All posts by BradleyCobb

[Life of Christ] The King Has Arrived: Early Life of Jesus (part 2)

The King Has Arrived: The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 2)
(Luke 2:21-35)

Following the Law of Moses, the Law of the Lord (Luke 2:21-24)

When the eighth day had come, when the child was to be circumcised, His name was called Jesus, using the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

And when the days of her purification had ended, according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. (As it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every male child who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD.”) And they did this to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord: “A Pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Entering into the Covenant with Abraham

Waaaaaay back in Genesis 17, God made a covenant with Abraham. The sign (or “token,” KJV) of this covenant was circumcision. Hopefully I don’t need to go into describing what circumcision is, because that could get uncomfortable for some people. Suffice it to say, biologically, this circumcision can only be done on males. And it was to be done when the male child was 8 days old.1

For Jesus to be a legitimate heir of Abraham (see Matthew’s genealogy), He had to enter into that covenant and be circumcised on the eighth day. Any of Abraham’s male descendants who was not circumcised according to the commandment was “cut off” from the people of God.2 So it should be no surprise to find Luke (a doctor) mention Jesus undergoing this surgical procedure.3

But Luke’s focus isn’t on the circumcision. That is only given as a time marker. The focus of verse 21 is that the Child was named Jesus that day. Jesus was given that name, not because Mary and Joseph thought it was cool, not that it was a family name (because it wasn’t—see Matthew 1 and Luke3), but because the angel had given them instructions on what to name Him.

In presenting this, Luke shows Mary and Joseph as faithful to the commands of God. They were told (individually) what to name this baby, they remembered the command, and they obeyed.

Following the Law of Moses

We now fast-forward approximately 33 days.4 And here again Luke portrays Mary and Joseph as faithful followers of the commands of God. First it was circumcision, then naming Jesus, now it is one of the 613 commandments of the Old Testament—the offering of a purification sacrifice 40 days after having a baby boy.5

The focus of this verse isn’t on the purification sacrifice (actually two sacrifices, but we will talk about that a bit later), but (like the previous verse) it is used as a time marker for something more important—presenting the firstborn male to God.

The last of the ten plagues was the smiting (killing) of the firstborn throughout Egypt. This is the punishment that finally got Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave. God sent “the destroyer” to kill all the firstborn, but would not permit this “destroyer” to harm the Israelite firstborn.6 But while He spared them, God also laid claim on them. They now belonged to Him (Numbers 3:13).7

From that point onward, all firstborn males of Israel were to be presented to God, and redeemed (bought back) with specific payment of five shekels of silver.8 One author (in 1886) said this was the equivalent of $2.50. If that is accurate, then the cost of redeeming Jesus in accordance to the Law of Moses is the equivalent of $47.46 in 2023.9

Luke explains this by quoting Exodus 13:2: “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD.” When He says, “holy,” He doesn’t mean “sinless.” All babies are sinless, whether firstborn or not, male or female, Jew or Gentile. What He means is that the firstborn males (and they must be true firstborn, not just the first son, but also the first child) belong to Him. They are to be set apart for Him. And because He has the claim on them, the parents must pay a redemption price—and out of love, that price is incredibly cheap. Cheap enough any family could afford it.

Then Luke focuses on the purification sacrifice, which is actually two different sacrifices. These had to be offered by every mother after their child was born (40 days later for a son, 80 days later for a daughter). It is very important we notice this fact: these sacrifices are explicitly for the mother. Check out what Leviticus 12:6-7 says.

And when the days of her purifying have been fulfilled, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, to the door of the congregation, to the priest, who shall offer it before the LORD and make an atonement for her. Then she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that has given birth to a male or a female.

Why mention this? Mary offered a sin offering. What does that mean? It means she had sinned. We aren’t told what any of her sins were, but we know she did sin. The official stance of the Roman Catholic Church is that Mary was immaculately conceived (their doctrine to try to side-step their doctrine of “original sin”), and that she did not sin at all—ever. But in offering a sin offering, she either did it honestly, meaning she had sin that needed dealing with—or she did it hypocritically, meaning she lied when she offered it. In either case, she was not sin-free.

Mary’s offering to the Lord was two turtledoves. This offering was only allowable if the family was too poor to afford a lamb (see Leviticus 12:8). Neither Mary nor Joseph were people of means. Jesus chose to be born to humble, poor parents. God chose some of the poorest Israelites to raise His Son.

Being poor does not mean you’re righteous. But poor people are poor are more likely to show a dependence on God than rich people are. Mary and Joseph are one such example.

Simeon the prophet (Luke 2:25-35).

Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon Him. And it was revealed to him  by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law, then he took Him up in his arms, blessed God, and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all peoples—a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

And Joseph and His mother were amazed at the things which were spoken by him.

Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against (yes, and a sword will pierce your own soul also), so that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed.”

Okay, I can die now.

Apparently while Mary and Joseph are at the temple, getting ready to offer the purification sacrifices, a man came up to them. His name was Simeon (or Simon).10 It is almost 100% certain that he was named after Simeon, the second oldest son of Jacob.11 We assume he was an old man, though that isn’t explicitly stated.12

What we know for sure is his faithfulness and dedication to God. He was just (same thing said about Joseph in Matthew 1) or righteous. This means he treated people fairly and right. It means he followed God’s law. He was also devout. This means he took following God seriously. This same word is used of those gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost when Peter preached at the temple (Acts 2:5). When an inspired author calls you righteous and devout, that means God is calling you that. That’s high praise from the Creator of everything!

Simeon was waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” He knew God had promised to set up a Kingdom during the days of the “fourth kingdom” (the Roman Empire—Daniel 2:44). He knew about the promises made to Abraham, to David, and ultimately to all Israel about a coming Messiah who would make things right. And he lived in expectation of seeing it. He wanted to see it, believed it was coming. And God rewarded him.

The Holy Spirit was on him. Luke is very consistent in his use of phrases like this. Every single time he says “the Holy Spirit came upon…” or “the Holy Spirit fell on…” or “…was filled with the Holy Spirit,” he is talking about supernatural power—most often shown by prophesying, speaking in tongues, or speaking an inspired message (and sometimes all three). It is common for people to claim John the Baptizer was the first prophet for 400 years, but that isn’t accurate, because Simeon was one.13

The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that He would get to see the Lord’s Christ (anointed one) before he died. This was a promise that the plan hadn’t been forgotten, that God was acting on behalf of Israel and ultimately all mankind. Did Simeon share this message with others? I can’t imagine him keeping it to himself, even if he didn’t spell it out in “before I die” language.

The Holy Spirit led him to come to the temple that day, and he was waiting for Jesus to arrive. When Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus came in, Simeon grabbed Jesus, held Him, and praised God. Then he said, “Lord now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.” In modern language, “Lord, I can die now, just like you said.”14 That must have been awkward for Mary and Joseph. Some strange man grabs your son and then says, “Okay, I can die now.” Of course, that isn’t where this incident ends, but at least for a moment, I have to think Mary and Joseph were maybe a tab bit concerned for a short moment.

Simeon continued his prayer by calling Jesus “Your salvation.” He understood Jesus was the one God had sent to bring salvation to Jew and Gentile who would follow Him. This salvation was “prepared before the face of all peoples.” This means it is universal. “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” The glory of something is its beauty, its glow. Often God’s glory is described as brightness. So ultimately, Simeon says of Jesus that He will be a shining light to lead ALL people—Jew and Gentile alike.

Jesus’ salvation mission isn’t going to be easy

Mary and Joseph stood there amazed at the words of Simeon’s prayer. They already knew at least part of this. But to have a total stranger come make this public proclamation of things you haven’t shared publicly with others (Jesus is the Savior, the Salvation of God)? That’s got to inspire amazement. And did Mary and Joseph realize He would also be Savior for Gentiles? We don’t know. But even if they did, it’s not hard to imagine that some other folks who may have heard this prayer and proclamation might not have been a fan of it (Gentiles?!? No way!!).

Simeon blessed them (Mary and Joseph). Scripture says that without exception, the lesser is blessed by the greater (Hebrews 7:7). This being the case, Simeon was (in whatever way) greater than Joseph and Mary. This kills the idea of Mariolatry (the worship, adoration, and exaltation of Mary done by the Roman Catholic Church). If Simeon is greater, and he a person with sin, then Mary must also have had sin (driving another stake into the heart of the doctrine that Mary never sinned).

He tells Mary Jesus is going to cause some people to fall and rise again. Some will fall because they refuse to believe Him (*cough* Pharisees *cough*). Others who had fallen would rise again (see the tax collectors and sinners who followed Him). And some would do both (Saul of Tarsus fell, but was raised again to new life through baptism). This message was designed to forewarn Mary that Jesus’ mission wasn’t going to be smooth and easy. There would be pushback. His mission wasn’t going to end in universal salvation of all mankind. It wasn’t even going to result in national salvation for Israel. Some would be lost—but the opportunity to rise again through baptism and then rise again in the resurrection was there for everyone.

Jesus would also be a sign which would be spoken against. He was frequently mocked and ridiculed—nowhere more viciously than when He was on the cross, going through the very act of saving mankind. They sarcastically told Him to save Himself, to come down off the cross. They mocked His message, denied His power, ridiculed His role as the King. Mary didn’t know what all was entailed by this prophecy from Simeon, but it was certainly a sobering message.

Then Simeon tells her, “Yes, a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Mary’s heart is going to break. She will be heartbroken as her Son is mocked and murdered. But she will also probably hurt when she finds out His mission means she doesn’t have access to Him like she used to.15 And perhaps some of the heart-brokenness will also come as people in her own hometown reject him (Matthew 13:54-58) and perhaps even besmirch her name as well (John 8:41). So while it would certainly not be easy for Jesus, it also would not be easy for Mary either.16

The final recorded message from Simeon is this: Jesus’ mission was to expose the thoughts of many hearts. Jesus exposed the lies and hypocrisies of the Pharisees on multiple occasions. Sometimes He even read their minds and told the crowd what they were thinking. How people reacted to Jesus exposed their true thoughts and intentions. Were they sincere followers of God? Then they would follow Jesus. Were they doing it for show, for pride, for power, for prestige? Then they would reject and fight against Jesus.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

What does this mean for us today?

Life isn’t fair. Life isn’t easy. If life were fair, Jesus would have had the easiest life. He would have had no enemies, because He always spoke the truth, always did the right thing, always served God, always showed love—even when it meant telling people hard truths.

If life wasn’t fair and wasn’t easy for Jesus, who was sinless—why do we think it ought to be fair and easy for us? All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). We aren’t promised an easy life. But we are promised an abundant life if we follow Jesus (John 10:10).

God wants ALL His laws to be followed. 613 laws in the Old Testament. 613! And some of them really seem redundant (read Leviticus) or minor sometimes. But in this short passage we see that faithful people don’t leave out any of the commands of God. Mary and Joseph (1) had Jesus circumcised on day 8, (2) named Him like they were both commanded to do, (3) came immediately after Jesus was 40 days old to offer a purification sacrifice—two offerings, actually, and did it exactly as was written in the Old Testament, and (4) came to present Mary’s firstborn Son to the Lord.

Are there some laws we tend to ignore? Maybe about gossip? Attitudes? Forgiveness? Kindness? Always speaking truth? Showing love? Do we find it easy to make excuses for why we don’t follow some of these commands? Or do we faithfully try to put God first?

Jesus is the Way—the ONLY Way! Simeon’s prophecy said Jesus is the Salvation of God. God only has one way of salvation, and that is Jesus. He is the Salvation for Jews, and the Salvation for Gentiles. Jesus knew what He was saying when He said, “I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Have you tried to get in God’s good graces by some other way? Maybe it is through your own efforts (Look at all the wonderful things I’ve done), or maybe through your lack of overt evil (I’ve never killed anyone). Maybe it is through a false gospel (“Ask Jesus into your heart…”). Jesus is the only way, and He set forth the only way you can take that narrow way.

1 This is evidence for the divine authorship of the Bible. The eighth day is the time when Vitamin K levels are highest in the body, which helps with the healing. Today when circumcisions are done, they do it earlier (1 or 2 days old, frequently), but they also give the baby a Vitamin K shot in order to help with the healing. Apparently we can’t wait the 6-7 days to get to day eight anymore.

2 Genesis 17:10-14.

3 According to some traditions, this was usually done by a priest.

4 Leviticus 12:2-4.

5 Luke actually says “when the days of their purification had finished…” Yet the purification sacrifice was only for the mother according to the Law of Moses. How do we rectify this? Some have suggested that Joseph had become unclean as well (those who suggest such usually don’t say how, but it could be from sexual contact while Mary is considered unclean, or perhaps some other reason). Others suggest Joseph as head of the household was responsible for the cost of the sacrifice, and as such was grouped together with Mary in this instance. I personally think it more likely that Joseph isn’t being considered in the word their, but that it refers to Mary and Jesus.

6 Some translations (NLT, for example) use the phrase “destroying angel,” even though the word “angel” is not in the Hebrew text. The idea of an “angel of death” or “death angel” appears to come from Psalm 78:49, which, in describing the Ten Plagues, says God sent “destroying angels” (NIV) to accomplish His wrath.

7 There is a lot more detail which we have left out regarding the firstborn Israelites during the Exodus. They were all counted up, and God took the tribe of Levi in place of the firstborn of the rest of the tribes. However, the numbers didn’t match up, and so sacrifices/gifts had to be offered to redeem (buy back) the extra firstborn Israelites that weren’t covered by God taking the tribe of Levi (Numbers 3:40-51).

8 Numbers 18:15-16. This shekel was weighed according to the sanctuary shekel, apparently a standard unit of measurement for them.

9 This number comes from Accessed May 3, 2023.

10 Simon and Simeon are two different versions of the same name. Simon Peter is called both (see Acts 15:6-14, especially verses 7 and 14, as well as Acts 5:8).

11 The tribe of Simeon disappears early in the biblical record. By Jacob’s prophecy at the end of his life, Simeon was truly scattered among the other tribes. Their inheritance was in the middle of the tribe of Judah, and was eventually absorbed into Judah.

12 This is probably because the Holy Spirit had told him he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26). This makes more sense if we imagine an older man, but it isn’t required.

13 Zachariah (John’s father) was also one, even if it was just for a moment.

14 It is worth noting that Simeon was told something by the Holy Spirit, but he attributes it to God. The Holy Spirit is God (see Acts 5:3-4).

15 Luke 8:19-21.

16 Joseph was dead before Jesus’ death on the cross. Otherwise Jesus would have never told John to take care of Mary as his own mother, and Mary then living with John from that day forward (John 19:26-27).

[Life of Christ] The King has Arrived: Early Life of Jesus (Part 1)

My apologies for not getting this sent out on Wednesday. We had a wonderful week of a Round Robin Gospel Meeting (5 nights, 5 speakers, 5 locations–supported by 9 or 10 congregations), and I didn’t get this posted like I should have. But, enjoy!

The King Has Arrived: The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 1)
(Luke 2:6-20)

Joseph and a very pregnant Mary traveled to Bethlehem because that was the city of David, and Joseph’s ancestral family land. They had to go there as part of a census (for the purpose of knowing who was there they could tax). It is amazing that God used a Roman leader’s taxation plans to get Mary to the place where the Messiah had to be born.

Jesus is born (Luke 2:6-7)

And so it was that, while they were there, the days were finished that she should deliver the baby. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Her Firstborn Son

While I would love to say, “Look, it says firstborn, meaning there were others born afterwards—Mary wasn’t a perpetual virgin!” the fact is, this word doesn’t imply more children followed. It simply means the first one born. It could be used to refer to first and only, or it could refer to first of many. The rest of Scripture furnishes us with enough proof that Mary had other children. We don’t need to use this word to prove the point.

The fact that Mary was a virgin ties in with this being her firstborn Son. There was no possibility of Jesus being anything but the firstborn.

Wrapped Him in Cloths

Some translations say “swaddling clothes,”1 and some other translations just say “cloths.”2 These were either “strips of linen that would be wrapped around the arms and legs of an infant to keep the limbs protected,”3 or “a square of cloth with a long bandage-like strip coming diagonally off from one corner. The child was first wrapped in the square of cloth and then the long strip was wound round and round about him.”4 It appears, based on Ezekiel 16:4, that Hebrew babies, after birth, were washed, rubbed with salt, and then wrapped in these swaddling clothes. So what Luke describes is not something odd or different about Jesus’s birth.

It is believed by some that these linen swaddling clothes were made from remnants of priests’ old garments. The priests were commanded to wear linen garments,5 and it is fitting that the One who was born to be King and Priest was wrapped in priestly material at His birth—and His death.6 This isn’t proof that these were from priestly garments, but if they were, there is definite symbolism to be seen.

If, as some suppose, these were discarded or retired pieces of cloth, it would show the poor financial state of Joseph and Mary—they had to depend on discarded fabric to wrap Jesus.

The Feeding Trough and the Inn

Because of the amount of people who had already come to Bethlehem, connected with the census, all the room at the inn was full. It could have been Joseph’s extended family (they would be descended from David as well), or perhaps other travelers whose ancestors were from that area. Or it could be that the Roman officials who were in charge of the census were refused lodging in Jerusalem, and thus had to go to a nearby town to stay—Bethlehem, perhaps—and took up all the available spaces.7

Regardless of why, the couple found themselves in a place usually reserved for animals. The newly-born baby Jesus was placed in a manger—a feeding trough for horses and donkeys. Not exactly the birth you would expect when God comes to earth to live among us.

Some assert that this took place in a stable, most likely connected to the inn; and others (notably the Catholic Church) affirm this took place in a cave near the inn.8 Neither is specified by Luke, so it is a matter of conjecture.

One of the greatest events in history…

The birth of Jesus is truly one of the greatest events in history, right up there with the Creation and the Resurrection. But both Matthew and Luke describe it with the simple words, “she brought forth her firstborn Son.” You would think there would be more fanfare, more notoriety. Well, just give it a moment, because heaven is about the make the announcement.

The Announcing Angel and the Praising Host (Luke 2:8-14)

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Shepherds Keeping the Flock

It is said by people who know more about lambing in Israel than I do that the shepherds would not be staying with the sheep overnight in the fields unless they were lambing (i.e., giving birth or about to). It is also said that this would usually be sometime in April.9

It would be appropriate, if true, that the ones to whom the angel appeared were working with just-born lambs, because they were about to be told where to find the just-born Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world. Barclay adds an interesting possibility:

But these were in all likelihood very special shepherds. We have already seen how in the Temple, morning and evening, an unblemished lamb was offered as a sacrifice to God. To see that the supply of perfect offerings was always available the Temple authorities had their own private sheep flocks; and we know that these flocks were pastured near Bethlehem. It is most likely that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the Temple offerings were chosen. It is a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.10

The Angel Appears

God used heavenly messengers frequently in these early chapters of the gospels. Gabriel announces John’s upcoming birth. Gabriel comes back and announces Jesus’ upcoming birth. An angel talks to Joseph announcing Jesus’ upcoming birth. And now that Jesus is born, an angel announces that it has happened (and God isn’t done sending heavenly messengers)!

While some translations say the angel “came upon them” (KJV) or “appeared to them” (ESV, NIV), the meaning is more likely “stood before them” (NASB) or “stood by them” (ASV). In other words, the angel isn’t floating in the sky as he talks with these shepherds, but just appears all at once next to them.

And this is one instance where everything you imagine about the sudden appearance of an angel seems to be true. There was an immense glow all around him—so much so that it surrounded the shepherds too. And it wasn’t a glow from a candle or a torch or even a million torches—it was the glory of God.

And you would have had the same reaction they did. They were scared—very scared.

The Messenger’s Message

First, the customary angel greeting to humans who are freaked out: “Don’t be afraid.”

But he then gives a reason why they shouldn’t be afraid: he is bringing them exciting news. He calls it “good tidings” or “good news”—the same basic word that is translated gospel. And truth be told, “good news” is an understatement!

It is good news of great joy—especially for these Jewish shepherds, who were longing for God to send His Messiah. This joy, according to the angel, would be for all the people. Some translations render it “all people” (KJV, NKJV), but literally it is “all the people.” A Jewish shepherd would most likely have understood this to mean “all the Jews.”[11] This understanding is strengthened when the angel says, “For to you is born…a Savior.”

The Jews had been waiting on the promised Messiah, the Prophet like Moses, the true Heir of David—all describing (though the Jews didn’t necessarily understand it) the same person. But the angel describes the One who is born in three ways:

  1. This word appears 13 times in the Old Testament, and 11 of those are direct references to God. We have heard the name applied to Jesus so frequently that He is the one we instantly associate with the name—but Jews in the first century would have heard Savior and instantly thought of Jehovah, God. The angel was basically announcing that their God just became a human. And if you’re one of those shepherds, your mind is blown.
  2. This is the same word as Messiah (one Greek, the other Hebrew). It means chosen and anointed. David used the word when explaining why he would not harm King Saul—the Lord’s anointed. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were all anointed. And Jesus is all three. But most likely, the understanding the Shepherds would have had is that this is the true Heir of David, the King of kings who will usher in God’s kingdom.12
  3. Reiterating the identity of Jesus, the angel uses a word that most often describes God in the Old Testament. It means master or lord or ruler. It is worth noting that the conclusion of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost is that “God has made this same Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Christ.”13

Here’s Your Sign

This was a lot to take in for those shepherds. It isn’t every day you see the glory of God shining around you in the middle of the night, and hear a heavenly messenger tell you that you get to witness the crux of history and the fulfillment of everything you’ve been waiting for. So it makes sense that he gives them a sign to look for. Go to Bethlehem and find a baby wrapped in cloths and resting in a feeding trough.

Okay, so that seems like a rather odd sign of confirmation. I would think the bright, shining, heavenly light would be a more stunning confirmation of the message. God has come to earth as a human, fulfilling centuries of prophecies, and we’re supposed to look for Him in a… a feeding trough?

But consider this. In addition to showing the humbling nature of Jesus’ descent into humanity (see also Philippians 2:4-8), it is also truly something unique. I mean, think about it. How many times in your life have you ever seen a newborn baby in a real feeding trough? And not a sanitized one, but one that was probably used to feed animals earlier that evening? Normally, you would expect to find a newborn baby, wrapped up, and in a hospital or a house—or maybe an inn if they were away from home.

So while it might seem odd, that makes it that much better as a sign.

A Plethora of Angels

As soon as the angel finishes his message to the stunned shepherds, all at once “a multitude of the heavenly host” show up, “praising God.” The Greek word for multitude here is plethos. As in, plethora. One dictionary says the word can mean fullness or the whole number of something.14 That means it is grammatically possible that it was all the angels. Every. Single. Angel. All appearing at once. Even if it wasn’t every one, it was a bunch of ‘em.

Imagine the shepherds’ reaction. You’re already surrounded by a heavenly glow, talking to an angel, and then BOOM! Instantly thousands of angels appear (are they glowing too?) and begin to praise God in unison. I’d be freaked out. And in awe.

Their praise is: Glory to God in the highest. To praise or glorify is to give honor. The praise shows that all honor goes to God for this magnificent event—that God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is His plan (John 3:16) to save mankind (Romans 1:16-17). The highest is a reference to heaven, above which nothing can exist. No one is higher, more powerful, or equal to God, and there is no power that can control heaven except for Him.

Depending on the translation, the second part of their message can be understood differently. The classic King James Version says “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” If this is the correct rendering, then it means God’s actions are to bring peace and show His kindness and love to all mankind. Theologically, there is nothing wrong with that interpretation. But it might not be what the verse is saying.

Most newer translations render it “peace to those on whom his favor rests” (NIV), “peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (NASB, ESV). These translations seem to indicate that the peace that comes from God is only for a certain group of people—those on whom His favor rests, or with whom He is pleased. And so long as we recognize that God’s favor (grace) only rests on those who obey Him, and that He is only pleased with those who obey Him, this interpretation is biblically sound as well.

Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christians (often with the moniker of “reformed”) take this and claim it teaches the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election—that God chose to save certain people before they were even born—before the world was even created! And they claim it is those pre-chosen individuals who God’s peace and favor rests on, because He chose them to be saved, and chose everyone else to be lost—regardless of their actions here on earth.

The Shepherds Skedaddle (Luke 2:15-20)

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Let’s Go!

The angels disappeared—quite possibly as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving the shepherds in the dark of night. And they wasted no time saying, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem!” There was no Let’s go see if… as though there was any doubt in their minds. They said Let’s go see this thing the Lord has revealed to us!

So they ran. They hurried. They were excited about this. (How excited are you about Jesus?)

They got into Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the baby. Honestly, it probably wasn’t that hard. Bethlehem wasn’t a huge town. And you’re not looking in the houses, you’re looking where a manger—a feeding trough—was. So you’re pretty much just looking for stables, barns, or small caves where there is probably light (candles, torches, something). I can’t imagine it was all that difficult for them.

Now the Shepherds are the Messengers

As they arrive, they tell Joseph and Mary (and anyone else around) what they saw and heard. And you have to know that they keep looking at the sweet, innocent, newborn baby that is lying in the oddest place—a feeding trough. Joseph and Mary had already had angelic interactions, but they only saw one angel. Imagine their surprise when the shepherds tell them about the multitude of angels appearing all at once.

The people who heard this wondered—they were amazed and contemplated what this all meant. If you’re in that position, and you are told this baby is the Christ, are you going to try to keep tabs on Him? To know how things are progressing? Are you, after several years of continual Roman oppression, going to get frustrated that He hasn’t taken over yet? Are you wishing time would hurry up? Or maybe you’re just not sure what to think, and you never really come to any definite conclusion.

Mary treasured or kept these sayings in her mind and heart. Did she ponder them, seeking a better understanding? Probably. Did she hear these words with pride for the future accomplishments of her Son? Possibly. Did she just keep her feelings to herself, because she knew her Son was not just hers, but was God’s gift to all humanity? Maybe.

The Praising Pastors

These shepherds (same word as “pastors” in Greek) left Bethlehem on cloud nine. They were excited, overjoyed, awed, humbled, thankful to God for blessing them with this incredible gift. I think any one of us would feel the same way if we got to go back in time and see the baby Jesus right after He was born. After all, we know how the story ends, and have a much better understanding of what His life and death meant than the shepherds could ever have imagined.

But notice they were rejoicing and praising God not just for the things they saw—but for the things they heard, the things that were told to them. How often do we hear about what God has done for us through Jesus? How often does hearing that cause in us excitement, joy, humility, thanks, and praise?

What does This Mean for Us Today?

God keeps His word. The first prophecy about Jesus came thousands of years earlier in Genesis 3:15. According to the biblical chronology, that was 4,000 years before Jesus was actually born. God is not slack in regards to His promises. God never forgets His promise. May we always remember that even though we may not see specifically how God is working things out, He is working them out according to His plan.

Jesus was humble. What greater show of humility can there be than for God to leave heaven and take on the form of a human—and not just any human, a poor human, born to a nation subjugated by another, born in a barn, born to poor parents. Jesus went all-in on humility. Remind me again why we think we’re so great?

Jesus is God. In calling Him “Savior” and “Lord,” God’s angelic messenger was making it clear that this baby isn’t a mere human. He is God in the flesh. He is Immanuel—God with us. This is incredibly important, because Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I, I AM, you will die in your

sins” (John 8:24).


2 NASB, NIV, etc.

3 NET Bible Notes on Luke 2:7. E-Sword edition.

4 William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible commentary on Luke 2:7. E-Sword edition.

5 Exodus 39:27-29; Leviticus 6:10.

6 John 19:40.

7 This is suggested by William Hendriksen in Baker’s New Testament Commentary on Luke. E-Sword edition.

8 The mother of Constantine supposedly identified the spot, and a cathedral now sits atop it.

9 Henry Alford, in The Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary (Vol. 1), e-sword edtion, says it took place on April 5, and asserts it is the same date, 33 years later, on which Jesus died.

10 Barclay, Daily Study Bible. E-Sword edition.

11 Vincent’s Word Studies on Luke 2:9. E-Sword edition.

12 Foretold in Daniel 2:44.

13 Acts 2:36.

14 Thayer’s Greek Definitions. E-Sword edition.

[Life of Christ] Jesus is Coming…Soon (Part 2)

(Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20)

Mary spent the first three months of her supernatural pregnancy in Judea with her cousin Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Joseph was back in Nazareth, oblivious that a miracle had occurred. But he was soon to find out.

Mary Discovered to be Pregnant (Matthew 1:18)

Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way: While his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was discovered to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

In essence, Matthew summarizes the same information Luke gave—but with one big difference. It was discovered (“found,” KJV) that she was pregnant before she and Joseph came together in marriage. The use of the word discovered means it wasn’t something Mary revealed to him. We aren’t told how Joseph discovered it. But by the time Mary got back from Judea, and as the pregnancy continued, it would have become obvious to those who saw her. And it isn’t difficult to surmise that someone went and told Joseph about it.

Though Matthew says, “she was discovered to be with child by the Holy Spirit,” it is clear the miraculous aspect of the birth wasn’t discovered by Joseph when he first heard about it.

Joseph’s Righteous Response (Matthew 1:19-20a)

Then Joseph her [betrothed] husband, being righteous, and not wanting to make a public spectacle of her, determined to put her away secretly. But while he thought on these things…

How Would You Respond?

Joseph receives word that his fiancé, the one he contracted to marry, has turned up pregnant—and there is only one thing he knows for sure: It isn’t his. The immediate, human reaction would be shock, sadness, hurt, and anger. After all, to Joseph this is a betrayal of a covenant, a disruption/shattering of his plans and hopes of the future.

Many people would react by immediately ending the engagement, and spreading to the world that they were cheated on by their fiancé. In other words, many people seek revenge when they are wronged (or think they are wronged), and want to cause as much damage to the other person’s reputation as possible. Others might be willing to forgive, but only after verbally and emotionally beating down the “offender,” making them grovel and beg for forgiveness, and making sure they know they are scum. In other words, they will only consider forgiveness (if you can even call it that) when they think they’ve made the “offender” hurt enough—but they make sure to have it ready to bring back up at a moment’s notice if necessary.

But Joseph? He didn’t respond that way at all.

The Righteous Response

Matthew tells us Joseph was “righteous” (“a just man,” KJV). And then he shows us what a righteous response is when we are hurt.

He did not want to make a public spectacle of her. In other words, he acted out of what was best for her. Certainly other people knew she was with child, and that it wasn’t Joseph’s (and you can imagine the whispering, What exactly was she doing when she was gone for three months?). This was embarrassing enough, and (in Joseph’s mind) Mary would have felt ashamed—Joseph wasn’t about to add to that pain and shame by making a public spectacle of her.

He decided to put her away (end the betrothal) quietly (NIV) or secretly (NASB). The Law of Moses had rules for these types of situations—and in all cases, at least one person (always the man, and in some cases the woman too) was to be killed by stoning. That would be a very public thing, which would draw more attention to Mary’s (supposed) actions. And Joseph wasn’t going to shame her more.

When you are hurt, do you try to get revenge on the one who hurt you? A righteous person won’t. Let that sink in.

Then Joseph contemplated the whole matter. He had made up his mind to put her away, but was still thinking about the whole situation. The point is, he didn’t act immediately. He took the time to make sure he thought it through. In other words, he did not let his emotions dictate his response. And why? Because righteous people don’t act on emotions, they act on thoughtfulness.

So he thinks about her instead of himself. He has compassion. He knows something must be done, but wants to make it as quiet as possible so as not to bring her more shame. And even after making that determination, he takes more time to contemplate it.

Then he sleeps on it (see verse 24) before carrying out anything.

All I Have to Do is Dream (Matthew 1:20b-21)

…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary to you to be your wife; because that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name “Jesus,” because He will save His people from their sins.”

A Messenger Appears

While Luke gives us the name of the angel who appeared to Zacharias and Mary, we aren’t told who appeared to Joseph in this dream. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which angel it was. All that matters is this messenger1 was from God.

He addresses him as “Joseph, son of David.” This is a subtle reminder about just who is in line for the throne of David. At this point, it is Joseph. In order for Jesus to be the King, the true heir of David’s throne, Joseph had to marry Mary.

The Messenger’s Message

Joseph made up his mind, but hadn’t carried through with it yet, when he has a dream. And in the dream, an angel tells him to go ahead and marry Mary. Why? Because even though it appeared like she had done something wrong, sinned against Joseph, she actually hadn’t. Instead, according to the angel, her pregnancy was as a result of the Holy Spirit.

I have had some crazy dreams before, but once I woke up, I didn’t think they were real. Of course, I don’t recall seeing any angels in my dreams either. But Joseph knows this messenger of God is not just a dream, but is telling him the truth. And that takes a lot of faith, because he is being asked to believe something that has never happened before in the history of mankind! He is being asked to believe something that goes against his emotions, something that goes against his understanding of how the world works. And outside of words (from the dream-angel, and potentially from Mary), he has no evidence that it is true.

Joseph chose to believe.

Generally speaking, we don’t like being wrong—and frequently people (even Christians) will reject, ignore, or minimize evidence that might prove them wrong. We would rather dig in our heels and defend our first impression, our emotional response, because there’s no way we could be wrong…

But a righteous person is willing to (1) listen to the evidence, (2) do it with a truly open mind, and then (3) act on the evidence, not on emotion.

The Meaning of the Message

The angel reveals to Joseph that Mary is pregnant with a son—and not just any son, but a Son who is a Savior. And in addition to marrying Mary, Joseph had another role to play—he was to call the Son Jesus. It is interesting that Gabriel tells Mary she was going to name Him Jesus.2 Here, and angel tells Matthew he will name the child Jesus. And when Matthew gives the prophecy fulfilled explanation,3 he quotes Isaiah 7:14 as “they shall call His name…” It all works together.

As we saw last time, the name Jesus means Jehovah is Salvation or Jehovah Saves. Joseph probably knew this, but the angel explains anyway, “You will call his name Jesus, because He will save…” But what Joseph probably didn’t know (if he was like the majority of Jews) is that this salvation wasn’t from human oppression (like Rome), but from sin.

Ultimately, it is sin that we need salvation from. It is sin that separates us from God. And if we die separated from God, we will stay separated from Him forever. Heaven is not great because it is a place. Heaven is great because God and Jesus are there. And the only way we can have the joy of eternally being in God’s presence is by being saved from our sins.

Matthew, I am sure, drops that little nugget in the angel’s message to give his Jewish readers a heads-up that God’s Messiah isn’t what they were expecting.

Prophecy Fulfilled! (Matthew 1:22-23)

Now all this was done, so that what the Lord said by the prophet might be fulfilled, specifically, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which being interpreted is “God with us.”

Matthew’s First Explanation of Events

Matthew, repeatedly in his gospel account, wants to make sure his readers don’t miss the importance of certain events. So he will stop the narrative to say (in essence), This happened to fulfill prophecy. Which one? Here, let me quote it for you. Several of these Old Testament quotations had meanings when they were first given, but those meanings and applications were just shadows—they were ultimately pointing forward to Jesus.

Matthew’s first prophecy fulfilled moment deals with the virgin birth of Jesus. Lest his Jewish readers doubt the story, Matthew pulls up a quote from Isaiah 7:14 which foretold this. While it seems to initially have been foretelling the birth of Isaiah’s own son, Mahershalalhashbaz, it was ultimately pointing to Jesus.4 Some people call this “dual-fulfillment” prophecy.

The prophecy spoke of a virgin who would become pregnant and have a son.5 And not just that, but this Son would be called Immanuel, which means God with us. In other words, when Jesus is born, God is now literally with His people.

Joseph Obeys (Matthew 1:24-25)

Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord instructed him, and took his wife to himself, and did not know her [sexually] until she had brought forth her firstborn son. And he called His name Jesus.

Matthew greatly condenses the story at this point, which we will see as we skip back over to Luke’s narrative.

Joseph was awakened from his sleep (by God?), and did what he was instructed to do: take Mary as his wife. But the timeline of when he did this isn’t as clear. Was it that day? Quite possibly. But Mary was still called Joseph’s “betrothed wife” after their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, close to the birth of Jesus. What we can say for certain is that any thought of ending the betrothal disappeared.

Joseph, probably out of honor to God, did not consummate his marriage to Mary until after Jesus was born. Had they done so, it could not be said that “a virgin…shall bring forth a son…” But after Jesus’ birth, that was no longer an issue. Joseph did not “know” his wife until after Jesus was born—which means he did afterwards. Mary was not a perpetual virgin.6

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Because in order to find out about the birth of Jesus, we need to go to Luke chapter 2.

The Taxing Trip to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5)

And it happened in those days, that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed [or counted]. (This taxing [census] was first made when Quirinius was governor of Syria). And all went to be taxed [registered], every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, into the City of David, which is called Bethlehem, (because he was of the house and lineage of David) in order to be taxed [counted] with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was great with child.

Rome says, “Time to Count You so We Can Tax You”

Caesar Augustus (also known as Octavian) was the second Caesar of Rome, the first being his uncle Julius. He ordered that a census be taken of “all the world.” This phrase, or “the whole world” frequently refers to the Roman Empire in both biblical and non-biblical writings of that era. The purpose of the census was to levy a tax on the inhabitants. A Jewish writer of that era said Rome was exacting “tribute” from Jerusalem.

Luke makes it clear this was the first census/taxing done when Quirinius was governor of Syria. This probably means nothing to you, but this has caused no end of criticizing of Luke’s account, because secular historians haven’t found evidence of a census done during the time Jesus was about to be born. But given that Justin Martyr (a Jewish Christian from the second century), when writing to a non-Christian, told him he could find the evidence in the Roman archives, it seems pretty clear there was documented proof this really happened just when Luke said it did.7

In order for this census to take place, everyone was to go to “his own city.” Apparently, they were supposed to go to their ancestral land. Being a direct descendant of David, Joseph’s inheritance would have been in Bethlehem, though it seems as though the land was no longer in his family’s possession.8

Because of this census/taxation, Joseph left Nazareth (where he was living) and took Mary with him up to Bethlehem, the city of David. This wasn’t exactly the easiest journey on a good day. It would have taken multiple days, and probably longer than normal, since Mary was getting close to giving birth.


In verse 5, Luke, the detailed historian, drops an interesting fact in our laps—Mary was still betrothed to Joseph at this time. They weren’t officially or completely married yet. What exactly all that entails is a matter of speculation and debate. It seems clear Joseph had taken her as his wife (taken her into his house?) based on Matthew 1:24. She traveled to Bethlehem with him, which was not permitted in ancient Jewish culture unless they were married. Yet Luke still calls them “betrothed.” Some possibilities have been suggested:

  • They were married, but hadn’t consummated the union. This seems to be the majority viewpoint in commentaries, but it seems odd for the detail-oriented Luke to use the word “betrothed” when other, more specific words could have been used which wouldn’t lead to ambiguity or confusion.
  • Joseph and Mary remained betrothed until after the birth of Jesus, both bearing some level of social shame from the pregnancy, so that when Jesus was born, He would only be the Son of God, and not son of Joseph.9 While interesting, and it could be right, this is ultimately conjecture.
  • Joseph and Mary were officially married sometime before the birth of Jesus, because Joseph appears to have the right to “know” Mary, but did not take advantage of that right until after Jesus’ birth. This right wouldn’t have been available to him during a betrothal.10 But this could be reading too much into Matthew 1:25.
  • If the conception of Jesus was near the beginning of their betrothal, and betrothals lasted a year (as some claim), their betrothal period wouldn’t be over for another couple months.11 But it would certainly make things awkward to have a wedding ceremony with a new baby present (maybe that’s why they stayed in Bethlehem instead of going back to Nazareth right away?).

I wish I had a good answer to explain when they became officially married (before or after the birth of Jesus), and what it was that changed it from betrothed to official. If it is the consummation of the marriage, then that alone proves the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary to be false—unless they want to say Mary and Joseph were never officially married (which they would reject).

(We will continue this study next week)

1 The Greek word angellos has been Anglicized, or transliterated, instead of being translated in almost every Bible. The Greek word means “messenger,” and the context must determine whether a human or heavenly messenger is under consideration. This is dealt with more extensively in my book War in Heaven War on Earth: What Revelation Meant to the Original Readers and What It Means for Us Today.

2 Luke 1:31.

3 Matthew 1:22-23.

4 Though some are very adamant that Isaiah 7:14 can only be speaking of Jesus, the context of Isaiah 7 and 8 (the only two times in the Old Testament the word “Immanuel” is used) requires an initial application to the time soon after the prophecy was given. The things said of “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7 match the things said of Mahershalalhashbaz in Isaiah 8—these being signs of the overthrow of the kings of Syria and Israel, who were both tormenting the kingdom of Judah.

5 Isaiah 7:14 literally says The virgin  or This virgin (scholars say it could be either), and appears to be speaking to or about a virgin in the king’s palace (tradition says Isaiah married a daughter of the king of Judah). So when he says, “This virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” it wouldn’t mean she would be a virgin after conceiving, but that she was a virgin when Isaiah said it. But when Matthew uses it and applies it to Jesus, he says it had a larger meaning and greater fulfillment by a virgin being pregnant and having a child—while still a virgin.

6 We will deal with this issue more in detail when Jesus’ brothers and sisters show up in the narrative.

7 This is a very shortened response to what is an interesting historical topic. For more details on it, see the commentaries on this passage by Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Henry Alford, and others.

8 The Old Testament required that all family land was kept in the family, unless it had to be sold to pay for debts—and then it was to be returned to the family in the 49th year—the year of Jubilee. That Joseph didn’t have anywhere to stay indicates the land had been sold, and possibly that the year of Jubilee had been (again) ignored by the Jews.

9 This was suggested to me via text message from a friend who hadn’t previously considered the issue.

10 This was suggested to me via text message from a friend and long-time evangelist for the Lord.

11 I have not found anyone arguing this, but I present it as another possibility.

[Life of Christ] Jesus is Coming… Soon (Part 1)

Before we get into this one, another apology for all those who signed up to receive the new posts via email. I just today discovered the emails weren’t including anything in square brackets–which means none of the footnote numbers showed up, and the link to download the worksheet for each issue didn’t show up in the emails either. I hopefully will remember to fix that for future emails.

To download the worksheet for this lesson, click here.

Luke spends nearly half of his first chapter detailing the lead-up, birth, and naming of John the Immerser.1 The rest presents the lead-up to the birth of Jesus (which continues into chapter 2). The similarities between the two parts are interesting, so keep an eye out for them:

  • Gabriel announces the miraculous conception of both John and Jesus.2
  • Both children were prophesied about by the power of the Holy Spirit.3
  • Both mothers stayed out of the public eye of their hometown for a while.4

Gabriel’s Second Revelation (Luke 1:26-33)

And in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth, a city of Galilee, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

The angel came to her, and said, “Rejoice, honored one, the Lord is with you—You are blessed among women.”

When she saw him, she was troubled by this saying, and pondered what this kind of greeting meant.

And the angel said to her, “Don’t fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever—there shall be no end of His kingdom.”

One Month Later…

Elizabeth, after becoming pregnant, “hid herself” for five months.5 Apparently after that, she was willing to go back in public again and let others see how God was blessing her. It was a month afterwards that Gabriel is sent on another mission, this time to the other end of the Promised Land—to a little, insignificant town in Galilee, called Nazareth. He had to find a specific girl and give her a great message.

The girl’s name: Mary.


Assuming our assessment of the genealogies is correct,6 Mary is of the tribe of Judah, descended from David through his son Nathan. And she is betrothed to another descendant of David, a man named Joseph.

Betrothals in that time were legally-binding agreements between the husband-to-be and the parents of the bride-to-be. In the eyes of the law and culture, they were legally married (to break it off required a divorce), but until the marriage ceremony, they did not live together nor did they engage in any “marital activities” that might result in children. In other words, since Joseph entered into an agreement to marry Mary—a virgin—Joseph rightly expected to marry a virgin.7

The Strange Greeting

Gabriel says, “Rejoice, honored one!” I know your translation doesn’t read this way. The word translated “Hail” (KJV, ASV) or “Greetings” (NIV, ESV) is translated “rejoice,” “rejoiced,” or “rejoicing” (or “joy,” “joyfully,” or “glad”) 49 of the 60 times it appears in the New Testament. The NKJV gets it right by showing Gabriel start by telling Mary to “Rejoice,” because he has great news to share.

The phrase “honored one” (or “highly favored,” or “favored one”) only shows up one other place—Ephesians 1:6, where it is translated “accepted” (KJV), “freely bestowed” (NASB), and “freely given” (NIV). It is a modified form of the word for “grace.” Gabriel calls her “honored one” because of the great news he has to share.

Gabriel says, “the Lord is with you.” This is the first part of why she is supposed to rejoice. People who are truly trying to follow God almost always have nagging doubts about whether they are right in God’s sight. To hear a heavenly messenger say, “the Lord is with you” would be a great comfort. But it wasn’t just her righteous status under consideration.

Gabriel then says, “You are blessed among women.” He will explain it momentarily, but Mary is blessed, because—of all the women in the world—God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

So why did God choose Mary?

  1. She was of the right lineage (so the Messiah would physically be a descendant of David).
  2. She was engaged to the right person (so the Messiah would legally be heir to the throne).
  3. She was faithful—she “found favor with God” (verse 30).

We aren’t told how old Mary was when this happened. Some have suggested she was potentially as young as 13, though I have serious doubts about that for the following reasons:

  • However old she was, she had to have shown an independent faithfulness to God (not just following orders from her parents), because she “found favor with God.” This phrase refers to how God views a person’s actions, and is never used of a child elsewhere in the Bible. The first time this idea is found is with Noah, who was around 500 years old.8
  • Mary traveled (apparently alone?) from Galilee to Judah, a trip that was often taken by caravanning together with many others for safety. It would either require going through the land of the Samaritans, or crossing the Jordan River twice to avoid Samaria. Mary made this journey in a hurry, which eliminates the idea of a large caravan. A 13-year old girl, traveling alone (she did not come from a wealthy family, so there would have been no servants) on this journey would have been a prime target for thieves and predators (both human and animal).

I don’t doubt that she was young (obviously younger than Elizabeth), but I can’t picture a 13-year old fitting these circumstances. If I were forced to make a guess, I would say Mary was between 16 and 18 when this event took place.

Mary’s Confusion

When Zacharias saw Gabriel, he was afraid and troubled because the angel was standing there in the temple. When Mary saw Gabriel, she was troubled (and apparently had some fear) because of the message. She wasn’t expecting this, and honestly didn’t know what this greeting even meant—she “pondered” on it.

The Good News

Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid (implying she was at least somewhat afraid), because she had “found favor with God.” As we said earlier, this means her faithful living was seen by God—so much so that God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

Then he gets to meat of the message: “You’re going to conceive and give birth to a son, and you’re going to name Him Jesus.” Other than Gabriel using the name Jesus, this can easily be seen as a reference to Isaiah 7:14—which Mary certainly didn’t understand completely. The name Jesus means “Jehovah Saves” or “Jehovah is Salvation,” and is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament.

“He shall be great.” Chalk it up to Gabriel to give a massive understatement. This is the same thing he said to Zacharias about John, “He shall be great”—except John would be great “in the sight of the Lord.” Jesus is the Lord, so Gabriel simply states, “He shall be great.”

He will be called the Son of the Highest, or the Son of God. Jesus later taught, “Love your enemies…and your reward shall be great, and you shall be called sons of the Highest, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Whereas we gain the name “son [or daughter] of the Highest” in a spiritual sense, Jesus was literally Son of the Highest. God is His only Father, and Jesus also lived up to all the spiritual ideals of the Father. In other words, Jesus is “Son of the Highest” at birth, and earned that title throughout His life (and beyond).

  • Jesus is declared God’s Son prior to His conception (Luke 1:32).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His baptism (Luke 3:22).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son in the midst of His ministry (Luke 9:35).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His resurrection (Acts 13:33)

Jesus will have the throne of his father David. This was prophesied back in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Unto us a son is born. Unto us a child is given. The government will be on his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and justice from now even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

This means clearly that Mary’s Son must be of the royal lineage of David. She would have understood that much at least. It is not a coincidence that Luke mentioned her husband-to-be was “of the house of David.”

One thing we should address now (and probably more in-depth much later in this study) is the term “throne of David.” Some well-meaning but completely off-base folks teach this is speaking of Jesus ruling in literal Jerusalem on David’s literal throne. The prophecy isn’t about a literal chair (which, at 3,000 years old, is either destroyed, disintegrated, or so fragile no one could sit on it). It refers to Jesus ruling as the legitimate heir to David. Jesus is sitting on His throne, reigning from heaven (Acts 2:30; Hebrews 12:2).

This rule will be “forever,” and this kingdom will have no end. This is the same thing said in Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 9:7; and others.

His reign over the “house of Jacob” means, first off, that He was born King of the Jews—He is the Jewish Messiah. Secondly, it means they will have to answer to Him as their King and Judge. Thirdly, it also expands to His kingdom—the church—which is spiritual Israel (Romans 9:6).

Mary Accepts the Mission (Luke 1:34-38)

Then Mary said to the angel, “How is this going to happen, seeing I don’t [sexually] know a man?”

And the angel answered her, saying, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Because of this, that holy thing which will be born from you will be called the Son of God. And look, your cousin Elizabeth, she in her old age has also conceived a son. And this is now the sixth month with her, who had been called barren. For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”

According to some sources, the Jews had a year-long betrothal period before the marriage. Mary and Joseph may well have been at the beginning of their betrothal period when this message was given by Gabriel. The marriage was at least 3 and a half months away (see verses 39-40 and 56), and probably longer. But Gabriel is apparently hinting this pregnancy is going to happen pretty quickly. That explains Mary’s response.

Mary’s Question

She asks him, in essence, “How is this going to happen, since I’m a virgin?” First, notice the difference between her response and Zacharias’ response. Zacharias asks, “How shall I know this?” In other words, he asked for proof, for a sign. Mary asks, “How is this going to happen?” It is a question of curiosity, not a question of doubt.

Second, note that she assumes there is going to be something miraculous about it, because her question is, How am I going to be pregnant when I’m a virgin? And she knows her wedding is not imminent yet, but seems to believe this pregnancy is going to happen before that time.

Gabriel’s Explanation

It isn’t often we are given the explanation for how God performs something supernatural, but Mary gets just such an explanation. He said the Holy Spirit would come upon her. When miracles happened in the Bible, the Holy Spirit was always involved. Thus, if a child was born via miraculous means, the Holy Spirit was involved. When Joseph was troubled about Mary’s pregnancy, an angel told him, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

He also said “the power of the Highest [that is, God] will overshadow you.” In other words, God will make it happen by His power. If God can create man from dust (after creating the dust in the first place), then there is no reason to assume He can’t make Mary pregnant without the aid of a man.

As a result of this supernatural involvement, Mary’s Son would be called “the Son of God.” As we saw earlier, Jesus is Son of God literally, and He also earned the title through His obedience.

To make sure he eliminates any doubt Mary might have, he shares some news with her that she may have not yet heard—your old cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, and has been for six months—and people called her barren!” Then he prompts her to respond in faith: “Because with God, nothing is impossible.”

Some have questioned how Mary and Elizabeth could be cousins (literally the Greek word means “same family”) when Mary is clearly from Judah and Elizabeth is clearly from Levi. The answer is a simple one. All it would take for Mary and Elizabeth to be first cousins (hypothetically) is for Mary’s mother to be from the tribe of Levi (tribal descent was from the father’s line) or Elizabeth’s mother to be from the tribe of Judah. And the text doesn’t say what exact relation they were—they could have been second cousins or third (and don’t get me started on the “once removed” parts), which would just mean a grandma or great-grandma married into a different tribe—which was common. Whatever the relationship, when Gabriel mentions Elizabeth, Mary knows exactly who he is talking about, because they are family.

Mary’s Acceptance

Mary responds with humility, and acceptance. She just says, “Behold, [I am] the handmaid of the Lord. Let it happen to me according to your declaration.” No arguing, no trying to explain why God should choose someone else (like Moses did). She accepts the mission God has given her.

Then the angel departs from her. I have to wonder how he did the departing. Did he just *pop* disappear? Did he quickly ascend to heaven? Was there some smoke to travel upward (see Judges 13)? We aren’t told, but I’m still curious.

The Three-Month Visit with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)

And in those days, Mary arose and went to the hill country, into of Judah, hurriedly. And she went in the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.

And it happened that, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she spoke out loudly, saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed, because those things which were told to her by the Lord will take place.”

And Mary said, “My soul praises the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because he has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, from now onward, all generations shall call me blessed. Because He is mighty who has done great things to me, and His name is holy. His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imaginings of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low estate. He has filled the hungry with good things. And he has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel in remembering His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”

And Mary stayed with her about three months, then returned to her own house.

Rushing to Judah

Why Mary rushed so quickly to Judah is a subject of speculation, but rush she did. Some suggest she wanted to see if the angel had told her the truth.9 Others suggest it was to build up her faith by seeing pregnant Elizabeth in person and to celebrate with her.10 Others think she quickly traveled down to Judah to congratulate11 and assist her aged cousin in her final months of pregnancy. Others think she went to quickly get the highly-respected Zacharias and Elizabeth on her side to vouch for her story of a male-less pregnancy.12 And still others suggest she was so bursting at the seams to tell someone about it, but couldn’t tell anyone around Nazareth for fear of shame, that she went as quick as she could to tell Elizabeth.13

Several suggestions exist for when she left to go there. And this wouldn’t be an issue, except we are trying in this study to keep things in chronological order as much as possible. The Ethiopic translation says “in that day,” meaning she left the very day Gabriel spoke with her. Most English translations say “in those days,” which leaves a bit of ambiguity to how long she waited. I have read guesses of a few hours to two days to three or four weeks. The ones who argue for it being over a week say betrothed virgins were not permitted to travel alone, and that there had to be time for Joseph to find out she was pregnant, have his dream, and decide to go ahead and quickly marry her, then allow her to travel. While I guess that could be true, the idea of Mary hurrying to get there shows she was in a massive rush to get there—something that seems incongruous with a weeks-long or month-long delay.

It seems most likely to me that Mary, discovering the news about Elizabeth, packed as quick as she could and left at the earliest point possible (perhaps the same day, probably a day or so later) to be with Elizabeth. And then, after returning home three months later, she is obviously pregnant, and word gets around (through the grapevine, so to speak) to Joseph, and then the events recorded in Matthew 1 take place (and we will cover those in the next lesson).

Elizabeth’s Praise

Mary comes in and greets Elizabeth. King James says “saluted,” but the word means a loving greeting (and “saluted” doesn’t scream loving nowadays). When Elizabeth heard it (so apparently she wasn’t right there when Mary said it), the baby John leaped in her womb. Before our son was born, he liked to kick, and my wife could feel it very clearly. So what does it feel like for a baby to leap inside the womb?

After John leaped, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (meaning she was being given inspired words) and began to speak. But she spoke “with a loud voice” (Greek mega phone), perhaps because she wasn’t in the same room as Mary—at least not at first.

We know she was inspired to speak these words, because she spoke things she would not have previously known. She repeats Gabriel’s blessing: Blessed are you among women. Then she adds, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” that is, the as-yet-unborn baby Jesus. But Mary hadn’t told her she was pregnant.

Elizabeth then asks, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This is proof as well that her proclamation was inspired—it is one thing to guess someone is pregnant, but to know Mary was pregnant with the Lord—the Messiah? There’s no way that could have been guessed. And knowing what we know about Elizabeth—that she kept all the laws of the Lord blamelessly—she would not have spoken a blessing on Mary if there was even a small doubt about her being pregnant by divine means.

The Catholic Church calls Mary “the mother of God.” This is blasphemous. They reason this way: Mary is the mother of Jesus (correct). Jesus is God (correct). Therefore Mary is the mother of God. No! God has no mother or father. God is eternal. “In the beginning, God…” Mary is the mother of Jesus. She is the mother of the human Jesus. His nature as God existed thousands of years before Mary was born, so in no way can Mary be said to be the mother of God.

Then I can only imagine Elizabeth was smiling, perhaps even chuckling a bit, when she says, “And look, as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” It sounds like she is sharing the joy the baby is expressing.

As a side note, the Bible attributes emotion to the baby inside the womb, and calls him a “baby.” The biblical writers use the same word for a baby inside the womb and a baby outside the womb. It is a baby. Not a fetus. Not a clump of cells. It is a baby.

It is also interesting to note that Luke, being a physician, would have been the perfect person to disprove the virgin pregnancy and virgin birth of Mary. He could have easily said, “This is clearly impossible.” Instead, he does the research, probably even interviews Mary,14 and concludes that it actually happened just as he describes it.

The final line of Elizabeth’s praise shows us Mary didn’t come there to check if the angel was telling the truth. Elizabeth (by inspiration) says “Blessed is she who believed” (speaking of Mary). Mary believed the angel, and God was going to bring about the things He told her through Gabriel.

Mary’s Magnificent Magnificat

Verses 46-55 are often called the Magnificat (especially by Catholics) and it is claimed to be one of the eight earliest Christian hymns, and the first hymn in praise to Mary—yet no documented proof for this claim is offered. These verses may have been done in poetic form (I doubt anyone reading this is an expert on first century poetic structure of Hebrew-speakers whose words were recorded in Greek), but it would be sacrilegious to say Luke wrote down a song designed to be sung in praise to Mary—when all praise is to go to Deity.

The first line of Mary’s praise is “My soul magnifies the Lord.” That means she praises Him, she makes a big deal out of Him. She makes Him bigger and herself smaller. It is a fancy way of saying the Lord is important to her. And we all ought to be able to say the same thing.

In the same vein, she says her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. How often do we rejoice in knowing God saves us? Mary here speaks of God as already being her Savior. Her ultimate salvation is through her not-yet-born Son, Jesus. But the salvation she is referencing is God raising her up from a lowly place (a poor girl in a nowhere town in the lower-class part of the country) to a position where everyone who knows about her will say she was blessed by God. Everyone who cares about God and His plan will know who she is.

She knows this elevation in status isn’t an accident—it took a mighty one to do this great thing. And even His name is holy. And the reason God, the Mighty, did this was because He has mercy to those who fear Him.

Mary then appears to reference (in general) God’s actions in the past, though it ultimately points forward to the spiritual reality in Christ.

  • He showed strength with His arm.
  • He dispersed the proud in their imaginations.
  • He ripped the mighty from their thrones.[15]
  • He exalted those of low estate.
  • He filled the hungry with good things, but sent away the rich empty-handed.
  • He helped His servant Israel (that is, when they acted as His servant, He helped them) by remembering His mercy.

The idea of God humbling the proud and exalting the humble appears several times in the New Testament, and each of these examples fits the same paradigm.

These things were done to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham way back in Genesis 12.

Mary Goes Back Home

After this memorable exchange, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months—just about the time baby John was to be born. She went back to her own house (that is, back to her parents), and awaited her marriage (though as we will see next time, there were some issues leading up to it).

What This Means for Us Today

Trust God, even when it seems impossible. Many promises to us in the Bible seem difficult, if not downright impossible, to grab hold of and trust. Can I really cast my cares and anxieties on Him and let Him take care of them? Can I really trust God to make sure I have what I need? Mary was told she would have a child without the involvement of a man. Yet her stance was that since God promised it, it was going to happen.

Family is important—especially if they follow God too. Whatever the reason may be, Mary spent three months with Elizabeth, and they were both overjoyed at what God had done for them. Far too often Christians (especially if they are related) spend their time complaining about things: the economy, the government, the church, etc. Instead, we ought to be seeking to build each other up.

Jesus is Lord, the Savior. Several times in this passage, Jesus is called “Lord.” It is here Mary is told His name will be Jesus—Jehovah saves. Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins through His death on the cross. Let us not ever forget this amazing gift God offers to us.

1 Luke 1:5-25, 57-80—All of which was covered in the last lesson. And while verses 39-56 include Elizabeth (John’s mother), and most of that section are Elizabeth’s words, the focus is not on John, but on Jesus, whom Mary was then carrying in her womb.

2 1:18-20, 26-31.

3 Elizabeth prophesied about Jesus (1:41-45, specifically verses 42-43); Zacharias prophesied about John (1:67-79).

4 1:24, 39-40, 56.

5 1:24.

6 Lessons 3 and 4.

7 The Law of Moses describes a potential situation where a husband claims his wife wasn’t a virgin on the day of the marriage. The parents of the wife were to bring out the bloody sheet that was on the bed during the wedding night, proving she had lost her virginity after the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-19).

8 Genesis 6:9.

9 Benson, Joseph, Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (1857), e-sword edition.

10 Calvin, John, Calvin’s Complete Commentaries, e-sword edition.

11 Alford, Ibid.

12 Coke, Thomas, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (1803) e-Sword edition.

13 Butler, Paul T. The Gospel of Luke (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1986) (College Press Commentary set) e-Sword edition.

14 This would be the most likely way he would know what she had been thinking and pondering, as is said multiple times in chapters 1 and 2. See John Krivak’s article, “The Voice of Mary” in The Quarterly (Volume 5, Number 1), January, 2021.

15 Some translations say, “seats,” but the Greek word is the same.

[Life of Christ] Birth of Elijah the Way-Preparer

[Note: if you find any typos or mistakes, please let me know.]

[Note 2: To download te worksheet for this lesson, click here.]

At the end of the Old Testament, God inspired Malachi to say these words:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of Jehovah. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6).

From that point forward, the Jewish people had been watching and waiting for this man cryptically called Elijah. There is even a place in the New Testament where some Jews ask a man if he is Elijah.[1] Some believed Jesus was Elijah.[2] Three of Jesus’ apostles asked Him why the scribes said Elijah must come before the Messiah.[3]

All this to say, there was an expectation that Elijah was coming—but almost everyone (including the apostles) missed it when he did come. This predicted Elijah is better known as John the Baptist, though it is more accurate to call him John the Immerser.[4]

Matthew, Mark, and John introduce John as a fully-grown preacher of repentance in the wilderness. They don’t tell us anything about his history, and that’s understandable, given why and to whom each gospel was written.[5] But Luke, as a historian, wanted his readers to know who this strangely-dressed man in the wilderness was, where he came from, and why he was important.

The Setting (Luke 1:5-10)

In the days of Herod [the Great], the king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah. His wife, whose name was Elizabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron. Both of them were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinance of the Lord—blamelessly. They had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

It came to pass that while he performed the priestly office before the Lord in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priestly role, his duty was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

And the whole multitude of people were praying outside at the time of [the burning of] incense.

During the Reign of Herod

It has been popular for the last century or so to say Herod died in 4BC,[6] meaning that both Jesus and John would have had to be born at least two years earlier (Matthew 2:16), though the majority of early Christian writers who dealt with the issue dated Herod’s death around 1 BC, thus placing the birth of Jesus in either 3 or 2 BC,[7] and thus John’s birth six months earlier. Ultimately, the exact date doesn’t matter for our salvation, but since Luke saw fit to give us some context, I thought it worth at least mentioning in passing.

But even more important is the political context. Herod was a foreigner, an Idumean (Edomite), who was made king over Judea by Rome. Jews who read Daniel understood that the Kingdom of God was going to be established during the days of the Fourth Kingdom—the Roman Empire.[8]

Zacharias the Priest

Zechariah[9] or Zacharias[10] (We’re gonna go with Zacharias) was a Jewish priest, descended from Aaron through either Eleazar or Ithamar, Aaron’s two sons who didn’t get zapped with fire from the LORD back in Leviticus 10. Under King David, the priests were divided into 24 subgroups, based on which grandson of Aaron they were descended from. These 24 subgroups took turns serving in the temple.[11]

It has been suggested by some that Zacharias was the legitimate high priest, but not the high priest in practice. Rome liked having control over leaders, and they sold the office of high priest to the highest bidder—whether he was the legitimate high priest or not. Evidence for Zacharias possibly being the high priest are:

  1. God commanded Aaron (the high priest) to burn incense in the temple (Exodus 30:7-8); God inspired Luke to mention Zacharias was burning incense in the temple (Luke 1:9).
  2. God commanded Zacharias that his son would not drink wine nor strong drink (Luke 1:15); the high priest was not allowed to drink wine or strong drink while serving the Lord (Leviticus 10:8-9).[12]
  3. Zacharias’ wife was named Elizabeth (Luke 1:5); Aaron (the first high priest) was married to a woman with the same name (the Hebrew version of it): Elisheba (Exodus 6:23).[13] [14]
  4. Many ancient Christian writers stated Zacharias was high priest, among them Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Ambrose, Theodoret, Dionysius the Areopagite, Theophlact, and others.[15]
  5. The Protoevangelium of James, an early piece of religious fan-fiction (perhaps as early as AD 150), identifies Zacharias, father of John the Baptizer, as the high priest.[16]
  6. The fact that everyone was outside the temple, awaiting Zacharias to come back out, indicates he went in alone. This has led several to believe it was the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would go in the temple alone.[17]
  7. Josephus seems to indicate that though Rome installed the high priests each year, there were at least times when a special high priest was put in place exclusively on the Day of Atonement, apparently to make sure the sacrifice and offering was made by the right person. It is suggested Zacharias was this special high priest in Luke 1.[18]
  8. Zacharias is described as “well advanced in years,” but regular priests were required to retire at 50 years old. The high priest, however, served until his death.

You might think, Well that’s interesting and all, but does it really matter? It doesn’t matter, so far as salvation is concerned, but if it is true, it also means that John the Baptist was the legitimate high priest when he baptized Jesus, and when he said, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” In other words, if Zacharias was God’s legitimate high priest, then John was too, and potentially the last legitimate high priest. I’m not saying it definitely is the case, but it a neat thought nonetheless.[19]

At the very least, John the Immerser was legitimately a priest, and he worked to cleanse people from their sins by teaching them repentance, baptism, and pointing them to Jesus.

Elizabeth the Daughter of Aaron

She is not just a Levite, but a descendant of Aaron, meaning any children she has with her husband would be of priestly bloodline from both sides. Unfortunately, poor Elizabeth wasn’t able to have children. She was barren, and besides that, any hope she’d had for having children (like Rachel) evaporated as she got older and older. And her husband Zacharias was no spring chicken either.

The Couple

Zacharias and Elizabeth must have been amazing people, even if they couldn’t have children. God declared them righteous, because they “walk[ed] in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord—blamelessly.” Wouldn’t you love to have that said about you?

This means they loved the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It means they loved their neighbor as themselves. It means they obeyed the commands of God from the heart. And they didn’t pick and choose which ones they liked, which ones were easier—they followed all the commands of God, and no one could legitimately say otherwise.

Sounds like they would have made great parents…

In the Temple

Zacharias is inside the temple, offering incense inside the temple (on the altar of incense). Given that there were 24 classes of priests, with who knows how many priests in each class, and each class only serving a week at a time, twice a year—getting to go into the temple and offer the incense was something that a priest might only be able to do once in his entire life.

And all the people were outside praying during this time.

The Announcement (Luke 1:11-17)

An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to [Zacharias]. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell on him.

But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you will call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord. He shall not drink wine nor strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. And he shall turn  many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedience to the wisdom of the righteous; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

The Angel Appears

This angel, later identified as Gabriel, shows up on the right side of the Altar of incense. That means he’s standing in front of the veil between the holy place and the most holy place (or holy of holies). Zacharias is supposed to be alone, so this is quite a shock—even if the angel took on an appearance as a normal human. Can you imagine if he appeared like the angels at the tomb of Jesus, with bright shining clothes? And remember too that Zacharias is an older man—hope he has a good heart!

Zacharias is troubled and quite frightened. After all, how did this guy get in here (assuming Gabriel looked like a human)? How did I not see him? Or, if he did look slightly more amazing than a human, Zacharias would be scared because he knows he is in the presence of a heavenly messenger of God.

But the angel says, “Don’t be afraid.” Zacharias had nothing to worry about. God was behind this, and had good news for him.

Elijah John is Coming!

I love the exchange between Zacharias and the angel. The angel starts by saying, “Your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son.” You realize what that means, right? That means—even though both Zacharias and Elizabeth were well-advanced in years, he was still praying that they would have a child. How’s that for faith?

It is also pretty quick proof that Zacharias wasn’t dealing with a mere human here. This visitor knew what he was praying. (I don’t figure Zacharias was in the habit of letting people know he was praying for he and his wife—both beyond the age of having children—to have a child.) Zacharias would have immediately known this was someone sent from God.

And the angel continues, “You shall call his name John.” I don’t know what Zacharias’ mental reaction was to that. Perhaps he thought (as did others later in this chapter), Why John? But this name comes into play later.

The angel says, “You will have joy and gladness.” Zacharias is probably thinking, If what you’re saying is true, that is an understatement! But the angel continues, “and many shall rejoice at his birth.” I bet they will! This will be a miracle! And people will know that God still listens to and cares for His people!

But then the angel clarifies what he means. It isn’t joy and gladness just because an old couple has a baby. It is “because he shall be great in the sight of the Lord.” I can imagine Zacharias, righteous Zacharias who loves God, being overwhelmed and overjoyed. My son is going to be faithful to the Lord! When so many children fall away, can you imagine a better promise to a parent-to-be?

But also notice that the Lord will call John “great.” Later on, Jesus says, “Among those born of women, no one has risen greater than John the Immerser” (Matthew 11:11).

Then the angel starts giving more detail, which instantly would send Zacharias’ head reeling. “He… will not drink wine nor strong drink.” Is he to be a Nazarite then? But before he has a chance to think more…

“He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.” While being “filled with the Holy Spirit” or being “full of the Holy Spirit” happens several times in the New Testament, it is extremely rare in the Old Testament. And it is never said about someone in the womb—except for John. My son is going to be a prophet? My Lord, I know not how to thank you for this grand honor!

I can’t help but believe Zacharias was growing more and more joyous as the angel continued. (1) you will have a son, (2) he will be faithful, (3) he will be great in the eyes of the Lord, (4) he will be full-time dedicated to God from birth, (5) he will be a prophet.

But the angel continues with even more: “Many of the children of Israel will turn to the Lord their God because of him.” Not just a prophet, but a successful one? One who will get through to the people?

And it keeps building: “He will go before Him…” Zacharias didn’t have to ask who the Him was. Malachi 3:1 was something he would have known well:

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me… saith Jehovah of hosts.

Zacharias’ mind must have been racing. My son will be the messenger? My son… foretold by the prophet Malachi?

But then comes the bomb—the most explosive part of the announcement. “…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 righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” My son… is the Elijah? My son… preparing the way for the Lord? Preparing the way for the Messiah???

The Doubt (Luke 1:18-25)

Zacharias said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? Because I’m old, and my wife is well-advanced in years.”

And the angel answered, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, who was sent to speak to you, and to show you this good news. And behold, you will be mute, not able to speak, until the day these things happen, because you didn’t believe my words, which will happen in their time.”

And the people waited for Zacharias and were amazed that he took so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived he had seena  vision in the temple, because he beckoned for them, but remained speechless.

And it happened that, as soon as the days of his service were finished, he went to his own house. And after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived and hid herself five months, saying, “Thus has the Lord dealt with me in the days in which He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Should’ve been Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak

As amazing as this information is, perhaps Zacharias stands in shock for a moment, before his mind starts thinking this is all too amazing to be true. Who is he kidding? We’re too old to have children.

Then he opens his mouth and says it. “How can I be sure of this? Because I’m old, and my wife is well-advanced in years.” Ignoring that he should never have called his wife old, let alone well-advanced in years, he is speaking to an angel of God! He already knows (1) no human could have gotten into the temple without being noticed, and (2) no human would have known his prayers. So I have to assume he was speaking out of fear, confusion, and truly wanting what the angel said to be true, but having a hard time believing it is actually going to happen. Sometimes we wait for something, long for something for so long that it seems it will never happen, and when it does, or when hope arises that it might, our minds are scared to fully buy into it, to fully believe it because we’ve been disappointed so many times before. It is human nature to not want to be disappointed—especially when it is something so personal, so intense, so heart-rending.

I still have to chuckle when I think (1) Zacharias has been praying for he and Elizabeth to have a baby—even in their old age, (2) the angel told him about his prayer, (3) told him God was about to answer the prayer, and (4) then Zacharias tries to explain to the angel why it can’t happen. But we all have our times where we forget what God has done for people. Think Abraham and Sarah.

I’m Gabriel

Gabriel, whose name means Man of God or Warrior of God, only appears twice in the Old Testament. Both times he shows up to explain God’s message to Daniel. So when he identifies himself to Zacharias, the priest knows exactly who he is dealing with.

Gabriel says, “I… stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak to you, and to show you this good news.[20]” It is like he’s saying, “You want to know how you can be sure? Well, I stand in the presence of God. Who do you think sent me with this message?”

I can imagine Zacharias trying to take this all in. God sent an angel—not just any angel, but Gabriel himself—to talk to me?

Not a Word…

As proof, and a little bit of a punishment for doubting the message, Zacharias is told he won’t be able to speak until these things (specifically the birth of the son and Zacharias naming him John).

When Zacharias steps out of the temple, the people were concerned about what had taken him so long. One ancient Jewish writing says of a High Priest around 200 BC:

Once a certain high priest made a long prayer and [his fellow priests] decided to go in after him—they say this high priest was Shim’on the Righteous. They said to him: “Why did you pray so long?” He said to them: “I was praying that the temple of your God would not be destroyed.” They said to him: “Even so, you should not have prayed so long.”[21]

Perhaps the crowd was worried something had happened to Zacharias, perhaps that he had died in the temple—he was old, after all.

But he waved the crowd to him, and was able to get the point across that he had seen a vision in the temple, but was unable to speak.

So imagine yourself in that scenario. The priest comes out, can’t talk (but he could before), and he, through hand gestures and facial expressions, reveals he has seen a vision—a miraculous message from God! But he can’t tell you what was said, because he can’t speak. And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Zacharias was the kind of husband who wanted to share news with his wife before sharing it with others.

It Begins

So Zacharias finished his work at the temple (how many mute days did he spend working at the temple?) and goes home to his wife. Certainly he conveys to Elizabeth what the angel said (though we aren’t given her reaction). But when she becomes pregnant, her emotions must have been overwhelming. Joy, thankfulness, peace, love.

Elizabeth hid herself for five months. It is assumed by several scholars that she did this to have uninterrupted time to praise and thank God.[22] It is also suggested that she wanted to make sure the pregnancy was going well before she appeared to her friends and shared the good news, perhaps because they would not have taken her seriously if they couldn’t see evidence of it.[23]

She expressed her great thankfulness, because “the Lord…has taken away my reproach among people.” She desperately wanted children, but was unable to have any—and now she was old and childless. She and Zacharias’ family lines would both end with them. Except God had other plans.

The Birth (Luke 1:57-66)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to deliver, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and cousins heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and rejoiced with her. And it happened on the eighth day, when they came for the child’s circumcision, that they called him Zacharias, after his father.

But his mother replied, “No, he will be called John.”

And they said, “There’s no one in your family called by that name.” And they made signs to his father, asking what he wanted him named.

And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, “His name is John.”

And they were all astonished.

Then immediately [Zacharias’] mouth was opened, and his tongue freed, and he spoke and praised God.

Fear came on all those who lived around them. And all these things were reported all throughout the hill country of Judea. Those who heard these things wondered about them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?”

And the hand of the Lord was with him.

A Son is Born

In keeping with the promise made by God through Gabriel, Elizabeth gave birth to a son. I am fairly certain this wasn’t a surprise to either her or Zacharias, but it certainly would have been a comforting reassurance of the power and promise of God.

The friends and family, however, apparently weren’t told the whole story ahead of time. In fact, it appears they may not have been told the whole story at all. But regardless, they recognized this as an act of God’s mercy, and  were overjoyed for Elizabeth—and who can resist smiling when they see a newborn baby?

The Meddling Baby-Namers

Apparently it wasn’t uncommon for friends and relatives to name babies that weren’t theirs. When Boaz and Ruth had a son, the neighbors of Naomi (the mother of Ruth’s first husband) took the liberty of naming him Obed.[24] So when it was time for this young child to be circumcised, the neighbors and relatives (I tend to think they were mostly women, probably because of the incident in Ruth) decided his name was Zacharias, after his father.

Certainly this was a sign of respect to Zacharias, that he was looked up to and honored. But whatever he may have thought of the idea, neither he nor Elizabeth was having any of it. Why? Because “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinance of the Lord—blamelessly.”[25] Naming him John was a command of the Lord, and they weren’t about to disobey—especially after they finally were granted the answer to their prayers for a child.

So Elizabeth flatly stated, “No, he shall be called John.” This brought a chorus of confusion. I can picture them all looking at each other, asking, “Did she say John?” Then (can you imagine doing this?) they started to argue with the brand-new mother about what to name him. “There’s no one in your family with that name,” they said. And they weren’t about to let Elizabeth get away with naming her own child! Then they look to Zacharias for backup.

They “made signs” to Zacharias. This has led some to believe Zacharias was not just mute, but deaf as well.[26] I am not convinced. People tend to treat those with physical disabilities as less able than they really are, and this may just be an example of that. Either way, they wanted to get Zacharias to weigh in on their side.

Can we stop for a moment and just say it is never a good idea to try to force a husband and wife to disagree with each other—especially over something as personal as naming their own child?

So Zacharias asks for a writing tablet. The neighbors and relatives are certain he is going to side with them. He writes. They wait. He turns the tablet around for them all to see. Their eyes widen, perhaps a jaw or two drops. Because on that tablet they read: “His name is John.”

And that ends the discussion, because another surprise is coming: Zacharias can talk again—and he does, ignoring the crowd’s attitude about the name. His first words are praises to God.

Fear Came on Them

You know something this amazing (old Zacharias and Elizabeth having a baby), this crazy (naming the baby John?), and this surprising (Zacharias talking after a nine-month silence) was not going to be kept silent. They spread the word all over the place. But the reaction isn’t what you might initially think.

“Fear came on all who dwelt around them.” Why fear? Because they didn’t know what to make of all this. Because they knew God was behind it—but they didn’t know what He was planning with John. Because God had been silent for around 400 years, last interacting with the Jews through Malachi. They knew something important was happening, but they weren’t sure what it was.

But they told everyone they knew about it nonetheless. And everyone that heard it wondered what was going to happen with this child, what he would become, what God would do with him.

Then Luke adds an interesting detail: “the hand of the Lord was with him.” God cared for him, strengthened him, and protected him as he grew.

The Prophecy (Luke 1:67-80)

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant—as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare his ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Zacharias Praises God and Prophesies about Jesus

Zacharias was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” which is a phrase Luke uses to describe someone who speaks miraculously with words or messages given by God.[27] In other words, Zacharias wasn’t making these words up out of thin air. He absolutely meant them, but they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

He praises God because “He has visited and redeemed His people” (KJV). While God had in times past visited and redeemed His people, it seems like Zacharias is using what is sometimes called “the prophetic perfect” or the “prophetic past tense.” In other words, he is stating something in past tense, even though it is still in the future, because of the certainty of it happening. It is so certain that he can speak of it as an already-accomplished event.

This phrase points to the life, work, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Zacharias can praise God in this way because he knows the plan has finally been set into motion with the birth of John, the one chosen by God to be the forerunner for the Messiah.

“He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” Again, prophetic past tense. He’s looking past John to the One of real importance—one who was not from the house of Levi (as John was), but who was from the lineage of David.

And Zacharias sees this as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (v. 70) about salvation (v. 71), about God’s promise of mercy (v. 72), about God’s covenant (v. 72), and about the oath sworn to Abraham (v. 73).[28] He saw this as a promise of deliverance from fear (v. 74).[29] He saw this as instituting God’s plan to make men holy and righteous (v. 75).

In other words, Zacharias saw in this the work of Christ and of reality in His church.

Son, You’ve Got a Job to Do

Zacharias then looks at his son, John, and foretells the work he will accomplish. Most of these things match up well with what Gabriel foretold about John.

  • You will be called the prophet of the Highest (Gabriel said John would be “filled with the Spirit,” which means he would speak by inspiration—would be a prophet).
  • You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways (Gabriel said, “he [John] would go before Him [the Lord]” as the forerunner, Elijah).
    • This also is a reference to Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.
  • You will give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins (Gabriel said John would turn “many of the children of Israel…to the Lord their God”).
    • And of course, we see this carried out when John preaches a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.[30]
  • You will preach salvation through the tender mercy of our God, through which the Sunrise from on high has visited us (Gabriel said John would “turn… the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous [and] make ready a people prepared for the Lord”).
  • The One you preach will give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
    • John pointed people to righteous living,[31] and even more, pointed people to Jesus.[32]
  • The One you preach will guide our feet in the way of peace.

John’s Preparation

Three things are said of John in verse 80.

He grew.

The promise of a baby was amazing, but the promises about the baby wouldn’t take place until he grew up.

He grew strong in spirit.

It doesn’t say he grew strong in the Spirit, as of the Holy Spirit, but that he grew strong in spirit. That means he grew in confidence, in resilience, which made him the perfect candidate to call out the sins of the Pharisees in front of the people.[33] He had no fear when he preached. Some might even call him somewhat hard-headed or stubborn.

He was in the deserted places until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

These deserted places, or wilderness places, are most likely the areas near Jericho and the Dead Sea where the Essenes lived. It is surmised by many that after the death of Zacharias and Elizabeth (or perhaps even prior to it), John went to live with this eccentric sect (responsible for writing and collecting the Dead Sea Scrolls) who had separated themselves from the rest of the Jews. I find the evidence to be inconclusive, but interesting.[34]

What Does this Mean for Us Today?

“God is not slack concerning His promises as some men count slackness.”[35] It had been 400 years since God had said anything to the Jews. It had been 400 years since He had promises a messenger would come to prepare the way of the Lord. It had been 400 years since He had promised Elijah was coming—and He hadn’t forgotten. We want God to answer our prayers on our time, when we want it, how we want it. But God answers when He decides it is right. And God has promised a final judgment[36]—and He hasn’t forgotten. Let’s not ever start thinking that God has forgotten anything, or that He doesn’t care—because He does.

Pray with Confidence! Zacharias had been praying for who knows how long, praying that he and Elizabeth might have a child. But it seems that his prayers had, at some point, stopped being confident, because when Gabriel said the prayers were heard and going to be answered, Zacharias didn’t believe him. Through Jesus Christ, we have the right to come with boldness, with confidence,[37] knowing God will hear our prayers, and knowing that if we ask according to His will, He will answer them.[38]

God delivers us from fear so we can serve Him in holiness and righteousness. When we act on fear, we aren’t living holy, righteous lives. God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of confidence, of love, and of a sound mind.[39]

[1] John 1:21.

[2] Matthew 16:13-14.

[3] Matthew 17:10.

[4] The word “Baptist” is not a translation of the Greek word, but a transliteration—meaning the translators decided to just take the Greek letters and turn them into English letters, without actually translating the word. The word literally means “dipper” or “immerser.”

[5] Matthew wrote to prove Jesus was the King, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for. Mark’s fast-paced gospel account didn’t have space or time for background stories of what was (ultimately) a side character in the story. John gave some aspects of the Immerser which don’t appear in the other three gospels, but mainly to show (1) Jesus was the important one and (2) how the Immerser pointed the way to Jesus.

[6] This view was popularized by a German scholar named Emil Schurer. (accessed 3/28/2023)

[7] Finegan, Jack, Handbook of Bible Chronology, p. 291.

[8] Daniel 2:44. The crazy interpretations of the fourth kingdom to somehow be a reconstituted Roman Empire, or the European Union are without logic, without common sense, and without biblical warrant. If it points to something after the original Roman Empire, then God doesn’t know how to count.



[11] 1 Chronicles 24 doesn’t make it clear which of the two sons of Aaron the specific subgroup were descended from. There were sixteen from Eleazar, and eight from Ithamar. Abijah was the eighth one listed.

[12] The passage given here seems to apply to all priests, not just the high priest.

[13] This may be complete coincidence, or perhaps Luke is hinting at a connection between Aaron as high priest and Zacharias as high priest.

[14] (Accessed 3/28/2023).

[15] This information comes from John Sanidopoulos, (Accessed 3/28/2023)

[16] See specifically sections 5 and 23. (Accessed 3/28/2023). Note: This writing is full of made-up events and doctrines, and is the original source for the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary—but the document was condemned as heretical in AD 405 by Pope Innocent I, and specifically decreed to be “avoided by all Catholics” by another pope less than 100 years later. See; (Accessed 3/28/2023).

[17] (Accessed 3/28/2023).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Each piece of evidence presented could be dismissed as (1) coincidence, (2) appealing to uninspired men, and/or (3) assumptions. However, I personally find #8 to be compelling, especially when paired with #1 and #6.

[20] The Greek word is euangelizo—where we get the word evangelize.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Alford, Clarke, etc.

[23] Barnes, Coffman. As a side note, Coffman suggests this information probably came from Luke’s interview with Mary prior to his writing this Gospel account.

[24] Ruth 4:16-17.

[25] Luke 1:6

[26] Matthew Henry gives it as a suggestion, Alford and Coffman are both adamant about it.

[27] See this author’s The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts (Charleston, AR: Cobb Publishing, 2015) for a more in-depth look at this fact.

[28] Genesis 12:1-5.

[29] Compare this with Hebrews 2:14-15.

[30] Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3.

[31] Luke 3:10-14.

[32] John 1:25-27; 3:27-30.

[33] Matthew 3, Luke 3.

[34] Encyclopedia Britannica even addresses the issue. (Accessed 3/29/2023). As a side note, one recent Catholic writer, in his book, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, suggests Luke may have written his Gospel in part to present Jesus to the Essene community. (Accessed 3/29/2023).

[35] 2 Peter 3:9.

[36] Acts 17:31; Matthew 25; etc.

[37] Hebrews 4:16.

[38] 1 John 5:14.

[39] 2 Timothy 1:7.

Our humblest apologies.

I posted the latest in the Chronological Life of Christ series, when I discovered something was wrong. Not with the post, mind you (though I’m sure there may be a typo lurking in it somewhere).

We switched the service that emails out these blog posts to our subscribers, and realized today that it unsubscribed a bunch of people in the process (including me).

So in case you didn’t receive some of the previous posts on the Chronological Life of Christ, here are direct links to read them on the website.

Part 1: Why are there Four Gospels?

Part 2: The Pre-Incarnate Christ

Part 2a: Considering Christophanies

Part 3: Why Don’t the Genealogies Match? (Part One–Matthew’s Account)

Part 4: Why Don’t the Genealogies Match? (Part Two–Luke’s Account)

Next week, we will have part 5: the Birth of Elijah, the Way-Preparer (John the Immerser).

Thanks for reading, and please accept my apologies for the inconvenience.

[Life of Christ] Why Don’t the Genealogies Match up? (Part 2)

Sorry for not getting this out this morning. Download the worksheet here.

(Part Two—Luke 3:23-38)

The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is easy to understand: he showed Jesus is the legal heir to the throne of David, and the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.[1] The purpose of Luke’s, however, is not as cut-and-dried.

Oh, and it is way different from Matthew’s.

To put Luke’s genealogy in perspective, let’s consider the opening to his gospel account.

Luke’s Introduction (Luke 1:1-4)

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Whatever we decide about Luke’s genealogy, it must fit into this opening statement. Luke didn’t just make up names. His list was the result of careful investigation. Luke did his research, and expected everything he wrote to stand up to the test of careful historical examination.

An atheist named William Ramsay hated the Bible so much he determined to prove it untrustworthy. He used Luke’s writings (the books of Luke and Acts) and went around to the areas mentioned. He involved himself in archaeological studies and historical records. And by the time he was finished, he declared Luke to be a first-rate historian, and proceeded to write several books defending the accuracy of the Bible.

All that to say, Luke would not have put these specific names in this specific order unless he was absolutely certain of their accuracy. So why doesn’t his list jive with Matthew’s? We’re going to first consider the difficulties, as well as proposed solutions to these two inspired lists.


We can’t call ourselves dedicated Bible students if we aren’t willing to take a look at difficult parts of God’s word. And of all the passages that people use as supposed “contradictions,” these two genealogies pose one of the most challenging to explain.

Difficulty #1: Sure Looks Like Joseph’s Genealogy

If we didn’t have Matthew’s gospel, then any reader of Luke would naturally assume (and with good reason) that this genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage through his foster-father, Joseph. Mary isn’t even named in this list. Look at Luke 3:23-24:

Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years old, being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph, who was the son of Heli, who was the son of Matthat…

And if this is the case, then either Matthew or Luke (or both) were just dead wrong on their lists.

Difficulty #2: Jesus Isn’t Heir to the Throne

If this is the legitimate genealogy through Joseph (see #1), then Jesus isn’t in line for the kingdom, as that right is passed from father to son. This genealogy goes back to David, but through his son Nathan (Luke 3:31), who did not inherit the throne, nor did his descendants. This poses a rather significant theological issue.

Difficulty #3: What Was Your Dad’s Name?

If we take Luke’s genealogy straightforward as written, then Joseph was the son of Heli (Luke 3:23). But Matthew says his father’s name was Jacob (Matthew 1:16). I know that sometimes people have multiple names in the Bible (Moses’ father-in-law had three different names),[2] but there is not a single name that matches in the two genealogies between Joseph and Zerubbabel. I personally find it difficult to believe that Matthew and Luke listed the same people (or even just some of the same people), but never once used the same name for them.

Difficulty #4: Luke’s Big Fail on Showing Jesus Representing All Mankind

One of the main purposes behind Luke’s genealogy seems to be to show that Jesus is the Savior for all mankind, because He—like everyone else—is part of humanity through Adam. But since Luke appears to trace Jesus’ lineage through Joseph (who was not His father), then all Luke can prove is that Jesus was raised by a man who descended from Adam. That raising doesn’t give Jesus His humanity.

Difficulty #5: Shealtiel’s Two Dads

Matthew says Shealtiel’s dad was Jechoniah (1:12). Luke says his dad was Neri (3:27). And no, these aren’t two names for the same person. None of Luke’s line from Shealtiel to David Matches with Matthew’s record of the same gap.

Difficulty #6: The Missing People

Between David and Zerubbabel, Matthew skipped a couple names here and there. But after Zerubbabel, things seem to get crazy. Where Matthew has nine names between Zerubbabel and Joseph, Luke has seventeen—nearly double! Was Matthew just lazy?

I’m sure there are probably more difficulties I am missing, but those are the ones that came to mind as I put this together.

Proposed Solutions to the Genealogical Conundrum

Throughout the centuries, Bible students, commentators, scholars, experts (and whoever else you want to throw in there) have attempted to find ways of harmonizing these two lists. And none of them are without their own difficulties. But we will present some of the more prominent ones here:

Possible Solution #1: The Royal and Priestly Line of Joseph

Ambrose, among others, posited that Jesus was descended from the Kingly line of Solomon (Matthew’s list) and from the priestly line of Nathan (Luke’s list). It is argued that this was necessary because Jesus is both king and priest.[3]

While this sounds interesting from a “let’s make a theological point here” standpoint, this solution fails due to the fact that Nathan—the son of David—wasn’t a priest. He couldn’t be a priest, since his father was David, of the tribe of Judah. That would make Nathan from Judah as well. And the only priests came from the tribe of Levi.

Possible Solution #2: Joseph and Shealtiel were Adopted

It has been suggested that an adoption or two could explain all the variances between the two lists. If Joseph was the natural son of Eli (Heli in some translations), but the adopted son of Jacob, then we have an explanation for the two different lists. The same thing would have to be true for Shealtiel: born to Neri, but adopted by Jeconiah.

There are biblical instances of being called “the son of” when it wasn’t talking about a natural parent. In the Jewish way of thinking (and to a large part it is true of us today), “[He] that brings up, not he that begets, is called the father” or parent.[4] Moses was called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.[5] Jesus was called the son of Joseph.[6] Joseph was called Pharaoh’s father.[7]

Matthew literally uses the word “begat” (KJV) or “fathered” (SENT),[8] which implies natural fatherhood, Luke says, “was of” for each layer of his genealogy (most translators expand it to “was the son of,” but the Greek just reads “was of”). While this may not seem like a big difference, Luke’s wording opens the possibility of an adopted son, or another option which we will note momentarily.

But there are problems with this one too.

  • One of the goals of Luke’s gospel, and thus the genealogy, is to show Jesus’ humanity, that He is not just Son of God, but also Son of man. Showing He was raised by a human who was descended from Adam doesn’t show Jesus’ relationship to the human race.
  • Jeconiah was 8 years old when he became king, reigned barely over three months, and was taken captive to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:9-10). He remained a captive until he was 45 years old, when the king of Babylon elevated him to eat with him (2 Kings 25:27-30). In other words, adoption doesn’t really seem like something he would have had the opportunity to engage in.

Possible Solution #3: This is the Genealogy through Mary

While this has its difficulties (specifically Difficulty #1 above), it is the one which answers most of the difficulties, when certain reasonable explanations are given. We will explain how this could be Mary’s family line after showing how this concept deals with the previously mentioned difficulties.

  1. If this is Mary’s, then it isn’t Joseph’s, and thus all differences between the two lists are rendered moot (at least from Zerubbabel to Joseph).
  2. If this is Mary’s, then it has no bearing on the legal, royal line, because that goes through the legal father (Joseph). Thus, this difficulty is overcome.
  3. See #1 in this list.
  4. If this is Mary’s, then it shows the physical line from which Jesus came, showing His relationship to the entire human race by tracing Him back to Adam. Thus, difficulty overcome
  5. We will deal with this difficulty momentarily.
  6. If this is Mary’s, then the difference in number of people between Joseph and Zerubbabel can rationally be explained (and it may be that Matthew skipped some generations in that section as well, which would also explain part of the difference).

So now, all we really have to do is figure out how this list could possibly refer to Mary’s lineage instead of Joseph’s. There are two main ways I’ve seen this tried. But both of them assume (and there is ancient evidence for it)[9] that Heli/Eli (depending on your translation) is Mary’s father.

The first attempt is a rearranging of the parentheses in Luke 3:23. Before we get into this, know that the parentheses are added by translators, as there was no such thing in Greek. So their placement is a matter of context and opinion. Luke 3:23, in most translations, reads: “Jesus… being (as was supposed) the Son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” Instead, it is suggested that it should read: “Jesus… (being as was supposed the Son of Joseph), which was of Heli.” You might say this increases the confusion, calling Jesus “of Heli” or “the Son of Heli.” But since Luke doesn’t mention any women in his genealogy, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for him to connect Jesus and His maternal grandfather this way.[10]

The problem with this is that Luke is extremely detailed and accurate, and doesn’t appear to skip even a single generation. So while it isn’t outside the realm of possibility, it doesn’t seem likely he would skip a generation (Mary) at the beginning, while mentioning the adoptive father. Additionally, pretty much every professional translator agrees (check all the translations you like) that the parentheses are already in the right place, and don’t need to be changed to make it easier to prove a point.

The second attempt takes part of the Old Testament law and applies it to the genealogy. When the Israelites were traveling toward the Promised Land, a group of sisters came to Moses with a problem—their father had no sons, only daughters. What would happen to his inheritance? Moses went to God, who said in these cases, the inheritance would pass to the daughters.[11] These same sisters came back with another question—what happens if they get married to someone outside their tribe? God’s answer was for them to only marry whoever they wanted, but only within their tribe, because the inheritance that had come to the daughter would become also the inheritance of her husband.[12]

How does this apply to the genealogy? This law, when figuring the inheritance, counts the son-in-law as a son. That is why it is called a son in law. Thus, when a man had only daughters, the genealogy would give his son-in-law as his son, which wouldn’t mess up the later lines, because any children born to that union would still be physical descendants.

So, take all that information, then assume Heli was the father of Mary, but he had no sons, only daughters (a legitimate possibility). After his marriage to Mary, Joseph, now Heli’s son-in-law, would be counted as his son.[13]

So when Luke says, “Joseph, which was the son of Heli,” he’s saying Joseph was the son in law of Heli.

It is suggested that this is also the situation Shealtiel was in, being the son-in-law of Neri, who (according to this understanding) had no sons. Thus, Shealtiel would have been counted as his son in this genealogy.

I get that this isn’t the easiest, most cut-and-dried explanation we could want, but it is reasonable, fits with Jewish practice and custom of the time, and does away with all the difficulties between Matthew and Luke’s accounts. Because of this, even though it takes some thinking to get there, I am satisfied that this is the best explanation for the differences between the two genealogies.

Luke’s Purposes for His Genealogy

We already mentioned above that one of Luke’s purposes seems to be to show the humanity of Jesus—that is, Jesus was a human, born from a human, descended from Adam like every other human. In other words, Jesus is one of us. This makes Jesus relatable. He had to grow, to learn, to suffer, to eat, to sleep just like the rest of us.

Another purpose may have been to explain to the Greeks (who had myriads of theories and traditions about where man came from) the origin of mankind. He traces Jesus back to the beginning of humanity (Adam), and then says Adam was “of God,” meaning God was his source.

Both these two reasons help explain why Luke ran his genealogy backwards from Jesus to Adam instead of forward like Matthew did.

Luke may have also intended by this to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Zerubbabel. Whether he intended it or not, it does have that effect.

The Genealogy of Luke

Outside of Joseph, all the names between him and Zerubbabel are people only mentioned here. We know nothing about anyone on this portion of the list except that they are descended from Zerubbabel, and are in the ancestry of Jesus.

Since we discussed Zerubbabel (whose name literally means “Born in Babel [Babylon]”) and Shealtiel in the previous lesson, we won’t go into them here.

From Shealtiel, we encounter another list of people whose names only appear here. In other words, we know nothing about any of these men from Neri (verse 27) to Mattatha (verse 31), except that they are in this genealogy.


Nathan (father of Mattatha) was a son of David and Bathsheba, and was born in Jerusalem.[14] He almost certainly was named after Nathan the prophet, a friend of David who called out David’s horrid sinfulness to his face.

David through Abraham

We covered these men in the previous lesson.


Abraham’s father Terah traveled with him when they left Ur of the Chaldees, and died in Haran, a city Terah may have named after his own dead son.[15]

Nahor, Sereg, Reu

Outside of their appearance in genealogical records, nothing is known about these men.


I would have included Peleg’s name in the previous list, except that in Genesis 10:25, we are told he was called Peleg, “for in his days the earth was divided.” What exactly that means isn’t clear. It could mean his father was involved in some dividing up of land (the word “land” and the word “earth” are the same word in Hebrew). It could mean the family divided into different parts of the earth at the time Peleg was born. Or it could mean the earth was a giant land mass (frequently referred to in later literature as Pangea) that God divided into continents around this time.[16]


Heber was the well-known head of the family, which gave rise to his descendants being called Hebrews. The first person called a Hebrew is Abram (who God later renamed Abraham).[17] When Moses went to Egypt to free the Israelites, he went proclaiming “the LORD God of the Hebrews” had sent him.[18] In fact, the Israelites aren’t called Israelites until Exodus 9:7—before that they are called Hebrews.

Outside of his appearance in genealogies, we know nothing about him, but he must have been of some importance to have people generations down the line still being called by his name.

Shelah, Cainan, Arphaxad

Like so many others in Luke’s list, nothing is known about these men outside of genealogical facts. But God used them.


Possibly the oldest of Noah’s three sons, Shem was given the blessing by his father. It is from Shem that we get the word Semitic, which can be used to describe a wide variety of languages, but when applied to people (at least in modern times) it only refers to Jews.


In a time of rampant sinfulness, where “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only on evil continually,”[19] Noah stood out like a bright light. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”[20] By faith, Noah built an ark at the command of God, to keep them safe from the rain and floods that would come. This is even more impressive when you consider it had never rained before. So Noah was building an ark, preparing for something that no one had seen or heard of before. Imagine the heckling he would have gotten from those he warned: Water from the sky? Noah have you lost your mind? You’re nuts! But Noah kept working and working for over 100 years, staying faithful to God throughout it all.


Outside of his appearance in genealogies, nothing is known of Lamech.


His name literally means, “When he goes, it comes.” Methuselah lived longer than anyone in recorded history at 969 years. And his name seems to be prophetic—because he died the same year the flood came.


This man “walked with God.” God thought it was so important that He had Moses record that fact twice in three verses.[21] Genesis 5:22 seems to indicate he began walking with God after Methuselah was born. And since Methuselah’s name appears to foretell the flood, it may be that Enoch started taking God seriously at that point.

Enoch is called a prophet of God. He prophesied the flood (through Methuselah’s name), and another of his prophesies was quoted by Jude to apply to false teachers in the first century.[22]

Enoch is in rare company, being one of only four righteous people in the entire Bible whose earthly end was orchestrated and carried out by God. The other three are Moses,[23] Elijah,[24] and Jesus.[25]

Jared, Mahalaleel, Cainan, Enosh

Jared is the second-oldest person in recorded history. But other than their ages at death and their places in the genealogy, nothing is known of these men. It may be assumed that these men were righteous. It is from this family that men were born who are called “sons of God.” Unfortunately, most of these offspring married unfaithful spouses, “daughters of men,” and went badly astray.[26]


Seth is the third son that we know about from Adam and Eve. He certainly wasn’t their third child. Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply.” Seth wasn’t born until at least nine months after Cain killed Abel. How old was Cain when that happened? Most seem to guess at least twenty years old. So were Adam and Eve “fruitful” and “multiplying” if they only had two children, waited twenty years, and then had a third?[27]

It was after Seth fathered Enos that “men began to call upon the name of the LORD.” Seth and his descendants appear to have dedicated themselves to following God.


Adam was the first sinless man, who then became the first sinner. Eve was deceived by the serpent, but Adam was there with her and said nothing. Instead, he joined in. When God came to Adam (who was the head of the family), asking what was going on, Adam threw Eve under the proverbial bus. But Paul makes it quite clear that Adam is the one to blame.[28]

There is actually surprisingly little good said about Adam in the Bible. He was the first human, created in the image of God. He worked the ground. He named Eve and he named the animals. And he had children with his wife. That pretty much summarizes the non-bad things (which are: knowingly disobeying a direct command of God, hiding from God, lying to God, blaming Eve, blaming God).


We can’t miss the fact that Luke traces all of humanity back to God. It was God’s plan to create man. It was God who formed Adam and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. It was God who created a garden paradise for Adam and Eve to live in. It was God’s plan to save mankind from their sin by sending His Son to be a perfect example, a perfect teacher, and a perfect sacrifice for them and us. He put that plan into motion by creating Adam.

When we look at the genealogies, we often get lost in the names and human-ness of the list, and sometimes we forget that God is the one behind it all. Luke reminds us not to forget where we came from. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

Behind it all, there is God. The bookends of Luke’s genealogy are Jesus and the Father, God. How are you doing at remembering God in your life? Do you pray enough? Do you thank Him enough? Do you read His word enough?

Jesus knows what it is like to suffer, to face temptation, to be tired, to be hungry, to be betrayed. And because of these things, He is able to identify with us, to help us.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Difficulties in the Bible can be figured out, or at least given a reasonable explanation if we are willing to dig a little and think a little. The world is quick to label anything a bit different in the Bible as a contradiction, but all of them have rational, reasonable explanations if we are willing to look for them.

We can’t back away from difficulties. We should be willing, as Christians who trust in God and His word, to admit difficulties and try to find reasonable answers.

[1] See previous lesson for far more detail.

[2] He was called Reuel (Exodus 2:18), Jerthro (Exodus 18:12), and Hobab (Judges 4:11).

[3] Just, Arthur Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke (Thomas C. Oden, editor). E-Sword edition.

[4] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible on Luke 3:23. E-Sword edition.

[5] Exodus 2:10; Acts 7:21

[6] Luke 2:48; John 6:42.

[7] Genesis 45:8.

[8] The Spoken English New Testament.

[9] See John Gill’s Exposition on this verse for more information.

[10] McGarvey, J.W., and Pendleton, Philip Y., The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company, FIND YEAR) page 7.

[11] Numbers 27:1-11.

[12] Numbers 36.

[13] McGarvey and Pendleton, Fourfold Gospel, page 7.

[14] 1 Chronicles 3:5.

[15] Genesis 11:31-32.

[16] While I like this option best for the coolness factor, I tend to think if the Pangea hypothesis is real, it would have happened during the flood.

[17] Genesis 14:13.

[18] Exodus 3:18; 9:1.

[19] Genesis 6:5

[20] Genesis 6:8.

[21] Genesis 5:22-24.

[22] Jude 14-16.

[23] Deuteronomy 34:5-7.

[24] 2 Kings 2:1-11.

[25] John 3:16; Acts 2:22-24.

[26] Genesis 6:1-3. The idea that “sons of God” in this passage refers to angels who fell is highly imaginative fiction which, unfortunately, has been allowed to be believed as truth. Jesus said angels neither marry nor are given in marriage (Mark 12:15). They are sexless beings. After describing the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of men,” we are given God’s thoughts: “My spirit shall not always strive with man…” (Genesis 6:3). The sinners of verse 2 are humans, otherwise God is confused about who He is talking about.

[27] This doesn’t even get into the fact that Cain had to get a wife from somewhere—it was either his sister or a niece.

[28] 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; Romans 5:12-14.

How Long: Using Math and the Life of Othniel

From Faithful till Fallen—How Long?

Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, and they conquered the territory for seven years. Afterwards, Joshua divided up the land to the twelve tribes (I just summarized the whole book of Joshua for you). We are told near the beginning of Judges that Israel was faithful as long as Joshua lived, and as long as the elders who outlived Joshua were still alive. But by the time we get into Judges 3, the Israelites had become so sinful, so unfaithful, that God sold them back into slavery. The question is: how long did it take for them to go from fully faithful to fully fallen?

We can’t get an exact answer, but we can certainly narrow it down to a specific range by looking at the life of the first judge, Othniel. We aren’t told his age at death, but Moses died at 120, and Joshua died at 110 (and they seem like outliers). Let’s be generous and say Othniel lived to age 100. So let’s account for the years of his life.

Othniel was a soldier during the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 15:15-17), meaning he was at least 20 years old when they crossed the Jordan River. The conquest lasted 7 years, meaning he was at least 27 years old when the land was divided. So here, we have accounted for at least the first 27 years of his life—during which time Israel was fully faithful.

Judges 3 tells us he judged Israel for 40 years before he died. But before he judged Israel, they had been in slavery to the King of Mesopotamia for 8 years. Thus, we have now accounted for the last 48 years of Othniel’s life. When you put that with the at least 27 years at the beginning of his life, we have already accounted for 75 years of his life. We still have 25 years in the middle to deal with.

Joshua didn’t die right away after dividing up the land. And the elders of Israel lived at least for a while after Joshua’s death. I don’t think it is a stretch to say they may have lived another 10 years after the conquest ended. And if that is the case, we have another 10 years of Othniel’s life accounted for—10 more years of Israel being faithful to God. And that leaves us with around 15 years. 15 years from Israel being called “faithful” by God to their becoming so wicked that He sold them back into slavery. And it may not have even taken that long, based on how old Othniel was when the conquest started—he was at least 20.

How fast can a congregation go from faithful to fallen? Pretty fast. See Galatians 1:6.

Othniel becomes a Soldier Othniel in Conquest Life of Joshua and Elders ISRAEL FALLING Enslaved to Mesopotamia Othniel Judging
Minimum 20 years old 7 years +/- 10 years 15 years 8 years 40 years

-Bradley S. Cobb

[Life of Christ] Why Don’t the Genealogies Match Up? (Part One)

Download the Worksheet for this lesson here.

Having examined (at least partially) the heavenly existence of Jesus before He was born to Mary, it now behooves us to look into what God was doing to make sure Jesus had an earthly existence. And not just any earthly existence, but the right one.

Fortunately, Matthew and Luke both give us the answer. Unfortunately, they don’t give the same answer. But both are inspired, so let’s examine them and see what we can learn from the two distinctly different genealogies of Jesus, and whether there is any way of reconciling them with each other.

Matthew’s Introduction (Matthew 1:1)

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1).

Matthew’s gospel opens with a thesis statement for his readers—Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the one who was promised to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), and the one who was promised to David (2 Samuel 7:4-17).

Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience.[1] If Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ (as Matthew affirms in his first verse by calling Him Jesus Christ), then he was obligated to prove He was of the right pedigree.

Abraham to David (Matthew 1:2-6a)

Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, and Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers. Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez fathered Hezron, and Hezron fathered Ram. Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, and Nahshon fathered Salmon. Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab, Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, and Obed fathered Jesse. Jesse fathered David the king.

Matthew gives his Jewish readers a brief reminder of the ancestry of David, starting with Abraham. Nothing here would have given them much surprise, as it all comes straight from Old Testament Scriptures. But as a reminder, he lays it out for them.


God promised Abraham that through his seed, all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Paul, when writing to the Galatians, made clear that when God said “seed,” he meant “seed.” Singular. Not seeds, as though this was a reference to the Jewish race, but seed, a single individual (Galatians 3:15-18).


Abraham (then still names Abram) complained to God that he had no child, and that his head servant was his heir. God’s reply was, “this man will not be your heir, but one whom you father will be your heir” (Genesis 15:4-5). After the fiasco leading to Abraham having a child, Ishmael, with Sarah’s servant, God reiterated that His promise was of a legitimate son, born to Sarah. That son was Isaac.

God gave Isaac the same promise he gave Abraham: “…in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 26:4b).


Jacob and Esau were the only two children (and twins at that) born to Isaac. Thus, the promises God made to Abraham and reiterated to Isaac had to go through one of the two. Jacob manipulated his hungry brother out of his birthright (as Esau was the oldest), and then outright stole the blessing from him (Genesis 27). But he could not steal the promise that God had given to Abraham and Isaac. That was something that was given to him knowingly by Isaac and God. Isaac said:

God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful, and multiply you so you may become a multitude of people, and give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your seed with you, that you might inherit the land wherein you are a stranger, which God gave to Abraham (Genesis 28:3-4)

And God reiterated it:

God said to him, “Your name is Jacob. Your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.” And He called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall be from you, kings will come from your loins. And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you and to your seed after you” (Genesis 35:11-12).


Jacob (Israel) had twelve sons, the fourth of which was Judah. The first three sons (Reuben, Simeon, and Levi) lost the chance at being the seed by their own actions.[2] Regardless, at the end of Jacob’s life, he gave blessings and predictions about each of his children. Judah (whose name means “praise”) received this specific blessing:

Judah, you whom your brethren shall praise. Your hand will be in the neck of your enemies. Your father’s children will bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp. From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stopped down, he crouched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. His eyes shall be red with wine; his teeth white with milk.

Remember, as part of the reiteration of God’s promise to Abraham, God told Jacob, “kings will come through your loins.” Jacob now clearly says that promise is going through Judah.


Matthew mentions Judah’s son s Pharez and Zerah (twins), as well as their mother, Tamar. That whole situation is filled with brokenness, as Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law who pretended to be a prostitute to get him to impregnate her.[3] We aren’t told specifically which child the promise would go through, but we are definitely given a hint when Pharez’ descendants are named, but Zerah’s are not (Genesis 46:12; Numbers 26:20-21).

Hezron, Ram, and Amminidab

Outside of their names, and that they are the next three generations after Pharez, we know very little about three men. Ram’s name only appears in genealogies—if not for them, we wouldn’t even know he existed!

We know one very interesting fact about Amminidab, however. He was the father-in-law of a very famous Israelite—Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, and also Moses’ brother (Exodus 6:23).

It is pretty safe to assume that Amminidab was considered an important man in the tribe of Judah.


Nahshon was chosen by God to stand with Moses as they began to number the people (Numbers 1:1-4, 7). He was called “captain of the sons of Judah” (Numbers 2:3). He was the official representative of Judah in offering sacrifices to God, called a “prince” by God, and selected to be the first of all Israel to bring the sacrifices and offerings (Numbers 7:10-17).

It is pretty easy to see the promise went through Nahshon.


Given who his father was, it is probable that Salmon was well-respected and a leader in Judah. The only fact we know about Salmon (outside of strict genealogical details) is that he married a Canaanite woman—a (former) prostitute named Rahab. We can presume from this that Salmon was not racist, and that he understood God’s law against intermarriage with Gentiles to be a reference to heathen Gentiles, not to Gentiles who wholeheartedly turned to God.

Here we need to bring up an important fact: the Old Testament doesn’t say Salmon was married to Rahab. Matthew is the only biblical writer to mention this fact. But this had to be something the Jews already knew (via tradition, at the very least), otherwise Matthew damages his own credibility by seeming to make up something, trying to insert a new name into the story that really doesn’t help his cause any.

As Salmon is the only named son of Nahshon, the Jews would (rightly) assume the seed promise goes through him.


Boaz first appears as a wealthy, older man who is very caring. And like his father, he does not view all non-Jews as filthy, unclean enemies. He is not just willing to marry Ruth, a Moabite widow, but announces it publicly before the city leaders, even though he risks another man taking her by doing so.[4]

As Boaz is the only named son of Salmon, the Jews would (rightly) assume the seed promise goes through him.


We know nothing about Obed, except for where he fits in the geological line. But as he is the only named son of Boaz, the Jews would (rightly) assume the seed promise goes through him.


As the only named son of Obed, Matthew’s Jewish readers would (rightly) assume the seed promise went through him. Outside of being a shepherd, and being a father of several sons, nothing else is known about him.


David was the youngest son of Jesse, but the one whom God chose to be king after Saul, because David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:13-14; 16:7, 11-13). God promised Jacob kings would come from him. Jacob prophesied “the scepter shall not depart from Judah.” And now we finally have the first king from the line of Judah. Therefore it is abundantly clear that the promise to Abraham goes through David.

God promised David:

“When your days are complete and you are buried with your fathers, I will raise up your seed after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

Through this promise, God made it clear His promise to Abraham went through David, and through the royal descendants who would rule on the throne.

Solomon through Jechoniah (Matthew 1:6b-11)

Matthew breaks down his genealogy into three sections (Abraham to David; David to the captivity; the captivity to Jesus—see Matthew 1:17). And since we’ve already discussed David, let’s move on to his son.

David fathered Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon fathered Rehoboam, Rehoboam fathered Abijah, and Abijah fathered Asa. Asa fathered Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat fathered Joram, and Joram fathered Uzziah. Uzziah fathered Jotham, Jotham fathered Ahaz, and Ahaz fathered Hezekiah. Hezekiah fathered Manasseh, Manasseh fathered Amon, and Amon fathered Josiah. Josiah fathered Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.


The man with the most wisdom in the Old Testament almost didn’t become king. In fact, his very existence should not have happened. David basically raped a married woman, got her pregnant, tried to hide what he did by having her husband come back from war (but he refused to go home when his fellow-soldiers were still fighting), then finally ordered her husband’s death, then married her. To say David sinned with Bathsheba seems to cheapen the word “sin.”

It is from this new should-never-have-happened marriage that Solomon was born. Near David’s death, another of his sons tried to take the throne. It took a death-bed pronouncement from David to seat Solomon (then quite young) on the throne.

God appeared to Solomon, asking him to make a request. Solomon didn’t ask for money or fame, but for wisdom and understanding so he could rule well and judge rightly (1 Kings 3:5-9). While Solomon had wisdom and understanding, and could apply it well to the people, he didn’t apply it to himself. Like Salmon and Boaz, Solomon was not racist. Unlike Salmon and Boaz, Solomon didn’t care about the religious convictions of his wife—oops, I mean wives (700 of them, not counting his concubines). He let his wives (Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Zidonians, Hittites, and Egyptians) lead him into worship of false gods—and Solomon even built temples to these gods in Jerusalem![5]


Rehoboam was a prideful young man who refused to listen to the counsel of the older, wiser counsellors who said Lower the taxes, and the people will be with you. Instead, he listened to his ignorant friends who told him to Raise the taxes and show them you (as the government) are in charge! Because of this, the kingdom of Israel split, leaving Rehoboam with just two tribes under his authority: Judah and Benjamin.


Abijam’s reign was short (three years), and he was wicked. But, because of God’s promise to David, the line was not cut off—showing the promise was still remembered by God, and was still going through the royal line.[6]


Asa reigned longer than Saul, David, or Solomon. He reigned 41 years, and started out well. He removed the sodomites from the land, destroyed the idols his fathers (which would include Solomon) had made, and even removed his mother from a place of power because she had made an idol. But when the northern kingdom of Israel erected a blockade against him, he took treasures from the temple and sent them to Syria to buy their help—instead of seeking help from the Lord. God sent a prophet to Asa to chastise him for not relying on God—so Asa threw him in prison. Then in his 39th year as king, he got a painful disease in his feet, but refused to ask God for help, replying only on doctors.

But God apparently had mercy on him and gave him grace, for we are told, “Asa’s heart was perfect with the LORD all his days” (1 Kings 15:14) and “[Jehoshaphat] walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 20:32).


Surprisingly, there is a lot written about Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles, extolling his faithfulness to the LORD. My personal favorite statement is: “his heart was lifted up in the ways of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 17:6). He organized a kingdom-wide Back-to-God movement, sending princes and Levites across the nation of Judah to read and explain the Law of Moses to the people (2 Chronicles 17:7-10). These reforms caused Judah to gain great power and prestige and peace.

It is interesting that we are only told of one thing that displeased the LORD. And it wasn’t that he teamed up with the super-wicked king Ahab to go to battle against Syria. It was that he joined himself with Ahaziah (Ahab’s son) to make ships to go get gold. It was because of Ahaziah’s wickedness, and Jehoshaphat’s willingness to still work with him that the ships were destroyed—neither of them prospered in that venture.[7]


Jehoram was the firstborn son of Jehoshaphat, but he did not follow his father’s example. After taking the throne, he murdered all of his brothers. He then married Ahab’s daughter, built new high places of pagan worship, and “he wrought that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.”[8]

It was so bad that God sent Elijah (who normally just worked in the northern kingdom of Israel) to tell him off and prophecy bad things for him.

Thus says the LORD God of David your father, “Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, nor in the ways of Asa, king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and have also murdered your brothers of your father’s house, who were all better than you—Behold, the LORD will smite the people, and your children, and your wives, and all your possessions with a great plague. And you will have great sickness because of a bowel disease, until your bowels fall out because of the sickness, day by day.”

All the enemies Jehoshaphat had put down started to rise up, and God smacked Jehoram with an incurable bowel disease that lasted two years.

But you want to know how awful Jehoram was? Check this out:

So he died of horrible diseases. And his people made no fire for him like they did for his fathers. He was 32 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem for eight years, and departed with no one’s regret. They buried him in the city of David, but not with the kings (2 Chronicles 21:19-20).

But even with all this, “the LORD would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant he had made with David, and because He promised to give a light to him and to his sons forever” (2 Chronicles 21:7).

The Missing Kings…

It is guessed that Matthew was trying to make things easy to memorize, by dividing the genealogy from Abraham to Jesus into three groups of 14. But by doing so, he had to skip some of the rulers of Judah. It’s important to note that he isn’t saying these people didn’t exist. But as his readers would have already known their history, he could easily skip some generations and the point would still be made: The promised King came through this line. They knew that Uzziah was the great-great grandson of Jehoram.

In case you’re curious, Matthew skipped Ahaziah (a wicked king who died after a year in power), Athaliah (Ahaziah’s mom, who tried to kill off all the royal seed so she would have no challengers to the throne), Joash (the kid who became king after the priests killed Athaliah—he started off good, but his story is heart-breakingly bad at the end), and Amaziah (who “did what was right in the sight of the LORD, but not with a perfect heart,” 2 Chronicles 25:2).


Uzziah started reigning at 16 years old, and “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 26:4). Zechariah the prophet was a very positive influence on the young king (who reigned a massive 51 years). His reign was marked by faithfulness to God and victory over Judah’s enemies. Until Uzziah got too big for his britches. He let the victories and the blessings from God go to his head.

I think (note: that means this is my opinion) Uzziah, out of gratitude and a heartfelt desire to show God praise, did what got him in trouble. He went into the temple, because he wanted to personally offer incense to God on the altar of incense—inside the temple. Azariah the priest, along with 80 warrior-priests, went in to stop him. They pointed out to him, You aren’t authorized by God to burn incense to the LORD. Only the consecrated priests are.[9]

As a result of his presumptuous worship (doing what God had not authorized), he was stricken with leprosy all the way to his head, and was “thrust out” by the priests. He died as a leper.


Jotham only reigned 16 years (dying at age 41), but was faithful to God. I love how the writer of 2 Chronicles puts it:

And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Uzziah did, except he didn’t enter into the temple of the LORD… Jotham became mighty because he prepared his ways before the LORD his God (2 Chronicles 27:2, 6).


Ahaz was a wicked king who built new idols, sacrificed to false gods, and even burnt his children alive in pagan sacrifices (2 Chronicles 28:1-4). Under his reign, Judah was subjugated to Israel, got whipped by Edom, invaded by the Philistines, and when he tried to get Assyria to help (with a large cash bribe), they came and distressed Judah instead. (2 Chronicles 28:16-21). Even in the face of all this, he refused to turn to the LORD, instead going after the gods of Syria (2 Chronicle 28:22-23).


Hezekiah made great reforms in Judah, destroying the pagan shrines and altars, and pushed people to worship the one true God. In the midst of an Assyrian invasion, he trusted in God and prayed for deliverance, which God granted. He restored proper worship at the temple, and caused the people to once again celebrate the Passover.

After several years, Hezekiah became sick, and was told by Isaiah that it was terminal. Hezekiah prayed to God, and asked for healing based on his faithfulness to God. His prayer was granted, and Isaiah returned to tell him he had 15 more years of life. During those 15 years, Hezekiah seemed to start taking the LORD for granted. When emissaries from Babylon came to congratulate him on getting well, Hezekiah showed them all the gold and the armory, and took all the credit for the wealth and power of Judah—ignoring God in the process. As a result, God promised (through Isaiah) that Babylon would come wreck Judah and take Hezekiah’s descendants captive.[10]


If you only read the account in 2 Kings, Manasseh is clearly the most wicked king Judah ever had. Starting from when he became king at age 12, he tried to undo every reform his father had enacted.

[He] did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, like the abominations of the heathen, who the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. For he built the high places again which his father, Hezekiah, had broken down, and he built up idols for Baals, and made Asherim, and worshiped all the hosts of heaven, and served them. Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem shall my name be forever.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom. Also, he observed times and used divination, used witchcraft, practiced sorcery, and dealt with mediums and spiritualists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger” (2 Chronicles 33:2-6).

He “shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to the other” (2 Kings 21:16). Because of this, God said:

Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah that whoever hears of it, both their ears will tingle. And I will… wipe Jerusalem like a man wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside-down (2 Kings 21:12-13).

Manasseh was taken captive by Assyrians, who carried him chained to Babylon. But during this time of humiliation and distress, Manasseh finally woke up from his spiritual stupor to see what he had been doing. He prayed in humility to God, and the LORD brought him back to Jerusalem, where Manasseh worked feverishly to undo everything he had done, removing the idols and chucking them out of the city, rebuilding the altar of the LORD, and offering sacrifices and thank offerings to the LORD. The influence of the king was enough to get the people to leave behind idol worship, and to exclusively worship the LORD, but it wasn’t enough to get them to forsake the high places where they used to offer pagan worship.[11]


Amon wasn’t a fan of his dad’s repentance. When Amon took the throne, he reenacted all the pagan worship his father tried to destroy. Thankfully, his reign was short, as the Jews were so disgusted by his actions that they assassinated him after two years.


Josiah may be the best king Judah ever had—including David. He destroyed all the idols and places of pagan worship in Judah—including leveling the high places. He ordered repairs be made to the temple. And when in the process they found the Law of Moses (how do you lose that?!?), they brought it to him, and he immediately called for national repentance and rededication. His leadership, enthusiasm, and instructions had amazing results: “All his days, they [the Israelites] did not depart from following the LORD, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 34:33).

They celebrated the Passover properly, and Josiah provided all of the Passover lambs for each family present.

There was no Passover like it in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; nor did any of the kings of Israel keep such a Passover as Josiah did, with the priests, Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 35:18).

Sadly, Josiah was killed in battle with Pharaoh Necho.

The Other Missing Kings…

Matthew sees no need to include Jehoahaz, son of Josiah, who reigned 3 months before being deposed by Egypt. Eliakim, another son of Josiah, changed his name to Jehoiakim and reigned 11 years before being taken captive to Babylon.


Also known as Jehoiachin and Coniah, Jeconiah reigned three months before Babylon took him captive. When this happened, God declared the end of the Kingdom of Judah—so far as an earthly king goes. God through Jeremiah said:

Is this man Coniah a despised, shattered jar? Or is he an undesirable vessel? Why have he and his descendants been hurled out And cast into a land that they had not known? O land, land, land, Hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the LORD, “Write this man down childless, A man who will not prosper in his days; For no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:28-30).

Jeconiah died in Babylonian captivity, but was treated well, and ate at the king’s table. Though the throne was no more, the promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David still remained.

From Captivity to Jesus (Matthew 1:12-16)

After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah fathered Shealtiel, and Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel fathered Abihud, Abihud fathered Eliakim, and Eliakim fathered Azor. Azor fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Achim, and Achim fathered Eliud. Eliud fathered Eleazar, Eleazar fathered Matthan, and Matthan fathered Jacob. Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

The last section of the genealogy would only have a few familiar names to the Jewish readers, but the rest could easily be verified at the temple, where genealogical records were kept. Additionally, it is not outside the realm of probability that people would have known who was a part of the “royal” descendants, as heritage was a huge deal for the Jews.


The only times Shealtiel’s name is mentioned in the Bible is describing his relationship with someone else. He is the son of Jehoiachin (Jechoniah), and father of Zerubbabel.


Zerubbabel, as part of the royal line, was installed as governor of Judah after Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to return to their land. He worked together with Jeshua the high priest to rebuild the temple (from the foundation to the completion)[12] and encourage the people to worship God (Ezra 2:3, 8; 5:2). He is mentioned by Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah—all of whom he worked with.

He served God faithfully, and a prophecy was made by Haggai which shows the promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David went through him.

Speak to Zerubbabel governor of Judah, saying, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, everyone by the sword of another. On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,” declares the LORD, “and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,” declares the LORD of hosts (Haggai 2:21-23).

For more interesting reading on Zerubbabel, check out Zechariah 4.

The Rest of the Names through Jacob

Outside of the fact that they are the royal line, nothing is known about these men. But that they are the royal line is absolutely important.


Joseph was a righteous man. He had to be to be chosen by God to raise His only begotten Son, Jesus. We will discuss him more in depth in a later lesson. But suffice it to say, he was a kind, thoughtful man who followed God faithfully. Certainly he sinned, but not with rebellion or with knowledgeable intent.

It is important to note that the genealogy says “Jacob fathered Joseph, the husband of Mary…” This is not a genealogy of Mary. This is not a genealogy tracing how Jesus got His physical DNA, his features, etc. This is a genealogy showing the legal claim of Jesus to be the heir of David, the King of the Jews, the Messiah. Jesus was, legally, the son of Joseph, and was regarded as such, even by Mary (Luke 2:48). Thus He had the legal, legitimate right to claim to be King of the Jews, heir to the throne of David.

What does this mean for us today?

Perhaps most strikingly, it shows God can use flawed, broken, and even wicked people to bring about His desired will. That doesn’t mean the wicked people will be honored, but that God can and will keep His promises, even in spite of those wicked people.

It shows God can use you to accomplish His will. If He can use the crazy, broken, sinful folks listed above, he can certainly use you!

It shows God has always been willing to accept those who turn to Him in faithful repentance and obedience–whether Jew (like Manasseh) or Gentile (Rahab, Ruth). That means you can come back to Him.

It shows Jesus has the absolute legal claim to the promise given to David, which was based on the promise given to Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.

It shows that genealogies can be interesting!

[1] See Lesson One for more information on this.

[2] Reuben had sex with his father’s concubine, Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). Levi and Simeon slaughtered the inhabitants of Shechem after the prince of that city raped their sister (Genesis 34). Jacob’s final words bears this out (Genesis 49: 1-7).

[3] The sad and disconcerting story takes place in Genesis 38.

[4] Read the short book of Ruth for the details.

[5] 1 Kings 11:1-8.

[6] 1 Kings 15:1-5.

[7] 2 Chronicles 20:35-37; 1 Kings 22:48.

[8] 2 Chronicles 21:6

[9] 2 Chronicles 23:17-18.

[10] This is told in Isaiah 38-39.

[11] 2 Chronicles 33.

[12] Zechariah 4:9-10.

Chronological Life of Christ (002a) – Considering Christophanies

Since this study is focused on the Life of Jesus as a human, we won’t be spending much time dealing with the potential Christophanies (appearances of Jesus before His incarnation) in the Old Testament. But here are some places you might look to see what Jesus was doing between Creation and His first Coming.

Fair warning, there are a variety of opinions on which of these (if any) are actual Christophanies. But there is enough evidence to convince a large number of Bible students that these might be pre-incarnate appearances of our Lord.

The Angel of the LORD

It is thought by many that the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament is a pre-incarnate version of Jesus. One of the main reasons is that the Angel (literally Messenger) of the LORD makes claims to deity and takes credit for doing what is elsewhere ascribed to Jehovah.

It is the Angel of the LORD who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, whose presence caused even the dirt to become holy (Exodus 3:2-5).

It is the Angel of the LORD who spoke to Abraham and said, “now I know you fear God, because you have not withheld your son, your only son from me” (Genesis 22:11-12).

It is the Angel of the LORD who spoke to Hagar and said, “I will multiply your seed” (Genesis 16:9-10).

It is the Angel of the LORD who said to the Israelites, “I made you go out of Egypt, and have brought you to the land which I swore to your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you…. But you have not obeyed my voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said, I  will not drive them out from before you…” (Judges 2:1-4).

There are many other passages, but this sampling should suffice to get the point across.

The Captain of the LORD’s army

In Joshua 5, the new leader of Israel saw “a man” confronting him, sword drawn. Joshua asked, “Are you for us or our adversaries?” The reply was, “No, but as Captain of the LORD’s host [army] I have come.”

If it stopped there, one might think this is just a high-ranking angel. But it doesn’t end there.

Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshipped, and said to him, “What says my lord to his servant?”

So Joshua appears to worship this person, and calls himself the servant of this man, who he calls “lord” (Hebrew, Adoni). But the response from the Captain of the LORD’s army seals the deal for many:

“Take off your shoe from your foot, because the place on which you stand is holy.”

What being is so amazing that even the dirt becomes holy when He is present?


This interesting biblical character shows up once in Genesis, is mentioned in Psalms, and then some very interesting things are said about him in Hebrews.

  • Melchizedek blesses Abram (better known as Abraham), and the greater always blesses the lesser (Hebrews 7:7)—thus Melchizedek was greater than Abraham (Genesis 14:18-19).
  • Melchizedek is the king of Salem, which, being translated, means “King of peace” (Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7:2).
  • Melchizedek brought out bread and wine (some believe this prefigures the Lord’s Supper) (Genesis 14:18).
  • Jesus was made a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20; Psalm 110:4). Would Jesus’ priesthood be after a human order?
  • Melchizedek was both king and priest (Hebrews 7:1).
  • Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life; but made like the Son of God; he abides a priest continually” (Hebrews 7:3). Some claim this means he didn’t get his priesthood from his ancestry—and they may be right—but that isn’t what it says.
  • His priesthood was greater than the Levitical priesthood, because through Abraham, Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:9-10).

It must be noted, for the sake of showing both sides, that Hebrews 7:11 and 15 both say Jesus is “another priest” after the order of Melchizedek.

Some concluding thoughts on Christophanies

We know for certain that Jesus (as the Logos) was actively involved in Creation. We know for certain that He was born and lived a life as a human. If the above possibilities are not appearances of Jesus prior to His incarnation, then we really have no idea what He was doing for the thousands of years between Creation and Incarnation. Certainly He wasn’t sitting in heaven, twiddling His thumbs. He had to be doing something. And perhaps some of the above give us part of the answer.