A summary of the text before us could read: The angel Gabriel delivers an important message. The important message is that the time of fulfillment of a prophecy recorded by the prophet Isaiah seven centuries earlier has arrived. Isaiah prophesied the coming of one who would prepare the way for the Lord’s coming (Isa. 40:3-5). John the Baptist was chosen by God to call upon men to repent in preparation of the Messiah’s coming. More than 700 years separate the birth of John the Baptist and Isaiah’s prophecy.
Gabriel and Michael (Dan. 12:1) are the only angels (excepting Lucifer) which are named in scripture. Gabriel means strong man of God. Gabriel delivered the message to Daniel that the Messiah would be cut off after 69 weeks of years but not for himself (Dan. 9:26). The revelation to Daniel of the sacrificial death of the Messiah and the revelation to Zacharias of the promised forerunner were both delivered by Gabriel.
“And it came to pass, that while he . . .” (v. 8). Zacharias is “he.” Zacharias was a priest of the course of Abijah; he was a direct descendant of Aaron (I Chron. 24:1, 10) which descendants were separated into 24 divisions for the purpose of administering priestly duties in the temple (I Chron. 24:7-18). Priests from the order of Abijah served in the temple for two one-week periods each year. The time had come for Zacharias to serve.
“According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord” (v. 9). Zacharias was chosen by lot to go into holy place to burn incense. Zacharias thought that he had been chosen by lot to offer up a sweet fragrance to the Lord. The text before testifies that Zacharias was chosen by God such that he might hear the words of the angel Gabriel. He was not chosen by chance. Chance involves the unknown. The Lord is all-knowing. The Lord knew that the lot would fall upon Zacharias before the lot was ever cast (see Prov. 16:33).
Burning incense was considered a high honor. No priest could offer incense more than one time in his lifetime. Scholars estimate that there were about 18,000 Jewish priests at this point in history. Many of these priests never were given the opportunity to burn incense before the Lord.
“And the whole multitude . . . were praying” (v. 10). Incense was burned when the lamps were extinguished in the morning and lighted in the evening (Ex. 30:7, 8). The time of offering a sweet fragrance to Lord was the time which the most devout chose to pray. The most devout believers marveled because of the long time which Zacharias burned incense and his inability to speak when he emerged from the holy place.
In verses 13-17, Gabriel informed Zacharias that his wife Elisabeth would bear a son whom he would name John and that John would be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb and that John would turn many to “the Lord their God”, that John would go before the Lord in the power and spirit of Elijah to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
The name “John” means the Lord is gracious. This name was selected by God because the Lord wants all to repent of their works and to receive His gift of grace.
Zacharias did not believe the good news which Gabriel had delivered. In verses 18-20, we see the manner in which the Lord God dealt with his unbelief. Zacharias did not believe that God had heard his prayer. The specific prayer is not stated. If that prayer were for a son, it is likely that it was not a recent prayer because he was old and Elisabeth was stricken in years (v. 18). Because his prayer was heard, it was not prayed amiss (see James 4:3).
Zacharias did not believe that his wife Elisabeth would bear a son (v. 13, 20). The Lord had chosen to bless Zacharias and Elisabeth in a momentous way — their son John would be great in the sight of the Lord (v. 15). Zacharias could not believe God’s grace until after John was born.
Unbelief has consequences. Zacharias’ unbelief resulted in his inability to speak until after John’s birth (v. 20).
Zacharias’ unbelief was not in God or in His righteousness or sovereignty. Zacharias most certainly believed in the greatness of God. He sought to keep the law of Moses. Zacharias and Elisabeth are described as righteous, as walking in all the commandments and ordinances, and as being blameless before the Lord (v. 6). Zacharias’ unbelief was manifested in his refusal to believe the good thing which the Lord had bestowed upon him and Elisabeth.
The churches of today are filled with believers who, like Zacharias, cannot believe that God is so good. Many fail to embrace the fullness of His grace. Some refuse to believe that Christ has fully paid the price of their past, present and future failures. God’s grace exceeds the understanding of men.
Let us do as He has directed. Let us declare His grace to all people in all places.