In the first chapter of Luke and angel visits the priest Zechariah while he was praying at the altar of incense in the Holy Place of the Temple. In yesterday’s offering, I submitted that Zechariah was praying for the Messiah. The angel told Zechariah that his prayer is answered—the Messiah was coming. To prove to Zechariah that the Messiah was indeed coming in that very generation, the angel promised Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son!
The angel said Zechariah was to name him John, and that the babe would grow to be great and powerful in the Spirit. He would turn many in Israel to God and would prepare the way for the Lord (the Messiah) in the spirit and power of Elijah!
Remembering that Luke is writing to Theophilus, what would this mean to this High Priest? Yesterday, I spoke of the fact that the coming of the Messiah should have been awaited by the priesthood, but it was not. In fact, at the time of the writing of Luke’s Gospel, Theophilus was persecuting those who believed Jesus was the Messiah. However, what would the “spirit and power of Elijah” mean to someone like Theophilus, the High Priest reigning in Jerusalem? The prophet, Elijah, ministered to Israel during a time of apostasy—when all the priests served Baal (1Kings 18:17-21) and not the Lord God!
Luke was showing Theophilus that John, Zechariah’s son, had come in the spirit and power of Elijah, and John’s ministry was to a people who had forgotten their God. The priesthood was corrupt—the high priesthood was appointed by men and not God, showing the office was executed to please men. The angel said John would turn the hearts of many to the God of their fathers, implying this was not the present state of Jewish society as a whole. In fact, the promise that Elijah would come before the day of the LORD—i.e. the day when the Messiah would also be present—comes from the book of Malachi (Malachi 4:5-6). Malachi is a book written to a corrupt priesthood. The priests despised the name of the Lord (Malachi 1:6) and corrupted his table by offering the sick and the lame instead of the best of the flocks and herds (Malachi 1:7-8). As in the days of Elijah, the priests were more interested in gain (the wages of Balaam) than serving God, for they wouldn’t even shut the doors of the Temple or light the fire upon the altar of sacrifice, unless they were paid (Malachi 1:10). There was no love for God in their service and neither was love for God expressed in the service of the present priesthood headed by Theophilus. The implication could not have been overlooked. Pointing to Elijah from the birth of Zechariah’s son and the fact that his birth was predicted by a book that concerned itself with the corruption of the priesthood evoked a theme that would have been self-condemning for Theophilus. If John was Elijah to come and Jesus was the Messiah, Theophilus was rebelling by persecuting those who believed in and followed Jesus. His whole priesthood—his whole family—was an abomination before the Lord, because they had set their hearts to destroy both Jesus and those who followed him. How could Theophilus miss Luke’s careful but unmistakable accusation of sin and call to repentance? He couldn’t, but he refused to submit to his Lord and Messiah and the true High Priest of Israel and the world in general!