Gabriel Appears to Zechariah
John the Baptist’s birth was foretold to Zechariah (his father) by the angel Gabriel. While Zechariah was attending to his priestly duties in Jerusalem, the angel appeared and spoke to him. Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were without children because she had been barren for years. Now, in their old age (assumed to be too old for childbearing), Zechariah questions Gabriel’s prophecy. For this unbelief, the angel causes Zacharias to go mute.
After serving his priestly duties, Zechariah returns to his home in a city of Judea. No doubt he somehow communicates to his wife the prophecy and soon she indeed noticed her pregnancy and kept herself secluded for five months – probably in an act of devotion to God. In those times, barrenness was a sign of divine disfavor. She says that God has taken away her disgrace among men. This may have drove her to devout worship for five months.
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter w the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong g drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
In the Days of Herod
Ruling Judea at the time of John’s birth was Herod the Great, the first of many Herods. Those who are familiar with the story of the birth of Christ are also familiar with the man named, Herod. It was he who told the Magi to return to him after finding Jesus in order that he may kill the Lord (Matt. 2:8). Since they did not return he slew all the male children two years old and younger hoping that Jesus was one of them (Matt. 2:16). (There are other interesting facts about Herod that are worth noting at a later time as we come closer to the time of the massacre.)
Herod died in 4 BC during the massacre of the children.i,ii At that time Jesus was already born (Matt. 2:19) and was likely near 2 years of age or under (according to the Magi’s report in Matt. 2:16). If true, this would place Jesus’ birth close to 6 BC. We can also assume John’s birth near the same year since he was born almost a year earlier (Luke 1:26).
With that understood, we can estimate a more precise time than in the days of Herod which describes the time of Herod’s rule of Judea. It is likely then that John and Jesus were born in 6 or 7 BC. Therefore, our study in the gospels will chronologically begin here.
Flavius Josephus, Josephus: The Essential Works, (Kregel Publications, 1994), p. 255.
F.F. Bruce, New Testament History, (Anchor Books, 1983), p. 23.