The Birth of John the Baptist

This post is part of the Series "The Life and Ministry of John the Baptist"

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The announcement of John’s birth by Gabriel alone is enough to indicate the significance of his ministry because Gabriel only makes four recorded appearances in Scripture. He appears twice in the book of Daniel and twice in the New Testament.

15Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. 16And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” 17So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face; but he said to me, “Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end.” (Daniel 8:15–17 NKJV)

21yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. 22And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. 23At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision: 24“Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy. (Daniel 9:21–24 NKJV)

13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John…19And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. (Luke 1:13, 19 NKJV)

26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26–27 NKJV)

Gabriel’s place before the Lord is obviously very unique. He introduces himself as one who “stands in the presence of God.” It is significant that Gabriel is chosen to steward the unique revelations Daniel was given and this gives witness to his unique ministry to the Lord. Each appearance of Gabriel in Scripture is in context to God finishing His glorious plan. He appears to Daniel to give revelation about the final window of human history and then he reappears only when God begins to inaugurate that plan through the birth of Jesus whose ministry John will herald.

John’s father Zacharias was a member of the Temple priesthood, and his mother Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron the high priest. They were both “righteous of God”, fervent and faithful in their devotion. This is important because John is going to live his whole life as a priest. He will be more priestly than most of the priesthood. While most of the priesthood is concerned with the affairs of man, John will minister to God. To put an exclamation point on it, the angel is going to announce John’s birth to Zechariah as he is offering incense as a priest.

We cannot miss the fact that God chose a priest to prepare the way before Him both because of the significance of John’s life and because John’s life is a pattern for how God chooses to prepare the earth for Jesus’ appearing. At the end of the age, He again will look to the church to function as a priesthood to prepare the way before Him, because Jesus wants to be welcomed by His familiar friends. This is one reason why the prayer movement is growing rapidly in the nations. God wants to emphasize the priestly role of all believers through emphasizing the church’s mission in ministering to God.

This is what Jesus calls the “first commandment” – ministering to God as our first priority and then ministering to men (Matthew 22:34-40). It’s also what Jesus told us to pray for – “that it would be on earth as it is in heaven (Luke 11:2).” Every glimpse of heaven we have in the Scripture reveals a scene of incessant adoration around the throne. Part of our mission in this age is to make this earth as much like heaven as it can be before Jesus returns. Making earth appear like heaven does not primarily mean that we live safe and prosperous lives, but that God is celebrated and adored on earth as He is in heaven. Therefore our primary assignment is to prevent the rocks from having to cry out in adoration by seeing to it that mean take their place on earth and magnify God.

40But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40 NKJV)

Though Zacharias was a faithful priest, and Elizabeth was a faithful woman, there was one issue that had marked their lives and that was Elizabeth’s barrenness. It was her shame yet, like Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah, it would become her glory.

1“Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 54:1 NKJV)

Barrenness is an issue of shame that sets the stage for God’s glory. When a “shameful” barrenness exists among the righteous sets the stage for God’s glory. When God needs a deliverer, natural processes sometimes break down so that He can highlight and emphasize His glory. This is illustrated in the lives of Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth. The shame and pain of their barrenness served as a staging ground for God’s glory.

Zacharias was a member of the division of Abijah, one of 24 clans who maintained the Temple rituals and ceremonies of worship. Only once in a lifetime did a priest of Zacharias’ rank have the honor of offering the incense in the Holy Place before the Holy of Holies. The lot “happened” to fall on him. No doubt he was nervous, but had no expectation of what was going to happen.

God sets the announcement of John’s coming in a thoroughly priestly context. In this chamber, as he was offering the incense and speaking the ceremonial prayers, he expected to be alone and instead was shocked to find to see the angel Gabriel suddenly appear to him at the right of the altar of incense.

9according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (Luke 1:9–11 NKJV)

When Zacharias emerges from the Holy Place, it is obvious he has had a very significant encounter. He had been given a staggering prophecy about John’s future.

13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13–17 NKJV)

Four specific predictions were made about how John would function. These four predictions give us the essence of the man that Jesus called the greatest.

  • He would be great in the sight of God.
  • He would be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • He would turn many in Israel to God.
  • He would go before God in the spirit and power of Elijah.

Zacharias had received a powerful prophecy about John’s future, but he had also been struck mute because of his unbelief and would be unable to speak until the naming of his child. After the days of his service in the Temple were finished he returned home for a season.

19And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” (Luke 1:19–20 NKJV)

The Birth

Elizabeth conceived shortly afterward, and hid away for five months. Having a child was unthinkable at their advanced age. Elizabeth now had a mute husband and was carrying a child long after she had given up all hope of giving birth. After years of barrenness, she no longer entertained the hope of pregnancy just to protect her heart, but now she was pregnant. It is difficult to imagine all the emotion swirling in Elizabeth’s heart during this season. No doubt she wondered if the pregnancy would go term and if she would be able to deliver it safely. As an event, it had strong parallels to the birth of Isaac.

24Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25“Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:24–25 NKJV)

Gabriel uses the example of Elizabeth to encourage Mary in her shock at the announcement that she would conceive (Luke 1:36-37), because no one was aware of this pregnancy during those five months. In her humility Elizabeth kept a low profile in this season, in awe of the thing that was happened as she wrestled through the sudden shift in her situation (Luke 1:25).

With an explosion of rejoicing for all who had known Elizabeth during all her barren years, John was born, and then circumcised on the eighth day according to Jewish law. To the shock of everyone he was not named according to anyone in the family line, including his father. Since John was the first born and only son, it would be expected that he would carry a family name. Throughout Judea the story of his unusual birth cause many to wonder what prophetic hour they are living in.

63And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1:63–66 NKJV)

Filled with the Spirit, Zacharias prophesies a powerful prophecy over his son. He connects John’s birth with God’s promised deliverance (Luke 1:67-79). He specifically prophesies that John would go before the Lord and prepare His ways. Zacharias’ prophecy is very similar to the prophecy Gabriel spoke over John.

15For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15–17 NKJV)

76“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, 77To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, 78Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; 79To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76–79 NKJV)

The circumstances around John’s birth had suddenly shattered 400 years of prophetic silence. God was speaking again. However, just as suddenly as the announcement of John and Jesus’ birth had come, silence seemed to fall again. After two visits by Gabriel and some of the most dramatic pronouncements in Scripture, things seemed to fall quiet again for nearly 30 years. The lack of material in the gospels on the young life of both John and Jesus reveal how quiet the subsequent years were. People close to these events had been filled with great hope and anticipate only to wonder when the fulfillment of the things prophesied would come. The people would have to wait 3 long decades to see the fruit of these miraculous births. Those who were filled with hope in their 40’s when these children were born would be 70 before they would see that hope manifest itself again.

1 thought on “The Birth of John the Baptist”

  1. What a wonderful series on John the Baptist! They bring a new depth to his life and give a glimpse into God’s sovereignty over all things. They have blessed and encouraged me. We see that God really is in control of events. Just as John prepared the way for Christ’s first coming, so must we prepare the way of His second advent by proclaiming the Gospel and preparing others.

    Our God is so awesome; there are no coincidences with him, and His meticulous attention to detail in His plans is almost mind blowing. For example, I did not know that John’s mother Elizabeth also came from a priestly line. God does not miss a beat. Praise His wonderful name!I I look forward to the next articles in this series. Thank you for writing them, Mr. Whitefield.

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