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?
- She was of the right lineage (so the Messiah would physically be a descendant of David).
- She was engaged to the right person (so the Messiah would legally be heir to the throne).
- 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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
- 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.
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.