THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE
Lesson 1: Introduction and Chapter 1:1-38
Prologue
and
The Preparation for the Advent of the Redeemer-Messiah>

Almighty God and Father,
From the beginning of time as we know it, You have loved mankind as a father loves his children. Even when Your first children became disobedient and turned away from Your guiding hand, taking upon themselves the sovereignty over their lives in deciding what was good and what was evil, You did not abandon man to what he deserved. Instead, You laid the foundation for the path to salvation in Your promise that one day a man, born from a woman, would break the power of Satan and restore man to the destiny for which he had been created "eternal fellowship with his Eternal Father. Send Your Spirit to guide us, Eternal Father, as we study the events in the history of man which became the hinge upon which all of salvation history turns "the Incarnation and salvation mission of the Son of God. We pray in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servants "All who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Isaiah 56:6-7

All Bible quotations are from the New American Bible unless otherwise designated IBGE (Interlineal Bible Greek-English), or IBHE (Interlineal Bible Hebrew-English), or NJB (New Jerusalem Bible).

INTRODUCTION

The Gospel According to St. Luke is written by a man believed to be the only Gentile, Holy Spirit inspired New Testament writer who carefully researched and recorded the events of Jesus' life and ministry for his target audience of Gentile Christians. It is also the only Gospel that is a two-part work "the second part being the Acts of Apostles. St. Luke's Gospel provides the longest and most complete account of the advent and earthly life of the Messiah "from the divine announcement and birth of His precursor, St. John the Baptist, to the Annunciation, birth and early childhood of Jesus, to His ministry to the lost sheep of Israel, and finally with the climax of His Gospel in Jesus' victorious death, glorious Resurrection and heavenly Ascension.

Authorship

The oldest title of this Gospel is "The Gospel According to Luke," stressing that even though the work is anonymous it was believed that the identity of the inspired writer was St. Luke, the companion of St. Paul (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11). The oldest references to Luke as the author of the third Gospel identifies him as from the Christian community of Sts. Paul and Barabbas in Antioch, Syria (Acts 12:19-26) and is found in an ancient Greek prologue stating "this is Luke the Syrian Antiochean" (estin ho Lukeas Antiocheus Sysros), and later in the Latin form Lucas Antiochensis Syrus. Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in the Holy Land records the same tradition in his 4th century AD Church History where he writes: Loukas de to men genos on ton ap', "by descent Luke was of those from Antioch" (History Eccl., 3.4.6), and in the 5th century St. Jerome repeats the same information concerning St. Luke (De vir. Ill 7). It is from this tradition that scholars, ancient and modern, have assumed that Luke was a Greek Gentile convert. Flavius Josephus wrote that Antioch (Syria) was a prosperous Hellenistic (Greek culture) city that was the capital of Syria, "ranking third among the cities of the Roman world because of its size and prosperity" (The Jewish Wars, 3.2.4 [29]).

Luke has been identified as the writer from the so-called "we passages" in the Book of Acts (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18 and 27:1-28:16). The writer of Acts mostly writes from a third-person perspective, but in the "we passages" he changes to the first person, an indication that he was personally an eyewitness to the events and was a traveling companion of St. Paul. Additional evidence cited is that Luke is not mentioned by name in any of the "we passages" when the indication is that he is among Paul's companions, which suggests that he is the likely companion who recorded the events.

Some scholars have suggested that St. Luke was a Hellenistic Jew, but most scholars identify him as a Gentile convert. The Church Fathers unanimously identify the writer as St. Luke, the doctor and companion of St. Paul on his missionary journeys:

Dating the Gospel of Luke

Bible scholars are generally of two opinions on the dating of the Gospel of Luke. Some scholars favor a later date, placing the work after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. These scholars claim that Luke 21:20 is an accurate historical description of the Roman siege of the city in 70 AD. However, Luke's Gospel does not describe the Roman army's destruction of Jerusalem but only gives Jesus' prophecy the city's siege by a foreign army. These "late date" scholars assume that predictive prophecy is impossible. Other scholars, however, date the writing of the book prior to 70 AD and suggest a date between 58 and 63 or perhaps 67 AD, referring to Bishop Irenaeus' testimony that the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John were written after the deaths of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome that occurred in 64/67 AD. They also offer the argument which points out, if Jesus' destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple had been fulfilled as He had prophesied, the inspired writers would surely have noted the accuracy of His prophecy. The accuracy of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy is continually stressed in all the Gospels. Scholars who prefer the earlier dates also cite the historical evidence in the Book of Acts that can be corroborated by secular documents and the fact that Luke's Gospel was written before the book of Acts. The last chapter of Acts ends abruptly with St. Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, which can be dated to c. 63 AD, prior to the great fire that destroyed much of Rome in 64 AD that began Rome's organized persecution of Christians during the reign of the Emperor Nero. In the Book of Acts the Romans are more or less ambivalent toward Christians and Paul is even rescued by Roman offcials (Acts 21:30-32).

The Literary Structure and Themes of the Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke is considered one of the Synoptic Gospels. The word "synoptic" is from the Greek and means "at a glance." This term is used for the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke because they follow the same general plan and reflect similarities in the events related in the account of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. However, about half of St. Luke's information about the life of Jesus is exclusively his own:

  1. St. Luke contains information about the announcement and the birth of St. John the Baptist that is not in the other Gospels.
  2. There is also detailed information about the Annunciation and birth of Jesus and His presentation at the Temple that is not found in the other Gospels.
  3. In addition, St. Luke records in detail Jesus' final journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27), which contains many parables not found in the other Gospels.

The Gospel of Luke emphasizes Jesus' humanity and compassion. He is the "Son of Man" who fulfills the ideal of human perfection and who identifies with the sorrow and suffering of a sinful humanity. Luke relates that Jesus, the perfected Son of Man who is Divine the Son of God, willingly took humanity's suffering upon Himself to accomplish His work of salvation. Finally, St. Luke places special emphasis on the universality of Jesus' Gospel message of salvation. He is the Messiah prophesied by the prophets (Lk 24:27; 44-45) who came to save and to minister to people of all nations through the power of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus of Nazareth is not just the promised Redeemer-Messiah of the Jews; He is the Savior of the whole world:

  1. ... a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel (Simeon's prophecy in Lk 2:32).
  2. Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Jesus to the Apostles on Resurrection Sunday, Lk 24:47).

The Importance of the titles "Son of God" and "Son of Man" in St. Luke's Gospel

 

The title "Son of Man" is Jesus' favorite title for Himself. In the Gospel of Luke He uses this title for Himself 25 times and it is used a 26th time by the angel at the tomb after Jesus' Resurrection when he repeats Jesus' prophecy that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day (see Lk 5:24; 6:5, 22; 7:34; 9:22, 26; 9:44, 56, 58; 11:30; 12:8, 10, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, 31; 19:10; 21:27, 36; 22:22, 48, 69 and 24:7).(1) Jesus does not use the title "Son of God" of Himself, but it is used about Him by others: for example by the angel Gabriel (2:32 = "Son of the Most High"), by Satan (4:3, 9), by demons (4:41), by a man possessed by a demon (8:28), by the elders who ask if He is indeed the Son of God at His trial before the Sanhedrin (22:70), and by God the Father who calls Jesus "Son" at His baptism (9:35).

In the Old Testament the title "son(s) of God" indicated a special relationship with the Almighty. The heavenly messengers (in Greek angelos) are called "sons" of God in the Book of Job (1:6, 2:1 and 38:7). It was also a title given to a Judahite king at his enthronement (Is 9:5; Ps 2:7; 89:27; 110:3) based on God's promise to David that his heir would be a "son" of God, beginning with Solomon (2 Sam 7:14; 1 Chr 17:13). It is for this reason that Jesus deserved the title "Son of God" both in His divinity and in His humanity as the Davidic heir and rightful King of Israel. However, the covenant people of Israel were also designated collective "sons" and "daughters" of God. In Exodus 4:22, Hosea 11:1, and in Jeremiah 31:20 the term "son" is used in the singular for the collective sonship of Israel and in Hosea 2:1, Isaiah 1:2, and Jeremiah 3:19 in the plural.

In the New Testament Gospels and Epistles, the title "Son of God" takes on a meaning not conveyed in the Old Testament. In the New Testament the title expresses a unique relationship that identifies Jesus of Nazareth as God as the Father's "only begotten son" (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18). From the beginning the title "Son of God" characterized Jesus and His mission. St. John declares that Jesus' title "Son of God" is the focus of the Jewish authorities' opposition to Jesus because it identifies His claim as the promised Messiah (Jn 5:18-20; 10:33; and 19:7). Jesus identifies those who make peace and those who love so genuinely as to offer God's love to their enemies as "sons" (and daughters) of God in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:9 and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:35.

In St. Luke's Gospel, as in the other Gospels, the title "Son" is also expressed in Jesus' favorite title for Himself ""Son of Man." At first it seems it is only a title that points to Jesus' perfect humanity as the son of Abraham through the Virgin Mary. It was a title God used in addressing the prophets Ezekiel (i.e., Ez 2:1, 3, 6, 8; etc. for a total of 92 times) and Daniel (in Dan 8:17) as descendants of Adam and members of the family of man. However, Jesus uses the title for Himself with special prophetic emphasis that is not evident until the climax of His trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. In the Gospels Jesus calls God "My Father" (i.e. Mt 10:32-33; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10, 19, 35; 26:39, 42, 53; Mk 14:36; Lk 10:21-22; 22:29, 42; 23:34, 46; Jn 5:17; 6:32, 44; 8:19, 38, 54; 14:28; 15:15; 20:17; etc.), but Jesus distances Himself from the controversy surrounding the title "Son of God" until His trial before the Jewish Law Court in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin.

In His trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus finally acknowledges His unique relationship to God as Father by quoting from the prophecy of the Davidic Messiah in Psalms 110:1 and by using the title "Son of Man" for Himself in the context of Daniel 7:13-14, leaving no doubt of His claim to a Divine messiahship and sending the High Priest into a rage that ends in Jesus' condemnation under the charge of blasphemy (Mt 26:63-66; Mk 14:61-62; Lk 22:68-71). In quoting from Daniel 7:14 and applying that verse to Himself, Jesus reveals that He is using the title "Son of Man" to declare Himself the fulfillment of the vision of the prophet Daniel "He is the promised Redeemer-Messiah, the Divine Son of Man to whom all power and authority in heaven and on earth has been given: As the visions during the night continued, I saw one like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven. When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, he received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:14). And, it is the same vision of the Son of Man as Divine Messiah that St. Stephen witness as he is martyred for his faith when he declares: Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56).

But in the end, it is the Gentile Roman officer in charge of Jesus' crucifixion who glorified God and said, "This man was innocent beyond doubt" (Lk 23:47) and announces to the world: Truly this man was the Son of God (Mk 15:39), a fulfillment of the prophecy that the Gentile nations would come to do homage to the promised Davidic Messiah (see Is 66:18-21; Ez 34:13). After His Resurrection, Jesus' disciples identified Jesus in their preaching as Davidic Messiah, the Lord, and the true "Son of God" (i.e., Acts 3:13, 26; 8:37; 9:20; Rom 1:3; 1:4; etc.). It is for this reason that His title as "Son" is primarily used by the Church after Easter, for it is after His Resurrection and Ascension that Jesus is enthroned in the Heavenly Sanctuary as the "Son of God" and "King of Kings": ...but in our time, the final days, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the ages. He is the reflection of God's glory and bears the impress of God's own being, sustaining all things by his powerful command; and now that he has purged sins away, he has taken his seat at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high. So he is now as far above the angles as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name (Heb 1:2-4).

Summary Outline of the Gospel of Luke

Biblical Period # 12 The Messianic Age
Covenant Sinai Covenant --> New Covenant in Christ Jesus
Focus Jesus is the Son of God who came to bring salvation to all mankind
Scripture 1:1------------4:14--------------------9:51------------19:28--------24:53
Division of Text Introduction of the Son Ministry & Reception of the Son Rejection of the Son Victory of the Son
Topic 1. Prologue
2. Birth Narratives
3. Preparation for ministry
1. Ministry in the Galilee
2. Transfiguration
3. Prophesies of His Passion
1. Journey to Jerusalem
2. Teachings, healings and parables
1. Teaching in Jerusalem
2. Last Supper
3. Crucifixion
4. Resurrection
5. Ascension
Location Judea and the Galilee Samaria & Judea Jerusalem in Judea
Time 3/2 BC - 30 AD

 

Chapter 1

Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the Temple the LORD whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming and who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner's fire, or like the fuller's lye. He will sit refining and purifying [silver], and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord
Malachi 3:1-3

Chapter 1 is divided into five parts:

  1. Prologue (verses 1-4)
  2. The birth of John the Baptist foretold (verses 5-25)
  3. The Annunciation (verses 26-38)
  4. The Visitation (verses 39-56)
  5. The birth of St. John the Baptist (verses 57-80)

Luke 1:1-4 ~ The Prologue
1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, 3 I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings [katecheo] you have received.
[..] = literal translation (IBGE, vol. IV, page).

St. Luke begins his prologue by mentioning that there are other gospels recording the events of Jesus' life. Some scholars count as many as 34 different gospels written within the first 2-3 centuries of the Church while others count more. However, the Church has always maintained, and as Origen, the head of the Christian school of Catechesis in Alexandria, Egypt testified, from the very beginning of the Church only four Gospels were acknowledged as Holy Spirit inspired: As to the four Gospels, which alone are indisputable in the Church of God under heaven ....

St. Luke's Gospel is not the only Gospel to begin with a prologue, but it is the only Gospel to begin with a formal literary prologue that was common in secular documents of the time; see for example Flavius Josephus' Greek prologue to Against Apion, 1.1 [1-3] in which Josephus dedicates his work to "most excellent Epaphroditus" just as Luke dedicates his work to "most excellent Theophilus." Josephus also dedicated his companion work to the same man, writing: "In the first volume of this work, most esteemed Epaphroditus, I proved the antiquity of our race ..." (Against Apion, 2.1[1]), just as St. Luke dedicates his second work to the same person: In the first book. Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught ... (Acts 1:1).

Who was Theophilus?

  1. Some have suggested his was Luke's patron who was funding the publication (handwritten) of his Gospel (and later the companion work Acts of Apostles; see Acts 1:1).
  2. Others have suggested the name of the benefactor or the man honored by the dedication is substituted by the code name "theo-philus", in Greek literally meaning "God-lover" (and sometimes translated "friend of God"), in order to protect his identity.
  3. Still others have suggested the name "God-lover" in the dedication refers to all believers in Christ Jesus.

Theophilus is a proper name that was commonly in use from the time of the 3rd century BC on. It was a name given both Greek culture Gentiles and Jews (Fr. Jospeh A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke, page 299). There is no reason to assume Theophilus was not the name of someone Luke knew; however, theophilus, "God-lover," also identifies the Christian readers who were contemporaries of St. Luke and all generations of Christians who continue to read St. Luke's account of Jesus' life and ministry.

Question: What three qualities is Luke claiming in the record of his Gospel account?
Answer: He claims he has done his "homework" and presents an account that is

  1. Thorough ("eyewitnesses from the beginning")
  2. Accurate ("investigating everything accurately anew")
  3. Orderly account that is complete ("to write it down in an orderly sequence")

Question: In verse 3 what does St. Luke present as his purpose for writing down his account of the life and ministry of Jesus?
Answer: Luke presents his intent to defend the teaching/instruction Theophilus has received.

Luke's intent is to defend the catechesis (from the Latin) Theophilus has received as a Gentile convert to the faith. In Greek the noun katecheo/katechizo or the verb katechein ("to catechize)" means "to teach by word of mouth" (John Hardon, S.J., Catholic Dictionary, page 63). See the use of the verb katechein in Acts 18:25; 21:21 and 24 (also see Rom 2:18; Gal 6:6).

Luke 1:5-25 ~ The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years. 8 Once when he was serving as priest in his division's turn before God, 9 according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. 10 Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, 11 the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zechariah was troubled by what he saw and fear came upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, 16 and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord."18 Then Zechariah said to the angel, How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." 19 And the angel said to him in reply, "I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news [euangelizesthai]. 20 But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time." 21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute. 23 Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home. 24 After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, 25 "So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others."

In his Gospel and in the Book of Acts St. Luke mentions historical events and important people to establish the timeframe of the story. He opens the Gospel account by setting the time "during the reign of Herod the Great. At the time the events of Jesus life took place, Judea was no longer an independent state. The Roman Empire extended from England to Egypt and from Portugal to the border of Persia. Herod the son of Antipater was an Idumaean (a descendant of Esau) selected to rule the Roman vassal province of Judea by the Roman Senate in 40 BC. Herod, however, had to subdue Jewish resistance to his rule and therefore didn't become the "king of the Jews" until 37 BC. Herod was an able ruler but a cruel and vindictive man. Augustus Caesar quipped that it was better to be Herod's pig than his son. Herod observed the Jewish practice of abstaining from pig flesh, but he killed three of his sons and a wife, among others. He died with no one to mourn him in c. 1 BC.(2) St. Matthew also dates the events of Jesus' birth within the reign of Herod the Great, but he includes the information that Jesus was born shortly before the death of Herod (Mt 2:1, 15, 19-22).

The priest Zechariah had traveled with his brother priests of the clan of Abijah to Yahweh's holy Temple in the city of Jerusalem. In the time of King David, the chief priestly families had been divided into 24 courses or clans (1 Chr 24:3-4, 10, 19) as had been the lesser ministers of the Levites (23:1-32; 24:20-25:31). It was the duty of the clans of the ministerial priesthood and the lesser ministers to serve two weeks a year in the Temple's daily liturgical services and for all the clans to be present to serve during the holy annual feast days. According to tradition, Zechariah lived in the village of Ein Kerem. He traveled the four miles from his village to the holy city of Jerusalem to fulfill the week-long obligation to serve God in the communal offering of the Tamid lambs in the twice daily worship services and to offer the other necessary sacrifices at the holy Jerusalem Temple.(3)

Zechariah's name in Hebrew (Zekaryah) is a theophoric name (a name containing the name of the deity) and means "Yahweh remembers." Zechariah's wife's name in Hebrew (Eliseba) means "God's oath" or "God is my oath."

Question: What significant detail does Luke include concerning the ancestry of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth? Ex 6:23; 28:1-4 and Sir 45:6/7-15/19.
Answer: They are both descendants of Israel's first high priest, Aaron. Only Aaron's descendants could serve as chief priests. Elizabeth has the same name as Aaron's wife.

The Temple on Mt. Moriah in the city of Jerusalem was the only place on earth where right worship and sacrifice could be offered to Yahweh, the One True God (Dt 12:8-12; 2 Sam 24:18-25; 1 Chr 21:18-22:1; 2 Chr 3:1). The last time this elderly descendant of Aaron served in the Temple was probably during the most recent pilgrim feast when all the priestly clans were required to present themselves for service to Yahweh.(4) Zechariah had reached a venerable old age, and he knew his years of serving God in His holy Temple were coming to an end.

Zechariah understood that his most important Temple duty was service in the daily worship which surrounded the sacrifice of the Tamid lambs. The Hebrew word tamid means "standing" as in continual or perpetual. The Tamid sacrifice was the first communal sacrifice God established at Mt. Sinai before the sin of the Golden Calf (Ex 29:39-42). This very holy sacrifice, which took precedence over all other sacrifices, required a liturgical service in concert with the daily offering of two unblemished male lambs. One lamb was offered in the morning and the second lamb was offered in the afternoon. This perpetual sacrifice was to be kept burning on the altar continually day and night so long as the Sinai Covenant endured.

The blood of the Tamid lamb atoned for the communal sins of the covenant people, sanctified the covenant people, and re-established fellowship with God. No other sacrifice was as important as the daily sacrifice of the Tamid lambs, which was entirely consumed in the altar fire, each lamb offered with unleavened flour mixed with oil, with a priestly offering of an unleavened wafer-like griddle cake and a red wine libation (Ex 29:38-43; Lev 6:13-16/20-23; Mishnah: Tamid). The Tamid was to be offered daily without exception; all other sacrifices were to be offered "in addition to" the Tamid, even the sacrifices of the annual feasts like the Passover ("in addition" repeated 15 times in Num 28:4-29:39). The burning of the morning and afternoon Tamid on the holy Altar of Burnt Offerings was to be accompanied by the offering of the sacred incense which was burned in the Sanctuary Holy Place on the golden Incense Altar by the reigning high priest or his designated representative who was selected by lot. The selection by lot was considered to be a decision by Divine decree (see Lev 16:9-10; Num 26:55-56; Acts 1:26). The incense was offered in the morning service before the sacrificed male lamb was placed on the altar fire and in the afternoon service the incense was offered after the unblemished male lamb was placed on the altar fire.

The Jewish day was divided into 12 seasonal hours (Jn 11:9); since the day began at sundown, their "evening" is our afternoon. The Tamid was the communal single sacrifice of two lambs for the atonement and sanctification of the covenant people (Ex 29:38-42; Num 28:3-8). The order of the morning and afternoon Tamid worship service during "ordinary time":

When Zechariah and his kinsmen arrived at the Temple on the Sabbath to begin their week of service, the clan was divided into seven groups of priests, each group assigned to one day of service (see the charts on the division of the Jewish day and the chart on the schedule of the Tamid worship service in the Charts section). For Zechariah and the other priests assigned to that particular day's Tamid worship service, the preparation for the liturgical service began before dawn with a ritual bath and dressing in their liturgical garments.(6) With the exception of the High Priest, the ministerial duties of the priests for the Tamid service were assigned by the drawing of lots (Mishnah: Tamid 1:2; 3:1 and 5:2). The drawing for the privilege of acting as the High Priest's representative in burning the incense occurred in the third round of drawing lots. It was the only lot drawing that was repeated in the afternoon service. It was a once-in-a lifetime event for a priest and only those who had never had the privilege could participate in the drawing (Mishnah: Tamid, 5:2A). In this most sacred ritual, incense was burned on the golden Incense Altar that stood at the curtained entrance to the Holy of Holies where the presence of God dwelled among His people (Ex 25:8; 30:1-10). It was also a dangerous service. Men, including two sons of Aaron, the first high priest, had died for impiously offering the sacred incense (see Lev 10:1-2).

When Zechariah drew the lot to burn the incense, the shock must have almost overwhelmed him. For so many years he had drawn this lot and had not been chosen. It was the belief of the covenant people that an angel carried the prayers of the people, enveloped in the smoke of the holy incense, into the heavenly Sanctuary, laying the people's petitions before the throne of Yahweh. With the exception of the High Priest, no other priest would come so close to the presence of God as the priest who offered the prayers of the people in the burning of the sacred incense at the entrance to the Holy of Holies in the morning and afternoon Tamid sacrifice (Lev 16:2-14).(7)

Some commentators have suggested that Zechariah was the reigning high priest, but this theory cannot be supported. He is not named in the list of high priests (see the chart on the Rulers of Judea in the first century AD), and, if he was the anointed high priest, he would not have been chosen by lot. It has also been suggested that Zechariah offered the incense during the Feast of Atonement. This is also not possible since only the anointed high priest could offer the incense during that feast (Lev 16:1-2, 12-13).

The burning of the incense in the Holy Place of the Sanctuary was to embrace the bodies of the two sacrificed lambs being placed on the altar fire. If Zechariah was offering the incense in the afternoon service, after the lamb was sacrificed the blood of the victim was sprinkled and then poured out. Later in the order of the service, the Tamid was placed on the sacrificial altar as the priest held up the unleavened wheat wafer, broke it and placed it on the altar fire, and then came the offering of the incense followed by the pouring out of the red wine libation. In this way the offering of the prayers of the covenant people in the holy incense embraced the sacrificial offering of the Tamid, in the morning service being offered before the victim was placed on the altar fire and in the afternoon, being offered after the victim was placed on the altar "signifying that the two lambs were one sacrifice (Ex 29:38 "sacrifice" singular; Mishnah: Tamid, 5:2-6:3; M. Yoma 3:5).

On a day that would alter the course of the old priest's life forever, Zechariah and his assisting priests entered the Sanctuary and walked the length of the Holy Place to the golden Altar of Incense that stood at the west end of the room in front of the great curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The priest carrying the live coals from the sacrificial altar carefully placed the burning coals on the Altar of Incense, a square, gold covered column as the second priest handed the censer and its golden spoon to Zechariah. The altar was twice as tall as it was wide and stood chest high. Its recessed gold top had four horn-like protrusions, one at each corner, and the top was trimmed with a golden fence to contain the coals and the incense (Ex 30:1-8). The priest who positioned the burning embers prostrated himself before the incense altar and the Holy of Holies, and then rising stepped back for Zechariah to approach the Incense Altar. The officiating priest standing at the doorway of the Sanctuary and watching the Altar of Sacrifice in the courtyard then gave the command that the time of incensing had come. As Zechariah moved forward, his brother priests bowed low and withdrew, leaving Zechariah completely alone in the Holy Place (Mishnah: Tamid, 6:3).

The old priest solemnly approached the Altar of Incense that stood in front of curtain that shielded the Holy of Holies and spooned the incense on to the burning embers. If this was the afternoon service, in the outer court the congregation had been facing the Altar of Burnt Offerings, watching as their sacrifice was accepted by God in the sign of the cloud of white smoke, called in Hebrew the Olah, rose high into the sky. The rising column of smoke from the altar reminded the people of the pillar of cloud that signified the presence of God in the Exodus experience and assured the people that God had graciously accepted the covenant community's offering of the Tamid lamb in atonement for their sins, for their sanctification as a holy people and restoration of God's fellowship with His people. But now the congregation turned away from the sacrificial altar and toward the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies. The people fell to their knees and then spreading their hands, humbly prostrated themselves in prayer and submission to Yahweh as their prayers rose in the smoke of the incense that poured out of the open doors to the Sanctuary. At this time a profound silence enveloped the entire Temple complex (Rev 8:1; Mishnah Tamid, 3:6, 9; 5:5-6; 6:1-3).

Luke 1:8-11 Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, 11 the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.

Just as Zechariah placed the incense on the golden Altar of Incense that stood in front of the curtain that shielded the Presence of God in the Holy of Holies, the angel Gabriel stepped from behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies (the dwelling place of God among His people) and stood to the right side of the Altar of Incense where the Archangels stand before the Altar of Incense in the heavenly Sanctuary: Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel (Rev 8:3-5).

Question: What does the appearance of the angelic visitor at the burning of the incense tells us about the selection of Zechariah by lot? What comparison can be made to Acts 1:26?
Answer: It was by Divine command that Zechariah was selected just as Matthias will be chosen to by lot to succeed Judas as one of Christ's Apostles.

Question: Why is this practice no longer observed in the Church?
Answer: Under the Old Covenant the casting of lots was used to determine Divine will, but since Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit discernment through prayer is the way Christians determine God's will.

Question: Without revealing his name, what did the angel tell Zechariah in Luke 1:13?
Answer: He told Zechariah not to be afraid and then he told him that God had heard Zechariah's prayers; he and his elderly wife would have a son who they were to name "John."

Question: It is obvious that God's providence has been at work in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth's barren condition recalls what other barren women whose sons were part of God's Divine Plan in salvation history?
Answer: Sarah the mother of Isaac, Rebecca the mother of Jacob, Rachel the mother of Joseph, Hannah the mother of Samuel and Manoah's wife, the mother of Samson.

The translation of John's Hebrew name, Yohanan (Yehohanan), is "Yahweh is mercy," or "Yahweh is merciful." Fr. McKenzie (Dictionary of the Bible, page 442) translates the name as "Yahweh is gracious" while Fr. Fitzmyer, (Gospel of According to Luke, page 325) translated it as "Yahweh as shown favor." Hen is the Hebrew word for "grace" while hanum is favored, and hanan means "to stoop or bend in kindness to an inferior; to show mercy" (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance and Lexicon). Zechariah's son is not only to be a priest but also God's merciful prophet upon whom God's grace rests.

Luke 1:14-17 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, 16 and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord."

Question: The angel told Zechariah that the promised child was to be consecrated to God from his mother's womb and he was never to drink wine or any fermented liquor. Were there other men who were similarity consecrated by God from the womb? See Jer 1:4-5; Judges 13:3-7; 1 Sam 1:11 and Num 6:1-21 concerning Nazirite service.
Answer: The child was to be consecrated from the womb like the priest Jeremiah and the Nazirites Samson and Samuel.

The priesthood was a hereditary office, but men or women could take the vow and serve God as a Nazirite. A Nazirite vow could be as short as a month or as long as a lifetime. During the period of the vow, the Nazirites could not drink wine or any product that came from the vine, nor could they cut their hair. At the completion of their vow, the Nazirite cut his or her hair which was then burned on the God's sacrificial altar in Jerusalem together with multiple animal sacrifices (Numbers 6:18-20). Many scholars believe that John the Baptist was also a Nazirite but Scripture only mentions that he never consume strong drink. Priests were forbidden to consume fermented drink while in service to God in the Sanctuary (Lev 10:8-9). That John was to abstain from fermented beverages may signify that his entire service to God wasn't in the designated times in the Temple "his service to God the Son will be continual so land as he is in the world. There is no other mention of the other requirements that identified a Nazirite as there was in the case of Samson and Samuel "i.e. the requirement that the hair of his head was not to be cut, etc.

Gabriel compared the promised child to the 9th century BC prophet Elijah. St. John will be explicitly related to the prophet Elijah as one endowed with his spirit just as the prophet Elisha was endowed with Elijah's spirit (see 2 Kng 2:9-16).

Question: When he became an adult, how did John the Baptist resemble the prophet Elijah in his dress and in his mission? See 2 Kng 1:7-8, Mt 3:4-6, and Mk 1:4.
Answer: Both John and Elijah wore a camel hair cloak and a leather loincloth and both men were sent by God to call the covenant people to repentance.

Question: What Old Testament prophecy did the angel quote to Zechariah in Luke 1:16-17 and how was this quote related to the Prophet Elijah? Compare Lk 1:16-17 with Mal 3:23-24 and underline the quoted passage. Also see Mal 3:1-3 and Sirach 48:1, 10.
Answer: Malachi 3:23-24/4:5 reads: Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, least I come and strike the land with doom. The prophecy Gabriel quoted concerned the sign of the coming of Elijah prior to the Advent of the Messiah who is promised in Malachi 3:1-3.

Luke 1:18-20: Then Zechariah said to the angel, How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." 19 And the angel said to him in reply, "I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. 20 But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time."

In the Greek text the angel uses the verb euangelizesthai, which means "to preach the gospel" (good news). Zechariah received the honor of being the first one to whom the gospel of the Kingdom was preached! St. Luke used this verb ten times in his Gospel and fifteen times in Acts. Notice that the angel only answers Zechariah's question "How shall I know this?" by reveling his name, "Gabriel."

The angel Gabriel is God's messenger to Zechariah; the word angelos means "messenger." It is the same word that is used in the New Testament to identify both spiritual messengers (for example in Mt 1:20, 24; 2:13, 19; Lk 1:11-38; Acts 5:19; Rev 1:1) and human messengers (for example see Mt 11:10; Mk 1:2; Lk 7:27 and 2 Cor 12:7). The Greek word archangelos means "chief messenger," and is usually translated as "archangel." The Church identifies Gabriel as one of the seven Archangels.

Question: Where is the word "archangel" found is Scripture? What Bible passage supports the Church's identification of Gabriel as an archangel? In addition to Gabriel, how many spiritual messengers are named in the Bible? See Tobit 12:15; Dan 10:13; Lk 1:11, 19; 1 Thes 4:16; Jude verse 9 and Rev 8:2-4.
Answer: The word archangelos is only found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude verse 9. There are only three angels (spiritual messengers) who are named in the Bible:

  1. Gabriel (Hebrew = "God is my warrior"): Dan 8:16; 9:21; Lk 1:19, 26.
  2. Michael (Hebrew = "who is like God?" The only angel identified by name as an archangelos in Scripture): Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude verse 9 (named as the Archangel Michael) and Rev 12:7.
  3. Raphael: (Hebrew = "God heals"): Tobit 12:15.

Question: What is the only Old Testament Bible book in which the angel Gabriel is named?
Answer: He is only named in the Old Testament in the Book of Daniel in Dan 8:16 and 9:21.

It is likely that Zechariah's encounter with the angel Gabriel took place at the time of the afternoon Tamid worship service. That is the same hour at which Gabriel visited the Prophet Daniel in the 6th century BC: was still occupied with this prayer, when Gabriel, the one whom I had seen before in vision, came to me in rapid flight at the time of the evening sacrifice (Dan 9:21). Since the new day for the Jews began at sundown, their "evening" (from noon to sundown) is our afternoon.

Question: Who was the prophet Daniel? What was his history? See Dan 1:1-7, 20.
Answer: Young Daniel and other children of noble or royal birth were taken captive by the Babylonians in 605 BC. The captive children were raised and educated in the Babylonian court of King Nebuchadnezzar where several of them, including Daniel, eventually became court officials (Dan 1:20).

Daniel's visions, including those of the angel Gabriel, all involved the historical countdown to the advent of the Redeemer-Messiah. Zechariah was very familiar with the prophetic countdown to the coming of the Messiah promised in the book of the Prophet Daniel. He knew this was the only book of Sacred Scripture in which the angel Gabriel was named.

Question: When Zechariah expressed doubt concerning the angel's message and asked for a "sign" that what he said was true, what happened and what was the significance of the revelation of the angel's name? Hint: you may recall that the only other time this angel is named in Scripture is in the Book of the Prophet Daniel.
Answer: Zechariah was asking the angel for a "sign" from God that he would believe the angel's message. The sign was Gabriel's name and Zechariah's forced silence that would not be lifted until the fulfillment of the message. When the angel revealed his name: I am Gabriel, who stand in God's presence, at that moment the elderly priest would have understood the reason for the birth of his son. His child was to serve God in the spirit of the Prophet Elijah, calling the people of God to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah. With the reference to Elijah and remembering the prophecies revealed to the Prophet Daniel by the angel Gabriel concerning the coming of the Anointed One (the Messiah), Zechariah would have immediately grasped that Gabriel was revealing to him the coming of the promised Messiah whose advent would be announced by Zechariah's own son, John. It must have been divine intervention that kept that faithful old heart pumping!

Luke 1:21-22: Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute.

While Zechariah was alone in the Holy Place, his brother priests had gathered on the Sanctuary steps. When the incensing priest had finished, he was supposed to join them in giving the final priestly benediction (Mishnah: Tamid, 7:2). As the congregation and the other chief priests waited for him they must have become increasingly concerned. Men had died in offering up the holy incense "unqualified men and men offering the incense inappropriately (Lev 10:1-2; Num 16:1-35, 40; 2 Chr 26:16-21). The priests and the people must have been relieved when Zechariah finally appeared at the Sanctuary doors, but it was then that they realized he had lost his power of speech as a result of what had happened to him in the Sanctuary.

23 Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home. 24 After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, 25"So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others."

When his week of service came to an end, Zechariah returned home. His days of ministry lasted from the afternoon Tamid liturgical service on the Sabbath (Saturday) to the morning Tamid service the following Sabbath. He would not return to the Temple for service until the next annual feast day or the next cycle of his ministry service (twice annually during "ordinary time"). Sometime later his wife Elizabeth realized she had conceived and for five months she kept to herself, grateful that God had given them this blessing. Although deprived of the power of speech, Zechariah could still write, and he must have written down his experience with the angel and shared with Elizabeth the tremendous blessing God was giving them.

Question: What was the humiliation that Elizabeth spoke of in Luke 1:25? See Gen 16:1-5; 30:1, 23; 1 Sam 1:5-8; 2 Sam 6:20-23; and Hos 9:11.
Answer: To be infertile was considered to be a humiliation and even a punishment as in the case of King Saul's daughter Michal who ridiculed her husband David for dancing before the Ark of the Covenant and as a result was forever barren. Elizabeth's neighbors may have speculated that she was a failure as a wife or that God was punishing her for some reason. The mother of the Prophet Samuel had been ridiculed and taunted by her husband's other wife before God granted her petition to bear a child.

Elizabeth may have thought of the Israelite heroine Hannah. For many years Hannah had suffered humiliation, but after years of bareness she was blessed by God when He opened her womb to receive the child who would one day become the great Prophet Samuel. Elizabeth may have even prayed Hannah's prayer of praise which begins: My heart exults in Yahweh, in my God is my strength lifted up, my mouth derides my foes, but I rejoice in your deliverance (1 Sam 2:1 NJB).

Questions for reflection or group discussion:

Question: How would you define St. John's mission when he reached adulthood? How could the prohibition against drinking strong drink impact his ministry? What unique position does St. John hold in the history of salvation?
Answer: St. John's mission was to travel throughout the Holy Land calling the covenant people to repentance and cleansing them by ritual immersion to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. He was to serve as the precursor of the Messiah and as the anointing priest of the Son of God at Jesus' baptism. He was forbidden to drink wine, also forbidden priests who were serving in the Temple worship services. Perhaps the restriction against drinking strong liquor was because John wasn't serving Christ in the Jerusalem Temple; instead he was serving Christ in the world and therefore his priestly ministry was not limited to a building. It could be that this prohibition was part of his priestly function and condition of purity in service to the Messiah. John the Baptist is the last prophet of the Old Covenant.

Endnotes:

1. The only other Gospel where Jesus uses the title "Son of Man" for Himself more frequently is the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus used the title 32 times.

2. According to St. Luke's testimony, St. John the Baptist was 30 years old in the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (Lk 3:1, 23). This information establishes a birth date for Jesus, who was six months younger than St. John, at 3/2 BC, with the date of Herod's death at 1 BC, a date testified to by some ancient sources. However, most biblical commentaries and scholars continue to date Herod's death at 4 BC. This is a date based on the testimony of Flavius Josephus that Herod died at the time of a full solar eclipse coupled together with the calculations of the astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) that there was a partial solar eclipse in 4 BC. Modern astronomers have since discovered that there was a full solar eclipse in 1 BC. See the Agape Bible Study document Dating the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth.htm.

3. Since the time of King David, the priestly families and the families of the Levites were separated into divisions. There were twenty-four courses or clans of priests who were descendants of Aaron, the first High Priest, and there were twenty-four courses or clans of the lesser order of ministers from the three clans of the Levites (1 Ch 23:1-24; 24:7[8]-17[18]; 25:31). Each clan of both the chief priests and lesser ministers were expected to serve one week in the Jerusalem Temple from Sabbath to Sabbath twice a year, and all the clans of both priests and Levites were required to come to Jerusalem to serve in the Temple for the annual feasts.

4. Yahweh commanded that three times a year every man of the covenant (13 years and older) must present himself before God with his sacrifices. The three "pilgrim feasts" were the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was celebrated in the spring on Nisan the 15th " 21st ; the Feast of Weeks, known by its Greek name as the Feast of Pentecost or fiftieth-day in the 1st century AD, celebrated fifty days from the day after the Saturday Sabbath (on a Sunday) that fell during the 7 days of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Tabernacles that was celebrated in the fall from Tishri 15th -21st (Ex 23:14-18; 34:18-23; Dt 16:16; 2 Chron 8:13).

5. During the era of Roman domination, the night was divided into four watches:
Sundown (6 to 9 PM), Midnight (9 PM to midnight), Cockcrow (midnight to 3 AM), and Dawn (3 AM to dawn). These names of the four watches and their signals are mentioned in Mt 14:25, in Mk 6:48 and 14:35 (passages mention all 4 watches), and in Lk 12:38. A trumpet blast signaled the end of one watch and the beginning of the next. The signal at the end of the third night watch and the beginning of the fourth at 3 AM was called the "cockcrow." The Roman watch blew the signal of the watch changes from the Antonia Fortress and the Temple guards blew their watch change signals from the Temple. The trumpet signal of the "cockcrow" is recorded in the Mishnah in M. Sukkah, 5.4, M. Tamid, 1:2, M. Yoma,1:8, by ancient secular writers, and in Mt 26:34, 75; Mk 13:35 (watch signals including the "cockcrow"); 14:30 & 72 (mentions the two trumpet signals of the "cockcrow"); Lk 22:34, 61; Jn 13:38.

6. Like Catholic priests, the Old Covenant priests were only permitted to wear their
liturgical garments when in service to the Lord: Once the priests have entered, they will not go out of the holy place into the outer court without leaving their liturgical vestments there, since these vestments are holy; they will put on other clothes before going near places assigned to the people (Ez 42:14). Also see Mishnah: Tamid, 5:3; The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, page 109.

7. The 1st century AD Jewish priest/historian, Flavius Josephus recorded in The Antiquities of the Jews, 14.4.3 [65] concerning the time of the afternoon Tamid sacrifice: ...but did still twice each day, in the morning and about the ninth hour, offer their sacrifices on the altar... The ninth hour Jewish time is 3 PM our time. This was the "evening sacrifice" because for the Jews, whose day began at sundown, the evening of the day began just as the sun passed high noon and began to descend into the end of the day. The afternoon Tamid lamb was brought to the altar bayin ha ereb, "between the twilights" of the day (between dawn and dusk), which is noon, and was sacrificed at 3 PM, the ninth hour Jewish time.
For the time of the morning service see The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, page 108: According to general agreement, the morning sacrifice was brought at the third hour,' corresponding to our nine o'clock. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.4.3 [65]: ... but did still twice each day, in the morning and about the ninth hour, offer their sacrifices on the altar... The ninth hour Jewish time is 3:00 PM our time.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson from the Gospel of Luke (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

Lk 1:1

332*

Lk 1:15-19

724*

Lk 1:15

717

Lk 1:17

523, 696, 716*, 718, 2684

Lk 1:23

1070*

Dan 7:13-14

440*, 664

Dan 12:1-13

992*, 998*