John the Baptist – Part 1

Read Luke 1. 1-25; 39-80

‘What kind of child will this be?’

This question has been posed by many parents/relatives when a newborn child arrives in a family. We are naturally curious to know how the child will develop. Only God knows the answer and He reveals it if it is in His purposes so to do. Two such occasions are found in Luke’s Gospel, where we are introduced to the births of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus. John’s birth was miraculous, whereas that of the Lord Jesus was divine. Both were central to God’s plan of salvation.

As we begin to read this Gospel, we might be excused for expecting to be introduced, first of all, to the birth of Jesus. After all, He said that the scriptures ‘testify of me’, John 5. 39, and He is referred to as ‘the spirit of prophecy’, Rev. 19. 10.

It was revealed in the Old Testament that there would be a forerunner, who would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. Indeed, there was a growing sense of expectation in Israel at this time that the arrival of the Messiah was imminent. John the Baptist believed that this was to be his divine/specific calling.

We are not left in the dark as to what kind of person the forerunner would be. As a highly trained medical doctor, Luke was accustomed to keeping accurate written records of each patient from the beginning of their treatment to the completion of it. His Gospel reflects the same skill, when following the footsteps of Jesus and John the Baptist. Indeed, he followed them so closely that he kept a record of events and people that cannot be found in the other Gospel records.

We do not know precisely when Luke became a Christian; however, at the outset of his Gospel, written to Theophilus, he wrote, ‘It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed’, Luke 1. 3, 4.

Luke became a close companion of Paul and remained loyal to him up to the time of his execution. At this deeply moving and lonely point in his life, Paul wrote to Timothy, ‘Only Luke is with me’, 2 Tim. 4. 11. Commentators have often referred to his Gospel as one that was written by a man, Luke, to a man, Theophilus, about the perfect man, Jesus. We are also indebted to Luke for the interest he showed in the life of John the Baptist. Clearly, he observed his movements very closely and provides us with details of his birth and life that enable us to appreciate why Christ later said of him, ‘Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist’, Matt. 11. 11.

We conclude Part 1 of our study by highlighting some of the key events in Luke’s Gospel surrounding the birth of John that marked him out as a unique person, from his birth until his death:

  1. The appearance of the angel Gabriel in the Holy Place of the Temple. Zacharias, John’s father, was of priestly descent and Luke traces his footsteps to the time when he was in Jerusalem, carrying out his priestly duties. On this particular occasion, he was chosen to burn incense on the altar in the Holy Place and only he had the right to be there. Suddenly, however, he became aware of the presence of another person, standing to the right side of the altar, which was a unique experience for any priest before or after him. It was Gabriel, an angel of the Lord!
  2. Gabriel announces a coming miraculous birth. Zacharias and Elisabeth had an aching void in their otherwise impeccable lives - they were childless! However, God had heard their prayer and Gabriel announced that, miraculously, they would have a son!
  3. Filled with the Holy Spirit. A third remarkable thing happened in the Temple. Gabriel prophesied about the kind of person the child would be:
    1. he would be great;
    2. he would not be filled with wine or strong drink, but filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb;
    3. he would bring joy and gladness to his parents.
  4. A dumb priest. Zacharias doubted how all this could happen, given the great ages of himself and his wife. Gabriel announced that on account of his unbelief he would be dumb until the birth of the child. A ‘dumb priest’ was unthinkable and incapable of carrying out his duties.
  5. The name of the child. Zacharias learned that the child would be named John, not Zacharias, as custom dictated. However, Zacharias prophesied that John would be a prophet of the Most High and go before the Lord to prepare His ways and give knowledge of salvation to His people by the forgiveness of sins.

The task of burning incense in the temple ought to have taken a brief time; however, when the worshippers outside were eventually met by a dumb priest, who had seen an angel and been promised that he and his wife would have a child, called John, they might well have wondered what this child would be like! In Part 2 of our study, we will discover the answers they received.


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