It appears from the Acts of the Apostles, and the
Apostolic Epistles, that the earliest preaching of the Gospel consisted
of a brief summary of the facts of our Lord's earthly history, with a
few words of pointed application to the parties addressed. Of these
astonishing facts, notes would naturally be taken and digests
put into circulation. It is to such that Luke here refers; and in terms
of studied respect, as narratives of what was "believed surely," or "on
sure grounds" among Christians, and drawn up from the testimony of
"eye-witnesses and ministering servants of the word." But when he adds
that "it seemed good to him also to write in order, having traced down
all things with exactness from their first rise," it is a virtual claim
for his own Gospel to supersede these "many" narratives. Accordingly,
while not one of them has survived the wreck of time, this and the
other canonical Gospels live, and shall live, the only fitting vehicles
of those life-bringing facts which have made all things new. Apocryphal
or spurious gospels, upheld by parties unfriendly to the truths
exhibited in the canonical Gospels, have not perished; but those
well-meant and substantially correct narratives here referred to, used
only while better were not to be had, were by tacit consent allowed to
merge in the four peerless documents which from age to age, and with
astonishing unanimity, have been accepted as the written charter of all
1. set forth in order—more simply, to
draw up a narrative.
2. from the beginning—that is, of His
public ministry, as is plain from what follows.
3. from the very first—that is, from the
very earliest events; referring to those precious details of the birth
and early life, not only of our Lord, but of His forerunner, which we
owe to Luke alone.
in order—or "consecutively"—in
contrast, probably, with the disjointed productions to which he had
referred. But this must not be pressed too far; for, on comparing it
with the other Gospels, we see that in some particulars the strict
chronological order is not observed in this Gospel.
most excellent—or "most noble"—a
title of rank applied by this same writer twice to Felix and once to
Festus (Ac 22:26; 24:3; 26:25). It is likely, therefore, that
"Theophilus" was chief magistrate of some city in Greece or Asia Minor
[Webster and Wilkinson].
4. that thou mightest know—"know
hast been instructed—orally
instructed—literally, "catechized" or "catechetically taught," at
first as a catechumen or candidate for Christian baptism.
Announcement of the Forerunner.
5. Herod—(See on Mt
course of Abia—or Abijah; the eighth
of the twenty-four orders of courses into which David divided the
priests (see 1Ch 24:1, 4, 10). Of these courses only four returned
after the captivity (Ezr 2:34-39), which were again subdivided into
twenty-four—retaining the ancient name and order of each. They
took the whole temple service for a week each.
his wife was of the daughters of
Aaron—The priests might marry into any tribe, but "it was
most commendable of all to marry one of the priests' line" [Lightfoot].
6. commandments and ordinances—The one
expressing their moral—the other their
ceremonial—obedience [Calvin and Bengel],
(Compare Eze 11:20; Heb 9:1). It has been denied that any such
distinction was known to the Jews and New Testament writers. But Mr 12:33, and other passages, put this
beyond all reasonable doubt.
7. So with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and
Rebekah, Elkanah and Hannah, Manoah and his wife.
9. his lot was to burn incense—The part
assigned to each priest in his week of service was decided by lot.
Three were employed at the offering of incense—to remove the
ashes of the former service; to bring in and place on the golden altar
the pan filled with hot burning coals taken from the altar of burnt
offering; and to sprinkle the incense on the hot coals; and, while the
smoke of it ascended, to make intercession for the people. This was the
most distinguished part of the service (Re 8:3), and this was what fell to the lot of
Zacharias at this time [Lightfoot].
10. praying without—outside the court in
front of the temple, where stood the altar of burnt offering; the men
and women in separate courts, but the altar visible to all.
the time of incense—which was offered
along with the morning and evening sacrifice of every day; a beautiful
symbol of the acceptableness of the sacrifice offered on the
altar of burnt offering, with coals from whose altar the incense was
burnt (Le 16:12, 13). This again was a symbol of the "living
sacrifice" of themselves and their services offered daily to God by the
worshippers. Hence the language of Ps 141:2; Re 8:3. But that the acceptance of this daily
offering depended on the expiatory virtue presupposed in the
burnt offering, and pointing to the one "sacrifice of a sweet-smelling
5:2), is evident from Isa 6:6, 7.
11. right side—the south side, between
the altar and the candlestick, Zacharias being on the north side, in
front of the altar, while offering incense [Webster and Wilkinson]. But why there? The right was the
favorable side (Mt 25:33)
[Schottgen and Westein in Meyer];
13. thy prayer is heard—doubtless for
offspring, which by some presentiment he even yet had not
John—the same as "Johanan," so
frequent in the Old Testament, meaning "Jehovah's gracious gift."
14. shall rejoice—so they did (Lu 1:58,
66); but the meaning rather
is, "shall have cause to rejoice"—it would prove to many a joyful
15. great in the sight of the
Lord—nearer to Him in official standing than all the
prophets. (See Mt 11:10, 11.)
drink neither wine nor strong
drink—that is, shall be a Nazarite, or "a separated
6:2, &c.). As the leper
was the living symbol of sin, so was the Nazarite of
holiness; nothing inflaming was to cross his lips; no razor to
come on his head; no ceremonial defilement to be contracted. Thus was
he to be "holy to the Lord [ceremonially] all the days of his
separation." This separation was in ordinary cases temporary and
voluntary: only Samson (Jud 13:7), Samuel (1Sa 1:11), and John Baptist were Nazarites
from the womb. It was fitting that the utmost severity of legal
consecration should be seen in Christ's forerunner. He was the Reality
and Perfection of the Nazarite without
the symbol, which perished in that living realization of it: "Such an
High Priest became us, who was Separate from
Sinners" (Heb 7:26).
filled with the Holy Ghost, from …
womb—a holy vessel for future service.
16, 17. A religious and moral reformer,
Elijah-like, he should be (Mal 4:6, where
the "turning of the people's heart to the Lord" is borrowed from 1Ki 18:37). In both cases their success,
though great, was partial—the nation was not
17. before him—before "the Lord their
1:16). By comparing this with
3:1 and Isa 40:3, it is
plainly "Jehovah" in the flesh of Messiah [Calvin and Olshausen]
before whom John was to go as a herald to announce His approach,
and a pioneer o prepare His way.
in the spirit—after the model.
and power of Elias—not his miraculous
power, for John did no miracle" (Joh 10:41), but his power "turning the heart," or
with like success in his ministry. Both fell on degenerate times; both
witnessed fearlessly for God; neither appeared much save in the direct
exercise of their ministry; both were at the head of schools of
disciples; the success of both was similar.
fathers to the children—taken
literally, this denotes the restoration of parental
fidelity [Meyer and others], the
decay of which is the beginning of religious and social
corruption—one prominent feature of the coming revival being put
for the whole. But what follows, explanatory of this, rather suggests a
figurative sense. If "the disobedient" be "the children," and to
"the fathers" belongs "the wisdom of the just" [Bengel], the meaning will be, "he shall bring back
the ancient spirit of the nation into their degenerate children" [Calvin, &c.]. So Elijah invoked "the
God Abraham, Isaac, and Israel," when seeking to "turn their heart
back again" (1Ki 18:36, 37).
to make ready, &c.—more clearly,
"to make ready for the Lord a prepared people," to have in readiness a
people prepared to welcome Him. Such preparation requires, in every age
and every soul, an operation corresponding to the Baptist's
18. Whereby, &c.—Mary believed what
was far harder without a sign. Abraham, though older, and doubtless
Sarah, too, when the same promise was made to him, "staggered not at
the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving
glory to God." This was that in which Zacharias failed.
19. Gabriel—signifying "man of God," the
same who appeared to Daniel at the time of incense (Da 9:21) and to Mary (Lu 1:26).
stand, &c.—as his attendant
(compare 1Ki 17:1).
not able—deprived of the power of
1:64). He asked a
sign, and now he got it.
until the day that these things shall be
performed—See on Lu 1:64.
21. waited—to receive from him the usual
benediction (Nu 6:23-27).
tarried so long—It was not usual to
tarry long, lest it should be thought vengeance had stricken the
people's representative for something wrong [Lightfoot].
22. speechless—dumb, and deaf also (see
24. hid five months—till the event was
put beyond doubt and became apparent.
Lu 1:26-38. Annunciation of
(See on Mt 1:18-21).
26. sixth month—of Elisabeth's time.
Joseph, of the house of David—(See on
28. highly favoured—a word only once
used elsewhere (Eph 1:6, "made
accepted"): compare Lu 1:30,
"Thou hast found favour with God." The mistake of the Vulgate's
rendering, "full of grace," has been taken abundant advantage of by the
Romish Church. As the mother of our Lord, she was the most "blessed
among women" in external distinction; but let them listen to the Lord's
own words. "Nay, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and
keep it." (See on Lu 11:27).
31. The angel purposely conforms his language
to Isaiah's famous prophecy (Isa 7:14) [Calvin].
32, 33. This is but an echo of the sublime
prediction in Isa 9:6, 7.
34. How, &c.—not the unbelief of
Zacharias, "Whereby shall I know this?" but, taking the fact for
granted, "How is it to be, so contrary to the unbroken law of
human birth?" Instead of reproof, therefore, her question is answered
in mysterious detail.
35. Holy Ghost—(See on Mt 1:18).
power of the highest—the immediate
energy of the Godhead conveyed by the Holy Ghost.
overshadow—a word suggesting how
gentle, while yet efficacious, would be this Power [Bengel]; and its mysterious secrecy, withdrawn, as
if by a cloud, from human scrutiny [Calvin].
that holy thing born of thee—that holy
Offspring of thine.
therefore … Son of God—That
Christ is the Son of God in His divine and eternal nature is clear from
all the New Testament; yet here we see that Sonship efflorescing into
human and palpable manifestation by His being born, through "the power
of the Highest," an Infant of days. We must neither think of a
double Sonship, as some do, harshly and without all ground, nor
deny what is here plainly expressed, the connection between His human
birth and His proper personal Sonship.
36. thy cousin—"relative," but how near
the word says not.
conceived, &c.—This was to Mary an
unsought sign, in reward of her faith.
37. For, &c.—referring to what was
said by the angel to Abraham in like case (Ge 18:14), to strengthen her faith.
38. Marvellous faith in such
Lu 1:39-56. Visit of Mary
39. hill country—the mountainous tract
running along the middle of Judea, from north to south [Webster and Wilkinson].
with haste—transported with the
announcement to herself and with the tidings, now first made known to
her, of Elisabeth's condition.
a city of Juda—probably Hebron (see
40. saluted Elisabeth—now returned from
her seclusion (Lu 1:24).
41. babe leaped—From Lu 1:44 it is plain that this maternal sensation
was something extraordinary—a sympathetic emotion of the
unconscious babe, at the presence of the mother of his Lord.
42-44. What beautiful superiority to
envy have we here! High as was the distinction conferred upon
herself, Elisabeth loses sight of it altogether, in presence of one
more honored still; upon whom, with her unborn Babe, in an ecstasy of
inspiration, she pronounces a benediction, feeling it to be a wonder
unaccountable that "the mother of her Lord should come to her."
"Turn this as we will, we shall never be able to see the propriety of
calling an unborn child "Lord," but by supposing Elisabeth, like the
prophets of old, enlightened to perceive the Messiah's Divine
43. "The mother of my Lord"—but
not "My Lady" (compare Lu 20:42; Joh 20:28)" [Bengel].
45. An additional benediction on the Virgin
for her implicit faith, in tacit and delicate contrast with her own
for—rather, as in the Margin,
46-55. A magnificent canticle, in which the
strain of Hannah's ancient song, in like circumstances, is caught up,
and just slightly modified and sublimed. Is it unnatural to suppose
that the spirit of the blessed Virgin had been drawn beforehand into
mysterious sympathy with the ideas and the tone of this hymn, so that
when the life and fire of inspiration penetrated her whole soul it
spontaneously swept the chorus of this song, enriching the Hymnal of
the Church with that spirit-stirring canticle which has resounded ever
since from its temple walls? In both songs, those holy women, filled
with wonder to behold "the proud, the mighty, the rich," passed by,
and, in their persons the lowliest chosen to usher in the greatest
events, sing of this as no capricious movement, but a great law of
the kingdom of God, by which He delights to "put down the mighty
from their seats and exalt them of low degree." In both songs the
strain dies away on Christ; in Hannah's
under the name of "Jehovah's King"—to whom, through all His line,
from David onwards to Himself, He will "give strength"; His "Anointed,"
whose horn He will exalt (1Sa 2:10); in
the Virgin's song, it is as the "Help" promised to Israel by all the
My soul … my spirit—"all that is
within me" (Ps 103:1).
47. my Saviour—Mary, poor heart, never
dreamt, we see, of her own "immaculate conception"—in the
offensive language of the Romanists—any more than of her own
54. holpen—Compare Ps 89:19, "I have laid help on One that is
55. As he spake to our fathers—The
sense requires this clause to be read as a parenthesis. (Compare
7:20; Ps 98:3).
for ever—the perpetuity of Messiah's
kingdom, as expressly promised by the angel (Lu 1:33).
56. abode with her about three
months—What an honored roof was that which, for such a
period, overarched these cousins! and yet not a trace of it is now to
be seen, while the progeny of those two women—the one but the
honored pioneer of the other—have made the world new.
returned to her own house—at Nazareth,
after which took place what is recorded in Mt 1:18-25.
Lu 1:57-80. Birth and
Circumcision of John—Song of
Zacharias and Progress of the Child.
59. eighth day—The law (Ge 17:12) was observed, even though the eighth
day after birth should be a sabbath (Joh 7:23; and see Php 3:5).
called him—literally, "were
calling"—that is, (as we should say) "were for calling." The
naming of children at baptism has its origin in the Jewish
custom at circumcision (Ge 21:3, 4); and the names of Abram and Sarai were
changed at its first performance (Ge 17:5, 15).
62. made signs—showing he was deaf, as
well as dumb.
63. marvelled all—at his giving the same
name, not knowing of any communication between them on the subject.
64. mouth opened immediately—on thus
palpably showing his full faith in the vision, for disbelieving which
he had been struck dumb (Lu 1:13, 20).
65. fear—religious awe; under the
impression that God's hand was specially in these events (compare Lu 5:26;
66. hand of the Lord was with him—by
special tokens marking him out as one destined to some great work
(1Ki 18:46; 2Ki 3:15; Ac 11:21).
68-79. There is not a word in this noble burst
of divine song about his own child; like Elisabeth losing sight
entirely of self, in the glory of a Greater than both.
Lord God of Israel—the ancient
covenant God of the peculiar people.
visited and redeemed—that is, in order
to redeem: returned after long absence, and broken His long silence
15:31). In the Old Testament,
God is said to "visit" chiefly for judgment, in the New
Testament for mercy. Zacharias would, as yet, have but imperfect
views of such "visiting and redeeming," "saving from and delivering out
of the hand of enemies" (Lu 1:71, 74). But this Old Testament phraseology,
used at first with a lower reference, is, when viewed in the
light of a loftier and more comprehensive kingdom of God, equally
adapted to express the most spiritual conceptions of the redemption
that is in Christ Jesus.
69. horn of salvation—that is "strength
of salvation," or "mighty Salvation," meaning the Saviour Himself, whom
Simeon calls "Thy Salvation" (Lu 2:30). The metaphor is taken from those
animals whose strength is in their horns (Ps 18:2;
house of … David—This shows
that Mary must have been known to be of the royal line, independent
of Joseph; of whom Zacharias, if he knew anything, could not know that
after this he would recognize Mary.
70. since the world began—or, "from the
72. the mercy promised … his holy covenant
73. the oath … to …
Abraham—The whole work and kingdom of Messiah is represented
as a mercy pledged on oath to Abraham and his seed, to be realized at
an appointed period; and at length, in "the fulness of the time,"
gloriously made good. Hence, not only "grace," or the
thing promised; but "truth," or fidelity to the
promise, are said to "come by Jesus Christ" (Joh 1:17).
74, 75. That he would grant us,
&c.—How comprehensive is the view here given! (1) The
purpose of all redemption—"that we should serve
Him"—that is, "the Lord God of Israel" (Lu 1:68). The word signifies religious
service distinctively—"the priesthood of the New
Testament" [Bengel]. (2) The
nature of this service—"in holiness and righteousness
before Him" (Lu 1:75)—or, as in His presence (compare
56:13). (3) Its
freedom—"being delivered out of the hand of our enemies."
(4) Its fearlessness—"might serve Him without fear." (5)
Its duration—"all the days of our life."
76-79. Here are the dying echoes of this song;
and very beautiful are these closing notes—like the setting sun,
shorn indeed of its noontide radiance, but skirting the horizon with a
wavy and quivering light—as of molten gold—on which the eye
delights to gaze, till it disappears from the view. The song passes not
here from Christ to John, but only from Christ direct to Christ as
heralded by His forerunner.
thou child—not "my son"—this
child's relation to himself being lost in his relation to a Greater
prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before
him—that is, "the Highest." As "the Most High" is an epithet
in Scripture only of the supreme God, it is inconceivable that
inspiration should apply this term, as here undeniably, to Christ,
unless He were "God over all blessed for ever" (Ro 9:5).
77. to give knowledge of salvation—To
sound the note of a needed and provided "salvation" was
the noble office of John, above all that preceded him; as it is that of
all subsequent ministers of Christ; but infinitely loftier was it to be
the "Salvation" itself (Lu 1:69 and Lu 2:30).
by the remission of … sins—This
stamps at once the spiritual nature of the salvation here
intended, and explains Lu 1:71, 74.
78. Through the tender mercy of our
God—the sole spring, necessarily, of all salvation for
dayspring from on high—either
Christ Himself, as the "Sun of righteousness" (Mal 4:2), arising on a dark world [Beza, Grotius, Calvin, De
Wette, Olshausen, &c.], or
the light which He sheds. The sense, of course, is one.
79. (Compare Isa 9:2; Mt 4:13-17). "That St. Luke, of all the
Evangelists, should have obtained and recorded these inspired
utterances of Zacharias and Mary—is in accordance with his
character and habits, as indicated in Lu 1:1-4" [Webster
80. And the child, &c.—"a concluding
paragraph, indicating, in strokes full of grandeur, the bodily and
mental development of the Baptist; and bringing his life up to the
period of his public appearance" [Olshausen].
in the deserts—probably "the
wilderness of Judea" (Mt 3:1),
whither he had retired early in life, in the Nazarite spirit,
and where, free from rabbinical influences and alone with God, his
spirit would be educated, like Moses in the desert, for his future high
his showing unto Israel—the
presentation of himself before his nation, as Messiah's forerunner.