The Birth of John the Baptist

03 May
John the Baptist - Birth

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John the Baptist was one of the seven people God named before they were born.[1] He was six months older than Jesus, because Elizabeth was pregnant with him in her sixth month when Mary conceived. John would later be killed by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, because John had been critical of him for marrying Herodias, his brother’s (Herod Philip’s) wife. Jesus said there was no greater prophet than John the Baptist, yet only Luke mentions the details surrounding his birth. Josephus tells us that about eight years after John’s death: Antipas was at war with King Aretas, his former father-in-law, whose daughter Herod had divorced in order to marry Herodias. Antipas lost that war taking heavy casualties and losing his authority and presence in key areas where his land bordered that of King Aretas. The Jewish people were convinced Herod’s defeat was punishment from God for killing John the Baptist. What can we know of John?

When Elizabeth’s time had come (Luke 1:57-58), she gave birth to John, just as the angel had predicted (Luke 1:13; cf. Numbers 23:19). On the eighth day of his life the child was given a name and circumcised, according to the Law of Moses (Luke 1:59; Leviticus 12:2-3) and God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:12; 21:3-4). They came, that is, Elizabeth’s neighbors and cousins, to circumcise the babe and wanted to name the child Zechariah after his father, but Elizabeth protested (Luke 1:58-60). Zechariah was unable to speak and probably couldn’t hear (Luke 1:62) and, therefore, couldn’t officiate in blessing the child. Zechariah’s name was chosen by the neighbors and relatives, probably because it means God remembers, meaning God remembered his promise to give a child to righteous Zechariah and Elizabeth (cf. Deuteronomy 7:14).

The name, John, was chosen for the child (Luke 1:60, 63; cf. v.13), because God named him before his birth. However, the meaning of John’s name is also important. John or Jehohanan (Johanan) means grace or mercy of God. Zechariah and Elizabeth were chosen as John’s parents by the grace or mercy of God to do their part in work of grace, which God intended to bestow upon his people, the Jews.

Three prophecies were fulfilled at this point (Luke 1:63-64). First, Gabriel foretold: “…many will rejoice at his birth,” and it was at John’s birth that Elizabeth’s pregnancy had become known (Luke 1:14; cf. v. 58). Notice that the text says in Luke 1:57 that Elizabeth’s time had come and she gave birth. Then, in verse-58, her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord’s grace had been with her, and they rejoiced. Nothing is said of their rejoicing before that time. It seems Elizabeth hid herself (Luke 1:24) for her entire pregnancy, and, except for Mary’s visit, no one seems to have been aware of Elizabeth’s condition.

Second, Gabriel (in God’s stead) named the babe, John (Luke 1:13). Elizabeth protested the neighbor’s and relatives’ choice of the name Zechariah, saying his name is John (Luke 1:60). When Zechariah confirmed her words by writing, John, on a tablet, the matter was settled, and all marveled (Luke 1:63).

Finally, the angel told Zechariah he would be speechless until the all things were fulfilled (Luke 1:20), and on the very day of John’s circumcision, when the child received his name, Gabriel’s prophecy was fulfilled, and Zechariah opened his mouth in praise to God for the first time since the angel’s appearance in the Temple (Luke 1:64).

There is reason to believe that both Zechariah’s silence and his later sudden ability to speak were signs to his relatives, neighbors and people round about, who had heard about John’s birth. First, when Zechariah came out of the Temple after seeing the angel, the people assumed he had seen a vision from heaven, because he was unable to speak (Luke 1:22), which was a sign to those present and later to those who had heard that God was at work in some way with his people.

Secondly, after Zechariah was able to speak for the first time in 9 months, all were again amazed, seeing this as a sign of God’s work to come, and they wondered what manner of man John would be (Luke 1:66). Therefore, everyone was expecting the Lord to do even more through John, because of what Zechariah claimed in his song of praise to God (Luke 1:64-66).


[1] Ishmael, Isaac, Solomon, Josiah, Cyrus, John the Baptist and Jesus.

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Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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