The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth can be found in Luke 1:5–80. Zechariah was a priest in the temple during the Roman reign of King Herod. His wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron's priestly line and both of them were "righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord" (Luke 1:6). Their righteous standing before God is noteworthy because they remained childless until they were well advanced in years. During that time, barrenness had been seen as a consequence of personal unrighteousness. This verse declares that Elizabeth's barrenness was not due to sin, but rather due to God's plan to accomplish His purpose.
At this late stage in life, during Zechariah's priestly division's rotation of duties in the temple, he was "chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense" (Luke 1:9). Each priestly division served in the temple only one week every six months and the duties were assigned by lot. So the opportunity to keep incense burning on the altar outside the Most Holy Place by placing fresh incense there before morning sacrifice and again after the evening sacrifice happened rarely, if at all, in a priest's lifetime. However, God had a plan for Zechariah, and as Proverbs 16:33 explains, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD."
While Zechariah was placing the incense, Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, appeared with a message for him. The message was that his and Elizabeth's prayers for a child had been heard. Elizabeth would bear a son whom they would name John. The child would be great in the sight of the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Their son would turn many people's hearts to God in preparation for the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elijah. Zechariah did not believe the angel, stating that it was impossible because "I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years" (Luke 1:18). Gabriel rebuked Zechariah for his unbelief and declared, "You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place" (Luke 1:20). When Zechariah emerged from the Holy Place to the people waiting for him to pronounce the Aaronic blessing, he was indeed unable to speak. Through signs and hand gestures the people understood that he had seen a vision.
When his week of service concluded, Zechariah returned home to his wife to a town in the hill country of Judah. There, his wife conceived just as the angel had said. Elizabeth immediately recognized God's role in her pregnancy saying, "Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people" (Luke 1:25). She kept herself in seclusion for five months, seemingly focusing on praising God for the unborn child within her.
In Elizabeth's six month of pregnancy, Mary (newly pregnant with the Messiah) came to visit in order to be encouraged by confirming what the angel Gabriel had told her about both Elizabeth's pregnancy and her own. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, she was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Luke 1:42–45). Mary stayed with Zechariah and Elizabeth for about three months, which would have been around the time Elizabeth gave birth and Mary's first trimester was complete.
Elizabeth gave birth to a son, just as Gabriel had promised, and her neighbors and relatives rejoiced with her. On the eighth day during the circumcision and naming ceremony, the people were going to name the baby Zechariah after his father, but Elizabeth prevented them saying, "No; he shall be called John" (Luke 1:60). Elizabeth believed what the angel had told Zechariah and she stood firm in obeying the command to name the baby John. When the people turned to Zechariah for his thoughts, he wrote on a tablet "His name is John" (Luke 1:63). As soon as he had written this response, "his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God" (Luke 1:64). Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophesied about the role John would play in preparing the way for the Messiah (Luke 1:67–79).
The child grew and became strong in Spirit eventually being known as John the Baptist. Zechariah and Elizabeth are not mentioned again in the Bible, and the Bible records that John lived "in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel" (Luke 1:80). As such, most readers conjecture that Zechariah and Elizabeth passed away before John's ministry began around thirty years after his miraculous birth. So they did not get to see him calling for repentance and announcing the coming of the Messiah. However, their experience living righteously and praising God for His miraculous work in their lives must have helped prepare their son for his life of service to God.
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