“His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied…”
– Luke 1:67, NIV
The Birth of John the Baptist
Zacharias and Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist. When Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy with John, Mary came to see her. Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, stayed three months and then returned home. The time had come for Elizabeth to give birth and she “brought forth” a son.
Nine months earlier, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias (Luke 1:13) and told him that Elizabeth would bear a son and that he should call him John. At the time Zacharias expressed some doubt (Luke 1:18) because his he and his wife were old. As a result of his unbelief, Zacharias (Luke 1:20) was made silent and unable to speak. This condition was to last until the prophesied events took place.
Then, nine months later, the son was born. On the eighth day of his life, Zacharias and Mary took the child to be circumcised. Neighbors and relatives tried to call the son by his father’s name. Mary objected, saying that his name should be John. Then those who were present asked Zacharias what the son should be named. Zacharias wrote on a tablet that his name should be John. At once the mouth of Zacharias was opened (Luke 1:64) “and he began to speak in praise of God.” The cause the people present to wonder about the future of this child.
Then, Zacharias “was filled [eplesthe] with the Spirit and prophesied.” His prophecy (Luke 1:68-79) is known as a hymn named Benedictus. The name is from the translation of the first word of the song in the Vulgate. The Benedictus has two parts: The first part (Luke 1:68-75) describes the role of the Messiah, Israel’s deliverer. It is taken from several Old Testament passages. The second part (Luke 1:76-79) describes the ministry of John the forerunner.
Once again, Luke connects the Holy Spirit with inspired speech. When Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit she was inspired to speak (Luke 1:42-45). Although Luke does not specifically call her speech prophecy, it clearly belongs to the prophetic category. In the case of Zacharias, Luke says specifically that he prophesied.
According to Luke, Zacharias, Elizabeth, and John were all filled with the Spirit. Elizabeth delivered an inspired blessing, Zacharias prophesied, and John was to have a powerful speaking ministry preparing the way for Christ. The presence of the Spirit authenticated their lives and empowered their witness. These emphases will remain strong in Luke’s writings right through his gospel and in the book of Acts.
Marshall, I Howard. The Gospel of Luke. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1978.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London: Macmillan and Company, 1910.
Turner, Max. The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.
Copyright 2000 © George M. Flattery