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 Christianity.
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 ( Acts 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 thoroughly."
hast been instructed--orally instructed--literally, "catechized" or "catechetically taught," at first as a catechumen or candidate for Christian baptism.
Luke 1:5-25 . ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE FORERUNNER.
course of Abia--or Abijah; the eighth of the twenty-four orders of courses into which David divided the priests (see 1 Chronicles 24:1 1 Chronicles 24:4 1 Chronicles 24:10 ). Of these courses only four returned after the captivity ( Ezra 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 Ezekiel 11:20 , Hebrews 9:1 ). It has been denied that any such distinction was known to the Jews and New Testament writers. But Mark 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 ( Revelation 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 ( Leviticus 16:12 Leviticus 16:13 ). 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 Psalms 141:2 , Revelation 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 savor" ( Ephesians 5:2 ), is evident from Isaiah 6:6 Isaiah 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 ( Matthew 25:33 ) [SCHOTTGEN and WESTEIN in MEYER]; compare Mark 16:5 .
13. thy prayer is heard--doubtless for offspring, which by some presentiment he even yet had not despaired of.
John--the same as "Johanan," so frequent in the Old Testament, meaning "Jehovah's gracious gift."
15. great in the sight of the Lord--nearer to Him in official standing than all the prophets. (See Matthew 11:10 Matthew 11:11 .)
drink neither wine nor strong drink--that is, shall be a Nazarite, or "a separated one" ( Numbers 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 ( Judges 13:7 ), Samuel ( 1 Samuel 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" ( Hebrews 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 ( Malachi 4:6 , where the "turning of the people's heart to the Lord" is borrowed from 1 Kings 18:37 ). In both cases their success, though great, was partial--the nation was not gained.
17. before him--before "the Lord their God" ( Luke 1:16 ). By comparing this with Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 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" ( John 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" ( 1 Kings 18:36 1 Kings 18:37 ).
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 ministry.
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.
not able--deprived of the power of speech ( Luke 1:64 ). He asked a sign, and now he got it.
until the day that these things shall be
21. waited--to receive from him the usual benediction ( Numbers 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 Luke 1:62 ).
24. hid five months--till the event was put beyond doubt and became apparent.
Luke 1:26-38 . ANNUNCIATION OF CHRIST.
28. highly favoured--a word only once used elsewhere ( Ephesians 1:6 , "made accepted"): compare Luke 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."
31. The angel purposely conforms his language to Isaiah's famous prophecy ( Isaiah 7:14 ) [CALVIN].
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.
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 ( Genesis 18:14 ), to strengthen her faith.
38. Marvellous faith in such circumstances!
Luke 1:39-56 . VISIT OF MARY TO ELISABETH.
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 Joshua 20:7 , 21:11 ).
40. saluted Elisabeth--now returned from her seclusion ( Luke 1:24 ).
41. babe leaped--From Luke 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 nature" [OLSHAUSEN].
45. An additional benediction on the Virgin for her implicit faith, in tacit and delicate contrast with her own husband.
for--rather, as in the Margin, "that."
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 ( 1 Samuel 2:10 ); in the Virgin's song, it is as the "Help" promised to Israel by all the prophets.
My soul . . . my spirit--"all that is within me" ( Psalms 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 immaculate life.
54. holpen--Compare Psalms 89:19 , "I have laid help on One that is mighty."
55. As he spake to our fathers--The sense requires this clause to be read as a parenthesis. (Compare Micah 7:20 , Psalms 98:3 ).
for ever--the perpetuity of Messiah's kingdom, as expressly promised by the angel ( Luke 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 Matthew 1:18-25 .
Luke 1:57-80 . BIRTH AND CIRCUMCISION OF JOHN--SONG OF ZACHARIAS AND PROGRESS OF THE CHILD.
59. eighth day--The law ( Genesis 17:12 ) was observed, even though the eighth day after birth should be a sabbath ( John 7:23 ; and see Philippians 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 ( Genesis 21:3 Genesis 21:4 ); and the names of Abram and Sarai were changed at its first performance ( Genesis 17:5 Genesis 17:15 ).
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.
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 (see Matthew 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" ( Luke 1:71 Luke 1:74 ). 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" ( Luke 2:30 ). The metaphor is taken from those animals whose strength is in their horns ( Psalms 18:2 , 75:10 , 132:17 ).
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 earliest period."
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" ( John 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" ( Luke 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" ( Luke 1:75 )--or, as in His presence (compare Psalms 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 than either.
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" ( Romans 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 ( Luke 1:69 and Luke 2:30 ).
by the remission of . . . sins--This stamps at once the spiritual nature of the salvation here intended, and explains Luke 1:71 Luke 1:74 .
78. Through the tender mercy of our God--the sole spring, necessarily, of all salvation for sinners.
dayspring from on high--either Christ Himself, as the "Sun of righteousness" ( Malachi 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 Isaiah 9:2 , Matthew 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 Luke 1:1-4 " [WEBSTER and WILKINSON].
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" ( Matthew 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 vocation.
his showing unto Israel--the presentation of himself before his nation, as Messiah's forerunner.