Zechariah and Gabriel
We want to examine the Archangel Gabriel, as seen though the eyes of Luke. The passages are from Luke 1: 5-25.
“When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron.”
This, of course, is Herod the Great, confirmed by the Roman Senate as king of the Jews. Zechariah was a member of approximately 20,000 priests serving throughout the country. This ridiculous number of priests demonstrates the bloated, inefficient Temple system that Jesus would later clash with, especially in the incident with the money changers. Simply put, Zechariah was an agent of the old covenant.
“Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous is God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.”
Although they were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations,” their righteousness went much deeper. Their obedience was genuine and heart-felt; we know this since God delivers a child to them although they were well past expecting such a miracle.
“One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.”
Zechariah’s order of Abijah was on duty this particular week. Each morning a priest would enter the Holy Placein the Temple and burn incense. The priests cast lots to decide who would enter the inner sanctuary, and on this day, the lot fell to Zechariah. The smoke from the incense symbolized prayers of the people ascending to heaven, so this event would create a large crowd.
“While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him.”
In classic understatement, we’re told that Zechariah was “shaken and overwhelmed…” No wonder – no one should have been present in the Holy Place except for Zechariah. For someone to appear in the inner sanctuary was unprecedented and completely unacceptable.
“But the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
Here we are introduced to Gabriel, one of only two angels mentioned by name in the Bible (the other is Michael). Gabriel immediately sets out to perform two duties traditionally assigned to angels: 1) as a messenger of God; and 2) to provide comfort to mortals. As we mentioned, poor Zechariah was in need of reassurance and comfort after being interrupted in the inner sanctuary by an “unauthorized” intruder.
Gabriel gives him shocking news –Elizabethwas to bear a child at her advanced age. Now, we wonder – is this the prayer God answers? Let’s think about it for a moment – surely Zechariah didn’t believe it possible to have a child at his point in his life. So if he wasn’t praying for a child, what could he have been praying for? How about a Messiah to deliver the Jews from the oppression of Rome? Wouldn’t that same prayer be on the lips of nearly every Jew in the country?
Either way, Gabriel delivers answers to both prayers. Not only would Elizabeth bear a child (to be named John, which means “the Lord is Gracious”), but this child would “prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.”