14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, 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.
The Angel of the Lord, who we know has been sent to represent the pre-incarnate Jesus, is continuing to proclaim the Word of God. He is announcing the forerunner, the very one who will usher in the incarnate savior. It’s interesting to note here that the Angel is telling him that John would go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah. In Malachi 4:6 we have this prophecy; “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” John would fulfill this prophecy in his baptism ministry of warning and repentance to the people of Israel.
Zechariah, the one receiving the prophecy, has already been introduced as a righteous man, in high favor with God. This symbolises that God’s plans for redemption are through righteousness and obedience to him, similarly to that of Noah and his family. The promise that their son, John, will also be righteous and filled with the Holy Spirit from the beginning must have been encouraging. As opposed to the Old Testament prophets who received the Spirit at some point later in life, God has chosen John to be filled since birth. The people of Israel who are hearing this prophecy are aware that this means something big is happening. John was spoken of by the great prophet Isaiah, as the one who cries out in the wilderness, who prepares the way for the Lord (Isaiah, 40:3). Wine and grape products were thought of to be a blessing in Old Testament days, a gift in moderation from the Lord that gladdens a man’s heart (Psalm 104:15, Proverbs 3:10). John’s denial of these blessings showed a special anointing, he was to be consecrated to God as a Nazirite for His purposes, to prepare the people for the greatest blessing of all time.
18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
Though Zechariah was a faithful and righteous man in the eyes of God, he was still human and shows it in verse 18. Expressing doubt, he questions the angel sincerity, expressing that he and his wife are aging. This is reminiscent of Abraham, laughing and doubting the sincerity of God when He appeared to him promising his wife, Sarah, would bear him a son (Genesis 17:17). Hastily, the angel responds to his unbelief by announcing his name and position; for his message was to be accepted as authoritative, direct from the throne of God. As a discipline for his unbelief, or moment of unfaithfulness, Gabriel proclaims to him that he will temporarily be unable to speak, or function in society until these things have come to pass. God uses these disciplines in our lives sometimes to allow us to reflect on our hearts, and to correct our behavior or unfaithfulness. When he came out of the temple, he was unable to express to the people what he had seen, for he was speechless. He attempted to gesture out a message to them of what he had seen, but it is unclear how much of this message the people understood. However, the people knew that he had received a vision from Heaven and that it would be brought to pass. Zechariah then heads back to his home, still under the discipline of the Lord administered by the angel, and has time to consider what he had learned before his blessings will be brought to pass.
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