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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 1

 

 


Verses 1-80

LUKE'S GOSPEL WRITTEN FOR A GENTILE RULER

(vs.1-4)

Luke's introduction shows that, though he was concerned about giving exact information in this letter to Theophilus, he had not thought of being an instrument directly inspired by God. Theophilus was evidently a Gentile authority of whom nothing more is said in scripture, except in Acts 1:1, where only his name is mentioned. Many others had been energized to write an orderly history of those things concerning the Lord Jesus, and Luke was persuaded there was room for his letter also, having received accurate information from those who were eyewitnesses and servants of God in ministering His Word (v.3). But God had ordered that Luke was to write scripture and laid hold of him for this purpose, without Luke realizing that he was inspired by God. Therefore we may expect depths and beauties in this book that Luke himself had not designed.

Theophilus was manifestly in governmental authority (compare v.3 with Acts 26:25), and Luke desired that he should have accurate knowledge and certainty of those things in which he had already had some instruction. The human element in Luke's words is beautifully transparent, as intended by God.

THE BIRTH OF JOHN PREDICTED

(vs.5-25)

Luke begins by speaking of the priesthood in Israel in the days of Herod. But the high priest and others who were prominent are passed by, and Zacharias, an otherwise very ordinary priest, and his wife Elizabeth are singled out, both of the line of Aaron, comparatively righteous before God and as regards law blameless (v.6). Zacharias means "God has remembered," and Elizabeth, "God has sworn" -- names very appropriate since God was about to fulfill His great promise concerning the Messiah. Having no child and advanced in age, they aptly reflected Israel's condition of desolation, from which only the grace of God can produce blessing.

It was "heads of their fathers' houses" (1 Chronicles 24:4) who served in these priestly courses by turn, elders who represented the priesthood, for there were too many priests for all to serve in the temple. The work of Zacharias was to burn incense in the temple where only priests could enter. He thus was an intermediary: the people prayed while he made intercession. This was God's order in Israel, so different to that now in the Church of God.

When an angel, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to Zacharias, he was understandably troubled and fearful, yet in what more appropriate place should a priest expect God to reveal Himself? However, the words of the angel were intended to set him at perfect rest. He addressed him by name with no introduction except the quietening words, "Fear not" (vs.11-13). The message of the angel was plain and direct. The prayers of Zacharias had been heard: his wife Elizabeth would have a son who was to be named John. His birth would give joy and gladness to his father and many others. The prophecy of the angel is clear and precise that John would be great in the sight of the Lord (not in the world's eyes), that he should drink neither wine nor strong drink, which evidently indicates that he would be a Nazirite (Numbers 6:1-8). It was also God's sovereign ordering that he should be filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth. There was only one John the Baptist: it would be folly for another to aspire to be the same as he (Jeremiah 1:5). John would be divinely prepared for his unique service of preparing the way of the Lord, and his powerful, earnest preaching of repentance turned many Israelites to the Lord (vs.15-16).

Verse 17 explains Matthew 11:14, "If you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come." The very fact of the Lord's saying, "If you are willing to receive it" indicates a deeper spiritual application, which Luke explains. It was not that John was the same person as Elijah, but John's service before the Lord was "in the spirit and power of Elijah." John's ministry was of the same character as that of Elijah, sternly pressing on Israel the guilt of their disobedience to the law. The reference here is to Malachi 4:6 which some of the Jews took to mean Elijah personally, but John denied this interpretation (John 1:21). The same applies to another prophet who will yet rise during Israel's tribulation, with the same object in view (Revelation 11:6), though unlike John and Elijah, he will not be alone. John's ministry would have good effect also on proper family relationships (v.17). It would subdue the spirit of disobedience and replace it with the wisdom of the just, for the chief object of that ministry was "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Repentance is essential for this, and since John was the forerunner of the Lord Jesus, he must emphasize the guilt of Israel so as to prepare their hearts to receive the grace of the Lord Jesus.

The angel's message was so clear and positive that it ought to have left not the slightest doubt in the mind of Zacharias, yet his word was not enough for him. He felt he must have a sign to confirm this or else accept the testimony of his aging circumstances rather than the testimony of God's Word! He aptly pictures the unbelief of Israel.

The angel then disclosed his name, Gabriel, the one who stood in the presence of God and was sent directly with this message. He then gave a sign, though not so pleasant as Zacharias desired. Zacharias would be deprived of speech until the day this prophecy was fulfilled (vs.19-20). Again we have here a likeness to Israel's condition at the time, mute regarding the things of God, unable to lift their voices in praise and thanksgiving, just because of unbelief, until the day they see their Messiah.

The people waiting outside the temple were perplexed when he came out, for they had not expected God to intervene in the nation's affairs, but the evidence was clear that Zacharias must have seen a vision in the temple (vs.21-22). It is then briefly mentioned that, when the days of his service were finished, he returned to his own house. He would not see frequent service in the temple, for there were twenty-four courses of priests, each to serve in turn, evidently being changed each sabbath day (2 Chronicles 23:8).

It is not said how soon after this Elizabeth conceived, but when it happened she confined herself at home for five months, though deeply thankful to God that He had taken away the reproach of her barrenness (vs.24-25).

GABRIEL'S ANNOUNCEMENT TO MARY

(vs.26-38)

In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy the angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth in Galilee to bear a yet more marvelous message to a virgin who was engaged to marry Joseph, both of them being of the house of David. Gabriel's salutation speaks of great grace given to Mary (favor and grace being translations of the same Greek word), of the Lord's presence with her, and of her being blessed among women. Thus her personal blessing is mentioned first (great grace given to her), then her relationship to the Lord (His presence with her), and her relationship to others (blessed among women).

Mary was perplexed at such words, as no doubt also by the sudden appearance of the angel, but wisely waited in silence for an explanation. "Fear not." he says, to set her at rest. Again he speaks of her being favored by God (this subject -- grace or favor -- being beautifully emphasized in Luke). No human merit could deserve such honor as being chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. But God had chosen her to be the one who would independently of human resource conceive and bring forth a totally unique Son, His name to be called Jesus (vs.30-31).

He (not Mary) would be great, called "the Son of the Highest," a dignity far higher than could be given to Him by Mary, indeed an eternal dignity. Therefore the Lord God would give to Him the throne of His father David. First mentioned is His being Son of the Highest, His eternal deity; then Son of David, which involves His manhood, being born of Mary. David's throne will be given to Him in the Millennium, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob, with no other ever rising to take that throne. His kingdom will be perpetual (vs.32-33).

Mary does not question the truth of Gabriel's words, as Zacharias did, but did ask how she was to give birth to a child apart from contact with a man. This gave occasion for the marvelous declaration of verse 35, that the Spirit of God would come upon Mary, the power of the Highest overshadowing her, with the result that "that holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (v.35). While He would be a true Man, born of a woman, yet He was altogether untainted by her sinful nature, intrinsically holy, the fruit of the power of the Spirit of God. Nothing is said here of His former eternal existence as Son of the Father, the eternal Son, but this is vitally involved in His being called the Son of God.

Gabriel tells her also of Elizabeth's conception in her old age of a son, she being the cousin of Mary. He needed to add nothing more as to John, for this was enough to exercise Mary to visit Elizabeth, as was divinely intended. Mary's simplicity of faith is beautiful. She willingly took the place of a handmaid, a servant, and accepted the word of Gabriel, in contrast to the unbelief of Zacharias (v.38).

MARY'S VISIT WITH ELIZABETH

(vs.39-45)

Mary then takes a journey to Judea, with haste, to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Let us observe that haste in this case is commendable, for it was based upon the word of God given to her, and the Lord had designed this to strengthen and encourage faith in both of these favored women. As Mary entered the house and spoke, the babe in Elizabeth's womb leaped; and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, broke forth in a short but beautiful prophecy (vs.39-45). Here the living power of the Spirit of God is accompanied by a lowly spirit of humility that finds delight in the blessing of another, recognizing that Mary is to be the mother of the Lord. Elizabeth rejoiced in the blessedness of Mary among women and in the blessedness of the fruit of her womb.

Though Elizabeth was older than Mary, yet she felt herself unworthy to have the mother of her Lord visit her. But she knew that it was for joy that her own child leapSaturday 25-Jun-2011 11:14genuine delight in Him who was born of the virgin. She also speaks of the blessedness of Mary's faith and the unquestionable fact that what she had believed would certainly take place.

MARY'S WORDS OF PRAISE

(vs.46-56)

Mary's praise and adoration ascribed to the Lord is beautiful. She is a picture of the godly remnant of Israel, the mother of the man-child (Revelation 12:1-6), and her language here will be that of the restored remnant of the Jews following the Great Tribulation. Her soul (the center of her emotions and affections) magnified the Lord, Jehovah. Her spirit (the center of her understanding and intelligence) rejoiced in God her Savior. Verse 46 indicates her submission to His authority when using the title Lord. Verse 47 shows her worship of the supreme God, yet who in grace became her Savior, for she knew herself to be a sinner who needed His salvation, just as we all do.

In verse 48 she is seen to recognize His tender mercy and care for her in her low estate, and that hers was an honor that would never fail to elicit the respect of all generations. While the great and mighty of this world are forgotten, this lowly, humble woman has such an honor as will never be forgotten.

To God also she ascribes infinite power, the mighty One who dealt with her in such power as in no other. But she hastens to add, "and Holy is His name," for in the world, power is ignorant of holiness, but God's power is sanctified (set apart) from every corrupting element. There also is the gentle, tender side of His character, showing mercy without ceasing to those who fear Him. "His mercy endures forever" (Psalms 106:1)

Note that from verse 46 to 49 it is God personally of whom she speaks, "the Lord," "God my Savior," "He that is mighty," and "Holy is His name." But from verse 50 to 55 it is rather what He has done that is emphasized. His mercy is first mentioned, then strength (verse 51) by which the pride of the ungodly is humbled, showing judgment together with strength. Imaginations and high things that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God are brought down to dust. In verse 52 rule is seen, His putting down the mighty of this world and exalting the lowly. Verse 53 deals with His administration, His filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty. He reverses the cruel order of the world. Verse 54 tells of His help to His suffering servant Israel, remembering mercy after long years of Israel's captivity, and this according to His promise to Abraham and his seed -- not according to the covenant of law. The law is left entirely out of Mary's prophecy, for here the glory of God and the person of Christ is the theme. What she speaks had direct application at the time and will also have application at the end of the Tribulation. Mary remained until near the time of Elizabeth's delivery, then returned home.

BIRTH AND CIRCUMCISION OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

(vs.57-66)

The promise to Zacharias is realized as Elizabeth gives birth to a son, which causes much rejoicing among her neighbors and relatives at the great mercy of the Lord toward her. According to Jewish law, the babe was circumcised the eighth day and evidently the priests decided that he should take his father's name, Zacharias. But his mother firmly objected and insisted that John was his name. Zacharias himself settled the dispute by writing that his name was John (v.63). Others marveled at this, surprised that he would not agree to give his son his own name. But the angel had settled this before.

When he gave the name John to his son, Zacharias immediately regained his faculty of speech. His unbelief was changed fully to faith, and he spoke in praise to God. These things being reported in the region, there was a serious, reverent fear that fell upon the people who realized that God was acting in some unusual way. He prepared hearts to expect in John an unusual character "And the hand of the Lord was with him," we are told, in subduing, living reality of power (v.66).

THE PROPHECY OF ZACHARIAS

(vs.67-80)

The prophecies of Elizabeth and Mary are found before that of Zacharias, though he was the first to be visited with a revelation from God. But he was slower in believing. However, he was now filled with the Holy Spirit to express another stirring that warms the heart. He spoke in the language of firm assurance and conviction, as though all was fully accomplished, though as yet the Messiah had not been born.

Jehovah, God of Israel had visited and redeemed His people, he declared. There is no question as to the accomplishment of this, though the people were not yet free, and the nation as such will not be redeemed until the end of the future seven-year Tribulation period. It is in Christ that God has visited His people, He who is raised up as a horn of salvation in the house of David. The horn speaks of potential power, for it was specially for power in salvation that Israel was looking, little realizing that this must involve great suffering and death for the Messiah. Zacharias gave no suggestion of this, though mentioning the remission of sins (v.77).

He refers to the messages of the prophets from earliest times as speaking of the Messiah, but he does not consider such prophecies as Isaiah 53:1-12 which speak of the Messiah as suffering, but rather appeals to those prophecies that speak of His great power in delivering Israel from their enemies (v.71). This was mercy promised to the fathers, His holy covenant sworn to Abraham. What was necessary to accomplish this is a matter which evidently did not occur to him. Simeon's prophecy, a little later, is more discerning in this regard (Luke 3:34-35), though not actually indicating the death of Christ, but suffering nevertheless.

In Israel's future deliverance Zacharias expresses the desire that Israel might serve God in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life, which will be true in the Millennium when all their fears will be banished (v.74).

In verse 76 he addresses his child John, to say that he will be called the prophet of the Highest; going before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, a herald of One infinitely greater than himself. Because of this great honor, no greater prophet had ever risen than John, none having such a place as this (Luke 7:28).

Verse 77 shows that John would drive home the truth to individuals, to give knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins. This would call for his preaching a personal repentance, a most important matter to prepare the Jews for having to face their Messiah. The actual remission of sins would only be by God's tender mercy, through the visitation of Him who was the very arising of the day for those in darkness, that is, the blessed Son of God. It is He who would give light to those in darkness, those who had only the shadow of death hovering over their heads, feeling the desolation of their hopeless state. He would change the path of their feet from that of self-will and rebellion to one of peace and tranquility.

John, we are told, not only grew physically, but also in strength of spirit, for he sought the presence of God, though in virtual seclusion, being alone in the deserts. This was a most unusual life for one born into the priesthood of Israel, but John sought no recognition from the high priest or other authorities. In this lonely way he was being prepared by God for his special work.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Luke 1:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/luke-1.html. 1897-1910.

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Sunday, November 29th, 2020
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