children, which had been long offered, though not till now answered. It does not follow from this that he continued to pray for children. This is not likely, since the age both of himself and his wife forbade the hope being still cherished, — Those who make this prayer to be the public prayer which the priest offered, during incense, for the people of Israel, and, according to Philo, also for the human race, break the connection between those words and what follows.

And thou shalt call his name John. — In Hebrew, John is, יהוהנן , the grace or mercy of God; and, as the consequence of this is joy and rejoicing, so the name is used also to express those emotions. To this import of the name, John, the next verse clearly refers: And thou shalt have JOY and GLADNESS; and many shall REJOICE at his birth.

Verse 15

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Great in the sight of the Lord. — Not merely a famous or celebrated man, the idea with which some cold interpreters content themselves, but great in the sight of the Lord, — a Hebraism to express real greatness and excellence. He was specially endowed with gifts, and commended himself to God by a faithful use of them in the discharge of his duty. John’s was a great character; his office was great, the greatest ever assigned to mere mortal, for he was the herald of the world’s Divine Redeemer; and the effects and results of his ministry were great, in preparing the way of the Lord.

Neither wine nor strong drink. — That is, neither wine nor any inebriating liquor whatever. This was the law of the Nazarites, who voluntarily abstained from the indulgence of these liquors, though used with temperance, regarding them as a luxury, and unbecoming that life of religious mortification and self-denial to which they devoted themselves.

Filled with the Holy Ghost. — Placed under his special influence, and training for his great office, from his mother’s womb; that is, from the earliest period of life.

Verse 16

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Shall he turn to the Lord their God. — As the Jews in his day were not given to the worship of strange gods, this cannot signify their conversion front idolatry. Amid forms of piety, and acts of worship offered to the true God himself, men may be far from him in spirit, temper, and affection; and this was the case with the Jews, and still is the case with every man who is not, by true repentance of sin, and deep conviction of the vanity of earthly things, so turned to God as to seek him as his chief good, and to delight in him as his portion, and the centre and rest of his soul.

John’s ministry was signally marked by this powerful effect. He turned the heart to God, and then showed the true and only way to God, through the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.

Verse 17

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Spirit and power of Elias. — The SPIRIT of Elias seems to mean, generally, with similar zeal and courage; and the POWER, the mighty energy of his teaching, as inflamed and intoned by those mighty affections of jealousy for God’s honour, and concern for the salvation of the people, and indignant hostility to all hypocrisy, formality, and treachery, which lived and glowed in his bosom. Both the spirit and the power were, however, derived from the Holy Spirit, with which both these prophets were so richly endowed, and from that Fountain they were constantly supplied.

To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. — The Prophet Malachi, from whom the words are taken, adds, “And the heart of the children to their fathers.” This must either signify that he should compose the differences in families, and diffuse kind and benevolent affections through society, or else, as the Hebrew particle על may be taken in the sense of with, that he should turn the hearts of the fathers with the children, and the children with the fathers, that is, persons of all ages, the aged and the young, by one mighty and influential reformation, to God. The latter interpretation seems entitled to the preference; as the general success of his ministry is the subject of the prophecy, and not any of those particular effects which would follow, as matter of course, from that as from every other revival of the spirit of true religion.

The disobedient to the wisdom of the just. — Campbell unites this with the following clause, and renders it, “And by the wisdom of the righteous to render the disobedient a people well disposed for the Lord;” which conveys but an obscure and somewhat equivocal meaning. Nor is there any critical reason why the clauses should not be taken separately. Εν φρονησει is put for εις φρονησιν , εν having often this sense in the New Testament.

Φρονησις signifies wisdom or prudence, or mental perception and feeling.

— There is not much difference whether we translate the word the wisdom the knowledge and virtue of the just, or the views and feelings of the just.

A people prepared for the Lord. — The word κατεσκευασμενος is used, by Greek writers, to express an army supplied with all necessaries, so as to be fit for service; and to describe a ship furnished with proper stores, and therefore ready to sail. It was by turning the hearts of men to God, by producing conviction of sin and danger, and penitential sorrow on account of sin, and by introducing the views and feelings of just men as to religious and eternal things, their knowledge and convictions on these subjects, their serious feelings and hallowed desires, that men were thus fitted and furnished to receive the doctrine of the advent of the Messiah, as the true sacrifice for sin, and the hope of man. This is the necessary preparation now for the actual and saving reception of Christ; but to be made holy and righteous in order to qualify us to receive him would be to seek restoration to health to prepare us for the advice and medicine of the physician. The preaching of John, and the effects which followed explain the whole. — He warned the people of a wrath to come, hanging over them as sinners; he produced alarm, contrition, humiliation, spiritual desires, the φρονησις the views and tastes of just persons, and thus turned the heart in penitence prayer, and desire to God. But John could go no farther; nor can the doctrine or the preachers of repentance go farther: in order that the sins so repented of, and confessed, and loathed, may be forgiven and removed, they, like John, must point to the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” A state of repentance, represented by the dispensation of John the Baptist, prepares men for the Lord. This is its only office; it reconciles not man to God, but puts him into a state, not of moral, but of relative fitness, as an humbled, contrite man, to be reconciled to him through the atonement. It takes not away our sins, but makes us sensible of them; and therefore it is not a state to be rested in. It is not a state of safety; it places us not in the refuge, but only in the way to it.

Verse 18

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Whereby shall I know this? — Though an angel spoke to him, he was slow to believe, and therefore asks a sign, some token that he was not deceived by an illusion. This sign was given by the infliction of a temporary dumbness, which was a mild reproof to Zacharias for not believing the words of the angel at once, and without a sign; and was at the same time calculated to produce a strong impression upon the people, and to prepare them to expect something very extraordinary from the child who was to be born. Zacharias became not only dumb, but deaf also, as appears from his friends being obliged to make signs to him, verse 62.

Verse 19

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Gabriel. — גבריאל signifies the power of God. It has been often said that the Jews learned the names of angels in Chaldea. They probably received many of their corrupt and superstitious notions respecting angels from the oriental philosophy, and the names of imaginary orders and classes of angelic beings, as well as the names of individuals. But this name was not so learned. It was a name of revelation, the angel’s own name told by himself; and the reason why he gave his name was, to show that he was the same angel who had appeared to Daniel, and thus to call the attention of Zacharias, and of other pious people through him, — those who were “waiting for the redemption,” — to those prophecies respecting Messiah which this same angel had communicated to Daniel, and which were about to be accomplished. When he speaks of himself, as standing in the presence of God, he declares his dignity for the purpose of producing a stronger impression of the importance of his message. His name, the power of God, indicated the exalted qualities with which his Divine Creator had endowed him; his standing in the immediate presence, his nearer and more intimate access to the manifested glories of the Majesty of heaven, showed him to be among the most exalted of the order of angels. To this dignified messenger were the prophecies of Christ revealed to Daniel committed: he announced the conception and birth of Messiah’s herald, and of THE CHRIST himself. This indeed was employment for an angel of the highest order, and such as he would feel himself most honoured by. Redemption is the most glorious theme of the loftiest intellects in the universe; of the mental power of the sons of light themselves; — “which things the angels desire to look into.” Yet how many are there among men, who, from pride of intellect alone, disdain this theme! To these Greeks the doctrine of the cross is foolishness, — precisely that doctrine which engages so deeply the thoughts and interests of angels! And thus they render those words applicable to themselves, as much so as to the philosophers of paganism, of whom St. Paul is speaking, though on another subject: “Professing themselves wise, they became fools.”

Verses 21-22

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And the people waited. — They waited for the return of the officiating priest out of the sanctuary, that he might dismiss them with the accustomed benediction, Numbers 6:23-26. When therefore he came out and could not speak to them, could not perform this part of his duty because of his having been struck dumb by the angel, they concluded from this, and from his having continued so much longer than usual in the sanctuary, detained either by the angel or his own musings upon the scene, that he had seen a vision, some supernatural appearance. This Zacharias appears to have confirmed; for it is added, he beckoned to them, he made signs by nodding the head, διανευω ; he assented to what appeared to be their impression.

Verse 23

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The days of his ministration. — Λειτουργια from λητος , public, and εργον , a work, and signifies therefore a public service, civil, military, or religious. In the New Testament it is confined to the latter; and is used of the ministration of the priests of the law; and of that of Christian preachers, the ministers of God’s spiritual house or temple, the Church.

Verse 24

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Hid herself. — To give herself up to prayer and thanksgiving, and avoiding general society lest she should be interrupted; and also, probably, as her son was to be a Nazarite from the womb, that, like the mother of Samson, she might avoid “drinking wine, Or eating any unclean thing,” Judges 13:4.

Verse 25

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

My reproach, &c. — As a numerous offspring was one of the temporal promises of the old covenant, so children were regarded as a proof of the Divine favour, and the want of them of his displeasure. This was one reason of the reproach of barrenness. Another was the hope that the Jewish women had of giving birth to the Messiah; but this was necessarily confined to those of the tribe of Judah, and the house of David. Elisabeth’s joy did not, therefore, arise from that hope; but first, that she was to become a mother; and, second, that her son was to be so eminent a prophet of the Most High.

Verse 26

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

In the sixth month. — From the time of Elisabeth’s conception. Galilee the province, and Nazareth the town, are both here mentioned, because Galilee, from the long intermixture of Gentiles in its population, was in low repute: “Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet;” and Nazareth was thought so despicable a place that even Nathanael asks, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” although he himself was a Galilean. Thus Galilee was despised by the Jews of the other provinces; and Nazareth, a town of Galilee, by the Galileans themselves. This probably arose from the vicious character of its inhabitants which was fully confirmed by their stubborn and almost universal rejection and contempt of Christ. In this unrighteous and despised town, a branch of the royal family of David was found, but in humble circumstances; and from all this lowliness it pleased God that the Messiah should spring, to shame and to humble the pride of man, and to teach how far we were fallen, when the Son of God must stoop to the lowest humiliation to raise us up.

Verse 27

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

To a virgin espoused, &c. — See the notes on Matthew 1:18-25. St. Matthew records the subsequent appearance of the angel to Joseph; St. Luke, the previous annunciation to Mary.

Verse 28

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Hail, thou that art highly favoured, &c. — The supplied words in our translation had been better left out, and the sentence have stood, Hail, highly favoured; which, after all the renderings proposed, best expresses χαιρε κεχαριτωμενη . The Lord is with thee, or rather, in the usual form of pious salutation, The Lord be with thee, which was adopted by the early Christians. Blessed art thou among women; “thou shalt be reckoned in the highest degree happy and favoured,” as the mother of the incarnate Messiah himself. It is remarkable that much as the papists have perverted these words to favour their idolatrous worship of the Virgin Mary, they are not so strong as those used of some other distinguished women. Blessed art thou AMONG women are the words of the angel to Mary; but in Judges 5:24, we read, “Blessed ABOVE women shall Jael be;” and in Jdt_13:18 , it is said, “Blessed art thou ABOVE all the women upon the earth.” “If there was any reason,” says Bishop Pearce, “why the angel chose to say AMONG women, rather than ABOVE women, may it not have been that our opinion of the Virgin Mary might not be raised too high?”

Verse 29

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

What manner of salutation. — What these salutations implied, and in what that felicity consisted which the angel declared she had attained. Fear, however, was her predominant feeling, produced by the presence of the celestial visitant.

Verse 31

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Call his name Jesus. — See note on Matthew 1:21.

Verse 32

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He shall be great, &c. — Great in power and authority, in glory and fame, in office and administration; yet not in a civil or worldly sense, as the event proved. All this is accomplished, however, more gloriously in his spiritual and mediatorial dominion. Or, more particularly, our Lord was in a special and peculiar sense great, in his PERSON, as God and man united; and hence Isaiah, after he has said, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” adds, “and his name shall be called the mighty God, the everlasting Father:” great in his PROPHETIC OFFICE, in his doctrine and miracles, “mighty in word and deed:” in his PRIESTHOOD, as offering the universal sacrifice for the sin of the whole world not to be repeated, and establishing upon its merit a constant, ever prevalent, and universal intercession: and great as the KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS, to whom “all power is given in heaven and earth,” and “of whose kingdom there is no end.”

Shall be called the Son of the Highest. — He shall be distinguished from all others by this designation. And so it has been. Jesus was condemned for professing to be the Son of God; this was the blasphemy imputed to him by the Jewish council, and for which they judged him “worthy of death:” but he was demonstrated to be “the Son of God with power,” by his resurrection, which established the claim to this title he had asserted before the sanhedrim; and by this he has been known, venerated, and worshipped in his Church, THE SON OF GOD, in a sense in which no creature can be, — the Son of God in his higher and Divine nature, “God of God, Light of light, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.” This is the sense in which he has been called the Son of God, in his Church, in all ages; and it is supported by his own infallible testimony at his trial, and by the constant testimony of his inspired apostles.

To be called often means simply to be; but not here, or it would have been found in the preceding clause, which is, and he shall be great, not, “he shall be called great.” It appears to relate to his public and glorious designation in all ages of the Church, in time and through eternity, — “The Son of the living God.” The Highest, Υψιστος , is sometimes joined with Θεος , but often stands alone as a title of God. It is used by the LXX. for the Hebrew עליון , the High One, or Most High.

The throne of his Father David. — David was a typical character; and the dominion he acquired, which was to the full extent of the original grant of Canaan made to Abraham, and is expressed by the terms, “from sea to sea, and from the river,” Euphrates, “to the ends of the earth,” was a type of the universal dominion of Messiah, when “all kings shall serve him, and all nations shall call him blessed.” The application of the characters of David’s kingdom, in an enlarged meaning, to that of the Messiah, by the prophets, shows that the one was regarded as the emblem or type of the other. But there was another reason why the Messiah was represented as the successor to David’s throne. It was a part of the covenant made with David, that he should not want a man to sit upon his throne: “His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me; it shall be established for ever, and as a faithful witness in heaven.” But a higher throne than the national throne of Israel was intended; even the throne of all nations, to which our Lord has succeeded. For the kingdom of Christ is twofold. It is that spiritual dominion exercised over the wills and affections of men, by moral influence, by which they subject themselves to his laws and authority; and it is that exercise of external government over the world vested in our Lord, as Mediator, by which, both by mercies and judgments, by the ordering of its changes, the succession of its empires, the distribution of human power, the punishment of persecutors, the destruction of enemies, the determination of the times, places, and influence of knowledge and inventions, of arts, commerce, and the intercourse of the different parts of the world, his great designs as to the moral recovery of all nations, and the universal establishment of the empire of his truth, in all its righteous and peaceful influences shall be effected. In this respect he is the King of the Jews, as well as other nations; for though that people are dispersed and denationalized, it is by an act of his severity, and can continue no longer than he wills; and to this power, as the Divine Sovereign of Israel, is added “all power in heaven and earth.” That a descendant of David should enter upon this universal sovereignty, and wield its sceptre for ever, was indeed the most signal honour which could be conferred upon his “house,” and most amply fulfilled the terms of the promise. As to POWER, the dominion of Christ is now universal; and as to GRACE, the type shall be realized ultimately; and in the visible administration of his Gospel, purifying and softening all the institutions of society, Christ shall reign, the universal Lord, “from the river to the ends of the earth.” Then shall be accomplished the words of Zechariah, “The Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one:” then the theocracy shall be universally acknowledged; all earthly rulers confessing themselves to be but vice-kings and servants of Him who is King of kings, and Lord of lords.

Verse 35

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The Holy Ghost shall, &c. — That the power of the Highest, in the second clause, means the same as the Holy Ghost in the first, has often been taken for granted; but on insufficient grounds. It is true, we ought not too curiously to inquire into these great mysteries; but into the clearest and most satisfactory meaning of the terms in which they are expressed we are bound, though with modesty, to examine. — Now, if the meaning of these two clauses be the same, the latter must be considered as illustrative of the former, or as a mere repetition of the same idea in different terms. — That the latter clause cannot be considered as explanatory of the former, is sufficiently proved from its being a more general and obscure mode of speaking; so that, in fact, it does not explain it. That it is a repetition of the same thing in another form under the influence of that mode of speaking in parallelisms which was impressed upon the style of the Hebrews from their sacred poetry, can scarcely be admitted; because these parallels are used to heighten the idea, or place it in some new light, and not unfrequently join another thought to the original one; none of which takes place here. But as, in fact, there were two acts to be performed in this “preparation of the body” of our Lord, — one the miraculous production of a human being and the other the joining of the Divine nature with it in personal union, so that the Christ might be “Immanuel, God with us,” — it is reasonable to conclude that, in this so particular an explanation of the case to Mary, both should be referred to. Still farther, the production of the human nature of our Lord, in the womb of the virgin, is uniformly ascribed to the exclusive agency of the Holy Spirit, as much so as the agency of one of the Divine persons can be exclusive of the other; but the second act, the impersonating of the Divine WORD with the nature so produced, could only be the personal act of that WORD himself, in concurrence with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

This act would therefore be naturally expressed in the general terms, the power of the Highest, that is, the power of the most high God, shall overshadow, shall exert its influence upon or in, thee. This view will lead us through some difficulties with which the text will be found environed if we take the miraculous conception of the human nature of our Lord, by the power of the Holy Ghost, to be the only particular mentioned in it. It would then follow that this miraculous conception is the reason given by the angel why Christ should be, and be called the Son of God; but in opposition to this stand the facts that his title Son of God is, throughout the remainder of the New Testament, put upon higher and distinct ground, especially as necessarily implying Divinity, or being of one nature with the Father; and also that he is never throughout the New Testament, either by himself or others, called the Son of God with reference to his conception. Nathanael so entitles him, because he had had a proof of his PRESCIENCE, and when he certainly knew nothing of the miraculous conception. He himself called God his PROPER FATHER, and himself the SON OF GOD, in a sense which implied EQUALITY with God, and allowed the Jews so to understand him; whereas no such equality was implied in the mere miraculous conception; so that he could have no reference to that as the ground of these lofty assumptions of Divinity itself. The same may be said of his suffering himself to be condemned for blasphemy, without defence; by which he allowed that his claiming to be the Son of God was with reference to his Divine, not his human nature, or he would have been accessory to his own murder. St. Paul also uses the title, Son of God, as OPPOSED to what Christ was “according to the flesh,” the descendant and Son of David: while the term “only begotten” entirely shuts out the notion that he became the Son of God by his miraculous conception, which was but a mode of creation in the womb of the virgin; since in the sense of CREATION he is not the “only begotten,” but shares that with all the angels, and with the first human being.

No passages, indeed, in the New Testament can be adduced in which Christ is called the Son of God with reference to the production of his human nature; and in this view, therefore, the angel’s words would be wholly unintelligible because they indicate, if so interpreted, that this circumstance should be the open and public reason, if not indeed the exclusive one, why he should be invested with that title; and yet, when we look at the fact, it is never referred to as the ground and reason of it at all. If, however, we consider that TWO ACTS are mentioned in the text, distinct acts, referable to TWO AGENTS, we have an easy and satisfactory interpretation which avoids this serious difficulty, and harmonizes the words of the angel both with the reason of the case and with the facts and the doctrine of the New Testament. First, we have the act of the Holy Ghost, producing that HOLY THING which was to be born of the virgin; and we have the distinct act of the power of the Highest, (the title given to our Lord himself, see note on verse 76,) uniting himself the eternal Word to that which was so formed in the womb of the virgin. By this act it was that the “Word was made flesh,” which he could no otherwise be than by taking flesh into personal union with himself, a matter entirely distinct from the production of the body of Christ in any mode, and not in any sense necessarily involved in it. From these two acts all that the angel mentions followed.

It followed that that should be a HOLY THING which should be born of Mary, as being produced immediately by the Holy Ghost; and it followed that this holy thing should be called THE SON OF GOD. That power of the Highest which overshadowed, exerted his influence upon the virgin, took the holy thing into personal union with himself who was in his Divine nature the Son of God; and this became the appellation of the one undivided Christ, but wholly by virtue of the hypostatical union. The mode of expression by which the concluding clause is introduced leads also to the same conclusion. The particle διο , “therefore,” is consequential, and is not to be understood as though the angel were giving a reason why Christ should become the Son of God, but why he should be owned and acknowledged as such. We have also the addition of και in the sense of “also:” Therefore ALSO that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God; it shall not merely be called holy, which would follow from its being the immediate production of the Holy Ghost, but more than that, it shall be called the Son of God, because of another and an additional circumstance, the union of the two natures. For since human nature was united to the Son of God, it was to bear the same name as being in indissoluble union with him.

Could it indeed be inferred from this passage, that our Lord was called the Son of God because of the miraculous conception, it would make no difference in the argument by which he is proved to be the Son of God as to his Divine nature, because that rests upon quite distinct and independent passages of Scripture. It would only follow that, not on one only, but on two accounts, that distinguishing appellation was given to him; but this very text, which is the only one in the New Testament that favours this opinion, lies strongly against it, and cannot be so interpreted without establishing a variance between the words of the angel and the other parts of the New Testament. As for those who endeavour to evade the force of the argument drawn from the title Son of God, in favour of our Lord’s Divinity, by representing it to be a title of Messias, it is difficult to see what they gain by that evasion. The Messias is called “the Son of God;” no one doubts that; but still the inquiry remains, Why is he so called? The true answer to this must be, that he really was what he is called, and was not OFFICIALLY called what NATURALLY he was not; otherwise we have words without any meaning at all, or words adapted to convey an erroneous one.

The unborn human nature of Christ is called a holy thing. Some have without reason suspected a mystery in the phrase; but the Greeks, when speaking of unborn children, used the neuter gender. On the miraculous conception it may be generally remarked that it was essential to our Lord’s sacrifice, that he should in no degree partake of the natural pollution of the fallen race, nor be included in the general condemnation of Adam’s descendants, by being “born of the flesh.” By this wonderful mystery of his incarnation, he was “made of a woman,” not of man; he came not by natural generation; he was allied to the race, yet not of the race in the way of descent; “judgment” did not, therefore, pass upon him to “condemnation,” and he needed no “justification of life.” He had no seeds of evil in his nature, and was under no hereditary curse; all he suffered was voluntary, and therefore vicarious; and as there was in him no inbred or contracted guilt, he alone of all who ever lived could “offer himself without spot to God.” See the note on Matthew 1:23.

Verse 38

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Behold the handmaid of the Lord. — This was a customary expression of entire submission and obedience.

Verse 39

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

A city of Juda. — This was Hebron, which was a city of priests, about twenty-two miles from Jerusalem. Judah was divided into “the hill country, the champaign country, and the valley.” Hebron was situated in the first division. The distance from Nazareth to Hebron was near one hundred miles; so that the journey was long, and no doubt taken under Divine suggestion: this is probably the reason why Mary is said to have gone with haste; and as the angel had announced that her cousin had “conceived a son in her old age,” she would be naturally desirous, by ascertaining the fact from a personal interview, to confirm the words of the angel as to herself.

Verse 41

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. — It was a sufficient proof that she was so, that she hailed Mary as soon as they met, as the mother of the Messias, — a fact she could only know by Divine inspiration, since the annunciation of the angel to Mary was a secret with herself, and she had not had time to tell it to Elisabeth. Even the believing temper of mind in which Mary had received the words of the angel was made known to Elisabeth under this illapse of supernatural influence. And blessed is she that believed, for there shall be a performance, &c.; or, as in the margin, “that there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.” In these words it has not been improbably conjectured that there is a delicate allusion to the doubtfulness manifested by her husband Zacharias, and the infliction of dumbness, under which he was still labouring as his punishment.

Verse 46

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, &c. — As a pious woman waiting for the Messiah, her joy would be great, from knowing that he was already conceived, and would soon be born; and this was greatly heightened by the consideration that she was the chosen virgin mentioned by the prophet, who was to give him birth. — The pious strains in which she pours forth her grateful feelings resemble those of Hannah the mother of Samuel, but they are appropriate to the occasion.

Verse 48

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The low estate. — The lowly condition; for though of the regal family of David, yet she was in the humblest rank of society.

Shall call me blessed. — Shall acknowledge that I am a happy woman. The word does not signify honour, much less religious honour, but simply happiness. So in St. James: “Behold, we count them happy,” or call them blessed, “that endure.”

Verse 49

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Great things. — He hath bestowed upon me wonderful benefits. And holy is his name. This may be taken imperatively, “Let his name be hallowed and most deeply reverenced.”

Verse 50

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

His mercy, &c. — Here she intimates that the gift was not private or confined to few, but that the mercy of God, in sending the Messiah, was a public one, the benefit of which was to descend from generation to generation.

Verse 51

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He hath scattered the proud. — There is here a probable reference to the different course taken by the Divine counsel from that which proud, self-confident persons so often prescribe to the Almighty. — They had their anticipations as to the circumstances of the birth, or the appearance of Messiah. They probably thought that he would spring from one of the most opulent and influential remaining families of the house of David; least of all did they anticipate that he should arise in Galilee. Thus, in the event, he scattered the proud in, that is, as to what concerns the thoughts or imaginations of their hearts; he dissipated and contradicted all their views and expectations. — On which Norris, in his Treatise on Humility, excellently well observes, “He perplexes the schemes of the proud, distracts their politics, breaks their measures, sets those things far asunder which they had united in one system, and so disperses the broken pieces of it, that they can never put them together again. And by this he turns their wisdom into folly, their imaginary greatness into contempt, and their glory into shame; so overruling their counsels in his wise government of the world as to make all turn to his, not to their praise.” As God in the exercise of his sovereignty confounds the wisdom of the wise, so he puts down the mighty from their seats, and exalts them of low degree; fills the hungry, and sends the rich empty away. Similar sentiments occur in the song of Hannah, and frequently in the sacred songs of the Hebrews. They show how attentive they were to the Divine dispensations, and how familiar they were with the principles on which they proceed. One of these is, “to hide pride from man,” and to bring him to feel and confess his entire dependence upon God. In the way of humility God meets with every man; in the way of pride and self-sufficiency he resists and spurns him. Thus our Saviour was born among lowly people; he came to them and not to the proud, and to this trial worldly minded men were afterward more fully subjected. He appeared among the humble in his own humility, and the proud rejected him. The consequence of this, however, was, the putting down the mighty from their seats, while to them that received him he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.

Verse 54

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He hath holpen his servant Israel. — The Messiah was promised before Israel existed as a people; the promise was universal, and made as to its benefits to all nations. But he was to appear among the Israelites; an Israelite himself, and to them the first offers of his grace were to be made. Thus, by the Messiah, God sent help to his servant Israel. The word means to take hold of, in order to raise up. This was his gracious intention as to the Jews, and to all others. Our redemption is thus effected, by the reaching down of the arm of the Divine mercy to raise us up from sin, misery, and ruin, and to exalt us to a state of knowledge, holiness, and joy.

In remembrance of his mercy. — That is, of his promised mercy; which, though long delayed, — for the promise was early given, — was always remembered, and was at length accomplished in “the fulness,” the ripeness and maturity, “of time.”

Verse 55

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

As he spake to our fathers, &c. — This is better connected with the preceding verse, thus, In remembrance of his mercy to Abraham and his seed for ever, as he spake to our fathers.

Verse 56

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And returned to her own house. — She would be then three months advanced in pregnancy; and then, or soon after, it was that, the fact being suspected by Joseph, to whom she had been betrothed, he purposed to put her away privily. See the note on Matthew 1:19.

Verse 59

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And they called him Zacharias. — That is, they proposed and urged it, out of respect to Zacharias, who was dumb, and therefore apparently an object of commiseration; for it was not usual for the Jews to call the son by the father’s name, though they had respect to the names of kindred. Elisabeth had, however, learned from her husband by writing that the child was to be called John, which he confirmed. At this it is said they marvelled, either because it was an unusual thing to introduce a new name into a family, or more probably because they concluded that it was by Divine appointment; and that a name so given would be realized in its joyful import when the child should come to maturity. Boys were named immediately after circumcision, which was usually done at home; girls did not receive their names until after they were weaned.

Verse 63

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

A writing table. — A writing tablet, or small plate of wood covered with wax, and written upon with a style.

Verse 65

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

All these sayings. — Rather all these things, comprehending both what was done and said; ρημα having here, as in verse 37, and other places, the sense of matter, affair, transaction.

Verse 67

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And prophesied. — This does not mean merely that Zacharias poured forth an extemporary hymn of praise to God, under a special Divine afflatus, — a sense in which the verb to prophesy is sometimes taken; but, that in elevated and inspired strains of sacred verse, he not only uttered the praises of God, but spoke also of things to come, which is the proper and strictest sense of prophesying. For of the future results of the birth of his own child, and of the child of Mary, he expressly and emphatically speaks.

Verse 68

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Visited and redeemed. — To visit, is either in judgment or mercy; here, in mercy of the highest order; for man was now visited, not by the ministry of angels or prophets, or the interposition of second causes, operating beneficially under the Divine agency, but visited by God himself — God incarnate, and for the purpose of redeeming, paying the redemption PRICE to Divine justice, and ACTUALLY REDEEMING or delivering man from guilt and sin, and the power of Satan, and the reign of death.

Verse 69

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

A horn of salvation in the house of David. — This allusion to the house of David shows that he is not speaking of his own son, who was of the house of Levi, but of the Son of Mary, though yet unborn. The horn of salvation has had various interpretations; as, a mighty salvation, the abundance of salvation, a royal Saviour, &c. The horn is the well known emblem of potentates, heads, and founders of new powers and empires and is used in this sense in the prophetic writings, especially in those of Daniel. The sense therefore is, “And hath raised up for us a Saviour Sovereign:” a new power springs from the decayed and fallen house of David, and a mighty potentate appears, whose office is to save, not to destroy; who puts down by his might all our spiritual enemies, and becomes our almighty friend, refuge, and benefactor.

Verse 70

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Which have been since the world began. — Literally, from the age. The Jews divided time into the age from the creation to Messiah, and the age from the Messiah to the consummation of all things. The meaning is, that this great event had been the subject of prophecy from the earliest times, by a succession of holy prophets. To Christ indeed give all the prophets witness; Adam as the depositary and teacher of the first prophetic promises; Noah, as transmitting this important branch of knowledge; Abraham, Moses, and then the long succession of Hebrew prophets to Malachi. It is a common saying of the Jews that all the prophets prophesied not but of the days of Messiah.

Verse 71

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.

— Figures taken from the deliverance of a nation from subjection to foreign conquerors; but that they are to be understood as figures, and in a spiritual sense, appears from verse 74, where this deliverance from the hand of our enemies is connected with our serving him without fear, without dread of any spiritual dangers, in holiness and righteousness before him, that is, in his sight, therefore in true and real holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life. Holiness is sometimes understood to mean the observances rendered to God; and righteousness, duties to men; but holiness rather expresses the renewed state and habit of the soul, and righteousness all those external fruits which spring from it, whether of piety, justice, or mercy.

Verse 73

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The oath which he sware to our father Abraham. — The oath referred to is that in Genesis 22:16, &c., which terminates in the assurance that in the seed of Abraham, that is, the Messiah, “all the nations of the earth should be blessed;” which blessedness Zacharias, under the prophetic Spirit, interprets in the next verses to consist in being delivered out of the hands of our spiritual enemies, and serving God without dread, in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life. In this only the true felicity of man consists; and it is by being raised into this high and glorious state of moral deliverance from guilty dread, and the power of Satan and sin, so as to serve or worship God with filial confidence, and to experience an entire sanctification of our nature, that we are “blessed” in the seed of Abraham. “God sends his Son Jesus to BLESS US, by turning us away from our INIQUITIES.” Till then, man knows no true felicity, and never can know it in time or eternity. See note on verse 71.

Verse 76

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Prophet of the Highest. — The Highest or Most High, here, is Christ himself; for he is the same being as “THE LORD” mentioned in the next clause, Whose ways he was to prepare. See note on Matthew 11:10. John was Christ’s prophet, not only as sent by him the MASTER, for so John acknowledged him to be; but as he predicted his immediate manifestation, discoursed on his glorious character and the ends of his advent, and pointed him out as the only object of trust to guilty men. That our Lord is here called THE HIGHEST throws light upon verse 35, upon which see the note; and the terms of this passage are in unequivocal proof of the Messiah’s Divinity. “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of THE HIGHEST; for thou shalt go before the face of the LORD to prepare HIS ways, to give knowledge of salvation to HIS people, &c. Thus HE whose ways were prepared by John, and who beyond all objection was JESUS, is called THE HIGHEST, THE LORD, and the Jews are styled HIS PEOPLE.

Verse 77

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

To give knowledge of salvation, &c. — As to give wisdom is to make wise, so to give knowledge, δουναι γνωσιν , is to instruct, to make to know. John did not only teach repentance, but he taught the true nature of salvation, of that salvation which Messiah was to give; and he raised spiritual notions concerning it, for he taught, not that it consisted in deliverance from the Roman yoke or any other calamity, but in the remission of sins, and the consequent restoration of truly penitent and believing persons to the favour of God and the hope of a better life. Of the spiritual character of the teaching of John the Baptist as to this salvation we have the proof in the conclusion of one of his discourses, John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Verse 78

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The dayspring from on high. — This beautiful translation of our version has been objected to by some eminent critics. Campbell translates, “Who hath caused a light to spring from on high;” and Wetstein objects that the rising sun cannot be here understood by ανατολη , because the sun when he rises is always in the horizon, whereas this light is spoken of as coming from on high, εξ υψους , and must therefore be rather vertical than horizontal! This critic surely never noticed the break of day, nor perceived how that before the sun appears above the horizon his light streams upward, is caught by the lofty clouds, and reflected down to the earth; so that if it were necessary to take εξ υψους in the strict sense, and not as it manifestly signifies, from “heaven,” the celestial regions, the light would come upon us from a sufficient elevation to meet the objection. Ανατολη signifies sunrise, but comprehends the whole, from the dawn to the burst of the orb of day; and the term dayspring was happily chosen by our translators, inasmuch as the Saviour here spoken of was not indeed at that time actually born, but upon the point of being so. The birth of John, his forerunner, and all the supernatural circumstances which had occurred, indicated certainly his approach; and thus, as the dawn, the springing of the day, they were ushering in the almost immediate rising of “the Sun of righteousness with healing in his wings.” Ανατολη is sometimes used by the LXX. to express the Hebrew צמת , the branch; but from what follows in the next verse it is plain that the whole passage is expressed in metaphors taken from the breaking of the light of morning upon the darkness of night.

Verse 79

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

That sit in darkness. — To sit, is a Hebrew mode of expression, for TO BE; the shadow of death not only expresses the deepest darkness, but imminent danger; and both express helpless ignorance and misery, and a state of hopeless exposure to eternal death. Thus with equal eloquence and truth does the inspired Zacharias portray the glorious mission of the Son of God, of whom his own favoured John was to be the herald and forerunner. The tender mercy of God, σπλαγχνα , the bowels of the Divine compassion were moved toward our lost condition, and our Lord broke upon our state of ignorance and danger like the dayspring from heaven upon the steps of a wandering traveller, bewildered in darkness, and entering the very region of the shadow of death: the darkness passes away, the true light of heavenly truth shines, the path of peace, the path which leads to peace, every kind of true felicity here and hereafter which the Hebrews expressed by the term peace, opens before us, and the steps of every willing mind are infallibly guided into it. Wakefield strangely applies these words to John the Baptist, not to our Lord; and, being a Socinian and therefore placing John and Jesus on the same level, he was not revolted at speaking of a mere man as the day-spring from on high, giving light and life and salvation to the souls of men. But this absurdity could not have been committed, had not the true meaning of the seventy-seventh verse escaped him, as it has done many others. John’s office was not only to preach repentance, but to teach the knowledge of a SPIRITUAL salvation, such as consisted in the remission of sins, through that tender mercy of God, by whom the Saviour was provided for us, and who, in conformity with the prophetic representations, is compared to the light of morning, the rising sun which sheds light, and life, and healing upon all nature. This is the manifest connection of the words.

Verse 80

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And the child grew, &c. — He grew up in his father’s house; and waxed strong in spirit, remarkable for strength of intellect and boldness of resolution, and his attainments in religious knowledge, under the tuition of parents equally capable of instructing him, and disposed to that duty. And was in the deserts. — Either it was his practice from early youth to frequent solitary places, which might easily be found in the “hill country of Juda,” in which he was born; or, when arrived at manhood, he withdrew from society altogether, living upon the fruits, the locusts, and the wild honey of the wilderness, clothed in the simplest manner, and thus gave himself up to meditation and communion with God, until the day of his showing to Israel, when, being probably about thirty years of age, the age when the priests were admitted to their office, his warning voice broke upon a slumbering people from the depths of the wilderness in which he had so long hid himself, and he called them to “repent,” urging that “the kingdom of heaven was at hand.” Αναδειξις is used for the entering upon an office to which any one has been previously appointed. Here, however, it seems simply to signify manifestation, or showing, as our translators have it, in opposition to the seclusion and absolute privacy in which he had kept himself. All the wonders connected with the birth of John, doubtless, served to keep awake the expectation of the pious and spiritual.

They probably extended but little farther; for though there was a general expectation of the appearance of Messiah about that time, this was, as to the Jews in general, produced by the approaching fulfilment of the times mentioned by Daniel, and especially by the visit of the magi to Jerusalem. The knowledge of this event would be carried by those Jews who came up to the great feasts, into all parts where they were settled, and some account also of the less striking, but still very remarkable, event which had happened to Zacharias. Still the circumstances of John’s birth were but little known, and could not contribute much to the general expectation. But there is a distinct class of persons marked out as “waiting for redemption,” in a sense therefore different from that in which all the Jews might be said to wait for it: a class of spiritual persons, rightly interpreting the prophecies, and looking for a spiritual redemption. To this class of persons these events would be in the highest sense joyful and supporting. — And as the memory of them would be revived when John began his ministry, they would serve to accredit his character. Notwithstanding the relationship of the families, it was so ordered that they had no intercourse with each other after the visit of Mary to Elisabeth. No doubt the parents of John had died some years before he entered upon his ministry; and as his dwelling was among the solitudes of the wilderness, no acquaintance could be formed between him and our Lord, who remained subject to his parents, in a distant part of the country. When, therefore, John was led forth by the Spirit to commence his ministry, and to bear testimony to the Messiah, he knew not his person; and hence he received an assurance that he should be acquainted with him by the visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon him John 1:33.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Luke 1". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/luke-1.html.
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